Production Spotlight: Mosquita y Mari
An Interview with Aurora Guerrero and Charlene Agabao
Charlene Agabao and Aurora Guerrero talked to Director of Talent Development Josh Welsh about their time at Film Independent, crowd-funding and the process of making their dynamic independent film, Mosquita y Mari.
FIND Fellows Aurora Guerrero (Project:Involve 2000) and Charlene Agabao (2009 Producers Lab) are currently prepping their feature Mosquita y Mari, the story of a timid 15-year-old Chicana’s life changes when she develops a complex friendship with the rebellious new girl in her South East Los Angeles neighborhood. The filmmakers plan to shoot in Los Angeles in summer 2011. They have received partial financing from Latino Public Broadcasting and are currently raising the rest of their financing from private sources and through an ambitious Kickstarter campaign. Agabao was in Film Independent’s 2009 Producers Lab with the project.
Josh Welsh: How did you two meet and when did you decide to work together on Mosquita y Mari?
CA: Aurora and I met working on Peter Bratt’s La Mission in 2008. She was his Assistant and I was the Art Department Coordinator during production. When production ended, I continued to work on La Mission as an Assistant/Associate Producer to 5 Stick Films. I was asked to read Mosquita y Mari by one of the producers and instantly fell in love with the story. We’ve been working together to make the film happen since then!
JW: Aurora, what was your initial inspiration for making the film? I know the script has been through several drafts along the way – could you talk about that process and how much the story changed from your original conception of it?
AG: Initially, I think it was the complex, same-sex friendships I had growing up. When looking back, long before I identified as queer, I realized my first love was one of my best friends. It was the type of friendship that was really tender and sweet and sexually charged but we never crossed that line. The beginnings of Mosquita y Mari was reflecting back on that time and asking myself the questions, why didn’t we cross that line and what kept us in “our place”? I didn’t grow up in a household where my parents forewarned me that if I turned out to be gay they would disown me. They didn’t wave the Bible in my face saying it was wrong. Instead the message was subtle. It was hidden in the silences around sex and desire; it was implied in society’s expectations, you know, like you only experience those feelings of love and desire with the opposite sex. I think all of us are subject to society’s rules so I think many people can relate to this story of censored friendship. That was the initial inspiration.
Originally, the story was placed over a long period of time. The girls meet in elementary school and the film ends when they graduate from high school. It was extremely episodic. Ultimately I was vomiting out a lot of things I needed to address in my own life so the process of re-writing was about me figuring out what I was really trying to get at? What were the central themes? And then it was about me letting go of what didn’t fall into that. You know, because the writing came from such an honest, vulnerable place within me I had a hard time letting go of characters and subplots. That’s really why it took so long for me to rewrite. I had to mourn the losses of some characters that became apart of me and I had to say goodbye. Its more like I had to break it to them, “You’ll live in a script, just not in this one.” It was a crazy-making process, but I kept sane with mentors like Jim McKay, who helped me through the writing process.
JW: Could you talk a bit about your film aesthetic? What’s the visual look you are going for in Mosquita y Mari? Are there specific filmmakers whose work has most inspired you and who somehow inform what you’re doing in Mosquita y Mari?
AG: For Mosquita y Mari I have been inspired by filmmakers of color who, like my film, choose to tell universal stories within specific cultural contexts, like Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves), and So Yong Kim (In Between Days). I mean, artistically, I envision staying true to the authenticity of the script’s voice by refusing to contrive its world or its people. You know, I’m keeping it real. So along with a minimal crew, unobtrusive camera, real locations, and local non-actors, I intend to use a subjective filmmaking style affording audiences an intimate glimpse into the lives of these two young Chicanas at this particular time. I’m also inspired by foreign filmmakers like Warwick Thorton, Carlos Reygadas, and particularly Lucrecia Martel (La Cienega) who I think is a master at creating atmosphere. This is an important element to the look of the film because I’m aiming to transport audiences into this world of unspoken gestures and intimacy through palatable imagery and evocative sounds.
JW: Who else is on your production team and when and where do you plan to shoot?
AG: Chad Burris is our Lead Producer (Barking Water, Four Sheets to the Wind) and Jim McKay is our Executive Producer (Our Song, Girls Town). Bradford Young is our brilliant DP (Pariah, Mississippi Damned, Entre Nos), Dalila Mendez (Project:Involve Fellow), Augie Robles (CSI, Viernes Girl, Pura Lengua). We will be in production this summer, we plan to shoot in Southeast Los Angeles, in the community of Huntington Park.
JW: You guys have launched a really ambitious Kickstarter campaign to raise a chunk of your budget. Can you tell us how that is going, and also how people can get involved if they are interested?
AG: We have been really surprised and touched by how much Kickstarter has helped the film gain support and attention. The Bratt Brothers of La Mission have supported us, the team from Pariah has supported us – we are amazed and impressed by how many networks we are bridging beyond what people thought we were capable of. Its nice to see that this project is not limited to being only a Latino or LGBTQ project.
As of this very moment, we have $29,742 out of the $80,000 we are trying to raise. We are $50,258 away with only 7 days to go! It’s actually going pretty well so far, but we definitely need as much help as we can get. Please tell everyone you know to check us out at: Mosquita y Mari!
The money pledged is only taken AFTER we make our goal, so if we don’t get to $80k, we lose it all, and end up shooting the entire thing on an iPhone!
JW: Charlene, you were in Film Independent’s Producers Lab in 2009. Are there any take-aways from that program that have really helped you as you move closer to production on Mosquita y Mari?
Charlene Agabao: Honestly, everything became a take-away. What helped me the most was looking at other projects and talking to other seasoned Producers and understanding their game-plans to get their projects into production. I learned that indie-film financing is often patch-worked together, from grants, from fundraising, from in-kind through vendor deals. It’s a lot of phone-calls, emails, a lot of constantly asking questions, constant rejections, and then eventual leads.
I learned a lot from the Producers who came in and from the functions events provided, but I learned the most from the other Lab Fellows who encouraged me along the way, and continue to offer their advice and support.
JW: This is a crazy question to ask both of you right now, since you’re knee-deep in pre-production and final fundraising, but from where you stand now is there any advice you would give to filmmakers who are setting out to make their first feature?
CA: Know your story. And I don’t just mean the content, themes, and elements, I’m talking about knowing who will be the audience for your story. How does your story fit in to the world right now? What will this story do for you and your audience? How does this story limit you financially, creatively, and logistically? And how flexible are you with coming up with alternatives around those limits?
AG: You can count on a lot of obstacles getting in your way. Some of which will knock you on your ass. But something has got to get you back up and I think that’s passion, faith, and community.
Check in on the progress of the Mosquita y Mari Kickstarter campaign; 37% funded, six days left!
May 19th, 2011 • No Comments