I read the text today, oh boy. These missives have a strange effect. Just when I feel we can all move on — someone feels the need to reach out to grab the spoon and stir the pot.
Face it, the soup is burned. The kettle is charred. Nothing is left to bubble or nurture when poured anymore. All we are doing is clanging an empty vessel.
So, these words, the last I hope to write on this issue for a long while until our unit is restored, are the ones that took flight today:
“There are always two sides to the “truth.” We choose the one that fits our needs. In the end, you are always left with one question: Why?
The losses incurred in this year are a heavy price to pay for unfounded pride & discontent.
Harsh judgments begat harsher punishments. Silence has turned to retribution. You can’t reprimand those as being judgmental and negative by offering nothing but judgment and negativity in return. Why didn’t you try to talk to us? Why cut us off at the knees? Why create a culture of divisiveness? It didn’t happen on its own. It took TWO sides to make that happen, not one.
Instead, you have chosen to place yourselves in the role of being the victim of an uncaring group. The reality, and it applies to us all, is that everyone had a role in this situation. The difference is you have yet to declare any accountability for your sins. I know what I’ve done and I take responsibility for it. All we’ve seen from you is a litany of bad self-help manualspeak: blame shifting, rancor and an incredible amount of self-absorption.
We can surround ourselves with all that we perceive as promoting happiness or positivity. But cutting off those perceived to harm you will create a phantom limb. Something will always be missing & your happiness will be rendered incomplete. You may not give a shit, but give it time.
“Yes People” are not honest people. They only exist to maintain to promote a false sense of peace and completion. What happens when they fail you? Do you keep finding and running through other people, cutting anyone off who dares to compromise your fortress?
We had so much to learn and gain from each other. Now we may never know what peak we could have reached as a group.
I refuse to think this is the end. Because the only true finish is in death. This story can be rewritten in all of our favors.
Who will be the one to prove the pen is mightier than the sword? Can anyone make sense of us now?
I know the power of words. But the heart is stronger. Hope is strongest.
I choose to believe in hope, even if this story is paused indefinitely. Let time heal that which feels toxic or broken. Family will prevail.”
I can’t let any of this go. I am torn between anger and the desire to make things right. Why fight for people who consider you the enemy? Why not just walk away and find somewhere else to live without the bitter aftertaste of people acting like fucking idiots, people that are supposed to share your blood.
At times, I think about just cutting ties with everyone except the one person in this entire shit show who understands the importance of rolling with life’s punches. I think of Spain. I think of Nashville. I think of anywhere but here. But that’s running away and I’ve seen the effects of not realizing a dream or goal or anything that requires a plan. No matter where you go, what you’re running from will continue to haunt you until you face it square on and without fear of failure.
I don’t share the cynicism of the others, nor do I choose to agree with the arrogant superiority of being “right” about “them.” I wish they all could see how foolish we all look from the outside.
We’re the Mexican-American Horror Story…and I won’t be its clown.
“We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”
— Frances McDormand, as quoted in the New York Times, October 29, 2014.
Girth. Mirth. Cargo Shorts. Cigars. Plaid Shirts. Beards. Bearbies. Str8 Acting. No fats. No femmes.
No, I’m not kidding!
These are real words in a subculture that is no longer an offshoot of all that is “Gay.” It is a powerful brand, one that may also have a role in the homogenization of homosexuality.
Let’s begin with the obvious. Bears, in theory, are not cuddly creatures. They have bad attitudes, sleep a lot and could give a shit about anything except taking a shit in the woods and move on.
And that just applies to the ones out in the wild.
As I wade deeper and deeper into the shallowest dating pool you can ever imagine, how is it that being gay in LA post-40 still requires your being part of a clique. Do we ever escape the high school model? Plastics. Stoners. Twinks. Daddies. Truckers. Tops. Bottoms. Versatile. Poz. Chubs. Cubs. Otters. Triads. Leather. Open. The global cafeteria is jam-packed with variations of a singular theme. And know there are hierarchies that exist within those categories, too.
I used to think it was a sign of empowerment and progress when you started reading about “gay’ neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, banks and everything in between. The older I get, I am starting to bristle against that distinction. At what point does this polite segregation lose its power? Can’t we all just “be?” Well, that’s a topic for another day. I’m still revving up my rant from the cave thanks to my being assigned to the “Bear” community due to my size and hirsute quality.
As many of my 40-something brethren can attest, it is a bit of a challenge to meet people when you are career obsessed. Which is why so many of us are inclined to engage in the Scruff/Growlr/Mister dating apps. (Grindr is really like Trix, just for kids.) However, when it comes to app or online dating, the level of judgment surpasses that of the Supreme Court or a church bingo club. If you don’t have a profile picture, you don’t exist. Then, you have the “Check Mates,” that group of men who have a laundry list of requirements that often defy reality. I mean, many of us have a “type,” but what is up with the hunt to find prefab versions of an airbrushed stereotype?
“I won’t put down the fork or work out, but I will only date muscle-bound gents — or you don’t exist to me.”
“I only want a guy who has tats and/or a beard – or you don’t exist to me.”
“I am “masc for masc” or “neg for neg,” even though you can technically fake both — or you don’t exist to me.”
40-something men only want to date 20-something boys or you don’t exist.
