Editor’s Note: Filmmaker and Hawai’i creative, Connie Florez, has been a local fixture for years in the digital media world. I ran into her at the Hawai’i International Film Festival and was interested to hear her take on where the Hawai’i’s film space is headed and, what she liked at HIFF. (You can see my recent HIFF picks too).
I sat down with her recently for this interview.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background as a creative in the digital media space? How did this journey begin?
I’ve been making movies for almost three decades! I seriously I love filmmaking out of a love for movies since growing up with a mom that completely loved taking our station wagon of 6 other siblings and myself to the DRIVE-IN and movies. I loved art in high school and fine arts in college. I found myself in my 20s working in engineering field and going back to college for the thirst to knowing more on how things work. Only to always come back to the arts even while working in engineering for 7 years.
Then I found myself in management again and returning to film by 1995 with the Executive Director for the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation for the next 15 years that is the umbrella for the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. That was the beginning of working and producing my first film in 1998 with a rag tag group of indie media makers over the next 3 years. I found myself staying on track with starting Hula Girl Productions LLC by 2003.
Since then, I have worked in the areas of Producing, Line Producing, Development & Marketing, Directing, Assistant Directing, Director of Photography, Production Manager, Casting, Location Management through Post-production and Distribution. Being an indie filmmaker is an endless journey of learning on a daily basis.
I met Bruce Cohen (producer for American Beauty 1999) at a LA based OUTFEST Film Festival. Bruce instilled in me during our conversation about his experiences in media. My biggest take away from that afternoon was that as media makers we can never ever stop being teachable.
Media constantly changes and once you say you got or you don’t need others. you have just lost your way and career growth just stops. I stay the course to consistently keep learning and growing as a better filmmaker, one day at a time. My fire has been to support stories that I have a passion for in life, stories that can change humanity towards a better place here on earth.
Q: HIFF has always been a kind of watering hole for creatives around the Pacific Rim? What impact do you think HIFF has had on the local digital media space?
The best thing about HIFF is the bridge from U.S.A. to the Pacific Rim and Asia. Therefore, the responsibility is huge for HIFF as the bridge. Hawaii is the most diversified state in the U.S.A. That says a lot. The space HIFF provides for local digital media has become more like a responsibility or kuleana in HIFF. In the last 10 years we have Hawaii Women in Filmmaking founded by Vera Zambonelli; HFC-Hawaii Filmmakers Collective, founded by Kainoa Rudolfo and Tom Schneider; and we have Ohina which began over 20 years ago as a film festival to now being an incubator lab for media makers. All three have become incubator labs for media makers.
All three of these are now working with the Hawaii State Film Office (DEBDT) which is directed by Georja Skinner with her amazing vision of creating the Hawaii State Creative Lab Hawaii. It’s the Sundance of the Pacific and works at supporting indie filmmakers from Hawaii with the resources and training for telling stories in all genres. This has been the breakthrough for filmmakers in Hawaii. Pacific Islanders in Communications – National PBS Consortia also participates with the Creative Labs. It has been a win-win and continues continues to grow.
The infrastructure of indie filmmaking in Hawaii is immersive and growing and it truly is a fellowship of Hawaii based filmmakers. 25 years ago I found myself going back and forth to SF and LA and NYC to learn and grow as a filmmaker from those organizations, festivals, workshops and markets on the mainland. Now Hawaii has it here in the state! That is a beautiful thing to see and to be a part of the growth.
Q: Did a local film catch your attention during the most recent HIFF? Perhaps something evocative of a future trend?
Two films that total caught my attention:
Po’ele Wai by Tiare Ribeaux (Director/Editor), Lenape Creative Group’s Sebastian Galasso (Producer/Co-Writer) and Jody Stillwater (DP/Producer). Blew so many of us indie filmmakers away.
E Malama Pono Willy Boy written by Nani Ross and Scott Kekama Amona. Excellent edit and story. Mano – shark animated short was another amazing work from Hawaii.
Q: UH West Oahu just opened a new ACM program which interesting coincided with HIFF this year. Do you think the University can play a bigger role in expanding the industry?
