LatinoBuzz: Which filmmakers made you want to do "this"?
Gus: Well obviously John Hughes made me want to make 'Love, Concord' as he's a clear influence in the film. But Robert Rodriguez is also a big reason I wanted to do this. His book 'Rebel Without a Crew' was a huge motivating force. It doesn't hurt that he was the only mainstream Latino filmmaker at the time when I read the book which was the summer of 97! Another major influence is Alexander Payne, his movie 'Election' was such a hilarious movie but with a deep and heartfelt message. That's what I hoped to achieve with 'Love, Concord'. Tell a silly story with toilet humor moments, but also have a deep message about how difficult finding one's voice and someone to love in high school can be.
LatinoBuzz: You worked as a high school video production teacher, at what point did you decide it was time to make 'Love, Concord'? And what was that process?
Gus: Well actually I still am a high school video teacher, but it was when I was fired from being a video teacher at my alma mater Saint Mary's College of California and couldn't find full time work due to the great recession that I decided it was time to make my own opportunity and make a feature film. What helped was that I had already written a second draft of the screenplay by the time I was fired and that I managed to save a lot of money by living within in my means when I got my first professional job teaching. So that mixed a lot of grassroots fund raising like hosting a comedy night, selling almost my entire library of DVDs, and doing an Indiegogo campaign is what allowed me to raise the modest budget I had. I also called out every favor I could from friends and family, so that saved us a ton of money too. Another way we did the film so affordably was we used a lot of my DP, Producer, and 1st AD's connections to get crew members who either volunteered or worked for cheap. These were educated and trained filmmakers who either did the job for the experience or to help out a friend. I even had a lot of former students from St. Mary's as crew or be extras all because they believed in not only the project, but in wanting to help their teacher reach his dream.
LatinoBuzz: How important was it to have Concord, CA be a part of the story? And did you get the community to support you?
Gus: It was incredibly important to shoot in Concord. Mainly because I grew up there and for the story to ring true I couldn't imagine shooting it anywhere else. Also, because growing up loving movies and realizing at an early age I wanted to be a filmmaker, I had always hoped a movie would someday be made about my home town. But no one ever did one, so I saw it as a fitting opportunity that my first feature film be made about and in my home town. Lastly, it was just practical to shoot in Concord and the surrounding cities because I live in Pittsburg, the neighboring city to Concord.
LatinoBuzz: The film is affectionately influenced by the likes of John Hughes, Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling etc - pick a film to remake and who do you cast? Go.
Gus: Oh this is a tough one for several reasons. First I'm not a big fan of remakes, I feel that once a great movie is made, why mess with it? Also having now made a feature film that I had to painstakingly write from scratch, it's almost kinda like cheating in a way. But I suppose if I was for some reason forced to remake an 80's movie at gun point, I'd pick 'Better Off Dead'. I love John Hughes' work too much to ever want to attempt to redo it, but 'Better Off Dead' is so funny! And I very much empathized with John Cusack's character as I was pretty much beat up by girls in high school. Plus I just love the random humor in it, like the moving diner dish the mom serves, and the hilarious Asian race car driver who talks like a sports announcer. Brilliant! Who would I cast for it? Well obviously Jorge Diaz as the star because this role requires a humorous personality, but one which also needs you to feel pity for which, as we see in 'Love, Concord' he did extremely well. I'd love to work with Miguel Angel Caballero again so perhaps he'd be great for the Cusack's funny druggie friend 'Charles De Mar' as people haven't exploited Miguel's amazing comical timing enough yet. The man just nails it in 'Love, Concord' and seeing him play a quirky stoner would be a great gift to audiences. I'd love to cast Angelina Leon as she just has to be in all my movies from now on as she's just too talented not to be. Oh, and if the sky's the limit I would obviously cast Salma Hayek, if only to be able to meet her. She's a teenage crush so of course I'd find a role for her, haha.
LatinoBuzz: I love Gerry & Melinda as characters. They were, at heart two great kids. Do you feel making films featuring Latino characters is something you inherently want to do?
