5Ws&H Q&A With PRINCESS OF THE ROW Director Max Carlson – Part 2, Wrapping Up

Picture courtesy of PRINCESS OF THE ROW Filmmakers

Starring Tayler Buck as the princess, Edi Gathegi as her father, Ana Ortiz as her foster care social worker, Martin Sheen as the foster care custodian of the family who takes her in. Also, real veterans were extras and some, like Gerald Hall, a homeless veteran, added grist to the movie.

Directed by Van Maximilian Carlson
Written by Van Maximilian Carlson and A. Shawn Austin


The Making of a Big Movie on an Ultra-modest Budget

Says Max: “Both Shawn and I are spiritual, in different ways, but we are. But also, there comes a spirituality from allowing every creative force that comes into the film to express itself. In a way, you don’t … if there’s a creative force that comes in, you don’t limit it, you allow it to express itself. And so that kind of plays on all parts. There’s also synchronicity, which in some way relates into spirituality.”

Director Max Carlson. Picture courtesy of filmmakers

“Like for instance, the synchronicity of like being able to cast Martin Sheen, just kind of random, not randomly but just extremely easily. I think it’s an anomaly that you don’t find often. We find it sometimes, I believe, but to be able to have Martin Sheen in the film and really pull off a film that a lot of people are moved by (early reviews and reactions on the film fest circle have been high up there) and that looks great and looks like we’ve spent a lot more money than we did.”

“I think it is a big thing that just Sean and I got together and we were like, “We’re going to pay for this ourselves and let’s just do it.” I think a lot of people wouldn’t do that. And luckily, him and I were in the financial position to be able to do something like that. We didn’t spend a lot of money, though. The film is not a huge … even by modest standards, it’s not even a modest sized budget. It’s like an ultra low budget”

“But in any regard, we’ve spent a lot less than anyone might spend and we had a lot of talent on the film. But a lot of why we were able to do that as is … well, one, just I had been making short films for a long time and I’d been producing them myself, so I knew how to do it (make good films) on the cheap, in a way. Not that we cheap-ed out, we paid everybody a proper day rate and everything, but I knew where I wanted to place the money, and I edited the film myself. I didn’t do the sound stuff or the color-in, but like the whole editing and everything related to that was myself, so we saved a lot of money there.”

“And we used, out of practically, good locations that we knew. Some of the film was filmed in my house, some in Sean’s house, all around LA, Skid Row. So yeah, luckily we were able to have a lean crew, but everybody on the crew was very talented and really gave a lot to the project. And that’s why we were able to make it for very little money.”


Segueing to Tayler Buck’s Preparation for a Starring Role

Actress Taylor Buck in a dream scene as a princess in the fantasy story she is writing. Picture courtesy of the filmmakers


Says Max: “We had at one point wanted to bring her to basically one of the group homes to meet the kids that are going through similar things that the character is going through. We never got permission to fully do it, mainly because they (foster care) didn’t really want to encroached on the kids’ privacy and things like that. We weren’t able to do that although we tried.”

“The next best thing was I had … well, one, her and I worked together a lot on it. We would make time rehearsing together on the film for at least maybe one to two months prior to actually filming the movie. That was just working on character because I knew that I had spent a lot of time on researching skid row. I spent a lot of time on skid row.”

“I had personally gone to group homes and spent some time there in the research of the film. She never got a chance to. I did have her watch a couple documentaries that I found really interesting on homelessness. One of them was called Lost Angels. It’s a film that’s a documentary about … it follows different characters that live on Skid Row. To me, it was important that she just got a sense of what it’s like to live on skid row, and what the people were like.”

“There were all sorts of different people. That documentary did a good job of showing different people, different types of people, and personalities that live on skid row.”

“She did her own preparation. She was preparing her own way because she was really able to bring so much to the character.”


Gerald Hall, Martin Sheen

Says Max: “Gerald Hall, who plays a small part, he’s the guy, the homeless man that lives (in the movie) right next to the main guys, Bo’s tent. He’s actually a real veteran whom we met on, near Skid Row and he was instrumental in helping find other veterans that we then used as extras. He also, kind of, was a Skid Row liaison in a way. But he’s a homeless veteran that actually lives there, and so we cast him and he helped with the production in a major way.”

Saying More Max about Martin Sheen: “I’ll tell you the story about that (how he had met Martin Sheen) because I made a documentary in 2009 about the Bhopal gas disaster (Bhopali 2011, Audience Award and “Grand Jury Best Documentary Award at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival ). On the same year that it came out, Martin Sheen had a film he was in about the same subject (Bhopal: A PRAYER ABOUT RAIN 2014). He played the CEO of the company that did this disaster. So we connected on that shared interest in the story of Bhopal gas disaster, which is a sort of a social justice type of storyline and event.”

In the course of Max and Shawn working on the film, Martin Sheen – this writer/reviewer is paraphrasing – popped into Max’s mind.

Says Max: “I literally just emailed him like one paragraph, which is a short synopsis of what the storyline is about and said, ‘There’s a role that wouldn’t take a lot of your time. Would you please consider it?’ Literally, like three days later, or maybe even less than three days later, I got a voicemail from Martin Sheen and he was just like, ‘Max, I read your script, and, yeah, let’s do it.'”

Edi Gathegi

Says Max: “I’m a movie trailer editor as well (to be exact, he is an award winning movie trailer editor) … so I had edited a movie trailer that Edi was in the film. And this was a year or so before we started gearing up for production, so we were looking for people. And he was so good in the film that he became sort of like, he was at the top of my list for who I wanted because I was just so blown away by his performance in that film. it was called Pimp. He played a really evil pimp, basically. And he was scary and interesting and just really good.”

“So I was very curious to have him. And, literally, like a couple of days later, a friend of mine texted me, ‘Hey, you know, I know you’re looking for people. What about this friend of mine named Edi Gathegi?’”

And so it was just random that my friend who was thinking about the same guy, just as I was thinking about him. [Max didn’t have to say synchronicity]. I was introduced to him and then Edi came on in the film, and he became a good creative force in the film, as well. He became a (executive) producer on the film, and really brought a lot in terms of just everything. Investment in the film, you know what I mean? Believing in the storyline, pushing it, helping with it, all of that.”


Ana Ortiz as the social service case worker for Alicia. PIcture Courtesy of the filmmakers


So, What Happens After the New York Latino Film Festival

Says Max: “Well, now we need to start searching for distribution. We have a sales agent who is going to start helping us with that. We’re just beginning that process.”

At the moment I am really just pitching a script, a new script that I wrote. It is actually, because you said spiritual, it is actually much more of a, like, directly spiritual film that is … conceptually, it’s basically about a mother who loses her son. Her son dies in an accident and she finds a way to be able to literally bring his spirit back for a night and to be able to continually do that by building upwards onto her house. It’s called “Into the Sky.”

“That’s just a very quick pitch about it. But yeah, there’s no big projects that are in the works as of now. I’m actually searching for some new things to direct or put myself into at the moment. I believe it will probably come after we actually get distributions for the film.”


Opening Night at the New York Latino Film Festival is August 12


Gregg Morris can be reached at gmorris@hunter.cuny.edu