INTERVIEW: Gustavo Pizzi on Honing a CRAFT

Brazilian director Gustavo Pizzi speaks to Rob Avila about collaborating with wife and lead actress, Karine Teles, to bring his first feature film to the screen…

Brazilian director Gustavo Pizzi’s mesmerizing first feature, CRAFT, explores a brief but important period in the life of an aspiring actress named Bianca (played memorably by co-screenwriter and the director’s wife, Karine Teles). While the story pivots on a career-changing opportunity handed the talented but long-struggling Bianca, CRAFT is just as concerned with the daily travails, compromises, and boredom faced by a working-class female artist in the bustling, sometimes unsparing metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. Teles’s brilliant performance and the film’s ingenious use of varying formats and perspectives offers the audience access to the private perspectives, creative energies, and emotional landscape of its subject. We glimpse a human being trying to strike some balance with a world too ready to reduce her to an “extra” of one kind or another, and an artist resolved to pursue her passion despite hardships and setbacks.

Gustavo Pizzi is a young-looking man in his early 30s with a warm and thoughtful disposition. He was sporting a dark beard and thick-framed glasses when I met him in the crowded bar-lounge tucked into the spacious lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, ahead of CRAFT’s premiere at the Museum of Modern Art last January. We ordered coffee and waxed on for a few moments about the wonderful moving tableaux that is the New York City subway system, before speaking of Rio, CRAFT, and the future.

Robert Avila: You live in Rio. Is the film set in locations or neighborhoods very familiar to you?

Gustavo Pizzi: Yeah, kind of, many parts of the city, mostly downtown. We didn’t shoot much near the beach.

Robert Avila: That’s the image most people have of Rio, the beach.

Gustavo Pizzi: Yeah, exactly. But I’m not used to going to the beach every week, more like three times in a year. Although now I have twins—little babies, one-year-olds—so last Sunday we took them to the beach for the first time. They went crazy. We had been there with them once before, but they were smaller. Now they can crawl. They’re almost walking. They were like turtles, when they’re born and go to the beach? Little turtles. It was really beautiful.

Robert Avila: Craft has a striking visual style that takes advantage of different film formats, including film cameras that lend a home-movie look to some sequences. Is it Super 8 you use for those scenes?

Gustavo Pizzi: It’s 16mm, but we shot with old negatives and small 16mm cameras, an SR2, a really old camera that someone had on a back shelf or something and I asked, “Oh, can you lend me that?”

Karine Teles, CRAFT's co-writer and lead actress (and Pizzi's wife)

Robert Avila: You collaborated on the script with your wife, Karine Teles, who plays the main character. How did the story idea come about?

Gustavo Pizzi: We’ve been together since 2003. When we met I was working in the industry scene in Brazil, as an assistant, or making small films with friends. I saw her always struggling to get good jobs and be paid for that, to work in the [field] she really loves, and for me it was the same.

It was something we spent years thinking about, while trying to make money and pay the bills. Some months would be terrible, with no money, some ok, but we’d never know. And friends around us were in the same place, having the same difficulties and the same problems making a living, lots of friends that quit, and really good actors that I knew who stopped and started working in a small shop or whatever. I don’t have anything against that, if you really want to do that. If you want to do something else and you’re working at a job you don’t like, it’s terrible. [For Karine and me] to have the possibility of going on, we needed to make the choice that sometimes we won’t have money, but that’s ok. Let’s go along this path. We don’t have money now, but maybe in the future.

Robert Avila: Did the two of you write the script together?

Gustavo Pizzi: Yeah, Karine wrote a first draft, something like 12 pages. We were talking about it and I said to her, “Write. It’s better if you write the first one.” She wrote. Then I took that and said, well, let’s move here, there, and there. Then we started a process. I don’t know how long we took. We had only one computer, so during the night she wrote, and during the day I wrote. It was a really good process. We never wrote both together. It was a really special time.

When we had something like 12 pages, I said let’s shoot. I don’t know if we’re going to have a short or a feature, but let’s do what’s best for this idea. Let’s transform this into images. So we started to make the preparations, but we continued writing. It was a continual process of writing and research and studying possibilities for shooting. When I took the decision to shoot in different formats, it was because I thought it was the best way to take the main idea and transform that into image. It’s not that we just thought, “Oh, let’s use different formats.” What’s the best way to go inside the head of the character? To give the spectator the feeling that he is inside the head of the character?

A scene from CRAFT

Robert Avila: I think you’re referring in particular to the smaller, home movie segments, with the cropped frame. You get the sense that sometimes it’s a film she’s making herself, although other times it’s someone else, you don’t know who.

Gustavo Pizzi:
Everyone has a reading of that, the 16mm part. One of the actors in the film told me a beautiful thing. He said that the 16mm is a kind of voiceover without voice. I thought that was a beautiful way to read that. These small scenes with that camera, for me, it’s the way that the character sees the world and how she manages the whole thing.

