THE POWER OF FILMMAKING WITH CACCIATORE, PREM SANTANA AND CARYLANNA TAYLOR
Amy and Nancy Harrington, Co-Founders of The Passionistas Project talk with the creative team from “I Thought the Earth Remembered Me” about the Power of Filmmaking. Director Prem Santana, producer Carylanna Taylor and star Madonna Cacciatore discuss the process of making the short film, the AFI program and their inspirations.
IN THIS EPISODE
[00:49] Madonna Cacciatore and Prem Santana on their experiences in film and what they are most passionate about
[03:25] Madonna Cacciatore on actress Madonna Cacciatore being the inspiration for the film
[03:48] Carylanna Taylor on her experience as a filmmaker and anthropologist
[05:31] Prem Santana on her passions and the film “I Thought the Earth Remembered Me”
[09:25] Madonna Cacciatore on what she thought when she first saw the script
[12:22] Madonna Cacciatore on the location being a character in the film
[15:17] Prem Santana on the casting in the film
[21:44] Carylanna Taylor on the AFI program
[24:28] Carylanna Taylor on how COVID impacted the AFI program and production
[26:03] Madonna Cacciatore on why she likes to be a part of AFI projects
[30:00] Madonna Cacciatore and Prem Santana on how Madonna’s life experiences and training as a dancer impact her work as an actress
[32:49] Carylanna Taylor on the magical location where they filmed
[35:44] Prem Santana on the Moonfaze Feminist Film Festival
[38:22] Carylanna Taylor how social justice informs the projects she chooses and her upcoming projects
[45:37] Carylanna Taylor, Prem Santana and Madonna Cacciatore on what they learned about themselves making the film together
[49:43] Prem Santana and Madonna Cacciatore on their upcoming projects
Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of the Passionista Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories.
On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we’re talking with the team from the gorgeous and powerful short film “I Thought The Earth Remembered Me.” We’d like to welcome the film’s director Prem Santana, producer Carylanna Taylor and star Madonna Cacciatore, who along with her wife Robin McWilliams have been long-time and beloved members of our Passionsitas community.
We’re going to let each of them introduce themselves, tell you a little bit about their backgrounds and share what they are most passionate about.
Madonna: Hello, I'm Madonna Cacciatore. I feel like I'm in a group. So, hi Madonna. I love these two women on the screen with me. And of course, I love you two women who are hosts. You've been friends of mine for a long time, and Robin and I adore you. Prem and I magically met during her work at AFI, at the conservatory.
And I've always been drawn to her sort of directing style and her work. I mean, she's just got a brilliant vision. This is the second film I worked on with Prem. I have a background in theater, dance, film, television, and I also produce events when I'm not, you know, in the downtime. And I do some nonprofit fundraising as well.
I'm passionate about telling stories, helping change the world through stories and being able to create those characters that are brought to me by wonderful people like this. How about you?
Prem: Hi everyone. Thanks so much for having me. My name is Prem Santana and I am a director and a writer. I'm also an actor. I was an actor for over a decade, almost 15 years before I transitioned into becoming a director. I recently graduated as a directing fellow from the American Film Institute Conservatory, where I met my Muse, Madonna. We met in a class and she and her wife Robin were my actors. And I instantly fell in love and saw a talent I had never seen before and started writing.
“I Thought the Earth Remembered Me” based on seeing Madonna's face. There were some other experiences in my life that had inspired the short. Madonna's, my muse, and I've just been very honored and grateful to be able to work with such an actor.
Passionistas: I actually want to follow up on one of the things you were saying, because it was actually a question we had is, and we'll get into it more, but the whole movie that we're talking about really lives or dies on Madonna's face.
Passionistas: And the amazing range of emotions she can portray through her face. So that really was actually part of the inspiration for writing it?
Prem: Absolutely. Because she's able to, I mean, when an actor can act without words is to me, is the hardest thing is to act in the silences. When there's so much carried in the eyes that is the number one thing that I look for in an actor to collaborate with. And Madonna does it super.
Carylanna: My name's Carylanna Taylor. I'm a filmmaker and anthropologist recent graduate of the AFI producing program and I have the pleasure of producing “I Thought the Earth Remembered Me” with Prem and Madonna. It was really Prem’s script that just gave me a gut punch when I read it and we'd been kind of talking about maybe doing something together but hadn't had a chance to work together yet.
