SUMMERTIME Video Interview With Director Carlos López Estrada And Producer Kelly Marie Tran
Summertime is released in theaters TOMORROW, and we caught up with director Carlos López Estrada (Raya and the Last Dragon) and producer Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars). to discuss the ambitious project.
Summertime is a spoken word poetry musical set in Los Angeles, following the intersecting stories of 27 young Angelinos over the course of a single day. Developed over a summer workshop with 27 youth poets (all of whom served as co-writers and stars), this may sound like an unconventional movie, but trust us when we say it's an inspiring, beautiful experience we can't recommend highly enough.
We recently shared their comments on the possibility of teaming up for a project set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this interview puts the spotlight squarely on Summertime. Talking about what led to them collaborating on the project, Carlos and Kelly also share their insight into working with the Get Lit poets, the importance of telling these stories, and even whether a sequel could happen.
Kelly also opens up about going from being part of a project like Star Wars to stepping behind the camera as a producer. Like the movie, this is a fascinating conversation with two wonderfully creative talents, and we want to extend our thanks to them both for taking the time to sit down for a chat with us.
Watch the full interview below:
A lot of our readers will know that you both collaborated on Raya and the Last Dragon, but what led you from that to working together on a project like Summertime?
Carlos: Kelly and I were just getting off Raya. We actually had our very last engagement with it which was in the release campaign when we were doing a live screening in LA and decided to go out for dinner after. We had this really beautiful conversation about what we were up to next and what were the kinds of projects we were excited and inspired about. She was telling me about the stories that had been moving her and the projects she’d been supporting, and for some reason, I said, ‘Look, I’m working on this movie called Summertime. It’s a really special thing that’s really close to my heart and I feel like I should tell you about it and show you it.’
So, I screened the movie for her, and I think [Kelly’s reaction] was very similar to the one I had when I was first introduced to this group of poets which was a really profound, healing experience from seeing all these young artists use their voice to promote real positive change. It happened to be two years ago, and since then, I’ve been trying to find ways to support their voices as much as possible. That’s what Summertime is. I showed it to Kelly and she decided to graciously join our project and help us become a step in the journey of these artists. I think we’re just happy now to put it out in the world.
Kelly: I think that [answer] was perfect [Laughs].
Kelly, you were coming off projects like Star Wars and a big Disney film that are part of these big machines, so was it important to you as a producer to have some input into a project like this and stretch your creative imagination in a different way?
Kelly: I think it’s a little different with Summertime as I came on to the project after it was already completed, but I will say that even just in a lot of the things we’ve done to help usher this film into the world...I had a weird idea about learning how to write poetry, and we made that happen! Things like that are really cool just in terms of the experience of helping usher this film into the world. I definitely feel like I have learned so much from this community of poets. Honestly, It almost feels like they’re teaching me more than I could ever teach them [Laughs] in a really beautiful way and I’m just grateful.
I read online that you were looking to get involved with the Get Lit workshops so did you get a chance to do that?
Kelly: Yes, Carlos and I both went through a poetry boot camp and learned how to write poetry and performed poetry. It was incredible and horrifying and absolutely beautiful and I am excited to continue on a poetry journey.
For you, Carlos, what were the biggest challenges with taking the incredible poems we hear throughout the film and turning them into a narrative we see intersect as the film continues?
Carlos: I think the biggest challenge was the uncertainty that came with the project. The way that we developed it was quick and was very unorthodox. It was not at all how you’d normally develop a movie where you work really long on a script and get it to a place where it’s very solid and then bring on the next tier of collaborators and do the pre-production and casting. The entirety of the movie was put together over a summer workshop. I think it took four months. At the beginning of it, we had nothing, and by the end of it, we’d shot a movie.
As you can imagine, every step of the process was unlike the one you traditionally follow. Casting, most of the people in the movie are making their feature film debut. None of the poets had acted professionally in front of a movie camera and they had never written a movie, so we knew from early on that we had to embrace the chaos and imperfections. The beauty of the movie was going to be in how honestly we could capture the voices of the poets and that nothing else matters. That was the most difficult and scariest thing, but it also became the most satisfying and most beautiful thing about it. Just the fact we were all in on this together, we were improvising the movie together, but ultimately, I think we were able to capture the real vulnerability and extreme empathy that the poets operate under. That’s really what the objective was and we’re just so proud we were able to do it. It was terrifying, but we did it.
With you, Kelly, being a producer on the project and as you look ahead to the future, even though this film is very much quintessentially Los Angeles, do you think you could take this concept to different cities? Not necessarily for a sequel, but to explore other stories, whether it be New York or London?
Kelly: You brought up London which is one of my favourite places in the world. I would just love to be in London and watch theater all the time and make magical things with Carlos, so that’s all I’m going to say [Laughs].
Carlos: Yeah, I think the movie really aims to empower voices to be loud and say the things that are important to them and I think that’s what the poets did here. Listen, if we’re able to do that with other communities whether it’s here in Los Angeles or beyond, I think that would be the dream. For young people to feel like whatever it is they have to say that’s important to them and that burning thing inside their chest...for them to be empowered to share that with as many people as possible, I think that would be the ultimate dream.
Talking of empowering, one of my favourite scenes is the one on the bus with the young woman talking about her sexuality and why she’s not ashamed of that. For you both, were there any poems in the film that particularly resonated with you or is it too difficult to pick?
Carlos: It’s definitely difficult to pick, but I’m partial to the last poem. It’s called ‘Clouds’ and the only reason I’m partial to it is that it’s about intersectionality and the importance of stories. For me, it perfectly encapsulates what the movie is. Also, in the film, it’s the moment that brings all of the stories together and the moment that certainly gives us the perspective of seeing that we’re all part of this bigger narrative and what we’re saying and our stories matter. Just because of what it represents for the movie, it affects me every single time I see it.
Kelly: I’m so bad at picking a favourite! I will say this: I think my favourite thing about this film and all the poets, in general, is the idea that there are these 27 young artists who are being really brave and vulnerable and sharing parts of themselves that are hard to share. Carlos and I, after having gone through our poetry boot camp, realised how scary it is to share something that comes from inside of you that way. It is such a noble art form. I think that I can’t pick a favourite, but I will say that my favourite thing about this community is the ability to do scary things and share parts of yourself society has maybe told us we shouldn’t. That is something I’ll remember forever.