Joshua Sanchez, a native of Houston, Tejas graduated from Columbia University’s MFA Film Program with several internationally screened short films under his belt along with the HBO Films Young Producer’s Development Award. His feature debut, Four, based on a play written by Christopher Shinn, participated in the Tribeca All Access program at the Tribeca Film Festival and after a few false starts and delays, Joshua cast Wendell Pierce ('The Wire', 'Treme'), Emory Cohen ('Afterschool', TV's 'Smash'), Aja Naomi King ('Blue Bloods') and EJ Bonilla ('Mamitas', 'Don't Let Me Drown') as his "Four". Once in the can he was able to complete the post production when he became the recipient of the Jerome Foundation’s Film and Video grant. Adding his favorite New York bands to the soundtrack as icing on the cake, Joshua is ready to world premiere the film at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 15th.
LatinoBuzz: FOUR is based on a play by Christopher Shinn – What drew you to adapting it for the screen and how much did race factor in your desire to tell this story? Was there ever an urge to stray from the original story?
Joshua Sanchez: I saw one of Chris' other plays called Where Do We Live at the Vineyard Theatre in New York in 2004, right around the time I finished film school. The play had such a fresh voice that spoke to me, so I sought out Shinn's other work. Of all of his plays up to that time, Four really floored me mostly because it felt like experiences that I had in my adolescence, growing up as a closeted gay Mexican-American kid in a conservative suburb in Houston, Texas. The play also felt very cinematic and contained in that it takes place over one night and sort of roves around the city. It really could be any American city, which is how we shot it, although the play takes place in Hartford. I could see and feel the story so clearly right after I read, which is a good sign if you're thinking about whether a play could make a good movie.
I definitely appreciate the way race was dealt with in the play and it made me want to do the film more, although I probably initially responded more to the gay aspect of it. I'm Mexican-American and grew up in Texas but I don't speak Spanish, regrettably because I think it was sort of frowned upon in my generation of trying to assimilate into being an American. I think that sad aspect of my upbringing helped me deal with the race aspect of FOUR because I think that the story is so unconventional in its dealing with the race of the characters. Race in my life was never a 'normal' thing to deal with and I think the way it plays into the characters lives in FOUR is very complex as well.
This version of FOUR does stray away from the original story to some degree, which I think you'll pick up on if you read the play and see the movie. But I think the initial core of the characters and their arc in the story remains true to what Shinn wrote. We tried to make this as much of a cinematic experience as possible. But this is my interpretation of this story. I'm sure there will be others in the future.
LatinoBuzz: From your '04 short film Kill or Be Killed to your feature film FOUR – you've shown characters who are searching for something to fill an emotional void. What's Joshua Sanchez looking for?
Joshua Sanchez: When I first stared to watch movies seriously as an adolescent, I wanted them to echo back to me what I felt inside.I think a lot of where Kill or Be Killed and FOUR were coming from for me personally was the loneliness and isolation I felt as a kid trying to make sense of the intense dysfunction of my family life and the fact that my sexuality made me very different from what was in any way desirable to the people around me as a child.
A lot of time has passed between the time I directed Kill or Be Killed and now. A lot of that time for me creatively was spent trying to get FOUR off the ground. I've gone through a lot of changes as a person in that period. I would say at this point in my life, I value the people that I'm close to. I have wonderful friends and a wonderful partner that I'm so blessed to have in my life. My main priority in life is to practice trying to love them and to love myself every day and to balance that with trying to make work that is meaningful and fulfilling to me.
I think film can be a really powerful vehicle to share and be witness to the experiences that we go through in our daily lives. Film really helped me when I was a kid and had nobody to turn to. I know they work that way for others and I feel a certain responsibility to myself and to any audience that watches my work to be as honest as possible.
And I still have a lot to learn as well. This is my first feature film, so I'm looking forward to pushing the boundaries of what I've learned and what I'm capable of in this medium.
LatinoBuzz: Is there a songwriter you've admired that had they gone that route would have made amazing filmmakers? (and why?)
Joshua Sanchez:I would like to have seen what Elliott Smith would have done with film. He was such a clever lyricist and inventive musician. I actually taught myself how to play guitar from listening to Either/Or and his self-titled album. 'Needle in the Hay' was the first song I learned. He's a weird player to learn from because his tunings are so off and he used a lot of strange variations and chord progressions that are really not normal, but it really opens up your mind to what is capable on a guitar. I learned the basic chords of guitar with my guitar tuned a step down because that's how a lot of his songs are tuned. I didn't know it for a long time that it wasn't the standard tuning. He had such an evolved sense of imagery and metaphor. When I hear 'Say Yes' I can almost see the movie in my head.
LatinoBuzz: Do Latino filmmakers have a responsibility on the images we convey to the broader audience? Or should we have the freedom as artists?
Joshua Sanchez: I think it's more important to maintain authenticity and honesty than it is to portray a certain PC image of what it means to be Latino. I've always felt somewhat out of place as a Latino since I don't speak Spanish very well and I'm fairly light skinned. I was essentially a shy skateboard, punk rock, lower middle class kid from the suburbs and that is really my perspective and where I come from. I appreciate it when I see work that challenges me to look at the world through different eyes. It's more important that Latinos feel free to express their own individual realities, rather than an accepted version of Latinoness.
