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First Look: Nicolás Pereda

Read a transcription or listen to a podcast of Nicolás Pereda discussing his recent film Greatest Hits as part of last month’s First Look at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Teresa Sánchez and Gabino Rodriguez in Greatest Hits by Nicolás Pereda. Image courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image.

Nicolás Pereda and Rachael Rakes on Greatest Hits.

This podcast is presented in partnership with Museum of the Moving Image, where Nicolás Pereda participated in a Q&A with Rachael Rakes following a New York premiere screening of Greatest Hits during the Museum's First Look 2013 showcase on January 11, 2013. BOMB will be publishing more podcasts from MOMI's First Look Series in the coming weeks.

Nicolás Pereda I mean, it’s a ton of things. For one, making all the films with these actors made me become closer to them as far as being friends. I had started making documentaries, but I never thought of using these actors who had become my friends even slightly in a documentary world. So what I wanted to do at some point was that Gabino [Rodriguez, a lead actor in Greatest Hits] would become not just the character Gabino, but Gabino the person I know, which he sort of plays anyway in the films, because he is almost playing himself always. But then I asked him about his actual life and his deceased mother, and the first father is his actual biological father, so it was a good opportunity to introduce him, this other world of his own life. Then Luisa [Pardo, actress in Greatest Hits] and he are really close friends, they’re not dating but it’s almost—they’re so close you would think they’re dating if you met them. So it was trying to bring my relationship with them onto the screen and so that’s why I tried to shift to a documentary.

But at the same time, even though I was making this film as a combination of my previous films, I also wanted to explore a new territory. That’s why I called the second actor to play the father, and tried to break things up, and have Gabino in this sort of half-documentary world, tried to navigate him as a fictional character. The second father is like a documentary object within a fiction film, so Gabino has to interact with a person who’s playing himself as a fictional character. I was trying to challenge what I had done with Gabino in the past, which was more straightforward fiction, I guess, and now he had to become a bit more himself, even more than the previous films, and react to this person in real time without rehearsals.

RR Maybe you can explain how you approached the two parts in different ways.

NP The original idea was actually to make just the first part, and then I made the first part and I thought I was not that satisfied. I had done some more stuff before, I don’t know, I felt like it was a bit dry to me and I wanted to experiment, explore different territories, so I decided to remake the film again, but to remake it as a documentary. So the challenge was to make exactly the same fiction film we just made, but make it again as a documentary. And to do that, I had to change one of the actors, and the new actor was not aware that we had filmed the first part, or that the second part was supposed to be a documentary. So I gave him sort of some clues of who he should be playing. For example, I would tell him, "Now you pitch a business idea." Because in the first part, we had this business idea, the first business–which is this pyramid scheme–it’s written in the screenplay; and in the second part, because I wanted to make a remake documentary, I told him, "You do whatever business you think of doing." And so he pitches a new business from his mind, and everyone has to react on the fly to this business, but in a similar way that he did in the first one. I don’t know if I’m becoming confused, but the idea was to remake every single scene that happened in the first part as a documentary. We did that for awhile, and I thought it was nice to make the whole ending of the film, which is more of a type of reconciliation of the father and the son, which was like a very unlikely reconciliation from the first part and from what you see throughout the film. I thought it would be nice that Gabino, even though the father has sort of screwed up his life entirely, that in a way he wants to get to know the father and so the ending being more of a . . . sort of a reconciliation. Because in all of my previous films, the father is also absent, and it’s always Gabino and his mother [always played by Teresa Sánchez] struggling for different reasons, and the absence of the father is always very important in the film. When I had the opportunity to introduce a father, I decided to introduce two different ones, so I could cover more ground, so that Gabino would be interested in this father who was absent in so many films.

RR The way that you delineate it, it’s like there’s sort of a documentary half and a fiction half. But I feel like there are really elements of both in both, right, very much.

