As we mentioned last week, a lot of smaller film festivals and competitions will be happening in the weeks to come. One of the names you should be looking out for is a company called Fill It In Productions, lead by Nano Lara, who has been producing alternative content on YouTube that's been turning heads and getting the company subscribers. The Vida series has been creating some quality videos utilizing hotspots around the Wasatch Front, and they recently released the short film Vindictive
for the My Rode Reel competition. Today we chat with Nano about his career learning film and the work coming out of his production company. (All photos courtesy of Fill It In Productions.
Melissa Levitt Photography
Gavin: Hey Nano! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Fernando Lara, I go by Nano and I'm a local filmmaker. I was born in Ecuador and moved here when I was 14 for school. I graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor's degree in Film and Media Arts and Mass Communications. Now I’m working at Utah Valley University as a video producer. I also have my own freelance company called Fill It In Productions that I run on the side making different types of films.
What first got you interested in movies, and what influenced you as you grew up?
Natalie Haws, BeehivePhoto.com
Growing up I never really had an interest in making movies, to be honest with you. Where I grew up, watching movies wasn't as big as it is here. I think the first time I ever rented a movie was The Matrix
. It blew my mind, and I started to watch more and more movies; however, I never thought about filmmaking as a career. Around 2006, I discovered YouTube. I remember watching a bunch of different videos there right when viral videos were becoming popular and people began creating regular content there. I started to follow the Shaytards, Charles Trippy, Philip Defranco, Ray William Johnson, who are big time YouTube celebrities and content creators now. After a couple of years, I decided to start a daily vlogging channel called "My Life in Vids" and I made a daily video for about 254 days. I believe the channel is still live somewhere in the dark depths of YouTube. That's when my passion for filmmaking and storytelling really flourished. I met some local musicians and worked on a lot of music videos, started my company and decided to go to the U to further my studies in film. Now, I'm making documentaries and other types of films, I've met some amazing people, and I couldn't have asked for a better career and life.
What brought you from Ecuador to the states, and what made you decide to stay when you grew up?
We moved here when I was 14. My parents really made the decision for me. We had a decent life in Ecuador, but they always wanted my sisters and me to have a better future, and they thought that moving here was the best choice, and it was. At the time, I was sad to leave all of my extended family. Not so many friends, because I didn't have that many. After moving here, though, I made friends fairly quickly. The hardest part was the language barrier. I didn't know much English; I don't think I spoke a single word of English until after two months of going to school. After that, fitting in was kinda easy. I never had a clique, I just floated around and made friends with every person I could. I don't think my parents had plans for us to move back. I knew they definitely wanted us to go to college here. I missed Ecuador sometimes, but my life was here now and I can't think what I would be doing now if I was somewhere else. The opportunities I had here were far more expansive than there would have been in Ecuador.
Prior to college, what projects did you do in your spare time to learn about filmmaking?
I watched a lot of YouTube videos, and I began to think that I could do that. Vlogging taught me a lot about how to operate a camera and it helped me get out of my comfort zone. Putting my life on video, on the internet, where everyone in the world could see—I mean, that's pretty crazy. After that, I got involved in the Utah music scene for a while. Through my good friends Andrew Velasco and Simeon Lawrence, otherwise known as DJ Drew and Young Sim, I got the opportunity to do music videos and other music based projects with them and other fellow artists in Feel Good Music Coalition. That was in 2011, that same year I launched Fill It In Productions, and I transferred from Salt Lake Community College to the University of Utah. I started with Mass Communications at the U, and it wasn't until 2013 that I began the Film & Media Arts program. Between 2011 and 2013 I did a series of short films and other freelance work with companies around SLC, which gave me a lot of working experience and helped me a lot when I began studying film theory and technique.
You studied video and film at the University of Utah. What made you choose their programs, and what was your time like at each?
I chose the U because both of my sisters went there and because it was the most logical financial choice. My time at the U was great. I learned a lot from my professors, and met a lot of my closest friends to this day. Going to the football games and studying in the library until 2 a.m. with friends were some of the fondest memories I have from my time as a Ute. After I graduated from the U, I got a job at Utah Valley University as a Video Producer in the Office of Teaching and Learning. My role is to create video content and provide support for faculty and their online courses. I'm also part of our department's marketing team. Even though working at UVU isn’t exactly like working on a movie set, I definitely love it. I have applied my knowledge in different ways and the projects that I work on have challenged my skills. The best part of it is that I have control over the creative process for most projects, which allows me to leave my own mark and try new things. Whenever I'm not working at UVU, I'm working on my own projects and freelance gigs. The work never stops!
What kind of films did you make while earning your degree?
While at the U, most of my student films were short documentaries, and that’s where I realized that documentary filmmaking is my passion. However, I also made some narrative short films, 2D, and stop-motion animated films.
What made you decide to start your own production company? And where did you get the name from?
