Lost Soulz Katherine Propper

Katherine Propper is the director of Lost Soulz. In this piece, she details how she made the band for the hip-hop road trip movie.

My first feature, Lost Soulz, started with a Craigslist post: “Actor wanted for UT Austin MFA Short Film.” 

It was September 28, 2016. I was new to the University of Texas at Austin and had been in town for a month. I didn’t have a script or even a plan to make a short film. But I needed an actor for a video assignment for my cinematography course. 

The only person who responded to the listing was named Sauve Sidle. He emailed me: “I›m interested in this gig. what do I have to do?” 

A few days later he agreed to meet up for a shooting test. He rode up to my student apartment on his skateboard, with rainbow-colored hair, metallic grillz, and a cool print hoodie. Compelling. He was charming and very down, even without knowing who I was or what we were going to make. We filmed a few silent videos with different kinds of lights — candle light and flashlight — film-school stuff. Most importantly, Sauve and I clicked. 

I learned Sauve was a rapper with dreams of moving to L.A. to be famous. Like recognizes like. We both related to having a pipe dream of sorts that we had faith in, even if we weren’t certain of the path forward. I wanted to be a working movie director. He wanted to be a renowned rapper-actor. We believed in one another. Sauve’s early and unmerited trust in me made me want to work with him again.

A year later, I called him up to star in my pre-thesis short film, “Street Flame,” inspired by a few local teens I met in the skate and graffiti community in Austin. I knew Sauve skated and thought he’d be interested in acting, for real this time. Again he was down. He quickly bonded with the other cast members and invited his charismatic cousin, Curtis Rhodes, to also act in the film. We did one rehearsal before the shoot, and I remember Sauve told me, “This film’s gonna be big.” 

The cynic in me brushed his comment off: Short films don’t get “big.” Even more than that, filmmaking is hard, and even harder to get recognition in. But I was simultaneously drawn to Sauve’s hopeful confidence, and embraced his positive mindset.

“Street Flame” is a short film about friends who are like family. It’s about a group of young people who make a second home with each other and leave their mark on the world with intentionality. I learned so much from making it. Almost everyone in the cast was a first-time actor. I had a script, a shot list, and a plan, but my favorite moments on camera were when the ensemble group of friends were together being spontaneous, in the moment. I told myself I would replicate it when the time came to make my first feature. 

Katherine Propper on Her Work Before Lost Soulz

(Top, L-R) Lost Soulz performers Tauran Ambroise, Malachi Mabson, Micro TDH; (Bottom, L-R) Alex Brackney, Sauve Sidle, Aaron “Seven” Melloul, Krystall Poppin

In 2019, “Street Flame” screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. That was the start of a great festival run, which gave me a lot of hope. I thought I could make more films and get them into film festivals. I also felt “Street Flame” had the DNA for a feature film. Sauve agreed. 

“When we making the sequel?” he asked. 

“Soon,” I told him.

Sauve moved out to L.A. to pursue his music career. I continued my MFA program and made another short film, “Birds,” which expanded on “Street Flame.” It’s a film about young people, with vignettes of friend groups hanging out in Texas in the summertime.

I left more room in “Birds” for improv and for real life to make its way on screen. The film was an experiment in process and also an ensemble film with mostly first-time actors, just as “Street Flame” had been. 

But even though I loved the off-the-cuff moments in “Birds,” my favorite scenes this time were the scripted ones. I had tried —perhaps too ambitiously for a short— to film totally spontaneous and unscripted moments during production, and couldn’t really crack those scenes in the edit. They were a bit too sprawling and unwieldy. Most of those scenes were left out of the cut, but a few gems were kept in and gave the film a vibe that felt really natural. 

In 2020, I called Sauve and told him I was finally writing the script for a feature film. It would be about a young rapper who travels with a group of touring musicians in Texas. It would have similar themes as in “Street Flame.” Mostly, I wanted it to be about friendship and a character figuring out what “home” is. I hoped to make an effective vehicle for Sauve to shine in, and to incorporate all of the best things I had learned from making my shorts. I sent Sauve the script. 

He said, “It’s gonna be huge. I can tell.”

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His consistent confidence in all these creative endeavors reassured me. The inner skeptic and pragmatic parts of me knew that making a film would be incredibly challenging. At the same time, the main takeaway I garnered from making the short films was that I didn’t have to make a perfect film. It was OK to make something to learn, experiment, and grow, even if it had shortcomings. The most important and difficult part of making a film is finishing. I thought if I could see something as ambitious as the feature I had written through to completion — to me that means a picture lock cut with color and a sound mix — then that would be a big win.

