As a Hispanic, have you ever dreamed of writing a story or making a movie about your home country? Read the following interview with Peruvian Director Eduardo Ramos Olivera to find out how he produced his first film.
Please tell us about your childhood–where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lima, Peru and attended Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American School in Lima, since kindergarten. Being educated within the cultural structure of the United States of America has given me tools to appreciate the importance of respect and peace in society.
What do you remember being the biggest obstacle you overcame because of your Hispanic background?
The biggest obstacle was mixing Peruvian social behaviors with American social behaviors. Here in Peru, there is a strong racial pressure imposed by strategic marketing and publicity in television, newspapers, magazines and film stories. They present white people as the elite who have been chosen to be prosperous. On the other hand, I think U.S. culture, education, and laws promote equality, justice and respect for all.
Did you go to college?
Yes, I studied Audiovisual Communication at Toulouse Lautrec College of Arts and Communications, here in Lima, Peru.
Was being a Hispanic an advantage or a disadvantage?
Being a Hispanic encouraged me to search for movies that include Hispanic conflict themes, so I started analyzing movies from different countries. Nonetheless, many of the movies marketed in Peru and played in commercial movie theaters are mainly from the U.S. The format these movies usually propose are the superhero stories and combat choreographies, which tend to end in blood feasts.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in?
I am a screenwriter and movie director working in the film industry.
Please describe the things you do on a typical day.
Writing a new screenplay demands a research stage. I have to find information related to the theme and behaviors that can enrich the construction of my new main character within the story. Additionally, I scout locations that may help the descriptive writing process of the screenplay and interview actors and actresses who may commit with the movie’s message.
How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I have 15 years of experience in pre-production, production, and post-production of documentaries; my first film is being released this year. My movie, Enmienda Estructural, Structural Amendment, is a tragicomedy about a dysfunctional society.
How did you come up with the idea for Enmienda Estructural?
The fact that news travels almost instantly via the internet nowadays was a point of reflection. Consequently, my starting point was to create a story that allowed the main character to be part of society without being trapped or pointed out as an alcoholic. To accomplish this, I had to place my main character in a specific time and space.
I decided to place my main character in Ica, Peru in the year 1937—two years before the beginning of World War II. The place is a distant, small town, without advanced communication technology. Additionally, the war theme helped me create antagonistic characters. The main character has a turning point when he wants to change his life and stop being an outcast and lonely drunk. I define this turning point as the beginning of the structural amendment, this is to say, the acts of repairing the damage committed.
Once you had finished writing the screenplay, how did you proceed with your project?
After the writing was completed I had to copyright my screenplay. I went to the National Institute for the Defense of Free Competition and the Protection of Intellectual Property (Indecopi), in Lima, Peru. Once I decided to make the film, I began interviewing actors and actresses who fit the character profiles in the screenplay.
How difficult was it to finance your first movie?
It has been very difficult to finance my first movie. I knocked on many doors, sent letters to companies, and spoke with possible investors. Nobody was interested in my film project. Because of this, protecting the authorship proposal was a challenge during the pre-production, production, and post-production of the movie.
The total budget of my first movie is $3,000 dollars. I calculated the budget after realizing my film shooting schedule needed two parts. The first part was filmed in 2014 in Fundo San Miguel because I needed a vineyard to fulfill the art composition of the screenplay. Basically, I needed a strong image with high contrast between the character’s drama, and a peaceful and natural setting. In my story, the vineyard is the image of the peaceful and natural setting I wanted to share with the audience.
We went to Ica, almost 200 miles south of Lima, to film specific scenes with the main character interpreted by actor Fernando Pasco Matos, and the obsessive widow, interpreted by actress Alexandra Bianchi. Then, during 2015, in the city of Lima, we completed the filming schedule with the entire cast—actor Daniel Dillon, actress Connie Scheuermann, and actor Alberto Jorge Cortez. In post-production, the movie was edited and the music was added. I assembled the soundtrack based on public domain music, which I found and listened carefully while reviewing the footage. Once everything was done, I went back to Indecopi to copyright and register my artwork as a feature film.
Did you have to adjust your budget and if so, how did it affect the project?
Yes. After realizing that no sponsor was going to support my project, I did some adjustments to my screenplay, i.e. modifications that lowered production costs. For example, there is a scene in the screenplay about a couple getting married. Had I filmed it, the production would have required a bigger budget because of movie extras and the renting of a location. I kept the idea of the characters getting married but changed the narrative timeline without altering the inner drives of the characters. Although the wedding scene doesn’t take place in the timeline of the movie, as an audience we get to know that the characters are planning to get married in the future.
