Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
(co-directors and writers) in conversation
Interviewed by Cath Le Couteur
SHOOTERS SALON - 30th August 2006
Co-Writer/Director team, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland gave a special preview screening and Q/A of their film 'ECHO PARK L.A.' for an intimate group of Shooters at the Rex on WEDNESDAY 30TH AUGUST. The film SCOOPED both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance this year and is OPEN NOW in cinemas. You must check it out, it is one fo the best films we've screened this year!
"A real charmer - fresh, spirited, and life affirming"
(Wendy Ide, The Times)
"A beautifully told story with a big heart"
Hello I’m Cath one of the founders of Shooters, thanks very much for coming to our latest Shooter Salon. I absolutely love this film. And I’m really, really excited and thrilled that we have been able to screen it and hold a Q&A with Richard and Wash the co-directors. So if there are questions that come to you when you are watching the film hold onto them because the boys will be back to answer them after the film. Here they are to introduce, the very wonderful ‘Echo Park LA’.
[WASH] Thank you very much Cath and thank you to Shooters for programming this film. Thanks to Metrodome our distributors for bringing us over here to present it to you. As you can hear I am originally British and this film has screened all around the world but in a way I am most nervous about screening it at home in Britain especially to an audience of filmmakers who are like intellectual rottweilers who are going to rip the film apart into threads! But it is a great honour to be here.
The film was shot in our neighbourhood in Echo Park last year 2005. We came up with the idea on January 1st and by April 30th it was actually in the can and so the film happened very, very fast and it was very exciting to make. For us to be here now is kind of a dream come true, and a year later we are actually taking it around the world showing it to people and getting everybody to see a little bit about the culture of the neighbourhood that we live in.
[RICHARD] We have struggled for years to get films financed and not gotten them financed, and this thing happened in such a flash that it has been kind of a miracle to see what has happened with this film. It really has been a community product. We moved to Echo Park in Los Angeles in 2001 and it was inspired partly by becoming official photographers for our next-door neighbour’s Quinceanera, which is a big 15th birthday celebration for Latin Americans. It really was a project for the entire neighbourhood. People moved out of their houses so we could shoot in them. We shot 85% of the movie within two blocks of our house and we wrote it in 18 days and shot it in 18 days and cast it with people who for the most part hadn't been in a movie before. It has just been a very great experience for us and so I hope you enjoy it and we will look forward to talking with you about it when we come back.
[WASH] And also thankyou to Romany who programmed the film, and who I actually got to meet when I was working on Velvet Goldmine 9 years ago, we were working together on that movie. Thank you Romany.
[CATH] Isn’t it a wonderful film? I love it so much. Richard and Wash… I’ll start by asking a couple of questions but to everyone in the audience, please feel free to interject or throw your hands up at any stage. Starting off, Wash you said in the introduction that you were invited to photograph the Quinceanera in your neighbourhood. I know Wash you are from Leeds and Richard, you’re from New Jersey, and you guys live in Echo Park in LA…
[RICAHRD OR WASH] Yeah
I guess my first question is, when you went to photograph the Quinceanera, what was it that really captivated you and made you think you would like to make a film about this?
WASH : Well initially we were just going in as the official photographers and so were taking these sort of formation photographs of all the Quinceanera court, all kind of kids in their formal dresses. It was just this beautiful thing that it is a tradition but which has evolved into modern Los Angeles and so that really struck us. Then there was such a contrast between the formality of this tradition and the energy of the teenage hormones that it was harnessing, and so we thought it was really kind of interesting. We were at the reception and there were the various formal dancers and then suddenly everyone started doing Tequila shots and the music changed and everyone started freak dancing. We just looked around the room and it just seemed like there were all these little pockets of drama around the family. And we thought God this is like a movie, it’s like a Robert Altman movie because it just seemed to have so many characters and this sense of location and place. Richard said some day someone will make a movie about this and we went “yeah” but we never thought it would be us who made it!
I think that what really made it relevant was how much the whole ceremony becomes a focus for the community and the community itself is undergoing so many various economic and cultural changes because of Mexican immigrants coming to America, which that makes the ceremony itself a very interesting thing.
