Monday, May 18, 2015

Alonso Ruizpalacios talks GUEROS at Tribeca 2014

This is an interview I did with Alonso Ruizpalacios about his film GUEROS at last year's Tribeca. The interview never ran during the festival because there was no way it was going to be transcribed until after the festival. I was asked to hold it until the film was released to theaters- which is happening Wednesday.

What follows is what happened. Its less a talk about the film then it is a talk about films. I had a blast doing it. and wanted to share it ever since it happened.

Steve Kopian: I don't usually do real interviews, but I loved your movie. I had to meet you. I had to see what sort of person you are.

Alonzo: [laughs]

Steve: No, it's true. It's like, I got to meet you. Your movie blew me away.

Alonzo: Oh, thanks. That's great.

Steve: I'm going, "What sort of mad genius are you?" It's true. Everybody I've talked to really loves the film.

Alonzo: Thanks.

Steve: How did the premier go last night?

Alonzo: It was good. It went well. It's a strange festival this Tribeca, because it's very New York. It doesn't...the other festivals that we've been to, they have this kind of community sense. People go from one place to...but this is like, "Just get there and do your thing." Then everyone just goes away. I don't know, it's interesting.

Steve: Were your short films here?

Alonzo: Yeah, one of my short films screened here.

Steve: Did you come up for that?

Alonzo: Yeah, I did.

Steve: Was that as crazy as this seems to have been?

Alonzo: I think so, yeah. I remember it as a...I liked it. I love New York. I'm always interested in seeing what New Yorkers feel. I don't know if the audience were New Yorkers. I was interested in knowing.

I couldn't get a sense yesterday of whether it was more Latino, or whether they were more American. I don't know. I couldn't figure it out.

Steve: Any New York audience is hard to read, because it's so culturally diverse, that you can't...I cover a lot of the Asian Film Festivals, or some of the others, the South Asian Film Festival, different film festivals like that.

You go and you see it's not just Asians, it's not just South Asians. It's not just Latinos, it's not just whatever. It's a cross-section of everybody. That's one of the things I love. It's such a large...Everybody loves films, everybody's there. It's like we're there, we're going to...

Alonzo: I know, that's great.

Steve: How do I word this? I'm watching the film, and it's so full of references to..Are you one of those real film geeks...

Alonzo: [laughs]

Steve: ...who sees everything? The first half hour, 40 minutes, I'm in overload watching this. I'm going, "Well, this is kind of like this, and this is kind of like that." But you've melded it all together. It was like you're pulling from everywhere for the first 40 minutes. Are you somebody who watches everything?

Alonzo: I used to, before I had a kid. I have this one year-old kid now, and now I don't watch anything. I haven't seen a film in years [laughs] except for mine, which is boring now to me. I used to, especially oldies -- I'm a big fan of Fellini and Kurosawa. Kurosawa was my all-time favorite director.

There's nothing Kurosawian about my film, but answering your question, I do draw from different places. That's part of the thing of finding your voice. I don't think I've quite found it yet, maybe, but you do take from the stuff that interests you, then you try to make your own.

Steve: Forgive me for saying this, but I think once the film gets going, once they're on the road you had this wonderful voice. That's one of the reasons why it was so important for me to meet you, because I'm going like, "Where are you going after this? What are you doing next?" Forgive, I'm getting a little bit of a fanboy.

Alonzo: [laughs]

Steve: I was really impressed with the film. You have such a wonderful way you fall into the film. These stories, it's too easy I want to go with this, how much is this based on your life because it's so real? Except for when the director shows up, and the film crew with the weird things like that. Was this all scripted?

Was it scripted based on your life, is it just something you did? In the press notes you mentioned Godard, and you mentioned Two-Lane Blacktop.

Alonzo: Yeah, that's a wonderful movie. It's 50-50. I do theater as well. I have a theater company. I think one of the things that we've really worked on for the last couple of years is to keep this really difficult balance going between improv and rehearsed, scripted set pieces.

I was very conscious of doing that in the film as well. We really worked on the screenplay. We worked a lot on the screenplay. I have filmmaker friends that don't like to work that much on the screenplay. They like to figure things out on the shoot, and that's fine.Sometimes it brings wonderful results, but I really wanted to iron out the screenplay and get things across.