My friend Sim was the person who suggested I should start my own company. I was on the fence about it, but he said that it would give me credibility, and it definitely has. The name came from an idea for a show some friends and I wanted to do back in 2010. The idea was about going around asking people in the streets to "fill in the blank,” we would go up to them and say an incomplete sentence or phrase and wait for their response. We made the first and last episode and left it at that. However, I liked the idea behind the name of the show so when the time came to pick a name for my company I chose Fill It In Productions because I wanted to collaborate with people, take their ideas and "fill in" the screen with them, ultimately bring them to life. Every time I work with a client or in one of my films, I am so grateful for the opportunity to create something out of nothing, and I love the idea that my films could affect someone's life in a positive way.
What’s the process like for you when starting a new project and deciding what you’re filming?
For my own projects, the process is fairly simple and sometimes all over the place. I usually start writing down ideas, concepts, the setting, what I envision the character would look and sound like, and sometimes I even start with how the film will end and go from there. At first, everything is mostly a stream of consciousness doodle. After that I begin thinking of the major story, what is it that I'm trying to communicate, what type of project is this going to be, a documentary, narrative, experimental, etc. If it's a narrative I write the script, if not it's usually more of a checklist. From there, the shooting and post production follow. A lot of times when I work on live events I have an idea of what I'm going to be filming, but for the most part everything is on the fly, I just gotta be ready and quick with the camera and hope to get the shot. Half the time during a live event, I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack because I don’t want to miss anything!
How has it been working with the community to film documentaries and live performances?
The community here is truly incredible. There are countless stories to be told here and dozens of events going on at any given time. I've had the opportunity to work with Salt Lake Magazine
and Repertory Dance Theatre during several local events and performances. It's really cool to experience an event from the behind-the-scenes perspective. Often times I get to see the framework and how things work, and come out learning something new about something I never even thought I would ever know.
What inspired you to start the Vida series? How do you go about deciding what to feature in each of those videos?
Project Vida goes back to my days of vlogging. There were a couple of months recently when I was going through a period of "writer's block" and I wasn't making as many movies as I would've liked to. I started following this YouTuber named Casey Neistat, and he inspired me to just go out there and film, to do something, to do more. That was at the beginning of 2016. I decided I wanted to try vlogging again, but this time, I wanted it to be different. I wanted to show parts of my day-to-day life without having a commentary or my face on camera too much. Essentially sharing what and how I see things in the world. I contacted this really awesome musician from Africa, he goes by Jeff Kaale in Soundcloud, and he lets me use his music for these videos. These videos don't really have a narrative, they're intended to be interesting and beautiful bits and pieces from my life and I put them together. It’s kind of fun to watch them again and see what’s going on at that time in my life. It’s almost like a “day in the life” documentary. I haven't posted a new episode in a couple of months because I've been working on a short film, but rest assured, a new episode of Project Vida is coming soon.
Without giving too much away, what projects are you currently working on?
I just finished a short film with a great local cast and crew, it's called Vindictive
. Here's the synopsis: "Vindictive
is a drama about a woman who seeks revenge after her father is gunned down, but she is conflicted by the idea of going down the path of vengeance." We made this short for the My Rode Reel short film competition, it's a worldwide competition that requires filmmakers to do a 3-minute short using Rode microphones. It was an awesome project and really fun to shoot. Vindictive
officially premiered on May 27 and you'll be able to watch it, plus a behind the scenes video, on our YouTube channel. I also started a weekly Instagram post, with the hashtag #sundayfundayfilmtips, where I post a video or photo giving out tips and tricks on filmmaking. The response to it has been really great, and I hope to continue with it because it’s fun to connect with filmmakers all over the world and learn from each other.
Where do you hope to take the company over the next couple years?
My vision for Fill It In Productions is to be able to open a studio somewhere in SLC and provide opportunities to both new and seasoned filmmakers, actors, crew members—basically, anyone who wants to learn about how to make movies—and give them a space to work together in productions that will provide them with real-world experience and teaches them the ins and outs of this industry. I want to make movies for the rest of my life, and I want to share that opportunity with everyone who has a passion for filmmaking.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to do this same thing on their own?
Like anything in life, being a filmmaker requires passion, hard work, dedication, and time. I often joke with friends and family that when I decided this was going to be my career, I had to come to terms with the idea of being a "struggling artist" for the rest of my life, and although I'm able to provide for my family and live a comfortable life, by any means we're not rich and famous. That's definitely not the reason why I got in the business. If you're in it for the money, you probably chose the wrong career. I've learned that a lot of people will say no and tell you that you're not good enough, and that might be true at the beginning. No one is a master at first. However, practice makes perfect. Keep making videos, short films, documentaries, keep networking and meeting people who know more than you and can teach you, adapt to different jobs and opportunities. You can make a living being a filmmaker, but you may have to do corporate videos instead of action movies. Those are the things that will get you experience and the more you work on your craft the more doors will open for you. Lastly, never get complacent with your work, always push the limits of your creativity and skills, always stay hungry for more!
What can we expect from you over the rest of 2016?
2016 has been a great year so far and I'm only getting started. You can expect a #sundaydayfundayfilmtips every week on all of my social media. We want to take Vindictive to several film festivals around the state and around the country. I'm also working on a short documentary for this year's Open Screen Night on June 15 at the Tower Theater sponsored by the Salt Lake Film Society and VideoWest. I'll be working on some new projects with Feel Good Music Coalition. Lastly, I'll be producing and directing my first episodic documentary series which will be coming out later this year or early 2017.