Monday, February 6, 2012

Opening Night

Well, it's been a long road, but "Ranchero" is finally stepping out into the world. It will open at the Laemmle Theater in the Encino Town Center on Friday, March 2nd. The hard work of many people will finally reach the public.

For me, the night will be filled with excitement and anxiety. The baby is finally walking! Yay! But, will people really like him? Is he truly cute and adorable or the strange looking little troll that everyone whispers about in the corner? Fortunately, or unfortunately, that is all subjective. I love our baby, even though it is far from perfect. I embrace the flaws and have learned from them. As my career grows I expect bigger and brighter things. But right now, it's graduation day. And I couldn't be prouder.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Script - Part 2

Having settled on my lead character, a rancher moving to Los Angeles, I had to flesh him out. First off, why was he leaving the ranch? People often have the desire for change in their life, but lack the courage to step out into the unknown. Sometimes it takes a traumatic event; a divorce, loss of a job, a death of a loved one, to propel them into action. I saw my lead character as an old-fashion, blue-collar guy with a unique creative bend; someone who was slightly out of step with his peers. He probably would have remained where he was if not for... that's giving to much away.

So, I know why he leaves, but what is his quirk? What makes him different? I've always enjoyed macho characters that display a softer more creative side. I like boxers who paint, assassins that sing. When I considered this question, along with larger story ideas, I decided to make him a photographer. Not a professional, but just someone with a passion. He's not moving to LA to "make it," but he brings that expressive part of himself on the journey.

The final layer to my main character was his ethnicity. We'd all like to believe that color doesn't matter, but it does. In order to stay true to the reality of my setting, my choices were Caucasian or Hispanic. As I pondered various story lines that would be affected by this choice, I was drawn to the many layers of the Hispanic ranchero. Immigration was an obvious issue, but more complex was the relationship between Mexican-Americans and African-Americans; especially in LA. Making the lead Hispanic offered more drama than a white character. I made my decision, Jesse Torres was born.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Script - Part 1

I remember waking up one day and saying, "I've got to make a movie." "Ranchero" wasn't my first. I had written and produced a couple of shorts, and even an ill-fated feature. But this was different. Having just completed the "No-Budget Film School" (thank you Mark Stolaroff) I had a strategy for making a Spirit Award worthy film by using the resources that were available to me. That meant a script with a cool setting - like my cousin's ranch.

My original thought was to write a screenplay that took place entirely on the Silva Ranch in Herald, California. If you're curious, it's a small farm town between Stockton and Sacramento. But as I considered different storylines, I kept coming back to the time-tested, fish-out-of-water tale of a man leaving the country for the bright lights of the city.

This story appealed to me for several reasons. For one, as a child, I was the "fish-out-of-water" when I visited the ranch. To quickly bore those who have read my writer's notes, I worshiped my big cousin Gary. He was a tough cowboy kid who got to do all kinds of cool stuff: ride horses, shoot guns, etc. I was the city kid that felt like a wuss around him. So I kind of liked the idea of turning the tables. But I also wanted a lead character that takes a physical journey to inspire his psychological one. You can't run from who you are; but, a change of scenery can serve as a catalyst for those more difficult internal changes. I settled on a rancher who had lost pride in who he was and where he came from. He would set out on a journey of self-discovery and change not only himself, but those around him. Crap! We'll have to shoot in the city.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Porn Palace

Before shooting "Ranchero," I was unaware of the many "studios" there are in LA. Of course I knew about the majors, like Sony and Paramount, and even some smaller ones like Sunset Gower. But few people I know had ever heard of places like Entertainium.

Entertainum was located east of Downtown in an industrial, warehouse type district. I remember scheduling shoots on Sundays to avoid the clamor of the nearby metal recycling plant. From the outside, the place looked like an old, abandoned warehouse. On the inside, however, was a treasure trove of cool movie sets.

A pool hall, night club, jail cell, and hospital room where only some of the many different sets. Now I don't want to blow the image of the place out of proportion. This wasn't Universal. But for an indie filmmaker looking to get a variety of interiors on the cheap, it wasn't too shabby. As Rich, DP Mike, and I perused the rooms, we figured a lot of films must have shot there. We were right. But most of them were porn.

After a little asking around, we found out that our new found pool hall had been used in countless adult films. So it wasn't a question of not knowing what had been done on the pool table, we knew exactly. Trust me, sanitizer was as good as gold.

