An Interview with Sophia Castuera and Ali Edwards about “august at twenty-two”

By Gary Wien
originally published: 06/04/2023

august at twenty-two is a film about the first year after college. It is centered around a struggling actress named Cal. Her high school soulmate, Jacob, now has a serious girlfriend. As Cal tries to break into the acting world, she also tries to reconnect with Jacob and becomes close with Emily as well. Unfortunately, this leads to Cal neglecting her best friend, Bobby.  In between the parties, sexual exploration, and seeing former classmates succeed, Cal faces situations that will likely look familiar to many recent graduates.

The film will be screened at the New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 9, 2023 with an in-person screening on the Rutgers University campus at 7:00pm and available on demand for 24 hours starting at midnight. The wonderful short film, Stay Behind, will also be shown.  Click here for a feature on Stay Behind.

Sophia Castuera directed august at twenty-two, which was written and stars Ali Edwards. The film has already won awards at the Bushwick Film Festival, Queens World Film Festival, Northeast Film Festival, and La Femme International Film Festival. New Jersey Stage reached out to Sophia and Ali to learn more.

Sophia – august at twenty-two is my first feature as a director. It’s actually the first feature for most of our team! It’s been such a wild process and I’ve learned so much from this film’s journey. I had a short that I made that screened at a festival in New York, but this is the first time I’m experiencing the festival circuit. It’s been an absolute whirlwind. We had a very busy fall and now things are ramping up again with spring and summer festivals! My favorite part is connecting with all the other talented and interesting filmmakers. It’s definitely exciting for our film to be receiving wins and nominations. Honestly, I was just thrilled to have our film seen by people, but having it get such a warm response has been so wonderful. It makes me so proud of the work the whole team did. I’m also so happy for Ali and the response her performance has received — she’s just incredible and so special in this.

Ali – Yes! august is my first feature and the first feature for so much of our team. It was an amazing experience to gather and work with so many incredible young filmmakers. First time in the festival circuit as well – it’s been amazing and such an honor to see our little film embraced by so many different festivals and communities. Getting recognition for the film as a whole has been so incredible, getting “best actress” awards and noms has been the cherry on top.

As an actresses yourselves, have you gone through the same audition struggles as Cal has?

Sophia – Absolutely. Oh my god. I think about when I first moved to the city in 2018 and would wake up at 4 am to go downtown, sign my name on a non-union actor list, go back uptown to eat breakfast and get ready for the day, go back downtown, and then sit in an audition holding room somewhere in midtown with the hopes that maybe I’d get seen. More often than not, I would not be seen, or I’d have to rush off to babysit or work a shift at a cafe. On the off-chance that I’d get into the room, half of the time the people at the table would not even look up at me from their work (or their phones). It’s a struggle that so many actors are familiar with. Similarly to Ali, this was a huge reason that I started writing and making my own work. In all honesty, the stuff that I write or that my collaborators write is more interesting to me than half of what I see on casting calls. I’m all about diving into projects that I’m passionate about, so when I’m signing onto something that I wrote or Ali wrote, I know I’m going to have the fire to continue the creative momentum and eventually create something great.

Ali – Definitely! It’s the main reason I decided to start producing my own work and take the creative process into my own hands. It’s tough for actors, there’s a lot of relying on others to get a greenlight, as a filmmaker I feel like I’ve given myself the freedom to just go.

What do you think is harder for Cal: not being successful or running into someone from college who is involved in a big workshop?

Ali – I think it’s both! There’s so much pressure to “succeed” when you’re first starting out and knowing that the folks around you are thriving when you’re floundering is hard – especially when you don’t have the confidence yourself to remember that everyone has their own journey.

What do you hope people take away from this film?   

Sophia – It is a difficult time! I remember people warning me about the post-grad blues, but I truly had no idea until I was in the thick of it. Ali’s script resonated so much with me when I read it. I feel that the film captures this time in a way that is both deeply serious and uncomfortably funny because that’s exactly how it feels when you’re out of the worst of it and you look back at those times. I hope people watch this film and feel understood. I also hope people feel reflective! Sometimes we make mistakes or make “fools of ourselves,” and in the end, it’s all about how you pick yourself back up after those times, how you might have to take responsibility for the things you do, or at least start taking steps to do so, and how you carry yourself through the rest of your life with the lessons you’ve learned. This is certainly easier said than done. I’m certainly still learning how to do this, haha.

Ali – So many of the folks that have seen this film have come up to me after and been like, “Ugh, twenty-two is the worst.” I hope people take away that it’s human to struggle and be messy. I also think it’s important to want to grow.

What was the biggest challenge for you in moving from a short film to a feature length film?

