Crystal Correa: the Filmmaker Building a Career on Her Terms
Crystal Correa is a filmmaker but she’s also a hairdresser, computer science whiz, and mom… like all at once. She hustles 24/7 in a way that would intimidate most and her work across the board is excellent. In Crystal’s life, time management isn’t an option, it’s mandatory. But her creative spirit and love of storytelling is absolutely unrestrained. It lives in her critically acclaimed web series “Crystal the Web Series” just as much as it does in her small but mighty production company C+ Media Productions. With recognition from HollyShorts, LAL FemFest, and acceptance into HBO’s NYLFF, Crystal Correa has found a way to be a filmmaker on HER terms. We spoke with Crystal about her journey in film, various projects, and creative passions.
This is an excerpt of an interview between Crystal and TLL founder, Kim Hoyos.
ON HER LIFE
What was your early life like?
I have always been a creative kid. Art was and will always be one of the loves of my life. I remember the first time I really started to discover other artists and styles, and how nice it felt to not feel so alone. The one form of art that really gave me comfort was film. It’s this amazing way to tell a story and instantly create a bond between a huge group of people. My obsession started mainly due to the fact that I moved so much as a kid, but wherever I went, I could still go to the movies, and it was a great outlet. An escape. Life was hard at the time, since I was a kid coping with big changes. Art was there. I was able to pour my feelings onto paper and now I’m doing it through film. I don't want people to feel alone, because they aren’t. We are in this together.
What is your work outside of film like?
Mom life is a gift. My kid gives me the strength I never thought I would ever have. He is way cooler and funnier than me, so that helps keep me on my toes. Time management is so important because we need those reading times and playtimes. I try not to be “that mom,” but sometimes you tear up when your kid does something so sweet. He likes to share, which is everything. So kind and sweet at a young age. And I am grateful for my hair career, I started at 19 (but to be clear, I am forever 25, right?), but I had and still have a very successful career. I have an amazing clientele, who always become client-friends, even though in school they said not to do that. People tell me not to do a lot of things and clearly I don’t listen well. But it’s hard to not care or bond with people you’re working on. I want them to win, and they feel the same way about me too. A beauty career is super rewarding, because you get to help people feel good. Of course I’ve had my share of ups and downs – I have worked in a lot of salons and not all of them were perfect. But life right now is perfect. Overall, I am blessed to still be working and have the energy to keep up.
I got a computer science diploma while I was working at an unfortunate salon. It was failing and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to even make money doing hair. I decided to go back to school, and find a new salon job, so I was multitasking pretty hard with classes and work. I am not a quitter, so I just made it work – it was a long two years. And I graduated (with a 3.6, I believe) writing papers while clients’ hair was being processed. I really used all the free time I had, and I am so happy I did that because I learned about self-marketing and time management, which makes it easier on my wallet and me. I honestly enjoy it. I enjoy the whole process of getting people excited about a project. I’m also a painter, so I’ve been trying to slowly get back into that, and I have my first LA show in August. So it’s happening. All the lanes are moving, but not too quickly, which is perfect so I can manage them all and still have time for my kid!
How do these influence your work?
Crystal’s job on the show – she’s a graphic designer – is what would or could have been my job if I had went the computer science route. In season one, Crystal is living a close version of my truth, but as that arc continues it really starts to be a story where I get to put my college degree to use! Finally! And I am working on a beauty-school-themed comedy based off of my career. I’m in no rush to get to the end… yet, but I feel like it’s tricky to write that one because it’s still too close to home as an experience and an identity. I like to have some distance from subjects before I tackle them as a writer. It’s healthier for me to handle and write from a happier, funnier place. I have “rage written” some things, and later re-read them and it’s HARSH. I don’t know – sometimes a story like that might work with the right accent and feel, but time always adds perspective to how you remember something.
I have a couple more characters in development, but I went with “Crystal” because at the time it was the easiest and cheapest to create. Only I’m allowed to call myself “low-rent” in this context, ha! Before being a mom, I would volunteer with kids, which always brought me back to reality. Writing for kids would be so much fun, and educational – something everyone can enjoy and parents could trust. I can come off as ridiculous and goofy, but something I don’t really outright share is that I really care about education. Kids are awesome. For the record, I was a really great babysitter! Also, I love cartoons – college taught me some animation basics, and I am developing a couple of cartoon concepts, one for kids and one for adults. But it’s taking some time, to find the time to work all these ideas out. I’m basically a wizard over here!
What do you like/dislike about being self taught?
