Viaje/Paz Fabrega

Over the course of a weekend, two young Costa Ricans share newfound love, laughter, and light-heartedness as they explore their country and each other.  In luminous black-and-white, director Paz Fabrega has fashioned a modern fairy tale for anyone who embraces romance. A highlight of the Tribeca Film Festival 2015.  Availability:  Check Tribeca Film Festival schedule.  Thanks to Christine Richardson and James Moore, Tribeca Film Festival, for arranging this interview.


DT:  Costa Rica is so glorious in color.  Why shoot black-and-white?


PF:  For that exact reason. Because this place was so green and so lush, it took on too much importance. The film looked like a nature documentary. This is a story about characters and relationships, their gestures and their interactions, so we needed to put the landscape behind. I also think that landscape in black-and-white is very interesting.  It’s unusual.  It’s something different. This place has some mineral, I don’t know what it is, that makes things white. It’s not white-white, it’s a dirty white, so in color it just looks muddy, but in black-and-white it becomes something.



DT:  So you also tried it in color?


PF:  We were already thinking about shooting black-and-white, but we shot both when we went scouting. Then we decided to shoot it straight on black-and-white, which is something you should not do normally. It was great for us, because on the one hand we didn’t have color monitors, so we were just looking at the screen on the camera. That allowed us to find interesting black-and-white compositions right away, because we were working very fast and very improvised.  It also made color corrections much easier, because normally you would have all the color information and then you would take the greens and do separate corrections. It made post very simple because there wasn’t that much we could do.  And I liked that. When I went to film school, it was still film. With film there’s not that much you can do in post, and that’s the way I like to work.  You have what you have, and you have to commit to that.  You can’t change everything around once you’ve finished the film.


DT:  What camera did you use?


PF:  The Canon 5D Mark II.


DT: Neto Villalobos [Costa Rican director of Por Los Plumas {All About the Feathers}] also shot with a Canon 5D [Mark I]. How do you shoot an entire feature with an SLR?


PF:  We weren’t sure it was going to be a feature.  We were just going to see what we would do with the material.  It was three years ago when these cameras were coming out, and I loved that you could use photographic lenses on them.  I guess now there are more options, because you have the Blackmagic. That would probably be better, but I bought this camera because we could have the freedom to shoot whenever we wanted. We didn’t have to think about rentals or borrowing from someone, and that was what I could afford.


DT:  How did you do sync sound?


PF:  We recorded sound with an H4 recorder and a boom mic.  And then we used a clapboard to sync it up.


DT:  A little old-fashioned way of working.


PF:  It’s a pain in the ass.


DT:  You established a production company in Costa Rica.  What’s the film industry like there?


PF: It’ not much of a film industry. It’s hard to get projects going there. When I finished film school in London, I went back to Costa Rica. In London it was easy to find people—sound recordists, editors—who were working on different projects and would come to yours.  Even if it was a low-budget project, they’d do it for less than their usual fee. I knew lots of people who had well-paying jobs, and then they had their personal projects.  In Costa Rica there’s not so much of this. Because there just aren’t that many people working, it’s harder to bring together a team of people to work on your film.  That’s the one hand.  On the other hand, it’s all independent filmmakers.  There’s no structure. I think that’s very good for us, because nobody’s wasting time trying to get a job or trying to get into the industry.  Everybody’s just going out and shooting their films. It’s the way I want to keep working for a while.


DT:  So you’ll keep working in Costa Rica?


PF:  I want to make a few more films there.  I can apply for a fund and get together a group of people and just go out and shoot a film.  I’m still exploring.  Unless there’s some amazing script that I feel is exactly right for me, I don’t see myself going into a structure where I have producers and investors and all this apparatus.


DT:  So what does it mean to establish a production company there?


PF:  It’s just a legal thing you need to have in order to apply for funds.


DT:  Local funds, government funds?


PF:  Local funds, but when I established my company, my first film [Agua Fria de Mar] was a five-country coproduction with Europe. A lot of films are made as Latin American or Latin American–European coproductions, and for that you need to have an established company.


DT:  How developed was the script when you gave it to your actors?


PF:  They never got a script.  I had a structure—the man and woman meet, they go away together, and at one point she reveals she’s in a long-distance relationship with someone else. I knew she was leaving, but I wasn’t sure about the ending.  I just wanted to see how it went.  Initially it was more about a girl that has decided to leave and starts sabotaging her own decision, but when I saw my actors together, it was so much more interesting. They were so great together.



DT:  They were adorable.


PF: I just loved filming them. The stuff where she was on her own just wasn’t as interesting as the material when they were together, so the film became more about that.  That’s very much what I wanted to do with this project.  When you’re making a film, you have to plan everything beforehand. Then suddenly you get your actors and there’s this amazing thing going on, and the script is saying, Look this way, but you’re saying, No, this is great, let’s just go with this. That’s what happened with Viaje.


DT:  Do you plan on working that way in the future?


PF: I’d like to work that way, but you can’t do that on every single project.


DT:  Not if you have producers.


PF:  Especially if you have producers.  People want to know what you’re going to do before you do it.  But as I said, because in Costa Rica we can work with funds and do our own sort of thing, we have a little bit more freedom in that sense.  But I also think that if you want to be more well-financed and have producers, you can do that process beforehand.  You can get in touch with the actors, do some previous work, write a script, then hand it to your producers so they have some assurance which way it’s going.  You know which way it’s going because you’ve already seen it.  Mike Leigh sort of does things like that.  He doesn’t ever hand over a script, but by the time they shoot, everybody knows what they’re doing, which helps when you have producers.


DT:  It also helps if you’re Mike Leigh. What’s your next project?


PF:  It was meant to be a documentary but couldn’t be shot as a documentary. It’s about a group of kids, like a soccer team that came here for second division or minor league soccer. They played three games and didn’t score a single goal. They lost sixteen to zero, then thirteen to zero, then eight to zero. Then they disappeared, and nobody saw them again.


DT: This is a true story?


PF:  This is a true story. It turns out it was a group of kids that intercepted an invitation to a real team so they could immigrate to the States. When they got here, even though they didn’t play soccer and didn’t know each other well, they had to go and play with semiprofessional soccer players.


DT:  Great story.  I’m looking forward to seeing the film.


Copyright © Director Talk 2015

All About the Feathers/Neto Villalobos

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