I’m very excited today to be shooting my first scene entirely in Spanish with the Mexican actors Concepcíon (Conchi) and Erika. I’m really hoping my lack of Spanish is not a big hindrance.The scene is important in several ways. It introduces the movie’s main location, the Casa in Chixulub, as well as two key characters – Señora Bustamente and her niece, Asuncíon – who works for Bustamente as a maid cleaning her guest house.
I want the relationships and the circumstances to feel authentic, but what do I know really about the lives of these people? And how concerned should I be about that? The scene is about a mother who today has been forced to bring her child to work, and to deal with the consequences from her hardass aunt/boss. These are working class, blue collar concerns, and I do know about that, as does Samantha. It is in fact a concern of hers that reappears in her work. I will have to trust to the actors to supply whatever specific cultural details of which I am ignorant. I ask Oliver Cantú to make it clear to the local actors that I want them to be responsible for keeping the relationships and cultural details truthful, and to discuss with me anything I ask of them that doesn’t make any sense.
Erika Ancona arrives. She’s cool and professional on the outside, but I sense she’s absolutely alert in these unusual circumstances, i.e., working on a bilingual movie with a tiny band of Canadians. Erika is a very skilled and experienced theatre actor and clown in the city of Mérida, but being in a movie is a new experience for many of the Mexican theatre actors, I believe, perhaps with the exception of Oliver?
I remember meeting Erika for the audition at our favorite café – El Hoyo. She was chain-smoking and nodded at everything I said, and was obviously very keen to be involved and worried that she’d blow it.
After the regular audition stuff, I asked her, through Oliver, to just look into the camera and react as if there were voices whispering urgently to her just beyond the lens. I asked her not to do anything other than to relax, look, listen to the voices, and to let the camera look right into her eyes. I felt that for this pivotal moment in the movie, if the audience could not dive into Asuncíon’s eyes and identify with her fears, then the movie would fail. She looked at me skeptically, then I ducked out of the room and left her alone with the camera for a couple of minutes. Then we were done.
“That was really strange,” she said.
Later, when I reviewed the audition tape I was captivated by the simplicity and accessibility of her gaze and I felt confident we had our Asuncíon.
Still of that moment in the actual scene
So back to today. My mind started racing with ideas for a quick montage to establish all the sheer bloody work of cleaning up after the guests at the casa. I set up a series of quick shots of Asuncíon sweeping, wiping, putting out fresh candles, etc. Up to this point I hadn’t spent any time shooting inserts or cutaways and I was excited by how interesting simple physical actions were to shoot and watch. I did maybe 7 or 10 different setups from nice angles, and it was a great way to wake up my visual eye.
By the time I put the actors squarely in the frame I was seeing shots better than usual and came up with a particularly effective shooting plan to cover the exchange between Bustamente and Asuncíon.
Cinematically speaking, all three actors, including Cuko’s (Jorgé’s) niece Lupita, who is playing Asuncíon’s daughter Deysi, have very beautiful skin and compelling faces. I was very happy with their performances, although Lupita, having no acting experience has a tendency to look at me or the camera.
I knew what the lines were in English, and the scene certainly felt right, but I wasn’t really sure from a Spanish speaker’s point of view how it was coming across… Oliver reassured me that the performances were as good as I thought they were, and I left it at that. You have to trust your partners.
Overall, I was very impressed at how quickly Conchi and Erika adapted to the specifics of acting for the camera vs. the stage. I asked them to be still and to speak as they normally would and to trust the camera to see their thoughts, and bang, that’s what they did. Honestly, some actors never quite figure that out. It took them two minutes. Good job.
Oliver made communicating with the actors very easy, and I think he did a lot of explaining beyond what I had to say. Either way, I love the scene. And for what it’s worth I feel like we had a very successful creative meeting of two cultures today.
That’s important in this story of making a movie with no money, and in the story told in the movie.