Rodrigo García Interview

Posted on Posted in Dialogue, Flim, & Script Writing, Interviews, What's going on

I interviewed Rodrigo Garcia, via phone, about writing, directing and making movies.

His series, Blue, Season 3, will be out March 28th on the YouTube channel, Wigs.

 CHRISTINE

I’m really interested in your process as a writer. When you have an idea that comes to you, are you thinking in a particular language, since you’re Spanish speaking as a native?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

No, I’m thinking in terms of a character, and whatever his or her want is. What is her problem, her circumstance? What does she want, what does she want to overcome, and under what kind of duress. It’s not language based because my thinking is usually for film, so the setting of the story might come a little later.

My thought process is not in any language.

I just see a problem. I don’t know if thinking in an abstract way is a language.

I think they say if you learn more than one language, your thought process is richer and diverse, but I think that means you thought circuits and process is generally stretched.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where thoughts ends and language begins.

CHRISTINE

How do your ideas germinate?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

It can vary. It can be, for example, a woman I know is looking for someone to give her some sperm, so she can have a baby. There was an initial candidate that offered to do it, but he wasn’t that close to her, and then recently she’s come to realize she’d rather ask a friend who is closer, and what is that going to entail. So I asked her, how would you put it to them – asking one and turning down the other?

Just to give you an example…so I start thinking about the ramifications of that situation and the problem is there already. She’s a person that has a want. She wants to get pregnant, to get pregnant she has to get sperm from a donor, there are an infinite number of donors in the world, and at the same time there are none, because who knows who. When you’re in love, you have the baby with the person you are in love with – no questions asked, mostly – whereas if you’re looking for sperm, you have to bring more thinking into it…you see, a five minute conversation already gave me an idea for something that can be a movie.

So that is real life. Other things are inspired by other books and movies. I try to constantly put myself in situations and in the heads of other people. What’s it like being him? What’s it like being her? What is she going through? What is the stuff that’s impacting her life right now? What’s it like to be 33 and broke? What’s it like to be 45 and rich? What’s it like to never have children? What’s it like to lose a child? You know, all of that stuff. You have to put yourself in the mental exercising.

CHRISTINE

How much mental exercising do you do before you actually start the writing process?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

Well, I don’t start the writing process until…

Let’s say it’s a couple and they want to have a baby, and they need to find a surrogate, a surrogate they like, but it also has to be someone who approves them. That’s not a story. That’s a situation; that’s just a set-up; then you have to work out the story.

The story may include them doing the dance between two or three potential surrogates, and while they’re doing surrogates, it turns out there is a girl who is already pregnant who might give up her baby. Then they might forget about the surrogates and adopt this baby. But according to California law, the new lady has two weeks after birth to decide if she indeed wants to keep the baby, so now it’s beyond the original problem, now it’s unfolding as a story. How the process effects the relationship, their expectations, is one of them more interested in having the baby, is one of them more in love than the other, who is doing it for what reasons.

So until I unfold the story, and have a good sense of what the basic journey is and how it ends, then I’ll start writing. I’m not going to write a scene without knowing where it’s going.

Very often I write the first third and the last scene, so it’s sitting there like a target.

CHRISTINE

So how long is that process from when you have the first original idea from when you’re actually writing?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

It varies from script to script. Some have taken me two months; some have taken me ten years.

There’s a pattern now that’s fairly established. I have an original idea, and then the ideas that surround it come to me quickly over days or weeks. I think about them, I write them all down. These are just ideas of what it can be and then I start thinking about what the story is, like I said, what are the major milestones of the story and what is the final scene. Then I have an idea about all this, and when I have all this, I start writing and invariably, I would write roughly what is the first act, 35, 40, maybe 50 pages, and then I get stuck. Then I have to walk away from it for six months, a year, a year and a half, that’s just my process. That’s why I don’t write for hire very much because obviously they don’t pay you to do that, but that has been my process over and over again.

Think about it a lot, take extensive notes, when it is clear in my head, I might do, not a full fleshed outline, but an outline that tells me what the seven main milestones of the story are. Then I start writing, then I collapse. Then I have to walk away from it. That walk away could be a year, two years, three years.

