Go backBack to selection

“Take Care of Your Community and They Will Take Care of You”: Producer Daniel Tantalean on In the Summers

One man in a green shirt and his two daughters are laughingIn the Summers

In the Summers follows two sisters who, during their formative years, spend the summers visiting their caring but volatile father in New Mexico. The film is the feature debut of Alessandra Lacorazza and also the first producing credit for Daniel Tantalean. Below, Tantalean details the long journey in getting the film made, extols his mentors and community, and shares what he learned.

See all responses to our questionnaire for first-time Sundance producers here.

Filmmaker: Tell us about the professional path that led you to produce this film, your first? What jobs within and outside of the film industry did you do, and what professional experience best prepared you to be a producer?

Tantalean: What led me to producing my first feature was learning how to do an array of different jobs. I never took a more traditional path of executive or an assistant, but I was an editor, a DP, a grip, a PA, a VFX coordinator, and so on. Doing those jobs not only gave me huge insight about the inner workings of each department but also how to communicate and relate to crew members and, above all else, value them and their contributions.

But what prepared me best for being a producer was just to go out and produce a film, whether it was multiple shorts or trying to get feature films off the ground. The one disadvantage about not going an executive or assistant route is I had to learn a lot about the inner workings of how agencies, packaging, and financing work for feature films. The craft of making a movie is a much different world than the politics and business side of the industry to actually get a film off the ground.

Filmmaker: How did you connect with this filmmaker and wind up producing the film?

Tantalean: Alessandra, writer/director, and I met at the NALIP Latino Media Summit in 2019. Alessandra had her fantastic short, Mami, playing at the summit, and we met during a mixer, and there was just an ease with her that made me feel comfortable. I’m really anxious in networking situations, but instantly we just connected. Once I saw Mami, I was blown away with her detail and subtle storytelling. She took something intimate and small but made it feel emotionally big and heavy.

Later that summer we met for lunch in Brooklyn and we just skipped the small talk and jumped right into our family background, meaning of art in film, and what it means to deal with our mental health in the context of Latinx families growing up in the U.S. During that lunch she offered for me to read In the Summers. A few weeks later I sat down to read the script, and within the first 10 pages, I knew what I had in my hands: an honest depiction of our communities that was told with such a emotional detail that the characters of Vicente, Violeta, and Eva just jumped off the pages as if they had been part of my whole life.

For months I couldn’t get In the Summers out of my head; I felt I needed to be a part of this film. It needed to be made. I feared being a producer on the film because I knew the scope of it and I was still trying to find my footing as a producer, I didn’t want to fail this story. But no matter how many times I tried to talk myself out of it, I took the leap and in January 2020, I asked Alessandra to come onboard as her producer and, without hesitation, she said yes. We have been partners in crime for the past four years trying to get In the Summers to this moment at Sundance.

Filmmaker: How long a process was it to produce the film, and if you could break it into stages, periods of time, what were they?

Tantalean: For me as a producer, it has been a four-year process on In the Summers. There was the early stage when it was Alessandra and I trying to navigate getting this movie made as first-time writer-director and producer. We saw pretty good traction early on without any attachments or committed equity. We were selected for the 2020 NALIP Latino Media Market, and that was the industry’s first intro to Alessandra and her script. Then Alessandra was selected as fellow for the WGA-E X FilmNation Feature Film Writer’s Workshop, and through that Alessandra would go on to meet Alexander Dinelaris, and that is when a lot changed for this film. Just like me, Alex fell in love with the script, and his company Lexicon came on to produce the film, which helped give us even more legitimate standing in the industry and a huge mark of creative confidence.

For a long time, it was me, Rob Quadrino, Alex Dinelaris and Cyndi Fernandez working together to get this film made, and the real turning point in all of this was in 2022 when Alex was introduced to René Pérez Joglar, aka Residente. Alex brought the bold and brilliant idea of René playing Vicente. As he expressed interest around the part, that is when we gained real momentum for the film. Even though he was unproven in the acting realm, we knew René was a true artist at heart and had the emotional depth to really surprise an audience.

Towards the end of 2022, our main financier partners, Exile Content Studio, came on board with Nando Vila, head of studio, really leading the charge to get this film made. And it was Nando’s relationship with Lynette Coll and my relationship with Sergio Lira that really helped bring in an important partner in LUZ Films, who not only brought a wealth of producing talent but relationships in the industry that pushed In the Summers to a new level.

For films like In the Summers, it really required bringing in a lot of Latinx creatives and production companies to get this story told. We left no stone unturned, and every day we had to get up and fight to move it down the field. LUZ Films really helped bring in the final financing to help get In the Summers into preproduction, and then we were off to the races. Since then, in true indie fashion, everything is a blur, and your brain tries to keep up with the decisions and the millions of things coming at you. But in each stage, I learned something new, whether it be through mistakes or advice from a mentor or my fellow producers filling in gaps in my knowledge. It was one hell of a ride.

Filmmaker: Did you have important or impactful mentors, or support from organizations, that were instrumental in your development as a producer?

Tantalean: Every stage of my path to producing In the Summers and becoming a producer was impacted by someone who truly cares and showed me what it means to have integrity for the art but also the people who make the art alongside you. It started in film school with my mentor—and who I affectionately call my film mother—C.A. Griffith, who pushed me in my storytelling ability but also looked to my community, ancestry and cultural background to inform the stories I would tell. My professor Janaki Cedanna taught me the importance of expanding and understanding the technical aspects of filmmaking that make me such an effective producer for quality control.

