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Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #33: Carlos Puga's 'Burma' Is, In a Way, 15 Years in the Making

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 6, 2013 at 9:14AM

First time filmmaker Carlos Puga, formerly a documentarian for MTV's "True Life," had known for awhile that he wanted to make narrative films. When his short "Satan Since 2003" experienced success at Sundance, he finally set out to make his first feature, and in doing so landed a great cast including Christopher Abbott ("Girls") and Gaby Hoffman ("Crystal Fairy").
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Carlos Puga
Carlos Puga

First time filmmaker Carlos Puga, formerly a documentarian for MTV's "True Life," had known for awhile that he wanted to make narrative films. When his short "Satan Since 2003" experienced success at Sundance, he finally set out to make his first feature, and in doing so landed a great cast including Christopher Abbott ("Girls") and Gaby Hoffman ("Crystal Fairy").

What it's about: "Burma" is the story of a sibling reunion that is sent reeling with the arrival of an unexpected and unwelcome guest.

Tell Us About Yourself: I was born in Chile and raised in Miami, FL. After high school I moved to New York and attended The Stern School of Business at NYU, where I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. Interesting stuff, but not really the career path I was planning on. During the college years I also studied directing and acting at various studios around the city. In 2003 a friend of mine from high school asked me to help her shoot for an episode of MTV's documentary series, "True Life". I've been producing and directing episodes ever since and in 2009 I won a Daytime Emmy Award for that work. I'm still not quite sure what to do with the statue, it seems a bit ostentatious to just have out on the coffee table, even if placed there ironically. In 2011 my short film "Satan Since 2003" premiered at The Sundance Film Festival and then also screened at SXSW, AFI Fest, Rooftop Films, and a few others. It's a mockumentary about a Richmond, VA moped gang. Those guys are pretty cool. Um, what else... I like to surf, I've never had a cup of coffee, and I eat dessert after pretty much every meal.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? I'd like audiences to know that all of its flaws are completely intentional. Coming into this as a first-timer, I was lucky to be surrounded by incredibly talented people. Our cast was incredible and thankfully took all of the hard stuff out of my hands. Chris Abbott and Gaby Hoffmann deliver performances far more powerful and rich than anything I envisioned when I wrote the script, they really make the movie come alive. And Chris McCann delivers a truly haunting performance that walks the line between likable and creepy in a seemingly effortless manner. As far as directing performances, I take zero credit, our actors were top-notch. Our DP Tom Richmond gave the movie a rich and deep look that became a character in the film. And my producers, Brett Potter, Grant Curatola, and McCabe Walsh, can't say enough about them, even with no money and a clueless director they were able to move heaven and earth to make this movie happen.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? My biggest challenge was just deciding to fucking do it. I had known that I wanted to make a film for 15 years, but could never settle on one script or fully develop one concept. After my short played at Sundance I figured the time was now, so I decided I would write and shoot a feature film within the year. I wrote Burma that summer and started shooting in the fall. And now it's premiering at SXSW. So there. At the end of the summer I had a script I wanted to make, but no clue how to even start the process. My best friend, McCabe Walsh, had just graduated college in NY and moved back to Boston where his parents had set up an interview with a family friend at an auto dealership. McCabe was gonna be selling BMWs by week's end. Even though he knew about as much as I did about making movies, I knew I couldn't do it alone, it was too daunting, I needed someone there to take the plunge with me, even if it was just to be alone in failure. So I texted him and asked if he wanted to help me. His response was "I'll be on the first train in the morning, let's make a fucking movie." For a couple weeks we were literally placing craigslist ads for cast and crew, holding castings in my living room. Until fortuitously we were put in contact with Brett and Grant at Calavera and they came on board. Those guys took the reins and produced a movie from scratch within a couple of months.

What do you have in the works? My current project is quite a departure from the subject matter of "Burma." It's a violent thriller complete with guns and murder that I wrote with my friend McCabe Walsh. Why? Because we feel guns and violence are grossly underrepresented in film.


Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

 Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.



This article is related to: SXSW, Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers, Carlos Puga







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