I came across Mamitas (Producer Rep: Traction Media) as a short film version back in ’07 and was struck by its charm. At the time there were few and far between coming-of-age stories set in L.A. about a budding romance in teenagers that didn’t involve pregnancies or gang culture, yet Mamitas rang true in every sense. So, when Nick told me he was making the feature length version, I was anxious to read it, to see what journey he would take these two characters, Jordin and Felipa, on. I was pleasantly surprised by the elements he added to surround the core love story. These were teens with real life teen problems. Nick, clearly respected and cared for these characters. I was even more stoked to come home to a DVD copy of the completed film a year later. It was everything it was supposed to be. Jordin and Felipa, this time brought to life by EJ Bonilla and Veronica Diaz, were fully realized. Bonilla and Diaz were the perfect beat for the heart of this film. They each brought a radiant honesty and shone in their roles. I wasn’t surprised this film and Veronica have recieved awards on its way to a theatrical release by Screen Media Films in Los Angeles, opening on Friday, April 27th.
LatinoBuzz:The film that made you say, “This is what I want to do”?
Nicholas Ozeki: This is a simple but tough question because I had so many films that inspired me throughout my youth. I would have to say the first film that really knocked me out was Alien by Ridley Scott. I think what really did it for me was his attention to detail. This firstly manifests itself through the immaculate production design of the spaceship Nostromo. I loved the weathered and dilapidated nature of the ships working areas contrast with the brightly lit and washed out living spaces of the crew. What really speaks to me though is Ridley Scott’s control of our emotions through out the movie. He builds the tension so gradually and precisely that by the time we are in the heart of the second act he has gotten the audience so scared that we are all on the edge of our seats. This is a great film because no matter how many times I watch it, I still find myself fully invested in the characters despite the fact I know what is coming. I think it was this type of mastery of storytelling and the ability of bringing the audience so completely into another world that made me want to become a director.
LatinoBuzz: Spike Lee’s and Martin Scorcese’s New York is rapidly disappearing/disappeared to gentrification were recapturing a time in New York is becoming increasingly difficult. Is that the case with LA for you?
Nicholas Ozeki: I didn’t grow up in L.A. so I can’t really speak of this city as my own, but even living here for the better part of a decade I can see the changes spreading through the eastern part of the city. What I have noticed is that Eastern Los Angeles is similar to New York in that it is the oldest part of the city. It has some of the best architecture, oldest neighborhoods, and most importantly the oldest generations of true Angelinos, dating back to the early 1930s. I was surprised to learn that the silent era of the film industry started in the Los Feliz, Echo Park area where many of these movies were shot. That being said, I think Hollywood is more of a state of mind then a place. There are certainly iconic locations in L.A. but as far as the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood and the studio system, that’s all but faded away.
LatinoBuzz: Some have said the first feature you make is the story you’ve waiting to tell your whole life. Why did this story stay with you from a short film to a feature?
Nicholas Ozeki:I think the first feature of any director is going to hold a special place in their heart. It’s kind of like a first kiss in that its highly anticipated and will be forever ingrained in your memory, but at the end of the day you’re just trying not to slobber all over the other person. For me this film was a wonderful experience but I would not say that it is my ultimate opus as a director. For some, they are lucky enough to be able to tell the story they have always wanted to tell as their first feature. However, I definitely felt extremely passionate about making Mamitas after I had completed the short film version in Graduate school because it was a story that really touched the audience. The film is not based directly from my life but I certainly tried to impart what limited wisdom I have gained in my 31 years into the characters of the film. I hope the audience finds truthfulness in the performances of the actors.
LatinoBuzz:So, what is the power of the short film in 2012?
Nicholas Ozeki: I think the power of the short film is incredibly underrated. I can tell you it is way easier to get someone to watch a 15-minute film then a full-length feature. In those 15 minutes you have the opportunity to express your voice as an artist and hopefully connect with your audience. If you are trying to be a first time feature director then a short film that demonstrates you have a grasp on the themes and concepts of the movie you want to direct is a no-brainer. Whether they are collaborators or potential investors, filmmaking is a visual art form so you obviously need visuals to show them!
LatinoBuzz:What’s the dream?