The script, I have an environmental conservation and migration past, and it just really hit me on the environmental connection very strongly in a way that I hadn't felt for a long, long time. And Madonna embodies that beautifully. So, yeah, and, and she's, she said it beautifully.
I'm passionate about bringing stories to life that might just move culture's needle a little bit, might give people a chance to walk in somebody else's shoes that they wouldn't have otherwise. That can come in lots of different forms, but this is certainly one of them.
Passionistas: That's great. Well, sounds like a perfect marriage between the three of you to make this film happen, which is, you can tell when you watch it that the people who created it have that passion for all of those things. So, it’s really well done. And Prem, maybe you could talk a little bit about what the film is about and, and again, a little bit more about your inspiration beyond the beauty of Madonna. What else inspired you to write it?
Prem: I realize I didn't say what I'm passionate about. So, I'll say first that I'm passionate about telling stories from the margins, especially from the female perspective, and I believe that we can make a huge difference. Telling stories and making movies that reflect our human experience. And I'm so grateful to be able to do that. So yeah, that's what I'm passionate about.
But the story, so I also take 35mm photographs. And my mom is also someone I, she's 76, and I've been photographing her throughout my life. And just the process of aging has been something that I find so beautiful. It is something that I find so beautiful. And watching my grandmother who passed away at 98 a couple years ago, go through this transformation from the finite to the infinite or whatever you want to call it.
And then my mom getting older and myself, you know I'm now what they call “of a certain age.” And I've just committed to using that in my art and celebrating aging as something that's not negative or bad or something we have to hide or erase or change or transform or fill up or fill out or whatever.
So anyway, back to the photographs. Sorry. I took a photo of my mom's hand, the beautiful like texture and wrinkles and she laid it against this beautiful oak. And I took this photograph, and I was like, that's the image. That's where originally in the script, we start on her hand. It changed over time but that was the igniting image. I was like, there is a woman and she's in the woods for some reason.
And then, you know, I started writing and just dealing with my own grief and losing a friend during the pandemic. Losing my grandmother. It was a real way for me to cope, was to write this story. And having had such a connection with Madonna, I was able to step into that emotion myself, I feel like, in a way, and write this story about transitioning from end-of-life transition.
Madonna: That's funny because when I saw that, when I saw that, that image of Prem’s mother's hand on the tree, I thought it was my hand. I said, “Oh, when did you take that? I don't remember that?” Like, I remembered us going to the woods and shooting some photos and I thought, oh, that's, that picture we took. And she goes, “That's my mom's hand.”
And I was like, “Our hands look so much alike.” And then her mom came to the premiere we sat and we compared hands.
Prem: Oh yeah. That was so sweet.
Madonna: Yeah, it was very sweet. So, it was cool because I felt like, I felt that connection too, you know, through her and through you, Prem, through your love for her and your heart.
So, it was really, really cool to sort of have that background to know that it actually wasn't my hand that inspired her. It was her mom's, but cosmically. Cosmic.
Prem: Yeah. Cosmically.
Passionistas: So, Madonna, what did you think when you first saw the script?
Madonna: Well, I had worked with Prem on another beautiful script that she wrote called “Dreamhouse of Salt” and also just in that first class where Prem and I really connected. We were on a Zoom. We were all isolated. We were on a Zoom. We weren't in person, but there's just something in her soul and energy that just drew me in right away and I thought, she's going to be getting an Oscar in my lifetime.
This woman, I know that's not why she's doing it, but her work is that impeccable and her stories are beautiful. So, we did this. It was one of your cycle films, wasn't it? It felt like a big studio film because it was just so beautifully done. But it was really just in her process and as a fellow.
And so, I knew when we talked about collaborating again in the future, and I knew whatever she brought to me, it was just going to be, it is going to speak to me, you know? And so when I read it, you know, it's always interesting to have a script that doesn't have dialogue and that has a younger version of me in it.
So it was, you know, back backstory and, and memories and so I'd never done anything quite like it before. So, I was like, yes, let's dive in. You know, in those moments when Prem talks about me connecting, that's because she would come over to me and say something. She would give me something that really resonated with me.
