Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana‘s “Cavite,” which debuted at the 2005 Rotterdam Film Festival and then had its North American premiere at SXSW, opened last week in theaters. Today’s indieWIRE Interview kicks off a new weekly series of email interviews with directors of new films opening in theaters. Filmmakers with movies opening theatrically are invited to participate in this weekly interview series. Winner of the Someone to Watch Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards, Gamazon and dela Llana’s low-budget thriller set in The Philippines, is among the first films to participate in the new Truly Indie program from Landmark Theaters.
The film averaged $8,062 in its debut runs in New York and L.A. where it has been held over for an additional week. The low-budget indie that was a hit on the festival circuit and shepherded by indie vet John Pierson and his advanced producing class at the University of Texas at Austin last year as the filmmakers explored a potential distribution deal for the movie.
Gamazon and dela Llana recently responded to indieWIRE’s email questionnaire, their answers to our questions are published below.
Please tell us about yourself…Age. Day job (if you have one) and former jobs. Where you were born. Where you grew up. Where you live.
Neill: I’m pushing 33 years old. I’ve worked at McDonalds, sold merchandise for the likes of The Discovery Channel Store and JCrew, and am currently working for the government doing research. I was born in the Philippines, grew up around the world as a Navy brat, and finally settled down (somewhat) in San Diego where I still reside.
Ian: I’m also pushing 33 years old. I’ve worked at Taco Bell. Was once a taxi driver. Sold vacuum cleaners. My last job was a stock manager at Banana Republic. I’ve quit that job to pursue filmmaking but if I don’t get a film job soon I’ll be back folding clothes by the holidays.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?
Neill: Ian and I began making VHS movies in high school, wannabe gangster movies inspired by “The Godfather” and “Scarface.” I really did it out of a promise to buy my mom a Ferrari when I finally “made it” in the biz. Little did I know I could barely afford a Toyota for myself after four feature films. My other creative outlets are doodling at my day job and rearranging magnets on my fridge.
Ian: I was obsessed with Winona Ryder when I was in high school. And I thought the only way to meet her was to become a director. But after making those gangster movies with Neill I caught the bug. Four feature films and a decade later – “Cavite” was born. (I) still haven’t met Winona Ryder, although I’ve bumped into her at Banana Republic a couple of times. (Not by accident.) I don’t have any other creative outlets. I’m that one dimensional. Filmmaking or nothing.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking? And any other insights you think might be interesting…
Neill: We’re dropouts from SDSU. We shot our first two features using the school’s equipment for free (I hope no SDSU professors are reading this) and never bothered with good grades or a cap and gown. Our education came from four feature films and countless VHS tapes and DVD commentaries.
Ian: I took acting classes to learn more about actors. (I) never thought I’d act in my own movies though.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
NEILL: The initial idea came out of a frustration born from near-bankruptcy and three prior features with minimal attention from the film community. It started with a long distance cell phone call (free nights and weekends) between Ian and myself and the posing of the all-important “what-if” – what would happen if one of us was kidnapped and the kidnapper forced the other to come save his friend.
IAN: We immediately thought it was a great no-budget idea. This was back in 2001. We spent the next three years writing the script. Then “Phone Booth” and “Cellular” came out. I guess you can say that “Cavite” is the indie version.
What are your biggest creative influences?
NEILL: No-budget filmmakers that made careers for themselves. Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky and Neill Labute. Filmmakers that used their creativity to overcome the lack of budget.
IAN: I love Woody Allen. I can never get bored watching his films. “Cavite” wasn’t influenced by his movies but a lot of my other scripts are. I aspire to make a movie a year with a budget of no more than ten million each. Well, maybe I can do a sci-fi film now and then.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?
NEILL: Problems included casting during development (every single actress we auditioned and loved dissed us), dealing with rejection from some big time festivals, and an ugly heat rash during the shoot.
IAN: Not finding that actress really screwed us up big time. We auditioned for over a year. It was very painful to get rejected by actresses that could’ve been right for the part. When Neill suggested I do it I thought he was nuts. But to be honest – I can’t imagine Cavite with a woman’s part anymore. I’m so glad it happened the way it happened.
How did you finance the film?
NEILL: Two cameras, two plane tickets, and two maxed out credit cards.
IAN: Banana Republic and the US Government.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
NEILL: Nowadays, independent film is an attitude more than anything else. The lines of financing and distribution are skewed when the word “independent” is added in the mix.
IAN: “El Mariachi,” “Clerks,” “Go Fish,” “Slacker,” Pi and “In the Company of Men.” I don’t know why but I always picture those movies whenever I hear “independent film.”
What are some of your all-time favorite films, and why? What are some of your recent favorite films?
NEILL: Tough one. But the films we watched during the four year process of the making of “Cavite”: :Chungking Express,” “Rashomon,” “The Limey,” and “Speed.”
IAN: One of my all time favorite is Kieslowski’s “Blue.” I can just pop that in, watch Binoche’s performance and never get bored. Recent favorite film is “Batman Begins.”
What are your interests outside of film?
NEILL: I enjoy collecting all kinds of movie posters, seeing friends and acquaintances succeed, and playing with puppies I don’t own – as long as I don’t have to potty train them.
IAN: Collecting used DVDS. I have to find them at a bargain price. It’s all about the hunt. I know I can find them new anywhere but finding that rare used DVD for a cheap price is heaven for me.
How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
NEILL: Success is defined as making a living making movies I feel passionate about. A personal goal would be to finally buy my mom that Ferrari.
IAN: I have a certain script that I want to direct one day but it’s not very commercial and it’s probably going to cost a lot of money. If I’m able to make this film then I think I’ve succeeded.