United Nations Names NALIP Board Member Negrón-Muntaner Global Expert
The United Nations' Rapid Response Media Mechanism (RRMM) project has named filmmaker, scholar, and Columbia professor Frances Negrón-Muntaner a Global Expert.
The Rapid Response Media Mechanism (RRMM) project is part of the Alliance of Civilizations, which was established in 2005 at the initiative of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. The Alliance's mission is to increase cross-cultural understanding and cooperation across countries and societies through a range of practical initiatives.
At the core of the RRMM is an online resource called Global Expert Finder (GEF), which connects journalists covering stories of religious, cultural, and political tensions to leading analysts and commentators on intercultural crises and their likely long-term impact. Global Expert Finder was developed to bring multiple perspectives to charged debates that go to the core of relations between cultures and threaten to widen existing divides.
Negrón-Muntaner, who has written on issues of nationalism, sovereignty, and cultural production across the Americas, considers working with the RRMM project a great opportunity. “I am honored and excited to join the U.N. in this project,' said Negrón-Muntaner after accepting the invitation. “This project will allow me to bring my several areas of research-Latin America, mass media, and politics-to improving the quality of people's lives by de-escalating and understanding the roots of conflict. I hope to make a difference.”
More information about the RRMM project can be found at http://www.unaoc.org/content/view/91/126/lang,english/
Further information on Negrón-Muntaner's work is available at http://www.francesnegronmuntaner.net/
NALIP Fellow Marco Santiago's Project “86” Comes to Life at Latino Producers Academy
By Marco Santiago, Indie Slate
Inspiration for telling stories can come from anywhere. And help in telling them can come from any number of sources. I found the inspiration for 86, my feature screenplay, one day in 2003, and I’ve been fortunate in receiving assistance through the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) in developing and producing it.
In 2003, while working on a documentary in southern Arizona, I encountered the aftermath of a horrific collision on Highway 86. A member of the BORSTAR unit of the U.S. Border Patrol described to me what had happened: four border crossers on foot were hit by a car. Two of the border crossers were killed and the driver was seriously injured. The sight of the car’s smashed front end, and the back-story of the border crossers who were struck left a huge impression on me.
The story I was moved to write eventually evolved into an edgy ensemble action/drama about four groups of people on separate life and death missions, whose lives come together in a highway collision involving a border crossing couple on State Highway 86 in Southern Arizona. The underlying theme unifying each of the story lines examines the culture of speed in our society and the consequences of living a hurried life. The Arizona-Mexico border is a metaphor for how each of the characters deals with the boundaries in their own lives. It’s told primarily through the eyes of Cisco Cuervo who, unbeknownst to his traveling companions, is carrying illegal contraband, which turns out to be a frozen kidney intended to save his mother’s life.
The first draft of the screenplay took shape over the 2005/2006 academic year as I completed third and fourth semester screenwriting courses in the Film and Television program at Scottsdale Community College. The script came in at 140 pages, but given that it was an ensemble piece with four complex and interlaced stories, I rationalized that it was an acceptable starting length that would be cured through subsequent rewrites.
Prayers for help in tightening the script were answered when the project was accepted into the 2006 Latino Writers Lab. I was also excited to learn that it was accepted for final consideration to the Sundance Writers Lab for 2007, selected in the top 10% out of 2300 submissions that year. The NALIP and Sundance acknowledgements seemed to provided a measure of validation for the concept, but it was up to me to follow through and live up to the expectations.
Getting into the Latino Writers Lab was a huge opportunity for advancing the quality of the script. Similar to the Sundance Writers Lab, the NALIP Lab is an intense ten-day workshop split between New York City in May, and Los Angeles in September. The Lab is sponsored and supported by Time Warner, MTV, the ABC/Walt Disney New Talent Development Program, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Ford Foundation, the WGA and other organizations.
Latino Writers Lab
On May 3, I arrived at the Beekman Tower Hotel in New York City, just down the street from the United Nations. After being introduced to our mentors, we were immediately immersed in the intense schedule. Evenings consisted of screenings of select feature films, followed the next morning by screenings of the same film and discussions of the various writing techniques used. These analysis sessions were lead by Ted Brawn, senior lecturer in Screenwriting at USC’s School of Cinema and Television.
Over the first five days of the lab we were instructed in the skills of advanced storytelling and scene development, use of locations, character development, sequences, mystery and suspense. One of the nice things about this lab, as with most labs of this type, is getting the chance to interact with other creative people — mentors and fellows alike — and learn about others’ projects and their inspirations. (I’m constantly amazed at the stuff people come up with for stories!) The passion and dedication that was evident only served to elevate everyone’s game.