So that was sort of, it was a wonderful process. The whole thing was just incredible. Even it was, it was freezing cold, I think I remember being cold. And it was in that beautiful space. And there was a lot of, you know, everybody on the crew was just, Carylanna was running an amazing production team.
And the cinematography was beautiful, and it was really safe working with a crew of mostly women. You know, it felt really, I felt nurtured through the whole thing by the trees. We were standing from everything from the trees. We were standing into the, just the backdrop to the house to our beautiful crew. So, it was a great experience and so when I saw the script, I knew that's what it was going to be. I knew it was just, I'm ready.
Passionistas: It sounds a little cliché these days to say the location is another character, but it really does feel like that in this production, and it feels, maybe it was right off the main road, but it feels like it's incredibly remote. So Carylanna, talk about finding that location and the complexity of shooting there and bringing your crew there.
Carylanna: Credit for finding it actually goes to our Unit Production Manager and Line Producer Sarah Niver, Prem, the Production Designer Daniel Berkman and our cinematographer Liz Charky. Prem and I had done a lot of scouting from, I don't know, I guess kind of casually starting over the summer and the fall and a little bit more aggressively in January, February. And we weren't finding anything that looked like this vision of the Pacific Northwest that Prem wanted. If you read the script, it sounds like it's either in an old-growth forest in Washington or Oregon, or maybe in the Adirondacks of New York – but nothing. We're limited to shooting within 30 miles of the center of Los Angeles. That's all that we were allowed to shoot at AFI. So, trying to find something that looked even remotely lush was quite the challenge. And we had gotten to the point where we were almost ready to switch it to the desert. I don't know how serious that was, but that's about where we were at. When Sarah started location scouting and she came up with this place.
And it was a challenging location in a lot of ways. It’s in Topanga Canyon and it's like deep down in a canyon. And just the topography of it is such that it keeps the water in. There's just a little stream that runs through, but the moisture stays in. It's cooler than the surrounding areas. This is a place where they used to run liquor during the prohibition. It's got a total history of this area but it's also pretty remote.
Like Madonna was saying we had to go past another film set even to get to where we were at. And we couldn't drive our vehicles right up to the house or right up to any of the scenes that you see shootings. We were having to do a lot of couriering with carts and things like that. So there was a whole logistical element to it. And it was a big enough piece of our budget that we didn't have a full prep day and a full wrap day. So all of that was done in five days in one location including load in and load out.
So it was, yeah, it was, it was a lot of fun logistically. But it's beautiful. I mean, I don't think there's anything quite like it that we would've found elsewhere in the area.
Passionistas: Yeah, it's really extraordinarily beautiful. And like we said, the cinematography just is incredible. It just captures it all so well. The other thing that's amazing is the casting of the other two women — and especially the woman who plays young Lee. So, tell us a little bit.
Madonna: They were calling me Elder Lee, which is really sweet. Always. Just Lee.
Passionistas: You were the original Lee. So, Prem, tell us a little bit about the casting process.
Prem: Well, Madonna was locked in, like day zero. I was determined to find someone that looked like Madonna because I really find it annoying when on TV or in a movie and people are cast and you're just like, that looks nothing like this person.
I'm like, okay, I get it. I get maybe because of this and I'm making justifications or there are limitations and things get in the way, whatever. But it's something I noticed. So, I was determined and our casting director, Rich Mento, gathered so many, like, there were a lot of submissions. We had a ton and I mean honestly it was like going through, I went through every single one. And Penny, it was like one of the last ones. That's how it always is. And I was like, in shock, like how much they looked alike. And then her audition was perfect. So, I wanted, it was those moments where I just wanted to be like, you have the part, but you have to wait and do a callback and follow procedure and really talk about it with Carylanna and, you know have a conversation.
It was all done on Zoom too, so that was… but I guess from what I haven't been acting in a while, but Madonna, I feel like a lot of auditions are Zoom now anyway, right? Or it's self-tape, anyway.
Prem: So I guess that was right — not in the room as much. So, I guess that wasn't too out of the ordinary. And then we found Christine through our Casting Director, as well, and she had this beautiful, just, I felt like she was this angel in this way, that she just carried a light that I think balanced Lee Lee's heaviness and her weight. The weight of the world that Lee sort of is holding so deep inside of her and not wanting to… she's not ready to fully give it all.
