BABE #295: ZOÉ SALICRUP JUNCO - Director + Producer
When Zoé was a mini BWH, she created make-believe commercials and music videos out of a deeply rooted passion for the arts. It’s no surprise that today, she’s a successful director and producer who creates beautiful, thought-provoking short films that have screened in festivals including Tribeca, Palm Springs, Clermont Ferrand, and HBO NY Latino Film Festival. Zoé is inspired by the complexities of human nature, and through her work, aims to explore all of the dualities that makes people interesting. Most recently, she worked alongside an all-female team to direct MARISOL, a short film premiering on HBO today! Bravo, Zoé!
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Current city: New York City
Alma mater: New York University
Degree: BFA, Film + TV
Very first job: Assisting in early education summer camps back in Puerto Rico
Hustle: Narrative and Commercial Director/Producer
Babe you admire and why?
There are so many! Personally, I admire my mother the most. I’ve learned through her the importance of things like perseverance, resilience, patience and empathy—things that have come in extremely handy, especially in the career path I have chosen.
Favorite fictional female character?
I don't have one particular favorite, but I remember Erin Brockovich being one of the first strong, complex female leads I saw on-screen when I was growing up. Granted, she’s a real person, but the way the character was developed in the film had a big impact on me. She had so much agency, even in circumstances you could assume she wouldn't. She was full of virtues, but also flaws. She was authentic, admirable and relatable. I feel like I just described a real superhero. My point, exactly!
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Fried red snapper with mofongo con salsa al ajillo (fried plantain mash with a garlic butter sauce). And since it’s my last meal, some extra sides like rice and beans and potato salad (Puerto Rican-style), and a piece of crunchy roast pork would seal the deal.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I’d love to master balance, in every sense of the word.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I can fall asleep pretty much anywhere. With time I've gotten more selective, but at one point my friends would make fun of me because I would fall asleep at a bar, in the middle of our night out.
Tell us about your hustle.
I mostly direct and produce short films and commercials. As a director, my role is to lead and collaborate with a team that will help me carry out my artistic vision for a given project. As a producer, my role is to analyze that creative vision and make sure from a financial and logistical point of view we get there efficiently and productively.
What does your typical workday look like?
My workdays vary depending on the projects I’m working on. A lot of times I’m communicating with cast, crew members and clients, so there’s a lot of emailing, pitching, and calling involved. Producing can get quite consuming, so it’s always important to dedicate enough time for creative work. This usually means diving into a lot of creative research. It also means going back to the script or copy a lot; continuously asking myself things like: What are we making? Why are we making it? Who is our audience?
How would you describe the artistic approach you bring to your work?
I’m mainly inspired by the complexities of human nature. We’re constantly living dualities that pull us in opposite directions, and often that’s where you find the best stories to tell. As a result, my artistic approach to my work is always based on authenticity. I aim to explore all of those complexities and dualities that make a person interesting. When you draw from a place that feels real, the story will resonate with the audience. The genre can be anything—in fact, I’m interested in exploring other genres like sci-fi and action, but my approach to the story and my overall directing style will always aim to ground the film around that authenticity. A lot of my work tends to be centered around a female lead. It’s not something I do on purpose; it’s just something I gravitate to. Every time I see a female character on screen that feels real and raw, I get excited. I think with time I’ve allowed my style to dive deeper into the psychology of the characters I get to write or develop as a director. It’s led me to explore darker themes and stories, things people may not feel comfortable talking about, but we should. For example, I recently finished my next short film. called María. It's a hybrid narrative/documentary about the mental health crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María.
What has been your favorite project or collaboration?