NP I divide it like that when I talk about it, just for categorization’s sake. If I had only made that first part, there will be still a lot of documentary elements in it, and obviously the second part is still totally fictional, with the setups, and everything is set up by me, and everything that they say is in relation to everything I’m telling them to say. But that’s sort of like documentaries anyway. The difference is that the person coming in is bringing all the dialogue, like completely. So you could call that an improvisation, but because he’s bringing all the dialogue from his own personal experience, then that’s why I feel it’s leaning more towards documentary. But yeah, clearly this fiction-documentary thing, it’s present in both parts, I guess.

RR So it sounds like this part of your filmmaking, this many films, this sort of long, really interesting novella of all these different characters is coming to a close. Can you talk about that decision?

NP In a way it was just—I don’t know, at some point I decided there was enough of Gabino and his mom and his girlfriend and his friend in all the films, and they play such similar characters that at some point I thought it would be good to set myself an end to this and move on to other characters. I think I’ll probably still work with them, not necessarily all of them together, and probably not in the same characters, but it was more because I made like five films with them, so it was enough, I guess. If I didn’t force myself to call this the Greatest Hits, this is it, yeah I wouldn’t move on.

RR Other questions?

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

RR So the question is where did the second father come from, literally?

NP It’s funny that you say that he’s cooler, because when we were doing the—I personally didn’t have a judgment call in that line because I know them both, and I don’t know, it was hard for me to decide. Obviously I had more fun with the second guy because he’s like crazy, but when we were subtitling it we had some machines and a woman that was helping–a woman that was working with the machine to bring the subtitles in or something. We were in Mexico and she was so appalled by the second father and she loved the first one. Not many people talk about them and which one they like better, she was the first one that sort of brought that up, and I thought it was normal for someone to like the first guy more, because he’s not bringing up his ex-girlfriends to the ex-wife, he is sort of in a way—he’s doing something awful in a way. It’s a combination of that, because the second guy’s my uncle and the first guy is the biological father of Gabino, the actor.

RR But he’s also an actor, as well, to some degree?

NP No, neither of them are professional actors. Everyone else in the film is a professional actor, except the two fathers, and so one of them is the father of Gabino in real life, and the other one is my uncle. And the thing is that the idea of the casting was that the first part would be more of a . . . that I could bring in some real feelings from Gabino and his father. When I asked them about Gabino’s mother, that’s something that happened in real life to Gabino when he was six. His mom died, and so that was something that was part of what I wanted to bring up in the film, the connection between them outside of the film. The thing with my uncle was that obviously, when you have an uncle like that, it’s like you want to get him in a movie at some point, but obviously it’s not easy at the same time. I had to create a whole world around him and then, in a way, it fit, to me at least, this idea that he would be better. I didn’t want to make a documentary about him, like straight documentary about going to his house, because I feel I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about people that have odd lifestyles and then people just follow them around and they’re sort of appealing in that way. I thought it would be more interesting if he was in this odd situation where he had to show off to a son he never had, which could be appealing to someone like Gabino, no? So, I don’t know, it was sort of a game with both of them.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP No, the only true part was that the mother died, and when I interviewed them, and I asked them, how did you plan to do this? I realized it was the first time they ever talked about it. Gabino and his father had never talked about it—at that moment, when we were filming, it was the first moment that they ever talk about that situation, which was really odd to me. I thought this was something that they had gone through throughout Gabino’s life to some degree. But that's sort of a very sincere moment of them. And then my uncle, everything he talks about is his personal life, but they had never met each other.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP What do you mean, at that moment? Because, I mean, the way I was making the film was that I had a straightforward screenplay where that was not part of it, and it was more of a conventional screenplay: the dad comes, they have some problems, they decide he should leave, he leaves on his own accord, they are a bit depressed about the father leaving, there was a different ending. But then while we were shooting, I like that the world, what’s happening around me, enters the fictional space, and so it was an opportunity I felt I had that there was a biological father with Gabino there, and because, in a way, I knew I was going to switch towards a documentary setting. I thought this was a bridge to a different world. I thought, If I present that the mother never existed, the mother that we’ve been building, it’s not the actually Gabino’s mother, it sort of shifts everything and makes you think about Gabino in a different light. I also was thinking about that it’s just a representation. Who are these people that we’re looking at on-screen? Who are these actors that we fall for? What happens when the actors tell you the one that you believed was my mother all along, she’s just an actress, but I have a real mother in real life, I had my own drama in real life? And whether that’s sustainable in any way.

