A couple months ago, I reviewed a visually stunning and action packed short called Tex: Vampire Hunter from director Lautaro Gabriel Gonda. It combined two genres seamlessly (vampires and the old west), and it has some really excellent action sequences as well. This month, I had a chance to ask Lautaro about how the film came together and what all went into making it.
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Let’s start out like I always do and have you introduce yourself to everyone and tell us a little about your background.
I was born the son of a hippie and an Argentine immigrant on the Suquamish Indian reservation in Washington State. I grew up traveling around with them around the US and Argentina and points between. When I reached school age we settled on Bainbridge Island, which great for my childhood but bored the teenage me immensely, so left high school as year early and went to study marble sculpture in Carrara, Italy. For some reason I came back to Seattle and spent the greater part of my ’20s either heartbroken or intoxicated. Then I went to film school.
Tell us about the origins of this film. Where’d the idea come from, and what made you want to do a vampire film?
I have a terrible confession to make. I’m not that into vampires. I don’t have a black trench coat or eyeliner or anything. I do like westerns and I just thought it would be fun to combine genres.
Did you worry at all about doing a vampire film because of the saturation of the genre and the backlash against the Twilight films amongst the average person in your target audience?
There’s not much backlash at all. Usually I hear, "I’m so glad someone is making REAL vampire movies." At film festival Q&As I usually have to talk about Twilight. I don’t get too upset about it, but if I’m feeling particularly belligerent I’ll go into my rant about how if you take the biting and sex out of your vampire, there’s not much left. Also, Twilight is full of very harmful ideas for young girls.
When you came up with the idea, was it always intended to be a short, or was it limited by time or budget into being a short? Would you like to turn it into a full length film at some point or are you happy with it as it is and looking forward to future projects from here?
Initially I imagined it as a feature, but the opportunity came up to make it as a short. The plan is still to make a feature. I’ll keep you posted.
Was the film self funded or did you have any outside backing for it? What did the final budget end up being?
The equipment and film costs were covered by the Seattle Film Institute (out of our tuition), but the crew contributed a little of their own money for props and costumes and such. I also put in a few thousand. I’d say the final cash budget was around $5000.
How did you go about the task of casting your film, and did you have any problem finding people to fill all of the roles, and how long did the while process take?
We advertised in all the local online actor call boards and held auditions. We had dozens of actors interested, so we were spoiled for choice in casting. Except for the man playing the vampire priest, who was my dad.
Visually, the film is stunning, and definitely doesn’t look like the work of someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience making films. You only have a couple of films listed on IMDB though. What other projects have you worked on and how did you aquire the skills necessary to make such a great looking film?
I’ve been some kind of visual artist my whole life. My day job is graphic designer. I dabble in photography. It all comes from the same place, so the transition to film was pretty seamless. But if that’s not enough of an explanation and you want to call it natural genius talent, that’s ok with me.
Seriously though, the look of the film is the result of careful preparation and communication with my director of photography, Alex Meader. We looked at other films as examples, and other media as well, especially old oil paintings with a dramatic chiaroscuro look. And then it’s just a matter of putting the lights in the right places.
How close did the visuals actually come out to the way you saw it in your head? Is there anything you wish you could have done better?
The only shot I wish we could have redone is the first "fly-through" shot in the vampire brothel. It’s close, but not quite what we were going for.
Sound design is something that’s greatly overlooked often times in independent cinema, and yet you paid close attention to it in this film. Who handled the sound and what aspects of it do you think came out particularly well?
Great question. It’s true that sound design is often overlooked and bad sound is the first thing that makes a film seem amateurish. We had the sound professionally foleyed and remixed at Bad Animals studio in Seattle. We ADRed most of the dialogue as well. I’d say 90% of the original sound was replaced.
Something else that’s often hard to pull off in independent films are action sequences, and yet you had a lot of great action in this film. Tell us about the people involved in bringing that all together and what difficulties and issues you had (if any) in shooting these types of scenes.
What elevated this beyond just another student film was all the very skilled people who heard about the project and offered their services: make up, wardrobe, custom fangs. Another person was Rob Bradstreet, our stunt coordinator. He broke down the fight sequences in the script into something shootable, and tweaked them for maximum awesomeness. We rehearsed all the action with the actors, and he was on set making sure nobody actually got shot or staked through the heart.
What are you working on currently, and what do you have planned for the near future?
I’m doing pre-production on my next short, called "Love and War". It takes place during World War I and the 1920s and is basically an allegorical summary of the drunk/heartbroken years I mentioned earlier. And then I’ll probably do a couple more shorts or music videos while I get my feature scripts ready.
You’ve sent the film out to various film festivals. What’s the response been like and are there any upcoming festival appearances where people can check it out?
Tex premiered at the Beloit International Film Festival and that was an amazing experience. The attendance was great and the audiences were very appreciative. It’s shown at a few others since then. The next appearance, one I’m very excited about, is the 1 Reel Film Festival in Seattle.
What piece of advice would you give to anyone who’s setting out to make their first film? What are some of the pitfalls they should look out for?
Sometimes I go to the supermarket and see organic vegetables all covered in dirt. I suspect they don’t wash them because if they were clean, nobody would believe they were organic. Similarly, in indie film there seems to be an aversion to making the picture look good, because apparently that’s too mainstream and commercial and Hollywood, man. I vehemently disagree. Making something look like crap does not add any intrinsic value. It’s just laziness.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?
It’s the nature of this business that I, as director, get a lot of credit when something turns out well, but this film is the cumulative result of a lot hard work by many very talented people. Too many to list here. Check out the IMDb page. They are all awesome.