By Juan Caceres | SydneysBuzz September 5, 2013 at 8:30AM
Actor/Writer/Producer/Director Jaime Zevallos was never content with letting opportunity to come knocking – he went out and created his own opportunities while bartending and doing roles here and there. He would get home and write page after page and has to date written at least 15 feature length screenplays. He would use the skill and craft he honed at a local community college to start shooting his own films. A personal film he wrote (Heartlines) would be the first feature he wrote to go into production in which he also starred in opposite Steven Bauer. His current film which he also wrote, directed and stars in, the fiercely independent film 'Me You and Five Bucks' is currently playing film festivals.
LatinoBuzz: How old were you when you and your family moved from Peru to Queens?
I was born in Lima, Peru and arrived in Queens when I was 3. I actually remember landing in LaGuardia Airport and coming home to our apartment. I don't
know how I remember that, I can barely remember where I put my car keys but I remember that specific day in my life. There was a bunch of soda cans on the
kitchen table. I can even tell you the brands.
LatinoBuzz: And who got you hooked on films to be an actor?
Jaime Zevallos: I've been hooked on films ever since I can remember renting VHS tapes. But who got me hooked ??? I think life did. There wasn't a person or a mentor that got me hooked. I think it was the films themselves that influenced me. A specific memory that comes to mind is watching 'Goodfellas' when I was 12 and thought Robert De Niro looked so cool sitting at the bar smoking a cigarette and contemplating his next "move". I actually would copy his faces gestures and try and get into his mind frame. I would borrow mad dad's clothes and pretend I was a Mobster. So I guess I have to thank Robert DeNiro.
LatinoBuzz: You were actively acting and booking roles. At what point did you say "I want to be on that side of the camera?
Jaime Zevallos: Since I began booking some stuff with no formal acting training I told myself, that I needed to really study to stay in the game for the longevity and I did just that. I wound up enrolling into Queens Borough Community College and began taking theater classes. Now I was ready to transfer a four year school, but felt that acting was something I would always study and still do, so I transferred to film school to get my BFA in directing. Plus, it was a different time... not to sound old but in the early 2000s and the late 90's there were a lot good indies coming out and in New York, indie film was booming. Many of my friends who were actors all thought they could be the next Ed Burns or Kevin Smith. Plus, I think good acting is about being able to reveal something about a story as is good directing.
LatinoBuzz: Where did the genesis for 'Me You and Five Bucks?' come from?
Jaime Zevallos: I was watching Reality Bites and heard Ethan Hawke say a line, it was like "All we need is a you, me and five bucks, a cup of coffee and a pack of smokes" something like that, but a TITLE was born 'Me You and Five Bucks'! I had it in my secret pocket of titles for years! Then I really had lost my desire to write, I had optioned two big budget screenplays that didn't get picked so maybe that had me lose my mojo. It happens to all artists for brief stints where we begin to doubt and question ourselves. It was around this time that I was working a lot as a waiter/bartender in Los Angeles and booking acting jobs here and there. I remember it being a dull stage in my life as an artist, it all had became too routine. So, then one night I was up late night feeding my youtube addiction watching classic Woody Allen movie clips and somehow I remember it being 5 in the morning and I was seeing When Harry Met Sally (yes, I admit it) and then like a bolt of lightening hit me. I had a story to tell. Not like a big Hollywood, blockbuster but a small intimate film about the people that I knew and I wanted to make something color blind. A film that would feature all nationalities of the globe in this New York tale. I was reborn and began writing like a fiend every night after work until it was finished. It was not easy on me but I was so glad when it was completed.
LatinoBuzz: I found your film to have a Cassavetes verite vibe to it? Who did influence the film?
Jaime Zevallos: In film school, I took an Altman/Cassavetes course. Altman was great but Cassavetes? Also being an actor, really resonated with me. His films all relied on story and acting with simple and sometimes sloppy camera work due to his lack of funds. So when we searched for a cinematographer, we found Keith DeCristo, the coolest most laid back cat. I told him we wanted a documentary feel and he was so cool with that. I said I didn't want a pretty film, I just wanted the actors to be followed doing what actors do best, which is to live on screen. Yes, Cassavetes was the influence. Good call!
