"Making a film is very hard and stressful, but that's what makes it so special"
Lu Betanzos and Rodrigo Ferrat are two friends-producers who also happen to be opposites. One is very upfront, while the other is more responsible and organized ("The pieces started to match really easy because of that").
Before graduation, they needed to make a thesis film. With the help of several classmates, they produced The Crimson Flower, a short drama about an 8-year-old girl who searches for a mystical flower that can save her mother's life in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. This beautiful and sensitive film was recently selected for several film festivals, and is currently nominated for Best Young Actress (Fátima Almaraz) at Festigious. More importantly, this film made them realize what they want to do in life ("There were many challenges, but when the film was ready, we realized that we were really born for this").
Lu and Rodrigo, it's a pleasure to have you with us today. Rodrigo, have a very interesting background: originally from Mexico city, you studied Law and Psychology, but eventually decided to switch directions to Communication studies. Why did you choose this course?
My family and friends always told me that I should do it and even though I had my doubts at first, it help me out not only as a professional but also as a person to achieve my goal of not doing the same thing for the rest of my life because every project is totally different to the one before.
Later on, you worked as a production assistant for TV productions such as Zona Trendy and E! Entertainment, events and short films. That's very impressive! How did you get these gigs? And what was the most important lesson you've learned from your work as a production assistant?
Just by knocking the door and showing the attitude that I wanted to work for that chance I will always be grateful to CAPONETO (production company that hired me).
From being a production assistant I’ve learned a ton because I did it for a year and a half for big companies like E! Entertainment and HBO Latin America; I think people diminishes and runs from the production assistant role but for me it was an experience that made me a hard worker and gotten to know a lot of people by helping them in every department of the film/tv process.
Lu, you also grew up in Mexico, and you knew from a very early age that your passion is cinema. What were some of the films that inspired you?
I’ve always loved films, and there are plenty of them that give me an incredible and diversified background all over the years. The history – and, of course, the script- are the base. I understood the power that movies have and what they provoke at people’s emotions and memories. This is how I discovered that this ’way of communication’ existed and I wanted to be part of this cinematographic world.
About my background, it goes to Remember the Titans, Million Dollar Baby, Jibeuro, Casablanca to big budget films like Me and Earl and the dying girl, Up, Blade Runner.
They really had an impact on me, because of their message, history, script, and the performance. As you can see, I do not have a favorite film genre, hahaha, I love good histories.
I love Gabriel Figueroa’s films so, for this project, I think La Perla, Enamorada, Pueblerina, but also Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls.
After completing your Communication studies (with a specialty in film), you went to work for 20th Century Fox Mexico - the distribution department, alongside producing "Thought We Were Friends". What were the highlights of working for Fox, and did this work experience become useful when working on your own projects?
Working in Fox strengthened the way how to visualize the projects from its initial phase to the exhibitions: plot, history, consolidation of the script, talk with those who will be in charge of each department about the essence, needs, and film’s ultimate goal.
Also, if you listen to your crew and team about their concerns along the way –including the actors - you can be able to find the best solution for all and the film. And last but not least, the respect and importance of a timeline.
Tell us about The Crimson Flower. How did you come on board? Did you work together before or was this your first collaboration? How did you divide the responsibilities between you two?
Rodrigo: It was our final project to get our degree and we were already friends but this was our first collaboration in something outside of a classroom. I think it was easy to divide responsibilities because our personalities - I’m a very upfront person and Lu is the more responsible and organized, so the pieces started to match really easy.
Lu: We both, Rodrigo (Rod) and me, are friends since 2013 and have this mutual passion: films. We did some short films and exercise before The Crimson Flower (TCF), and somehow, they gave us knowledge and practice.
In order to get our college degree, we needed to make a short film. We also had- and still have- good friends in common: Sebastian, Joaquin and Priscila and they share this love for cinema. We all worked at THE CRIMSON FLOWER from day one: in the script, budget, casting, scouting, what camera would we use and equipment, search and create the crew...
So, we divide the production to get everything in time and form: Rodrigo looked for our actors,actresses and equipment, and I took care of the quotations, insurance and logistics at the location.
We always updated each other on how we were going and the challenges we faced. We helped each other at all times, we exchanged advice and, thanks to the fact that we have always had confidence, respect and an excellent relationship, we were able to lift The
What was the inspiration for the film?
Rodrigo: That totally comes from our writer Joaquin Casillas that knew the location and the myth before us and decided to make it his own.
