Monday, April 21, 2014

"Remember Who You Are": Part 2 of an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Writer/Director Francisco Lorite ("Mediation", "Cuco Gomez-Gomez Is Dead!")

Known for his 2005 award winning short, Cuco Gomez-Gomez Is Dead!, Francisco Lorite was gracious enough to sit down and talk at length about that film, his formation of Top Rebel Productions and his latest short, "Mediation" (review here).

What follows is the second and final part of our interview with him last Friday (part one here).  Read on as Lorite discusses Hollywood's treatment of stereotypes, filmmaking in general and how he decided on the unique directing style he used in "Mediation".

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FCSFR: My next question is about Top Rebel Productions [the company Lorite formed with Freddy Rodriguez and Bill Winette].  

It's almost . . . like, for instance, in Hollywood, how do you think they are doing in terms of presenting fair and equally three dimensional roles for actors of Latin descent?

LORITE: Well, you know the answer to that question.  (laughs) It's obvious that there's room for improvement, there's no doubt about that.  Freddy and I, we keep that in mind, and if we can tell stories that allow for other artists, whether they're in front of a camera or behind a camera to be part of our production, then of course it's something we're going to do.  If we're lucky enough to have things rolling and other people can benefit from it, we will do that absolutely.

Now, we're interested in telling universal stories, but there's no doubt that the stories I'm writing down -- and of course I won't be the only one writing them down, but right now I am -- but the flavor's going to be there because that's who I am.  It's a part of who I am.  So of course, you know, there will be a Latin touch to it, for sure.  And there'll be some characters who are Latin. 

Now Cargo, which is the feature we're developing to shoot is a very good example of that.  It's going to be a very eclectic cast, like we're just talking about, in front of the camera, because the story lends itself to that.   So, not just talking about Latin, but of course Latin actors will be represented in the cast, but I'm talking about beyond that, different races.  I'm interested in that.  And this might be something I inherited from the theater.  In theater, blind casting is very common.  I think that's an interesting concept, where races or even gender sometimes can be incidental.

FCSFR: I think it's almost a healing thing too, and it's something people need to see.  Showing the commonality of people, rather than, "Oh, this is what you expect out of this person, based on elements that they can't control."

LORITE: Yeah.  Look at The Shawshank Redemption.  On paper, the character of Red is called Red because he's Irish.  How great was Morgan Freeman in that part?  How amazing was he?  Wow, you know?  Can you imagine anybody else doing that part?  No, you can't.  There you go.  That's a very good example of somebody saying, "I'm going for the right actor, not the race that the script is calling for, but the right actor."

I'm very passionate about casting.  I think that whoever said that 90% of directing is casting is probably right, you know? 

I'm interested in good actors, I'm interested in having them inhabit the character that I wrote.  There's nothing more satisfying.  Because it's like handing off a baton.  If you cast the part right, regardless of race or anything like that, but just the right actor for that part, you ARE passing the baton, because that actor will know the character better than you at some point.  There will be this transition.  And if everything goes well, it will happen while you're shooting (laughs). 

FCSFR: And on that note, what a cast you have for "Mediation".  You've got Freddy Rodriguez, who is fantastic.  How'd you manage to get Marley Shelton to join the cast?

LORITE: You know, actually, we spent a lot of time developing several projects, but once we decided, "Let's talk about short films" and we decided to do a short and so I had to write it very quickly.  Obviously, I wrote it for Freddy, and then when we started talking about actually doing "Mediation", he's the one who suggested Marley.  They'd worked together on Grindhouse, and I obviously was familiar with her from shows like Sin City and later on Scream 4, but he's the one who suggested her.  I remember, he kept saying, "Oh, she's so cool, you'll definitely get along with her."

We got together for lunch, and we did get along.  She came in to the lunch, which was just, you know, a get together, ready to work.  She had a bunch of questions about the character, and she was genuinely interested in playing this particular person, and we discussed themes right away while we were having lunch, and I was like, "Wow, she's serious, let's do it!"   And we got along great, and that went a long way because we were on a very tight schedule and I  knew I wanted the film to look a certain way and I knew it would take the kind of time we did not have because we couldn't afford it.

So I had to have great actors.  There was no other way around that.

FCSFR: And let's talk about the script because it is a pretty complex script when it comes to the two leads. They really run the gauntlet of emotion, you know? You've got calm, you've got extreme anger, you've got passion, you've got all this stuff all wrapped up into one in the span of -- I think the movie is, what, 14 minutes long?

LORITE: 14 minutes, yeah.

FCSFR: That's a lot to pack in.

LORITE: Yeah, we really wanted to do a short that had a beginning, middle and end, and we wanted to tell a full story.  It's tricky to tell a full story in a short amount of time, but that's something I was really set on.  And Freddy embraced that, very much.  It was a chance to play a full arc with a character who had something to say, and I think for Marlee it was the same.

