Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Interview with filmmaker Michael Cuenca

Jerry Powell & the Delusions of Grandeur will premier at the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival

*How did you get into making films? 
I used to play with action figures ’til I was maybe 11, or 12. And I’d come up with all these stories and I’d tape them with my parents’ camcorder. During school, instead of writing essays, etc. I would make short films, too. So I’d put all this effort into that sort of stuff. By then I was becoming a huge cinephile and I took a film history college course when I was 16 and still in high school (dual enrollment). I was blown away by all this stuff I had never been exposed to: from the great silents to the French New Wave, etc. I started writing scripts in my late-teens. And I tried to get people to give me money for them, with no luck. So I started to save everything I earned. I made my first feature film — which I couldn’t complete and ended up cutting it down as a short — in 2008. 

*What inspired you to make your movie? 
Well, JERRY… in 2011 I was living in an artist house. You know, a bunch of people — musicians, filmmakers, creatives — living together in a house, splitting rent, sharing rooms, rooming in the backyard in a tent. I was unemployed and was living with Joe Halter (who plays Jerry), and whenever our mutual girlfriends would go out to their band practice, we’d just hang out, having nothing better to do. Joe would slip into this New Jersey persona.. This character was a misanthrope, pissed off at everybody and everything. And I wanted to make a series of sketches to showcase Joe’s talent and this character. So when I first started writing what became JERRY POWELL, it was very episodic. Hence, the first quarter of the movie. And then I got the idea to just make it into an entire DIY feature. Why not? I thought it would be fun. Putting this character into this crime-fiction universe, stylized in black and white… and he also was an unreliable narrator. Pretty much inspired by all the stuff at the time that I was reading, or exposing myself to. 

*How has your style evolved? 
Since JERRY? JERRY was made in 2011. And my latest feature I’LL BE AROUND was completed earlier this year. In a way, that flick encapsulates everything I’ve learned in my past dozen years as a filmmaker. I do love long takes. I wish I could do more of them, but, it’s tough when you make guerrilla/DIY films. Anything can happen. I don’t think my style would truly evolve without some financing, to be honest - haha. 

*Tell us any strange or funny stories while making the film? 
Wouldn’t call it funny. But it’s on the strange side. When we were making the flick… a hood pulled out a gun on us. It’s the scene where Jerry is talking to the camera and Donna yells out, “Street dogs!”. Small crew. Shooting at nite. Pretty much wearing all-black. DP Ammo was buried behind a cloak over the camera. So maybe this guy thought that Brittany Samson (“Donna”) was yelling out, “Street thugs!”. We don’t know. This guy is with his homies or whatever, hanging outside of their car in a parking lot. And he’s a bit away from us. But he’s yelling random stuff out while we’re shooting. And Joe, who never breaks character stops and goes, “Wait…” looking out in that guy’s direction and he goes, “I think that guy’s got a gun.” And we stop and go, “What?” We look and the dude is leaning against his car, gun resting on its side, on the roof of the car. And he says, “Fuck you sayin’, Hawaiian Boy?” Jerry’s wearing this tropical-esque shirt in the scene. And the dude comes directly towards us, gun behind his back, his buddies egging him on from their position. He goes up to Joe and starts cussing him out. And Joe completely becomes submissive — which was a good thing. And he tells the guy that hey, we’re just shooting a movie, we’re not causing any trouble, etc. And I look, the next parking lot over, this cop had pulled over a car and were talking to the passengers. This guy with the gun, looks at us, looks at Joe, sees the camera, waits a beat and goes, “Okay”. And he leaves. Just like that. We get the fuck out of there. The funny part is that the guy had a limp the entire time because one of his legs was in a cast! And this was our first official day of shooting. The next day I get an email from our scriptee and she wrote, “You guys are very brave for what you’re doing and I wish you good luck on the project but I have to quit.” (!!) Now, the strange part is that in front of this building we were shooting behind of— the building is on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, very busy area — maybe a month before this, a young man had been shot and killed. The young man actually lived in the building. A couple of years go by and Joe moves into, not only the same building, but finds out he moved into the guy’s same apartment! 

*The Misrule Film Movement & Pink8 manifesto bring what to mind? 
Punk rock. Just do it. 

*What can we expect from your next film? 
I was set to make a sequel to my experimental second flick BY THE WAYSIDE, catching up on the characters eight years later, but due to life circumstances and what have youse, we’re going to have to wait maybe a year or two before we tackle that one. If we tackle that one. Would love. The first flick was entirely improvised, without a script. This time we have a script, but the dialogue will be improvised. And I think we came up with a fantastic story that will make the first one better when watched back-to-back. I’ve been filming THE BOYS ABOUT TOWN since 2018. That one follows the friendship of two best friends in their early-twenties, and both are obsessed with the Mod subculture and just alternative music in general, and it’s about their friendship and the changes you go through in your early-twenties. I have an anthology movie, slightly interconnected stand-alone stories, that I’LL BE AROUND co-writer Dan Rojay, and ‘Oblivion’* writer Asheel Elfman and I penned. Very excited about that one. After the anthology one I’m taking a crack at my first serious non-comedy. 
Oblivion was my half-hour long punk-inspired web series that we worked on from 2008-2010.