Gus: I do inherently want to make films with Latino characters. It's kind of my dogma now to make movies that don't have negatively stereotypical Latino characters, ie: the Cholo, the drug dealer, the jaintor, the border crosser, etc. I want American audiences to be exposed to the amazing positive Latino characters that I have actually met and lived with, etc. Latinos are the largest minority group in this country, and we're going to eventually overtake Anglos to be the majority of this country and if we as Latinos continue to make movies with these pathetic one dimensional Latino characters we're just shooting ourselves in the foot. We need to show young audiences, both Latino or otherwise, that Latinos are more than the glorified losers Hollywood makes us out to be most of the time.
LatinoBuzz: Did you intend to break a certain mold there is as far as Latino filmmaking?
Gus: I wouldn't say I'm trying to break a certain mold as an "overall" Latino filmmaker. Because there are so many amazingly talented international Latino filmmakers, making envelope pushing films. But I hesitantly would say that yes, I guess I am trying to break the American Latino filmmaking mold. Again, I'm just tired of Latino films or filmmakers choosing to focus on the negative stereotypes for their stories. I won't name names because unfortunately you write what you know, and perhaps some of those filmmakers are making and telling personal stories. But knowing how hard it is to not only make a film, but get it released to a large audience, my question at this point in my life is: "Do we really need another LA gang war movie?", "Do we really need another Latino drug dealer with a heart of gold movie?"
LatinoBuzz: Are there any trends in filmmaking you deplore?
Gus: Well I'd say negative Latino stereotypes but I don't want to sound like a broken record. I think one major trend in filmmaking I deplore right now is the dumbing down of stories. I really think a combination of lazy writers and Hollywood not respecting audiences' intelligence that has made for some really lame storytelling in movies. I was at the movies seeing a drama, and there was this ridiculous plot twist which was done to squeeze in a plot point for the character, rather than find a creative and believable way to further the story. And when it happened, I literally laughed out loud. And I was the only person who did, because it was meant to be a dramatic moment, but it was so predictable and lazy that I couldn't help it.
That and 3D. Sure popcorn movies like Avatar are fun to watch in 3D, but redoing neo-classics like the Lion King in 3D is just annoying. 3D does not make those movies any better. They're just ways the studios want to cash in on the trend, and as an Indie filmmakers it's annoying. But who knows, for the ability to make more indie films I might sell out and make 'Love, Concord' 3D, haha.
LatinoBuzz: Your lead actors went to St Marys like yourself - was that a coincidence?
Gus: Yes and no. I met Angelina at St. Mary's because she was assigned to me as my TA. And when I did a mock audition one day in class, the person I booked to come audition flaked on me. So I asked Angelina to fill in as she mentioned having taken theater classes. And she blew me away! After that audition I was convinced she was my Melinda. As for Jorge, I actually shot a student film for a St. Mary's student and he was cast in it. However, he played a bed stricken catatonic character so I didn't really have a lasting memory of him. About three years later my producer Virginia (Saenz McCarthy) re-introduced me to him because she had met him in her Sundance Travel course at St. Marys. She was sure he'd be great for the role of Gerry and she was right. He auditioned first and again blew me away, did a call back audition with Angelina another with Miguel and then we cast him. So Jorge was sort of a coincidence, but Angelina definitely wasn't. What can I say, St. Mary's turns out some smart and talented peeps!
LatinoBuzz: Whatever happened to the real life Melinda?
Gus: Well there's no real Melinda, however, the person who most influenced the character of Melinda is a teacher coincidentally enough at the same high school district that I teach at.We lost touch, but we're on speaking terms which is better than most high school romances. I suppose. Plus I hear she's a great teacher, which is not surprising. She always had a knack for explaining things to people even when we were in high school.
LatinoBuzz: What's the next project for you?
Gus: Well I'm finally writing another narrative feature film, now that Love, Concord has distribution I can focus on the next projects. My problem is I have a lot of ideas swimming in my head and it's hard for me to decide which one I potentially want to spend the next three years of my life devoted to. But the leading contender has another high school setting. The American high school experience is such fertile ground for story telling that I can't help but want to go back to it. However, to prove I'm not a one trick pony I'm also considering a story about a character's experience dealing with the Great Recession (you write what you know). Lastly,my co-producer Jimmy Freeman has a great documentary idea I want to help him produce so we may be starting that this summer! Either way the experience of doing ;Love, Concord' has taught me that I won't rest until I make another feature. It's a lot of hard work, especially for indie filmmakers, but with some luck and persistence, it's so rewarding.
For info on how to pick up a copy of 'Love, Concord' give them a 'LIKE' here.
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.