Director Gabriel Caste On Exploring Grief & Pointlessness In ‘Are You Awake?’

Filmmaker Gabriel Caste joins us on Close-Up Culture to discuss his latest short film, Are You Awake?, ahead of the film’s premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

At what point did you start writing ‘Are You Awake?’ and what was your inspiration?

For context, Are You Awake? follows a woman who gets people out of bed for a living. I wrote a first draft of Are You Awake? in 2020. It’s not a covid movie, but will be relatable to anyone who spent 2+ years in their living room. 

Like most people in 2020, I felt pretty off. There was a period I couldn’t get myself out of bed – you see where I’m going with this. I recognized I needed to pull myself together, and used that dark period as inspiration for the film.

Can you tell us about the lead character, Dale, and the journey this film takes her on?

Dale is just trying to survive. She’s in the grieving process, and is working a job that doesn’t care about her. We follow her through a day on the job – going door-to-door, meeting patients who need a little extra push to wake up in the morning. Eventually she comes across a patient who refuses to get out of bed – blaming nightmares for his exhaustion. We step into this man’s dreams, and Dale realizes she feels the same way, causing an epiphany – our fears come from within.

What was your approach to the visual style and atmosphere of the film?

Prolific cinematographer Ian Coad is a huge reason why the film looks gorgeous and nuanced. We spent several months collecting references, comparing lenses, and creating mood boards. Ultimately, we decided to shoot digital on vintage glass. We weren’t trying to emulate film, but achieve a soft and dreamy feel to the footage.

We chose to shoot in “Academy” 1:33:1, a cropped ratio compared to modern standards. This spoke to the tunnel vision of the character – just getting through the day and never stopping to look around. Most of the film was shot on sticks – very little movement. This too supplemented the feeling of staleness in our day-to-day lives. Alex Exline created a color grade for the film that was less saturated, but deep in range. Lauren Caste crafted the rooms we filmed in with dreary, yet refined props and dressing. I’m thankful I had such a competent team to help me create this movie.

‘Are You Awake?’ will premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. What are your feelings heading into the premiere?

Oh I couldn’t be more excited. I mentioned I’ve been carrying this story since 2020. It feels momentous  to have it finally released to the world – like a new chapter is beginning. People are really liking the film, and I can’t wait to see it in a proper theater in its full glory. I’m looking forward to meeting new folks and spending a week celebrating cinema!

By the way, if anyone reading this is going to SBIFF23, let’s connect!

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

I hope audiences are able to connect with the emotion behind what’s being shown. Are You Awake? is not an ‘easy’ film. It covers the human themes of grief and pointlessness. However, the film ends on a message of hope, and will speak to audiences on a human level. We are a sad and confused species, and that’s at the heart of Are You Awake?

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

My plans are to continue creating thoughtful stories through sleek cinematic execution. I am proud to have three feature scripts in development (including the Are You Awake? feature). I’m also directing a film series called Slice of Lonely, which can be found on virtually every social media platform. And lastly, I’m directing a fully animated short film, which will be released later this year. 

Check out Gabriel’s website – https://www.gabrielcaste.com/

 Are You Awake? will have its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The psychological thriller will premiere as part of the Fear & The Truths We Avoid Shorts Block scheduled for Friday, February 10th at 10 a.m. and Monday, February 13th at 7:20 p.m., with a filmmakers’ Q&A following each day’s screening. 

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