40-something men — we just don’t exist. Period.
We deserve better.
I am my own man, not a clone, man. Or so my motto goes. I literally just made that up. Does my penchant for wearing foulards, sporting cardigans in 80 degree weather and enjoying shortened pants make me an overgrown hipster? That’s your issue, to be honest. I just like classic things and looking groomed. I see it as taking pride in myself and not being some affected, fey Oscar Wilde trapped in the wrong era.
Our ability to judge as a culture is legendary. I am guilty of eyebrow arching so epic, it possesses a ballet-like poetry. I am sure that some folks will think I judge the Bear community too harshly. That isn’t my intent. I am very much aware of the group dynamic that is part of being of a community that accepts you. In fact, that desire to create a village is tantamount to being human.
What I am articulating is my frustration in how we all keep each other in easy to digest – and cast off — boxes. Granted, if we are just talking about hook ups, then yes, desire is mostly a visual thing. As I was once told, “If you don’t want to fuck yourself, why expect anyone else to be interested in you?”
In the cold light of an iPhone screen, that is pretty darn honest. We need to be realistic as to who we are pursuing, too. Yet, is acceptance and tolerance only saved for those soundbite moments when we feel our civil liberties are compromised? Why are we our own worst enemies in the fight for love, life, romance and/or the pursuit of great sex?
I wonder if bears do this to each other out in the wild? I’d like to think they see life as one big, glorious picnic basket of choice. Meanwhile, some of us only care to see each other only for their “baskets.”
What I am starting to understand is that owning your individuality is a pure way to live. In the end, we are destined to find “our people,” a reality built on experience and patience, right? Once we drop the labels and conditions, then we can start appreciating our strengths and stop punishing ourselves — and others — for perceived weaknesses.
Rant over. You see? I’m really just a teddy bear after all.
And I do exist.
Wednesday, October 29. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA.
**For a broad tutorial on what it is to be a “Bear,” click on the embedded premiere episode of the web series (not “gay web series”) appropriately titled “Where the Bears Are.” Viewer discretion is advised.
The worst part of digital dating is that touch screens are about as connected you are going to get with your prospective Romeo. With a swipe of the finger, he’s courted, kissed and kissed you off before you even finish this sentence. Now, such behavior is nothing new, it’s just available on a new platform of communication. It has always been easier to process quantum physics than to understand the male heart and mind.
What the Internet has done is turn cruising into a veritable Sizzler menu, allowing for thumbnails to represent all that you are without nary a thought to your being a human being. Bad behavior has never been this bad — or ridiculous.
So, consider this a dash of Selsun Blue for your dating soul. Want to wash out the flakes? Offer this questionnaire based on the most common untruths that still exist today. (I mean, come on. Think of some new ones already. It’s 2014):
1. Do you have a sick family member or friend who needs constant care and will coincidentally interrupt all of your plans?
2. Does work control your life in that you are required to return to said office (or wherever) just before we are supposed to meet?
3. Have you been feeling ill lately and will somehow still choose the peak of your sickness to be when we plan on meeting?
4. Do the terms “meet,” “exchange phone numbers” and “hang out” trigger a stroke that causes you to go mute and disappear?
5. Will you, at any point, mention that you are actually seeing someone and his BF doesn’t actually know you’re “open?”
If they answered yes to any of these questions then please feel free to move on and talk to someone else who might give a damn.
Tuesday, October 28. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA.
If you know me, then you know how much I revere the art and artistry of Stephen Sondheim. His ability to drive narratives with some of the most stirring music and insightful wordplay is beyond compare. More, he is one of the few songwriters who can give voice to the many selves we carry inside.
It’s been illuminating to see his most iconic shows on Broadway, particularly since turning the ages of the characters that impacted me most. “Company,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Follies” and “Gypsy” all transcended what I initially felt for such musicals a kid. As an adult, his contemplative themes of youth, age, fear, death, life and, especially love, shed their romance and to become something tangible. The intricacies of the melodies and the precision of his lyrics revealed to me as much about the real world as any relationship or friendship I’ve encountered in over 40 years of living. I hope to tell him that in person some day.
One Sondheim show that has eluded me is “Merrily We Roll Along,” which annoys me because of its connection to my high school days. Believe it or not, I dared to act and sing while at El Rancho High. Our drama teacher Stan Wlasick was often bold in his choices for this Chicano-centric school located in the jewel of the SGV, Pico Rivera. He was going to stage “Merrily…,” a show even New Yorkers failed to embrace when it debuted on Broadway in the early 80s. But the show had so much to say about the idealism of youth and how we corrupt ourselves with success and other trappings of adult life.
Granted, what do any teenagers know about such themes? Hell, I played disillusioned and unhappily married Dr. Jim Bayliss in the ERHS production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” (A harbinger to come? No. But it was so cool to tell that to Miller in person. Short version: he laughed over my anecdote. I’ll save the full version for my book.)
I so wanted to play the part of writer Charley Kringas. I felt such a connection to him. He was the second banana to his glamorous bestie Frank Shephard and I understood that. (I wasn’t meant to be center stage, even then. But I knew I had something to contribute to the show that is life, you know? I just didn’t want to be languishing in the background.)