I enjoy going at your own speed to learning things. I am self-motivated, and I have high standards for myself, so I want to learn everything I can. But the important thing is being able to put what you learn into practice, reflect on mistakes, and try again. And I kept repeating that process, even when I had huge fails. I deleted a commercial that I created. Now I’m sad I didn’t keep it, because now I can laugh about it. But at the time, I felt fragile. I really hate how everything I did was so closely examined. I’m the hairstylist doing film, so I wasn’t taken seriously, which I understand, because to an extent, everyone is looking out for themselves. It’s tough in LA, and if you take a wrong step you might not be able to recover. I struggled with that, until I reached a point where I decided to forget all of that and keep learning to take myself to the next level. But it’s a bummer that you have to be so hush-hush about the fails because you want to be taken seriously. And because I didn’t go to film school, I wanted pay my dues some other way. I’m always still learning.
How did you discover filmmaking?
I started out acting, but I was never able to do it professionally until now because of the moving around. But I was always taking drama classes, and I was involved in theater production. I have always been one to get interested in how something works – I mean really learning the behind-the-scenes processes, and how to plan out a beginning and end for a story. So for a while, I just toyed with simple film programs. Now I work with Davinci Resolve and Black Magic Design – I recently got chosen as a feature artist on Black Magic’s website, which is surreal. It really is about having the passion, and of course, the grind. Also: respect for film, and how everything works. I know how to act, write, direct, edit, color-grade, sound mix – whatever you need to make a film. My end game is to be an executive producer, but I know I have a long way to go. Right now, I’m happy to just be welcomed into the film community with open arms.
What attracts you to filmmaking?
Teamwork, to be honest. I feel like films are miracles in a way. It’s a miracle anything can be made in a world of chaos, but when it all comes together it’s magical. And when I hear people laugh at my jokes on-screen, my heart is full. In the process, any drama is just pushed aside, and it’s worth it, because at the end of the day, you all want to make a beautiful film together. Also, you get to capture a moment that will never ever happen again. The timeless aspect of film is beautiful, and respecting the process is an educational experience for the next generation of filmmakers. We can learn so much from watching how things work on set, so that the next project or production can be better. The world is full of stories, and if you want to stand out, you have to put your own spin on things, which is what I like to do with everything I work on. I take a simple, timeless truth, and do it my way.
What are your favorite roles in production? (directing, producing, acting)
Acting was the main reason I decided to write my own content, and as the project grew, I discovered I like to drive in different lanes. Acting is tons of fun, because you get to play around and be someone you are not. I haven’t been thinking like “Crystal” the character – basically, a fictionalized, younger me – for a while now. So it was weird at first, to not be triggered or upset having to relive moments of my life. Thank goodness it was a comedy! If I have to relive awkward moments, we might as well laugh about it! Laughing is key. Besides “Crystal,” I loved acting on stage as different characters. I played Laura from “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams in a school production, and that was so rewarding to be able to bring that character to life. I got the audience to see how a person with a disability deals with the world, and explore what comforts her, which is the story behind the title of the play.
With that said, I wasn’t one to write. I didn’t like to “open up“ because people always told me I was already “too much,” which actually comes in handy for producing. I never stopped grinding – I just found more things to work on and keep to myself. At a certain point, I forced myself to write so I had something to produce, which I prefer. I love bringing a great group of talented people together, keeping the peace, and finishing a project we all can be proud of.
As for directing, this role is tricky because I want to be firm and get the best take, but if something isn’t going well, I don’t want to be seen as “mean,” which is something that I think many women struggle with. I don’t like to keep doing takes, I move very fast. I do around two or three takes and we move on. I like to keep the momentum going on a shoot and focus on the next take. On “Crystal,” once everyone saw that was my flow, I felt that it helped to push people in a positive way. Also, being in the scene helped because I was right there with them. Like I said, we are in this together. And I want to make sure everyone takes working with me as a learning experience, and not a struggle. It’s important to me, because I am all about learning.
ON C+ MEDIA PRODUCTIONS
What is C+ Media Productions?
It’s my second kid! It’s my small, humble production company. The idea was for me to separate my acting world and production world, and package my show ideas with a recognizable brand, so that when it comes to pitching, there’s a certain standard of quality and humor associated with my company. I’m hoping to start filming more content in the fall, but it’s all about scheduling. Right now it’s Crystal’s turn to shine, so I don’t want to rush the process.
When was it created?
