Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our very own Ghostboy who got a chance to interview the directors of the indie drama QUINCEANERA, Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. Enjoy the chat!!!
Ghostboy here, back again after a bit of a sabbatical.
You know, I really loved Superman, and Monster House was pretty cool, but everything else this summer has just been so...bloated. Bloated and boring. Cars, Pirates Of The Carribean, Miami Vice and even Talladega Nights all were at least thirty minutes longer than they needed to be, and as a result of this diffusion of content, I couldn't help but zone out while watching them. I love long movies - I sat through all nine hours of the Cremaster Cycle, after all - but when a picture is longer than it needs to be, it can be exhausting.
So it was a bit of a shock when I watched the tiny Sundance hit QuinceaÃ±era (which expands to cinemas around the country this weekend) and was disappointed to find it ending when it did. It's so sweet and sensitive and real that when the ending hit, it almost felt like a false note.
The story of a 14 year old Latino girl in Los Angeles who finds a baby 'miraculously' growing in her belly - and the complications that ensue - QuinceaÃ±era is a beautifully intimate portrait of a culture that's been in the news a lot lately. Directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer weave into this social context a second plot about a young man's sexuality, which isn't surprising given their background in queer cinema. What is surprising, though, is that the film never becomes an 'issue movie.' Its themes never supersede its characters, or our involvement in their plights.
It's probably one of the best things you can see in theaters right now (at least until The Science Of Sleep opens), and its directors recently sat down and discussed the film with me.
GHOSTBOY: So are you guys from Echo Park?
RICHARD GLATZER: Yeah, we live there.
GB: The film really had a wonderful sense of the culture there, and I was curious as to how indoctrinated you were into the Latino culture before you made it.
RG: Well you know, it was really through moving here, I think, that we got more immersed in the culture. Especially when we were asked to photograph our next-door neighbor's QuinceaÃ±era. They are very communal type of events, especially for the people who don't have a lot of money. We were really flattered to be asked to do the photography, and that was a real eye opener for us. We were really impressed by what a communal thing it is. And the different aspects of it, the really old traditions - do you know much about it?
GB: No. I'm from Texas, so I'm sort of surrounded by the culture, but I've never been immersed in it.
RG: It's millineas old, but its very adaptable. So w hen Mexico became Catholic, it became a Catholic tradition. Now that it's 21st Century Los Angeles, it's all girls text messaging each other and stuff like that.
So we were impressed with what a complicated thing it was, but we didn't really think about making a movie about it. It was really six months down the line, and we were just talking about gentrification in our neighborhood and how it was changing. We were thinking about teenagers going through transitions and neighborhoods going through transitions, and that's how the QuinceaÃ±era came back as something we wanted to focus on. And then it really was a crash course whenever we were trying to make the movie work. We had to consult our neighbors and actors about everything, to make sure we got it right.
GB: So did the actors bring a lot to the table? How much of their material was scripted?
WASH WESTMORELAND: Well, the movie was scripted, but for certain sequences we deferred to our actors because they felt that the characters would say a line in a different way. And obviously, we didn't want to set ourselves as grand authorities on Latino culture, and so we really created a feedback loop with our actors on what they felt the characters would say. But the actual story and the structure - and, I'd say, about eighty percent of the dialogue - was in the script. But sometimes we found it was also useful to go completely improvisational. Like in the scenes with Magdalena and her girl posse, when they're hanging out outside the school or watching the QuinceaÃ±era video - we're not going to tell you what fifteen year old girls talk about. You just chat. And then they have certain points in the scenes where they have to hit and go into a little bit of the story part that was scripted, but it was very much about using the improvisation to energize those scenes and give it a very real feeling.
RG: And the actors did translate their lines for the most part. The guy who played Magdalena's dad, he's a theater guy who directs more than he acts these days, and he had a real affinity for the language and an understanding of what we wanted. Because neither of us really speak Spanish at all, really, so we relied on our actors for these translations.
GB: That reminds me of one of the little details I loved in the film: the 'Eliminate Your Accent' advertisements stapled to telephone poles. I've seen those all over Los Angeles.
WW: Oh yeahW One day, we just went out on the street and shot stuf. And we saw that sign and thought that it really summed it all up.
GB: It says so much about the gentrification...
GB: Back to the cast for a moment; what was the ratio of actors to non-actors? I was looking at some of the credits of the younger cast-members, and most of them don't seem to have had much experience.
RG: For pretty much everybody, it was their first movie. Chalo (Gonzalez, who plays the uncle) was our veteran. Jesse (Garcia, who plays Carlos, the young gay outcast of the family) had done a little bit here and there. Commercials mostl. I think he might have done one feature, but this was basically his first movie. Magdalena - the top of her resume was Cleopatra in the school play. A lot of our character actors were people we knew, who were friends, who we auditioned in front of the camer, who had no intention of acting. And that was part of our immersion in the culture.
