South By Southwest 2019 Interview – MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPERS director Kestrin Pantera

“MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPERS is a funny dysfunctional family drama, inspired by true events, about how family ties can twist and tear you– and though they may not break you, they might send you to jail. It’s a rock and rollin’, shit-kicking, dope smokin’, party havin’ tale about what happens when a group of adult siblings go home to Texas to do right by a mother who always did them wrong.” Director Kestrin Pantera on MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPERS which screens at the 2019 edition of SxSW Film!

Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

FUCK YES I’m attending screenings! Not my first time in Austin.

Aside from your film screening, what are your other plans for your Austin visit?

My big goal is to buy a new pair of boots, because I wore out my last pair from Allen’s Boots. I intend to eat my weight in: Torchy’s tacos, Maria’s Taco Xpress, Guero’s, and South Congress Cafe, for the singular brunch-splurge. I am made of queso.

So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I learned filmmaking by hanging out with a bunch of commercial directors in my 20s, lurking on their sets, watching their process and in many cases, collaborating, and learning how to edit. Learning how to edit is the single most powerful tool of any filmmaker. If you want to be in film and don’t know how to edit, you’re doing it wrong. Go download Premiere Pro CC right now and start cutting. Now.

With my first feature, LET’S RUIN IT WITH BABIES, it was the threat of getting pregnant that drove me to make a film because I thought my life would end after kids. Spoiler…I was wrong. I literally made a deal with my husband that I would agree to getting knocked up upon completion of my first film. I got knocked up two weeks into shooting, which helped provide a great deadline by which to finish. My kids have since become a huge part of my creative process and inspiration.  I recommend hiring moms whenever possible, because they are often more prone to being good at boundaries, delegating, and having difficult conversations with highly emotional beings in public situations, while delivering the goods. Those are the qualities I seek in anybody I hire. I went on to create and direct digital TV series and commercial campaigns. Both things I will continue to do, along with continuing to direct films.
How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

I call this film a “manic episode that went viral.” I still haven’t come down. We started with a lot of favors and hope, and ultimately once we leapt, the net and financing appeared, in the form of private equity and goodwill and talent. The biggest leap was talking my amazing cast into doing the film- I think it was over a bowl of black eyed peas with Breeda Wool in my kitchen that started it. That first “yes” is the most important; it launched a cascade of further “yeses” that has brought us here, to this interview, to which I said “yes.”  

Post production occurred in several phases- the film went through a prestigious program at The Edit Center in Brooklyn, which is like an editing lab for films; they worked on films like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD and WINTER’S BONE and I recommend the program to anyone who wants to test out stuff in an edit.  Then we migrated to festival “OMF-ingG” mode, where we were in a frantic dive to have a viewable cut for festival submissions. When we got accepted to SXSW we had not yet finished the film, so technically OMFG mode just stopped this Monday. I’m really happy with it and insanely proud of my cast’s performances.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

The threat of deadlines is usually what drives me. When I get overwhelmed or hit obstacles slash road blocks, taking a shower is my magic motion. Generally trying to do too much in too little time makes me get all excited and manic, so I try to defy my producer’s best judgment at all times, however she is very smart and good at managing me, and seems to tolerate and like me still. My big “act-out” is drinking diet coke on-set or during all-night editing jams. Of which there are many.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Biggest challenge was when my best friend and business partner died in a plane crash in August and I had trouble focusing and meeting deadlines. I completely surrendered Sundance and all its corresponding timelines, and ultimately it was for the better, because SXSW is the right home for the film. Honestly being able to lose myself in this film has been the best form of coping with such insane grief, from which it feels like at times I’ll never really recover from. Funny how a movie about death can be what saves your life.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We filmed with an Arri Amira, and my DP, Meena Singh, did everything, with a great support team of handheld camera operators. She is like a breath of air, hanging out with her is like chilling out with Oxygen itself. Her vibe is so present, clear, compassionate and gentle, deliberate and insightful. She’s a savant. It was mainly done on easy rigs, with a few locked off shots. Most scenes were cross-shot, using natural light.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

Connecting with audiences, family and honoring our film’s muse/inciting inspiration. Ideally, finding future collaborators for the next projects and following the love to find the right home for this film so it can connect with audiences.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

We are going to be the first female directed film in 14 years as the opening night film at an upcoming festival, TBA. After that, TBD.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

The Vista theatre in Los Angeles, it’s my favorite spot to watch movies.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive like talking, texting, leaving halfway, etc through a movie?

I would gently pat them on the shoulder and silently make the “hush” gesture, as though I were talking to a child in the library.  

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Learn how to edit and start today. You will become a priceless gem in the entertainment industry and have the ability to complete your films for free. And don’t be a dick.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

MONSTER, directed by Patty Jenkins.

This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to!

Leave a Reply