Exclusive interview with writer-director Eli Vazquez
In an exclusive interview, Flickering Myth sat down as writer-director Eli Vazquez to discuss his latest film project Bodies will fall and fallpremiering at this year’s Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF)
Welcome to Flickering Myth! Can you tell us about life before cinema, where did you spend your childhood?
I grew up in northwest Indiana. Just outside of Chicago, so we had more diversity than cornfields and seasoned food. I was the eldest by 10 years, so I spent my time fighting over a burger while going down to my room watching all the quintessential indie movies from the 2000s. It was a crazy time growing up in the neighborhood while being an independent nerd kid, asking for Motorhead at the local quincenera.
Have you always dreamed of working in the entertainment industry?
I have always been artistic. Growing up in poverty, we didn’t have the money to really invest in school, but I was able to participate in after-school programs because I was good at painting or drawing. I’ve always been obsessed with movies, but I was afraid to explore it because my Latina mom thought I was destined to be a priest (Seriously, when I was baptized, the priest held me back Lion King style in church and announced that it was my destiny). One day fate beat me to an iPod and we moved to a nice neighborhood with a film class at this high school. The rest was history and I’ve been obsessed since I was 18.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would your career be?
Dude… honestly, an astrophysicist. I sucked in science class, but I’m obsessed with space and time. For example, I study it on my own and take every Astro class I can get my hands on. Neil deGrasse Tyson is my Harry Styles.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite movies you’ve made so far?
I made a movie that got me blacklisted at my college called The barbed dolls. It was my first movie and the whole film department was trying to shut it down. He won the best in class award, but because I pissed off so many teachers, they said I wouldn’t get an award for it. I said screw it and it entered festivals across the country and won the student prize at the Chicago International Latin Film Festival. It’s not my best work at all, but it taught me how to be a rebel and stick to your vision. I love having this chaos in the beginning.
More recently, you completed your horror comedy, Bodies Will Tumble and Roll. What is the backstory and what inspired the idea for the film?
This movie is going to melt faces and I’m so excited about it. All thanks to the Los Angeles International Latin Film Festival and Netflix who created an Afro-Latino Film Fellowship and brought me in as a Fellow. They gave me money and advice, but what I liked the most was that they let me tell my story. I like to tell fun stories with a deep message. I have 6 little sisters and aunts who were cheerleaders, so I wanted to tell a story where they would see themselves being badass in a classic American horror setting. It revolves around a lot of issues that we have in the Latino community in terms of colorism, what generation you are, and national superiority. All issues that I have dealt with personally and that have alienated me from my community. I wanted to tell an empowering story of badass black and brown cheerleaders fighting each other, but with the message that we have to accept our differences and come together as a community in order to get things done.
A few words about your approach as a film director?
Given that we were doing a low-budget, indie with action scenes and an all-encompassing cast – every second counted. So I needed preparation, preparation, preparation and to have a plan b, c, d, e, f. I did all of this so that we felt confident to play in the comedic moments between the actors. There are so many hilarious moments with the cast that I wanted us to have the time and the confidence to stay in a moment knowing that all storylines were planned. Luckily for me, the cast was absolutely hilarious and amazing to work with and made my job so much easier. We took the time to meet before bonding and I think the brotherhood between the team really shows on screen.
How was the atmosphere on set? Were there any challenges?
It was wild. It still does, but I knew we were going in the right direction when it was the end of the day, we shot tons of shots, everyone wants to fall asleep but we’re gonna shoot a comedy scene and the whole team is laughing. That’s how you know you’ve got gold and that you’re working with people who like that kind of stuff. This love is what kept us going and made this project what it was meant to be.
Do you have a specific preference for the genre or types of projects you both want to do?
I love science fiction and horror. I think people make it so limited, but you can add anything to these worlds. Romance, drama, comedy. It adds so much depth. Jordan Peele really opened the door in so many ways. I also like ensemble pieces. My growing family provided me with so much material and writing skills as a filmmaker that I’m excited to explore multiple characters. Ultimately, I want to tell fun stories with people of color that aren’t primarily about trauma or needing to be a reason for them to be of color. Just them experiencing life and all the challenges in it.
How would you describe yourself as a director/filmmaker?
I’m like an Applebee on the outside and an upscale restaurant on the inside. I bring you in with a fun storyline that anyone in the world can enjoy, but when you walk in you realize the story is more sophisticated than expected and you come out satisfied while gaining a deeper perspective and appreciation of life. I grew up in the Midwest, so I want to bring everyone together and leave them with something more.
Which filmmakers inspire you?
Michel Gondry, Taika Waititi, Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, Spike Jonze, Ava DuVernay.
All of these people created work and came from places where I see myself. It gave me hope that I can tell stories out of the mold with heart and that people will always receive it.
Can you tell us your top 5 movies of all time? Do you have a specific “go to”?
Alright…I learned early on that there are no rules in this game and the roster is constantly changing, so fuck it. 1. The Wedding Singer 2. Inner Sun of the Spotless Mind 3. The Godfather 4. O brother, where are you? 5. queen and slender.
What’s next for you?
We have the feature in development for Bodies will fall and roll. The short is a proof of concept, so we’re thrilled to have our world premiere at the Los Angeles Latin Film Festival to show the world what it can be and get the feature made early in next year.
Do you have anything else to add?
For anyone reading this, just enjoy the process and never forget how far you or your family have come. If you can tell a story on a screen, you’re living the good life. I will never forget my grandfather carrying sacks of potatoes to school in Puerto Rico to create a life for him where I can now. It humbles me and keeps me going.
How can people find out more about you?