Charley and Frank formed part of a trio of friends, which included Mary, who carries an undying torch for Frank. The beauty of their story is that it is told in reverse. We see what they’ve become at the start, and it’s not good. Frank is an jaded egomaniac, about to divorce his glamorous second wife. Charley carries bitter resentment over losing his best friend and writing partner. Mary’s unrequited love is steeped in acrimony and alcohol. But, what makes “Merrily…” such a profound piece is seeing where they all begin. They are the epitome of youth, looking at the future in the horizon with such hopes and dreams.
We’ve all entertained thoughts of “If only I could go back…” It isn’t magic that fuels “Merrily,” just this voyeuristic look into people’s lives in reverse. It is an imperfect show, but it is an unforgettable one.
I was able to witness a digital broadcast of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production last year with my dear friend, Mimi G., herself a young actress with her star on the rise. (Now that I think of it, we were the embodiment of what the show was about. Maturity and youth. Interesting….) Needless to say, we both had strong emotional reactions to our respective halves of the show. It was a near perfect production, but man, I want to see it staged for real.
One of the key songs, outside of the longing ballad “Not a Day Goes By” is Mary’s acceptance of how life will disappoint you. Given what’s been happening around me of late, the song “Now You Know” seems awfully apropos. At one point, she sings:
“It’s called letting go your illusions and don’t confuse them with dreams.”
I don’t confuse illusions with dreams, at least not anymore. And life can be crummy. But we don’t have to fall apart, even if it feels like everything is so broken. The emotions of this complex year did overwhelm me. And we’re not out of the woods yet. But none of us are alone, either.
Now you know…
Monday, October 27. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena.
NOW YOU KNOW by Stephen Sondheim
“All right, now you know:
Life is crummy.
Well, now you know.
I mean, big surprise:
People love you and tell you lies.
Bricks can fall out of clear blue skies.
Put your dimple down,
Now you know.
Okay, there you go ?
Learn to live with it,
Now you know.
It’s called flowers wilt,
It’s called apples rot,
It’s called theives get rich and saints get shot,
It’s called God don’t answer prayers a lot,
Okay, now you know.
Okay, now you know,
Now forget it.
Don’t fall apart at the seams.
It’s called letting go your illusions,
And don’t confuse them with dreams.
Yes sir, quite a blow ?
Don’t regret it,
And don’t let’s go to extremes.
It’s called what’s your choice?
It’s called count to ten.
It’s called burn your bridges, start again.
You should burn them every now and then
Or you’ll never grow!
Because now you grow.
That’s the killer, is
Now you grow.
You’re right, nothing’s fair,
And it’s all a plot,
And tomorrow doesn’t look so hot ?
Right, you better look at what you’ve got:
Over here, hello?
Okay, now you know,
Ser latino es ser una persona emocionado. Pasión es la calentura que vive en nosotros. Es la raíz de nuestro archivo cultural, en donde encontramos material para telenovelas hasta el fin del tiempo.
No quiero disminuir el impacto de la emoción latina. Lo digo porque soltamos nuestros emociones porque no las tenemos miedo en expresarlas.
En la novela chicana, La casa en Mango Street, la niña Esperanza enfrenta las emociones de su calle con ojos y pensamientos bien claras. Para ella, lo emoción es ser humano. Somos débil, con deseos en proteger el imagen de ser un adulto maduro.
Mi mamá, una persona quien es la imagen de ser la mujer latina fuerte, prefiere tragar sus emociones que expresarlas con una lagrima. Pero en el 1977, recuerdo del momento que la vi llorar por la primera vez. Murió su hermana Carlota. Estuvieron peleadas sobre algo que se dejó en el pasado. Ni recuerdo los detalles.
Yo contesté el teléfono, la llamé porque estaba afuera de la casa. La llamada era de Tampico. No entendí mucho pero supe que era algo importante. Mi mamá se presentó, había un silencio y de repente se tumbó al piso.
Ahí, en sus rodillas, fue todo el peso de su emoción, el remordimiento y la tristeza.
Sentí que el mundo cambió en un breve instante. Mi mamá no era de fierro. Era una persona normal, con emociones como las mías. Nunca me sentí mas cerca de ella.
Ahora entendí como es ser alguien sin temor. Se me salió lo que es ser latino ese día. Tomé su mano para darla mi apoyo como su hijo de dos mundos distintos.
“All the world is made of stories, and all the stories are here…
…No matter what’s out there, mijo, write your own story.”
Director Jorge Gutierrez was beaming like a proud father who couldn’t wait to tell the world about his first born child.
It may have been an ordinary Texas morning, maybe a little too grey outside despite its being early August. But no matter, once you entered the confines of the Reel FX Studio, it felt like all the colors in the world were being housed in this one specific location deep in the heart of Dallas. Standing in the midst of production photos and the folkloric garlands of brilliantly colored tissue paper strewn across the entry way, the smiling Gutierrez made it clear that the day’s media visitors were all very welcome.
The morning routine at the Reel FX studio had just kicked into high gear. A few artists and staffers straggled in but most were already hard at work. Even before the department heads gathered to reveal a look at the making of “The Book of Life,” the sense that this was a family gathered with a unified purpose was tangible. It was an important day as Gutierrez and team would also be offering a teasing first look at the feature, fleshing out what the trailers have only promised to date.
