It all started with a series of real voicemails left for Coney-Island-born filmmaker William D. Caballero by his grandfather. They congratulate, scold, and offer words of wisdom across a variety of topics ranging from birthdays to trips to Puerto Rico.
Will decided to turn these voicemails into a short film, and the beloved character of "Gran'pa" was born. We interviewed Will about his award-winning film, turning that film into a web series and his experiences at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival.
Your short film “How You Doin’ Boy? Voicemails from Gran’pa” won Best Animation at the 2014 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival and was an audience favorite. What was your inspiration for the film and for using miniatures to tell the story?
The inspiration for Gran'pa started back in 2013, when I started to develop SEED STORY, my short experimental film that won the Vanguard Award at the 2013 AoBFF. Seed Story featured a society of 1 inch tall miniatures living in an abandoned parking lot. Though Seed Story was a unique experience, I felt very limited because I couldn't create any of the characters; I could only buy them 'as is' from hobby stores.
I knew I wanted to create a protagonist figure in several poses using 3D printing, and combine them with my Grandfather Victor's voicemails (truly hilarious/artistic gems). When 3D modeler Chang Kim and 3D printing specialist Seth Burney came on board for the project, it was a match made in heaven.
You’ve taken home an AoBFF trophy before, in 2013 “Seed Story” won our Vanguard Award for our avant-garde category Film As Art. Can you tell us a little about your experiences at AoBFF? (Please keep in mind we love flattery.)
I tell people all the time that the AoBFF is truly one of the best festivals I've ever been to. I've been to so many festivals, where the people in charge simply don't care about getting to know you or your work. However, at the AoBFF, it's the exact opposite. The people running the show are very humble, very genuine, and very 'Brooklyn'. I felt comfortable after meeting them in my first year, and when I came back the next year, I felt like I was running into a group of buddies. They aim to foster artistic community between participating filmmakers, and in short, it's incredible.
It seems like Gran’pa has way too much advice to give for a single film… so you made him into a web series called “Gran’pa Knows Best.” What was it like expanding the idea into a series?
The roots of Gran'pa Knows Best, in a way, stem from its debut at the 2014 AoBFF. It was the first festival that Gran'pa had been to, and I never saw it on the big screen. The audience absolutely LOVED it, laughing hysterically and giving it a huge round of applause. Later that night, at an after party at a local bar, I had a chat with Scott Kaske, lead actor in PEPPER (a short film that screened at AoBFF right before Gran'pa). He told me how much he loved it, and how he could see the short as a series. I had never thought of it as such, and was dumbstruck that a white man would want to see a series featuring my Puerto Rican grandfather. His comments, followed by overwhelmingly positive feedback from people of many different ethnicities, genders, creeds, and sexualities, made me finally realize that Gran'pa NEEDED to expand into something far larger than a single short. About two months later, I gathered my team together, told them my idea, and went to work. No funding. No permission. Just my vision, propped up by the respect and admiration my project received by its fans throughout 2014.
The series has an interactive element where people can ask Gran’pa a question that may show up in a future episode. How does the real Gran’pa feel about that? Does he know how famous he’s become?
My Gran'pa pretty much does the same thing now that he did before the film was a hit: watches his gospel shows, local news, and baseball games on television, rarely leaving his subsidized apartment complex. I tell him all the time that so many people love both the project and him, and while he's humbled, he just tells me, "Oh yeah? That's a good thing... I guess?"
What’s your next project? Anything you want to plug?
My co-producer Elaine Del Valle and I are working on EPIC developments behind-the-scenes. We cant divulge the big news at this moment, but trust me... Gran'pa is on his way to becoming a household name. :)
Watch Episode 1 of Gran'pa Knows Best below... and check out the full series here!
Learn more about William D. Caballero on his website.
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