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Director Series-Quinceanera

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Quinceañera is the story of cultural clashes in the gentrifying LosAngeles neighborhood of Echo Park. A few months before Magdalena’s(Emily Rios) 15th birthday and her traditional coming-of-age party, theQuinceañera, her father, a storefront preacher, discovers that she ispregnant. Thrown out of the house, she moves in with her great-greatuncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) and tough cholo cousin, Carlos (JesseGarcia). The guesthouse that Tomas has lived in for years sits onproperty recently purchased by an affluent gay couple (David W. Ross,Jason L. Wood). Inevitably these divergent worlds collide.Co-writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland live in EchoPark and report that the local people opened their doors to theproduction—showing up as extras, lending them Quinceañera dresses,making meals, and doing whatever they could to help the filmmakers.Quinceañera went on to win both the Dramatic Grand Jury Award and theAudience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It was theCenterpiece Gala Screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival and will bereleased August 4 by Sony Classic Pictures.Below the Line: How did the idea for Quinceañera develop?Richard Glatzer: We were asked to photograph our neighbor’sQuinceañera. We had no idea what was in store. We started seeingwaltzes being rehearsed in the backyard next door, that kind of thing.On the day of the party we were agog—the church service, the limousine,the photos, then the big party with all the different generations, theBusby Berkeley dance routines and so on. I remember saying to Wash,“Someone is going to do a movie about this…”Wash Westmoreland: …called Quinceañera.Glatzer: …called Quinceañera. I did not think that it was going to beus.Westmoreland: Six months later we were thinking about the block we liveon. Echo Park is a gentrifying neighborhood. You get different kinds ofcultures butting up against each other. It creates conflicts. Wherethere’s conflict, there’s drama. We thought it would be an interestingbackground for a movie. The Quinceañera would be the focus, theforeground.BTL: Once you decided to make the movie, did you get productiontogether quickly?Glatzer: Wash knew investors who wanted to make their first independentfilm if we could do it cheaply enough. As soon as we had this idea, hepitched them. [Executive producer] Nick Boyias shook hands with Washand said, “We’re doing it.”Westmoreland: It was $360,000 for the shooting budget. We had toaccommodate that in how we made the film. It had to happen very fastand have a spontaneous quality. We were non-union for everything. Wehad 18 days to shoot it. We decided to shoot everything handheld.Nothing flashy.Glatzer: We were not going for the camera gyrating wildly. We weregoing for a steady handheld that lived and breathed.BTL: Who did you work with?Westmoreland: Producer Anne Clements. I’d worked with her before. Anneis incredible at pulling together resources. She has done a mixture ofindie, TV and Hollywood stuff. She had connections for the crew. Shestarted working on that aspect and we started working on the casting,even before we finished writing the script. Sometimes we wrote scenesout of order so we’d have sides for the actors to read in the audition.It’s unbelievable that it’s not a complete bowl of spaghetti in termsof a storyline because we were writing so fast.Emily Rios for the lead read the scenes in a way no one else did. Wewanted someone who could play the part without self-pity, somebody whowas tough on the outside. Emily brought the script to life in front ofour eyes.BTL: I know you’d worked before with Robin Katz, your editor.Glatzer: She cut my first movie. I’ve known Robin since 1981. She’s aphenomenal editor. Robin brings so much to a project. She takes yourideas and enhances them. We’d look at a scene Robin had cut and seesomething we didn’t even know we had. For instance, when Magdalena’skissing Herman on the bench, we wanted her to seem deeply romantic.There’s a shot with her eyes closed looking all dreamy. I didn’tremember getting it.Westmoreland: Her impact on the cut was that she brought out theemotions of each character. She focused on making that work above allelse.Glatzer: Robin’s amazing with character, with storytelling, but shealso has a great sense of music. She was a music editor for bigpictures. She has it all as an editor. We could trust all the post toher. She’s always with us, because we need her opinion.Westmoreland: Robin was finishing a television series, so we did thefirst assembly with Clay Zimmerman, who I had cut a documentary with.Glatzer: It was Clay’s first dramatic feature. He felt good that he hadthe opportunity to start the film. The first thing we shot was theQuinceañera video. Melanie Goldstein, the assistant editor, edited thatand got what we were going for.BTL: Had you worked with your cinematographer Eric Steelberg before?Glatzer: Anne recommended Eric. She’d seen a film that he shot—whichwas also HD—and was very impressed. He’s brilliant—a great operator, aswell as a great stylist. He carries that heavy camera on his back, runsup the stairs after Carlos two steps at a time, keeping it framed andfocused perfectly.BTL: Tell us about your art direction and locations. Where did you findthe garden, for instance?Glatzer: Alberto Hernandez—he’s called Jazz—is the main architect ofthe garden. He is chief landscaper for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.He’s an inspired artist. The garden is much more elaborate than you seein our film. Our production design team [Denise Hudson and JonahMarkowitz] removed things rather than adding them.Westmoreland: What the production designers did was incredible. Wedidn’t give them a film reference; we said we wanted to capture thefeel of the neighborhood and for it to feel like real people’s houses.They looked at what was there, then tweaked and amplified. Theneighborhood comes across as a character in the movie as a result oftheir effort.BTL: The costume design, especially for the Quinceañera, is veryauthentic.Glatzer: It was very ambitious to produce a Quinceañera. Some familiesspend as much as our [film] budget on their Quinceañera. I know twosisters who clean houses for a living. Their whole clan came to supportthe movie. Their niece had just had her Quinceañera. She became thesource of all things Quinceañera. She got us the artificial flowers,the dresses, the tiara as well as the Quinceañera video that weduplicated shot for shot. A lot of the dresses came that way. Ournext-door neighbor, Mercia Garcia… that was her Quinceañera dress thatMagdalena has. In terms of the party, it was extras showing up, beingenthusiastic, sticking around for the whole thing and bringing theirown clothing. Our costume designers [Jessica Flaherty and AndrewSalazar] would say, “I like that,” or “That one’s not going to readvery well.”Westmoreland: Andy would go down to the corner of Alvarado and Sunsetand sit on a bench, taking notes on what the kids were wearing. Hedeveloped Carlos’ look to say this is a kid from Echo Park. This isexactly what the kids wear.Glatzer: Tio Tomas was inspired by Wash’s great uncle. When Wash’sbrother saw the movie he said, “You must have gone out of your way toget Uncle Tom’s clothes for that character.”BTL: Did anyone go above and beyond?Glatzer: People in this town know how disruptive filmmaking can be. Ourlocation manager, Natasha Giraldo, charmed people. She was tireless infinding great locations, the Quinceañera hall for instance.Westmoreland: She smiled her way through it. Very few films are madeabout Echo Park. It’s interesting because Echo Park—called Edendale inthose days—was where the first ever movie studio was located.Glatzer: Jamie Feldman, our production office coordi
nator, workedreally hard. People doing the production office get all the headachesand none of the glamour. They don’t get to see any of the shoot,they’re just there keeping everything going.Westmoreland: I know who went the extra mile. Our casting person, JasonWood, pulled together this incredible non-union cast by putting wordout, not just through conventional routes, but on the internet andthough community organizations. And the crew treated the film like areligion—everybody believed in the movie. Everyone stretched every centinto a dollar. Our DP said to us, “What would it have been like if wehad $2 million do this movie?” I said, “It probably would not have beenas good.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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