But Janine, Christine was able to bring that out in both, I think in Penny's character, younger Lee. But Madonna and I actually rehearsed with Christine. I wanted them two to rehearse together because it wouldn't, it would deepen the memories for Madonna. At least that was the goal. I think it helped, right Madonna, like working with Christine? So yes, even though you're not on screen together, I wanted them to have that established relationship in the energy that they carry on. We would feel that connection. But yeah, we were blessed. We were just blessed with the cast. Like it just really worked out perfectly.
Madonna: Penny has an Irish accent. And it was interesting because you know, I don't say anything. My character Lee, Elder Lee, doesn't say a thing.
Patty does an American dialect, I guess. She drops the accent and beautifully. She's a really talented actor. And when I first saw her, I was, we met… Our first rehearsal together was on a Zoom and I think the first time I couldn't wait to see her. I was like, what? Damn, I was cute when I was young. Okay… So, it was cool to sort of… I've never worked with somebody who's me in my past experience. So, I really enjoyed that process and sort of enjoyed… We hung out together and we just, on set, we just sort of like bonded and that was our opportunity physically to be together because we had really just mostly been…
I think we had one rehearsal in the grass somewhere. Was that this film? Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was Christine. That was with Christine, yeah. Yeah. And it was we were at the at the beautiful campus of AFI and a deer showed up when we were… just like walked around by us and. There we were on Las Feliz and Western, you know, Franklin. And there comes a deer. So, it just all felt so storybook like. It felt like a little fairytale we were doing. But it was really great to sort of get that background with Christine and for us to connect. And I hope it helped her with her scenes with Penny as well.
Passionistas: For people who aren't from LA or haven't been here, AFI where you were all attending is right in the middle of the city of Los Angeles. So, it would be like being in Times Square and having a deer walk by.
Passionistas: It's really a random thing, but that's how Southern California is. We have peacocks in the middle of our neighborhoods, like suburban neighborhoods. Talk a little bit about AFI for people who don't really understand what that is because it's such a unique and special place and experience. So, what is that program and how does it prepare you for being in the film industry differently than most film schools?
Carylanna: So, it's a two-year conservatory, very hands-on. There are six disciplines producing, directing, cinematography, production design, editing, and screenwriting and it changes each year, but roughly we had about 22 directors and producers and such. There's a track of just classroom classes and watching films and reacting to film classes.
But in addition to that we have two years of production. So, our first year we actually, each of us does at least three films. And we team up around the idea for each of the films. So, someone generates the idea, then there's a pitch process. The producer comes on board, we hire the rest of the team, then we go out and work with volunteers from the filmmaking community like gaffers and art directors, and what have you. And there's a conservatory program for SAG, as well. So, Madonna's part of a SAG/AFTRA AFI conservatory program. So, we have access to these wonderful, wonderful actors even for our classroom exercises and these three short films that we produced our first year. And then the second year everybody produces a thesis film, which is what we're talking about.
“I Thought The Earth Remembered Me” is Prem and my thesis film. So, I produced four, no, six films in two years including the cinematographers had visual essays. And there are, I have classmates who did way more than that. I was actually on the low end, but it's a lot of hands-on.
And our crews aren't union, but we run them like union shoots. So, we follow SAG-AFTRA rules for everything we follow. We try to keep our days tight and our crews are usually around 30 because it was capped because of Covid. Ours were definitely 30 or under and so they're big. They're big projects. We have a lot of gear from AFI that gives us. We shoot in sound stages, but also like, just all around LA. It's a lot of hands-on experience. Pretty amazing.
Passionistas: that's incredible. And so, we keep talking around the COVID thing. When did you film this?
Carylanna: It was it in the midst of COVID or was it sort of towards the tail end of lockdown and. So Prem and I found out that we were accepted into AFI about the week that the shit hit the fan in March 2020. So we had to decide whether we were coming or not. I'm coming from New York. A lot of our classmates were coming internationally, and we had to decide whether to try doing this or not.
Our first year of classes were totally online. And then our production was the only thing we were doing in person. It's like with masks and if we were near actors, we had to have face shields and such. There are lots of social distancing rules. There's like a whole list, COVID compliance officer on set and what have you.