It may have taken nearly two years to animate the “The Book of Life” into reality, but the project has been gestating in Gutierrez’s fertile imagination since he was a boy. Born and raised in Mexico, the 39-year old director had long been drawn to the iconography of his homeland’s country’s rich history and cultural traditions. And no tradition resonated with him strongest than that of Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.
“I always loved Day of the Dead,” Gutierrez explained, “especially growing up. It was a very, very important holiday. I was really inspired by all the stories and so I went through animation school and film school here in the U.S. at Cal Arts. I made my thesis film about Day of the Dead.”
A joyful celebration of the afterlife and the living that occurs during the first three days of November, the Day of the Dead has evolved into one of Mexico’s most treasured traditions. Today, the wildly ornate images of calaveras (skulls), the carefully prepared ofrendas (altars), marigolds and the iconic goddess Catrina have been appropriated by a modern generation of artists and youth culture. Inspired by his personal connection to the holiday, Gutierrez was steadfast that a universal story for all audiences could be inspired by such a poignant celebration. His thesis would be the first chapter in an evolving narrative that would eventually bring him to lead a team of over 400 people in Dallas, Texas.
“It won a student Emmy and I got to go to the Cannes Film Festival and show it over there,” Gutierrez explained. “At that point, an agent said, “You should write a movie about what inspired your short.”
Taking the adage of “writing what you know to heart,” he only needed to look at his whole “crazy family” that had “all these crazy stories.” Encouraged, Gutierrez went to a local bookstore to look for a book on how to write screenplays. But he was still a few chapters away from living out that Hollywood ending.
“I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ and I wrote the worst screenplay you’ve ever read. I pitched the script to pretty much every studio in town back then and they all laughed at me. They said, ‘You’re just a kid out of school. No one wants to see a movie about this stuff. We’re looking for talking animal movies and none of your animals in your movie talk.’ They basically told me it wasn’t something that they wanted to make.
Undaunted, Gutierrez shifted his focus to pursue other avenues within the animation industry. After marrying his wife Sandra, also an artist, the couple crafted a cartoon pilot that did go to series at Nickelodeon. That show, the critically acclaimed “El Tigre,” was an award-winning hit that benefited from a strengthening, multi-cultural audience.
“It was a love letter to the culture,” Gutierrez continued. “As the show became more popular, it started winning awards, it started winning Emmys and it did really well. The same doors for feature animation started to open again.”
At that point, producer Brad Booker, whom Gutierrez had remained in contact for several years, advised that up Reel FX was ready to start creating original movies. Despite the success of “El Tigre,” Gutierrez was hesitant to revisit “The Book of Life” after his previous experience with other studios. If he was going to bring this passion project forward, he actually wanted to get away from Hollywood and be free to trail blaze, not conform.
“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled “Guillermo del Toro” at the top of my lungs.
“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled ‘Guillermo del Toro’ at the top of my lungs.
Well, ask and you will receive because Gutierrez did find himself in the position to pitch the project to much sought after del Toro. (It was a meeting that would be the stuff of legend as Gutierrez recounted later.)
“Jorge arrived with a beautiful trunk filled with skulls, flowers, and amazing images,” del Toro recalled of their initial meeting. “He had some beautiful and very powerful keyframes for his story. When I saw these images, we started talking, and little by little I fell into his trap.”
Gutierrez has compared the experience as “getting a Ph.D. in cinema from a very loving but strict professor” because of del Toro’s involvement in the picture. Once the collaboration was in place, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.
“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”
“Jorge is his movie,” del Toro added, “and the movie is an imprint of his personality.”
When it comes to magical realism in Mexican literature, fate is very present in the sometimes outlandish journeys experienced by its characters. The film industry, which already possesses its own brand of surrealism, is no stranger in calling the destiny shots for the countless dreamers who make their way west. Once Gutierrez’s goal in collaborating with del Toro was real, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.
“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”
So how does an incredible animated fantasy-adventure that spans three fantastical worlds in manner never before seen by today’s audiences? Find out as Gutierrez, del Toro and members of their creative team lead you into the heart of what makes “The Book of Life” a vivid celebration of the past traditions that looks to the future of what animated entertainment can offer audiences.
QUESTION: “The Book of Life” is being praised for offering a visual aesthetic that is truly singular, which is saying something in a genre that never stops evolving. What inspired your journey to become an animated filmmaker?
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER JORGE R. GUTIERREZ: Having grown up in Mexico, I saw the golden era of Mexican cinema. They would first show all these cartoons and then the cartoons ended and these movies started. I would just keep watching whatever the TV showed and so the cartoons and the movies kind of melded. Then my father introduced me to the movies of Sergio Leone, so “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is my favorite movie of all time. I might have seen it when I was a little too young, but it made a huge impression on me. It was a fairy tale. There’s good people, there’s bad people and there’s people who are defined by their choices. I’ve always loved that idea. As a kid, I loved Greek mythology. This movie is lie Orpheus. My favorite mythology has always been the stories where mankind teaches the gods a lesson, which to me is a fantasy of children teaching their parents something.
QUESTION: “The Book of Life” embraces the folk art of not just Mexico, but of Latin America and the rest of the world to create a universe audiences have never seen before. And yet, the colors, the shapes, everything is rife with subtext. Cultural veracity aside, was it enough to just tell the team, “Be different?”