I have several favorite collaborations, one of them being able to direct the short film “MARISOL,” which we premiered at the San Diego Latino Film Festival on March 23. That film was produced by Lauren Sowa, shot by Tine DiLucia, edited by Leila Min Dai, music composed by Agatha Kaspar, production designed by Chantal DeMorial and starred Emma Ramos. Prior to this film I had mostly focused my gender equality efforts in front of the camera, but I had not put as much effort behind the camera. I honestly didn’t give it much thought, because I was used to working with mostly men since my school days. This project changed my perspective on that front. It helped me realize I had to expand my network and foster more opportunities for women in all realms of this industry.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
My academic experiences did a great job at really ingraining in me the collaborative process of creating films, things like writing, pre-production, production, and post-production. That process is the same in every project; what changes is the scope and limitations of each project. My professional experiences have taught me more about the business of this industry; the importance of client management and the art of negotiation, for example. There’s no point having a creative vision and knowing how to execute it if you can’t communicate it clearly to a client who, most likely, will not understand how these things get made. Same with negotiation—I’ve learned to feel more comfortable with it. If you really think about it, collaboration is a type of negotiation.
What’s been your biggest career milestone to date?
I wouldn’t say it’s one specific project; it’s the fact that I have been able to continue to direct and expand my body of work. Keeping momentum going in this industry is a combination of a lot of hard work and just being at the right place at the right time. I am beyond grateful for these opportunities and I’m ready for more.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I try not to think about how it’s probably negatively affected my professional experience, although I’m sure it has. More importantly, it’s affected me positively. It’s allowed me to work with some amazing women in the industry whose values align with mine; it’s allowed me to develop a safe space for deep and meaningful collaborations with them. I think the key is to increase real communication between each other. Talk about your work, talk about your pay, refer each other for work, figure it out together. As women, we’re raised to see other women as competition, when in reality it’s the other way around. Women can be highly collaborative and supportive; it’s in our nature. It’s just a matter of breaking down those barriers of isolation that have been built with time. In my industry, for example, it can be as simple as if you’re going to refer someone for a job, give the producers a female and a male option. It’s a gentle reminder that there’s a force of women out there that can be hired; they are ready.
Do you have any unique experiences as a woman of Puerto Rican descent in the entertainment industry?
I’m Latinx and I’m a woman. I’m part of one of the biggest demographics of moviegoers in the United States! The irony is that Latinx women are not used to seeing themselves on the big screen. We are brought up watching male-induced illusions of what women should look and sound like. I’m over here like: “Yo! I’m one of you! I gotchu! I can tell your story! Come see it at a festival or at a theater near you!” But the reality is that it’s not as easy as saying, “I’m one of you; come support me.” Breaking down and resetting the way people consume film and TV, the kind of content they are accustomed to watching—that takes more than a lifetime. Furthermore, having the financial resources to present this demographic with a film that has a more authentic take on the female experience—but that also holds a comparable movie quality to the ones they are used to watching—is also extremely difficult. It’s not impossible, it just takes a long time. Coming to terms with this realization has really helped me move forward and not get frustrated at each roadblock I experience. I understand there are no shortcuts; I try to focus on moving forward, no matter the pace.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The gender ratio in my industry is somewhat getting better, but it’s still pretty terrible. Right now there’s a big trend about women and womanhood in filmmaking. I think this is great! But we also have to be careful because trends have an expiration date, and we’re way much more than that.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
Probably that it’s glamorous. The highs are high, but the lows are very low. Filmmaking is a hustle. You’re negotiating down to the very end. It’s long hours. You have to be constantly adjusting to new environments, new team members. The good part is that if you love it, you give it your all and it’s usually highly rewarding.
What does success look like to you?
Success, to me, is all about growing and longevity. As long as you’re continuing to learn and continuing to create, you’re successful. I’d love to continue to expand my body of work on the narrative and commercial realms. I’ve done several shorts; I feel like I’m ready to learn about the feature film and TV world.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Professionally, I admire filmmakers like Reed Morano and Dee Rees. They have managed to build a body of work where you can hear their voice so clearly. They exude intelligence, professionalism and authenticity. I wish I would have known of women in the industry like them when I was growing up.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
No dejes para mañana lo que puedes hacer hoy. It means, “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you could do today.” Things are tough in this industry and in the world in general, but don’t let anybody stop you. Just do it.
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