Graceland comes to the Tribeca Film Festival delivering heart crushing world truths in a wonderfully straightforward story stocked with a surprise or two. Writer/Director Ron Morales and star Arnold Reyes were kind enough to take some time to talk with The ‘Stache about making the film and what Graceland means to them. If you still have not seen the film, you have one more chance this Saturday, April 28th, 2012 at 12:45PM. Click the date for more details.
I know Graceland was not the film you first set out to make at the time. Would you like to expand on how Graceland came to be?
RM: Originally I was researching a screenplay about Shamanism in the Philippines and that character kind of dived into the underworld of prostitution. I was pretty much done with that one. We were done with the script, trying to raise money for it when we lost funding. Graceland was something I had already thought about. So what ended up happening was, I said, “Let’s go look back at Graceland,” I had a couple of ideas from the research that I did for the character of the Shaman film. I said to Arnold, “Let me just get you a script, see what you can do with it.” He got the script and instantly was, “Yeah, I don’t know if I could get the money for this one, either. It’s such a dark subject matter, but let me try.” It wasn’t until Sam Rider and Rebecca Lundgren came along, they said “Listen, this is a great script you have here, we gotta do it. Whatever happens, we have to do it. We’ll start fundraising; we’ll find some investors, whichever way we can.”
So Arnold, you were involved since day one. Knowing before hand what the plot was about, did the revised script change how you approached creating the character?
AR: When I read the script it was such a big challenge for me, to be Marlon. It’s kind of personal to me. I thought of Graceland–of this movie as finding peace. There’s a Graceland in each and every one of us and we’re all trying to get there. I just wanted to be in the journey of finding that Graceland. The script was fantastic, a great thriller. I haven’t read a script that beautiful in a long time. Even if I was nervous accepting the part, I knew I had to do it.
Talking about everyone looking to find their Graceland, it’s true that there are three main characters here, all doing bad things for their own well being.
RM: That’s what I loved about the characters—how corrupt can they possible be? In Marlon’s situation, to him—he’s a driver, part of the lower class, he has to do what he can.
AR: He has to survive. He needs to get a kidney for his wife. He has to make sure she gets better, for him and for his child.
Certainly, there are parts of this film that will make people uncomfortable, almost make themselves question if they should look away or not. That of course is the point though; things happen this bad all the time and we can’t keep looking away. Are you afraid people will still choose to not think about any of it?
RM: I don’t think so. I think at first they will and then afterwards, after seeing the film in its entirety people will be forced to look at their own demons. People will realize that this could be them. Not to the extent of the events of the film, but in their own world.
Did you find in researching for the movie that the problems you focused on were even worse than you thought, or knew?
RM: During the research, interviewing sex workers–it’s a brutal truth when you’re sitting with them and hearing their stories. Originally what I had in the script, it wasn’t sex workers it was organ traffickers. Cases where they would steal organs from street kids and stuff money in the bodies for the organs they had taken. After hearing their stories, I knew it had to play a roll in the film. Visually it’s more powerful and that’s where the heart of the movie exists. One of those scenes you are talking about before, it’s just heartbreaking and crushing.
AR: Their stories are really heartbreaking. Most of the sex workers I got to talk with in the Philippines, they do that job because they have no choice. They have to help their family and they need to help send their siblings to school, to get money to their family; their fathers won’t move to help anyone.
What I love about the movie is that it’s really straightforward in telling the story, yet it was the first time in awhile I had an actual, “AH-HAH!” moment during a reveal. Are those kinds of interjections made at the beginning of the writing process or is it something that comes out of the film growing?
RM: If you watch Santa Mesa (Ron’s first film), it has that same reveal and cutting style. Subconsciously I always tend to write that way, I guess. It’s interesting to think about it.
AR: Ron always has a lot of surprises. During the filming, we would do a lot of impromptu scenes because he would think about what we did and say, “Oh wait, I have an idea; can we do this before we go?” In fact, when watching the movie, I saw this one take that came out of that, and it was very powerful.
RM: This film in particular had to be that organic. What the DP and I did was—we were shot listing and day one, halfway through the day, we threw out the shot list. We needed to shoot organically, we had watched certain films like: Hunger and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, and thought, we had to shoot organically as much as possible. What worked is–and what helped was working with great actors, these guys are amazing.
Since the film was always growing, where there different outcomes?
RM: Yes, there was. The original outcome compared to the one that is in there now, is actually two scenes before the actual ending, in the original script. The original ending just had a different focus on what Marlon is really guilty about. One was more about the death of another character, and this one is more about what he put his daughter through and what he made her do, for him.
I’ve see a lot of independent films that have used things like Kick-starter for funding. I know you used it for funding the films post production. How was your experience with the service?
RM: Without Kick-starter, this film wouldn’t have happened. We wouldn’t have been able to bring it to the level it is at now. Not only getting the word out there, but overall—yeah I would do it again. By nature I’m a pretty humble guy and I don’t want to really ask people for help. But Rebecca told me to suck it up, you have to ask.
Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Before you go, can you tell me what you have coming up?
RM: I’m working on a border crossing script that will take place here in the states. It’s still in development so there isn’t much to expand on now.
AR: And I just shot a film for the Cinemalaya film festival in the Phillipiens called Diablo directed by Mes de Guzman. And when I go back, I will start another film for the Cinemalaya festival.