Nicholas Ozeki:For me the dream is the freedom to make all the crazy ideas I have in my head into movies. I truly love directing and I think it is a privilege to have this as an occupation. Filmmaking is like playing in your imagination and getting paid to do it. How cool is that?! I guess I’ll ride this horse until it bucks me.
LatinoBuzz:You cast Mexican legend Pedro Armendariz Jr. who, God bless him, passed away this past December but had such an illustrious career in film including making appearances in personal faves of mine; Airwolf and The Love Boat. Tell us a story about him.
Nicholas Ozeki:Here is a great story of how beloved Pedro is. We were behind schedule one of the days of our shoot. It was a night scene and we were shooting in the backyard of a house. The biggest issue was that there was a huge party next door to us with a live metal band blasting music. Of course, this was creating havoc with our sound department. Then two local cops show up asking if we had permits to put lights out on the street. Of course, we didn’t so they were preparing to shut us down. Then one of the cops noticed Mr. Armendariz sitting patiently on the set. “Pedro!” He exclaimed. Luckily both cops were Mexican American and they instantly recognized one of Mexico’s most celebrated actors. Pedro very graciously went up to the cops and spoke with them for a few minutes. The next thing we new the officers were smiling and told us not to worry about the permit and then they went over to the house next door and shut the party down for us. I think that was the first time I saw how beloved Pedro was to the Hispanic community. He will be deeply missed. R.I.P.
LatinoBuzz:What traits should envelope the heart of a filmmaker as an artist?
Nicholas Ozeki: Vision –A filmmaker has to have great vision in order to tell a compelling story that is both distinctive and stylistic. I remember playing the movie in my head hundreds of times before it was ever made. You have to see it in your imagination. It has to be real to you.
Commitment –Making a film is like raising a child. You have to be there every step of the way, guide it, provide for it, and finally let it go into the real world and hope you have done a good job. If you don’t absolutely love your film then you will loss interest in it and the movie will suffer. At the end of the day, filmmaking is a sheer act of creative will. You have to be prepared to stick with your art no matter what comes your way.
The Eye of the Tiger –You have to believe in yourself and always strive for the best. Whether that is getting the best actor, the most talented cinematographer, or the best location for your story, you have to have the hunger to want it and be willing to do what it takes to get it. A filmmaker should never be satisfied with their work. There should always be something that they want to improve on.
LatinoBuzz:If you could pluck a character from any book and write a film around them, who is the character and where would you take them?
Nicholas Ozeki: One of my favorite books is The Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz), so I would have to take the main character Oscar De Leon and make a film that deals with his early adolescence. My only fear is living up to Junot Diaz’s incendiary prose. He is really such a brilliant an entertaining author.
LatinoBuzz: You were nominated for an Independent Spirit Awards ‘Someone To Watch Award’. Any pressure to exceed expectations and not become the next Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and fade to black. ‘The End’.
Nicholas Ozeki: It’s interesting because I think awards and accolades are wonderful and validating but really my concentration has been on how the film will be received by the general public. I think this will be the biggest catalyst of expectations. I’m sure that if the film does well I will feel pressure to succeed and improve upon my work. But these are good problems to have.
LatinoBuzz:Mamitas touches on the topic of fatherhood – how has your upbringing affected your choices to pursue film?
Nicholas Ozeki:I came from a strong middle class home and I have parents that have always supported me finding a profession that I love. I can say that their insistence on a good education is what made me the person I am today. That is why I focus a lot on the theme of education in Mamitas. As for the theme of fatherhood, it is certainly not a personal story but I do think it is something that everyone can sympathize and relate with.
LatinoBuzz:Mamitas is a coming of age romance story with a sweetness to it. Do you have an onscreen romance that you are fond of and tell me about your charming actors, Ej Bonilla and Veronica Diaz. They had amazing chemistry.
Nicholas Ozeki:I have to say one of the sweetest onscreen couples is Audrey Heburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. It also happens to be my favorite romantic comedy. EJ Bonillia and Veronica Diaz were wonderful together on screen. I think it was out of a mutual respect for one another’s talent as well as a trust that they formed together very quickly. I also think they really got their characters and did the work they needed to in order to nail their scenes. Both amazing actors with bright futures ahead of them.
For more on Mamitas & screening times, dig Mamitasthemovie.com