LatinoBuzz: Which of the following villians best describes you as a director on set? Rasputin? Dick Dastardly? The Guy from Caligula? or Han from 'Enter The Dragon'?
Joshua Sanchez: Probably Rasputin if I had to pick one. He was a mystic.
LatinoBuzz: You've written short stories too as well as short films – Where do you draw your stories from?
Joshua Sanchez: The stories I write are usually somewhat autobiographical, or contain aspects of my observations and experiences. I started writing short stories in the middle of making FOUR actually, which took almost six years. Partially, I wrote these because I wanted to practice storytelling and keep my mind sharp in this realm. But in general, I love to write them because they are very low pressure to me. It's really fun to keep my mind working as a writer and to be able to practice turning my observations into story. I am inspired a lot by the short stories of John Cheever, who is probably my favorite fiction writer of all time.
LatinoBuzz: Ok — For this interviews sake only — Your life has spiraled out of control, You've hit rock bottom — You are offered a second chance. Butyou have to direct a film based on a childhood game (Board or Video game). Anyone. Michael Bay is producing so you are in GREAT hands. Pick one. And who stars in it?
Joshua Sanchez: Definitely 'The Legend of Zelda'.
Bradford Cox from the band Deerhunter had a great idea that he posted on his blog of making one of their music videos about a lonely boy who is playing the original Nintendo 'Legend of Zelda' and the hero of the video game is echoing the kid's feeling of loneliness, walking aimlessly around these dark landscapes in the game. Then his abusive, drunk father comes in and starts beating him, and it's the beginning of a story about how the kid is escaping into playing the video game and how he transcends his abusive surroundings.
I would want to collaborate with Bradford and Michael Bay about turning this into a feature film version of 'Zelda' starring Justin Bieber. This is a movie I would definitely want to see.
LatinoBuzz: You went to Columbia Film School. There's the endless discussion of Film School versus skipping it and just making a film — Both sides have great arguments. How do you feel about some of these short films with outrageous budgets when some people are trying to make features with the same amount?
Joshua Sanchez: I think it's less about the budgets of these films and more about whether they work as films at all. A few of my film school classmates went really overboard making their shorts that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and trying to be the star of the class or win an award right out of the gate. I think it's wiser to think of making films as a progression through a body of work. Your budget can be small, but if you have a great idea that is well executed, this will always win out in the end. There are also really great short filmmakers that don't transition well into feature films.
For me film school was beneficial in the sense that it got me out of Texas and forced me into a situation where I had to learn how to tell stories and work on the basics of narrative filmmaking. But in retrospect, the most beneficial aspect of the whole film school experience was being in New York City and beginning to take advantage of all the resources that are here. So much of that was outside of film school for me. It wasn't really until I started going out downtown and moved to Brooklyn that things began to change for me. I was meeting other artists and having experiences that made me want to keep working and coming up with ideas.
The downsides are that it left me with a lot of debt and the environment of film school itself can be somewhat unbearable and suffocating. It's competitive and can often times can be a difficult place to find support and inspiration.
When I started film school it was in the late 90's. The equipment was terrible and there was a very old model of distribution and exhibition in place for up-and-coming filmmakers. Now, anyone can by a 5D and Final Cut and make something that looks fantastic.
I don't think film school is right for everyone and would encourage filmmakers that are interested in doing it to weigh their options very carefully. At the end of the day what you buy is a sort of entrance into the film world, but if you don't have an interesting perspective to back it up, you can get lost in the shuffle.
LatinoBuzz: Any particular films or filmmakers that inspired the aesthetic of your vision for 'FOUR'?
Joshua Sanchez: The two films I kept coming back to with FOUR were John Cassavetes' FACES and Larry Clark's KIDS. They are both films that take place over a day or a night and both have a sort of intimacy in style that I found fit well with the story and characters of FOUR. I wanted the film to have the sort of Americana feel of say AMERICAN GRAFFITI, mixed with the emotional rawness of KIDS or FACES. I also watched a lot of TWO LANE BLACKTOP and the film OVER THE EDGE, which is about a teen rebellion in a small American suburban town.
LatinoBuzz: Anything as a filmmaker so far you wish you had done differently?
Joshua Sanchez:I think there are always things that you wished you'd done differently, but there is really nothing I regret in terms of my career as a filmmaker. It's a long road for anyone that wants to do this and it certainly has been for me as well. But I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I was only interested in doing the films that I feel passionate about partially because it's so much work and sacrifice. You really have to believe in what you are doing to make it worth your time. I'm proud of the body of work I've produced and hope I can continue to do it!
Joshua's website is http://www.joshuasanchez.net
his twitter world is: www.twitter.com/joshuasanchez76
and his Facebook face is: www.Facebook.com/joshuasanchez76.
And Click HERE for the latest on FOUR
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights emerging and established Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in the Latino film world with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzzon twitter.