Robert Avila: And just aesthetically, it’s beautiful, encountering those different textures.

Gustavo Pizzi: I like the texture of those old 16mm films. It’s funny because we took really old [film stock] that people would put down. I heard a lot, “No, you can’t use that.” I’d say, “Yes! That’s what I want.” We made several tests, and when I saw the pictures on the screen I said, wow, that’s what I want.

There was an idea we had, at the end of the film, where we even scratched the film a lot. We took the negative and put it inside of chemical products, home cleansers, and scratched it some more with a brillo pad. There was an idea to make each part of the 16mm segments a different texture, but I thought we’d then be directing attention to that and not to the character. I don’t need it every time: “Oh, look how they scratched the negative.” I want [the audience] to go to the idea of the character. I don’t believe we have any scenes that [just call attention to the camera work]. We have some big shots, some long shots, but you don’t pay attention to that; you pay attention to the actors. We have some sequences that were really difficult to do, really difficult camera movement, but you only pay attention to [Karine].

A scene from CRAFT

Robert Avila: Had you ever directed Karine before?

Gustavo Pizzi: No, it was the first time.

Robert Avila: Was it easy for the two of you?

Gustavo Pizzi: We talked a lot. It’s common when you have couples working together that people put their personal life in the middle of the job. So we talked beforehand. We said, well, on the set, I’m the director, you’re the actress, so I’ll treat you as one of the actors and you’ll treat me like any other director. It was really nice, because Karina is an amazing actress and a really intelligent actress. You say something once and she understands. She’s really, really fast. It was an amazing experience to work with her, and we have several new projects together we’re working on.

Robert Avila: What are some of these new projects you have in front of you?

Gustavo Pizzi: I have two projects. One is from a script from before Craft. We wrote and applied for grants and nothing, and now we’re trying again to make this film. It’s about a woman in Rio who lives alone. She raises pigs and chickens in her backyard, which she sells. She lives alone, a young woman, and a lot of men from the neighborhood come over to help her with the animals, and they’re her friends or her lovers. So the women of the neighborhood become jealous and decide to persecute her. It’s a simple story, really a well-known story just as was Craft. Craft, if you sum it up in one line, it’s a woman who is trying to be an actress. You’ve already seen many, many films about that. But the way that we trust that we can find and make that story [ourselves], it becomes something singular, something that belongs to us.

Robert Avila: This will also be a project with Karine?

Gustavo Pizzi: Yes, Karine wrote the script with me. It started as a theater project, a monologue for Karine, which she did in Rio in 2003. It was also done in Paris and in London.

Robert Avila: Has her work as an actress been mainly in the theater?

Gustavo Pizzi: Yes, she’s been in the theater since she was a girl. She always did small jobs [to get by], not like in the film—though the scene in the bathroom happened to her. It was before we met. She had to pay the rent, and a friend of hers called her and said we have a job, this Marilyn Monroe fantasy, and she did that almost as it is in the film.

Robert Avila: What’s the other project?

Gustavo Pizzi on the set of CRAFT

Gustavo Pizzi: I have one project that I’m co-directing. We have in Brazil these barbeques. Every Saturday, usually, men go to a specific place to play soccer, and then eat barbeque and drink beer and talk about life. It’s something like a club for men. It’s mostly in the suburbs but it’s really common in Rio. I believe here you have some things like this, and around the world.

We have a story about a guy who lived in the suburbs but he married a woman from another area. She’s middle-class, working as a publicist. They are a couple with a one-year-old son. And this guy meets an old friend who tells him to come and play some soccer. So it’s this moment in the life of this couple, with the man coming back to his origins and talking about masculinity, and it’s a different world he’s left but is coming back to—a club that a woman can’t enter, a really strong masculine thing, almost sexist.

We will shoot in a real barbeque. We have an actor already going to the barbeque. The other guys don’t know yet that he’s an actor. We told them we’ll be shooting and bringing actors. They’ve said, when are you bringing the actors? But he’s already there. He became friends with the guys, something like a secret agent. And Karine wrote the whole script. We shot a lot before as a documentary. We will use that. We’ll also make things that we shoot there. They will know that we are making a film, but we want them as they are. We will not give lines to them, only to the actors.

Robert Avila: Sounds like it will look distinct too.

Gustavo Pizzi: We’re shooting in 35mm, in a more classical way, different from Craft, and different from the other project. I want to make different things, always putting the idea first. What do we want to say? That’s the main thing. Then after comes how we shoot that.

Rob Avila is a San Francisco-based writer, and film and stage critic. He is a regular contributor to SF360 and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and has worked with the Global Film Initiative on a range of projects and programs, including Global Lens educational resources, filmmaker interviews and the Initiative’s Granting Program.

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