RR I thought that seemed interesting because there was one scene in which I felt like they were both kind of doing a bad job of improvising, actually.

NP Right, when they’re trying to convince the father. Yeah, I mean the idea there was that, because we start with these levels of representation, or of interpretation. In that scene, for example, Gabino’s playing the character whose father left, but then he’s playing the father, the fictional father. But then when he goes from the fictional father to the son, he sort of snaps out of it when the mom just says, "Your dad had a son with this woman and you have a little brother," and he’s like, "Is that true what you said about this woman?" and the mom replies, "Well did you or didn’t you fuck her?" She doesn’t let him change characters, change position.

I think there’s different levels of representation: the acting that they’re doing, which is sort of this false acting, then the acting that we’re accustomed to throughout the film, and then the acting of the third part– which is more in line with reacting to real scenarios, non-rehearsed–and reacting to things that someone actually is telling you. So more like documentary acting, I guess. I liked also switching from these different levels of representation.

RR Can you talk about the Goldberg Variations?

NP That was in from the beginning. Some scenes, there were more scenes like in earlier versions, where the actors have to wait for the music to end and things like that. I’ve hardly used music in my films. I’ve only used music before, I think, in a short film I made, but every other time I have a really hard time using music because I feel that it carries so much emotion and it’s very difficult—it can sort of kill a lot of the emotion happening on-screen. I don’t know, just whenever there’s music in films I have a hard time, and so—

RR It just seemed super deliberate.

NP I tried to make it more of a not-integral part of the film, it’s not within the weaving of the film, it’s on a different level, almost I would say Brechtian, not quite, but something in that line. I like that the actors, the first time that it’s there, the actors are almost waiting for the music to end, to continue the scene. From the beginning I wanted this idea that the filmmaking process is happening, to be apparent, and I was trying to find different strategies to get there. At the same time, the Goldberg Variations were . . . the specific reason I used that music was because that inspired, in a way, a lot of the things that I’m doing. The Goldberg Variations is an aria, which is a one that plays twice in the film, where that is a basis for all of the variations. All the music that comes after the aria is musically based from that little piece at the beginning, and in a way the film is like that, you know you have a little setup, and then the setups repeat themselves in several variations, and so it’s mirroring, not exactly the same way, but the sort of general conceptual framework of the variation in film.

Audience Member Do you write the script? You have improvisation on the part of the actors. I mean the dialogue is improvised, but is there a script as well?

NP So in this film, the first part, there’s a script. There’s a script from beginning to end. In the first part of the film, the mother says every single line almost exactly as I wrote it. Like, she memorized almost everything. Gabino memorizes less. He read the script, but he didn’t memorize every line, and so what happens is that the mother will say something, Gabino will sort of react in his own way, and the mother will try to bring him back to the screenplay. I think that helps me a little bit to make the scene feel a little bit more alive, like letting one of the actors . . . this happened organically, she memorized it because that’s how she wanted it to be, she feels more comfortable, and Gabino didn’t want to memorize it, that’s just how he is. So, it was a good combination because then, for me at least, the dialogue could still be alive while they continue saying what I want them to say, but Gabino says it with his own words, and she says what I wrote, basically. Except, for example, there is a scene where they try to kick out the father, and Gabino takes the position of the father, and they rehearse and it repeats itself, that whole—it’s about 15 minutes, or like ten minutes of those two scenes—all of that is line-by-line, memorized and scripted. The whole second part, there is not a single—the last 40 minutes from the time the second father comes in, there is not a single line that’s written. So, all of that is improvised.

RR On the Greatest Hits theme, there are a number of scenes that seem like they were taken directly from other films of yours in the past, and I think—well, the shower scene in particular is standing sort of center-frame, and the crying in the shower. And, I don’t know, the element of the cream, are both in your other stories. I’m sure there are more. Was the idea putting in your favorite things?