But that little trivia aside, the shoot there went very well. We got everything we needed and a lot of joking to get us through a long day. Did I forget to mention that there was another shoot taking place while we were there? We were kind of on the opposite ends of the facility and the other film didn't have much dialogue. I do remember tip-toeing by their set on the way to the bathroom. From inside, the director suddenly yelled, "Cut, cut. Would someone PLEASE lick his balls!"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One of Many Tales

There were many memorable days during the making of "Ranchero." I'll share one of my favorites.

It was about mid-way through our 18 day production schedule. Yes, the schedule was tight. We were shooting at our main apartment location. It was our one day with Danny Trejo. We knew we had a lot to shoot. We knew we were going to work Danny hard. We knew we couldn't afford any screw ups.

Director Rich and DP Mike were well prepared. We hit the ground running and got wonderful footage from the jump. Danny was the consummate professional and everything was moving along smoothly. Then it began; at first just an occasional screech, then building to a constant, ear assaulting, clamour. Little did I know that Jimi Hendrix lived in the apartment, and this was his practice day.

When working on location, there are always obstacles to deal with. We had, of course, spoken to all the neighbors and gotten their blessings for our shoot. However, there is always one who either wasn't home, forgot about us, or was just yanking our chain. After "assurance" from our sound mixer that the audio was unusable, I set off on the unenviable task of asking our friendly neighborhood ax-man to cease and desist. I couldn't tell him too, this was his home, not mine.

As Rich and I ambled toward the offending apartment, a voice behind us steeled our nerve; "I'll talk to him." We turned to see the most recognizable bad-ass in the business striding up to cover our backs. As Danny stepped between us and led the way to the neighbor's door, my confidence built that all was not lost.

There is no real way to describe our guitar player's look when he came to the door and found "Machete" standing there. Danny, in his most polite tone, explained our dilemma and asked for the neighbor's cooperation. And surprise, surprise, we got it. The shoot continued without a hitch, and a happy neighbor got an autograph. Ain't star power great!


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

35 or Bust

I'd love to say that my mind set on "Ranchero" was 35mm or bust, but I'd be stretching the truth a little. The fact is that the project evolved from HD to super 16 to 35.

When the project had no money, Rich and I and Director of Photography Mike Bratowski did tests with several "pro-sumer" cameras. We weren't unhappy with the results. Though our range in color correction was definitely limited, Rich and Mike were pleasantly surprised with the picture quality. However, when a little financing entered the picture, we all scrambled to shoot on film. We briefly considered super 16 until an amazing deal for a 35mm camera presented itself. It was an opportunity we couldn't resist.

To me, at the time, making a movie was shooting 35mm. When there was talk of the project, I anxiously awaited the inevitable question, "What are you shooting on?" When I quickly spouted back, "35," there was always two distinct responses. One was, "cool" accompanied by a simple nod of respect. These guys are serious was the subtext. They're making a "real" movie. The other response was quite different. "Why?" they'd ask with surprise. "It's much cheaper to shoot HD." True. And there were other valid points to their argument. But purists still run the industry. And the last thing that I wanted to hear about our movie was, "It's good, but... it's a video."

Of course, things have changed since we began shooting. Technology is moving so rapidly, the entire industry is changing before the digital onslaught. But ultimately, I couldn't be happier with our choice. With Michael's amazing photography and the brilliant telecine work of Marc Wielage, "Ranchero's" look greatly exceeds it's budget.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Was About the Acting

Although I wore several hats on "Ranchero," it was always about the acting. When I write, character motivations are primary. I want the "why" for every actor to be bullet proof. And as much respect as I have for the writer (when it's not me) no one knows a character more deeply and thoroughly than the actor.

A great performance requires the actor to walk, speak and think as another person. He or she must embody the nuances of another human being and bring to life that which exits only on paper. The job done properly will bring the audience to feel the raw emotions that the character/actor experiences. It is this bond between actor and audience that makes my heart beat.

I am impressed and moved by all the actors in "Ranchero." From the frighteningly intense work of Danny Trejo to the moving performances of Christina Woods and Roger Gutierrez, the realism, at times, was breathtaking. One reviewer said of the acting that it felt "like I was watching a documentary." It doesn't get any better than that.

But as much credit as I give to the actor, an equal share belongs to the director. All players, no matter how gifted, need a great coach to draw the best out of them. Sorry for the stupid analogies, but Rich guided the team well.

It was a pleasure to work with such talented, giving performers. Their generosity as artists is what made my multi-tasking possible.