PRODUCTION DESIGNER SIMON VARELA: I grew up with black and white films pretty much because that’s what they showed in El Salvador. I was into a lot of comics. A lot of comics. I also looked at a lot of artists that had nothing to do with painting. I looked at sculptors, architects. Because it’s still an art. It’s an art form and we are creating worlds. We wanted to be so different, right? Every director says they want something no one’s ever seen before and you’re like, “Okay here we go again!” But you do the research and then you try to figure out what it is that they want. Jorge wants everything. (Laughs). We needed to figure out what percentage of that “everything” we put it in a drawing, in a piece, in a design.
ART DIRECTOR PAUL SULLIVAN: To start off, Jorge gave me 11 eleven DVDs that I had to watch. So I watched all of them. I also have been around the culture and I knew what he wanted. The culture inspired me also, so when he said “folk art,” I knew everything about it because I do collect folk art. I did do some research because even though you’ve been there, you know the spaces, you do want to get involved a little more visually. You get on Google and start looking for images. Jorge will come out with some crazy idea where you’re like, “What? Okay, how do we do this?” (Laughs) Then you start exploring. You look at his characters and you go from there because you’re creating a world where these characters are going be working on. What we do is secondary to the characters, but they still have to live in that world.
GUTIERREZ: We are giving you an artisan’s version of real history. We are able to get away from all the sort of realistic things about it by making the good guys made out of wood, the bad guys are made out of metal, so metal can hurt wood. When you go to the Land of the Remembered, you turn into stone. All of the objects and the materials become really important, but it was all of us going, “Why not? No one’s done this. Let’s do it.”
QUESTION: Still, how do you balance the desire for originality with creating a project that is also commercially viable?
GUTIERREZ: The goal of the studio is for the movie to be seen and by the most amounts of people and be the most commercial the movie can be. I think the goal of the filmmakers is to make the movie as good as it can be and finding that balance I think is really hard. We’ve been able to navigate all that and say, “Okay, if we get a big star like Channing Tatum that allows us to have more indie actors in other roles. If we get a big song from this band that allows us to get more indie songs from these other bands.” That’s been a tricky thing for me, as a director, trying to figure out how it can’t just be for film nerds and animation nerds. It also can’t just be so commercial that it doesn’t connect emotionally.
QUESTION: You mentioned the dream of collaborating with Guillermo del Toro earlier. How did he become part of “The Book of Life” family? What made that first pitch so unforgettable?
GUTIERREZ: Like Batman, we turned on the “Guillermo del Toro Sign” and he showed up! (Laughs) At the time, he was working on “The Hobbit.” I was under the impression that there’s no way he can produce this, he’s so busy. But he said, “No, no, no, I’m coming back.” We all scrambled to put together this presentation. Then, we kept getting invited to pitch to him and he kept canceling because at that point, everybody wanted to work with him. Everything was getting pitched to him. He kept putting us off until finally I guess he felt so bad, he said, “Come to my house and pitch it to me directly over there. So, we go to his house and it was very overwhelming. It was like in August, it was like a 110 degrees. He opened the door and a little steam came out because it was cold inside. He lets us in and his house, which is so full of artwork that we said, “We can’t put all our artwork up because there’s so much artwork it’s going to blend in. Let’s pitch to him outside. That way it’s not competing.” We had maquettes and we had these beautiful paintings that (art director) Paul (Sullivan), (production designer) Simon (Varela) and Sandra and I had done at this point. We go outside and we put all the artwork up. He has a pool that has a life-size statue of Ray Harryhausen and it felt like the statue was judging me the whole time. (Laughs) They had told me, “Pitch it to him in 20 minutes.” Guillermo goes, “Pitch it to me in five minutes.” He’s already sweating and I’m already sweating and just as I’m about to say what the movie’s about, three lawn mowers go on at the same time next door. It’s super loud and Guillermo goes, “Just yell it to me.” I’m red and sweating. I think I had a heat stroke. Worst pitch in the history of pitches. I’m drenched in sweat and ready to just shake his hand and say, “Thank you for taking the time.” We sit down and he goes, “That was a terrible pitch. But I know there’s something amazing in there. I have two daughters and on Saturday mornings, we would get up to watch your cartoon “El Tigre,” so I know your style. I know your sense of humor. I know exactly who you are and of course I want to produce your first movie.”
QUESTION: Animated films tend to embrace a more homogenized world to ensure mainstream appeal. How did you intend to preserve the cultural elements that are central to “The Book of Life?”
GUTTIEREZ: I never wanted the movie to just be with Mexican actors because I didn’t want the movie to just be for Mexicans. I wanted it to be for the whole world. Certain roles should absolutely be a Mexican actor, but other roles were opened up like other movies like “Kung Fu Panda.” These are movies that are very specific to a culture, but feature actors that are from everywhere to let everyone know, “This is a universal story.”
PRODUCER GUILLERMO DEL TORO: If you’re telling a story and want it be universal, then you have to be specific. If the filmmaker loves the story and characters, then audiences will love it. And if a filmmaker feels it’s powerful, more people will love the story he or she is telling because it’s powerful. And that’s exactly what Jorge has done with “The Book of Life.”
