I had the great good fortune to see Santiago, Felix Martiz's gripping dramatic thriller, at the Oaxaca International Film Festival last November. The next scheduled screening is January 30th, 2012, in Los Angeles.
How did you get the idea for the film?
The idea for the film began with my first draft, six years ago. The original story was a straight up revenge tale, I love that genre of film. There was a point where I was going get all my friends and family to fill the parts and make the movie. That never happened, thank God! Instead I worked the script over and over again, then began film school. I went to Cal State Long Beach the few students who were mentored by Reidar Jonsson, the writer of My Life as a Dog. That changed everything. I found my voice and began directing short films. During this time that I met the crew that would eventually help me realize Santiago. After film school, I went back to the Santiago script and focused on my characters. I chipped away at the core of who these characters really are, and realized that they're archetypes of some Latin American immigrants. During that realization, I rewrote the story so that it can show a side of the immigrant struggle not seen. Since I'm a mutt, dad Ecuadorian, mom Mexican and I was born here.... I wanted that in the film and that’s who the main characters are. Billy the American kid was written by the side of me that is still discovering new and amazing things about my cultures. Then I amplified that by telling the story through his point of view, this was an inspired idea because it’s us dealing with our limitations in a way that could enhance the story/film. I met Jesus Guevara on a short film I directed and right away knew he was my Santiago, we stayed in touch and three years after meeting him he was the first on board.
What was your budget?
The budget was well under five thousand dollars, or as I sadly claimed at the time, my life savings. Most of the money went to lens rentals and to feed the cast and crew, which still wouldn’t have been enough if not for my mom and dad who cooked some meals for us. Everybody on the film worked for free, the cast and crew just wanted to bring this film to life, there was a lot of love and passion for this project. And luck, lots of luck, because eighty percent of the equipment and locations were donated or lent to us for nothing. This was one of those situations where everybody on the crew called in their favors and or burned every bridge in order to get the shot. All in all if we had paid for the stuff we got for free this same film would've cost an easy $60,000.00.
What did you shoot and edit on?
We shot on the Cannon 7D with L Series lenses. This cam is as revolutionary for indie filmmakers as the handheld 16mm was back in the 60's. It allowed us to shoot with minimal lighting and to capture some guerilla style scenes. I edited on Final Cut.
Do you have rights to the music used in the film?
For the music we contacted local Latin bands and explained our situation to them. The situation being that we had no money to pay for the rights of the songs. But still many of them were very encouraging and willing to help, they signed off rights for us to use their music in the festival circuit. If at some point we were to sell the movie then we'd have to renegotiate the contracts. There is one major label music group in there Calle 13, who we had to pay for the use of their song. We considered going with a different song but ultimately felt no other song could give us the impact that 'Atrevete-te' does. They say it’s never good to fall in love with a specific song for a scene, because you'll end up paying for it. And we did. But the song isn't used just for the cool factor, its a turning point in the film, it helps the narrative, so it really needed to be in our movie. Again we explained everything to them and they were able to charge a very, very small amount for the 'festival rights' usage of the song.
What is the audience for this film?
I've been asked this question a lot and my answer changes from an American Indie loving audience to a Spanish speaking community of cinephiles, which of course I'm both. So I'm gonna make it a little more general this time, Our target audience is anybody that loves film, period. Whatever the language or the budget is, should come second after having a great story. If you like films that engage you, that are trying to show you something different, then this film is for you. What are your plans for distribution? The distribution deals [we are offered] are getting bigger and more legit as they keep coming in. But they still leave a lot to be desired. As of right now after having considered and reviewed the contracts and deals of nine different small indie distribution companies we still feel that it doesn't make sense for us to sell the film. It basically boils down to this, if I say yes to a distro company, I am giving my movie away...I might make a very small amount of money that I may see some day and that’s it. There are no promises or guarantees, and on top of that I don't even own the rights to my own film. F*** that! I'd rather keep screening Santiago in the festival circuits and keep connecting with audiences and people who appreciate my film. Even though I'm not making money through the festivals and spending way more than I have, this makes more sense than selling my film to someone who is just gonna burn it on DVD and put it on a shelf somewhere. So as of right now the plan is to keep screening at festivals and eventually when the right distro company comes along, we'll make that deal and get everybody paid.
What are you working on now?
I am currently finishing up a second draft of a script, that I feel is my most personal yet. Again it deals with immigrants, but this time I'm showing a different kind of corruption, the kind that the honest good people have to withstand in order to work and survive in this country. Its title is The Invisible People.