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Conversations with Marisa Avitia

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marisa Avitia.

Hi Marisa, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in a small farm town in Central California. I’ve always been fascinated with filmmaking. I was always using my family camcorder any chance I could. Including recording over family trips. Oops. One of my life-changing memories was my family vacation in Mexico when I was 10. We went to Fox Studios Baja in Rosarito. The studio is known for its massive water tank right on the beach, and this is where they filmed Titanic at. Some of the sets were still set up, and half the boat was still set for pictures. We took photos on the bow of the ship and did the iconic pose. It was very surreal to be on the boat with the history of the film. A couple of sets from Titanic were still set up, and we recreated the scene in the elevator where the water rises. We got to see the movie magic at play. Planet of the Apes was also filmed there, and we got to go on the sets. This was my first taste of creating, and I knew I wanted to make movies from that moment. I went on to create movies with friends and family. I spent my summers recreating scenes from films or coming up with music videos. I became interested in writing when I watched Pan’s Labyrinth. I was obsessed with the movie and felt inspired by Guillermo Del Toro make the film. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I realized I could do this for a living. My freshman math teacher talked about his experience working as a Production Assistant for The Tonight Show. At that moment, It all clicked for me that it’s possible to come from a small town and work in Hollywood. I continued to make more short films, and my nickname in high school became Miss Hollywood. One of my favorite memories was making a recreation trailer for my local theater for a competition. The competition was to create a trailer for a Paramount movie. I chose Mean Girls, and I got a lot of the school involved. I’m so grateful for all these people to be a part of it. I didn’t win, but I still have those memories of the trailer and am proud of making it.

After graduating high school, I went to community college and joined the theater program to stay creative. We didn’t have any film programs, so I wanted to learn potential career paths in theater. I loved the experience and still take a lot from it with me on sets. I took classes in lighting and set production. I still use what I learned in the lighting classes on set because I’m more conscious of my lighting setups. I transferred to California State University Northridge and majored in Screenwriting. This was a massive change for me. This was my first time learning how to write a script and construct a story correctly. It was also the first time I was surrounded by people who had the same interests. I learned how to work with a film crew and make a couple of short films.

Since graduating, I’ve been balancing working full time and doing gigs on my days off. I have worked as a production assistant on film and television. I’ve learned so much on set, even as a Production Assistant, and I’ve carried it to my sets.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I would say the path I’m on has been bumpy, but I wouldn’t change it. In college, we were all just excited to make films and be in the creative environment. We thrived off that energy, and we also had the opportunity to make mistakes which is the best thing that comes out of going to film school. I also have worked with many people I went to school with on significant projects. I finally found a group of people I’m inspired by and work great with, which can take time. I don’t think it’s mentioned enough how vital your first years working are, mostly finding people you work great with and can trust. The entertainment business has many people who don’t have your best intentions in mind, and I’ve had my fair share of that. All of my shorts have practically had no budgets, and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished with them. I’ve had periods as a writer where I find it hard to sit down and write, but I continually try to grow and think about potential ideas and what I really want to say with my stories. I find it easier to write when I have everything figured out before I start writing.

I’ve also joined networking groups and have been a part of mentorships which have incredible to have someone in your corner. I joined the Women of Color United, and it’s been fantastic to see all the Women trying to help each other succeed in this business. Through the Women of Color Unite, I’ve also been a part of their mentorship program Startwith8, which I’m so grateful for. Working mentors have given me the confidence boost in my work and knowing I have people I can reach out to when I have questions.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My main focus in writing has been dramedy. I believe that the only way to get through life is by having a good sense of humor. I personally have gotten through tough times being able to laugh at the situation. Living in gloom is too much. Many of my stories revolve around pivotal moments in the character’s lives, and they’re at a crossroads where they either need to come to terms with it or change their lives. I believe these are the moments that really make or break us. I specialize in finding those moments where I can find stories to break the tension with some humor. My stories feature strong female leads focusing on Women of Color that everyday people can relate to. I’ve primarily focused on feature writing but have written a couple of original TV pilots. I’ve also written/directed multiple shorts with my current one, Orchid Daydreams. The film was shot remotely and is currently in the festival circuit, garnering Finalist and Honorable Mention badges in various festivals worldwide. I’m now writing the feature for Orchid Daydreams. I’ve most proud of Orchid Daydreams because I really challenged myself to make this. I had the most incredible cast and team to work with, and seeing this come to life in the way it did will always be something I come back to later in my career. Anything is possible, and there’s no excuse to create with today’s technology.

I’ve experienced different lives and experiences people have in one life. My experiences have carried over to my work, and the way I approach everything makes my work unique. I want to have the audience question what they watched and how they perceive life. Connection with the audience is crucial for me, and it makes the best films because they’re thought-provoking.

In terms of your work and the industry, what are some of the changes you are expecting to see over the next five to ten years?
I see the industry being more open to diversity, but I think they need to be careful how they do it. Right now, diversity feels very forced, and the audience can see it. Creators can see it. I think studios should go back to make smaller movies because we are in the middle of a Pandemic, and people want to escape. Giving the opportunity to smaller filmmakers will benefit everyone because there’s less money to lose. I hope we see more originals films instead of recycled ideas. The only things getting made are established IPs, and I believe the audience will get burnt out by it. I see a significant shift to streaming movies because that’s where the money is, but I could see the only films in theaters playing are big-budget. Hollywood needs to bring back the excitement of going to the theaters for a movie that is an original idea.

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