CHRISTINE

At what point do you have your ending?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I can’t start writing until I have my ending, until I know what the scene is. I will start writing, I will write 30 pages and at some point, I will write the ending, or I will write backwards. I will write the last scene, the second to the last scene. Sometimes I’ve written this far, and the other half this far and fill in the gaps until the train tracks meet. It’s good to know where you’re going.

CHRISTINE

Do you only write scripts? Is that the only type of writing you do?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

Pretty much. I’ve written an article about a movie I did, or I was asked. The New York Times asks filmmakers to write about a holiday movie they like. I’ve written stuff around movie stuff. I write what is asked of me, when movies are released. Sometimes just for fun I write haikus. I don’t write anything else, no.

CHRISTINE

Who would you say are your biggest influences?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I would say the biggest influences are my parents, my daughters, my brother, and my wife. Meaning, I’m primarily interested in stories that are interpersonal, about relationships, and about the relationships with family members that you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them, it’s just what it is, so I would say my biggest influences are those relationships, with my daughters, with my brother, with my parents, and with my wife.

You know in the art world, I’m a fan of John Huston, Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andre’ Wajda, the Taviani brothers, Michael Haneke is more recent, so he wasn’t an influence when I was being formed as a filmmaker, but he’s definitely someone that makes me think of what a movie can be, should be, and could be. The short story writers are a big influence, like Chekov, Joyce, Carver, Malamud, Hemingway, and Borges.

CHRISTINE

Why does the short story have such a big influence for you?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

First, I’m a minimalist. I like the minimalist story. I like something that doesn’t need to blow up a bridge and invade Poland. It’s just a couple of people and their conflict. Short stories work in that micro very well. They’re often about things unsaid. Sometimes you finish a short story and the central event to the short story was just sorta touched lightly. It’s never addressed, or it’s in the past or it’s in the future or we missed it, or a character forgot it. It’s always slippery with short stories. You come away from the best short stories feeling you have a full grasp of something, but then it slips through your fingers like sand. I love that.

CHRISTINE

Who is your influence for cinematography?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I would say there were two schools. They weren’t opposed, but they were guys that were very naturalistic, like Sven Nykvist, who did all of Bergman’s movies who was very minimalistic, tried not to show the light. At the other end of the spectrum, there was Vittorio Storaro, who did Bertolucci’s movies and Coppola’s and others. He was very much a colorist and had vibrant images. He could do movies that were of course realistic, but spectacular and also did movies more on purpose, more of design, like Dick Tracy. I like a lot of those guys. I have more of weakness for the minimalist, those who use the very naturalistic light.

CHRISTINE

How do you make your actor at ease when you’re first approaching the shoot?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I try to write the script in a way where there’s not too much description. Essentially, because it is stripped of the description, you just reap the essential of what he says, what she says, what they do. I think people get a better sense of what the essence of the scene is. Sometimes I’ll come in when people say I don’t understand any of this, but mostly I try to write in a way that is very explanatory to the actors. The more you have to say to the actors, the more in the actors’ head you’re in, and the worse it is.

If I could I wouldn’t direct at all. I try to direct the actors as light as I can. I come in, we do a little read through, then we rehearse on the set, and then I see things that are going well, others that are not, so I try to steer things in the direction where they’re going well. I think you have to come out of the work organically. I don’t manipulate actors, I talk to them directly, bluntly, I tell them what I think works and what doesn’t. I do try to give them the impression that I’m really paying attention. If they’re going to try things, do subtle things, or do boarder things, or do things that make them nervous, because there is a great deal of emotional undressing when you’re acting, that I’m really paying attention. I think paying attention is half of it. You’d be surprised how many actors are on a set and feel like no one is really watching their work. They’re worried about the crane, no one is really there. I think my connection with the actors comes from the fact that I really like what they do. It really impresses me. I’m a junkie for it. A good performance is half the movie for me. I try to pay attention and I think actors respond to that.

CHRISTINE

The work you’re doing on Wigs, I think you’re hitting a woman’s market. It’s a different viewing experience. How do you see the future of this type of web channels changing how people view? Do you see more short episodes?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I think the way people are viewing is changing. It’s been changing before a channel like Wigs came. I watched seasons of Dexter in a weekend, three, four years ago. I think people are just like that. They want it. They want all of it. They want it now, and, if possible, for free. I think along those lines, that’s what people want, especially when we do are short episodes, which I think is a fun format. It’s not that different from TV, in a regular network show or in a free cable show, you have acts. For an hour episode, you have 43 minutes. With commercial breaks, you break six times, so you’re breaking an average of seven, eight, nine minutes, which is what we do. We break every seven, eight minutes just like a TV show. You’re watching it alone, watching at home, usually on a smaller screen that’s very close to you, possibly with headphones. It makes for a very particular, private experience.

