Mon Castro is an exciting new talent in the world of filmmaking. Her debut film, "The Physicist in Outer Space," has been making waves in film festivals, and recently won the prestigious Special Jury Award at Top Shorts.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Mon and learn more about her journey as a filmmaker. During our interview, Mon shared with us her passion for storytelling and the challenges she faced in bringing "The Physicist in Outer Space" to life. She also talked about her influences and creative process, giving us a glimpse into her unique perspective and vision as an artist.
Overall, Mon's story is both inspiring and illuminating, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this talented filmmaker.
Before we chat about the film, please tell us about yourself. Originally from Mexico, what was your introduction to storytelling, and how did you become a filmmaker?
I was born in Mexico City, where I was based until 2021. Despite being the only person who ended up working in this industry, I come from a family of cinephiles. It was really common having movie nights growing up. The TV in my house was on pretty much all the time, and I was well versed in media and pop culture from very early on. Adding that to my passion for logistics, my creativity, and my interest in writing, I found the perfect path. I started working in movies when I was 18, and I have been doing that for 7 years now.
What were some of your early influences?
I’ve been completely obsessed with Ed Wood for years. I grew up watching older science fiction and horror films, a lot of those being B-movies.
The classic Universal Monsters films are also a big part of the filmmaker I am today.
What do you like the most about directing on set?
I have much more experience producing, I must confess. This is the only film that I have directed outside of student projects. I see myself more like a producer and writer than a director, but it was a priceless and extremely enjoyable experience, nonetheless. I really enjoyed getting to explore the characters’ emotions and inner worlds with the talent. There is so much of myself in Juan Carlos, and having those vulnerable conversations with David Villarreal, the lead actor, was really helpful in a personal level.
You're currently enrolled in the MFA program at AFI, what are some of your biggest takeaways from the program so far?
I have finished my program in Producing, and I’m currently working on delivering my thesis film. AFI was an unbelievable experience. It gave me access to so many opportunities and talented colleagues, who are part of my network now. The thing that I cherish the most is the community that I have found here in Los Angeles.
The Physicist in Outer Space is your debut film, and it is a different film from many debut films we are used to watching. We have to admit, that there aren't many creators who are willing to follow their heart with courage and tell the story that interests *them* even if it’s different. What reactions did you get regarding the idea and the script, and what made you decide to make the film?
I originally had presented this idea as my final project in my undergrad, back in 2019. I was really nervous about it, given that in my class I was the only person who was interested in this type of movies. A lot of time growing up I felt insecure about the things that I feel passionate about, as I would get ridiculed by it, and often left feeling like an outcast. Just like the main character, Juan Carlos. So there were times where I would hide my interests and pretend to fit in with everyone else, despite how deeply that would sadden me. It was a big journey that took me years to overcome. The most valuable thing I learnt during my undergrad was standing up for my interests and staying true to myself, both creatively and emotionally. Presenting this idea to a crowd was, in a way, a life changing moment for me. Ever since, I stopped hiding and have always defended the things I find joy in.
I cannot say that my idea was well received by everyone, but I’m happy that I followed my heart and took a risk. I am unapologetically myself now.
Covid hit and this project was no longer associated with my undergrad, but my team and I decided to carry on with it once that things started looking more optimistic.
The Physicist in Outer Space Trailer
The Physicist in Outer Space could be perceived as a parody of B-movies, but despite the comic aspect, it does not make fun of these movies but praises them. A kind of love letter to B movies. Did you know you were walking a tightrope when writing the script? And how would you like the film to be received by viewers, especially those who are not familiar with B movies?
The idea was always for this movie to be an homage. That is part of the reason why this movie is a period piece as well. Some of these movies are considered “the worst films in history” and have been trashed over decades, but there is a dedicated fandom that sees the beauty behind the craft, resourcefulness, and imagination. There is quite nothing like those movies. Having all the props being clearly handmade (with the strings of the UFOs left visible on purpose) was planned to mirror the techniques used by these artists in that time period. Every decision I made in the development of the film was with the purpose of writing a love letter, from the introduction of a narrator to the sound design and all music composed with theremin. I embrace the absurdity of it all with open arms, and it didn’t hurt how fun it was to make.