Lu: The history and love, in this case, the meaning of family's love. We pictured the film since we first read the script, but above all, we felt the love and the faith in order to see a relative safe and sound, and the sacrifice we do to get it or achieve our goals.
Why did you feel it was important to tell this story and what do you hope the audience will take away from the film?
Rodrigo: For me it was important to take the audience to another time I didn’t wanted to make a conventional drama and also the shock at the end of the short for me it was very important because I think a story always need consequences and that implies a lot; also me as a Mexican I’m honored to tell new stories from my own country and people in the world can appreciate it and see another face from my country.
Lu: We wanted to share this message and show people an example of something so human and essential in life. It does not matter if you are young, boy or girl, the moment, the context, we always have to play the odds and show us what we can achieve everything if we set out to do so.
Historic films are often very tricky to produce- and The Crimson Flower is set in Mexican Revolution times... What were some of the challenges of creating this film?
Rodrigo: Definitely the Production Design but we had Jimena Chowell making an excellent job in getting the costumes and set dec appropriate for the time we are telling this story, you would be amazed by the amount of research she made, also the location but that was arranged thanks to our writer Joaquin. One of the fun facts it’s that the rifle and a lot of stuff you see in the film was actually used in the Mexican revolution.
Lu: Indeed. I think the context was very important. We need a place where we can say: "Hey, we're really in those years." So we did an exhaustive investigation about everything: lifestyle and traditions, way of speaking, hairstyles, clothing, to really convey to the audience. Fortunately, Jimena and Marylin, our art and makeup director, respectively, did a tremendous job to achieve this revolutionary vision. In addition, the 'Hacienda' (the ranch 's house) where the story runs, was vital and could say that it is a character, too. This had the essential that we needed with this beautiful palette of colors that contrasted with the landscape.
Let's talk about some technicalities- How many shooting days did you have? How did you secure the locations, which camera did you use and how did you raise the budget for the film?
Rodrigo: We shot for four days in Huichapan, Hidalgo. The location was secured to arrange it with the family of our writer and the funding was just magic like the short film haha, no but in all seriousness it was a lot of work through our Kickstarter campaign with the support of our friends and families along the way promoting it as crazies.
Lu: Our shooting time, according to our critical route, was four days: three days of shooting and 24hrs‘free’. We put an extra day in case we wanted to do re shoots or something happened, because it would be difficult to take the team, crew and actors back to the location. Also, it would imply more rental costs in the equipment, a luxury we cannot afford. So we move 35 people, camera equipment and all the necessary to film it in four days, three nights at Huichapan, Hidalgo (170km from Mexico city).
About the camera we filmed with a Sony PMW-F3, and their lenses, that the our university Anahuac Mexico Norte borrowed us. We had already worked with it in other classes, so this change was not so complex. We rented a steady and a follow focus which would facilitate us the shots in the scenes.
What was your favorite part of the production process?
Rodrigo: For me it was three important moments:
When I was contacting actors as well known in Mexico like Arap Bethke and Mary Paz Mata, negotiating and arranging for them to be on the short was satisfying because I promised to our director Sebastian Jaimes and it made me feel like a real producer.
The first day of shooting when I got to see all the months of working play out was gratifying.
Right now in the festival/distribution we not only me nor Lu is getting a benefit and being awarded for the hard work but our entire crew.
Lu: I really love everything that involves the process. It’s hard sometimes, you get stressed, worried and anxious because you have to deal with so many things, budgets, people, quotes, suppliers, etc.
It’s a race vs time, but that’s what makes it great and heartwarming at the end when you see a film, short film. I mean, looking for the entire film equipment and crew, and organizing everything for the location: food, lodging, transportation... it was an excellent challenge and I am proud – and happy- that we achieved all this and more, which shows us that we were really born for this.
Fatima Almaraz in The Crimson Flower
Fatima Almaraz is wonderful, and is nominated for Best Young Actress for her role in the film. How did you find her?
Rodrigo: I posted the casting on actors facebook groups, we received like 20 girls but what’s funny it’s that she was the first one but we instantly loved her performance, effort and seriousness by her age, she’s a star in the making. Up to this point she has won as Best Young Actress in Oniros Film Awards (September 2018) and Independent Shorts Awards (October 2018 /Gold) that has to mean something.
Lu: We had casting for all the characters. We did the girl character's cast first, because she was the protagonist. I remember that Fatima Almaraz, (yeah, the main character is also called Fatima) was the first girl to make the audition. She was perfect: she said every dialogue with the correct intention and emotion, her movements, energy and professionalism, just perfect. She was in the right moment, in the right place, and so we were. We let other girls did the audition, but we all knew we had found our Fatima. That night, we called her mom and told her she had the paper.
