Anyone who’s been to Costa Rica will recognize pura vida in this sweet, lighthearted comedy about four Ticos who become fast friends and business partners in the cockfighting business. With its deadpan delivery and natural vim, All About the Feathers is sweeping international film festivals, from San Sebastian to San Francisco. •Availability: On demand from Outsider Pictures. •Thanks to John Wildman and Sylvy Fernandez, Film Society of Lincoln Center, for arranging this interview.•
DT: What I loved most about the film was how well it captured the way Ticos relate to each other. Did you write that into the screenplay?
NV: I wrote a screenplay five years ago, then I went to some workshops and threw the script away and just worked with the structure. We improvised a lot; I told my nonactors to just talk, but I didn’t give them specific dialogue. I just said, “Start here and finish here and talk about this.” I think that the way they speak and the way they move comes from the fact that they are nonactors. They’re more authentic. I also wanted to show the Costa Rica that people aren’t used to seeing. I didn’t want to show the nature and the forest and beaches and all of that. I wanted to make the Costa Rica that I know and the one that I like.
DT: What were the advantages and disadvantages of working with nonprofessional actors. This is also your first film, right?
NV: Yes. It’s my first film. Practically everyone in the film is a nonactor, except for Sylvia Sossa, who played the character of Candy. She’s an actress, but at one point in her life she also sold Avon products, so her character was a mix between acting and nonacting. When I wrote the script, I had all the characters that you see in the movie. During casting, I looked for people who were like my characters, but then I changed the film story because of their personal stories. So the film is a mix between my characters and the nonactors’ real lives, their personalities. It was difficult, but at the same time it was very funny. I had only worked with nonactors once, on a short film. I didn’t like it, but I learned what I did or didn’t want to do in a feature. Using nonactors is also one of the reasons why I use only long sequences and long shots in the film, because I couldn’t ask the nonactors to play a role, to be actors. They don’t have the tools to work like that, so I couldn’t ask them to repeat in a closeup the same dialogue and things they did once for the long shot. That was one of the reasons why I chose to shoot the film the way I did. So everything is related—working with nonactors and the way you plan and the way you shoot.
DT: How did you find them?
NV: I made a general casting call using the newspaper and radio in San Jose. I saw about two or three hundred people. Some of them were completely different from what I was looking for, but some, like Marvin Acosta, who plays Jason, was perfect for the character, even better than the one I wrote and the one I imagined. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to direct him or control him, because he’s supercrazy. In real life he’s like that. He’s a motorcycle messenger, and he’s completely crazy. He’s like my Klaus Kinski. He never read the script, so each time we shot I had to tell him what I wanted. On the second day, I asked him, “Do you remember what we did yesterday?” And he said, “No. What are you talking about?” So each time you had to start at ground zero with him. He improvises a lot, and sometimes he just says a lot of weird stuff that you’re like, Come on man, don’t talk about drugs and bitches and that kind of things. This is not a movie about that.
DT: I said to my friend, “I’ll bet this guy is a famous comedian.”
NV: He’s superfunny, but he was a delivery guy for McDonald’s Express. He told me, “I heard that casting call on the radio. God sent me that message, and I knew I was going to be a star.” Now he’s completely famous-sick and wants to be an actor. I told him, “You’re not an actor, man. You’ve got to continue working your day job. If you have another movie, go ahead, but don’t get sick over it.”
DT: How did you start making movies?
NV: When I was in high school I decided I wanted to do that for my living. First I studied sociology in Costa Rica, then I went to Barcelona to study film direction. When I finished there I went back to Costa Rica and started working on TV commercials. I did some short films and video clips, and I was really scared of doing my first film. Then, I don’t know, I just did it. I thought, I have to do this because it’s taking me too long. I lost the fear and realized it’s just a movie and that nobody cared besides me. So I talked to four friends of mine, who also worked with me in publicity and cinematography and things like that, and we became a five-person crew. I told them, “Let’s go live in this town called Puriscal,” where we shot the entire film. We lived there with the nonactors for a month. So I just did it. Now I realize I want to continue making films, but I also have to continue doing TV commercials because that’s the way I pay my rent.
DT: Why did you choose Puriscal?
NV: It was weird. One day I was passing by Puriscal, and I thought, I have to make something here sometime. I was looking for locations and doing the scouting in San Jose, when the guy who introduced me to the cockfighting world and rented me the roosters for the movie went to live with his family in Puriscal. I visited him and saw that it was perfect for the production because everything is nearby, and there is also a cockfight arena. Finally, my best friend’s family had a house in Puriscal, so they gave me the house as well. Everything pointed to Puriscal. And the people were really, really nice, because it used to be a very important town at the beginning of the century, but then it was completely forgotten. The people would say, “Really, you’re going to shoot a movie here? We are so grateful.” They were really, really nice and helped me a lot.
DT: What is the Costa Rican film industry like?
NV: There’s no film industry in Costa Rica. In the entire twentieth century they only made eight films in Costa Rica. In the last year, they’ve made six films. So now it’s growing. It’s a very, very small industry, but now with the new technologies, everybody is able to shoot films.
DT: You shot digitally, I assume.
NV: I used a Canon 5D Mark II.
DT: That’s an SLR! How was it shooting with an SLR? What kind of adjustments did you have to make in your shooting style? How much video could you shoot at one time? I’m so impressed!
NV: Yeah, it was great for the project. A friend of mine offered me an Alexa, but I rejected it because I wanted something small. It was great how the nonactors and the people in general didn’t feel threatened at all—they thought it was just a photograph and that’s it. It was also great because I wanted a small crew, so we were five, sometimes three or four. The camera was perfect for that as well.
DT: Did the film show in Costa Rica?
NV: I had the world premiere in Toronto and then San Sebastian, and then I had the national premiere here in October, but there’s a funny story about that. I applied to the Costa Rican Film Festival, and they rejected the movie for competition the same day I was invited to go to San Sebastian and Toronto. So everybody asked, “Why did the the film get into two of the most important film festivals and they rejected it here with this small film festival?” They never told me why, so I didn’t put the movie in, but I had the premiere at a commercial theater in San Jose, and it went really well. Twenty thousand people saw the film.
DT: How long did it play?
NV: It showed in seven commercial theaters, and it stayed for seven weeks. We competed with Gravity and we survived, then Thor came in and killed us completely because they took all of the theaters.
DT: What was the audience response?
NV: It was really good. They’re not used to this kind of film, because it’s a mix between an independent movie and commercial stuff, but people took it really well. The critics here didn’t like the movie. One of the main newspaper critics hated it, but the audience loved it. We sold a lot of DVDs, and now it’s on rent. It was quite a surprise for me.
DT: How are you marketing your film outside Costa Rica?
NV: Sales agents saw the film when I was doing work-in-progress at different festivals. A couple of them talked to me, so I had to decide which one I would pick. I chose Urban Distribution International; they took the film and started moving it at different festivals. Then HBO bought the rights for HBO Latin America, and another distributor in the US—Outside Pictures, Paul Hudson—is moving the film in the US.
DT: That’s fantastic. Do I understand you’re on the set right now for a new project?
NV: I’m working on two films now. One is called Majijo, which means “harelip.” It’s about a guy with a cleft palate who’s a motorcycle messenger, surrounded by the world of San Jose. It’s also a deadpan comedy. I’m also working on another film called Jamon. Jamon means “ham.” I’m shooting one day a month for five or ten years, I don’t know. I’m working with a boyfriend and girlfriend who just became a couple, and they’re really in love. I’m working without a script, trying to catch some things about their real life and about a relationship. I’m trying to understand love.
Copyright © Director Talk 2014