In May 2021, I had a serendipitous meeting with a college friend I hadn’t seen in a few years. That friend, Andres Figueredo, is a filmmaker himself and had produced indie features. Andres, like Sauve, is a believer — the kind of person who believes in dreams most people might find impossible.

“I was driving to South Carolina and was detoured by a tornado. It brought me to Austin,” Andres said before we met up.

I told Andres about the feature I was working on and he asked me to send the script to him. He read it that night and called me while he was on the road to tell me he loved it. He also sent it to his brother Juan Carlos. They wanted to produce the film.

In July 2021, the Figueredo brothers and I met up with Sauve in Los Angeles. I told Sauve we’d make the film later that fall. I also asked Sauve for help in casting the other characters. He suggested a bunch of people and I began to reach out to them and to many others, mostly real musicians I’d find on Instagram, or people suggested by friends.

The ensemble in the script for Lost Soulz was big. The film has five characters in a fictional band, plus the band’s manager, the main character (Sauve), and the main character’s hometown friend. The characters in the band needed to be believable musical performers who also seemed like they were in a hip-hop group together — and like real friends. 

By many miracles, casting came together at the last moment. We ended up having to push our fall production by a few months to February 2022. But before filming, we got together for a bandcamp — basically a songwriting session — in New York City in October 2021. The initial songwriting crew included musicians Alex Brackney, Jake Brackney, Jewan “Pinky” Clay, and Malachi Mabson, who all hailed from Louisville, Kentucky; Ellex Swavoni, an artist from Louisville who is based in Atlanta; Johnny “Baceface” Ayoub, from Philly; New Yorker Angelo Diaz; and Micro TDH, a Venezuelan-born, Miami-based rapper, singer and actor. 

Rallied together by music producer Jonathan “Zig” Zighelboim, they made music in an incredibly collaborative, organic, and spontaneous way. Together, the artists came up with eight songs for the film in just four days. Later on, the actors cast in the film would write some of their own verses too.

I tried as much as possible to include elements of the actors’ real lives in the film. I interviewed all of them prior to filming. They told me about the meaning behind their tattoos, and about their experiences pursuing their dreams. Some of their anecdotes are featured in the film. 

Lost Soulza at the Drive-Thru

(L-R) Lost Soulz production sound mixer Jorge Rendon, director Katherine Propper and first assistant camera Kate Mlinek.

February 4th, 2022 was the first Lost Soulz production day with the entire band. Three of the actor-rappers in the cast — L.A.’s Aaron “Seven” Melloul, Port Arthur, Texas’ Tauran “Big40Thrax” Ambroise, and El Paso’s Krystall Poppin — were meeting both me and the full cast for the first time. It was an unusually freezing day — there was snow on the ground. We filmed a scene outside a Whataburger in Austin and proceeded to film our first interior van scene, in which the whole crew freestyles a song while driving up to the Whataburger drive-thru. It’s one of those scenes that doesn’t obviously move the plot forward, but captures the essence of being on a road trip with a group of musicians. 

The cast was still getting to know each other, but that day set the stage for a filming protocol we would repeat throughout the shoot: The band would be sequestered in the van with director of photography Donald Monroe operating the camera on his shoulder in the center. First assistant camera Kate Mlinek, production sound mixer Jorge Rendon, and I would sit in the trunk, with monitors. 

The limited number of people physically able to be in the van during filming allowed for an incredibly intimate environment. Removed from the many contrivances of a film set, those scenes happened in a documentary-like manner, subject to the reality of being in a moving car in traffic.

I wanted to capture the “connective tissue” of the story in the van— the moments of play, of bickering, and of random chit-chat. For me, those moments reveal character and make the film feel natural. We were traveling nearly 600 miles from Austin to El Paso, and by the time we got there, everyone was kind of like a family. That spirit made its way on screen, I think. 

All of the cast members were musically adept. As artists from different genres with unique styles, the blend of their collective talents was really compelling and made for a cool dynamic. The actors freestyled often on camera and were natural performers, especially in the film’s concert set pieces. Throughout the production, the actors were also writing songs and making music together when they weren’t on set. A couple of those songs written during the production made it into the film.

Beyond that, I attribute the positive vibes on screen to the cast, who were so excited and full of faith. 

“This film is something special. I can feel it,” said Krystall Poppin, who plays Nina, the group’s manager. 

Her words were like Sauve’s from Day One — and they reflected the feeling shared by many on set. Full of hopeful faith. I think making any film, you really need people involved who believe in the cause with unwavering faith, even when all logic and chaos suggest otherwise. I’m so grateful to those who believed then and those who keep believing. 

Lost Soulz is coming soon from Kino Lorber.

Main image: (L-R) Lost Soulz performers Alex Brackney and Krystall Poppin with director Katherine Propper.