This 17 Year Old Director Made One of the Best Short Films That You Will See This Year
That headline may seem a bit hyperbolic, but just wait. Once you see Alex Fischman's short film La Vieja Quinta, I think you'll be inclined to agree. Also, just as a warning, this short contains some very colorful language.
As part of a high school project we were told “do whatever you want” and people in my class did all sorts of things like helping NGO’s or creating a business. I made a short film.
In an email, Alex was kind enough to share some information about how this short film came to life, and he shared some great BTS photos as well. Plus there are some solid lessons here for any filmmaker looking to achieve a professional, polished short despite relative inexperience in the industry.
La Vieja Quinta is adapted from short story by one of Peru's most famous authors, Julio Ramon Ribeyro. After obtaining the non-commercial rights for the story and writing the script, Fischman built a team and set about on the casting and location scouting processes, which as he describes, were not particularly easy.
This film couldn't have been made without a great team. I talked to Andrea Caceda (producer), Rodolfo Herrera (DP), Christian Acuña (Sound) and Renzo Basan (Art Director) and started working on the pre-production. With Andrea, we began casting and location scouting. Finding the right actor was very hard. We started looking for actors with a budget of $100 per day and had very little luck. Most of the actors had little acting experience and couldn’t capture the essence of the characters. It was very hard until the day we went big. Enrique Victoria is one of the most famous actors in Peruvian Cinema, and he was kind enough to work with us on a smaller budget. But casting was easy compared to the nightmare that was location scouting.
The title is “La Vieja Quinta” so it was necessary to have a Quinta. (Quintas are a type of hallway with houses next to each other and in front of each other. They are usually very poor.) They are very hard to find, especially one that had the style we were looking for. We were stuck, traveling all around Lima just to find one Quinta until one day I was seeing the production of a feature film in a tough neighborhood in Lima and found a lot of Quintas. Although I was alone, I still went to each sketchy one knocking doors and meeting really interesting people. After a few more days of knocking doors, we finally found our Quinta.
Fischman also describes how he and his DP had to pare down their original shot lists to not only make the shooting schedule more economical, but more fair to the actors and crew.
In our first [shotlist] we had over 60 shots (which is insane, considering that it’s a 15 minute short film). We realized our mistake as we planned the shooting schedule, although for us it seemed fine, 12-hour-long days are not for everyone, especially for actors who are doing physical and mentally challenging roles. I remember after shortening the shot list down to 30 shots, we still had 8-hour-long days. So at 3 PM, Enrique Victoria (the lead actor) came to me and said, “This is too much.” This is something that directors tend to forget -- we are making our movie, and we can stay up to 99 hours if necessary, but it’s not everyone else’s film.
Lastly, he talks about how directors, and other crew people, should be open to suggestions for how to improve the film. It's easy to get wrapped up in the idea of the auteur, the idea that the director knows best and is carrying out their personal artistic vision. But in truth, narrative filmmaking is a collaborative art form, and sometimes the best ideas come from the least likely places. For that reason, it benefits us as filmmakers to keep our ears to the ground because great ideas can come from anywhere -- an AC, an actor, someone in the art department, or even a PA. If we're not listening, then we might miss something great.
In the last shot, I wanted it to be one continuous take. The problem was, that since we didn’t rehearse, Enrique took too long to get to the mark, but the ending of that shot was simply perfect. When I told him to do it again, he said, “No, it would be impossible to recreate that moment.” I told everyone to please leave the room and talked alone with Enrique. I tried to convince him to do it again for half an hour, but he simply didn’t want to. So he gave a suggestion, “What if, like, in the beginning you had an over the shoulder shot of me and someone placing the FOR RENT sign?” I loved that idea. And it was because of that, that the beginning and end work so well with each other.
This was really one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I remember when the shoot ended, I started crying in the car all the way back. That’s when I really knew I wanted to be a director.
I'd like to thank Alex for taking the time to share his process with us, and congratulate him on making such a fantastic short film. What do you guys think about La Vieja Quinta? If you have any questions for Alex, leave them down in the comments!