The film itself felt so connected to its community that I wonder if you had any concerns about how you could authentically represent it before you started?
RICHARD: Yeah I mean obviously it’s a big risk for two guys like us to make a movie like this and we were aware of that risk and felt we really had to approach everything with respect and just by acknowledging our own ignorance in a way. We checked right from the beginning the concept we were writing with friends, for instance. I have a good friend whose sensibility I really like who is Latino and we said to her what do people talk about at the reception - would these old ladies be reminiscing about life back in Mexico? She said no way they would be getting drunk and grabbing the boys arses you know! I guess when we first started talking about making this movie with friends of ours people were very supportive. Nobody said well you guys shouldn't be doing this because you don’t get their culture. Then as we were making the film we became really involved with so many of our neighbours and friends and we had people who had never acted before who were suddenly acting in front of the camera. They would bring their whole clans to support the movie and so it started taking on the life of our neighbourhood I think.
A friend’s niece had just had her Quinceanera and we appointed her the Quinceanera consultant, as part of the ‘court’, and she is one of the girls in the limousine. She brought all the people on her Quinceanera court and she brought her dresses and her tiara and her Quinceanera video which we replicated shot for shot. So I think it was that kind of involvement that made everything possible and it made it so much fun for us to make.
There are some extraordinary performancesand as you said, is it mostly an unknown cast, or almost entirely an unknown cast?
WASH: The only veteran is Chalo Gonzales who played Tio Tomas. His first movie was (Sam Peckinpah’s) The Wild Bunch.
Can you tell us about your casting process and whether it was always your intention to work with mainly unknown actors?
WASH: Yes that was the refreshing thing about the idea. The whole Hollywood system is all about the fact that there are the golden few who have talent, who are glowing in the limelight and they are the ones who are going to get finance for your movie. We thought, well we want to make this kind of very low budget movie and the appeal would be that it is with new people who really have a sense of their neighbourhood and have a sense of the community. I think if we had had loads of money to make this movie it might have been actually quite bad because we might have got some “star” performances in there.
You make it sound really easy! But the performances in this film are incredibly restrained and there is so much feeling that comes through. I think for example, the scene where Emily as Magdalena finally cries. She is such a guarded character then there is this eruption of emotion that is so incredibly moving at the end, and yet it is done through just one tear. Beautifully restrained and so impacting. I wonder, how much work did you do with this unknown cast, and how much of it came naturally from them?
RICHARD: I think a lot of it was just in the selection of our cast because we chose those kind of actors rather than people who were giving us too much. And we found with Emily… we were writing the script while we were casting and we didn't have a finished script. Sometimes we would be writing sides the night before because people had to have something to read! So people were reading for us and for the most part we were thinking, “why are we such awful writers?” Then Emily came in and suddenly everything just sounded right! We just loved her restraint. We always wanted an actress to play that part with a certain kind of thick-skinned quality and to not be too self-pitying and tearful, and we found that she was very much true to this. We kept bringing her back to make sure the emotional stuff was there and that she would have the emotional reserves – so that you would really feel like her father and she had this intense relationship, and that she really cared about her boyfriend, and so on.
And Carlos as well…
RICHARD: Carlos absolutely. Jesse was a little bit more experienced, he had studied acting butit was basically his first feature, but he saw himself as an actor and was working towards being in something like this for a while. Whereas Emily was spotted in the Mall by somebody who said ‘if you pay me $500 I will get you a headshot and give you one hour in a class to show you about being an actor in Hollywood’. That is how we found her - she came through that type of agency. The first thing on her resume was Cleopatra in the school play and that was it. Emily pictured herself as a basketball player, in one interview she said ‘I’m not an actor I’m a basketball player’.
So did you do any rehearsals at all with the actors or were you working live on set, day one?
WASH: We knew that everything was against us, there is this pesky thing called the California Child Labour Law, and we could only have Emily for 6 hours a day. A lot of the other members of the cast were also under 16 and so we had to have a schoolteacher on set. And we realised we had three weeks to shoot the film with something like eighteen days and to get it we knew we had to have a strategy, which was to have everything planned. We really rehearsed every single thing with our actors and so we worked through it attempting to be in the real locations, most of the time.