LatinoBuzz: Was there much improv? What was your process of switching from actor to directing your actors?
Jaime Zevallos: A bit of improv. I'm not a stickler for actors sticking to their lines as written but I really felt the words were coming from the truthful place of the characters. There was no real process from switching. I've been acting a long time and directing as well. I don't know if I wasn't prepared if I would've done a good job. But ultimately the cast was on their A-Game and understood the importance of just being present and listening. You can't direct yourself but if you're in the moment and you feel it, there's nothing more you can do but hope there was some truth captured for the screen. Good preparation is key for me. Nowadays everyone is an actor slash writer, slash this, slash that, its cool; and you can only go so far on pure talent so you also need to know your craft well. I directed tons of shorts in college and acted in a slew of non paying acting work. You just have to be prepared. Period.
LatinoBuzz: You shot on the sidewalks of New York and in restaurants/bars - almost making New York a character at times - how did you prepare for those shoots?
Jaime Zevallos: Funny thing you should ask. Our locations all switched on the day before the shoot due to a company move from the west side to the east side of Manhattan. The producers and I were literally looking for last minute locations while we were shooting. It was very hectic and freezing when we were filming outdoors and again there was no preparation Just living moment to moment, listening to your gut. We only got two takes if we were lucky sometimes. But there is something to be said about having some pressure and being on your toes. It's like the sink or swim theory. What I took from it was that generally people want to help and don't want to interrupt artists doing their thing. A stranger in Gramercy Park once asked us what we were shooting and after getting to know us for twenty minutes, he offered his apartment to film a scene... and we did!
LatinoBuzz: You were recently named as one of '2013's 25 most Influential Latinos in LA' by Latino Leaders Magazine - does it make you think at all about responsibility to community more?
Jaime Zevallos: Yes, I was very stoked about that! Responsibility as artist to the community??? Yes. I think it's important for each of us as Latino artists to break molds, stereotypes and be part of quality work and good story telling. As an actor it's first thing I look for. Who's the writer, who's the director. What's the payoff? Is there one? What can this do for others...what can it do for me as an artist. Not just a paycheck. You can't really have art without having a sense of community as art is for others to enjoy as well.
LatinoBuzz: As an indie Latino filmmaker/actor: Los Angeles Vs. New York?
Jaime Zevallos: This is tough man...Why not both? Ah!!! So hard to answer! I love So Cal living and its laid back attitude. But I think I'm a New Yorker through and through. To me New York is the winner because in LA all you are is immersed in the "biz" and you can't escape it. In NY there is more than just the entertainment business there and that really is exciting to me. You can grow and absorb so many more people from every different walk of life. But I think if you can be bi-coastal go for it. That way to get the best of both worlds.
LatinoBuzz: People usually don't like this question but roll with it. Pick a film to re-make, who directs you and who is/are your co-star(s)?
Jaime Zevallos: 'Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom'. John Waters and Harmony Korine co-direct me as the new Harrison Ford and I star along side Sean Connery, Marlon Brando and Joe Pesci.
LatinoBuzz: What's next and what's the 5 year plan?
Jaime Zevallos: To act on stage, TV and film as much as possible and have the luxury to make my own films every now and then. It really does feed my soul. I think everything is changing anyway because of technology. I recently played a recurring character on a TV pilot called 'Basketball Wife' created by Emmy-Winning TV producer Michael Ajakwe Jr. It was adapted from a web series called 'Who..' Michael gave a speech about adaption one day, it was very inspiring... He talked about how films are now on Broadway and back and forth. It's such an exciting era we are living in. Whatever technology brings I just hope to be part of good quality work. I also want a family of my own and just continue to do what I love. I have a very level head and recognize the world we live in...to keep creating art is such a luxury. I feel truly blessed.
Visit http://meyouandfivebucks.com/ to keep up on the film!
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo , LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook .