Filmmaker Geo Santini talks about his new indie film Like. This film is about the character Lil Tito he plays who must undergo a moment of seeking validation, losing himself, and rediscovering his path in life. This character is a mirror to the constant problem on how social media influences pop culture for this generation and for the younger generations.
Interviewer: Gabrielle Alexandra Smith
ATM: “Like” has one syllable and four letters, so how has this word tremendously shaped social media and American pop culture?
GS: We are in a time where everything is created through likes, especially while being in Hollywood and in the music business and after seeing everyone chasing likes and clicks. These ‘likes’ have actually become more of a currency for some people. Many people wake up and shape their day exactly in the pursuit of how many likes, or of how many pictures they are going to post and what attention they are going to get. This movie touches on this from the perspective of what is going on today in music, social media, and the actual consequences of putting everything on the line just for attention.
ATM: “Like” is considered a positive word. However, it seems today in society it creates an innate dislike for someone.
GS: The thing about it is that we have become addicted to these “likes”. It is a positive word that has developed into having a very dark undertone. Everything starts out as positive, but when you seep into the culture and getting more attached to a phone, an artist becomes more dependent on what is going online instead of the art itself. It has created an underbelly that is darker… an obsession and an addiction. It’s bad.
Now we are addicted to this constant need for attention. What is it doing to our psyche and even to young women? This movie is a satire that takes all these funny situations that happen in music and the need for attention. We have fun with it, but the context is very serious.
The movie is a hybrid that starts with a comedy but has a serious message at the end. It shows you that we are in a generation where we can say and do whatever we want online, but we do not see the consequences. Now we are starting to see younger people getting in trouble online, especially in Hip-Hop and in music. It used to be: You leave your certain standards behind because it was a positive thing to get your career going. Now, you cannot leave your career behind because it starts online. It is like you constantly have this need for attention.
Some of these kids are willing to do whatever it takes and keep crossing boundaries. The movie is a look at one artist who puts everything on the line for attention and what overcoming this means. How does this word ‘like’ relate to everything? How does this word relate to fashion, or dating, or Instagram? The validation of a ‘like’ is a kind of merit for this generation and us at the beginning of it are starting to see the consequences of it. We are getting ready to see how long all of this will play out and what will happen in the next two decades with technology and the generations we are raising.
ATM: How does the noun validation move through your series?
GS: It is interesting to see because when you look at music and study artist going back to Madonna, Pop, and even in Hip-Hop, you see there was a long time of development. There used to be a cliché saying stating that that it took five-to-ten years to become an overnight success. Now this is not even a situation. You have kids making a song or someone doing something overnight and they can be instantly famous. This “overnight success” that previously took so long now really doeshappenovernight. Currently, you have a situation where there are artists, vloggers, or entertainers who have immediate success and have never struggled for it. They have instant validation. They are constantly addicted to validation. The minute they do not have it – what happens to them?
I have seen YouTubers that I know and social media people I know personally go through this. They came in a generation about six or seven years ago. Now the generation that was watching them has gotten older and don’t know that stuff anymore. Their numbers are slipping. They do not know how to go on because they had never taken a loss before. They had never had to grind or struggle because success was instant for them. Then, what happens when you take a loss from this former instant reward? You do not even know how to deal with it. This is the scary part. This is the character study we see in the film to know where this goes. We start out with comedy. Our movie is a comedy. It’s silly, and over the top, but there is a real message and context to it.
ATM: As soon as a person gets addicted and obsessed with the term “like”, do you agree this starts the process of them losing their sense of self?
GS: Yes. My generation and my culture are transitioning into this world. I have friends and you see they are posting how great their lives are. They are putting more attention and emphasis in living their avatar vs. their real life. Their avatar seems to be a mess. It is the message we are sending. I know girls, Instagram models and YouTubers who live or portray this fantasy. People are looking at this and think everything looks so good. This person’s life looks perfect.
The message that is presented to followers makes them compare what they see posted with their own lives and think their own life is not that great in comparison. These people who post are not that great either. They are not showing you their struggle. Followers will not see that their rent is due, or that they did not book the job this month, or a sponsorship for this month, or even that their sponsorship numbers are down. Everything that they portray reflects a false positivity.
If you do not tell these kids that there are negative aspects to certain situations and struggles, that we are all the same, and that there are ups and downs to life, then they are going to feel less about themselves. While developing this project, I knew people who said they hated going on Instagram because it upset their day. Meanwhile they were still logging on and liking the content. Then I asked: “Why does it upset your day?” The response was that they feel all these other people are living better lives than they are. This in itself is a social problem that we are going to have to start dealing with.
ATM: Many people have witnessed the downfall of those who are in the limelight. This meaning that when they get into an emotional situation, these situations make them get into drugs, addicted to alcohol, and sometimes go as far as to commit suicide. So, if the non-entertainment viewers are receiving this information, why do people still want it? In addition, how did you work to show this in your character Lil Tito?
GS: It is a simple story of every musician, but now it is on the Internet. It shows someone who gets instant gratification and instant success. At the same time, he gets manipulated, he is not himself and he indulges into an image. The image he becomes takes over everything. The same beats that created him came to get him and he could not deal with it. You see these struggles. The moral of the movie touches on a lot of basics. Everything that shines is not what it seems at first.
We are in a world where everything is not as it appears for it to be seen. Sometimes you just be yourself. It might be cool to read these stories that show that an artist you liked had a rough day. This way people can relate to these stories. The Lil Tito character shows flawlessness in making decisions and choosing attention all the time while putting so much emphasis on the audience’s attention.
There is also a moral for artists. For them to work on their craft, to forget about just trying to seek influence, power and attention, or to seek being on the top of the trend. Work in your craft. The quality of element, of music and entertainment is also getting lost with a lot of artists. We are in this fast-paced world that just keeps requesting content. It is saved and heard, but then audiences immediately ask: Ok. What’s next? This alone is very tiring for an artist. We are not in a day and age when an artist drops albums every two years. Now, especially in Hip-Hop, when you drop your album, you need to have another album or people will lose interest in you.
ATM: Artists are on contract. A lot of their contracts require a certain about of albums. Some fans are not aware of this. Typically, when putting out the album people listen to it, then three weeks later the fans want more.
GS: This is exhausting for an artist. This culture also creates this aspect of an artist who now says they are going to record every day. They are going to out whatever they record. This does not have any development. Before, artists used to play a song, work on it, tweak it, and redo the verses. Now artists are in a situation where they record in the afternoon and pop it out in the evening. This is what the monster of the Internet wants. We are feeding it. There are old traditions from the music industry about the manipulation of an artists and how they make them change who they are.
The story is about being yourself and the consequences of losing yourself. It all deals with the Internet and with the classic issues in our society. Young kids are so impressionable. We need to understand that image does not mean anything. I would love to see artists say it is okay to have a tough day, but after it’s all done, you get up the next day. It is okay to lose your money because now, as a result, you have learned a lesson: When you get the check, you invest.
Instead, we just see splurging. “I got this Lamborghini. I got these jewels. I just bought my dog $150, 000.00 dog collar.” This is not tangible or real. It is tough when you sell this image.
ATM: Some artists skip steps to live for the fans or live for what is out there. They do not want to become scared to think no one is going to like them or that they are not staying up to date. This strips the authenticity and the substance. All you really are doing is putting out a beat.
GS: This is what we are talking about. We talked with producers. I have a lot of music guys in the movie. We are picking up a lot of stuff with DJ’s in New York. We touched base on it. The movie is very fun, but we do have a serious message that we do address in it. We are in a day and age where we constantly have to produce. I always believed on following one’s dreams and passions. Put your content out there, hustle and grind. Do not lose sight of the content or lose sight of who you are. We should never lose sight of who we are. We should not be scared to be ourselves. We should not pretend that if you are from this neighborhood you will get more shout outs, or you will get more influence and dominance. We have to shoot the effects of this and the effects of how you get so far.