So you would take them all the way through a scene, you would be on set, you would go through the script, stage it with them…?
WASH: To me it is just so nice to have that time to work with the actors with no one rushing you and no one saying ‘we have got to get this shot, we have got to move on, we have got to make our date’, it is just that time you have to be creative together and have fun and get to know the characters and to get to work out why people are moving in a certain way or why they are expressing things in a certain way and tinkering with the script a little bit. So we did that pretty extensively, and then also from the technical side we storyboarded everything really closely even though it is a handheld movie…
I was going to say that it feels like almost all of it is handheld, except for maybe the Quinceanera ceremony parts…
WASH: Well I think we had a really excellent operator and it is a really heavy camera he has on his shoulder but he would chase up the steps behind Carlos and keep everything in the frame. And we were like whoa! We used to call him ‘the Tripod’ and he kind of liked that.
Between the characters, there were many great nuances. The scene when Tio says to Carlos ‘you have a special friend’ really rocked my boat. It was just so beautifully done and again very understated. I also really liked the fact that the gay couple are shown to exhibit a kindof coded racism and are not shown to be these singular paragons of virtue. How do you go about exploring character when writing?
RICHARD: There are so many elements that come together even in this short time frame for making the film. You mentioned the moment with Tio Tomas and that was something that actually Todd Haynes mentioned to us that his grandfather had said to him at one point. he felt it was such an important thing for his grandfather to say. And he was never quite sure if his grandfather knew exactly what he meant by it. So he mentioned this to us and we loved the idea of it being incorporated into a scene, but I just felt like if I saw any kind of eye contact or anything between them it would seem really Hollywood and phoney to me. So we came up with this idea of shooting it from behind so you are never quite sure about the understanding between them, and you know I was really touched by that.
Wash’s great uncle is the person who the film is dedicated to and he was somebody who looked after Wash and his brother when Wash’s parents split up, who I knew. He was a really lovely bachelor who had time for other people because he didn't have anybody in his life who was his mate and he wasn't chasing after romance, and he was somebody who just really made a huge impact on Wash’s life. So we wanted to dedicate the film to him and I think the idea of Tio Tomas’ character came to us because of him.
WASH Then there was that awful gay couple you were asking about (laughter) - boy were we asking for it! We really wanted to expose things we had seen in our peer group that we thought were really dodgy about real estate and about attitudes like objectification towards Latino guys. So we wrote all that into the James and Gary characters, but at the same time I did want them to be three-dimensional and not just be like textbook villains. But we also wanted to have gay characters in the movie who aren’t paragons of virtues and who aren’t positive images, because Carlos to me is a very positive image. I felt that James and Gary could be very interesting characters because they bring up issues around coded racism in the gay community and by doing that we could maybe bring it out into an area for public discussion. We felt these issues needed looking at but we didn't realise it would be looked at with everyone going ‘its them, its them’!
If anyone writes themselves in a movie as that kind of villain that’s up to them because no one has every done it in cinema before.
So tell us - because you co-wrote, and you co-directed, how does that work?
We sleep together!
A stress-free relationship then…
WASH: Basically I think there is this myth of the lonely single director, usually a man, as being the only possible way that a film can have a kind of coherence. There are a lot of co-directing partnerships coming up in filmmaking and I think it is an acknowledgement of something that has been in cinema all along. Often it’s a DP who is a co-director of a film, or the producer is kind of a co-director. Or someone’s life partner is a co-director like Alfred Hitchcock had Alma (Reville, his wife) who was very much a creative confidante for him and who was unacknowledged, but definitely made a huge contribution to those films. So I think we are seeing more with directing now as a kind of breaking down of the idea that it has to be one person directing, or one person having the source of creativity. With us, it is like two people who are on the same page and if you are not on the same page the crew are going to know immediately and the cast are going to know immediately…
And are you always on the same page? Richard?
RICHARD: We really are! Everyone once in a while we disagree aboutsomething but the thing about film making is that you have a process, especially when you are living together and talking about it 24/7. You feel like you have so many opportunities to sort it out you know. At times Wash will have one feeling about something and I will have a different feeling and we might disagree about it, but then over time when you see it in rehearsal you say ‘you know you are right, it doesn't really work that way, lets try it the way you thought of it’
If we do have a disagreement we just keep it private because no one wants to hear the directors arguing around the camera! So as long as we come back with a unified decision the crew respect that and it sort of keeps the whole thing going.