GB: I'm curious as to whether or not you saw the character of Carlos as an avatar for yourselves.
WW: I feel that when you're writing, your own feelings go into lots of different characters. And I specifically feel that with Carlos there was a personal investment for both of us, as a story of someone who was rejected by his family because of his sexuality. For me in particular, it was very personal because I have a great uncle Tom in the North of England who was very much the inspiration for the Tio Thomas character. So when I was having problems with my sexuality as a teenager, and my dad really wouldn't accept me, I had this great uncle who became a sort of third parent. So all that stuff is really quite personal, and it went into Carlos.
And I'm really glad you asked that question, because so many people say, "are you the two gay guys?" Which is kind of more obvious - "aha, that must be them!." But emotionally, we much more identified with some of the other characters than the two gay yuppies, who are really the people in the movie who we don't want to be.
GB: I really appreciated how sensitively you handled the topic. I was at Outfest a few weeks ago, and I thought that your film had a much more honest and realistic handling of its gay themes than a lot of the more popualr films I saw there.
RG: For me, it's liberating to feel that maybe, hopefully, we're at a place where we don't have to present every gay character as a paragon of virtue.
WW: Carlos' whole storyline, really, sort of treads this line between homophobia from his parents and the Latino community and this coded racism from the gay couple, who just see him as the hot Latin guy. He's really a new type, because he's gained a lot of his sexual information through the internet, and he's formed his sense of identity through going online. So in the movie, when he goes to that party - he knows he's gay, he's sure of that, it's not a coming out story. But he's still coming into contact with gay people for the first time.
GB: What has the reaction from Hispanic audiences been like?
WW: Oh, we've just been bowled over. It's been incredible. It opened in eight cinemas last weekend, and those closest to Latino neighborhoods were selling out at every show. It's opening more screens this week in heavily Latino neighborhoods.
There was lots of debate amongst distributors after Sundance about whether Latino audiences would accept this movie, because it has a gay story in it. And that's so limited a view of what the Latino market is and who Latino people are. We felt this swell from a number of really influential Latino critics and artists within the community who felt these issues needed to be aired and really supported this movie.
RG: Yeah, it was exactly that sense of cultures butting up against each other that made us want to make the movie. Studios are so conservative about what the Latino audiences expect.
GB: Did you guys self finance this? I know it was very low budget.
RG: No, we had three investors. They're all immigrants - Greek and Israeli - so when we told them about the idea, they just latched onto it. They really jumped right on board.
GB: Was it shot on MiniDV?
WW: No, we actually shot HD. Did you see it on the big screen?
GB: No, it was on a VHS screener, unfortunately. I honestly couldn't tell what it was shot on.
WW: Oh, because we were amazed at how the HD looks when it was transferred to film...
GB: Well, what I was going to say was that it looked amazing for miniDV. And now I know why!
WW: The original idea was miniDV, and to do it more like a documentary. And then we were kinda like, "God, you know, HD looks so good..."
RG: We did come up with some strategies, like we decided that the whole movie was going to be handheld. We had an eighteen day shoot, which was really crazy, especially because a lot of our actors were underage and we only had a six hour day with them. So it was really fast. The only shots that were locked down were at the QuinceaÃ±era.
WW: And you know, our shooting budget was $300,000, which isn't a lot of money. So we couldn't shoot 35mm, but we could choose between 16mm and HD. 16mm was kinda like - we know what that looks like. HD is more like a new frontier, using new technologies to explore new looks.
GB: My last question for filmmakers is always the same: do you have any good stories from the set? Any disasters or memorable moments?
RG: We kept getting in car accidents.
WW: I'll tell you a good one. We were shooting one day at Tio Thomas' house, and things weren't going well and everything was taking way too long and everyone was getting a little antsy. And then Jesse went into the costume trailer and came out ten minutes later dressed like this crazy Puerto Rican drag queen. And he did a circuit of the set and then just disappeared back into his trailer and that was it. He's a totally straight guy, and he's playing a gay role, but he never was like, "hey, my girlfriend thinks it's really cool that I'm playing a gay role." He didn't care. He just completely broke the ice on the set that day. It was like a visit from the twilight zone or something. And it's actually documented on film somewhere.
GB: So hopefully it'll be on the DVD.
GB: Well, that wraps things up on my end. Thanks for talking with me this morning.
WW: Thanks so much. It's been really nice.
And there you have it. I know the lure of Snakes On A Plane will be strong this weekend, and I don't suggest you deny it - but I also suggest that you consider balancing out the B-movie goodness with something on the opposite side of the spectrum. QuinceaÃ±era will fit that bill nicely.
I seem to be offering these interviews in bits and pieces these days. Months will go by where I don't have time to talk to anyone, and then suddenly I'll get a handful lined up all at once. So I'll be back soon, with a conversation with an actress who's won many a heart of the AICN constituents. Until then....