QUESTION: How did your principal cast of Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana and Channing Tatum come together?
GUTIERREZ: With Diego, I did write the role for him. I’ve always loved “Y Tu Mamá También.” I didn’t know if he could sing, but I specifically wanted him to sing because I didn’t want the singing in the movie, especially from the main character, to sound overly produced. I wanted it to sound like a real guy who grabbed a guitar and went to sing for his girl in a human and organic way. Diego and Zoë knew each other and I knew they had chemistry. When they got to speak together for the first time, we recorded them together because it was kind of a reunion. She speaks perfect Spanish and she understood the culture really well, bringing all this fire and feistiness to her role. After that, I said, “Well, (the role of) Joaquin needs to be a really big presence. Someone that everyone goes, “That’s a hero!” When we discussed Channing, I had never thought he would say yes. I really didn’t. We went to Chicago. He was shooting “Jupiter Ascending.” We pitched to him in his hotel room. He hadn’t slept. He had done a little cameo in “The LEGO Movie” as Superman, but this was going to be his first animated film lead role. He really got behind the idea and then at the end, he took me aside and he said, “Jorge, you know I’m not Mexican, right?” (Laughs) I was like, “Yeah, but you’re going to be Captain Latin America! You’re going to have the swagger of Argentina, the smoothness of Brazil, the machismo of Mexico! You’re going to be every country in one!” He said now that he’s a dad, he wanted to make movies that his daughter can see and so this was the perfect movie. He loved the idea that he could make fun of that persona that people see. That’s how it all kind of grew.
QUESTION: With so many working parts to keep moving forward, how important is it to maintain a sense of focus?
GUTIERREZ: As you can see by my weight, I have no control over what I do. I fall in love with everything! (Laugh) With the help of Brad and Guillermo, they keep me in line. It’s my first movie, so I want to put everything in there!
QUESTION: You aren’t kidding about wanting everything. While “The Book of Life” is not exactly a musical, music definitely expresses the hearts and souls of several characters. You chose to have new interpretations of classic rock songs interpolated throughout the film? You don’t always think, yeah, Radiohead/Día de los Muertos!
GUTIERREZ: Well, the original music will be from Gustavo Santaolalla and there will be little reinterpretations of various songs from different people. We got to do a more Latin American version of Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold,” which was amazing. The movie has a lot of spaghetti western references, too. At first, the people in the legal department said there’s no way any of the bands will give us the right to use any of their songs. But they started with the hardest one of them all, “Creep” by Radiohead. It’s a really complicated song because they don’t always play it. It kind of represents the “one hit wonder” era for them, so they don’t really like it. We sent them a description of how it was going to be used in the movie and what it meant and how it expressed the frustration of a teenager who couldn’t fit in with this world, couldn’t fit in with his family. The band said, “Yes! This is why that song was written and this is kind of what it means.” From that point on, any band that would give us any trouble, we would say “Oh, so you think you’re better than Radiohead?” (Laughs)
DEL TORO: Gustavo Santaolalla is known to mix the sound of Latin America with Northern influences, including electronic, punk and rock. That became the sound of The Book of Life. It’s the idea that these songs from all over the world, and from different eras would go through the film’s “sound machine” to sound authentically Mexican, but at the same time have a global reach.
QUESTION: Was there any song that required a little more effort to secure?
GUTIERREZ: The Mumford & Sons song, “I Will Wait.” That song is about faith and so when I first asked the band if we could use it to express Manolo’s waiting for Maria, the band said no. They felt it wasn’t a love song, that is was about faith. They said they would offer another song that hadn’t been released. We listened to the other song and it was beautiful, but it didn’t work as well as how “I Will Wait” would, so we went back. We hired a mariachi band to stand behind me and we shot an iPhone video of me begging the band, saying, “I understand this song is about faith, but you guys are artists should know that once you release a song, the audience will make the song into whatever they want. So when I heard your song, I heard it as a love song and in our movie, our characters will use it as a love song and love is about faith. And, if you guys love the children of Mexico, you will let us use your song.” Then the mariachi band started playing their song. This was on a Thursday when we sent it, and on Saturday the band said we could use the song.
QUESTION: Risks have always existed in breaking new ground, which seems even more challenging in today’s economic landscape. Still, now that “The Book of Life” is nearing release, how do you want this journey to be remembered?
GUTIERREZ: I’ve come to terms with that. I can only worry about what I present and then what the audience does with it. I would love to be able to tell them, but I feel like good artwork should speak for itself. But before we got here, I did say that if even if I never get to make this movie, there’s something really good here. I don’t mean “good” creatively. I just mean “good” for humanity. There’s some goodness in this idea that I got to pass on to non-Latino people and non-Hispanics. They need to know what’s happening out there. We live in such troubled times, but this is a huge reminder, “Hey you guys, there’s beautiful stuff out there, too.”
“The Book of Life” opens everywhere on October 17.
Written for 20th Century Fox. Posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA
Después de días de vida y muerte, de perdida and desenlace, nuestro tiempo con Las Hermanas Coraje ha llegado a su último capítulo…por fin.
