Filmmaker Fernando Andrés Tackles Working with a Small Crew + Shooting with Natural Light on Three Headed Beast

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Fernando Andrés is a filmmaker from Austin, Texas who can do it all, including writing, directing, producting, cinematography, and editing. His debut feature film Three Headed Beast had its World Premiere in the prestigious U.S. Narrative Competition at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. His short film Igloo was a finalist for the 2019 Sundance Ignite fellowship. All of this, and he's only 24-years-old. 

In a recent interview, we spoke to Fernando about his work on Three Headed Beast, and his journey in the production world up to this point.  

PH: What has your journey been like in the world of production so far? How did you "break" into the industry? 

Fernando Andrés: My first production job was in 2012. I was 14 and my dad’s friend needed someone to come film a commercial for his chicken restaurant and soon I was just piggybacking on a variety of small business shoots. After that I spent a lot of my teens as a production assistant on student films, short films and eventually a handful of features. In 2018, I worked a few days as a production assistant on Thunder Road, Jim Cummings’ feature adaptation of his short. I had never been on a set that was more alive and charged with creative energy before – it was a real spiritual awakening that this was what I wanted to spend my life doing. That year I filmed a short film, IGLOO, that was a finalist for the Sundance Ignite fellowship. It was probably my twentieth short by that point, but I actually felt like I was beginning to develop a visual sense and a handle on what was actually important on set, which to me is ultimately your actors and your camera.

PH: Who are some of your biggest inspirations (personally and professionally)? 

Fernando Andrés: I’m inspired every day by filmmakers from the past and new voices coming out with fantastic films, but my two favorite working directors are Steven Soderbergh and Luca Guadagnino. I could spend hours talking to you about why I love them and the idiosyncrasies in their work that I’ve obsessed over while poring over their filmographies front to back over and over. Soderbergh has pushed me greatly to understand that movies are a force you have to own and personalize in your own way: if you don’t own the aesthetic of your film and make its visual and aural rhythms hum along to your own personal biorhythms, then why even bother? Every time he puts something new out, I feel like I’ve been recharged for the next month or something – his iPhone films were huge for how to use a small camera to our advantage and I love the playfulness of his last two films for HBO Max. I love Luca for a lot of those same reasons, but one special thing about him is how bodies always control his frame. He inspires me to really let the actors and their bodies do the talking on screen – let everything else bend around them, not the other way around.

PH: What's Three Headed Beast about and how did you get involved with this project? 

Fernando Andrés: Three Headed Beast is myself and my writing partner Tyler Rugh’s debut feature film about an unusual power dynamic between an older couple in an open relationship and the young man that’s forcing them to reckon with who they really are to each other. It’s a filmmaking experiment and it’s autofiction rolled up into one. I wrote, directed, edited, shot and sound designed the film so it feels very much like an extension of myself already, but it’s also, for the most part, a true story from my life. In 2020, I became close with a guy who was in an open relationship with a woman. That was an ultimately positive and drama-free experience from my life but it was full of irony and tension and contradictions I sort of had to navigate every day with them while I was sort of in a quasi-relationship with this guy. After moving on from that situation, I felt compelled to sit down with Tyler and find a way to make that really interesting dynamic into a film.

PH: What was it like working with such a small crew—only four people? Can you share some of the benefits and challenges? 

Fernando Andrés: I owned many of the technical roles on set that would have normally been a full camera and electric team, and Tyler (co-writer/co-director) would run sound most days. We also had our two best friends and producers Connor Clift and Maddox Finkel who were in charge of production design and driving everyone around. One of the actor’s friends, Alicia Topolnycky, was working to be a sex therapist and offered to serve as an intimacy coordinator for the film’s many sex scenes. So that was our very small family for the summer while we made an entire feature film – and while it was extremely hard on all of us (Tyler and I were usually working 18-20 hour days to make sure our cast and other crew would be able to go home after just 10) it was also the most free I think I’ll ever be as a filmmaker. There was never any time to sit around waiting for anyone else but yourself – that’s a crucial way of working I’m going to try to carry over to anything else I do next.

PH: How was shooting with the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K? What made you go this route? 

Fernando Andrés: I had owned the original version of the Pocket Cinema Camera since 2014 and was a huge fan of the size and the odd, almost 16mm-like vibe of what it captured – it didn’t have that plasticine DSLR quality, it felt like an imperfect digital format that somehow had an organic beauty to it. I carried it around like a point and shoot basically and shot a few short films on it. By 2020 it was no longer feasible for me to be using it thanks to a lot of wear and tear so I bought the new 4K version. This one was not as convenient to carry around in your pocket but the settings, versatility and again, organic and film-like quality to its output made it a no brainer to me that I would use it on my first feature film because it felt like I could be my own camera team with it.

PH: Can you share what went into shooting the film with natural light entirely? How did the camera enable you to do this successfully? 

Fernando Andrés: We shot with natural light because of speed and necessity, and of course there are many moments in the film I think could look better if I had worked with a gaffer and lighting team even if the ultimate goal was to create looks that “felt” like no lights were being used. It’s a really shadowy and unglamorous film that doesn’t ever really look beautiful unless it’s outdoors and we’re shooting against natural phenomena. But ultimately it works very well for the homegrown identity of the film and gave our colorist Daniel Stuyck (Krisha, Before Midnight) a challenge to make it look like we did it that way on purpose.

PH: How did you handle other benefits—like lack of time—while shooting? 

Fernando Andrés: The size of the camera helped us in other ways too because of how quick setup would be between shots, and how inconspicuous we were able to stay while shooting publicly. We shot this film without permits all over Austin in city parks, nightclubs and grocery stores, at a pace that sometimes demanded about 20 shots per day, and there’s no way we could have done that lugging around an ARRI rig.

PH: Do you have a favorite(s) sequence or moment in the film? Can you elaborate?

Fernando Andrés: This is an easy answer for me: there’s a five minute stretch in the middle of the film that’s the only time I’m ever able to fully leave my brain and just enjoy the movie in a theater, which comes at about the hour mark when Peter and Nina, the older couple, go on a disappointing hike up Enchanted Rock which is immediately followed by Alex, the younger man, arriving at the couple’s house to dogsit. Peter and Nina find that even a romantic outing in this gorgeous state park surrounded by a pink and orange paintbrush sunset can’t help them escape their problems, and Alex finds that being in this couple’s house full of their belongings and memories only furthers his confusion and alienation within that dynamic. I love that this idea – two really beautiful and lyrical stretches of the characters navigating brand new spaces as if they were alien planets – was able to carry through from my brain before there was even a draft to the screen, thanks to the spaces we found, the shots we were able to find on the day, and the amazing score given to us by our composer Ryan Faber.

PH: Can you share other upcoming projects you have in the works? 

Fernando Andrés: We’re dead set on getting some support to make our next feature film. Since Tribeca we've been on that water bottle tour they tell you about, hopefully building interest in what will be our next film and maybe our first actually financed feature, because I can tell you while we are proud of what we did with Three Headed Beast, it’s nothing compared to what we could do with a budget – even one that would qualify as “ultra low” versus whatever miracle we pulled off here. It won’t be another relationship drama and it will be a very visual and music-driven thriller set in an ultra-specific subculture – either truck driving or the Texas judicial system, if these two scripts are the ones that end up happening. Whatever we do, we want our films to be aesthetically exciting worlds built around characters and feelings and situations that might not always get that style-heavy treatment.

PH: Where can we find you to learn more? (Website, social media, etc.) 

Fernando Andrés: You can follow us at @threeheadedfilm on Instagram and Twitter or follow me at @fernandofromtx and @trugh25 on Twitter.

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