Last year I renamed my company, and it was kinda hard. Names are a big deal and I wanted it to be a tribute to everything I experienced to get here. I love working with all types of media, and C+ is a cute way to honor my love for both science and the arts. I have big plans for the company to grow and evolve in the next few years, so watch this space.
How important is it for female artists to brand their work and market it?
It’s so, so, so important. If you want to spread the word and share your project effectively, it comes down to smart marketing. I spent six months figuring out fonts, clips, stills, what to highlight best, and how. It’s so necessary as a filmmaker because you know the story and the audience doesn’t, and you want to attract the right audience. Crystal is a relatable show because you don’t have to be 20 to understand the issues or get the jokes. I wanted everyone to be real and modern. The internet is savage, but also really funny, so it was hard not to be inspired by memes. Even then, the work doesn’t end after sound mixing or color grading, I mean it never really ends – February 14th was my first episode launch and here I am still sharing my project with the help of the amazing people who enjoyed the series. Festivals are also important, especially ones that showcase underrepresented filmmakers and their subject matter. For example, I just got into HBO’s NYLFF (New York Latino Film Festival), which is mind-blowing, to be able to be around some really game-changing people. You have to stay fearless and keep the drive alive, but I will say, having a strong core message and being prepared has kept me sane so far.
What do you hope to create next with C+ Media?
Making more content! “Crystal” is from a group of characters I developed. Fun fact: “Crystal“ is actually my middle name. It was easier for me to refocus on my film character with a semi-stage name, but “Crystal” is based on the real me. I strongly believe that more people shouldn’t box themselves and be comfortable with letting real experiences drive their characters. That being said, I’m hoping to get more funds to give some of my other characters some loving! I have so many ideas, and after everything I’ve learned, I know affordable ways to get a proof of concept together to pitch to bigger studios. For now, C+ is a way for me to stay organized and promote my ideas in a professional package.
I plan on doing some crowdfunding and giving away some original art on tees, bags, posters, and stickers! I did the paintings featured on Crystal in the background. I really put many different details into the production. I’m having my first art showcase featuring the three main pieces from the show, so I am looking forward to that! These pieces are signed by my painter persona, “Sharon Strange,” which is also my first name.
ON CRYSTAL THE WEB SERIES
Why did you create "Crystal the Web Series”?
I wanted to prove to myself that I could finally finish something big. My idea was to make something that would bring people together and laugh together, even for a few minutes. So I started to write episodes and edited them to reflect what was going on in society at the time. I made sure to pick “timeless” topics as the main focus. Despite the fact that the series is based on “me,” the only time I spend a lot of time staring at myself is at yoga. I am very private, so at first I felt like Crystal was oversharing, but once I started to get into the work, I learned a lot more about my limitations, and how to separate my life from my fiction. This world is insane and we all are struggling. If you want something, you have to work hard. Some people are just jerks. That shouldn’t stop you from going after your dreams. Season one really touches on simple issues, I didn’t want to get too heavy… yet. I wrote the pilot and it’s very fun and silly with a hint of some dark stuff for the future. Crystal is going to go through a lot, but in time, she’ll come out as cool and together as I am today, ha!
How long did production take?
It took around three months. The first month felt like musical chairs – the cast and crew edition, because I had to replace some people and some people dropped out. It’s just how the business work. No hard feelings because the people who needed to be a part of this production are all in this production. I strongly believe in “everything happens for a reason.” Once I got the team together, we planned on shooting all the scenes in five days. My hair work really helps me know what an hour feels like. Also, Nikki got busy with auditions during filming, so to accommodate her acting, we had to play some time Tetris. After we got all the footage, it took another two weeks to get it finished and ready for film festivals.
What were the struggles in creating this project?
Finding people to commit, and to be fair I understand why they didn’t take me seriously. I don’t share a lot about my art background, especially in a gig economy because people ask you to do free work, and as a young artist, people will take advantage of you. It was hard to get people to believe in my project without a film degree. But when I did find the right people, I shared some of my past work and experience. Another struggle for me was writing. I was not into writing when I was younger, and I knew if I wanted to get this done my way, I had to learn screenwriting, and it took years. You get writer’s block, and sometimes life breaks you heart and soulm but you just have to keep going . I am so grateful that I pushed myself, because when I was feeling down, I found joy in my work, and was able to laugh and keep going.
Did you think Crystal would grow to what it is?