CHRISTINE

So, it’s a more personal experience.

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I think so. They’re bite size and it connects you in a different way. We try to do our episodes, so although they’re short, there is a beginning, middle and end, some turns, reveals and a cliffhanger. There are all the elements of a longer movie, so you’re treating the audience to thrill them, tease them, and you have to suspend them, so when the episode works, the audience feels catered to.

CHRISTINE

How much research do you do for your story ideas?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

Not much because they [the stories] haven’t required it. On Blue, where Julia Stiles plays a call girl, I have never talked to a call girl in my life, but you know I read up on some stuff and saw some interviews on the internet, but then when the time came, Julia did speak to some hookers, to some call girls and we fleshed out some from a staging, directing point of view based on what she had found out. But I’m  someone who can get very bogged down with research and then not write the thing, so unless research is required to move forward, I try to write from my imagination as much as I can and then I go back and revise and fill in holes once I’m doing research. But I don’t want to spend three months on research without writing a page.

CHRISTINE

Blue is going to have a season 3?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I’m writing it right now. 30 episodes. 30.

I need that discovery to find out what it is. It’s hard to farm out episodes when I’m writing it and it’s in the writing that I discover who these people are, how they talk and where I should take them.

CHRISTINE

At any one time how many different projects do you have going on?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

It depends on what you mean by going on. I’m sure right now I have a good 12-15, but there will be no business on eight of them this week. But you try to keep many, as my friend Howard Rodman says, irons in the freezer.

CHRISTINE

You mostly write about women, but you said you were working on a project about men when you spoke at Kelly Writers House in 2013. Can you tell me more about that project?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

It’s about three men who are in the desert. It’s really one man traveling in the desert and who comes across a family. A father, son and a mother, but the mother is mostly sick and is quiet in that sense. The visitor gets caught in the family trouble that these people are going through. It’s very simple, inspired by stuff like classical Greek theatre, García Lorca, the conflicts are tough, but it’s a very simple set of circumstances.

CHRISTINE

How did you take that shift from writing about women, into writing about men?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I didn’t write about men very much because they all seemed sorta glorified, heroic versions of myself or villainous versions of myself. But I’ve gotten better at differentiating them from each other and the women, so I feel okay now. I think soon I could be doing car chases and shit like that.

CHRISTINE

Do you want to be doing that?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I couldn’t be more bored.

CHRISTINE

How do you feel impacted by the commercialism of movies?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

As far as the studios are concerned, it’s a business. They are in the business of making money, so we say to them, why won’t you make some artsy movie? Why not make Winter’s Bone? Because they want a movie that cost a hundred million, but makes 500 million; they don’t want to make a movie that cost two and makes six. Of course that’s a huge success for its filmmakers, but for the studios, it’s not worth it. It is what it is. What Alton used to say about the studios, they make gloves, I make shoes.

I’m not in Hollywood, no studio wants to give me their movie. I’m not here. I may look like I am here, but I’m not here.

CHRISTINE

It took you 10 years to write Mother and Child that initially had two story lines. At what point did you realize you needed a third story line?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

In the beginning I didn’t even know I needed a third. I thought the two were going to be enough, but then I thought it got boring bouncing back and forth between them. In the first couple of years of writing that movie, I realized I needed the third story line. What was difficult in that project was braiding that structure; braiding the stories so that all three kept moving. Any book or movie where you have multiple stories, you always have to be careful with that possibility that one of them will be boring. You have to work hard, so that whenever you’re in any one of them, they’re compelling.

CHRISTINE

How did you go about braiding that? What made you decide at what point to break, and go to the other story?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

You know, that’s what took me the seven to eight years. Every scene in Mother and Child is written once. I didn’t rewrite any of the scenes. What drove me nuts forever was the structure. It was what happens and when does it happen?

They are the difficult things to know. The order of scenes. When is a scene too long? Too short? I do have a rule of thumb, I think, I do want to know what the time line of the story is; does the story happen in a year, 10 years?