The second-year production continued like that and this was produced during our second year. So, this we produced April 2022. And our classes at that point were mostly in person, kind of.
Passionistas: We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington and you’re listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Prem Santana, Carylanna Taylor and Madonna Cacciatore.
To learn more about “I Thought The Earth Remembered Me” and Prem Santana’s other work visit www.premsantana.com
Go to first encounter productions dot.com to stay up to date on Carylanna Taylor’s projects.
Stay on top of all of the great work that Madonna Cacciatore is doing at IMDb dot com and on her website m cacciatore dot com.
Now here’s more of our interview with Prem, Carylanna and Madonna.
Madonna, why do you like to be a part of these AFI projects?
Madonna: Well, I think, as every actor in town, we work sometimes, sometimes we don't. Like on TV film sets, and commercials, we are always auditioning. And so, when there's an opportunity to work, I want to work, you know?
And I find I don't do every project like this. This particular class of people was extraordinary. I've worked on another director's films, as well. I liked it because of the story. I like also the thesis films, you know go, can go to festivals, so that's great.
But you know, when there's an opportunity to work your craft, work it, you know, and I love working my craft. I love roles. I love working. I love being on set. I love the experience. AFI films are done in such a way that you really are getting the full, you know, you're being treated, I'm treated really well.
It’s like it's working on a SAG set. I also like the Conservatory a lot because of what they do for students and what actors can get out of it, as well. Like sometimes I'll get just called in Victoria Hoffman, you know, call and goes, “Can you do this kind of class or that kind of class?”
Well, for me it's class. I love class. I love working. I love learning. You know, we never stop learning and we never stop connecting. So, every experience onset is different and you know, you learn something new no matter what your age or how many roles you've done.
I came to LA pretty late in my life. So, I didn't get here in time to sort of have a young career here. My background was, I was dancing most of my life and then I ended up going to musical theater. And then I started training in Washington, D.C. at the Studio Theater there in all the forms.
So, I took a lot of classes and, you know, I had this experience. I was in Seattle and I got a little under five part on “The Fugitive” that Tim Daly was in, that they were shooting up there. And I had only ever done as far as film and television at that time. I'd only ever done extra work, background work. So, I go on set and they had an umbrella for me because of course it was Seattle and it was raining. And then they take me and they said, “We’ll take you to your trailer.” I said, “I have a trailer. I have five lines. I'm so excited.” And I thought, I'm moving to L.A. That's it.
But you know, I wish I'd done, you know, I don't regret it because I had a lot of experience along the way and I got to do a lot of wonderful theater and I still love theater very, very much. But it was good to you know, get here. And so, it didn't matter to me because yeah, I was older, but then I just got different roles so I just, you know, I just keep going like we all do.
So, there's, you know, all the auditions, all the ones you don't get, and those gems you do get, just make it, it never leaves you, it's part of you. So, I'm, you know, I'm always happy when AFI called.
Passionistas: Prem, based on what Madonna was saying, do you think as an actor, she brings something to a part because she has those life experiences that weren't all… She wasn't just an actress for 20 years. She had all these other life experiences. Do you think that makes a difference as an actress from a directing standpoint?
Prem: Absolutely. The way Madonna carries, there's her body and the physicality of an all a dancing background and a theater background. You really have to I mean, I also have a theater background and dance actually, but you really have to know space and your emotions are constantly be connected to your physical, and those things are never separate. And so Madonna is a master at… there's just a natural… Madonna carries her body so naturally and is able to sink into it, you know like this is the scene. Because sometimes, you know, you see actors and you can tell that they're not comfortable or they're not… and their physical body shows that. So, to answer your question, I think it's such a treat to have an actor with this diverse background.
And also, I think Madonna, women your age, my age… beautiful time. I feel like that is to see, this is what I'm passionate about too is putting women that are older on screen, you know what I mean? And I think there's such like power in the age that you are, and I can't wait to be, you know, each year it's like, oh, this is so fascinating and interesting, like, my body's changing and, but I have so much more to offer and storytelling and to see. I don't know. To see a face like Madonna's on screen is like, every time I see our short film, I'm like, this is what I think we need more of.