Definitely ACM and HPU film schools can play a larger role in expanding the industry. I’ve taught for several years as an adjunct lecturer for ACM and know the power of teaching and mentoring. Students working as interns and mentorship programs are the backbone to learning. Now with the non-profits that have indie filmmakers thriving this is the best place for these college students to learn the next level of creative storytelling. Some will work as interns in television industry, some will do both indie and tv and some will go in multimedia. It is really the greatest time in Hawaii to be an indie media maker. The opportunities are endless now.
Q: What can the state do to move the industry forward?
The State is always working on improving the film industry. Even when you think they aren’t…trust me they are always working at improving it and the movers and shakers are deeply investing their lives in supporting the future filmmakers of Hawaii. Some new areas are establishing a tax credit for Hawaii based filmmakers with a min budget of $100k for micro-budget movies.
They have cut it in half from the $200k minimum. That is a lot and offers a leg up. Also, the last couple of years is a push to provide funds that offers grants to Hawaii Based Filmmakers for projects. Several ideas are on the table on how to do it with our Hawaii Sate Film Office director Georja Skinner at the helm. We also have the co-op for filmmakers as well at the Sandbox in Kaka’ako. These are all from our State Film Office Director.
Q: Where do you see local digital media going?
Growing more in the area of Producing and mentoring so media makers can know the pitfalls and grow as filmmakers. So much to learn and so much to teach in real world life of media. I’m still learning always. I sincerely want to support filmmakers with the right tools to be successful. That is where the foundation of filmmaking needs to grow. More mentoring and always staying teachable.
Q: What are your current projects?
The Glades Project is a feature documentary and passion project about the famous Hotel Street night club the Glade Show Lounge with Prince Hanalei and Brandy Lee. PIC is currently funding Production finishing funds. I’ve carried this project since 2002.
Waikiki the film, we are now reviewing several options for distribution. We just developed a team to carry that through so more people around the world can see it soon.
Hood Dragon by Ogin Productions is currently greenlit by Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. So development process is happening now and we have an indie Hawaii team on board to travel to Georgia. African American and Asian Pacific Islander movie.
Yasuke- Soul of the Sword by Ogin Productions is one of Connie’s projects in development
7000 Miles is in post-production by Alixzandra Dove Rothchild. Feature film project
Dead Season II is in post-production Directed by Adam Devoe/Fairai Richmond.
Fluxx is in final production and to post-production directed by Brendan Gabriel Murphy.
Q: Any advice you have to up and coming creatives?
Know who your audience is and how to reach them. Know how to get your story to your audience and build a team that is willing to do the long haul marathon run with you. It takes a village to make a movie and it takes that same village to finish it all the way through distribution. Allow yourself to stay teachable and you will always be a leader.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add on the current digital media space in Hawaii?
If you are a writer, director, DP, animator, storyteller, lighting or creative then participate in the organizations I listed above and you will be amazed how others will help you in your vision.
If you want to produce and support the production team, always learn all that you can hands on. The best way to direct or manage others is know how to walk in your teammates shoes. So learn the jobs hands on. They will respect you more for knowing their jobs to your best ability. Producing and learning from development to production to post-production and distribution is huge and makes you the best support for any indie filmmaking team. It is a lifetime of learning and curve balls are always being thrown at you. Know who you are working with and how to navigate the territory are the biggest lessons as a producer.
When I was in engineering school my calculus professor said something that I will never forget…You will never use these formulas in the real world; what I am here to teach you is different ways to find solutions. When my professor said that my eyes opened up and the path suddenly got easier to comprehend. I found myself solving page long solutions differently than others in class with the same answers. The method wasn’t always the same but isn’t that true in life and in producing. Really what I did in engineering school and in managing people and in the arts has all come down to one simple way of working and living.
As a Producer I am always solving problems every minute throughout the process of making movies from the time I receive and idea to a script in development to distribution. There are so many pitfalls and so much corruption and stealing Intellectual Property and damaged lives in filmmaking. I’ve seen it firsthand right in our state of Hawaii and abroad. Staying the course in taking the high road is so much better. It is all about finding the solutions that can be comprehended and tangible for the team and those I work with on any project. Most importantly to have the integrity to do it with strong values and ethics as a producer.
So vital in our human behavior and malama pono can’t be expressed in a better way than how you live life.