The film would've not worked [without Rodriguez and Shelton].  I always say the same thing.  I'm not the cake, they're the cake, I'm the icing.  I can be fancy with the camera work . . . but if the actors aren't there to give life to the characters, then the rest doesn't matter.

I always use my mom as an example.  I always, when I take her to the movies, you know, she'd say, not often, but sometimes she'd say, "Well I like this movie."   And I would say, "Well why do you like it?"  "Well I like the story."  "Why do you like the story?"  "I like the characters."

FCSFR: How do you handle your writing process?  Do you write a certain number of drafts?  Do you outline?

LORITE: Yes, I usually do an outline, which doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to stick to it, but I cannot start on that road without having an idea of where I'm going.  And this could change completely once I'm on the road, and I could take a right turn or a left turn that I never would have thought of.  Eventually, it does -- you know what they say, that the characters take over.  They do.  They really do.  They say things you never planned for, and that takes you in a different direction, and that's part of the exciting thing.   And that's why, when I'm writing, I'm always sort of in a daze, because I'm literally somewhere else, with a bunch of crazy characters, and I was THERE, with them!

You know, as Laurence Olivier used to say, you know, "Have a blast, and hope for the best."  (laughs) And sometimes it comes out, and sometimes it doesn't. 

But I'm always very grateful to be able to tap into my imagination, and go to those pretty places.

FCSFR: Now, two elements I thought were interesting in the film -- first of all, it kind of has a film noir slant?

LORITE: Yes, for sure.  I think that if you're talking about love, and you put a woman and a man onscreen, and something goes terribly wrong, well that's film noir.  I was always conscious that I was standing on the shoulders of giants, so I had no problem going and watching those movies and really studying -- it's an inclination I have, I understand film noir, but I'm also aware that people have come before me and have done it a billion times better than I could have ever do it -- and so I went and looked at a lot of Hitchcock, in particular Vertigo, which is an incredible masterpiece.  It blows my mind every time I see it. 

A lot of neo-noir, too, a lot of movies that I own, or movies I went back and watched, I was interested more in the theme, which is that love hurts, which is the tag line from the film.  The theme for me is the crazy stuff we do for love.  By extension I felt that a film noir-ish setting was best to tell that story.

FCSFR: And the second thing I was interested in about the script is the fact that all the scenes are told out of order, almost in a Tarantino-style manner.

LORITE: Yes, that's . . . when I was a kid, I used to read a lot.  And that's something that's in books all the time: you flash back to things that happened at just the right moment to give you a piece of information that will give you a different perspective on the story. 

There's no one better than . . . well, let's mention his name since he just died, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there's no one like him to do that.  It's incredible how his balance was so fast as a writer that he could mix storylines and jumble the timeline and you still followed and wanted to know what was happening.

So that's something I got from books for sure, but in this particular case we are dealing with a short.  Just because it's shorter doesn't mean that it's easier . . . the obvious reason is that you have less time, but you also have to, in our time of the ADD, you have to grab the audience right away. 

Having your story told out of order, so that you can have the right element [told] at the right time, it's sometimes more important.  It's the more effective way of telling the story.

FCSFR: So was that element in place early on or did it come up organically?

LORITE: No, it was definitely something where I started writing . . .  if I started in a "normal" way, or the more "usual" way, yeah, it would not grab the audience.  I have to start with the scene that it starts with, so that it would 1) hopefully grab the audience but also set the tone. 

It's a deal that you make with the audience, alright?  They don't know what story we're about to tell them.  They don't have the advantage of getting a trailer, or the marketing from a studio that tells you about the film so that when you walk into a film, you're already conditioned for that kind of story. 

But with a short, you don't have any of those advantages, so it was important for me to say from the get go, from the first minute: this is the film you're about to see.  This is the tone, these are the characters, this is the type of story, and this is why it starts with a monologue about a particular event that represents what is about to unfold, which is that, yeah, people do crazy stuff for love.  We tell a very short story in the beginning, and then we say, "OK, now we're going to tell you our story, and hopefully you enjoy it."

FCSFR: And in a weird way, it becomes almost more emotionally true when you tell it out of order.  It would lack punch if it was told chronologically.

LORITE: I agree.  Yeah, I agree 100%.

FCSFR: How did you decide how you were going to approach directing this picture?

LORITE: To me, when I write something -- I don't always write the stuff I direct, and one of the films we're considering for next year is not one of my scripts, so the process is different, I'm approaching the script as an outsider going in.  But when I write it, there is no difference for me between writing, shooting, and editing.  When I write my script, I'm already directing it so a lot of times some of the directing is on the page, but it's definitely in my head.  When I'm shooting it, I'm already editing it.  It's how I'm able to save time and therefore money when I'm shooting it, because I know where I'm going to cut it, how I'm going to cut it, and so hopefully when we get to editing, I'm not too far from the mark and the pieces come together, and of course there's a whole different process that happens in the editing, where you potentially rediscover the film.

