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LatinoBuzz: Interview With ‘Love, Concord’ Filmmaker Gus Guardado Jr.

LatinoBuzz: Interview With 'Love, Concord' Filmmaker Gus Guardado Jr.

‘Love, Concord’, had its
World Premiere last summer at the HBO New York International Latino Film
Festival and quickly became one of the most endeared films selected with staff
and audiences alike. A bitter sweet film about surviving your last year of high
school and finding first love and then receiving your first broken heart
courtesy of said first love, the characters in filmmaker Gus Guardado Jr’s
semi-autobiographical ‘Love, Concord’ are multidimensional and never cynical
about what lies ahead in life. It’s about that special time in a teenagers
life, where some will grow together and some will grow apart. Some will move on
and others get left behind. Funny and heartwarming, Guardado has crafted a
genuinely universal story where the characters just happen to be Latino and
shied away from falling into stereotypical pitfalls that plague so many
American-Latino films.  Starring Jorge Diaz
(East Los High) & introducing the delightful Angelina Leon, ‘Love, Concord’
is now out on DVD.

LatinoBuzz: Which filmmakers made you want to do “this”?

Gus: Well obviously John Hughes made me want to make ‘Love, Concord’ as he’s a clear influence in the film. But Robert Rodriguez is also a big reason I wanted to do this. His book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ was a huge motivating force. It doesn’t hurt that
he was the only mainstream Latino filmmaker at the time when I read the book which was the summer of 97! Another major influence is Alexander Payne, his movie ‘Election’ was such a hilarious movie but with a deep and heartfelt message. That’s what I hoped to achieve with ‘Love, Concord’. Tell a silly story with toilet humor moments, but also have a deep message about how difficult finding one’s voice and someone to love in
high school can be.

LatinoBuzz: You worked as a high school
video production teacher, at what point did you decide it was time to make
‘Love, Concord’? And what was that process?

Gus: Well actually I still am a high school video
teacher, but it was when I was fired from being a video teacher at my alma
mater Saint Mary’s College of California and couldn’t find full time work due
to the great recession that I decided it was time to make my own opportunity
and make a feature film. What helped was that I had already written a second
draft of the screenplay by the time I was fired and that I managed to save a
lot of money by living within in my means when I got my first professional job
teaching. So that mixed a lot of grassroots fund raising like hosting a comedy
night, selling almost my entire library of DVDs, and doing an Indiegogo
campaign is what allowed me to raise the modest budget I had. I also called out
every favor I could from friends and family, so that saved us a ton of money
too. Another way we did the film so affordably was we used a lot of my DP,
Producer, and 1st AD’s connections to get crew members who either volunteered
or worked for cheap. These were educated and trained filmmakers who either did
the job for the experience or to help out a friend. I even had a lot of former
students from St. Mary’s as crew or be extras all because they believed in not
only the project, but in wanting to help their teacher reach his dream.

LatinoBuzz: How important was it to have Concord,
CA be a part of the story? And did you get the community to support you?

Gus: It was incredibly important to shoot in
Concord. Mainly because I grew up there and for the story to ring true I
couldn’t imagine shooting it anywhere else. Also, because growing up loving
movies and realizing at an early age I wanted to be a filmmaker, I had always
hoped a movie would someday be made about my home town. But no one ever did
one, so I saw it as a fitting opportunity that my first feature film be made about
and in my home town. Lastly, it was just practical to shoot in Concord and the
surrounding cities because I live in Pittsburg, the neighboring city to
Concord.

LatinoBuzz: The film is affectionately
influenced by the likes of John Hughes, Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling etc –
pick a film to remake and who do you cast? Go.

Gus: Oh this is a tough one for several
reasons. First I’m not a big fan of remakes, I feel that once a great movie is
made, why mess with it? Also having now made a feature film that I had to
painstakingly write from scratch, it’s almost kinda like cheating in a way. But
I suppose if I was for some reason forced to remake an 80’s movie at gun point,
I’d pick ‘Better Off Dead’. I love John Hughes’ work too much to ever want to
attempt to redo it, but ‘Better Off Dead’ is so funny! And I very much empathized with John Cusack’s character as I was pretty
much beat up by girls in high school. Plus I just love the random humor in it,
like the moving diner dish the mom serves, and the hilarious Asian race car
driver who talks like a sports announcer. Brilliant! Who would I cast for it?
Well obviously Jorge Diaz as the star because this role requires a humorous
personality, but one which also needs you to feel pity for which, as we see in
‘Love, Concord’ he did extremely well. I’d love to work with Miguel Angel
Caballero again so perhaps he’d be great for the Cusack’s funny druggie friend
‘Charles De Mar’ as people haven’t exploited Miguel’s amazing comical timing
enough yet. The man just nails it in ‘Love, Concord’ and seeing him play a
quirky stoner would be a great gift to audiences. I’d love to cast Angelina
Leon as she just has to be in all my movies from now on as she’s just too
talented not to be. Oh, and if the sky’s the limit I would obviously cast Salma
Hayek, if only to be able to meet her. She’s a teenage crush so of course I’d
find a role for her, haha.

