Collaborating as Siblings: How the Visuals & Sounds of Genre-Pushing ‘306 Hollywood’ Were Made
Dry documentary? Elan and Jonathan Bogarín set out to create a magical realist exploration.
When siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín’s beloved grandmother passed away, they were suddenly left with her house and all the stuff in it. As it turns out, that was a lot of stuff. Instead of tossing it all out, they decided to take a journey and create a magical realist documentary out of the cataloging of what was inside her home.
Jonathan and Elan Bogarín, as well as DP Alejandro Mejía and composer Troy Herion, sat down with No Film School to talk about the making of 306 Hollywood, which is currently playing in theaters.
No Film School: As Elan and Jonathan explained to us earlier, 306 Hollywood is a documentary that follows the ‘magical realist’ vein of storytelling. It’s nonfiction but with a dance sequence, clothes in slow motion, all these elaborate visual capers. Did you think they were crazy?
Alejandro Mejía: It was an amazing experience in the sense of working with two siblings and having this Latin connection (because we’re Venezuelan and Mexican and we live in New York). Since the beginning, it was very, very interesting, but crazy because it was a lot of information. It's a lot of things, and when we were on set, sometimes Elan was pushing for something and then would be like, "No, we have to frame like this." And Jonathan, "No, no, maybe it's more like that."
We were kind of discovering the style together. Also, they were very clear. I was so impressed with them. Nyneve is like, "Why you want a DP if you're amazing DPs?"
It was a very nice collaboration with them because we were shooting for almost three years in different times and with different equipment. By the end, for example, one of my favorite pieces is the dance sequence. I think we kind of together felt something really magical. I'm so curious for the next project.
NFS: Well, after three years of shooting together, that's always a good sign.
Jonathan Bogarín: Elan and I often were just in the house working and building ideas and bringing in all these different kind of artistic references. One of the things we wanted to do was bring in other types of artists who could really give a big contribution to the film in one way or another.
For instance, with Alejandro, we brought him in because his background is largely in fiction film. He worked also a lot with vintage lenses, and he's got a very good knowledge of mixing digital with vintage and finding looks that reference different time periods. We brought him in and he brought that whole element to the table.
Elan Bogarín: The whole idea was to make something that is ordinary, extraordinary. The key to it is, you've got to try to make it as big as you can within its smallness. I think that Troy's music is one of the things that does that the most.
Jonathan Bogarín: Troy Herion is a classic composer who works in all different kinds of fields. We worked with him very closely, especially the further we got along in the film, the more the music became integral, to the point where we were shaping some of the dramaturgy of the scenes, changing the pacing of scenes, and weaving each of these different elements in.
NFS: So Troy, when they came to you with the film as parts and wanted you to make it big, where did you go with that?
Troy Herion: Well, the first thing that I heard, because they had a temp score, were some very large orchestral tracks. They worked because the cinematography and the story did start to blossom and then the orchestra made it feel even bigger. I wanted to be able to do that for them as well. But obviously, those scores that they took from were "million dollar scores." We had to figure out a number of tricks, and there are tricks that you can use.
We used live musicians, but we would multi-track them. We'd place them in a space so that you can make them sound like an orchestra. There was not only the composing of the music but there was a lot of logistics, like, "How do we make this big with our limited resources?" There are definitely the instruments but then there was also this sense of nostalgia and I think there were a few key parts of the score that brought that out.
There's a classical music world, so the nostalgia world is separate. I would say that I was in two places. One was the voices. I tried to make the voices sometimes sound like The Chordettes, like this old 1950s women's singing. I think that brings out that old world. One of my favorite things that I discovered in my research for this is an instrument called the Optigan. This is an organ that was made for non-musicians to play in the 1970s. It was marketed to families that couldn't play instruments. You could press down a key on the Optigan and it would play back a recording of real musicians playing in that key.
The Optigon doesn't really exist anymore. You can find one or two of them maybe, but somebody went through the trouble of rebuilding one and recording all of the samples, all of those keys of the instruments. It has this incredible quality, because it was recorded in the 70s, and not with the best microphones or whatever. It has this hiss and that low fidelity. I use those samples and I cut and sped them up and I mixed them in with the real instruments. You get this sense of nostalgia and the past but then you also get real string players, and real singers, and real percussionists, and all that stuff.
NFS: Elan and Jonathan, you worked with a lot of collaborators to piece this film together, like Troy and Alejandro, and your editor Nyneve Laura Minnear, who we talked on the No Film School editors roundtable about this film. But how did the two of you learn to collaborate? There's not a lot of siblings that even like each other, let alone collaborate.
Elan Bogarín: We always worked together. We've been working together forever. I mean, we started when we were kids.
Jonathan Bogarín: When we weren't working together, we were working separately and asking for feedback from the other person.
Elan Bogarín: There's no doubt about it, as everyone wants to know, we actively want to kill each other on a regular basis.
Jonathan Bogarín: Often. Actually, all these guys know [Motions to Troy and Alejandro].
Elan Bogarín: But the thing is, you can't walk away. You need to stay. You're going to come back. At the end of the day, this was such a grueling endeavor that I think the only way this could have happened is by the fact that we couldn't. Neither of us could walk away.
Jonathan Bogarín: I think a big part of it, also, is we've known each other's work since we were children. One of the biggest challenges of the film was convincing people of what we're trying to do. We've been trying to make up magical worlds for this documentary for a while, and people did not just jump and sign onto this project. People are like, "This is stupid, this is crazy, it's not relevant, it's unimportant." It seems difficult to express those things in words until you have the real world. The thing about working with my sister, I had someone who just totally got it and knew it. We had this sort of shared vision. Sometimes we couldn't quite express it in words.
We were trying to figure out the words to use when in fact we were dreaming. I don't know who else I could have shared that experience with because, how do you communicate those things to someone when it's something you'd never seen? We both knew we hadn't seen it. We both knew we wanted to see it. We both believed that we could make it, but we had to rely on each other to be able to get there.
Elan Bogarín: I I also think, the challenge of it in the doc space, is that you traditionally are aiming for a very hardcore social action issue. Those films have to exist, but we felt that trying to highlight, honestly, that a regular person is just as important as a part of that conversation. The fact is that all of us are in that category. We had to figure out, how do you take that concept and insert it into that dialogue about the bigger picture?
You had to believe in it long enough to get through that hurdle, to basically say, “There's a way to do this. We can develop a language for this. We can develop a language that hopefully, in our most ideal world, pushes the form and challenges what a doc can be or at least adds to the conversation of what a doc can be.” Traditionally you have interviews, you have experts in interviews, and you have verite. Those are the traditional sense of truth. But then again you also have this visceral metaphorical experience and we wanted to take all three of those and put them together into one essentialized story. That was something that you had to believe in long enough to say, "We can do this. It's possible."
Jonathan Bogarín: We were trying to make a non-fiction story that said how I feel, how you feel, that that is something real. It's not fiction. Because it's not a hybrid film, it's not a fiction film, it's a non-fiction film. But the feelings we had, the memories that you experienced, the dreams that you experience are part of the reality of losing someone you love, processing that loss, and trying to grow from it.