Sophia – Probably scope! Being a director for a short is a lot of responsibility. You’re calling the shots, you’re setting the tone on set, you’re the leader. With a feature, it’s that tenfold — or at least that was my idea of it at the time. My process was almost exactly the same as when I directed my short VOCE. I’m a big believer in rehearsals, so we had plenty of rehearsals. I storyboarded and discussed shots with my Director of Photography, the brilliant Melina Valdez. All in all, I felt pretty good in pre-production. The closer we got to actual production though, I felt the pressure of the scope of a feature film. Imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head. But eventually, I just had to throw caution to the wind and go for it. This was a huge opportunity, and I wasn’t going to sabotage myself. Every director has to make their first feature, and once that’s over with, you’ve made your first feature. You know what I mean? I’m really proud of myself for having the confidence to pull this off, and I really could not have had a better team and crew to support me and encourage me.

Did the two of you meet at Boston University?

Sophia – Ali and I were at BU at the same time! We knew of each other, but never actually met there.

Ali – Yes. I think in a lot of ways we were ships in the night at BU- passing through similar friend groups, theater groups, a cappella groups. By all intents and purposes we should have met. It feels almost like kismet that we got to connect after college, after we had both grown into ourselves a little bit, and come together over our love for writing, acting, and creating.

Sophia – I agree. I had a lot of growing to do during and after college. It’s been so great to have connected with Ali in New York and continue to grow as people and artists together. It just felt very natural that we should work together. It was so easy.

Do you see this as a writing/directing partnership for the future?

Sophia – Definitely.

Ali – Absolutely. We are both actors-writers-directors-producers (a lot of hyphenates, I know, I know). What’s really great about that is that we are constantly swapping roles. Sophia can write something and bring it to me to act in or produce —

Sophia – Or Ali will write something and ask me to read for a role. I know Ali is interested in getting into directing herself, so maybe she’ll be directing me soon!

Ali – We consider ourselves “work wives” along with our producing partner Mary Elizabeth Monda.

Sophia, What led you to go from California to Boston to study film & television?  Most people go the opposite way.

A lot of people ask me about that! I’ve always known that I wanted to live on the east coast. Ever since I was like, eight years old. I knew BU was a great school and I received a half-tuition scholarship from them, so I decided to pursue my east coast dreams. In all honesty, I hadn’t realized my interest in filmmaking while applying for schools. I actually was accepted to BU as an International Relations major. I switched my major five times until I landed on Film & TV. I even was in the music school for vocal performance!

I was particularly drawn to Film & TV after taking two summer courses in 2015. My screenwriting professor John Bernstein and my Production I professor Thorsten Trimpop were huge inspirations to me. Professor Bernstein instilled a deep curiosity in storytelling and Professor Trimpop had such a fiery spirit about pursuing stories that matter to you. Both of them encouraged me and believed in me and I am truly so grateful for them. I made my first short that summer, Out of Tune. Professor Trimpop talked to me after class and gave me some technical feedback, then very seriously urged me to reshoot the short and submit it to festivals because it was something special. This then eventually developed into my first short, VOCE!

I tried the LA route after graduating from BU, and while I learned so much during my year there, I knew I wanted to be in a place where there was more of an independent film community. To me, that felt like New York. I also am still interested in acting and producing theatre work, so this is also the place to be for that!

Do you see yourself as an actor who directs or a director who acts?

I think if you asked me a few years ago, I would’ve said a director who acts, but I recently rediscovered my passion for acting after attending Terry Knickerbocker Studio and completing the Two-Year Professional Acting Program in 2021. I’m absolutely an actor who directs. I feel that my love for acting plays a huge strength as a director. I know how to talk to actors, and I know how hard some of the process can be. Professor Trimpop actually said that my work reminded him of a young John Cassavetes who is probably the most famous of the actor/director legends. That was a huge compliment!! I do hope that my work always has that sensitivity towards actors and highlights the performances in the same way.

If you had to choose one or the other, which would you choose?

I really wouldn’t be able to do that. Ask me again in five years, haha.

Finally, are you already working on your next film? What can you say about it?

I am! I am collaborating again with Lady Parts Productions on a short that I am writing, directing, and acting! The short is called ‘Good Choices,’ and it’s about a young, low-income artist who blacks out at her friend’s birthday party and has to spend a hungover afternoon finding her missing phone and wallet. It’s a very simple concept that speaks to complex themes about folks confronting their habits with money and friends, and the struggles that occur in friendships with folks from different classes. We’ve just completed crowdfunding, and we are shooting sometime in August! I also wrote a feature film that’s currently in development! We’ve applied to a few grants and fellowships with that project, but that’s probably further down the road! This story deals with my extreme fear of death! You know, light stuff! Ali is currently producing a feature film shooting in Utah this summer EP’d by Aaron Paul and has written her next feature script.