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indieWIRE’s “Bigger” Project of the Day: X-Man Shawn Ashmore is Tom Gustafson’s “Mariachi Gringo”

indieWIRE's "Bigger" Project of the Day: X-Man Shawn Ashmore is Tom Gustafson's "Mariachi Gringo"

Here’s your daily dose of an indie film in progress; every Friday, we’ll be spotlighting a bigger project, usually from an established filmmaker or affiliated with a bigger production company.

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“Mariachi Gringo”

Director: Tom Gustafson
Writer: Cory James Krueckeberg
Executive Producers: Gill Holland, Ambrose Roche, Isabella Smejda
Producers: Rafael Cuervo, Alejandra Cárdenas, Tom Gustafson, Cory James Krueckeberg, Ramiro Ruiz
Cinematographer: Kira Kelly
Music: Tim Sandusky
Editor: Cory James Krueckeberg, Jennifer Lee
Cast: Shawn Ashmore (“X-Men”), Lila Downs (“Frida”), Martha Higareda (“Street Kings”), Adriana Barraza (“Babel”), Deanna Dunagan (Broadway’s “August: Osage County”), Tom Wopat (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), Kate Burton (“127 Hours”)

“Mariachi Gringo” tells the story of a white guy (Shawn Ashmore) in the U.S. heartland, feeling stuck in a rut. He is inspired by a Mexican man in town to run off South of the border and become a mariachi singer. Mexican star Martha Higareda stars as a young woman he meets when he arrives. Recording artist Lila Downs stars as his musical mentor in Mexico. According to the film’s director, Tom Gustafson, “The film asks the questions about following dreams, and about the nature of dreams. Mariachi movies were a big genre in the 40’s/50’s. This film is a throwback to the old mariachi genre.”

Explaining how he came to the project, Gustafson told iW, “Cory James Krueckeberg and I had been working together on another project (‘Were the World Mine’), and Cory had been playing this idea of mariachi for awhile. I was doing casting for “Master and Commander,” and was introduced to the ‘real’ Mexico. Cory used that experience as inspiration for this story.” The team got approved in 2009 for financing from the Mexican government and hit the ground running soon after, finishing the script and casting.

The team shot primarily in Mexico, for five out of the six production weeks. They shot other scenes in the cornfields of Illinois. Post-production was housed in Mexico, with the editor working out of New York.

Gustafson is attracted to musicals; he is the director of the gay “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-inspired “Were the World Mine. This film is not a musical per se, but it does have a number of musical numbers. Gustafson explained, “We used both pre-recorded music that we produced with music supervisor Annette Fradera and some songs we recorded totally live. Some songs we recorded totally live. Shawn studied with a mariachi instructor for 6 months in LA, singing the songs that he sings in the movie, some of which he sang live on set.”

He continued, “Most of the songs in the film are old mariachi songs that have been around forever…thousands of mariachi songs. We put together the list of the great songs we wanted to have in this film. We met with mariachi experts on what songs should be included. We have a great mishmash of songs. We shot a lot of the performance stuff in Guadalajara and found a lot of mariachi bands there that performed for us and were in the film.”

When asked about whether his film would deal with border politics, Gustafson told iW, “A lot of films set in Mexico are about drugs, border politics. This film is really a celebration of music, culture, food, which I think is a unique perspective. It’s also a reverse immigration story, which doesn’t often get told.”

The team has locked picture and are going into sound design and sound mixing. Gustafson is working with his team to finish the film in the midst of his casting gigs.

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