You started at the beginning by saying you came up with the idea on January 1st 2005?
Hungover on January 1st 2005, you had the finance within two weeks, you had a script finished by the end of February, and you completed the film by September? (to audience) How much do we hate them! Can you just tell us a bit more about this magical story?
WASH: Well, we have had scripts that we have been trying for years and years to get going and we were trying them all at higher budget levels. Like one we wanted $2 million dollars for, and one we wanted $10 million dollars for, and you are just going around Hollywood doing these meetings, trying to get money and it gets very dispiriting and we just want to make films! We had met some investors with the $2 million dollar movie who said ‘oh we love it and we want to work with you guys but we can only afford around the $400,000 mark’. So we thought well we can't do this movie on that because it would be very cheesy. But when we thought of this idea we thought this a movie that you could do on a very low budget that would still work because it is all about grass roots. For Quinceanera, if we had had two million dollars and 5 or 6 weeks of shooting it might not have been as good, and the idea and the concept fitted the lower budget. The idea was to charge forward and make stuff and not just sit around every year with your script, the same old script getting dusty. Just make new stuff. We had three scripts waiting to be made but we were like ‘Fuck It we are going to make Quinceanera!’. We just charged forward because we knew we could with this particular financing, and we felt it would fit this movie to be a total neighbourhood/grass roots thing.
It was shot on high definition video right? The colours look stunning, so rich and vibrant and really capture the tone of the film. Was that a financial decision or an aesthetic one?
RICHARD: It was actually both. I think we felt we wanted to avoid clichés of realistic dramas with cameras swinging around every which way and very high grain, if not black and white. So we thought by shooting in high def we would have a different look for the film and that it would be very crisp and clean and that the colours of the neighbourhood would translate in a different way, which all proved to be the case. We thought we would save money with high def but we ended up spending the same amount. There is so much cost for the transfer during post with high def that there is still a big question mark. It was kind of great shooting in that format, but then after the fact it became a nightmare.
Were you shooting a lot of footage?
RICHARD: No, we were not shooting a lot as we didn't really even have time to set up a tripod and that is why virtually the whole movie is handheld. We also wanted a camera that was very responsive and kind of ‘breathed’ with the characters but not in an obvious way where it was literally swinging around. But we really did not have time to set up a tripod often and the only tripod shots are around the Quinceanera ceremony and the montages of the neighbourhood, the shots that were moving too much. So it was a matter of keeping to the schedule but it was also an aesthetic choice that I made.
WASH: Also when you shoot on high definition, just because you have got loads of takes it doesn’t mean you have got any more benefit from doing 20 takes. It is still best to think as if you are shooting 35mm and try and get it in 2 or 3 takes in my experience. Don’t go for the actors over-improvising , redefining the story. we stuck to it like it was 35mm because we knew we had to make our days.
I just want to jump back quickly to the script because I am obsessed by the fact that so much of it is so incredibly understated. You look at all kinds of issues like gentrification, teenage pregnancy etc but it never feels like an “issues” movie and it also feels like you are sympathetic to the plight of your characters. Were you doing lots of rewrites to get that balance right, because I understand most of it is scripted and this is not an improvised movie? Would you say it is 80% or 90% scripted?
W & RYeah
And you wrote it in three weeks!
W & R Right
So how did you get that balance right, or are you just incredibly good at it?
WASH: There was one rewrite we did. Things fell into place and sometimes I find with writing they do fall into place. However then a lot of times they don't fall in place and with this one I think generally they did fall into place! We did one rewrite to try to soften Magdalena’s character a little bit because we were worried that she might have felt too hard-edged. But then we looked at what we had done and we went back to what we originally had! That was kind of the only real rewrite that we did. And then there were specific instances of scenes that didn't work or scenes that…
Ok that’s enough, let’s move on!
