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Blaxploitation Meets Art-House: “Modus Operandi” Director Frankie Latina

Blaxploitation Meets Art-House: “Modus Operandi” Director Frankie Latina

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival.

“Modus Operandi” (USA, 2009) World Premiere
Director: Frankie Latina
Cast: Randy Russell, Mark Borchardt, Michael Sottile, Danny Trejo, Barry Poltermann, Sarah Price, Xavier Leplae, Ayesha Mohan
“Modus Operandi” is a revenge tale about a desperate CIA agent on a mission to find the man who murdered his wife.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?

I think the main reason I first got into filmmaking was because I thought what other job would a person want to have ? I’m not a Dolly Parton 9 to 5 job guy, filmmaking was something that I always loved and enjoyed. I thought, “People actually get paid to do this?” Ever since then I have strived to be the next great Italian American filmmaker like my heroes Coppola, and Scorsese.

How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?

I grew up watching 70s blaxploitation and art-house films. The idea for Modus Operandi was really just an extension of that. Write what you know, direct what you like. From the first day of shooting I was only making something that I wanted to watch. Too many people get hung up on their audience. Public acceptance is great, but you have to like what you’re doing, otherwise, what’s the point? I like sexy women, CIA agents, spies, and over the top villains and femme fatales from the Bond films like “May Day.” “Yo-Yo Thug,” “Nick Nack,” “Rosie Carver,” and “Thumper.” Every day of shooting was just me hanging out with those people – people I like. What wouldn’t be exciting about that?

How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?

You’re always learning, sure, but you have to always be taking chances, too. The second you’re not taking a chance, you’re coasting. Coasting isn’t interesting to me. If I wanted to coast I’d make industrial videos. You have to be ready to try something new every day. You have to experiment and make stuff up on the fly. Of course there’s planning involved and you have to know what you’re doing from shot to shot – that goes without saying – but if you’ve story-boarded a scene with a guy dressed like Isaac from “The Love Boat,” an oil sheik, and a belly dancer and the belly dancer doesn’t show up, you improvise.

What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?

Everything is a challenge. There’s no part of filmmaking that isn’t a challenge. Just saying, “I want to make a film” is a challenge. When you run out of money you have to wait until you get more money. When you lose an actor you have to wait until you get a new actor. I suppose not letting that stuff bother you is probably the biggest challenge. Once you start fretting everything that can go wrong, you suddenly lose count of how many things went right. Making an artsploitation film for 4 years might not be the best life-decision, but it’s the life I’ve choose.

Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?

We were shooting a scene with Mark Borchardt from “American Movie” on a boat with three girls in bikinis on a quiet lake. One of the girls takes her top off and dives in the water. The
next thing we know a Police boat speeds up from out of nowhere, with two Police Officers wearing binoculars around their necks. They took the girl off the boat, handcuffed her, and took her to jail in her bikini. That will happen from time to time. She hasn’t called me since.

What other genres or stories would you like to explore?

I love Action (“Die Hard”, Adventure “Goonies,” “The Never Ending Story”), Crime (“Resvoir Dogs,” “Goodfellas”), Drama (“Boogie Nights,” “Royal Tenenbaums”), Epics (“Apocalypse Now”), Horror (“Cannibal Holocaust”) and Sci-fi (“Blade Runner”). I would love to indulge in all with my own unique sensibility and style.

What other projects are you looking to do?

I would love to direct commercials, music videos, develop a sitcom similar to the “Cosby Show” but with an Italian American Father and an African American Wife, and shoot my latest opus about a private eye who is desperate for a job but chooses the wrong case to try and crack.

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