"I really want to take my mom to the Oscars"
Jhosimar Vasquez is a Los Angeles based film director, originally from Peru. His recent film, The Scorpion's Tale, won the Top Shorts Film of the Month award, gaining an overall 9+ rating from the jury.
After directing several music videos, seven shorts and a feature, Jhosimar (only 23 years old!) is now in the process of making his second feature film, "Blue Fernanda", about the reality of illegal immigration to America.
In the following interview, Jhosimar shares his thoughts about filmmaking and storytelling, and inspires us with his unique, humble approach to life.
There is no doubt - this talented filmmaker is on his way to the top.
Tell us about your background. What was it like growing up in Peru, and why did you leave?
I am lucky to have experienced many different cultures that have helped me develop a unique perspective on life. I went to kindergarten in Lima, Perú, it was very different then schools in the United States. Kindergarten and first grade were in the same classroom and the same teacher would give us different lessons, there were a total of 25 students. There were blank white walls, we sat at tables. One time, I was failing school and my dad brought me to his room and instead of being angry with me or scolding me for doing baldy, he told me that he didn’t think that school was a good fit for me. The next day, he took me to a new kindergarten. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders the whole way there. The kindergarten was called Mi Nuevo Mundo (My New World), I felt more comfortable at the new school and did much better.
My dad used to sing a lot, but before he’d sing, he’d tell us stories about how he met my mom and how having his 5 sons changed his life for the better. He always said to “Recordar es volver a vivir” (to remember is to live again). I grew up really close to my family.
We left Perú in 2000, when I was 6 years old, to move to Los Angeles, CA. My parents were entrepreneurs who had started a company in Perú and wanted to bring it to America. I remember my first impression of California: it was so big. There were fast-moving freeways and huge buildings. I remember I couldn't understand English, so I would twist words in Spanish and pretend it was English so my parents would think I knew English.
I was first exposed to the film industry while living in L.A.. We used to walk around Hollywood blvd and see the movie premieres with their red carpets and the movie stars wearing beautiful clothes. I remember even my dad was impressed by the suits. He said, “one day one of my kids will be there, and wear a suit like that.” At first, I thought it was a life that me and my family would never have. I thought that people looked at us as village people. My parents and older brothers didn’t speak English and were intimidated by the quick-speaking Americans, but they were strong and persevered. My parents took me to Universal Studios and Disneyland. I remember the huge parking lot, my brothers got me a booklet for all the disney characters to sign. Everyone was very friendly at Disneyland, I had never seen anything like it before. Its a small world was my favorite ride, you got to go on a little boat and it took you around the “world.” I remember that we were all excited when we came across Perú, it was comforting to see our home represented in Disneyland. We moved to Mexico City when I was 12 years old and I didn’t return to Los Angeles until college.
How did you get into writing and directing? Was this something you always wanted to pursue? What makes you passionate about storytelling?
Every time as I went to sleep, I would listen to music and imagine how I could put myself into the song. I am always playing songs in my head; there’s a constant sound track to my life. The film Cinema Paradiso was one of the first movies that I watched which drove me into movies. Theres a scene in the movie, where a man moves the projector outside on the street so everyone can see the movies, even those who don’t have money. That scene was so inspiring to me, you can do anything you want with movies, you can express yourself, and other people can understand your experiences and emotions.
At first my family wanted all of us to have degrees in business, I tried to get into Tecnológico de Monterrey, a college in Mexico, but failed the test twice. However, I had a feeling that it wasn’t meant to be and that I was meant to do something else. I heard about the film school, SAE Instituto de Medios Creativos, through a classmate that wanted to study film.
My parents didn’t know that I was going to film school, only my brother Jhoel did. He bought me my first camera and my first laptop. We learned the basics and theory of film, and how to use a camera at SAE.
I started coming to LA for vacation for a few days at a time. It felt right to be in LA. I was failing the film school in Mexico and started to feel like it wasn’t the right fit for me. I remembered going to kindergarten in Perú and how my dad told me that the school was’t right and changed me to a new one. I studied in Mexico for a year and then decided to apply for a student visa to go to college in LA, I did it by myself, only my brother knew about it. My parents found out I was in film school about half a year after I had started. They weren’t mad, they understood what I was going through. They told me to make sure it was what I wanted. I knew I had to go to LA to expand my grasp of film and find where I belonged.
