Spotlight: Gabe Romero with Leftside Pictures
Gabe Romero is a director, screenwriter, composer and musician. He started his production company Leftside Pictures with his collaborator and high-school friend, Levi Holwell, in 2016.
PIB: What inspired you to get started in that business?
GR: I really liked film and music, but it was actually in film studies in high school where I guess it became a kind of a thing that you would do with friends. As time went on it just naturally progressed to becoming a career.
PIB: What point did you think, "this could be something I could do as a career?"
GR: It's actually been kind of lately where we've been receiving more government grants and we've been getting more attention from the media and people from our community, going to film festivals in Calgary and Vancouver. That's when it's just beginning to feel more like we can actually do it. Like it's more attainable.
PIB: Could you tell me a little bit about what it's like to be a filmmaker in Calgary?
GR: It is kind of a close knit community and you kind of know everyone already in it. All of your contemporaries, you know them and you hang out with them and you go see their work. It does feel like Calgary is an up-and-coming place in particular for film and music. I do feel like this batch, this generation, it's talented and it's just a matter of time where we start to really get bigger and get more acclaim throughout Canada. But it does feel like we're up-and-coming. It's funny. You work with the same people over and over again and you get to know everyone. It honestly does feel like we're the first to start doing this here in Calgary.
I mean we don't have the big studios here. It's not like we're Vancouver or Toronto. Everything here is new, and I guess there is a freedom in that, that you can be the first.
PIB: It sounds like you look at it less like a challenge and more of an opportunity.
GR: We made out peace with that early on. We were like, "okay, we're from Calgary, we have support in the city, we get money from the out from the top, and we have to make it work." There is less competition, but that means you have to make it all out for yourself. You know, you have to do the production company, you have to discover yourself, basically.
PIB: A couple of the pieces that you submitted for the Spotlight do have an LGBTQ focus to them like Civil and Undeclared Major Francis. Where do you find the inspiration to follow those themes in the queer community?
GR: Well, they always felt sort of supernatural for me. You know, I felt like it's what I was going through and what I wanted to see. It had always felt really nice to not only be talking about change but actually doing it, contributing to the conversation. Giving representation to not only queer people but queer people of color. It just felt really, really natural. It's my world, it's the people I know, and it never felt like a stretch. For me, it's just like a project, but for other people it's gay and it's political. That’s just the world I know and it's my friends. We're excited to keep making as much queer content as possible because it just feels so necessary and it feels like a natural thing to do, you know?
PIB: In particular with Undeclared Major Francis, I think that short film is something anybody who's gone through any education setting really as a queer person could relate to. Did you draw from any of your own personal experiences directing that film?
GR: One-hundred per cent. When I started to come out and I started to try and find movies and books, I began to find how difficult it was to find the content. I think you have to go and buy the BLU Ray or get the DVD. You have to go to the library. You have to really, really find your gay education. It's just not given to you. You have to go out and find your history, what people have done before you, the pioneers, everything. You have to know your history and you have to do it all yourself. And it did feel like I had to go out of my way to find out about my own history.
PIB: You've already spoken to the importance of representation in film, do you remember the first time you fell represented on screen in that way?
GR: It was pretty late in life. It was probably when I was 22 and I'd seen a British foreign film and that was the first time that I was really moved.
PIB: What was the film?
GR: It was called Maurice. That was really one of the pivotal moments, it was personal. It was directed by a gay man and it was written by a gay author. So it felt very true.
PIB: Would you say that was a pivotal moment in your career as a film director?
GR: Yeah, right after that I wrote Undeclared Major Francis, which was technically my first real short film. It really did inspire me.
PIB: Why do you strive to put those films with representation out there?
GR: I think when you go into a place of writing and of creation, you really tap into your own history, what you've been through, what you feel comfortable in. I think it's scary at first when you're making something queer cause that brands you as a gay filmmaker or you make gay content. I think that's the scariest part. But when you're on the other side, when you're actually writing it, when you're directing it, when you're building that world that happens to be queer, it feels so genuine. And it feels like you're using your own voice, your own experiences. And so, I think it really is more of a personal thing. I would love everyone to be able to make their own movie and tell their own story and to write their own stuff. Because at the end of the day, it is something super personal and if people around you embrace it and they engage with it and they understand it, that's great, but it always comes from an extremely personal space of what you can tell and what you know.
PIB: There seems to be a really strong focus on the audio in your films. What draws you to keep that focus on audio alongside the images?
I've always loved music. I think working within film and making musical soundtracks or scores it does lead to more, it leads to a whole new world. I sometimes feel like 50% of the movie might be sound. It might be the music; it might be the audio. And I think, I think it's just another big way of expressing everything you want to have on screen really immerse audience, both in the visuals and the audio. I just feel like I have another way of adding feelings, emotion, and story with music to really flush it out and to really make a fully fleshed out project.
PIB: In your short film Century there seems to be a lot of focus on sound design, especially considering the impact of the church organ at the end. How do you find an audience reacts to something where they might come in expecting maybe more dialogue or more of a narrative between the characters?
GR: That was a conversation between me and Levi. When it comes to those experimental projects, there's no money behind them, which means you can do whatever we want to. If we want to like have people run around a church in black and white, we can do that. As opposed to maybe later in our careers where maybe there's more money or whatnot. So for us, when went there, we were very graciously given Knox United for free and they let us run around for like two days and it was a big collaboration with the actors, seeing what they would want to do and the improv they did. A project like Century is trying to capture moments and emotions. Having a camera at the right place at the right time if the acting is something spectacular or something fun. That's the fun part about a project like that where, because it's unscripted, you can really go in there and you just let the actors, let time, let the space tell you what to do.
PIB: Working as both a director and composer, is there one side that you find you tend to gravitate towards?
GR: I just came off doing a project right now. Last weekend we just wrapped a short film I wrote and directed. After you do that, you just want to make music and then once you make a lot of music, then you want to direct. So it's like a balance thing if you need too much of one, you want to do the other. So, I love them both. I think they're so different, where music you can't see it, you just hear it and film it's just all visuals. I think it's a great balance. I think [film and music] are incredible and I really count myself lucky that I get to do it all the time.
PIB: Calgary has this reputation for being a buttoned-up conservative cowboy town. How do you find creating art within Calgary's queer community?
GR: Once you find your community and you get that safe place to do what you want to do and say what you want to say. I think that in itself is probably the hardest thing. It's very hard to stand alone and start yelling and really try to do things. It's when find yourself in a place with friends or in a community or a production company, where you're going to make authentic art. There's always that jump. It's putting yourself out there. That's the difficult part. But once you start making this stuff, you hope for it to get embraced and you hope that everyone will enjoy it. But there are people out there who don't know us and will hate us for our personal lives, and you can't help that. But there's just the confidence and the freedom and the bravery of making art. If it happens to be queer, standing with it, whether people are going to love it or hate it, I don't need to think about that anymore. It's kind of what I have to do.
Especially for the younger generation, for people who are coming up behind me, I feel like I just have to, and I want to make as much a queer content and queer movies that have great, strong queer characters. No longer for me, but for the people around me. I can't control how people are going to react to it — if they're going to hate it or love it — but what I can control is me making more of it, making it good, making it better. So, in this community in Calgary, yeah, I think they're are haters out there, but I think we have a lot of supporters, too.