Sometimes in life, in order to achieve success, you have to create your own path. That rings true when it comes to the ups and downs of Hollywood. One minute your phone is ringing off the hook, then next minute, you haven’t worked in months or years sometimes.
With that down time, some people take the initiative and make opportunities happen. One person who definitely fits that mold is writer/director/actor Castille Landon.
Born in Florida, Landon is a graduate of Harvard University and a current student in the Creative Writing Masters program at Oxford University where she was the only screenwriter accepted.
On the small screen, Castille first appeared in an episode of Ghost Whisperer, then followed that performance with appearances in Criminal Minds and the television movie A Housekeeper’s Revenge. On the big screen, she’s appeared in films such as Sex Ed opposite Haley Joel Osment, Windwalkers and Land of Leopold.
Castille soon decided to step behind the camera and directed and wrote the film Apple Of My Eye starring Oscar-nominated Burt Reynolds and Amy Smart and also was the executive producer of the film I Believe In Unicorns. Currently, her film Albion: The Enchanted Stallion, which stars Jennifer Morrison and Debra Messing, is available on VOD and pay per view.
We sit down with Castille and talk about several of her projects, the state of female directors in Hollywood today and what was the best advice she’s received.
Pop Culture Principle – When did you realize that being in the entertainment business was the career you wanted to pursue?
Castille Landon – I think there are a few pieces to unpack here — I started wanting to be an actor after doing musicals in middle school. I was in a production of School House Rock in sixth grade and that’s when my mom started to realize that it was something about which I was serious and for which I had a talent. She helped me to get to a certain point as far as pursuing that career, however, it wasn’t until I was about eighteen that I started taking the reins and seeing it as a business. Then in 2014, I shifted my focus to directing and writing.
Pop Culture Principle – How supportive were your parents when you decided what you wanted to do?
Castille Landon – My mom raised me by herself and she has always been supportive of me though, initially, she was quite reticent to have her daughter get into the arts. My entire family are pragmatic, business-oriented people, with blue collar values. I was the black sheep for a long time, and I loved that and resented it at the same time. Then when I started making my own films, I began recruiting my family to be a part of the process with me, to work in films. Now, my mom, my uncle, my cousin, my grandma, and my grandpa have all been involved in the business.
Pop Culture Principle – One of your earliest jobs was on an episode of Ghost Whisperer. Can you talk about your experience on that show and what it was like to be on set for the first time?
Castille Landon – That was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It was a small scene, to establish a character’s back story, and it kept shifting. When I was cast, it was to be in a fun, autumnal scene in a park. When I got to set, they told me I’d be laying in a casket while my parents fought over me. Then, they led me to the middle of the square where they filmed Back to the Future (on the Universal back lot), stuck the camera in my face for a close-up, and told me to cry on cue. It was a disaster!
Pop Culture Principle – When and why did you decide to start focusing on directing?
Castille Landon – I wasn’t enjoying the journey of being an actor. I was constantly brimming with anxiety and depression about not having enough work, and when I would get work, I would be so focused on how soon it would be over that I couldn’t enjoy it. I took a step back in 2014 and realized that I needed to focus my energy on something that was more within the realm of my control and that had a greater life span.
As an actor, you may work anywhere from one day to one month on a project, whereas as a filmmaker, a single project takes your energy and attention for well over a year. It was more sustainable. And I’m so grateful that I made the shift, because it has completely changed my outlook on life and allowed me to express myself and explore the world in precisely the kind of ways I had always wanted to, but never achieved, as an actor.
Pop Culture Principle – One of the first features you wrote and directed was “Apple Of My Eye” starring Burt Reynolds and Amy Smart. Can you talk about the genesis of this project and what you learned as a director?
Castille Landon – I was in post-production on my first feature and kept thinking about “what’s next?”, and one day when I was at the gym, I had the idea for a guide pony movie. I wrote the first draft within a few weeks and sent it to Amy, with whom I had the opportunity to work with in “Among Ravens”, and she signed on. From there, we sent it to Burt and Sony saw the poster and read the script and committed to buying it, so we were filming within about six months. It all happened pretty quickly with that one, which is shocking given that we also had to buy a mini horse foal and have it trained. From conception to delivery, though, it took about a year, which is crazy. It has definitely spoiled me.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it like working with the legendary Burt Reynolds?
Castille Landon – Burt is great. I was nervous because I had heard stories about him being tough, but we instantly got along. He’s so down-to-earth and easygoing. My favorite moment was getting to introduce my grandpa (who is a car fanatic and huge fan) to him. It’s always awkward introducing celebrities and “normal” people, but they got on like old pals. It was adorable. And I have to say, every time I watch a particular scene in that film, there’s a moment where the light catches his eyes and you see the innate charm he has, and it takes my breath away. That’s a movie star.