If it can bring a smile to anyone who recognizes a reference, it will all be worth it for me.
I am aware that not every viewer will be familiar with B-movies. Perhaps this can be a way to introduce audiences to that genre, or at least to allow them to relax and have fun for a while!
Which B-movies influenced you as a child, and perhaps inspired you to make the film?
I discovered Plan 9 From Outer Space very early in my life, which created a major impact on me. Other titles that I go back to a lot are Robot Monster and Fiend Without A Face.
The protagonist, Juan Carlos Velázquez, is a physics teacher who is convinced that an alien robot from a B-movie he watched is going to take him to space. His delusions make him look ridiculous to the other characters: the students, the educational staff and the administration. Very quickly, he seems to lose control of his life, or his ability to detach himself from these sights. Can you tell us about the process of building the character, and how would you like viewers to receive it?
In a way, the movie is about myself and my journey of finding a place where I belong. I wrote the character of Juan Carlos thinking about my role in society growing up. I never really felt like I had somewhere I could fit in for years. My interests would often make me feel alienated (B-movies being a big part of them, gore, horror, all things spooky), as well as my lack of interest in romance and sex, which seem like the major selling points for pretty much everything in life and pop culture. I always felt like it would be so much easier being anybody else but me. I even felt jealous of my peers. Of how simple it looked to be like them, how easy it would be to fit in. It wasn’t until my early twenties where I started looking at myself in a different light, and appreciating the things that make me unique.
The characters that I write are usually reflections of this. I knew that Juan Carlos would represent the journey that I went through, even if portrayed in a more cartoonish light to fit the B-movie tone. The alien robot is an invitation for him to find a better life somewhere else, somewhere he will find the sense of belonging that he had been lacking all along. That’s why he accepts his abduction with a smile on his face. He was right all along, and all the people who judged him don’t get to have that.
I want the viewers to see this arc as uplifting and motivational, despite the layers of camp and absurdity. It is a happy ending for Juan Carlos, the same way that life has looked so much better for me.
It seems like you put a lot of effort into creating the robot, with all the buttons and lights on its body. How did you make it?
Ever since I had the idea of the movie, I knew that the robot would be a completely handmade costume constructed with everyday materials. The cheaper it looked, the better. The wonderful production designer Thelma Ruiz created the design and gave it the “arts-and-crafts” feeling that fits the tone of the movie so well. The costume was made of tin foil, aluminum sheets, cardboard, plumbing pipes, and a few spare wires and lights from electronic stores. One of our friends was under the costume the whole time, and the materials were wrapped around to the measurements of his body. Nowadays, the costume still lives in my garage in Mexico City.
What are you most proud of when you think about the film?
I love that I stayed true to myself and was able to find such an amazing team to completely go for the ride. I know I still have so much to learn when I put on a director’s hat, but there is not a moment that I regret about the whole experience. It was really fulfilling and fun.
What would you like people to know about your work?
I am mostly interested in genre stories. I love horror, science fiction, and comedy. I embrace absurdity in my work, as well as all things camp and kitsch.
I am also an activist. I try to use genre as a method of speaking of real issues and social topics. I am a feminist, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and a big advocate for animal rights.
Tell us about your next projects. What's next for you, and what's next for The Physicist in Outer Space? Is there a distribution plan set yet?
I’m currently in development of two feature films, both genre pieces. Besides it, I am the producer of Cuando Volvimos A La Tierra, one of the finalists of the McDonald’s Spotlight Dorado competition, which will have its screening at the Academy Museum in early December. I am also in postproduction of two short films, and in pre-production of three. I am happy to say that a lot of things are coming, and there is plenty of movement in my life.
When it comes to The Physicist in Outer Space, I’m working on a streaming deal with a Mexican platform. I will have more updates on that soon!
Where can our readers follow more of your work?