WASH: We planned it all out on cards before we started and so we knew where it was going and we weren't writing ourselves blind into the script. We had the two essential storylines for the characters of Magdalena and Carlos. One has a very traditional kind of problem like a teenage pregnancy, but the other one was more of an untraditional problem. We thought we would make this family help each other and it was quite interesting to weave the scenes so that the storylines felt like they were balancing each other all the way through.
Regarding the improvisation element - though we did encourage improvisation in certain scenes, it was mostly around the group of girls because they just clicked like a dream.
The scene on the couch was great - was that improvised?
RICHARD: Yes : what we did was basically just show them the Quinceanera video and then take notes on the way they would react. There would be certain lines they would have to hit at certain moments in the first scene when they are coming out of school and Magdalena goes off with him on a bike. I didn't know that teenage girls would use the word “cute” five times in the same sentence - we would never have written that! But we let them sit down and just kind of rip on it and we were really entertained. You know we did ultimately rewrite it and give them the script back, but it was all based on what they did and that was so much fun.
What have your audiences been like and is there a different reaction in LA compared to say here in England? Are you finding much difference in the types of reactions you are getting to the film in different places?
WASH: Well every audience is different and no two audiences are the same. You are like this kind of giant organism to us and we feel like ‘does the organism like us or not’?!
In LA it is the home turf of the movie and so you are playing to people who recognise a lot of these places and so there is that kind of added thing. But generally we have been very happy about our audiences here and when we played Sundance you know it went really, really well. Then afterwards we were in Berlin and they programmed us in the ‘Kinderfest’ section of the festival which we were really upset about! We would be sitting in the auditorium and these teachers would be coming in with their class of 13 and 14 year olds who didn't speak very good English and they would fill the audience. And then their reaction to those gay seductions would be really like this huge freak out but then in the end they kind of went with it. in the end, people were reacting very emotionally to the film. So we thought ‘ok’ if we can corner the German pre-pubescent market, then the movie must be sort of pretty universal!
Did that mean that you got distribution very easily then?
RICHARD: Well what happened was we were at Sundance with this film and it was a complete underdog film because most of the movies that people go to see first at Sundance are the films with movie stars that we all recognise in them, which makes sense. As the week went along there was a certain kind of swell building around us and by the time of the awards night I was still like ‘hey lets go home’. It was my birthday actually and I thought can't I have my birthday at home and not be sitting in this audience pissed off! But we stayed and we ended up winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury prize which was mind-boggling. I didn't know that it was possible, but we still did not have a distribution offer!
So you won and you still didn’t get distribution…
RICHARD: We won both major awards and yeah, we still didn't have an offer of distribution! We then went to Berlin with the movie and we were in this kind of iffy section of the festival, the Kinderfest. But our international sales agent managed to sell the movie in like 20 territories in a blink of an eye, and we thought whoa! Then about 3 weeks later Sony Picture Classics came up with an offer and they turned out to be a great distributor. it all came out great in the end.
Questions from the Audience
I really loved it thank you very much. Do you also produce for yourselves or do you have a producer who is separate that you always work with?
WASH: We have a really great producer, her name is Anne Clements. We have known Todd (Haynes) for years and we always said ‘we want a Christine Vachon’, we just want someone who is going to be there for you in the trenches and who will lie down in front of a train to get your movie made and will completely protect you from all the chaos of a film shoot in order that you can focus and make your movie. So we actually found Anne because I had worked with her on a TV show, a documentary called Gay Republicans we had done where we followed the log cabin conservatives around for 6 months, it’s a horror movie. We really bonded during the process and she just had that producer skill and she would get on the phone and get stuff done. You know all the things that we are not really adept at she is really, really good at. And yeah it was definitely like this incredible thing and she is the third part of the Trinity, she is really a huge part of the movie and a great part of the way it looks. The high quality of it is due to her resourcefulness and her excellent people skills. She knows we are not paying people very much and so she just throws an amazing kick-off party and then an amazing halfway through party and an amazing wrap party. And she kept this feeling of family on the set that really made everyone feel very involved so that everyone was giving a 1000% rather than bitching about the length of the days and the pay cheques. We were very lucky and we will continue to work with her.
RICHARD: She also found us our casting person, our DP, our production designer, she found a lot of the people who made this movie what it is.
Who actually paid, what was the financial deal and what was the final budget?
