We couldn’t be more proud of Revelator Team Member Jazmin Diaz, who premiered her film CARNE SECA at the South by Southwest Film Festival this week. Jazmin is both the writer and director of the short drama, which follows two brothers in rural Mexico as they try to turn a profit selling meat for their father’s business. If they fail, they risk incurring their father’s wrath. Jazmin previously directed the 2011 shorts KEEP A CONSCIENCE and RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY. CARNE SECA premiered in Austin this week at The Long Center, and will screen again at 8:30 p.m., March 19 at the Vimeo Theater. This week’s SXSW premiere was a smashing success, so much so that Ava DuVernay, director of the Academy Awards nominated film SELMA, tweeted some lovely words about it.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) March 15, 2015
With another South-by screening coming up, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to pick her brain with a brand new Revelator Q&A! We recently tracked Jazmin down (all the way across the office) to ask her a few questions about her new film.
Q: What was your biggest inspiration for writing and directing CARNE SECA?
A: I wrote a treatment and the first act to a feature about two brothers born in Mexico who end up taking wildly separate paths after moving to the United States. CARNE SECA was to some extent based on those characters during their time as children in Mexico. But more specifically, the inspiration for writing CARNE SECA was based on the fact that my father used to sell meat from the back of his truck as a teen to turn a profit in Mexico. He never felt burdened to help the family, but I really wanted to write a character story about the potentially dangerous events that could occur to teens or children under similar circumstances.
Q: What was the biggest production challenge you faced as a director?
A: Casting. I quickly learned how much of directing is casting. To find two young actors living around Austin who could fluently speak Spanish, perform the scenes in the script with a sense of realism, and trust me enough to work with me for hours a day for multiple days was the most challenging. I chose to work with non-actors and because pre-production had such a short turnaround, I had to find leads quickly and trust my gut. But I was fortunate enough to receive advice from Annie Silverstein, who has previously worked with non-actors on heavy character-based stories. We cast Cristian Miranda and Victor Mondragon, and they were so mature, enthusiastic, and understanding of the characters. I couldn’t be happier.
Q: If you could do it all again without the constraints of a budget what would you have done differently?
A: Now that the film is “finalized,” as a short, I’m not sure there is much I would have done differently. Something feels great about having constraints, but working with such a passionate team and churning out something so personal that made its way into SXSW. However, if we had more time and the resources I would have liked to scout locations more and securely film Cristian Mondragon and Victor Mondragon on more vast and mountainous locations during bike scenes. Just to further capture the essence and vastness of specific locations in Mexico. If you asked me this question in the cutting room, I’m sure I’d have more to say.
Q: You also switch back and forth from producing and directing. Is there one that you prefer?
A: They’re both very time-consuming jobs and I love the both of them. I find directing to be more personal and my mind lingers with the project and its characters during times that I should probably be focused on other things. That being said, if I want to work more objectively for a period of time and really want to see a project that I connect to come to life, I produce. But ultimately, I’m learning that I prefer writing and directing – helps me gain perspective and I end up learning more about myself.
Q: Was it difficult scouting out a location for your film?
A: There was a substantial amount of research that went into finding areas or homes in Texas that could pass as those in rural Mexico. My wonderful producer Haipei Han, director of photography Jonathan Cox, and I drove for nearly twenty hours one weekend scouting locations. Each town or city we scouted could have drastically impacted the tone of the film, but we ended up finding a location that worked perfectly for what I wanted in Blanco, TX.
Q: How did you go about casting for the film?
A: For the adult roles, my producer and I communicated with filmmakers who previously worked with Spanish-speaking actors, looked through talent listed on local agency websites, and scanned through headshots and resumes provided by UT’s RTF department. We contacted people that way. For the roles of brothers David and Oscar, we first contacted agencies, but ended up visiting and holding auditions at middle schools and rec centers. We found Victor at a middle school audition and cast him as Oscar. Then I found Cristian Miranda at a local boxing center, had him audition for us, and cast him for the role of David.
Q: What was it like working with such young actors?
A: Cristian Miranda and Victor Mondragon are so mature and intuitive and that helped so much with the creative process. But working with young actors also means working with their parents and getting them to trust that you now see their kids as both collaborators and family. Ultimately, there’s just a lot more that you have to be sensitive to – work hours, travelling, helping them feel comfortable with the production process, etc.
Q: Do you have any big projects coming up for 2015?
A: I am currently producing a UT Austin thesis short called A Song For Danny, it’s about a musician who is offered a potentially risky record deal and an opportunity to tour that forces him to choose between his personal and professional life. I am collaborating with good friends including director Andrew Garbus, director of photography Jonathan Cox, and fellow producers David Payan and Vishnu Vallabhaneni. After that I’m working on a script for a short that I hope to direct mid-May in Austin or during the summer in Los Angeles.
Q: Finally, to wrap up the Q&A, what do you have in your Netflix queue right now?
A: I have “Melancholia” and “Me and You and Everyone We Know” in my queue right now, but really need to dive into House of Cards season 3.
If you want to learn more about Jazmin’s film, head on over to the Lights, Camera, Austin’s radio-show blog to hear an extended audio interview!
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