Definitely, the production logistics are a huge part of it. Having a very limited and controlled location approach to your story is gonna make your life infinitely easier.
In our case, we shot 40% to 50% of the movie in an MMA gym in Little Haiti, and the deal we made was with Diego de Vera, the owner of the gym, who helped us out tremendously. He said, “Well, as long as you don’t interrupt the operations of my gym, you can shoot your movie here and you don’t have to pay for it.”
So, that meant we had to shoot overnight. Every day [that] we’re in the gym, our day was starting at like 8:30pm and finishing at 5:30am. It’s those types of compromises you have to make.
To get the gym in the first place, I had to do some commercials for the gym for their sponsor. They’re sponsored by Hayabusa, an MMA brand, and I had to find ways to give value to the people that I needed to give value to.
What I would say is you have to find a way to deliver value to the other people that you need to help bring your movie to life, and that goes to your locations people, that goes to your vendors, that goes to your collaborators.
I wasn’t able to get the most established Production Designers or department heads in my movie (because we couldn’t afford them) but what I was able to do was give people who did have some experience the opportunity to earn their first credit on a feature film in their chosen department.
So maybe someone who had only been a First AC in commercials and music videos, they’re gonna work on Huracán and get their first First AC credit on a feature film at a lower rate because it’s something that they don’t already have.
That mindset really unlocked the team-building aspect of putting Huracán together. The truth is, as much as you want to work with people who have some kind of clout or experience, on these low-budget or no-budget movies, you really are gonna be way better off—and I didn’t understand this until we did it—with people who maybe have a little experience, but who buy into the process of making this movie, who have a passion, and are really incentivized by the project.
That’s gonna take you so much further because people who you convince to work at a lower rate and it’s just a day job for them are not gonna want to go the extra mile. You’re gonna need people who wanna go the extra mile.
Those people are just not gonna do it because that’s not why they signed up. Maybe they were just available, and they just thought, “Okay, it’s a pretty shitty paycheck but I don’t have anything else on those days.” You wanna be able to discern in advance why someone would want to, and would benefit from, being a part of your production. That’s something that, even beyond filmmaking, is a huge thing that I’ve learned.
As you’re finding partners and collaborators, you really need to understand what they’re gonna get out of your collaboration and your project. You can design your system in such a way that you know you’re gonna get what you need from them, and they’re gonna get what they need from you.
Something that allowed us to do the movie, especially in this ultra-low-budget way, is the fact that you can work with non-professional Actors, and you can get great performances out of them. In our movie, we really only had two people who had ever acted before in our film.
Yara Martinez, who is an established Actress beloved for her role as Luisa in Jane the Virgin, she’s been in True Detective. She is a very experienced and beloved Actor, super-talented, and she was a huge part of elevating the performances of everyone in the film, specifically mine. Our Detective Carlos Guerrero, made guest experiences on everything from Bad Boys III to Atlanta on FX. Outside of those two people, effectively, everyone else was a first-time Actor.
That was a huge challenge directorially. My biggest takeaway from that was with non-professional Actors, you can get great performances out of them if you don’t ask them to act. What I mean by that is, someone without acting experience, you cannot expect them to just invent that experience and have the skill set to go far out of what their natural behavioral range is.
But what you can do is get real people who bring a similar presence and a similar energy, have a similar life experience to the character that you want to portray, and get them comfortable enough with the filmmaking process that they can just be themselves on screen. If you cast them well, you will get the performance that you need for the movie, and we did that with so many people.
One of my favorite examples is Camila Rodriguez, who’s a Columbian Actress, who at the time that she auditioned for Huracán, had never been in a movie before. She was (and still is) a Nurse in the ICU at Jackson Memorial Hospital, which is one of the biggest and craziest public hospitals in Miami. She had some experience in theatre, but she didn’t have any experience on screen.
In her auditions, I saw that she was maybe rough from a technique standpoint, but emotionally she got it. She just really understood who this person was, who this character was, and how they might react in a given situation, and now when you watch the movie—she plays Alonso’s mother, her flashback scene’s a big, critical one—she’s amazing!
In my opinion, she’s the heart of the movie. If her performance wasn’t as breathtaking as it is, the movie wouldn’t work in the way that it does. It wouldn’t impact people in the way that it did impact people emotionally. So, we got an amazing performance out of her, and it was her first time.
Everyone on our MMA side, they were all real fighters who trained at the gym that we shot at, and we were just able to put them in positions to be themselves on screen, and it worked because they were the real deal. They were the authentic people who would really be at that location doing that thing that they’re doing on screen.