From our morning sessions we transitioned straight into working lunches, where we networked with industry professionals: working writers, producers, studio executives, entertainment attorneys, as well as representatives from the WGA. Lunch revolved around informative discussions on guilds and unions, legal rights and clearances, adapting stories and plays for the screen, and the writer/producer relationship.
After lunch, the fellows broke up into groups of four to work with pre-assigned writing mentors. This is where the pain really started. All our preconceived notions of how good our screenplays were had to be left at the door, as our work was quickly picked apart. It was difficult at first. I wanted to defend all the decisions I had made for my script, but this process is exactly what’s required in order for a writer to think more deeply about what s/he is trying to say.
Tough questions were raised about my story’s theme. How do this character and that character relate to the theme? What’s this scene all about? How does that scene push the story forward? Dramatic irony — what’s that? Unifying theme? Fellows as well as our mentors weighed in. Every day was filled with fresh ideas and revelations for how to improve the story as we learned and participated in the development of each other’s project. More importantly, the processes forced me to think about myself as a writer and why I’m telling this story. In the end we were each given notes, and spent our evenings writing and rewriting. This, of course, is by design; as any pro will tell you, notes are a fact of life in Hollywood.
Needless to say, my five days in New York whizzed by, save for the one evening we were allowed off to decompress. On the plane back to Phoenix, I began to psyche myself up for a summer of writing and rewriting in preparation for the second half of the lab in September.
My writing mentor and I stayed engaged throughout the summer, which was great. And I was pleased to learn that the project was selected for further development at the 2006 Latino Producers Academy in August of that same year.
The Latino Producers Academy is an intense two-week program designed to support documentary and narrative projects. Since the screenplay was still kind of raw, 86 was selected to participate in the development track instead of the production track, where I would have been allowed to direct some scenes. As a producing fellow, I considered my time at the Producers Academy as a sort of graduate level learning environment that covered a tremendous amount of material: development, packaging, pre-production, budgeting, production, post-production, marketing, music rights acquisition, producers reps, distribution, etc. As a result of my participation, I managed to score a $2,500 scholarship to UCLA’s Professional Writers Program and was encouraged to apply for the Lab as a directing fellow for the following year, which I did – more on that later.
The Latino Writers Lab schedule during the fall in Santa Monica was just as intense as it was in May. The sessions focused on rewriting strategies, scenes of open and internal conflict, scenes of introduction, scenes of exposition, scenes of suspense and dramatic irony. These concepts were reinforced with screenings of select scenes from various films.
Morning sessions were again followed by working lunches, where we were treated with opportunities to network with executives and other working pros. I was especially excited to be sitting next to Jeff Katz, who was then Vice President of Development of New Line Cinema, now Vice President of Production at Twentieth Century Fox. He’s a serious horror/thriller fan, and it was a real treat talking about his projects, which included Freddie vs. Jason and Snakes on a Plane. Of course, I had a chance to practice my pitch with him, which was a subject covered in one of the workshops. (Great practice for us all). Jeff wound up being a very funny, energetic guy. I can totally picture myself having a few beers and playing Xbox with him.
The fact that we were allowed to network directly with some very influential professionals in the film industry was an obvious plus. And their doors are open to us. Writers spend years trying to get close to decision-makers, so it’s nice to know that an organization such as NALIP is there to help foster professional relationships such as these.
My time at the 2006 Latino Writers Lab was successfully capped when my mentor, producer Diana Lesmez, told me that she wanted to continue the development of 86 with an eye toward producing it. Of course, I was ecstatic, considering her knowledge and accomplishments and the network she has at her disposal. What lay ahead however, was still a lot of work on the screenplay in order to get it ready to go to market for packaging and financing.
Throughout the 2006/2007 winter I spent as much time as I could working on the rewrite to 86. Considering the volume of notes I got and the new direction for the project’s development, it was practically a page one rewrite. But getting the 86 project accepted into the 2007 Latino Producers Academy as a directing Fellow helped energize my efforts.
Latino Producers Academy
The two-week Latino Producers Academy is made possible with enthusiastic support from HBO, Time Warner, ABC / Walt Disney, Nielson Media, The Academy Foundation, Cox, FOX, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, UCLA, Rockefeller Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Ford Foundation as well as other organizations.