WASH: We initially approached these guys and none of them had invested in movies before. There was one Greek guy called Nick Boyias who was a first generation immigrant with a very Greek personality if there is such a thing, and another friend of his an Israeli friend called Avi Raccah. None of them had invested in film but they all had this dream of going to Hollywood. There is a real estate boom and interestingly enough the money for this movie came from real estate. That is where a lot of surplus cash is right now in the States and we wanted to make a movie and so we pitched them to do it for $250,000 and they shook hands and said we could have the money. In the end we ran over budget and at the end of the shoot we were about $340,000 and then by the time we transferred to film from HD it worked out to be about $400,000 which is equivalent to £250,000. So it wasn't a lot of money and we had to be really tight. The deal was they formed this LLC Kitchen Sink Entertainment because I told them all about kitchen sink movies and how this movie was influenced by what ‘A Taste of Honey’ was all about, which was shot in Salford in 1960 and all this kind of stuff. And so they called the company Kitchen Sink Entertainment and formed an LLC whereby they had this deal where they recoup their investment and then it gets split up into a producer’s pie. They make the lion’ s share but there is a little bit that goes out to us and to the key crew members and so there is a little bit of a backend participation on the deal. And you know there was a very simple sort of handshake and they were always very, very into the movie it was very nice. When we went over budget they didn't mind which was really weird!
Can you talk about the kitchen sink element both of you?
RICHARD: We really are fans of that period of British films from like the very late 50s to the late 60s inspired by the angry young man of theatre, John Osborne and people like that. I mean we love Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life. We had just seen a Taste of Honey and both really responded to that movie and think it was so ahead of its time to have a pregnant teenager who is so un-selfpitying. And she has an affair with a black sailor and she meets a gay guy in the shoe shop and he moves in and says he is going to look after her and the baby. And we get scenes of such an ‘outsider’ family in 1961 and it blew our minds a little bit. It became an inspiration for this film. The kitchen sink films from that period, they showed everyday lives which Hollywood doesn't do and a lot of Indie films don't do. They show their sense of politics without a big capital P and a lot of speeches being made.
There were some really, really nice little touches that made it, I thought it was a wonderful film and I loved it. But that bit where the two sisters were packing up and they looked at the photograph and they didn't know who the other person was and the obvious thing to write would be ‘oh that’s Auntie Silvia and isn’t that Auntie so and so..’. And so I thought it was really cool that they said ‘I don’t know’ which is actually what happens in real families. And I just wondered how that little bit came about…
RICHARD: I just wanted a moment where Aunt Silvia has a kind of confrontation with mortality. -- --there was a woman in this photograph who was obviously part of the family or was somehow connected who was now a nonentity. And I wanted to just bring her up short for just a moment, that this person has been utterly forgotten. But that is kind of my own take on it. I had people come up to me after screenings and say ‘oh I loved that thing with those two lesbians in the 60s’ and I never thought of that! However you want to interpret it it’s there, but thank you for noticing.
Was it ever going to be a documentary, when you first saw the idea did you ever feel that this could be a documentary or was it always fiction?
WASH: You know I had just come off making that documentary about Gay Republicans and we were really in love with the idea of just grab a camera and shoot stuff. Use real people’s houses, use the available light, use real people who live in the neighbourhood. We wanted to make a dramatic feature, but at the same time we wanted to get a documentary style to it with conversations that could sound like conversations that two kids would have on a park bench. We didn't want any trumped up grandeur, we just wanted normal conversations that had a sort of documentary feel to them.
RICHARD: Something that never occurred to me before but I think is true also is that if we had made a documentary about our neighbourhood is that it would have put us very much outside of it and I think by encouraging people to act in front of the camera and perform we weren't detached from them. They were a part of it because this was fiction that we were all creating together and I think it became more of a community undertaking in that way. If we had decided that they were specimens under a microscope somehow…
I truly loved the film. This is not a question as such, it is more of an observation… what is amazing about your film is that it resonates around the world because even if you come from a small town like me, you can relate entirely to what is going on in a scene like the party, (Quinceanera) and that environment in Echo Park, LA. I am from Wales and I felt like I was ‘in the valley’s’ if you know what I mean. So it is great to see a film about somewhere I have never been and never seen and yet it is not so very different from the place where I was brought up in!