I guess it is human nature to prefer extreme situations to rational ones. We joke it ain’t drama unless it’s Mexican drama, but in this case I can’t see it as anything else anymore. It is time to put the novela that is my life on hiatus for a moment to focus on more inspiring — and less revealing — topics. But, don’t begrudge me this chance to not go so quiet into the night just yet. You won’t believe the freak show that has become “Los Hermanas Coraje.” This is just a preview of what’s under the big tent they’ve staged — a circus from which they will never escape:
Behold The Sisters of the Coldest Heart, defying the warmth of family and preferring the frost of rancor, manipulation and bitterness.
Witness The Puppet Man’s strings pulled by the Sisters, who script his every word and plot his every move as they peel away the last shreds of his masculinity.
Thrill to the amazing control of The Invisible Matriarch, whose presence is always felt, even though she doesn’t bother to appear at all.
United they stand, but divided we’ve become for the moment. Some of us want their heads on a stick as payback for the show of disrespect they’ve forced us to view. But I don’t want to be in their center ring anymore.
I contributed to the Great Divide, which I don’t regret. Sure, I am angry that they took to not only insulting members of my family as being the reason for this split, but not enough to stir more blood in the water. What I cannot abide with is the disrespect shown to the memory of someone who did nothing but open her home and heart — only to see it belittled as an act of convenience and greed.
Now we are grappling over who gets to have the last word, that last grand gesture that becomes family legend; the one that begins, “We showed them…” But showed them what? The truth?We already know they prefer fantasy to reality, so what’s the point of stripping the bark off their grossly idealized family tree? A better expressed kiss off statement? Who gives a shit if we have a stronger, nuanced vocabulary, we still only mean to say “fuck you!”
I wish it would stop. All their “mean girls” maneuvering is bad enough and we are all just grinding the gears further down. As for parents wanting to protect their kids’ honor? There is nothing honorable about making phone calls or showing up at someone’s door to start a fight. (Although, the idea of warring matriarchs, “Falcon Crest” style would make for one AWESOME YouTube video. Now that’s reality TV!)
My younger sister practically has “I don’t care” on a dialogue loop right now. But she’s right. Why do we care so damn much? Why do we even need to discuss sides — much less los Coraje — anymore? It’s O-V-E-R!
We had one last last Hail Mary pass at reconciliation, but it didn’t matter. I did find their polite, almost normal, demeanor during our last encounter as being somewhat curious. Especially considering the amount of vitriol they’ve spent on discrediting me and, particularly, my older sister. A glimmer of hope was shown for a moment, but it was a mirage. Any statement of renewal would have fallen on deaf ears. The reality is the final episode of “Las Hermanas Coraje” was a callous, juvenile and destructive one. If this is what they regard as “being there” in support of a grieving uncle, I hate to see what contempt looks like.
Oh wait, we already have.
It is all pointedly clear: they’ve moved on without us. In the end, the last thing to be said between us should be: total silence. And, I know that’s incredibly hard for a family that personifies “the beautiful noise” of life. But I truly believe silence in this case would be the most powerful sound in the world. We are going to walk away our own versions of the truth anyway, forever played to our respective audiences for as long as we live.
So, I’m dropping the curtain on this show, at least for now. Truth be told, characters like these can never be kept down for long. They are destined to live forever, for the good will always need a unifying cause like vanquishing the bad. I just hope cooler heads will prevail because such poison has a tendency to spread. I almost think the insidious agenda of “Las Hermanas Coraje” includes infighting as a way of further undermining that which they tried to destroy.
I think…no…I am certain we are stronger than that.
No crying out loud when this circus leaves our town. No sawdust or glitter will be left here. All that will be left will be a family living a healthier and happier life.
Jamas nos dañaran las hermanas Coraje con sus mentiras y arrogancia. ¡Que se vayan, gente infiel y grosera! ¡Regresasen a su cuna de víboras!
Al final, sobrevivimos estos capítulos de la novela de nuestras vidas. No temo los avances porque estamos juntos, unidos por siempre, querida familia.
Nunca los dejaré.
Wednesday, October 14. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA
When I feel that I don’t belong
Draw my strength
From the words when you said
Hey it’s about you baby
Look deeper inside you baby
“Together Again” — Janet Jackson
The following is the eulogy I composed and read today, October 11, to honor the life of my Aunt Susanna Contreras-Valadez.
Good morning…and good morning to you, Aunt Susanna…
To know Susanna Contreras was to know a friendly person, a kind person. She was also a practical person…extremely practical. She was a woman who understood how life is a constant balancing act; that everything has a cause and effect, as any parent can attest:
The house won’t clean itself.
The milk carton won’t replace itself.
Sitting in front of the TV won’t get your homework done.
It’s your decision, but I will always stand by you, because I love you.
I’m sure more than one of you has uttered such phrases before. But as parents, you are the first to teach us there are no guarantees in this life. Susanna was a realist in knowing that challenges will arrive, but they do get solved because family always sticks together.
When it became apparent that my aunt’s cancer was not backing down, it was no surprise that Susanna wanted to take a very practical approach to her future. She would fast track two major life moments. So, on a sunny June afternoon, Aunt Susanna turned to me and asked:
Would I marry her and Uncle Raul? (Yes, I got myself ordained.)
Would I write her eulogy? (Yes, absolutely.)