There were these gaps that I knew I was leaving, for them to be filled in during shooting. I knew I wanted to be open to improv. That's why we shot for eight weeks, which for Mexico standards is a lot.

Most of my friends have shot their first features in four or five weeks. We managed to cut the budget down so that we could shoot for more time, so that I could have time to improvise, and to follow things that happened on the set.

That was always one of the premises before we started shooting. I said to everyone, "We are going to improvise. We are going to find things, and when we find something we like, we're going to follow that through and see where it takes us." I was glad that a lot of that actually ended up on the film.

A lot of the improv stuff was cut out, but there was when they ran into this preacher guy in the middle of the night, this Jesuit preacher. We were filming the scene and he came up to us, and he started spouting all this crazy stuff. I said, "Do you want to be in the film?" and he said, "Yeah, I'd love to." Then we just filmed him.

There's many moments like that. On the other hand, there are also many moments that...Comedy, if you screw around with the script too much, you lose it. Comedy is about timing, so if you fuck up the timing, then you fuck up the comedy. It was about constant walking this tightrope of improv and set piece all the time.

Steve: Did it alter the story at all, or did it just like, "We're going to go here. We're going to stay here in the restaurant," you know what I'm saying? "We'll see what happens when this ends" for example, or they're going to pull the straps, everything with that. Did it alter the trajectory of the film?

Alonzo: Yeah, I think it altered. That's the great thing about road movies. You don't have to be very disciplined about plot, because road movies are about deviations. You have to know where you're going, and where you're going to end up, and what your signposts are. We have to make sure we get here. Then from there, we must get there.

In between, you can ramble and improvise. I think that we left the improvisation for...

Steve: The in-between...?

Alonzo: Yeah, the in-between scenes.

Steve: Was the end always going to be the last shot of him with everybody going?

Alonzo: Yeah, I always had...Not in the first draft but when we came to doing the film. There was another ending I the first draft where they actually left. The girl got off at the demonstration and then the three of them ended up sad, going back in the car. They found the office where you pay the electricity, I don't know what they're called.

It ended up with them going inside to pay for their electricity bill. It symbolized the final thing, paying for their light [laughs] . We thought that's too hopeful or too definite, and it made a stronger ending, the brothers looking at each other.

Steve: Yeah, because you could read anything into that. It can be a lot of different things. It's not a definite ending, it's like, "What happens now?" Because that was the thing, it's like, "I want to see what happens next."

(PR person interrupts to warn about time running out)

Steve: I want to see what happens next. I wouldn't want to see the next movie, but you still want to go, "Where are these guys going?" because the tie with them was so good.

You were talking about the comedies. What comedy do you like?

Alonzo: I love British comedy, that's the one I like the most. I grew up on Monty Python. The Simpsons -- I am a huge Simpson fan. I've often joked about how at the beginning of our film, it's like the beginning of a Simpson's episode, where they start out a story that goes completely in the different direction.

They abandon the first story within the first three or four minutes. I always said, "We're going to do a Simpsons start," a Simpsons beginning where you start with this woman who's going...

Steve: Crazy.

Alonzo: ...ape, yeah. Then this water balloon falls on her, and the story lose sense from there. I like those. I like Fellini. I'm a huge fan of Fellini. Fellini is a wonderful comedian. He's not thought of as a comedian, He's not thought of as a comedian but he's a really funny...

Steve: His fulms are hysterical. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently. It's like, why is Fellini...In the US, he's almost forgotten now.

When I was growing up, when I was doing film studies and stuff in the 70s and 80s, it was Fellini, Fellini, Fellini. Now it's impossible to get...we're still trying to track down those films of his.

Alonzo: Yeah, it's a shame. He is definitely one of my favorites, he's really funny. Also, I like Ricky Gervais, The Office. I really like that kind of dry, nasty humor. It's really merciless, you know?

Steve: This is the word I was going to ask you about, the dry humor. Where does the dry humor come from? That explains it perfectly, because a lot of the humor in the film is very dry.

Alonzo: [laughs] I like that kind of humor, not farcical but it's really contained. We've often called it "serious comedy."

Steve: OK, I think we're done.

Alonzo: All right.

Steve: Can I get two seconds to get a picture?

Alonzo: Sure.

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