WASH: I totally understand what you are saying because when we were writing it I was drawing on my experience of growing up in Leeds and Richard was drawing on his experience of growing up in New York and New Jersey. So we took our family experiences into Echo Park and into a Latino family. So specifically for me this happened with elements like the Tio Tomas character who was based upon my great uncle who was a Yorkshire man with a flat cap who used to drink 2 pints at lunchtime. Now he is immortalised as a Mexican who sells champurrado and I think he would be very cool with that actually! You know it is about that sort of sense of there being a lot of shared values. The cultural things that are different I think are very interesting and there is a difference between two cultures but then there is also this idea of coming of age, adolescence, and the idea of someone from an older generation of the family understanding in the way their parents never can. All these kind of things that I think people connect to in their own experiences. I think it is because everyone has that sort of stuff in their lives somehow or another.
What is champurrado?
RICHARD: Champurrado is actually… it is a sort of Mexican hot chocolate that is made with corn and cinnamon as well as chocolate. We discovered it because there is an elderly couple on our block who make it… they have this supermarket cart and they have this big thermos of this stuff which I happen to love but it is so thick and its so hot that you have to let it cool for about an hour before you can even eat it. It is like a pudding. And when we were making the film everyone thought this was so quaint that Tio Tomas is making this drink and nobody had even heard of it and nobody would have believed that anybody existed on the streets of Echo Park who sold this stuff. And then on the very last day of the shoot I heard the horn going off and said oh my god because there was this old couple with the champurrado and so we bought tons of it for the whole crew. And everybody said yes this exists this champurrado! You can get it in restaurants throughout Los Angeles and it is all over Mexico but you need the homemade stuff because the stuff from restaurants is made from a mix and it tastes horrible. Metrodome has actually included a champurrado recipe in these little pamphlets so you can try it out yourselves at home.
Richard you mentioned at the start of this the fact that you were writing whilst you were casting. Just to clarify things, did you have a script which was approved by the financiers which you went on working on with the actors and polishing, or were you just polishing all the time even when you were casting? Exactly when did you lock the script?
RICHARD: These investors were so excited about the idea of making a film and they had never done it and one of their first questions was when can we expect to see our money back. Well we didn't say ‘never’, we were honest enough to tell them that there was a whole process of getting the film made which takes a long time, and then getting it to the right festival and then hopefully getting a distribution deal. Then that it takes the distributor months to get the movie out there and so they said ‘god that sounds like a long time, and so when do you think…?’ We told them that the earliest they might see any return would be maybe in a year and a half’s time or something. So they just told us to get busy and get the movie made and get into production! We hadn't even started the script and so they were breathing down our backs the whole time wanting us to start shooting and we were really casting whilst we were writing it. So it was this really frantic thing of turning out pages the night before and realizing ‘hey we are on page 60 now’ when you are meeting actors the next day. I have never experienced anything like it and I am amazed it came off in any way shape or form!
Before the great success at Sundance what were your honest expectations of this film?
WASH: Well, you know it’s like being a filmmaker, you live in a total dream world where it is going to be a huge hit and everybody is going to love it etc…I think anyone making a film always has this kind of expectation that is very optimistic. But in this case we could never have predicted what in reality has actually been better than anything we could have ever dreamed of, because we never thought that we were going to win both Sundance prizes - it just doesn’t happen! It’s like winning two Lottery tickets on the same day and just what are the chances of that? We are just really excited that it is being sold in 20 countries throughout the world including places like Turkey and Iceland and Singapore and Taiwan, who are all going to be getting Quineanera envy and trying to stage them in different kind of regional variations!
I think it just went way beyond our expectations and of course we are very grateful for that.
When does the film open?
Its opens 29th September in London, Manchester and Scotland before it carries on
Well, Huge thanks to Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer for giving us such a wonderful film. Massive Thanks also to Sarah Frain and Tom Grievson at Metrodome and Meredith, Phil and everyone at The Rex Cinema for making this event possible. Congrats – I really hope it does really well for you all.
ECHO PARK LA OPENS IN LONDON, MANCHESTER AND SCOTLAND FRIDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER 2006.