In this particular case, it was very close to what I had in my head when I was writing it

FCSFR: See now, that's something else I wanted to talk about to, which is that this film is impeccably edited.  Every scene interlocks like a puzzle piece, there's so much going on visually like I said, and yet you're not lost.  And that's kind of a danger a lot of the times, when you have, you know, very interesting angles or direction, is that you end up with the audience kind of getting, "What?  We're over here now?"  And you don't get that with this picture.

LORITE: Well, thank you, I appreciate that.  I was lucky enough to work with Jacob Chase.  The people that I used before for editing were not available, so I had to look for somebody new, and I just lucked out.  I found Jacob, and Jacob is a filmmaker.  First of all, he writes and directs and he has a very good understanding of storytelling, but he's also an accomplished editor. 

What's interesting about this particular collaboration is that his sensibilities and his taste are very different from mine, and so it was interesting coming from me, to explain my vision and for him to apply his skills to the vision I had for the film. 

I remember this piece of advice I was given a long time ago, the best two pieces of advice, almost back to back.  "Remember who you are" -- which I think is very important when you're trying to tell a story, and the second one was, "If you have a choice between not making a movie and making a movie, MAKE IT." 

Again, you go back to the most important thing, which is story.  We are who we are because of story. 
Nowadays I think the best guide [to living] that we have is still story.  We started in the cave saying, "This is who we are supposed to be," and you tell a story and essentially give elements to aspire to.  And with films, we're doing the same thing, except we're not in a cave anymore, we're in our home, in front of the TV screen.

But bottom line, it's what always will drive me: is it a good story?  Great, let's tell it!

FCSFR: So what will we see in the future from Top Rebel Productions?  Is the tone of "Mediation" indicative of what we're going to see in the future, or is it wider ranging?

LORITE: It's wider ranging.  The projects we're developing right now are a wider range, and cover film and TV.  The taste overall -- I think that grit is part of our sensibility, and by grit I mean, that can include several things, not just violence, but it can include things like character driven, true to life, so I think that's part of it.

Will we put out comedies?  I'm sure.  Will we put out family movies?  I'm sure.

But right now, yes, it is kind of the first phase of our development, and it's very much steeped in thrillers, crime dramas, and eventually we actually added a horror component which is an interesting project that we'll be talking about next year, so to answer your question: it's darker but that doesn't mean we're going to stay there.

That's where my sensibilities are for sure, but as a company we will explore a wider range of material.

FCSFR: Great.  Do you think we'll see Random see the light of day?

LORITE: Yes, I do think it's coming back eventually.  I think we're lucky enough that something good came out of something bad, and I was fortunate enough that there were great actors who were interested in telling that story with me, so I think we will return to that eventually.

We have Cargo in front of it, which is something we hope we'll be able to shoot in the Winter in L.A.  If everything lines up, that's what we'll be doing first, aside from a couple other things that aren't film related, but rather TV related.

FCSFR: Is there anything you can tell us about Cargo right now, or is it hush hush?

LORITE: Well, I can tell you that it's character driven.  It's an action thriller, and that we're really excited about it.  I think it does tell an interesting story and it touches upon things that are I think important.

What I mean by that is I don't have the answers to these questions [posed by my movies].  I just ask the questions that pop in my head.  I never claim to have the answers.  I just think there are these questions that are interesting, that are crucial for us to ask, and I think that within the context of an action thriller, we still manage to tackle a few things that are relevant to who we are today, in our society.

FCSFR: You've been so incredibly gracious with your time.  I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me tonight.

LORITE: Same with you, I appreciate your interest.  I appreciate the fact that you're making some room for short films.

FCSFR: My final question for the evening: do you have any advice for aspiring writer/directors out there?

LORITE: Yes, I have one, which is don't listen to advice.  The only thing that matters is, if you want something, BELIEVE that you are capable of getting that thing.  If you have a story that you think other people should hear, or see, then go ahead and tell it, and that means pick up a camera or a pen.

Maybe that's a little old fashioned (laughs).  A laptop.  Nobody writes with a pen.

I'm nobody to give anybody advice, but what I can pass on is the one that I've already mentioned, but I'll tweak it a little bit.  "If you have the choice between telling a story and not telling a story, TELL THE STORY."

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Thank you again to Francisco Lorite for his insightful answers and great advice for new filmmakers all over the world.  If you missed part one of the interview, check it out here.  Also, don't forget to read our exclusive advance review of Lorite's new short, "Mediation" starring Freddy Rodriguez and Marley Shelton!

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!