Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: August Aguilar
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
Philadelphia-born, Tennessee-raised filmmaker August Aguilar spends most of his time in Knoxville, but comes to Philly often to visit his dad (and frequent collaborator) Frank Aguilar. Written by Frank and directed by August, Center City is an atmospheric, jazz-infused slice of Philly noir, following a series of seedy characters on an adventure that variously involves intrigue, murder, and cheesesteaks.
PFS: How did you get into making films?
AA: Growing up, I definitely had an interest in film. I always played around with cameras, made home movies and whatnot, and studied film in high school. Then I went to college and learned a lot of skills there, taking radio, TV, and film classes. I took a couple years off after I graduated. Then in 2016 I saw that they had a horror film festival coming up here in Knoxville, and I thought it’d be really cool to maybe make a film and try to get into the festival. So I talked to my dad and we started to come up with some ideas together, which eventually led to the first real film. It was called There’s Something Down the Road. That film ended up getting picked for the Knoxville horror film festival. That led to one thing after another, and we got really excited about it.
PFS: Had your dad written films prior to There’s Something Down the Road?
AA: It’s funny because he’d never really done anything like that before. He always had an interest in film and entertainment but he never really got into it until I started really pursuing it again. With There’s Something Down the Road, he helped me write a little bit of it and he actually came down and helped film it. Right after that he wrote Center City. He’s been actively writing a lot and producing projects since then.
PFS: What’s it like working so closely with family?
AA: You know, it’s really fun to work with him. We’re usually on the same page in terms of our ideas and what we like. If something I write doesn’t work he’ll let me know, and vice versa. We have a really good working relationship and personal relationship, which makes these projects a lot more enjoyable. We started a production company together called Strange Films. I work down here in Knoxville, and my dad sets things in Philly. I’ll travel up there and do some projects or he’ll come down here and do some projects. It’s been going on for a couple years now really actively. We have seven or eight short films out now and about eight music videos, and we also run a website called El Burrito Blog, which features different creators and whatnot. So that’s kind of where we’re at at the moment.
PFS: Sounds like you’re busy!
AA: Yeah, always busy. Always working on something. It’s fun though.
PFS: What was the process of getting Center City made like?
AA: My dad wrote the script to Center City and I ended up going back up to Philadelphia in January 2017 to film it. It was a two-night shoot right in the heart of Center City. I remember when my dad sent me the script and I read it, I immediately thought, “This is way over my pay grade.” Our first film used one location, pretty much. So when he sent me Center City and it looked like it would be shot all around Philadelphia, in a big car, with all these crazy scenes and characters, I was like, “What are we doing, man? How are we going to do this?” But it wasn’t as intimidating as it sounds. I flew up and I literally got off the plane and started filming the first location. And it all really came out very quickly and smoothly. We did two scenes the first day and a lot of city shots that night, and the second day is when we did all the car scenes. We rehearsed the car scenes early in the afternoon so we really went full force that night. We parked right in front of the Art Museum and were expecting to be told to move pretty fast, but no one bothered us and we ended up taking our time. All the extras, like the person running and the person cycling, were just there conveniently as we were shooting. The car was cramped but we rented this big Suburban-looking thing and I had a lot of room to stretch myself out and get the shots I needed. In the moment, I was panicking and not very confident of what I got, but after looking at all the footage and editing it together, my dad and I both knew that it really worked. So it felt unorthodox but it really, really went well. It was probably one of the easier shoots we’ve ever had, honestly.
PFS: How much of the look and feel of the film had you guys already hashed out going into filming? Did you know it was going to be in black and white?
AA: Yeah, absolutely. When my dad sent me the script he told me right off the bat he wanted it to be in black and white like a film noir, with original jazz music in it. So with those elements we knew exactly what we wanted. We ended up teaming up with Mike Raymond Jr. and Mike Raymond Sr., who composed the three original songs.
PFS: How did the process of composing the original music go?
AA: I usually try to get a rough draft together before I send it to my composers to show them what I’m thinking of. So I remember only having half the film done as a rough cut. I sent it over to Mike and I gave my spiel about it. It took a little over a month for him to compose all the music—which isn’t that long for such great music. But by the time I completed about 80% of the edit, I couldn’t really progress further because I didn’t have the music. But then once he sent me the music the film spoke more for itself. Mike told me that once he got the footage, he pretty much watched it over and over again and started composing music to the footage. I’m sure he had his own method of making music before and after that but, yeah, I always try to send a rough cut of things before I finish my edit so they can go ahead and get a jump start on things and we can work back and forth between how it plays out from there.
PFS: What aspects of Philly were you trying to capture with the film?
AA: I think it shows that Philly is always a moving, living, breathing thing, with a lot of diversity. It shows that it’s a cool and beautiful spot, and I would have loved to have even more footage showing that. Personally, I love Philadelphia. I’ll always have a lot of respect and admiration for the city and I really think the film shows that. But then again the film also has these wild characters and whatnot. It shows that there are wild characters all around Philadelphia, and you never know what all these people are up to.
PFS: What are you working on right now?
AA: Well we’ve just kind of had a huge couple months. I just got done with two music videos and we had a big event down here in Knoxville premiering the latest short film Cindy’s Birthday Party, which was shot up in Philly last January, as well and another short film called My Good Neighbor, which was created in collaboration with an independent film site called CinemaSlice. I just got done with all these other projects so I’m kind of in downtime at the moment, prepping new projects. The next film production that we have coming up is actually a spinoff of Center City, called The Woman. That’s going to be based off the “Woman” character in Center City. We’re shooting that in July. The first spinoff was called Butch, which was about the crazy “Butch” character in Center City. So we have one spinoff and we’re workin on The Woman next. And then we’ll have a spinoff for “The Driver,” and then we’ll do do the sequel to Center City after that.
PFS: That’s so cool. It’s a whole Center City universe.
AA: Yeah, right before we shot Center City, my dad and I ended up creating huge back stories for every character of in the film, and what they would do before and after. We have all these little side stories that connect to the main film, and then the sequels are hopefully going to wrap it all together. We decided to do Butch first because Butch ended up being a fan favorite character from Center City. Butch is a wild character so we made a wild film. It has a much different feel than Center City. It’s just wacky, wild, and fun, and the music isn’t jazz, it’s more of garage rock. The Woman will take place before Center City. She’s a bit mysterious and cool, and she’s got like her own style, so we’re gearing the film towards that. The driver is going to have his own style and his own film. It’s just nice to tell these little side stories because you’ll get a bigger scope of things thats going on in Center City. One of our signature things that we do in our films is that we have post-credit scenes so if you watch Butch, you’ll get a little tease of what’s coming up next.
Center City will screen on Thursday, June 14 at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.