Updated: Oct 30
The Austin Film Festival starts this weekend; and making its world premiere is perhaps one of my favorite movies released this year, Autumn. It’s set in a small Portuguese town, tracing how a family’s dynamic changes when their son leaves to study in London. Capturing snapshots of a daughter’s coming of age, a father’s midlife crisis, a son’s emancipation and a mother coping with an ‘empty nest,’ it’s a tender, intimately human exploration of family, the self, gender and so much more. I was lucky enough to speak with the film’s director, Antonio Sequeira, as well as Beatriz Frazão and Miguel Frazão, who play the daughter (Belinha) and Father (Otávio) respectively. Many thanks to them for taking the time, and I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Antonio, there’s a real warmth and sense of family running throughout the film. I’m wondering how much of that was present in the initial script before the Torino Film Lab and the First Cut Lab got involved; how did the script change over time and how did those programs help develop the story and the characters?
Antonio: I initially wanted to have only a treatment, and that’s how I started: with a 25-page treatment, then I wanted to work with the actors as well and get to know some parts of their life that we could incorporate into the script. But because I got into the second stage of the Sundance development lab, they asked for a script, so I kind of had to write the script in a week [laughs]. So, I sat down and wrote the script—but even though that’s the draft I sent in, I still tried to incorporate a few things from the actors as well. We shot the movie over one year, according to the seasons, so as things were happening I started to see what were the most interesting aspects of the family I could then focus on a little bit more when we were shooting the next season. That’s how the script evolved: by shooting it and realizing what were the most interesting parts of it.
It’s fascinating to hear how the actors played a role in the script changing. Beatriz, I know this is your second time working with Antonio after My Mum’s Letters in 2020; how was that process for you? Do you find short films to be a different challenge than a feature film?
Beatriz: Absolutely. I love Antonio and the way he really cares about making us actors feel heard and understood. So, the second he called me because he wanted me to be part of this movie as well, I got so excited. I don’t know if you know this, but my father in the movie is actually my father in real life, so it was a big challenge [laughs] but it was an amazing journey. I’m so grateful.
Miguel, how was that process for you, working with your daughter?
Miguel: Well, it turned out to be quite pleasant—but I must confess I was very nervous at the start because she’s a really good actress. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m up to those standards,’ but then I started working and practicing and it was really, really pleasant.
Beatriz: I was really impressed by him! The best actor in the movie.
Miguel: C’mon [laughs].
Antonio: For sure, for sure. Miguel did a great job and we did a lot of chemistry tests before going forward. I don’t know if Miguel knows this, but I remember meeting him in real life as the father of Beatriz and thinking ‘he could really be great for this role,’ but I actually felt that you were a bit too young, Miguel, because you look so nice, and I always envisioned the character a bit older, so I was like ‘how old are you, Miguel?’
Miguel: I had makeup on to make me look older.
Miguel: Yeah, skin spots and more wrinkles. I had something on my skin, I don’t know what, but it made me have more wrinkles. So, I know what I’m gonna look like in a few years [laughs].
Antonio, are those chemistry tests usually a part of your process?
Antonio: Yeah. For me, I think most directors would say this, but casting is like 90% of it. So, of course, I would love even more time and money to do even more chemistry tests and really manage to do the casting process right, because I think it’s really crucial. It’s also an opportunity—we did some tests with them, for example, some rehearsals, and finding the characters was something that was really fun. We did some exercises where they had to write a diary of the character. They’d pretend to be the character, I’d ask them questions and they’d improvise answers. [Those exercises] were really good for me as a writer to learn more about the characters.
Speaking of finding the characters, Miguel, in another interview you mentioned speaking with locals to get the accent and cadence right. Is that first-hand research something you do with all your roles?
Miguel: I always do that, because I like to talk and meet people, and I use that as an excuse. If you give people attention they always give you the best of themselves. This character is very conservative, and has that old-school mind, so I really wanted to know how people from those places think. My in-laws, Beatriz’s grandparents, they are from such a place, and my father in-law was pretty much my role model. Although he’s very racist and sexist, which we cannot incorporate, you still get a glimpse of how they think and interact with each other, and that’s what I tried to do in the movie.
I think you did a fantastic job, because he is a very complex character. He makes racist jokes and has some outdated views of masculinity, but he’s still clearly loving and tender with his family. How was it navigating that balance for that character?
Miguel: You just have to think that he doesn’t know better. It’s not me saying those things, it’s someone that doesn’t know better. He lived there all his life, his friends all talk like that. For them, it’s perfectly natural, it’s perfectly normal, and he doesn’t even understand why other people don’t find it funny. So, you just have to move away from your body and say whatever you want because it’s not you.
Beatriz, how was the process of finding your character? Did you do similar research?
Beatriz: Yeah, for sure. I really resonated with the character because she went through something that I’m also going through and in the beginning of the movie—I don’t want to spoil anything—but in the beginning she’s really trying to find who she is and she’s living in the shadow of her brother. She tries to be like him, she envies his courage to leave home and study abroad. But as time passes you see her growing up and growing old, and she develops a sense of fashion. In the beginning of the movie, you see her wearing her father’s clothes and brother’s hoodies, and by the end she wears make-up and all that kind of stuff, so it was really fun to grow with my character.