The Mother and Child movie happened in 35 years. From the moment Elizabeth is born to the moment when Karen met her granddaughter is 35 years. In Nine Lives, is 12 minutes. I try to keep my scenes as shortest as I can. If I write dialogue and I’m going on for a page and a half, I go, okay what is going on here? There are scenes in Mother and Child that are three, four pages, but most of the scenes are less than a page. Forcing yourself to do the short scene, forces yourself to say what is really essential here. Is this scene needed, is this section needed? Usually if you’re asking it, the answer is no.

CHRISTINE

How did you learn that?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

When I started writing, I was very finicky about it. I would look at my dialogue for example, and I say, okay, is this line necessary? Is this too long? What is the least I need to make the point, the dramatic point? What he’s going through, what’s he lying about, what she’s trying to get from the scene? If it can be done in three sentences of dialogue instead of seven, then it must be done with three.

CHRISTINE

Is there anything you’d like to promote at this time?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I would like to promote anything whether it’s a series, or a movie, anything that tells me seriously and truthfully about people’s life and how we live and the human condition. What it’s like to live, to be us, mortal and everything. It can be a comedy, it can be a sci-fi movie, something that is honest and really goes where it hurts and can make you look in the mirror.

CHRISTINE

You hit upon that in your work. It’s impressive.

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I’m interested in those ties that bind you to other people. The lies you tell to each other. The things you have to do to get along with someone else.

CHRISTINE

Would you ever think of doing someone else’s work?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

Yes, if I connect to it. I did do a movie for hire, called Passengers with Anne Hathaway. I was never happy with that movie. The script needed more. It was a good idea, but it needed the kind of work that I’m not good at, so I failed. Right now there are a couple things I’m attached to, that I didn’t write, that are mostly adaptations from books, so we’ll see.

CHRISTINE

How do you foresee your future, 10 years from now?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

It’s hard to say. I hope I can still make independent movies. They get harder and harder to make. A big part of the responsibilities goes to my producers who can find the money, and the actors who continue to work on stuff that they find interesting no matter how big or small. I would like to make a few more movies. That would be great. It’s not like you’re making movies all the time that you love your own movies; you’re always hoping to make one that you love.

CHRISTINE

What movie of yours do you love?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I have trouble watching any of them. But the performances I like very much.

CHRISTINE

Have you ever taught?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I go to film schools. Not in a structured classroom; but I do visit schools, I do directing the actor workshops, and I do the writers lab at Sundance sometimes. That’s the interesting thing about teaching; when people say they learn more from teaching than the kids did, that’s not just bullshit, that’s the truth. You may learn more than the students do.

CHRISTINE

Where do you see yourself going from here?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

I hope I can still make movies. I also hope I can make a series. I’d like to create an original series. There are certainly a couple things in the works. I think studios don’t make that many movies for grown-ups, I think that’s taken up by series now, but I also want to make freakish little independent movies, that hopefully seven people will go see them. Stuff you do with little money, because it’s dramatic and it’s for adults. There are movies I write for myself that I don’t want to make any compromises on. Often those are not commercial.

CHRISTINE

Anything you’d like to add?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

A couple things for young filmmakers:  don’t ask for permission. A movie can be shot with your phone and edited on your laptop, there’s actors growing on trees everywhere, many of them good ones. Don’t think, oh how to get an agent, a manager. That’s all crap. Just do your thing. Make your movie. You can make a movie for 500 dollars right now. For zero dollars. Don’t ask for permission, keep going. That’s number one. Number two, make the movie personal. Don’t make the movie you think they are going to like. Almost make the movie you think they’re going to hate. It still has to be a good movie. By hate, I mean it still has to press their buttons.

CHRISTINE

And for a writer?

RODRIGO GARCÍA

Same for the writer. Sit down and write. Nobody cares if you don’t write. Everyone has an excuse not to write. Writing is a personal responsibility.

 

3 thoughts on “Rodrigo García Interview

    1. Hi Paul!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. There is more to come; I have other people lined up for my future posts.

      I’m always pushing and challenging myself; it’s just how I operate. You’ll be happy to know I’m currently writing a sci-fi novel, and I’m loving it! I look forward to writing the movie script.

      Thanks for reading!

      Cheers,

      Christine

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