Director of Know How

Each year a group of foster care youth discover a non-profit called the Possibility Project. These teenagers are chosen to participate in the program based on their desire to create a better world. They come together for one year to share their stories. They learn to create change for themselves and their communities. They also create an original musical from the stories of their lives. Now they have adapted their show into a film.

It’s the most unlikely underdog indie film story I’ve ever heard; one I got wrapped up in inextricably, and somehow got made despite impossible circumstances.

The day I met my cast I had no idea how close, invested, and personal it would all be. I just thought, “What an absolutely amazing and exhilarating experience it will be getting to know them and their lives”. That’s literally my journal entry from the first time I met them. Each of their stories was a heart-wrenching reality I could never have imagined, so alien, so close by, and yet full of hope. 

I sat, I listened, I asked questions and more questions, and I listened. It was immersive storytelling to help transpose and transform their world into a film. We did an exercise together one day to chat about what wanted our future to be about, and my mantra became this: I am here on this earth to be a vessel for change. To fix the social inequities I perceive in our world. I use my love and willpower in life to catalyze people around me. It is through our shared experience and willingness to persevere that we create tangible change.

My inspiration and passion for motion pictures derives from empathy. At some point the entire essence of what I’m hearing washes over me, and I start thinking differently like I’m a different person in a different universe. When it connects, it’s an awesome feeling, and then it’s a singular drive to unearth an emotional truth for myself and others who may not have lived the same life, yet can see how similar all our worlds are.

We rehearsed as we imagined, the whole process was uniquely collaborative. The film took shape through their stories, and scenes were ripped directly from their memories. A multi-protagonist plotline formed that weaved in and out of each other's lives. Sometimes they were deeply involved in one another's world, and sometimes they just glanced off for a moment. We pulled many of the songs from the original musical, re-invented a couple of them, made an homage to “It’s a hard knock life”, and even created a brand new love rap just for the movie. Somehow we ended up with a 124-page foster care epic that was a little bit like “The Wire” meets “Glee”, but not really.

The day before we started shooting one of the cast members said, "We are Warriors, Juan Carlos. We, Are, Real.” He was right, we lived the next four months of production battling to capture the moment. It was so intense I now have white hairs growing on my chin to prove it. They call production a war because it is, with an unseen enemy who seemingly has a grudge against; my assistant director would joke, "It's a 13 inch foot trying to fit in a size 9 shoe".

I really wanted the picture to have a documentary sensibility; a major choice early on was using the Meisner technique as our primary acting method to evocatively voice that universe. We worked and studied for months, building that ethos of “being in the moment” and improvising through reaction to find a truth as raw as their own. Nearly all the camerawork is handheld to give that feeling of being flies on the wall. I chose long lenses to crush the space between them and us; their beautifully young faces were full of wisdom and sensibilities that felt like that of much older people, and I wanted people to see that age. I wanted a world that brought you in, suffocated you with unseen walls, and left you feeling close to the youth.

This movie was made to give voice to a group seldom heard from, and to most people, their last experience of foster care in mainstream culture was probably “Annie”; a musical about an orphan whose world takes us back to 1933. Unsurprisingly, 79 years later, a lot has changed; who better to walk us through it than the actual people who live it today?