Passionistas: It's funny you say that about her body and her walk because I don't know that I've ever seen an actor act with their back before. Like Madonna walking away from camera. expresses more than most actors can do with a five-page monologue.
Passionistas: And it was fascinating to see. I'm in tears and all she's doing is walking away from me. I can't even see her face. Because what's going on, even though we're not on her face, like it's all happening still inside of her.
Prem: So, and you're right. You see through everything, you see it. You see it no matter what. Like the camera picks up all of it. Even that, you know, being on her back, I'm not going to give away the shot we're talking about, but yeah, it's really magical. Yeah.
Madonna; But there was a lot of magic in that space too and, in that environment it was, you couldn't have found a better place to shoot this film. Honestly. There were so many natural lines and, and so much beauty in that forest, you know that it was just like, honestly, like the film resonated. The message of the film resonated and the foliage in the trees.
And the house like you were asking earlier, you know, when you asked Carylanna like this almost was another character. The house was definitely another character. The house was like, I felt like I had to be very respectful of the house and we had to have a connection. Honestly, there was just some stuff going on there. And then the outdoors, of course, was, I love being out in nature, so it was very much fun for me.
Passionistas: I love that house. Tell us about it. Was that the condition that it was in or did your production designers bring it to life like that?
Carylanna: A bit of both. Our production designer definitely pushed it. The house was built as a prop house in the eighties for a movie called “Shiloh 2.” And it is just…
Prem: You remember that, Carylanna?
Carylanna: Yeah, especially with my memory for names. But it sat there just open to the elements for what is that now going on 40 years that it was not ever meant to stand for more than the length of a production. So, there are literal holes in the ceiling where vines are growing into the building. And yeah, it's definitely on its way to succumbing to nature. And Daniel and his team definitely pushed it a bit more, but it's, yeah, it's, it's certainly like infused with that environment. It definitely felt like a place with history.
That's interesting that you say that, Madonna, the feeling like you had to respect it. You really see their work whenever they're making it seem present because the past is kind of there. There are some scenes in the kitchen, and they really make that warm and inviting and feel lived in. There are some dark room scenes too that are kind of the same, that's where you see their magic on screen.
Passionistas: Prem, you were saying that it's important for you to foster women in film, on screen and off, and one of the things that you have founded is the Moonfaze Feminist Film Festival. So tell us what that is and why you started it and what's the current situation like that
Prem: The festival is no longer, unfortunately. It lasted for four. Two years in person live events and then we went online but I created it out of just necessity. I directed my first short film called “Luna” which I also acted in, and I was struggling to find a platform for this baby of a film that I'd made. It was my first film, you know, so, I was struggling to find a platform to showcase my work and I just was struck with the idea of why not make a film festival for myself and my peers. And once it was one of those, you know, when you get creative, like, I'm sure you felt that when you started Passionistas, where you're like, oh my God, that's it. This is what I have to do. Right? You're just like, you know, in every cell. And we get those hits. I don't know how many we get in a lifetime, but I’m, I'm grateful for every one. And that was one of them where I was just like the doors started to open and the right people came in and all of a sudden, we had a venue and I had the most amazing experience curating that festival where we celebrated, it was all, you know, female-led, non-binary-led films. And it was amazing.
But as I transitioned into really focusing on directing, I couldn't do both. And it was one of those things that just naturally dissolved, but I'm still hold it up to one of the most amazing experiences of an artist and an activist being able to provide a platform. I wouldn't, maybe someday we'll bring it back because it was pretty amazing to be honest. Yeah, it was cool. You're making me think about it.
Passionistas: Maybe it could be part of the Power of Passionistas Summit some year.
Prem: Yes. Ooh…
Passionistas: We'll have to talk.
Prem: There you go. Oh my God, I would love that. Yeah. I mean, asking about that.
Passionistas: Yeah, there is so much synchronicity in all of us, I think in what we are doing with The Passionistas Project, in what you have all said is your passion and about storytelling and advancing women and social justice issues. So maybe each of you could just talk a little bit about that and about how that informs the film projects that you like to work on.
