EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the World Narrative Competition at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, Alfonso Pineda-Ulloa's "Love, Pain & Vice Versa" follows Chelo, a woman whose dreams are visited by a mysterious man. The dreams develop into an obsession, as Chelo is certain the man in the dreams is the man of her dreams. Pineda-Ulloa, currently an MFA student at UCLA, is making his directorial debut with "Love," and talked to indieWIRE about the experience, and his hopes for Tribeca.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF programmer Genna Terranova writes, "this hypnotic thriller, one of a new genre of commercially savvy Mexican productions, takes the audience on a dark journey through a psychological hall of mirrors... [It] probes the shadowy recesses of love and obsession while exploring with unflinching intensity the fateful link between two strangers."
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
When I was 13 or 14 years old a friend of mine invited me to spend the summer in Acapulco while his father and grandfather shot a film. I used to hang around the crew asking questions and basically just watching everything and everyone. One day the cameraman told me look through the eyepiece. I will never forget what I felt when I saw the actors through that camera. Until now I can't explain it, everything looked and felt so different. I believe that was the moment I fell in love with filmmaking. My friend's grandfather, the great Mexican filmmaker Gilberto Martinez Solares later told me making films wasn't about looking through the camera but about telling compelling and interesting stories. After that I would watch at least eight films a week. I also spent my high school years reading and directing plays, while attending a photography school in the evenings. In college I studied business and literature. Like many parents who have no connection to the film industry, mine thought I was crazy for wanting to be a filmmaker. So I graduated and worked for my father's company for a few years while I continued directing plays and taking pictures on the side. One day I decided to drop everything and come to LA to learn the "craft". Since then, life has been a beautiful ride, hard and difficult, but mostly beautiful
What was the inspiration for this film?
I had a different project in mind for my first film. Everyone in the Mexican film industry loved the project. I remember them saying the script was phenomenal, brilliant, a true page-turner but it was "too big", "too expensive" and "too ambitious" for a first-time director. So I decided to find a "smaller", "less ambitious" and "cheaper" project. I needed a story with fewer characters and locations, with no special effects or anything that would blow up the budget. I remembered a short story that was perfect. A friend had shown it to me a few months ago, so I called him and a year later I had a script ready to go. On a side note, I translated the original project I wanted to shoot in Mexico into English and if all the planets align, I will be shooting it at the end of this summer. It's still a phenomenal, brilliant, true page-turner, too big, expensive and ambitious project, but I guess I'm not a first time director anymore so we will see...
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film...
I fought really hard for a good cast. I believe directing is 90% casting, as they say. I focus a lot on actors because of my theater background. Working with actors is one of the things I truly love about filmmaking. And I love to rehearse. During preproduction I pushed hard for a several weeks of rehearsals. I wanted an elegant and captivating film, shot in 35 mm. "Love, Pain and Vice Versa" is a psychological thriller that takes place in a world of loneliness, where reality and fantasy collide on a constant basis, as a result of an extreme solitude. I best describe the story as a perversion of a fairy tale. So I worked intensively with the creative heads of every department to make sure the element of fantasy was present in the photography, in every location, in the score, in all the performances and in every single creative decision.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Fortunately the response to the project was positive from the very beginning. Getting it set up at a production company and finding the money was not the biggest challenge as is usually the case. We ended up shooting the first draft of the script, which rarely happens. The biggest challenge happened during the editing process. Love, Pain and Vice Versa is a nonlinear story and sometimes nonlinear material is a bit difficult to pull off. We wanted to make the story clear enough, but not so clear as to spoon-feed the audience. It meant a lot of long nights in the editing room, and a lot of intense discussions, but in the end I believe we did it brilliantly. Also, getting the print ready for Tribeca wasn't easy. We raced to get the sound mix, color correction, synching and subtitling done in time. Actually, I'm flying in to NY with the print the day before the premiere!
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
I am dying to see the film on the big screen, with the dolby digital mix and the color correction together for the first time. More than anything, I am very excited to see it with an audience. Hopefully it is well received. I hope it thrills people and they come out of the film talking about it... good or bad, as long it creates conversation. I would like very much to network and meet other filmmakers, financiers and film industry people with whom I can collaborate in the future. I am also looking forward to mentoring a young aspiring filmmaker at Tribeca's Film Fellows mentoring program to give back to the next generation of filmmakers much like my mentor Rodrigo Garcia gave to me when I was a student in LA.