Did you collaborate with the costume department on that?
Beatriz: No, I didn’t, because I fully trust their job.
Antonio: We did a little bit of tests as well, wearing her clothes and trying to figure it out, because later on the clothes become even more important, so we did some tests to see how she’d feel. I think she still has the jacket of the character [laughs].
Beatriz: I do, I use it for auditions [laughs].
Antonio, I’m curious how your experience making short films and Instaverse influenced your approach for this debut, and what lessons you took from this film into the script writing process for your next movie, Angel Boy?
Antonio: I see myself as always learning. Every project, I’m getting a little bit better. Even now I look at what we first shot and think ‘I could have done so much better’ [laughs]. Every time you look back at your things you always cringe and think you can do better—but some of the lessons that I keep learning is to trust the people around you and collaborate as much as you can. It’s important to know what you want to say with a movie, and with this one I knew exactly what I wanted to say. As I keep making more projects and growing, that’s where my focus will always be: not knowing the plot, but [knowing] what do I want to say with this? Why am I spending three years of my life with this project? Why is that important to me? Knowing that has always been an important thing. The more you work with actors—each actor has their own sensibility and their own way of working—so I think the lesson I keep learning is listening and understanding in the rehearsal phase how I can best help them. In film school, you learn a million things to tell an actor and sometimes it might not be helpful. It depends a lot on the actors, so that was one of the key things: to understand how I can be the most helpful—and I think as a writer, what it helps me [understand] is that sometimes you don’t need to put as much in the script, because you know there will be some time to work through that with the actors. You should leave a little bit—as long as you know what you’re saying, and the subtext of what you’re saying, the actors will find that and they will play with that. There’s no need, for example, to put ‘he grabs the glass here.’ Sometimes I think first time writers tend to overwrite, and as I grow I learn how to just write only what is important about the scenes and dialogues, and let the actors find the moments where they do their pauses, their looks, where they move around, and that’s a lesson I keep developing as well with them, finding the right way to find the blocking. Because, for example, one of the interesting things about some of the seasons in this movie is that the characters never stop moving, especially [in] the first season. They don’t have those types of conversations where you’re just sitting and talking. They’re always doing something. I think it helps them, when they’re always doing something, even though it might be a bit hard to memorize everything, but it helps them to be more natural in their performance. That’s something I want to continue to work on, always finding the right blocking and helping actors be natural in their performance.
Is leaving room to work it out in the process of filmmaking something you think is specific to feature films, or is that something you were doing for Instaverse as well?
Antonio: Less. Of course, on TV, you have to be a little more—no, actually, I’d say on TV you have to trust the actors even more. Especially on TV—in this case I directed all the episodes, it was a miniseries—but on most TV projects, a director will not direct all the episodes. He’ll direct a couple episodes here and there, so the actors have even more ownership over the role. I think on a TV series, the actors are the true force of the series, and I think no director can interfere too much in that. They should just help and support that. I’m re-watching The Sopranos, and you watch Gandolfini in the role—no director can do that. That’s just him owning the character for all those seasons.
The Twitter account for the film recently posted about the dangers of AI and the importance of artists taking charge of their work. We obviously still have the strike affecting certain areas of the industry, and a lot of change seems to be on the horizon, so I’m curious how you view the future of filmmaking?
Antonio: That’s a big one [laughs]. I think as things go more towards digital, more people go away from digital and try to find the experience of things. So, it can be daunting when TikTok destroys our attention spans, and AI and all these things feel very scary, [but] I think it’s already changed with the strikes and things like that. People are showing that they don’t want AI generated content. I think people want an event, they want an experience. People go to the cinemas to have that, and I think the more we do things like AI, the more we devalue the craft and the more we devalue the experience, so then of course people will stop going to cinemas if there’s nothing for them there. That’s my idea for the future: just like vinyl, people will come back to finding those experiences in cinema.
Miguel: I agree with Antonio. I think AI is overwhelming, and it’s gonna blow. It’s gonna be used as yet another tool, but it’s not gonna overtake because of what Antonio said. Regarding us actors, I think we should be paid a fair value, because if you have AI replacing an actor then you wouldn’t have the feeling, you wouldn’t have—it’s just immoral overtake.
Beatriz: I agree with everything they’re saying. It really scares me to think about it. I just want to keep doing my job and exploring characters I love.
Miguel: I promise you AI will never be able to do what she does.
Absolutely. I think films like Autumn are so important for re-centering the artistry of filmmaking as a medium, so thank you all so much for making it and for taking the time to speak today, I really appreciate it.
Autumn makes its world premiere on October 28th at the Austin Film Festival. If you liked this interview, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more! I'll be posting more thoughts from the Austin and New York Film Festivals over the next few weeks, so there's never been a better time to join!