This is far beyond what I hoped to achieve. I set the bar to “realistic.” I put my heart and soul into this production, and I’m so happy Crystal is being well-received. Of course, the internet can be very savage, and for now the trolls are letting me grow slowly and do my thing. I am so grateful everyone gets my jokes and can relate to them, it makes me so happy. This was the dream. We need more laugh and hope. It’s a tough time right now, but we have to keep going.
How does social media play into the series but also the brand marketing?
Social media is huge. It’s how people get their entertainment. It’s a great helping hand for indie filmmakers because they can really build their brand and style themselves. I took my time to develop Crystal’s style – around five years – because I was very picky about the aesthetics and feel. I wanted it to be me. And I need to really think about things. The character is a graphic designer so this was another meta-layer of design to think about. I did a promo shoot with my teddy sweater, it’s so cute! “Crystal” is really influenced by adorable things and “kawaii” objects. Having a plan is very important so you can target the right audience, which people love new options and ideas.
I love this new wave of artists taking back control over their work. It’s all about the details, and I love details. The show is ready to sell! I also took some business/ marketing classes, I’m forever a student. And social media is just a new fun way to connect as many generations as possible –I wanted to be inclusive as possible, I made sure to take care of everyone. The cast is very diverse and their issues are everyday things that people document on social media for the world to see. The show is unfiltered, just like me. Also, using funny hashtags helped people find my web series, and helped me to highlight certain episodes and jokes that were relevant to larger conversations online.
How does it feel to be reflecting on your life through this series? Is it like reading a diary from the past?
Weird to be honest, which I didn’t l think it would be, because it’s ME. But I’m basically getting to redo my 20s, which is not an option or a lot of people. This time around, we are going to laugh more through my struggles. I am surprisingly a very quiet person. I mostly keep to myself, so in some ways this was “the diary of a shy girl,” and it was scary.
ON HER WORKFLOW
What tools do you use on set and off to keep organized?
I am old-school. Nothing gets me going like a cheap notebook. I can put all my wild ideas there and then put them in my planner and phone. It’s kind of like school projects: are you gonna aim for that A or B It’s better for me to stay on task this way. I loved and still love a school environment, so this is fun to me. But it’s all about that cheap notebook. I put everything in there, so whenever you get down about work, you can go back and see what you need to focus on and regroup. It keeps you on a productive path. Also: respond to people and email them back in a timely fashion. This is a business, be respectful of other people’s time. It’s something my dad really taught me at a really young age.
What advice do you have for other artists?
Stay organized or figure out what works for you to keep that flow going. Be nice, it’s free. If it’s hard for you to be nice, find a hobby that gets your endorphins going. Yoga and hot yoga help me with my mental health. It flushes stuff out and resets me. Know what you want to get out and take your time to tell that message. You don’t need to rush the process. I’m telling you I am old-school in that I love a good quote: “you can’t rush art.” Nothing inspires me more than my life and the people in it. Having a unique personal journey will make you grow as a person and artist in more ways you can imagine. I am filled with ideas because of my endless adventures, family and close friends who aren’t in film, but are my personal heroes.
What inspires you?
The world. Growing up, I was a bit of a loner. I still am, so I like to “people watch” and just watch all the food documentaries I can! As a hairstylist, you also get really good at using everyday inspiration to do a wonderful job. Whoever is in my chair is my “muse” at the moment. But nothing gives me joy like an old-school trip to art museums and a beach day with the family to reset. Spending time with my mini-me really inspires me to keep going and never to give up. I want to be a good example to myself, and to him. My partner is so supportive of my career and he is an amazing father, and I know my current family life will have a huge impact on future writing. For now, I have to get more things off my chest about my 20s before I can move on. Also, I look a lot younger than I am, so revisiting my 20s has been great! Not complaining. Korean day spas are a huge reason for this, that’s something I feel so many people should get into.
Who are women artists you look up to?
One of my favorite movies is The Virgin Suicides. Sofia Coppola is a genius. She really shaped my teen years with that movie. I think it was our sleepover movie, which is pretty dark, I know, but so real and raw. The film is a visual work of art. It also got me thinking about focusing on being behind the lens, instead of being in front of it. We love a legend, Barbra Streisand. She’s pure talent. She always puts me in a wonderful mood, I need to watch her live with my dad someday! I love how she really just didn’t stop for anyone and opened so many doors for women. And Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first woman to win best director for The Hurt Locker. I stay away from most war movies because my dad was in the military, but she really knows how to bring your emotions to the surface, for people to understand what soldiers go through. It’s heavy but we need all different types of genres to help understand each other.
You can continue to follow Crystal's work here