Exclusive SXSW 2022 Interview: “Pretty Problems” Director Kestrin Pantera

By Joan Amenn

Fresh from winning the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award at SXSW this year, I got to sit down with Kestrin Pantera and talk about her film, “Pretty Problems” (2022). Also, I learned she has an adorable cat and is a talented musician in addition to being a savvy film director.

Joan: What films influenced your vision in creating this film?

Kestrin: For the style of “Pretty Problems,” a lot of it doesn’t actually translate into the world of the film. But one idea we had going into it that we thought of more during color correction was we wanted it to be that Jack and Linds, our protagonists, live in this sad sack world and then when they got to the billionaire compound, it was like everything came to life. It was vibrant, and it had that “Wizard of Oz” Technicolor feel to it of, you know, hipster millennial billionaires. That was something we used as a reference, but I was a big fan of the film “Ingrid Goes West” (2017), it’s one of my faves. We were all big fans of “The Overnight” (2015), Patrick Brice is a genius and I love him so much and that film is great! Those are kind of smaller examples of films with eccentric characters, single location but you really go on a romp. “Ingrid Goes West” is a little more menacing. But as far as films that inspire me in general, I’m interested in what you saw on the screen because maybe it influenced me subconsciously and I didn’t even realize it.

Joan: I did pick up on the whole “Wizard of Oz” thing. But I also saw “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986) kind of where it’s always greener on the other side and then you realize well, maybe it’s not so greener on the other side!

Kestrin: I actually haven’t seen that but that doesn’t mean we weren’t part of the collective unconscious on that one. To add to your point of people seeing stuff in your work that you don’t necessarily realize, someone mentioned “Ab Fab” in a review of “Pretty Problems” and then the Earth fell open and then I died because it was the highest praise that I’ve ever heard. I am a drooling idiot “Absolutely Fabulous” fan and I think Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) is the best character of all time, and it was a huge honor and I wasn’t thinking about it at all when we made the movie! At all! But maybe there’s a part of me that, I’m so into “Ab Fab” that it crept in and is part of my personality and subconsciously influenced me.

Joan: Well, the 1920’s party [in “Pretty Problems”] was just fabulous!

Kestrin: Oh, thanks! {Laughs.} It’s a lot!

Joan: I’m going to put that down as an “Absolutely Fabulous” moment because it was just great.

Kestrin: It’s a little over the top. When we were shooting the movie, we shot all the dialog, marriage argument scenes in this bedroom where it felt like they were trapped and kind of in this little purgatory, hell vibe. We shot all that in the first two days, so we were like, “Are we making Revolutionary Road (2008)?” It was very dramatic, and then when all the other actors showed up, we were like, “Are we making “American Pie” (1999) right now? What are we doing? How is this going to cut together?” So yeah, there was definitely some “Ab Fab” energy in the murder mystery [scene] and that, I think, is high praise.

Joan: Oh, it was great. So, my other question is that I picked up on a rhythm in the film and I understand you are a musician. There are kind of motifs that repeat, like you said, the sad couple and they go off to this magical land, they think. I felt like there was this dialectic between the rich couple and the not so rich couple so I wanted to know, were you conscious of a musical sense? Did being a musician influence your filmmaking?

Kestrin: Yeah, music is instrumental in my editing process. I have an acting and editing background, so that’s the way I approach directing. Some people have a cinematographer background, are more technical or visual, and I very much have an acting performance background. All I care about is the truth in the performance, or the humor, or the authenticity. And because I also have an editing background, I know what can bite you in the butt if you don’t get your coverage when you are on set, on the day. I’ve had enough experience to know that at a certain point, all the actors are going to go off and be on their hit TV shows, their fancy houses in Malibu, or more likely, they’re going to be in Baton Rouge for six months and unavailable for any pick ups. So, you better get that alternate take while you have them in the room during principal photography and that editing sense has really guided me into demanding on more take than I would have done, you know, on my first movie.

 As far as music, when I get into the timeline, the only thing that will get me off my tail-I have amazing levels of procrastination, I’ll do anything to not start editing a project. The only way through it for me is music. The only way I’ve ever gotten started on any project is, usually you fall in love with the performance. But for me it was slo-mo B roll of Alex [Klein], who plays Guy Kerry exercising in slow motion in a ridiculous way because he looks so dumb! He made these insane facial expressions on the rowing machine and watching him in slow motion was just hypnotizing, mesmerizingly funny. Obviously, you got to have a song to cut with it, so I just threw “Eye of the Tiger” in there- and then, all of a sudden, we have a movie! I didn’t actually wind up using my Alex Klein “Eye of the Tiger” exercise montage but it was what got the whole process started for me creatively and that’s how it is on every movie.

Joan: One last question, what kind of genres of film do you most enjoy?

Kestrin: So, I almost exclusively, much to my husband’s chagrin, watch broad comedy. My favorite movie of all time is “Zoolander” (2001). My second favorite movie of all time is “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985). “Arrested Development” is my favorite TV show. And then, “The Social Network” (2010) and “Fight Club” (1999) are my other two favorite movies, and “Trainspotting” (1996). I do love movies that involve counterculture, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the Shakespearean stakes between friends and enemies of “The Social Network” but when it really comes down to it, broad comedy is my favorite thing in the entire world. I have a really hyperactive imagination and ever since I was a little kid, I would get terrible nightmares, just from looking at an eraser promoting the movie “Gremlins” (1984) as a child. It terrorized me. I have to be really careful about what I put into my head because it’ll keep me up at night, so I try to make it really funny and palatable. I need comedy to survive.

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