Ever since, we still in contact and have a good friend - professional relationship.
Do you have any tips for creating a successful collaboration between producers?
Rodrigo: For me it’s to always stay humble and cold headed, your there to support each other not to sabotage or fight, Lu for me was my support and always pushed me forward to achieve and persevere in all the process. I’m nothing but grateful to her she is not only an amazing producer but an excellent human being.
Lu: Talk to him/her, always. After knowing the vision of the director, and / or scriptwriter, have a words/meeting/ dialogue with your producer partner: organize the ideas and investigate how she/he sees the project and why, and tell him/her your vision, too. Also, ask if you have somebody or a contact you wanted to be part of the team, try to make a calendar and route of your activities, short term objectives and move on. Discuss pro and cons about every decision, quotation and equipment ( personal and technical) Remember, you both want the same thing, so focus and listen to every possibility.
You're both highly gifted producers- is that the ultimate goal, or do you plan on writing and directing as well? Where do you see yourself in ten years, and what kind of projects would you like to be involved in?
For me is a yes and no because I for sure going to produce for life but I love every aspect of filmmaking so I want to be director, writer , DOP, grip , haha I think at the end of the day I just want to work in the film industry. In ten years I would like to see me with my own production company helping young or under appreciated talent to realize their dreams. I just want to make different content because I think a lot of the content that the general audience is getting has become a formulaic mess where it’s losing the magic it once had.
Lu: I love writing and reading. When I have an idea, I just write it and let the words flow. I’ve written three scripts, and people liked them, or I’ve been told, haha. But yeah, I want to create scripts for films, produce them-and other people’s projects – in the international cinema industry. Right now, I do not have the concern to direct a film project, but I know that if the day comes, with a interesting script and the assertive tempo, I will certainly do it. I visualize myself in the foreign film industry, producing, writing, editing, and even directing. Also, I see me as a supporting professional to the national talent, in-and out my country, sharing stories and listening to many more. I will like to be involved in independents films or low-budget films in Europe, cause they would remind me of my first steps here. I will have my own production company, and I hope that several of my friends will collaborate with it and the other way around. Nevertheless, it will be an honor to be part of blockbuster or world wide film franchise, but i guess time and my pleasures will decide.
What projects are you currently working on?
Rodrigo: I’m producing a short film called “The Other” , directing “ A Prayer’s Prey”, DOP for “Inexistent” and currently writing “Koronki”. I’m still studying to become a better filmmaker and I hope I get to enroll to a Masters program in the next year.
Lu: I’m working in two scripts, personal scripts. They are in phase one, so it’s to early to set a day or time to film them. But, that’s one of my goals, produce them. Nowadays, I'm working at the Mexican Institute of Cinematography (IMCINE) and I've been learning the processes about the distribution and exhibition of films: marketing, promotion, publicity and also the documents you need to have in order to get your movie in theatricals. This job has given me too much to continue in the film industry. Maybe- and very soon-, I will go back to production, but in a major league level, haha, with more experience and knowledge in these aspects, and make myown cinema way in Mexico and the world.
Is there anything you wish to add, or anyone you wish to thank?
Lu: I want to thank to my family: Ale, mom, dad and relatives; friends: Brenda, Xim, Estefy, Jordi, Ana, Rod, Arte, Diego...and team: Pris, Rod, Sebastian and Joaquin because they supported me in my bad and good days. They believed in the project, in me and my passion, and still do. Thank you to all the people who donate to The Crimson Flower, they made it possible too.
Also, I want to say: do not give up. You can achieve whatever you want, and people will listen, see and feel you...Thank you for reading and let’s make magic by doing films.
Rodrigo: Thank you, first and foremost, the whole crew of The Crimson Flower for trusting me with their time, lives and effort through this project because it sounded crazy from the start to make a period piece for our first short film with well known actors 170km away from home but we made it and now we are seeing the results.
All my achievements go to my mother Brisia (R.I.P) and my grandma Jovita Alanis that raised me to become the man I am , to my brother Alejandro that even though he thinks I’m crazy I try to prove him everyday that if you work hard for it you can achieve your goals and dreams and finally to my love Sandra that has supported in all my projects inside and outside of film.
My message to you reader is to be persistent a lot of people told us that we weren’t gonna make it , that it was a bad short film, that we sucked as producers but we worked hard and silently and now the results are the ones that are talking.