From what perspective should a Hispanic living in the U.S. view your movie? In other words, how can someone accustomed to watching movies made in the U.S. understand your film?
Film language exposes universal themes, like joy and suffering. The perspective in Enmienda Estructural is my personal point of view of what Peruvian society must have been like in 1937. I would like, however, for Hispanic people living in U.S. to find similarities between the fictional characters presented in the movie and people that nowadays are part of society, regardless of the country of origin. The perspective of my movie is more experimental—characters don’t have superpowers, lethal rifles or guns, but nonetheless the antagonistic force is present throughout the story.
In what ways does your Hispanic background help or hurt you or change the way you do your job compared to your peers?
My background has allowed me to understand different points of view and consequently detach from radical ideas, for example that there is a first and third world. In my opinion, there is only one world where all of us are connected directly or indirectly. I have also learned to reject selfish proposals disseminated by mass media. I believe in teamwork and that success must begin by respecting society. For example, when an actor or actress rejects being part of my projects because they don’t commune with my artistic view, I search for artists who empathize with my film project.
What did you learn the hard way in your career and how did that happen?
I learned the hard way that no one is going to do the work for me. I must constantly believe in my talent and skills and always put everything first in God’s hands. I must have faith regardless of the obstacles. I experienced this because I was highly inspired to write my screenplay. I also had to do tedious artistic research to come up with my original idea.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
In school, I wasn’t taught that talent must be protected. We must constantly rehearse and exercise our talents. I learned to protect my talents from social pressures. For example, after finishing college, I included activities related to my artistic concerns in my daily schedule.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
Writing a film analysis, sharing it and then receiving feedback from people who read the article really makes me feel good. I also feel good when a sequence in the screenplay flows smoothly. I remember filming a scene and witnessing the performances made by the actor. Though I knew that everything was planned before on the screenplay, the result made on stage was exciting.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
When nothing seems to go right I try to relax and pray. I know that not a single day is the same. One thing I dislike the most is business indifference. In a film project, it is mandatory to do paperwork and search for sponsors in every stage. Moreover, I have to find price estimations that involve filming locations, film equipment rental, transportation for the film crew and cast, accommodations, catering, clothes to be used by the cast, and also make sure that actors’ schedules agree with the shooting schedule.
How stressful is your job?
It is quite entertaining, but once I decided to make my feature movie, I learned about deadlines, and not to pressure myself with them to finish my project. Otherwise, I think I would’ve burnt out.
Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
I try to sleep early at night and have an early breakfast. I don’t like to write during the night, and I don’t believe that writing is about being inspired in the jungle or some faraway place. Instead, I prefer to read books, analyze film genres and listen to lots of music in order to get inspired.
Does this job move your heart?
I have the need to share ideas, messages and feelings with the audience. Mainly, I seek for peace in our world. For me, art cinema is a dimension of communicating with people where we can reflect and analyze behaviors, actions, and ideas that move our society. All the effort in creating my film work is about sharing values that our society should reconsider—in my opinion—to overcome injustice.
Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
I think so because it is a calling I found during childhood. In school, drawing was my favorite activity. While my friends wanted to play soccer or baseball, l drew and went to the library to check out art books and to keep learning. Years later, drawing images while listening to music melded into moving images; film language was naturally presented to me. It was something I was curious to explore and understand. I eventually understood that an image can represent a story scene and that stories are different points of view about reality. This is what inspired me to make a feature film.
What would you tell a Hispanic filmmaker living in the US who is considering making a movie in his home country?
To create a feasible story because the written paper, in other words the screenplay, accepts everything that can be imagined. For example, if you want to write about race cars, remember that you’ll then have to rent the cars for the race you have imagined and also buy car insurance. Additionally, search for friends that are doing art projects in theater, television, radio and movies in your home country. Ask them for support. Your team has to be made up of cooperative people.
When you do your location scouting, research and find out the licenses or permissions needed to film in specific locations. Respect the place and the people that live in that place. Visit municipalities and ask them if there are filming requirements before shooting in a house, building, mall, street, archeological site, etc.
Where can Hispanics, or the general public, see your movie in the US?
I am planning to present my movie in film festivals and hopefully in movie theaters… so please stay tuned.