Madonna: You know, I'm a been an activist since, I've been an out LGBTQIA person since I was, since 1971. I saw a thing one time that said Gay AF Since 1971 on somebody else's thing. I was like, that's me. Uh, I've always sort of been out. I've never really, I mean, I grew up in Texas, so I, you know, there was a lot of opportunity for bad things to happen. I don't know why they didn't, but they didn't. So, I've always been a person who has fought for people's rights one way or the other, and for animals rights, like to protect our, our four-legged and our, and our humans with kindness and respect and dignity, which is what every, I think, every living being deserves. Why we beat each other up, I have no idea. I think it's a horrible model. I think we should stop doing it immediately. I'm putting my foot down. We all need to stop doing that. But, you know, so, any time, like Carylanna was saying, and Prem, we're saying anytime you can tell a story or I can find a character who's revealing something about that, who's helping someone else who might be in a situation and they somehow, something you do helps them through that situation, helps them.
You know, there are many ways, there are many instances where that could happen and I just think, you know, my wife and I have both had people reach out to us from through our acting and through other means because they are young. We've had people reach out to us from Russia and other sort of hostile areas where they could not be themselves and say, you know, something you did helped me see myself. So I think when you can do that through living your life with the passion that we all have in this room, and that I'm sure many people watching have that you, that you are making, by simply living your life, but then to take it further and make films and, and do The Passionistas Project. You know, I watch a lot of the people you interview and your shows, and it's just the work you're doing is making change in the world. So, we've all sort of made that choice.
And sometimes it gets hard to keep the light shining when things are happening, but it's these mediums that help us keep it shining. We can reflect something to someone. And I think that's, for me, that's why it's important and that's why I'll always choose projects. I mean, I, you know, I want to work, but I also love projects that advance social justice for humans and animals and the earth.
Carylanna: So, I mentioned before, I come from cultural anthropology and that's. It's about understanding the world holistically and understanding humanity and all its diversity in time and place and in connection to other things that are going on in the world. So I tend to look for stories that channel that.
And it's never all of that in one thing like I've done a feature film called “Anya” that has, that's like critiquing the idea of what difference truly means and how we can get past that. Because underneath it, we're still humans. And I’m currently working writing a project that's inspired by my research in Honduras with migrants and natural resource management there and trying to shape it as a lens into what makes Central America unstable. Like we have a tendency in the US to look at it as being this very unstable place that's not livable and that that's why we get all these migrants at the border and yada yada, when in reality I've spent, I mean, a decade off and on living in Honduras and working with people from there and they come from a beautiful place, a place that's a home, a place that they love, a place where they love, a place where they work hard and when it becomes unstable, it's tragic. When somebody has to leave home, it's involuntary. So, I'm trying to write, probably a series. It keeps splitting around between a film and a series and a novel that captures that sense of home, but that does it in a way that an American audience can kind of encounter that and understand it — maybe people who wouldn't automatically think like that. So that's what I'm working on right now.
I'm also passionate about mental health issues and working on a script for that. I also get to read for some really interesting companies and have a little bit of an opportunity to say, this is a really great project. You should think about making it. And it's always exciting when I find something that's really, really special that might get made.
Prem: I'm very like, proud of you, Carylanna. I'm like, yes. So exciting. Hard. You know, Madonna said it. It's hard. It's hard to have the faith in yourself to say, I can have a voice in this. I can, yeah. It's worth the next four months of my life to work on this as opposed to like scrambling to find a particular job. It's like it's hard to, yeah, it's hard to hang onto the passion. So, I really appreciate this because it helps remind me to hang onto the passion. Yeah. It reignites the flame that's like, sometimes it's like just about to go out and then things like this happen and I'm like, “Oh, okay. Yes. Okay.”
I was just thinking of, you know, I realized. I tend to write stories that don't have a political or any sort of agenda. I don't think stories necessarily have to have an agenda to shift the paradigm, to have an impact because I think the thing that really does change us is the emotional feeling, connection. That's the beauty of drama and raw, brutal, honest, beautiful truth. So that's where I'm coming from because I think we can get lost in pushing an agenda, political, gender, all of it, you know, and lose the root intention and core and heart and soul of what we're trying to say. And so, to me the most important thing is that and the other stuff will come naturally if that is part of what you're passionate about, and we all are.
Passionistas: What did you each learn about yourself from making this film together?
