Interview with Antonio Pantoja, Director of “One Must Fall”

Antonio Pantoja is an acclaimed artist, photographer, and man of many skills who has just completed “One Must Fall.” Now premiering in various festivals around America and garnering various accolades, Pantoja’s horror comedy slasher is making waves, and Emilie Black took time from his busy schedule to ask about his career and love of film.

As a fine arts photographer, how did you start making films and why did they appeal to you? What about horror makes you want to play in its sandbox?
I always wanted to make horror films! I was raised in a relatively broken home and mostly ignored, so I was raised by the television on 80’s cinema. My father was an immigrant laborer, so he left for work before I woke up and often times wouldn’t return until after I was sleeping. We didn’t do much as a family. We didn’t eat together, talk much, or tell each other that we loved one another. But, when my father came home from work, the one thing that we did as a family was watch horror films together. We’d pile on the couch and watch them! I think I feel a strange sense of family unity through horror.

Please tell us a bit about what inspires you as an artist and a filmmaker?
I love art in general! I think people often underestimate how powerful your voice as an artist is. You can take a political posture and break stereotypes, or change someone’s thought process through a still image or a story. And, I think especially in our current climate, it’s so important. For example, I have a character in One Must Fall who isn’t a traditional Hollywood Hispanic role. He isn’t a gangster, a drug dealer, an angry wife, or a maid. I think we need to see more of this in film.

What are some of your great horror film influences?
Oh, so many! I love The Exorcist so, so much. But, mostly 80’s horror and modern foreign horror. The landscaped has changed so much, especially overseas. I love everything that the French have been doing. Martyrs, High Tension, Inside, Frontier(s), Kidnapped, and many others are all favorites of mine. I also love the Korean revenge flicks like Oldboy and I Saw The Devil. But, 80’s horror has my heart and I feel that One Must Fall is a love letter to that era for the most part.

How did One Must Fall come to be? How did the concept start and how did it become what viewers can now see at festivals near them and soon on their home screens?
My wife left with the kids for a week and gave me a chance to write the film. And budget limitations can often make you super creative. So, that’s essentially how I started planning. I knew that I wanted to do something set in the 80’s, but not because nostalgia is popular, but the wardrobe would have exceeded our budget. So, I thought of universal wardrobe options that have always been worn the same throughout time. Hazmat suits. What do people in hazmat suits do? Clean up crime scenes! I never saw a movie like that before and often wondered if they still had to go onto the scene of a crime if the killer wasn’t apprehended and still on the loose. So, The movie is based on what would happen if the killer was on the loose in a 40,000 square foot warehouse and never left the scene of the crime.

Why did you decide to set One Must Fall in the 1980s when it would have been much easier to simply set it in current times?
I think technology ruined the slasher film, honestly. And I didn’t want to take the cheap way out like, “Oh no! No coverage here! My cell doesn’t work! What shall I do?”. Or imagine if the camp counselors at Crystal Lake had cell phones. So, myself and my producer Taylor Christine drove around the country for 10 months searching for accurate 80’s props and we took no short cuts. Everything in the film is period accurate. It was a major pain but we felt it was important to suspend suspicion of disbelief that something like this could actually happen.

How did you find your fantastic cast and why were they the ones for your film?
I was so, so lucky. I did all of my casting online. It’s so difficult but I had John Wells to help me with casting and giving me good advice! He also plays Dorian in the film! But, we had TONS of submissions and we sent 7 minute monologues as the sides. The roles were tricky because most of them had to be both comical and extremely dramatic. And some people were S-O-O-O-O good but just weren’t the right pick for the role. I always tried to give the really amazing people great feedback because it must be so difficult as an actor to audition and never hear back. But, I will always keep those people in mind for future roles!

Following your big hometown premiere, how do you feel the public is reacting to film?
We have been so lucky! We’ve been nominated for a bunch of awards, won a few, and been accepted into a ton of festivals. I think we have like 65 laurels right now for the film and I am so proud of the team. They worked so hard for it. For me, I’m just in love with the work itself. The reception is nice, but I don’t need it. I mostly do that for the team. They deserve that recognition for helping make my dream come true. They are solely responsible for that and I am forever grateful! We actually have authentic audience reactions from my hometown premiere in this video here and we had about 1200 people out to the premiere in Louisville. I was so lucky. VIDEO HERE

What is next for One Must Fall?
We just secured distribution with Gravitas Ventures! I hope we get good placement and people get to see it but their strategy is to put it out everyone on VOD platforms and pitch to some of the big players! It should be widely available by December!

What is next for you that you can tell us about? What are your upcoming screen projects that you can talk about?
I am SO EXCITED about the next one! It’s called Elena’s Guardian. I’m working with Sonny Gerasimowicz who created the creatures for Where The Wild Things Are and he plays one of the creatures in the movie as well. It’s about a disabled, bullied 11-year old girl who wishes for a monster to come and exact revenge on her abusers, and it does! It’ll be like a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Labyrinth from the 80’s with David Bowie.

You do a lot of giving back, why do you believe this is so important and what does it bring to you as these moves are not always meant to be career-related (like the wedding photoshoot in a hospital you posted recently or your giving back headshots to struggling artists)?
Aw thank you so much! Yes! I love giving back in any way possible! I love speaking to students or kids or if I can leverage my tools in any way and I have time, I am always down to help! I think it’s important because we are all different stages of our journey and I think it’s my duty to help people get further along if I am capable. I think it’s the responsibility of all artists to help someone pursue or further their passion. As artists, we’re very emotional. We all get depressed. We all get uninspired. We need each other. We need the UNITY part of community.

What would you tell a young Antonio about what the future holds or would you not tell him and let him make the same decisions, mistakes, and experimentation you did?
Oh man. I’d always just say to stay true to yourself and hold your artistic integrity close to you no matter what. You can’t please everyone. Some people are not going to like what you are doing. It won’t be for everyone. But that’s not your audience. At the end of the day, as much as art is a very selfish practice when you create it (for yourself and your feelings), once you release it to the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. When people get it and see it or hear it, it now belongs to them. Let me explain; when Adele creates a song about a bad breakup, it’s about her breakup. Her’s. But there are millions of people singing it all across the world not because it’s their story too. It belongs to them. It’s their story, now.

What is something that you would tell any artist, filmmaker or otherwise, trying to make it in their field?
Before my dad died in 2009, he wrote me a note. He said “Patience, and you will make it”.

I would also tell someone to find their passion and be very honest with themselves about that. If it’s money, be honest…chase it. If it’s the work that you are in love with, chase it. Just keep working. If it’s the praise from the work, then cater your work specifically for praise.

You just have to be honest about what exactly it is that drives you. Don’t be embarrassed about that. Chase the passion and you will always be fulfilled. But, be honest.