Fellows are selected from a competitive field of applicants. Four narrative features were selected for the production tracks and four were selected for the development track. Modeled after the Sundance Filmmaker Labs, the Director Fellows are provided SAG casts and professional crews, in addition to mentors like director Luis Mandoki (Message in a Bottle, When a Man Loves a Woman, Angel Eyes, White Palace), writer-producer Ligiah Villalobos (La Misma Luna, Go Diego Go) and director Alfredo DeVilla (Adrift in Manhattan, Washington Heights), in order to rehearse, shoot, edit and score select scenes from our projects.
The program was held in Tucson this year, so I packed up my stuff and made the two-hour drive from Phoenix. Just like the writers lab, the Producers Academy wasted no time getting us up and running. After we were introduced to key members of the production teams that included director of photography, production designer, UPM, AC and others, we were corralled into two vans so that we could scout our pre-selected locations.
A lot goes into organizing this lab. The work started weeks ahead of our arrival. As soon as we were notified of our acceptance to the lab (a full six or so weeks in advance), a telephone conference was held to go over the logistics of the lab with regard to the selected scenes.
Much of the pre-production for the scenes took place through email and telephone conversations leading up to the shoot. In my case, after spending two weeks planning my shots against the location selected for my scenes, the location fell through. Needless to say, I was a little stressed about that. Things have a way of working out, however, and NALIP resources found another location within 24 hours. It turned out to be an even better location than the first. I considered it a good omen.
For director fellows, the first full day of the lab started with production meetings for each of the four projects. It was nice not having to run a production meeting for a change, as first AD Jay Smith ran the show with grace and professionalism. After the production meeting it was off to do table reads of the first act of each screenplay, which included the projects that were in the development track of the program. This occupied the bulk of the day hours for the next day. It was fun as well as an opportunity to learn about each other’s work.
Each table read was followed by notes from the visiting executives, as well respected filmmakers. On hand to provide honest and pointed feedback were Luis Mandoki, Alfredo DeVilla as well as writer Miguel Tejada-Flores (Revenge of the Nerds, Screamers, The Lion King, Beyond Re-Animator). Although the table reads were entertaining, they were also grueling and educational. Alfredo DeVilla was especially harsh on my project, but I took it in stride. After the session was over, he and I talked in greater detail about my project, and he later worked closely with me on the set — a great mentor to have around. My time going forward was split between workshop sessions and planning for my shoots, which included my evenings.
As the Friday and Sunday shoot dates approached, our time continued to be challenged by the many workshop sessions we were required to attend. But they are all enlightening, and one in particular helped build my confidence as a director. Up to that point I’d directed four shorts and a music video. Outside of directing a SAG short that included Jeff Fahey in the cast, I’d not had a chance to work with a full compliment of talent such as those offered at this lab.
NALIP facilitated our preparation by including a rehearsal workshop the morning before we met our talent for the first time. Luis Mandoki led the workshop and offered suggestions and pointers to help us prepare. We were also joined by actor Benito Martinez (Million Dollar Baby, Saw, The Shield). Of note was an exercise that Mandoki had us do. He set up a scenario with two actors and had each of us direct the same scene. It was interesting to see how each director interpreted the scene and how it was blocked. Mandoki then directed the scene himself in order to demonstrate the significance of proximity between actors and the effect it has on the scene’s tension.
After a lunch meeting in which I met and got to know my editor, Raul Davalos (Dreamcatcher, Gilmore Girls, Cronos), I finally got to meet my actors. We broke the ice with some casual conversation and a snack, and then got right to work. The floor of the dance studio was already taped to simulate the location. We blocked the scene, went over the lines and exchanged some ideas – all very nice, until two of my mentors showed up, and then I was really challenged. Their presence added an element of stress to the mix, but again they proved themselves exceedingly valuable.
They were unforgiving in their critique, stopping me as necessary in order to interject notes as needed. As a director, I’m use to running the show, so it was difficult at first. But their professional input was why I was there. After all, there are very few opportunities to be mentored by experienced pros in a safe environment such as this.
The following day was prime time. The first scene was shot in a studio environment. I had spent the previous night going over my shot list with my DP, Ben Kufrin, so I felt pretty good. When I got to the studio I basically did my best to stay out of the way of the crew as they worked feverishly to set up the first shot for a traffic scene in a parking driveway just outside the studio. I weighed in as necessary, of course. The crew did a very nice job cheating the camera and setting up the cars around the hero car in order to make it seem like they were in heavy traffic
I have to hand it to the talent, who were very patient as they sat in an un-air-conditioned car in the middle of August with reflectors pointing the Arizona sun into their eyes. With Alfredo at my side, we did take after take, experimenting and fine-tuning the actor’s performance in the car. Although we managed to get all that was required to complete the scene, we did not get to the “nice to have” shots.