Pop Culture Principle – You are now also putting the finishing touches on another film you wrote and directed called “Albion: The Enchanted Stallion”. What can you tell us about this project?
Castille Landon – “Albion” was my first film, which started with me wanting to make “Game of Thrones for kids”. It ended up becoming this larger-than-life fantasy with an incredible cast (the legendary John Cleese, Debra Messing, Jennifer Morrison, Stephen Dorff). It was all done on an indie budget, so it’s more like the films of the past where they rely on more on scrappy methods and good writing than CGI, like Princess Bride or Monty Python. It has a very nostalgic feel, I think, and while it’s a “family film”, I think it has broad appeal— especially for fans of those classic 80s fantasy films.
Pop Culture Principle – What have been the biggest hurdles getting both these independent projects off the ground?
Castille Landon – Money is always the biggest hurdle. It’s hard to get and once you have it, there never seems to be enough of it. That being said, I’ve brought my films in on budget, but there are always so many concessions you must be willing to make as a filmmaker. I think that’s part of where treating it like a business comes as an advantage for me. I’m able to balance what I want with the needs of the production, and I know that if I work well within the parameters now, I’ll eventually have garnered enough trust that I’ll have earned the opportunity to color outside the lines.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you feel having acting experience helps you when it comes to directing other actors?
Castille Landon – Absolutely. The actress who stars in both of my films had never acted before. I had to break down the character for her and figure out what made her (the actress) tick, the same way that I had done for myself with roles, so that I could reach in and pull the performance I needed from her. As for the other, experienced actors, I think my experiences taught me to discuss the character first to ensure that we’re on the same page in terms of who she or he is as a person and how they function in society. Then, once we’re on set, give them freedom to play. I also think positive feedback and encouragement are key. Humans are sensitive, and actors are the most sensitive of all. That’s what makes them good: they’re raw nerves, they’re sponges, they’re mirrors. You must handle them with care.
Pop Culture Principle – Does being a director give you more control over your life and projects as opposed to being an actor?
Castille Landon – One hundred percent. It is so much more empowering. I’m not a controlling person in the sense that I’m able to be dynamic and collaborate, but I can’t be content living a life according to other peoples’ opinions of me. I have to have agency.
Pop Culture Principle – There is a push in the industry for more female directors. Do you feel Hollywood is heading in the right direction or that more work needs to be done?
Castille Landon – In 1998, of the 250 top-grossing films, women comprised 9% of the directors. In 2015, that figure dropped to 7%. There’s a lot of talk, but not much action.
Pop Culture Principle – Why do you think there is such a shortage when it comes to female directors?
Castille Landon – There isn’t a shortage in terms of the options. In my female filmmakers collaborative, Film Fatales, there are well over 600 women who have directed feature films. Despite this, very few of them have ever been considered to direct a studio film or even a big-budget indie. Why? I think we can take responsibility for often choosing relationship-based material, which is perhaps less “marketable” in the eyes of studio executives, whose tunnel vision is set on blockbuster franchises.
However, the causal relationship could be due to the fact that we can’t get tens of millions to make our movies, so women feel that to have any chance of creating content, they have to write with a minimal budget in mind. I think the problem is far more owing to the history of the industry and the connections that have already been made. Do I think it’s deliberate? Probably not. But I think men hang out together, they golf together, they hire each other. And they need to make a concerted effort to move beyond their immediate surroundings so that more female voices are heard.
Pop Culture Principle – What has been the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being in the industry?
Castille Landon – Always hire the best people for the job, for every job. Never shy away from hiring someone more experienced than you— you can and should learn from them, and they will only make you look better. I think a lot of people are easily intimidated so they tend to hire people who are around the same level in terms of experience or talent so they don’t get outshined. When you’re a director or a leader in any field, having talented, experienced people around improves the entire entity.
Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to young female artists who are interested in becoming directors?
Castille Landon – Be relentless and fearless in pursuing your goals, and seek out a community who will support you and who you can support in turn. Give as much as you get, but never give up.
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Castille Landon – “Albion: The Enchanted Stallion” comes out on VOD (cable outlets and online at iTunes and Amazon) on April 4th. I’m currently pushing forward two female-driven projects about which I am extraordinarily passionate, so we’ll see if/when I can get one or both of them off the ground. I don’t like to count my chickens until they’re nuggets, so I don’t want to say too much, but one deals with mental illness, which I’m particularly passionate about, and the other is a civil rights biopic. They’re game-changers, so I can’t wait to share more details if and when they come to fruition!
We would like to thank Castille Landon for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us about her work. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on! Remember, Albion: The Enchanted Stallion is available now on VOD, iTunes and Amazon. If you would like to keep up with all of her latest news and projects, you can visit her official Facebook page here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @castillelandon.
**Main photo courtesy of Paul Smith Photography**