We are in a culture where everybody believes that whatever you say is fine. You can say anything on the Internet and that is fine. We are also starting to see that there are consequences and that your actions do have consequences. There are a lot of artist that brag about what they have and all of a sudden, they get their houses robbed. This is an example of a true consequence, because you have to be knowledgeable about being in entertainment and having a show to put on. You also have to be real when you talk to people. To tell them: “This is sometimes not all of what it seems. We worked really hard to get this and have had to constantly promote on the Internet to move forward.”
My character Lil Tito loses himself. An avatar is what he perceived to be his identity. All he did was work for this avatar and eventually these decisions have consequences and he have to face them.
ATM: Have you ever lost yourself subconsciously and embodied a fake persona?
GS: Yes. I came young to Los Angeles. I had a three-picture-deal with Paradigm by age 26. You do lose perspective because you get caught up in it. You get sad when you lose everything. You do not know how to cope with it. You see your friends moving forward and you feel like a loser. This starts building these insecurities in you. You start valuing yourself differently. You have to learn that everyone’s path is different. I learned that, and I am going to take these loses and make myself stronger. It has made me stronger with everything I have done. It has taught me new lessons. It has opened my heart to artistically be free and love the art of what I am doing. What people perceive it, or how much money this product makes, or how many views it gets is not under my control. My job is to do the best that I can; to put the message out there and have the fun I want to have with it. I did lose sight of myself. Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself. This is what happened for me.
ATM: I just had an epiphany. When a person is infused into the limelight, embodying this fake persona, do they see this fake persona? Or do they see their real life when looking at their reflection?
GS: I believe there is a person that we know that is our complete 100% truth. We hide a piece of ourselves. There is something about us that we do not want to let out. A lot of people dealing with entertainment now are more guarded and hiding this thing in themselves. When they start, people take it out. I am not talking about everyone, but everyone is different. I am just showing a trend. I know artists that are very secure in what they are doing. It comes from experience. Some people are just naturals. We all must deal with identity issues and insecurities. Look at how many memes are out there. “Love yourself.” There is truth to this. Instead of just saying this, you need to really analyze what this means.
There is going to be a point in time when everyone must face this. You will eventually face it as an artist. You will eventually face it as a human being. The problem is that we are not teaching this to the culture. We post this picture, take a selfie; we get some ‘likes’, look sexy, then check to see how many ‘likes’ and views we get. The record labels do not care if the music is soulful. Someone like Jill Scott or The Roots could not get a record deal today. It would be impossible because we are looking at the streams and the internet. When looking at streams and clicks the numbers are what get signed.
You start losing a little bit of the soul. Decisions are being made on this. It is a catch 22 that we are dealing with. I think they see themselves and a little bit of what they morphed into. They are changing their appearances. They are tattooing their face now. This is cool while you are young, but what happens when you are 40 with tattoos on your face? You don’t think when you are young. I did not think either as a teenager. You do not think far ahead into your future like you might reach 29 or 30. “I am going to put some tattoos on my face. This is the image. This is cool.”
When we were shooting this character on Hollywood Boulevard there were so many young kids coming up to me saying: “I like your look. I feel your look.” It is crazy. I felt like I dressed up in this character and with so much element. People rocked to it because it is all image. There are certain artists out there who are more accepting of who they are. There are more people chasing an idea of an image or who they want to be.
ATM: Everyone in any entity in entertainment goes through this stage. This could even be the business side. Some do not come out of it. If you look very close, then you can almost put a partition to see the ones who have come out of it versus the ones who have not. You came out of it, but some do not get this.
GS: I agree with you. There is so much fun and crazy stuff happening on the Internet. We like to see the turned up, the wild, and the hilarious. We play on this. We are putting out a message. I am not saying who you have to be or what you have to be. I am just showing you what happens in my movie. There is a consequence. There is a consequence when you lose yourself. You can play this metaphor so many times. It is not just in your career, it is in your life. It is in how you deal with your family, loved ones and girlfriend. I know girls that have lost relationships and friendships because it is so important for them to post. There is this obsession with constantly getting attention and what this means. This means more to them than a human relationship.