Interview with Geo Santini (2010)

The path to Hollywood isn’t always straight and a perfect example of this phenomenon is newcomer Geo Santini. Having transplanted himself to Los Angeles from New York just a few years ago, Santini already has his first feature film Hotel California under his belt. The movie stars Erik Palladino, Tyson Beckford, Simon Rex, Raymond J. Barry and Tatyana Ali and was just recently released on DVD. Taking time out on a quiet Tuesday evening in Hollywood, the young director spoke with Working Author over a little seafood to share his experiences in the entertainment industry so far.

“Actually, I started doing music,” Geo Santini confesses, “I was making beats and stuff like that. I was working in a studio in Freeport, Long Island and they were doing a lot of reggae music there…a lot of dancehall music. It ended up with this kid coming by and showing me this commercial he did at NYU. I just got fascinated by it, so I decided I would shoot a music video.” Shortly after, up and coming reggae artist Lexxus contacted Santini, requesting a music video. So with a $2000 budget he set out to film his first production. “I went to school for business and they had a film program and I hustled the kid [there] to give me a bunch of gear. We ended up shooting this video with a three-man crew, had no idea what we were doing. All of a sudden it turns out the video was a success in Jamaica. It was cool and I started doing a lot of music videos.” Amazingly, Geo Santini was only 17 when his career began. The jobs came easy and the money was great, but Santini couldn’t keep doing just music videos forever.

“I got stuck in a rut,” he says, “And I just decided I needed to do something. In 2005 I moved out here.” Networking with various people, Santini was convinced that he should forget shooting music videos and focus on shorts and feature films. To get his feet wet, he shot a short called Partners, which would later be developed into Hotel California. When I tell Santini that I wished I had seen Partners he quickly replies, “Oh no, it sucked. It sucked.” He laughs, “It sucked so bad. I won’t show anybody my shorts.” Fortunately, the feature version turned out to be a solid effort.

Hotel California is a crime drama and revenge tale. The film explores the meaning of friendship, the allure of drug trafficking and the danger of organized crime. Fans of the genre can pick up a copy for themselves. “I’m surprised it came out at all,” Santini says after recounting all of the marketing difficulties he went through after the film was finished. “You learn so much going through your first round.” Nevertheless, he’s pleased that the film is available now and hopes that it’s received the way he intended it to be. “I wanted Hotel to kind of feel like a graphic novel and be like a rollercoaster ride.”

On his directing style, Geo Santini takes a lengthy pause to consider his answer. “That’s an interesting question,” he opens, “I’m evolving. Now that I’m working more with actors and I’m also training [in acting] – and I’m also probably going to be in [an upcoming] play – it’s a different process of what’s going on. You have an idea and a vision and you know how you want them to look, but collaborating is a must. I know what I want to achieve and [my goal] is making the actor know that….” There are variations to his directing style of course. Santini likes to find out what his actors bring to the scene to see what works best. The most important aspect he looks for from performances is attention to detail. “Can I believe this actor is this character in different situations?”

After sharing short reviews about recent films with each other, Santini highlights two directors. “I look at guys like Tarantino and I look at guys like Scorsese. They have a certain path and whether you like their films or not, they’ve treated them with a certain class. The work shows the amount of imagination and love that they have for [their movies]. There are directors that want to be celebrities and there are directors that want to be artists. That’s the point.

“As an artist, you have to make a decision. What do you want to do? If you want to be an artist, this is what you have to do and you have to go for it. No matter what the outcome is, you gotta go for it, because you’re going to get slammed. When you look at stories like Jay-Z’s…you look at stories like 50…these people did it the way they did it, because they had no choice. You do it because you have to. I love those stories. In my career, like in 10 years, I want to be able to tell that story.”

There is no limit to Geo Santini’s aspirations. He doesn’t just want to be a director; he wants to be a force in the entertainment industry. “There are multiple levels of commitment to a project,” he explains. “I could produce a project. I love comedy.” Santini is toying with the idea of producing a sketch comedy show that he was involved in during his college days. “When I talk about directing, there’s a certain level of intensity. When I do that, [the film] is my baby.”

Santini’s second film, Madre De Dios is slated for 2011 and stars Barbara More and Julia Ormand. Madre De Dios, a beautiful tale set against the backdrop of the rapidly disintegrating Peruvian Rainforest is written and produced by Oscar Torres best known for the Berlin Film Festival’s Crystal Bear Winner Innocent Voices (Voces Inocentes).

We left just as the crowd starting filling the bar, but not before Geo Santini imparted a few pearls of wisdom for burgeoning film directors looking to break into the business. “You’ve got to envision it and you’ve got to be true. I think that everything’s about work. A lot of things out here are caught up in bullshit. I think if you’re true and honest to the work, the rest will follow.”