Carylanna: I'm going to kind of punt and say that I, coming from academia, I'm very, I tend to be very analytical and it gets in the way of filmmaking and it gets in the way of writing sometimes. It's very helpful with research. It's helpful with market analysis. It's helpful with all kinds of things. But in terms of telling a story that just grabs somebody by the lapels and carries them along and immerses them in somebody's life, that requires emotion. And that's why I wanted to work with Prem is because she does such a beautiful job of embodying emotion. So, our relationship was not always like super easy because we're coming at things from very different sides.
But I learned a lot about tapping into emotion and working with somebody who's so in tune with it and watching her work with actors was really enlightening, too. So, I think in that arena, I grew a lot because of this.
Prem: I'm going to dive in if that's okay, because I want to say the same with Carylanna, like working with the other side of my brain and learning how to hone the emotion, but like use it efficiently and productively and adapt to different ways of using it to my best ability. Being on set is such a magical thing… like there's all this emotion and you have to go, and just be like locked in sort of like carrying all this emotion, but also very in a jar, like you have the lid and you're releasing it every now and then to like connect with the actors.
So yeah, I just learned a lot working with Carylanna and working with such a good producer. I learned what the director's part in that collaboration really is. And I think that I can now go forward and, I don't know, have some really beautiful relationships and I'm excited about that.
Madonna: I just learned, I mean, it's just another experience of being with a group of people who have really great hearts and are incredibly talented and can show me something about myself. As an actor, you want to get feedback, you want to get notes.
I mean, Prem and I had the luxury of having some rehearsal time, which you don't often get. And so we got to have some nice conversations. And seeing Prem’s sort of point of view reminded me of myself when I was younger and when I was sort of really, I mean, I'm still passionate, but it's different for me. It's taken a different kind of a vibe. And I was able to sort of harness like Prem’s passion in the way that she works and use that in my, in this character, but also just sort of as an actor, like opening myself up again to my younger self and to my older self. You know, sort of really appreciating my age. And that's what this story does. I've never had a problem aging. I love the lines on my fa I love that Brandi Carlisle song. You know, the story. That's one of my favorite songs. Mm-hmm.., because these lines are my experience in, in this world and I like them, you know?
And so, this film continues to help me see that and embrace that part of myself. Because aging is also not for the fainthearted. You just start going through new things. You just, things hurt that you didn't know were going to hurt. And so, you know, it was really a reflection of honoring my aging process as well.
Prem: So, Carylanna, you were telling us about up your upcoming projects. What about Prem and Madonna, what do you guys have in the pipeline?
Prem: I am developing multiple projects, multiple feature film scripts. One of them is the feature film version of this film, which recently I made it to semi-finalists in the Outfest screenwriting lab. So, that was a win for me. I'm celebrating all semi-finalist things. Every little step counts. So, I was really excited about that, but I also got some feedback that I feel like is really beneficial to the script. So, I'm thrilled to execute that and take it to the next level.
I'm also working on a feature film script about, The California Gold Rush seen from a non-heteronormative female perspective. I'm, I'm obsessed with westerns and period pieces. It's like my other… So, it's a huge undertaking. So that'll probably be in a decade, maybe. And then a horror film I'm slowly working on.
Madonna: Oh, I love horror films.
Prem: Me too.
Madonna: I just keep auditioning. I've got a couple of fingers crossed on a couple of things right now that I can't talk about, but I, you know, just hopefully, I just keep, as all actors do, I, we just keep auditioning. Robin and I set up, we finally have a media area where we can keep our ring light and our backdrop up and we can keep doing scenes. And two of the things that I have had come my way recently, whether I get them or not, they're really great projects. And I always consider an audition like I'm going to work. So, yeah, just fingers crossed on those. And we just keep going, like looking at I've got great agents and a great manager and, and they know me, so I'm really happy about all that.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interviews with Prem Santana, Carylanna Taylor and Madonna Cacciatore.
To learn more about “I Thought The Earth Remembered Me” and Prem Santana’s other work visit www.premsantana.com
Go to first encounter productions dot.com to stay up to date on Carylanna Taylor’s projects.
Stay on top of all of the great work that Madonna Cacciatore is doing at IMDb dot com and on her website m cacciatore dot com.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.
We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.
Until then. Stay well and stay passionate.