The gritty and gripping drama of Josh Crook’s “La Soga” explores political intrigue, love, death and the power of memory, set in the Dominican Republic. We gave Crook and others a free-form style interview to gather their thoughts on their careers individual projects. “La Soga” opens in selected cities today.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is article previously ran as part of a series of interviews from the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.
I edited my first short by copying a key and breaking into the New York Film Academy at 2 in the morning. Then I drove to Canada and snuck into McGill University in Montreal and pieced together the shots of my second short with scissors and scotch tape.
I’m a private person and I am really close to my family and a few friends — my wife and I live in the same building in Queens where my brother and his family live, along with my wife’s brothers, and the production designer and editor that I work with on all my films. Except for taking the dog out, there have been many days during “La Soga”‘s post production when I didn’t leave my building.
Your Filmmaking Career and Process…
Basically I learned how to make movies by making a lot of movies. My brother and I made three feature films together with no money and no skills before we figured out how to do this. The truth is that after I
graduated from college, I decided I wanted to make movies, and so I just started doing it. I was really broke, but I learned a lot. And luckily digital video and inexpensive editing systems became available during that process, which opened up a lot of opportunities to do more projects. Between shorts and features, some distributed and some not, I’ve made an average of about 1-1/2 films a year since 1997.
While working as an actor in 2006, on a film that Jeff and I were directing, Manny, Jeff, and I were discussing our favorite films, and we all agreed that “City of God” was a favorite. That’s when Manny said, you should read a script I wrote called La Soga. Manny began the pitch by saying, “a ten year old boy kills this huge 150 pound pig.” We home and read the script. The next day we all committed to getting
the money to shoot the film.
We had shopped the script around for two years and had gotten a few offers. We turned down two of them—both for much more money than what we shot it for—because both offers required that we shoot in English
and outside the Dominican Republic, a place well known to be difficult to shoot in, if not downright dangerous. None of us had any money and neither did our families. We wondered how not one of our group was one of those “rich kids” this industry seems to attract. Somehow this amazing script had assembled a group of broke artists from Brooklyn and Washington Heights. How were we ever going to find a money guy passionate (crazy) enough to support a project like this.
Patrick Pope was a friend of ours who had worked with us on some grueling independent movies. A few years ago, he was working in Japan and had been run over by a drunk driver. A friend of his was killed in the accident. Patrick was in a coma for months, and the near-death experience and subsequent appreciation of life he gained had made him dedicated to following his dream of being a filmmaker. He told us that he had gotten a settlement and if they could make the movie for approximately that amount, he would throw in. We agreed. Now we were on mission, and even a budget that would make most producers laugh and walk away didn’t dissuade us. Right around this time, Jeff had discovered that his wife, Eva, was pregnant with their first child and so Jeff decided to step out of the project as a director, which broke everyone’s heart. There’s no Crook Brothers with just one. I made the hard decision that I would direct the film on my own. Patrick was almost shot with an M16, trying to stop a parade that was marching through our shot. One of our primary locations was the weekly site of machete fights between local youths. We got around in the backs of pickup trucks on mountain roads. Several of our crew members got food poisoning. Our motto when we wrapped each day was, “We didn’t die!!!!!”
In spite of the unsafe conditions, the spiders, the bad roads, the blackouts, and the general lack of amenities we were used to in New York, we were received with amazing hospitality by nearly everyone we met. The people of Baitoa made this film possible. Everyday people showed up on set to help out and Manny and I are forever in their debt.
In terms of my development as a person, I have to say that my parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams. I know that sounds cliché, but in spite of the fact that I got kicked out of nearly every school
I attended as a kid, which was pretty hard to do in Brooklyn in the 1980s, they always believed in me, and have encouraged me no matter how hair-brained or crazy my plans seemed to be. Also, my wife, Lori,
and I have been married since I was 21, and she has stood by me every step of the way.
My brother, Jeff, with whom I learned the ropes of film making, has been an unbelievably amazing partner to me. He is a great director in his own right, as well as a writer and producer, and my best friend. I could not have made La Soga if I hadn’t spent the previous 11 years grinding it out making movies with Jeff.
I really look up to artistic rebels. The beats, punks, graffiti writers, and everyone who has expressed themselves in spite of the price they had to pay.
My future plans are to keep going…..