The subject was closed and we moved on to make plans for her grandson, and my godson, Gabriel’s trip to Knott’s Berry Farm for his 15th birthday, set dates for dim sum and the next cocido brunch and it was decided who would go on the next State Line turnaround.
That was nearly four months ago. We got most of it done, but I didn’t get a chance to marry Uncle Raul and Aunt Susanna. I wouldn’t trade this honor of expressing to you all how she lived and loved in a selfless way for anything in the world. So, how do we remember Susanna Contreras-Valadez?
It is ironic that we live in an age where people prefer pictures to words. But sometimes, images need a context as to what special moments can mean. For instance, see the pictures of my aunt that decorate this room today? Know that they are of a woman who was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, that destiny had booked her to join Raul Valadez southern California before long.
They met on a Monday before Thanksgiving in 1976.
A meal at Carl’s Jr. was involved, followed by a visit to a pool hall. But this wasn’t their first official date. That happened the following Wednesday when he took her on a tour of his neighborhood. She must of liked what she saw, because she stayed, creating a family and changing the lives of so many people in the process.
The day my family met the beautiful young woman who changed uncle Raul. (Yes, uncle. She changed you in a very good way) was a true touchstone moment. I love knowing that Aunt Susanna lived in Pico Rivera for a bit, which is where my family still lives after 47 years. We may have even crossed paths without even knowing it. I can only think that this was all so meant to be. It was obvious the family was truly complete. We had found the special sauce, the secret ingredient that just made everything better. She made all of us better.
Since my aunt took ill, these many months have been as unpredictable and uncertain as life itself. We had to face some tough realities, like discovering how even the strongest family ties can come undone; that sometimes we lose our way. This is a hard world and the concept of family has to live in it. It’s so easy to remove whatever or whoever makes you feel small. But it is so much more damaging when we attempt to sever the blood ties that helped shape us. Everyone plays a part in the truths that we live. All we ever really want is a witness to the fact that we existed, that we were loved and loved back. Why we complicate it so much, I will never understand. I do believe that forgiveness is not a myth or a sign of weakness. I believe we can all find our way back to the center. There is no good or bad here because that’s what it means to be a family and in that context, Susanna Contreras is very much a center we will miss.
Think of the family members who found refuge at the house of Francisquito and Hacienda when life threw a curve. No matter how long their stay, or how crowded the conditions: no one would go without shelter or care. Not in this family.
Think about when Uncle Raul’s mother, Maria Maya passed away. Recall the concern in Susanna’s voice when she said Ama couldn’t leave this earthly world without her favorite earrings.
Think about those massive holiday dinners Aunt Susanna would prepare for days, jamming the tables into the living room so we could all sit together and unleash the beautiful noise that is us. The fruit salad; those deviled eggs!
At this moment, I would expect to see some side eye from my aunt. She knows when to pull us back down to Earth when we get too grand. She was the calm in the center of the chaos that is us. She never made a big show or expected a reward for all that she’d do for us. She did it because she loved us.
There is nothing too grand in saying how important family was to my aunt. Being a family is about representing its worth, its strength, and most of all, its love. Today, we honor all the roles she will forever represent:
Susanna Contreras is Sam and Celia’s daughter
She is Philip and Sandra’s sister.
She is wife to Raul Valadez.
She is mother to Denise, Daniel, Alyssa and Jamie.
She is grandmother to Gabriel, Sarah, Andrea, Sydney and Abigail.
She is mother in-law to Luis.
She is stepmother to Raul Jr., Diana and Vanessa, and step-grandmother to Julianna and Carlos.
She is sister in-law to Lilia and Jorge Carreon, aunt to Lilia, Jorge, Nancy and Ernesto.
She is sister in-law Maria Consuelo Garcia, aunt to Isidro Jr., Brenda and Connie.
She is a perfect confidante and friend.
She is an avid fan of a good “Law and Order” marathon.
She is one hell of a cook.
She is the sparkle that would appear in her eyes when she was so happy.
She is the big smile that appears when she tells you, “I love you too much.”
My aunt and I shared a lot, especially a love for words. It is said that we write our own stories with the lives that we lead. While we are painfully aware that those we love will die, and sometimes too soon, you must remember that it takes real courage to live. Susanna Contreras-Valadez did exactly that – she lived life with courage and on her terms.
There are so many other words and stories to help define Susanna. Please share your stories with the people gathered here today. Keep this dialogue going long after we leave each other’s company. Tell everyone what made Susanna so important to you. That is how you keep those we love with us on Earth.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Aunt Susanna. It was hard to read a version of this eulogy to her just a few days before she left us. (Yes, she had notes.)
I didn’t want this process to end because I knew it would make her loss that much more real when I reached the last words on this page.
Susanna was supposed to have the final say, but we didn’t get a chance to record that for you. I asked her what was the most important thing she learned in this life. Her answer? Life, in the end, is funny. We need to take time to laugh about it, even if life makes us cry.
So, keep this very practical thing in mind. When that moment hits you, and you’re missing Susanna something awful, turn on the TV and search for this sound (“Law and Order” sound effect). That’s her telling you she’s right there with you, she’s listening, she’s laughing…
And that she loves you too much.
Saturday, October 11 — Written in Salamanca, Spain, South Pasadena, CA and La Puente, CA. Posted from Lilybelle’s Paisley Park compound in Whittier, CA