As I grew into my career, I had the incredible fortune of meeting and learning from some of the best producers in Yvonne Russo, Ted Hope, and Melanie Miller and being selected for great opportunities by NALIP and Tribeca. And this past year, I was selected by Film Independent for the Producing Lab, and Angela Lee, Dea Vazquez and Ashley Flores, along with my amazing cohort, helped me flourish in new ways that I could never have thought possible. They gave us invaluable skill development and connection to other industry professionals, especially Rebecca Green, who was there for me during the hardest moments of In the Summers, guiding me and teaching me valuable lessons. Her support and care mean so much to me.

Lastly, the largest impact in terms of mentor support is the community of filmmakers I work alongside. My friends and collaborators in Leah Hamos, Nick Ramirez, Chris Meyers, Andrew Hendrix, Adam Dicterow, Maya Cueva, Kelsey Schuyler and Joseph Winterbotham have taught me and expanded my skills set in postproduction, accounting/financing, scheduling, storytelling, editing, negotiating and the list goes on and on. I get to work with some of the best people, and because of my thirst to learn and be the best possible producer, they are open books in showing me the details and being sounding boards for best practices—especially Jennifer Winterbotham, who is not only my best friend, collaborator and co-producer on In the Summers, but has also taught me so much through the process of making this film. Without her we would have been lost.

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult aspect of producing this film?

Tantalean: Every aspect of this film was difficult. We made an indie arthouse drama film by a first-time feature writer-director in a moment in time in which the market requires every indie film to be made for less than $2 million with big name actors attached and not enough resources. And, half the time, during impending strikes, and the worst buying market in recent history, during a recession, while the private equity is drying up, because streaming completely dismantled the indie market.

Yet, we did the impossible, because the Latinx film community came together and knew this movie needed to happen. And against all odds, In the Summers survived.

Filmmaker: What single element of the film do you take the greatest amount of pride in, or maybe were just most excited by, as a producer?

Tantalean: The editing process is where I took most pride. It’s the area where I have the most experience and knowledge, but the best decision was fighting for and hiring our editor, Adam Dicterow. What he meant to the process and to our director Alessandra is invaluable. And even though, as a producer, I gave notes and feedback, the best management and collaboration I could provide during this process is the process of not interfering with Alessandra and Adam while they were in the editing room.

By trusting them and their process, they honored the budget and time constraints put on this project. It allowed us to create mutual trust through transparency and open dialogue about what we all needed and helped make the most successful and moving story possible. It also showed my growth as a producer from the mistakes I made during production and how I can adjust during postproduction to help put the film in a better position to succeed.

Filmmaker: What surprised you or was unexpected when it comes to the producing of the film?

Tantalean: I’ve personally been around the block when it comes to filmmaking and its processes, but I will say, the biggest surprise is the disconnect from the business side to making low budget indie art films. There needs to be a new way of communication, learning and patience when making a film like In the Summers. There is still a race to make a quick buck, and there needs to be a stronger awareness that films like this thrive off quality and time.

That can be a very hard timeline to stomach as an investor, but when the whole goal becomes about chasing money, you can easily get into trouble making these sorts of films and the lessons learned on the producing side is when getting a certain financial commitment to the project, to better tailor the script to that budget. There has to be creative flexibility on the filmmaking side and better knowledge and patience on the business side.

Filmmaker: What are the challenges facing young producers entering the business right now at this unique historical moment? And what could or should change about the film business to make producing a more sustainable practice?

Tantalean: There is no easy or clear solution. The streamers really unraveled the indie ecosystem— though we also took the easy money—and we are still trying to find solutions. I don’t know what a sustainable producing career looks like. For In the Summers, I worked on this project for 4 years and worked as hard as I could to push the project forward, including, for 10 months straight, working intense hours from casting to delivery of the film. At the end of the day, I earned $35K for my work. No more capital will be coming after that for me, and I will return to a potential job as a VFX coordinator.

I’m still at a point of survival, and I’m not even at a sustainable point in my career. As a producer who loves indie filmmaking, I had to pass up a more financially stable job when I got word we were going into production for In the Summers. That’s just how things play out, and I didn’t hesitate to turn down the job because this story is so important to me. Being a producer on In the Summers has been the most fulfilling and thrilling experience of my life. I’m also very lucky to be able to get branded content jobs and work as a VFX coordinator on feature films: It’s how I’m able to survive to fight another day. The best advice I can say is to make sure to develop many skillsets as a producer so you can always find work.

One aspect to change the system for producers: We need a union and to regulate the producer credit. Part of what drives our own equity down is the producer, executive producer, and co-producer credit becomes credits for sale. Until our work and position are protected, we will never get the full scope of equity we need to just put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

Filmmaker: Finally, what advice would you pass on to a future young producer preparing to embark on their first production?

Tantalean: Indie feature films are a labor of love, but love is easily exploited. Make sure you are telling these stories for the right reasons. Everyone’s reason is different, so make sure it’s the right reason for you individually.

And lastly, the journey to making your feature is going to be challenging—more challenging than you even realize, so make sure you bring in your community. Take care of your community and they will take care of you, because if you can’t operate with trust, transparency, and hard work, the road will be much harder than it needs to be.

© 2024 Filmmaker Magazine. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of The Gotham