Ashland Independent Film Festival: Recommended, June 2 screening: Take Out Girl
With taunt editing, a steady drumbeat of a narrative and a magnetic central character, Take Out Girl tells the story of a dutiful daughter-turned-gangster. Both gritty and sleek, the film is tough, engaging, and charming—and a preface for a star-to-be, the director and co-writer Hisonni Mustafa. Affable and talented, Mustafa has been kicking around the film business for the past decade. It is only a matter of time before his big breakout, and this current feature film puts him right on the brink. Take Out Girl may not tell a 100 percent original tale, but it does so with new twists, new characters and a freshness that is invigorating. The Messenger caught up with Mustafa before his film appears at this year’s festival on June 2.
Rogue Valley Messenger: Your first credit is nearly ten years ago, directed and starred in a short film. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself now about that film?
Hisonni Mustafa: Wow! Ten years of making movies. The first thing I’d tell the younger me is we get to make movies for the next ten years lol. I’d advise me not to stress too much about my future in that respect. But, I don’t think the younger me would listen lol.
RVM: I saw that Caslin Rose was in first movie—and, again in “Take Out Girl.” Are you building your team?
HM: Teamwork is my number one priority, and I humbled and proud to say that I have a fantastic team! The great thing about a fantastic team is it makes you hungry to find more great people. I’m always on the lookout for more people to call a teammate. Caslin Rose is my most frequent collaborator. She’s an amazing actress and a great filmmaker. Caslin has supported my career in many ways. I don’t see a project of mine happening without her taking part in some way.
RVM: A lot of your work seems to have you as producer/director/star. Do you find it tough to mix those roles? Or, do you like playing all the positions?
HM: I never star in any of my films. My team deserves 100 percent of my attention when I’m behind the camera, and I couldn’t give them that while acting. Although I love being called a director, the term filmmaker fits better. Producing/Directing?writing and editing are complementary skills to me, and I don’t feel like I’ve completed the film until I’ve helped with all of these things. It would be like a carpenter cutting the would and calling it quits rather than cutting, sanding, hammering, and staining the furniture, he’s attempting to create. I employ a craftsman’s mentality.
RVM: Is there one role you would prefer to play—producer, director, or actor?
HM: Certain parts of being a filmmaker can become laborious at times. But I adore doing each aspect of filmmaking. Each task can be therapeutic, depending on what’s going on in my life at the time.
RVM: Hedy Wong both directed and co-writes “Take Out Girl.” Is that tricky to direct the co-writer?
HM: Hedy co-wrote the project with me almost three years ago but did not direct. She did produce the heck out of the film, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Things never got tricky for me because of Hedy’s dedication to the role. On set, Hedy was 100% about acting, and afterward, she was the best producer a director could have. I feel fortunate to have her on my team.
RVM: The acting in Take Out Girlis solid. Better than solid! It is notable really, really good. Is that through the casting or through your coaching?
HM: Thank you! It’s a balancing act. I’ve heard that 75 percent of directing is casting, and I believe that statement to be pretty accurate. For me, getting good performances steams from the mixture of veteran actors and new/raw talent. Specifically, veteran actors that have worked with me before because these actors bring a sense of “play” to set. They’re beyond the “getting to know you” phase with the production team, and they’re comfortable pushing their performance to exciting places, and the newbies follow their lead. It’s a beautiful thing to watch on set.
RVM: The film has received solid reviews. What’s the next move? The ultimate plan/goal?
HM: We have! We plan to tour the film at festivals across the country to build a fan base. Afterward, we intend to snag a distribution deal, preferably one with a limited theatrical release, and finally, we hope this film lands members of the team great representation and spots in prestigious director/producer/cinematography labs.
RVM: Take Out Girlis largely minority cast and crew. Is that coincidental or intentional?
HM: That was a coincidence, lol. I’m a “live and let live” sort of guy, so the last thing I consider is during the hiring process is someone’s gender or race. It wasn’t until principal photography was over that my producer Alberto Triana and I realized that we had such a mixed bag on set. It wasn’t until the end of post-production that Alberto and I realized that Take Out Girl’s special sauce was the variety of voices that created it.
RVM: On a personal note, I saw that you are from Milwaukee—or, that you went to University School. I’m a Wisconsin kid myself. Is there any unique impact you think your Wisconsin upbringing has on you and your career?
HM: Love my Wisconsin brothers and sisters, and I love Wisconsin. I’m from 53206, an infamous zip code in Milwaukee, where more black men incarcerated than any other place in the united states. I overcame a lot to escape Milwaukee’s inner city, and although Take Out Girl is set in Los Angles… Milwaukee was my reference. Not all of my memories from Milwaukee are great, but every memory from Milwaukee is useful.
Take Out Girl screens on Tuesday, June 2.