I learned how to write scripts, create characters, utilize camera angels, and work with different lenses through youtube videos. I applied to one school, New York Film Academy, and I got in.
People don’t always feel what you felt while creating the story, however, they feel their own experience and that is just as important.
Directing The Scorpion's Tale
Can you share a bit of your creative writing process? What happens when you have an idea for a film, how many drafts do you usually create, what do you do if you have a writer's block, are there any mentors who give you notes?
I use my notes app on my iphone to start jotting down ideas when I get an idea for a film. They’re usually scattered and may be hard to understand others, but they make perfect sense to me. I listen to a soundtrack while I picture the story. I make sure to include that in the notes, that way when I read the notes again I can listen to the music and be taken back to the story.
The amount of drafts I write depend on the project. For a music video I do two drafts, but for scripts for short films I do like 6 or 7. We name each draft a different color, i.e.. pink draft, blue draft, once we know the story we call it the “golden draft.”
What really helped me progress as a writer was learning about subtext and how it works. Also, getting hard feedback and being able to use it constructively made a big difference.
To solve writers block I like to go on drives late at night and look around the city for inspiration. I listen to music and let myself imagine different possibilities.
The Scorpion's Tale - Behind the Scenes
We loved the story of "The Scorpion's Tale". How did you come up with the story? Is this based on true events / true characters from your life?
It was inspired from my life experiences. I had to go to an office at a prison to get a background check and be approved for Mexican citizenship. I saw mothers and grandmothers waiting outside the door holding food. I remember asking what they were doing, Someone told me they were waiting to see their loved ones that were facing the death penalty. When I wrote this script, I put myself in their shoes. I imagined it was the last time I would see a family member, helpless, and unable to do anything to change their fate. It's a horrible experience to go through.
Then Maximiliano Hernandez, the lead actor, came on board believing in this project and to also involve himself in the writing process, and instead of making it a short film only, we wrote in an ongoing films series.
The Scorpion's Tale - Official Trailer
What movies / TV shows inspired you when creating your directorial vision for this project?
I watched documentaries of people in the worst prisons in the world. I was also inspired by Sicario were I found Maximiliano, he plays the corrupt federal police officer who helps drug dealers bring drugs over the Mexican-American border. I also pulled inspiration from the hit Netflix series Narcos. I wanted to portray real life and not glamorize it. It had to real world.
How did you form the creative team behind it?
I use a team of Russians to create my films. I have my film crew first and then my editing crew and we all work together to create the best possible results.
The Scorpion's Tale - Behind the Scenes
How long was the shoot, and what did you enjoy the most about it?
The shoot lasted 3 days. The most enjoyable part was working with professional actors and inviting my classmates to come to my set and learn from the professionals working there.
The Scorpion's Tale is an impressive cinematic piece, in every aspect. The production-value of it is fantastic. What was the biggest challenge in the making of this film?
The biggest challenge was getting everyone to see my vision and getting everyone in sync in pre-production.
The Scorpion's Tale - Behind the Scenes
This isn't your first short film, before that, your IMDb profile reveals a lot of film work! What did you learn from this production, and what will you do differently in your next one?
I learned a lot from working with professional actors and gained much more confidence in my ability as a director. I got to know my crew better and learned more about how to push the actors in order to evoke emotion. What I would do differently would be to set aside more time for filming. We did 48 shots per day, I’d want to do 20 shots in a day instead and spread out the filming over time.
Do you have any upcoming projects you're working on?
I’m working on a feature film that focuses on the reality of illegal immigration to America: its dangers and the hope for a new life that the immigrants carry. I want to show that they are people looking for safety, they are hard workers, they are smart, and take huge risks to come to this country. The film will be called Blue Fernanda, we are in the middle of writing the script.
Currently, as an independent filmmaker, you often write, produce and direct your own content - which is very impressive. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope to have produced multiple features and be well known in the film industry. I want to succeed in my career but retain the same values and morals that I currently hold. I don’t want success to change who I am.
My parents have done so much to give me a better life, I just want them to be able to relax. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. I really want to take my mom to the Oscars so she can look at me on stage and say “that’s my son” and I can look at her and say, “that’s my mom”.
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