LatinoBuzz: I love Gerry & Melinda as
characters. They were, at heart two great kids. Do you feel making films
featuring Latino characters is something you inherently want to do?

Gus: I do inherently want to make films with
Latino characters. It’s kind of my dogma now to make movies that don’t have
negatively stereotypical Latino characters, ie: the Cholo, the drug dealer, the
jaintor, the border crosser, etc. I want American audiences to be exposed to
the amazing positive Latino characters that I have actually met and lived with,
etc. Latinos are the largest minority group in this country, and we’re going to
eventually overtake Anglos to be the majority of this country and if we as
Latinos continue to make movies with these pathetic one dimensional Latino
characters we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. We need to show young
audiences, both Latino or otherwise, that Latinos are more than the glorified
losers Hollywood makes us out to be most of the time.

LatinoBuzz: Did you intend
to break a certain mold there is as far as Latino filmmaking?

Gus: I wouldn’t say I’m trying to break a
certain mold as an “overall” Latino filmmaker. Because there are so
many amazingly talented international Latino filmmakers, making envelope
pushing films. But I hesitantly would say that yes, I guess I am trying to
break the American Latino filmmaking mold. Again, I’m just tired of Latino
films or filmmakers choosing to focus on the negative stereotypes for their
stories. I won’t name names because unfortunately you write what you know, and
perhaps some of those filmmakers are making and telling personal stories. But
knowing how hard it is to not only make a film, but get it released to a large
audience, my question at this point in my life is: “Do we really need
another LA gang war movie?”, “Do we really need another Latino drug
dealer with a heart of gold movie?”

LatinoBuzz: Are there any trends in
filmmaking you deplore?

Gus: Well I’d say negative Latino stereotypes
but I don’t want to sound like a broken record. I think one major trend in
filmmaking I deplore right now is the dumbing down of stories. I really think a
combination of lazy writers and Hollywood not respecting audiences’
intelligence that has made for some really lame storytelling in movies. I was
at the movies seeing a drama, and there was this ridiculous plot twist which
was done to squeeze in a plot point for the character, rather than find a
creative and believable way to further the story. And when it happened, I
literally laughed out loud. And I was the only person who did, because it was
meant to be a dramatic moment, but it was so predictable and lazy that I
couldn’t help it.

That and 3D.
Sure popcorn movies like Avatar are fun to watch in 3D, but redoing
neo-classics like the Lion King in 3D is just annoying. 3D does not make those
movies any better. They’re just ways the studios want to cash in on the trend,
and as an Indie filmmakers it’s annoying. But who knows, for the ability to
make more indie films I might sell out and make ‘Love, Concord’ 3D, haha.

LatinoBuzz: Your lead
actors went to St Marys like yourself – was that a coincidence?

Gus: Yes and no. I met Angelina at St. Mary’s
because she was assigned to me as my TA. And when I did a mock audition one day
in class, the person I booked to come audition flaked on me. So I asked
Angelina to fill in as she mentioned having taken theater classes. And she blew
me away! After that audition I was convinced she was my Melinda. As for Jorge,
I actually shot a student film for a St. Mary’s student and he was cast in it.
However, he played a bed stricken catatonic character so I didn’t really have a
lasting memory of him. About three years later my producer Virginia (Saenz
McCarthy) re-introduced me to him because she had met him in her Sundance
Travel course at St. Marys. She was sure he’d be great for the role of Gerry
and she was right. He auditioned first and again blew me away, did a call back
audition with Angelina another with Miguel and then we cast him. So Jorge was
sort of a coincidence, but Angelina definitely wasn’t. What can I say, St.
Mary’s turns out some smart and talented peeps!

LatinoBuzz: Whatever happened to the real
life Melinda?

Gus: Well there’s no real Melinda, however,
the person who most influenced the character of Melinda is a teacher coincidentally enough at the same high school district
that I teach at.We lost touch, but we’re on speaking terms which is better than most high school romances. I suppose. Plus I hear she’s a great teacher, which is not surprising. She always had a knack for explaining things to people even when we were in high school.

LatinoBuzz: What’s the next
project for you?

Gus: Well I’m finally writing another
narrative feature film, now that Love, Concord has distribution I can focus on the next projects. My problem is I have a lot of ideas swimming in my head and it’s hard for me to decide which one I potentially want to spend the next three years of my life devoted to. But the leading contender has another high school setting. The American high school experience is such fertile ground for story telling that I can’t help but want to go back to it. However, to prove I’m not a one trick pony I’m also considering a story about a character’s experience dealing with the Great Recession (you
write what you know). Lastly,my co-producer Jimmy Freeman has a great documentary idea I want to help him produce so we may be starting that this summer! Either way the experience of doing ;Love, Concord’ has taught me that I won’t rest until I make another feature. It’s a lot of hard work, especially for indie filmmakers, but with some luck and persistence, it’s so rewarding.

For info on how
to pick up a copy of ‘Love, Concord’ give them a ‘LIKE’ here.

Written
by
 Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a
weekly feature on
 SydneysBuzz that
highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the
specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow
 @LatinoBuzz on
Twitter and
 Facebook.

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