In retrospect it was important for me to learn how to work with actors at a higher level than I had in the past, and the directors lab is the place to do it. The environment is set up for taking chances and experimenting. Although the set is still filled with the pressures of making the day, we were also encouraged to try different things and work outside of our comfort zone.
After the first day’s shoot was over, the P2 cards from the HVX200 cameras were delivered to the editors, and they got busy putting together a first cut for us to look at the very next day. For those of us concluding our work day, NALIP always had something special. It usually included hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer, and catered dinners, usually followed by a screening of projects by invited guests. On one evening, we had the pleasure of seeing La Misma Luna, which premiered at Sundance earlier in the year and sold for a record amount to The Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight. Ligiah Villalobos, one of our mentors and the screenwriter of that movie, was on hand for Q&A.
The day after the first day’s shoot was spent working with my editor, attending a few seminar sessions with the other filmmakers and development fellows, and rehearsing a new set of actors for the scenes that I was scheduled to shoot on Sunday. The idea behind editing the first day’s shoot is to put something together for screening in front of a critical audience the following evening. Over 200 people packed into the Zuzi Theater in Tucson for the screenings, but only our professional mentors were allowed to provide us with notes.
Needles to say I was a little nervous. Each of the directors was asked to sit in front of the audience next to Kathryn Galan, the Executive Director of NALIP, and respond to the feedback. We were asked to introduce (pitch) the project and defend the decisions that were made in the scenes that were shot. Our mentors were constructive but honest with their critique, and this provided us with the opportunity to refine our cut for the final screening at the end of the lab.
After the night’s screening, we returned to the hotel and made final preparations for the next day’s shoot. I was especially anxious about the scene we were to shoot because it was the most challenging. It was a highly emotional one between a teenage girl and her mother, which also involves a physical altercation between the teen’s father and her boyfriend. I selected this scene because I knew that it would push my limits as a director. It was not only a technical challenge requiring thorough coverage, but also an artistic challenge requiring nuanced performances, which meant working with the actors on a much deeper level.
Shooting this scene also allowed my producer, Diana Lesmez, and I an opportunity to work together on a movie set for the first time. She was a constant source of encouragement and provided me with great on-set notes. I knew that the first few takes were not going to be nailed, even though the actors were giving me great performances. It was important to keep the actors in the emotional moment, and I did not want to settle for anything less than awesome performances. We quickly went through a few takes until the actors got to where they needed to be emotionally, and they delivered brilliantly. I was totally humbled. It certainly helped that we rehearsed at the dance studio the day before, because it would have taken forever to work out the blocking issues on the set.
By the end of our time at the Latino Producers Academy, all of us were exhausted. NALIP capped the experience by providing an elegant dinner at the Hacienda Del Sol, an elegant venue where the final screening of our work took place. After that, it was on to the dance floor where we let loose in celebration of our career altering experience.
In all, the Latino Producers Academy was an incredible opportunity. For those of us fortunate to have been invited to participate as fellows, it means that we get to re-engage our work with a heightened level of confidence, knowledge and motivation, having learned more about the craft, the business, and ourselves. And along the way we had a chance to make lifelong friends and professional acquaintances.
Learn more about NALIP at www.nalip.org. Correspond with Marco Santiago at email@example.com
Copyright 2008 by Indie Slate Magazine, www.indieslate.com
Deadline Extended: BHLIFE 2008
Last call for submissions! BHLIFE 2008 deadline extended until Monday, November 3rd (postmarked). Submissions are being accepted in the following categories: Features, Shorts, Documentaries (any length), Experimental/New Frontier, Erotica, and Youth Media.
BHLIFE is a festival that features the creative work of Latina film directors from all across the country. An event dedicated to the ongoing effort to present the complexities of our community and the women within it, and break away from the historically negative and stereotypical images of Latin@s in film. A festival such as BHLIFE creates a challenge to the inequity seen in front and behind the lens.
For more details on submissions and for a submission form please visit: www.bhlife.org
Submissions may be dropped off at
2009 E First St
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Arrange drop off by calling 323 263 7684 or leave in mailbox.
Direct questions to Festival Director Fanny Veliz at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also visit: www.myspace.com/bhlifefestival