NP The idea was what would happen? It’s almost like this: the people that buy CD's of greatest hits of rock bands, even though they have all of the rest of the discography of whatever band, they would tell you it’s very different to listen to the songs in the sequence that they come in on the greatest hits album, then if they just had to pick the songs from all of the discography of that band. It’s basic in cinema that whatever you put in front of something will alter whatever comes after, and so I was thinking, what would happen if I repeat exact scenes from other films, and I stick them in here? What value, what weight–what emotional weight–will those scenes have in the film? It was sort of an experiment for me. I don’t know. It was fun to just copy things I had done before and see them work in radically different ways.

I also did a little bit of that in some of the other films. You get like two characters doing a scene, and then in this film, I would repeat the same scene but different characters doing it. I did a lot of stuff like that, and I did it so much that I don’t remember how much of it is actually in the film and how much of it didn’t end up being in the film. While we were shooting it, those scenes became so much more different, in some cases, than in the previous films that it’s almost not discernible anymore. But yeah, like you said, the shower scene is very obvious, and the cream thing is a thing that is in more than one film. Yeah, I felt that it was great to think that no matter how many times you repeat the same thing it will always be dramatically different because of how you re-order things.

RR And so you’re done shooting a project that was shot in Toronto, or produced in Toronto, is that correct?

NP Yeah, I’m trying to finish that right now.

RR That’s with an entirely new cast?

NP Yeah, that’s with people in Toronto. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that yet.

RR Are there any other questions? Yes.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP For example, this film, because it all happens in a house, I was very particular about what I wanted to use. Not particular, in the sense that I wanted to build a house after whatever I had imagined, but that I wouldn’t pick just any house. I found this house that was an empty house of the grandmother of a friend of mine, so it was already sort of dressed as a family house, and it fit really well with the socio-economic background of the people I was representing. It was in the right part of the city, and so we could use a lot of the sounds–even though it made sound not important to shoot in that part of the city because you never see it. There are so many sounds, all the time, from the outside, that inform you where you are, that obviously that’s something you can build later. But it changes, I feel, that when you’re there, there’s some sort of like . . . you know, it’s different when an actor is hearing and responding to the world outside of the house, that if it were in a soundstage or something, than in a different part of town where you’d get totally different sounds. So it was nice. I mean, I probably would have done it somewhere else if I had to. But for me, it was really great that it was in that part of town and the house fitted a lot of the ideas I had. Sometimes I’m less particular, it depends.

I generally write already knowing where I’m going to shoot, so it’s also difficult to know how particular . . . Like if I’m writing a film, I filmed my parents’ house, for example, and so when I’m writing, I already know it’s going to be in their house. One time I looked a lot for locations, and then we ended up shooting in the house of the cinematographer’s mom, because after the whole day of seeing different locations, we went to have dinner at his mom’s place, and it was amazing, so we just took that. I don’t alter the locations very much. I try to find spaces more than create spaces. I’d rather shoot . . . because the more you need to create, the bigger crew you need to have, and also more money you need to have to make the film. Also, I feel really uneasy about art directors. Not all, obviously, but I don’t know art directors personally. So I try to work with friends, as well. I shot a film in Gabino’s apartment, as well. It’s just a lot easier.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP That’s his house, that’s my uncle’s house. Yeah.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP Yeah, that was rehearsed to everything. He had to park the car in a very specific spot, and everything was timed. Yeah, that was also a scene that was very, very so specific about how it would go. He gets out of the car, he tells him, “You’ve got five minutes.” So, from then on we have like, roughly five minutes of him waiting. It was important to me to have this game with the audience about how ridiculously short five minutes would be to leave the city, and go into the countryside and spend so little time. Yet watching it as an audience, it’s like, “Oh man, this is taking forever.” This difference of cinematic time versus real time being so drastically different was something that interests me. And at the same time, spending some time with the father alone was nice, as well.

Audience Member (_Question inaudible_)

NP The first part was shot on a Sony F3, and the second part was shot on a Canon Rebel. The cinematographer of the second part is here. He was not too happy about the camera choice, I think. (_laughter_) Thank you so much. (_applause_)