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.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The diverse cast and storyline of "Ranchero" is something that is extremely important to me. Growing up in a middle class area of Sacramento, I was exposed to people of all nationalities. I know as a fact, that though people possess cultural differences, we all have the same basic goals and desires. Everyone wants fullfillment from their job, health, prosperity and loving relationships with family and friends. "Ranchero" is a human story depicted by characters of different races.

That being said, the character's ethnicities are not without significance. The lead character Jesse states that "his parent's were poor imigrants, nothing is expected of me." How does one rise above their expectations, or lack there of? A first generation Mexican-American, Jesse battles with what he feels is his forced station in life; being a ranch hand. Knowing there's a bigger world out there, he resents his father, the epitomy of a low class laborer. It's Jesse's personal and cultural journey to discover pride in who is and where he came from.

In California, the African-American and Hispanic dynamic is particularly intense. Areas that were once predominately black are now largely Mexican. This shift has created friction over jobs, services, and culture. The black and white conflicts of the past have been replaced by issues of black and brown. The relationship between Jesse and Lil' Bit carries the weight of these issues without hopefully preaching about them.

This topic can be discussed at tremendous length. I merely wanted to say that though the story and theme are universal, the character's backgrounds and ethnicities add flavor and spice.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Working with the Man

With the film "Machete" beginning production, I can't help but think about working with Danny Trejo. If you don't remember "Machete," it was a "fake" trailer that aired during the Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez B-movie extravaganza "Grindhouse." In anycase, "Machete" is a reality with Robert Rodriguez directing. Back to my point, I remember how gracious and how accomodating Danny was to work with.

We had met a couple of years back when Danny supported us at a fundraiser for inner city youth. Roger and I had written a play, "That's My Desire," that dealt with the harsh realities of prison life. Knowing that Danny was a tireless crusader for keeping kids on the right side of the law, we contacted him hoping he'd make an appearance at our fundraiser. On his own dime, Danny flew in from out of state to speak after the show. It was truly a memorable evening and a testament to a very generous and giving man.

Working a scene with Danny was exhilirating. He brings so much authenticity to his work that all you have to do is react. It's impossible to get in your head as an actor when you have Danny Trejo waving a gun and barking orders.

I'd also like to say, that in the world of independent films, where putting a "name" in your movie is almost a ploy to secure distribution, noone could play "Capone" better than Danny. His face, his eyes, his sheer presense tells everything I wanted the character to be without uttering a single word. But it was his performance that really brought "Capone" to life.

Danny has worked on more than two dozen projects since shooting "Ranchero." That's what I call prolific! It was a great honor to work with him, and look forward to doing it again.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten

I received an upsetting email from my cousin the other day. There was a fire on their ranch up in Northern California. Yes, that ranch; the ranch where we shot "Ranchero." Fortunately, no one was hurt. But the majestic hay barn, where Jesse works at the beginning of the film, is no more. So much for reshoots on that set. It's interesting. In the relatively short time since we wrapped production, several locations have been destroyed, built up, or drastically altered. The parking lot where Tom goes for his drug buy is now a strip mall. The apartment complex where Jesse visits Capone (there were actually two) has been torn down. And even the production lot, which served as several locations, is no longer in business.

As it does for it's stars, movies can immortalize buildings and locations. How can one watch a pre 2001 film shot in New York without seeing the towers and remembering. We all cherish our personal photos of loved ones and special places. But in some strange way, a movie that is released into the world allows others to experience that person and place and miss them along with you.