Postcards From Hollywood: A Master of Fine Arts (with a Side of Fine Wine-Tasting!)

Daniela De Carlo continues her column revisiting her adventures as a young filmmaker in L.A. with memories of Alexander Payne and Sideways.

During my last quarter at UCLA in 2002, I was able to secure two internships for school credit. One of them was over at David E. Kelley Productions.

Twice a week I would proudly drive my very first car – a rusty blue Toyota Corolla ’84 that I got for $500 bucks at the local repair shop – from where I lived in Culver City to Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, where the company had its offices. The car had no AC and no CD player, but the radio worked fine, so I would listen to NPR a lot. One day, I was headed south on the 405 when I heard an interview with a director named Alexander Payne, promoting his new movie, About Schmidt. Since I grew up in Argentina and had only moved to L.A. a few months before, I was not familiar with Payne’s body of work. However, later that week, I was going to be attending film critic Stephen Farber’s Sneak Preview film class, where we’d be watching About Schmidt and later, Farber would host a Q&A with Payne.

During the radio interview, Alexander talked at length about two of his favorite writers from Argentina, Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges – who happen to also be my favorite writers – and he spoke longingly about Buenos Aires, my hometown. I was intrigued by him; his Spanish pronunciation was so impeccable, he sounded like he could be Argentinean.

Later that week, I attended the Sneak Preview class and was blown away by the movie. I immediately understood Payne’s relevance as a contemporary American auteur. I cried my heart out, too. During the Q&A, Alexander raved about a movie he’d just seen, All About My Mother. I adore Pedro Almodóvar, and so at this point I had just too many things in common with the guy – I had to say hello! I stood in line and when it was my turn, I first asked Alexander what his connection was with Buenos Aires and Argentina … And we started talking in Spanish like parrots. I felt bad because the line of people still waiting to talk to him was long, but he just kept asking questions. In the end, he wrote down his email address and asked for me to write.

Daniela De Carlo with Alexander Payne, c. 2003.

I did, and we became pen pals.

A few months later, I became a set P.A. on Sideways.

Seeing Alexander Payne direct that movie from a few feet away was my Master of Fine Arts, and it came with a side of fine wine-tasting!

Daniela De Carlo’s latest feature, The Blackout, was released by Gravitas Ventures and is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Originally from Argentina, she worked her way up from P.A. to writer-director-producer, collaborating along the way with a myriad of industry heavyweights such as Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, David E. Kelley, and Tony Scott. In 2010, she helmed the romcom Qualquer Gato Vira-Lata for Buena Vista International, which opened wide in Brazil to unprecedented box office success, and was one of six Hispanic directors on the 2014 feature drama Blue Lips. She was awarded the NBC/Universal Directing Fellowship and appointed to the USA Network show Royal Pains, and as a recipient of the inaugural NBC Female Forward program, recently helmed an episode of the primetime show Chicago Med. She is currently developing a biopic series about Xuxa, the most famous Brazilian pop star of all time. Daniela will exec produce, write and direct, in partnership with Xuxa and Gullane Filmes. She lives in Los Angeles. (Photo by Sari Thayer.)