Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Last Four Years...

I didn't have a chance to say happy November! That means Thanksgiving is around the corner, along with Christmas, and sooner than you know it... the year is almost over. I can't believe it! And on top of that...I have been working on this documentary for the last four years or so. Wow! four years ... sometimes I can't even believe it. So today I wanted to give a little background of how I got started with "Words of Revolution." Everyone always asks me, "why this project?" Well, this project hits home for me because it concerns my Salvadoran roots.  

After attending Loyola Marymount University, I continued living in Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to find work through the entertainment business doing grip jobs, office work, or assistant duties. I gained a lot of experience from working at these different places and I have to actually schooled me on the "game." There's definitely a BIG difference from what you learn in school and what you learn in the working field or I should say the "Real World." Overall, I took the opportunity and it has made me a little smarter about the entertainment "game." But the only problem was, I wasn't trying to climbed the corporate ladder. 

I'm a filmmaker - I make films! Therefore, during those times I was looking for a project that was unique, a story that would make some noise, and hopefully have a project that would make an impact in the film world. Most importantly, I wanted to find a project that would have a small budget. Though it did take some time to find that project. At that time, I was writing scripts, but they had too much of a big budget (so finding money would be a pain as well). I did short films, but they weren't something that could of turned into features.

But that all changed when I decided to go to a festival in August 6 of 2006. The event was called "Dia de los Salvadorenos " (Salvadoran day). This event is celebrated every August 6 and it celebrates pride and culture for Salvadorans living in the United States. In Los Angeles the event is a weekend long of festivities. 

So this was something I had to check out! But I mainly wanted to go because it dealt with my culture and I wanted to experience something different. To be honest, I never knew something like this even existed. So I brought a camera to record the festival that was happening at Exposition Park by USC. When I got there, I enjoyed the Salvadoran food, listened to cumbia music, and I was meeting other Salvadoran folks.

While wondering, I noticed on the other side of the festival was a stage for live music. I was curious of who would be singing. I automatically thought to myself maybe an old-school cumbia group will be performing. But when I was getting closer, I was hearing people free-styling in hip-hop, but in Spanish. On stage, I saw a Salvadoran artist rapping to the crowd like a super star. I was blown away by the way he was rhyming. He was talking about the culture and politics. This artist immediately caught my eye. I was more surprised because I had no idea that Salvadoran Hip-hop even existed. The next guy that came on stage was just as good. He had this deep and powerful voice that was vibrant. Next thing you know more rappers followed. 

I liked the other Salvadoran hip-hop artists, but the first two just grabbed my attention immediately. I was so intrigued that I wanted to learn more about them and their music. There was a backstage area that I happened to find my way to. I saw the first Salvadoran Artist that I liked and I approached him. I introduced myself and he said, "Whats up, my name is Santos." He was a cool guy with a lot of presence. He seemed to have that star quality in him. I learned that he was from the Bay and SD. 

At that moment I was thinking to myself ... I wanted to do something with him, maybe make a video, make a movie - I really didn't know what, but I wanted to do something. We exchanged numbers and I told him "expect a call." He just said "hit me up whenever, I'm down." Thereafter, I got a hold of the other Salvi Artist. His name was Robwest and he was pretty cool as well. He lives in the heart of Los Angeles. While conversating, I found out that him and Santos were good friends. We talked a little and also exchanged numbers as well. But before I was about to leave, he gave me a sticker that read, "El Salvador Rap.Com." He said, "make sure you check my website." And I sure did that same day. 

That website opened a lot of doors for me. I learned that there was a whole Salvadoran underground music community. I was blown away! I learned about different artist, reviews, and music videos. It led me finding more people on Youtube and Myspace. Around that time I got a Myspace account so I can reach out and listen to more Salvi music. 

Through the website of El Salvador Rap.Com, I learned about "Reyes Del Bajo Mundo." They were a group from New York. The website led me to their music videos that they made in the past. They've been around for awhile and I didn't even know it. There videos were really good, they were creative, and shot very well. Their music had a lot of swag, vibe, and a lot of energy that made me want to watch again. I think within a week or so I reached out to them and introduce myself as a filmmaker. I kept learning and learning about this Salvi Hip-Hop. During this time I was only into making narrative films. I knew with everything I knew about the Salvi Hip-Hop, it would be difficult to make a feature film, only because their were too many things to cover and touch on. So that's when it hit me... I should make a documentary out of this. 

I'm a big fan of documentaries, but I didn't know too much about making one. So I did some research and called some ex-school buddies of mine that had experiences with Docs. One of my friends gave me some good leads. He mentioned for Docs you need to do a proposal. I said, "huh?" So he gave me some websites to look at for some sample proposals. The more I was surfing on the net, the more I learned about programs that help financed doc projects. 

After learning all that, I started writing my proposal. It took me the first year to develop my story. I made a lot of progress that year. The artist that I was in contact with the most was Santos. He was my guide to understanding a lot about the music scenery. He was a big help. Everything seemed to fall in place and I wanted to make this doc about these Slavi Rappers, their music, and why they even chose to use Hip-hop as their form of expression. I fell in love with the idea!!!! And finally my baby was born!

The doc would touch on these Salvi artists' who are from different places in the United States. And more interestingly, they all knew each other and became friends because of the music. I want to explore that - "different groups, different places, and one cause"

So ideas were rolling in my head. I meant every word that I wanted to make this project. I used my resources and called people that I thought could help... but to make the story short - Nothing happened - I had little help or no help at all. 

At the end of that year, Reyes del Bajo Mundo was flying to LA for a show. It would be my first time meeting them in person. So I wanted to take advantage! They were down-to-earth guys. They were straight New Yorkers saying,"Yo," "Kid," "Son," all the time. When I met them, I also met FenomeDon. He was from the D.C area. We talked and he was into the idea of the Doc. He was glad that their was something positive representing the culture. He was a smart guy and we got along pretty good. After watching their show on the Hollywood strip, I knew FenomeDon would be a good piece to add to my doc. All of them rocked the show and just had represented! It was good to meet them and they were even happier when I told them I wanted to make a doc about them. That night, I re-wrote my proposal and added FenomeDon to the mix. Everything was going as planned. Now, I had to figure out how to find some money to finance my project.

When the proposal was done that year, I felt it still needed more work. For some reason my vision wasn't transferring on paper as i wanted. Something was missing! I needed to add another element to the doc. There was not enough layers to have a full length story. Eventually, I figured it out. I decided to add a history section about the culture. I feel that the history has played a major role in the salvadoran culture. In turn, the music was born because of the history. If I tied  history and music together, then I have something.

For example, through Santos I learned that hip-hop was also spreading in El Salvador. Groups like Pescozada were talking about poverty, politics, and violence. I thought that was interesting. Here I figured it would be a good idea to include a history section into my doc. This would help the audience understand the culture and music more. And as I mentioned in my first blog - The Civil War in El Salvador was a tragedy. 

The following year I started sending out my proposal to programs. Every proposal that I sent out that year was all rejected. I didn't know why, but it happened. I couldn't figure it out. I really believed that I had a good story.

Time was passing and the rejection letters were mounting. Maybe the programs did not understand my vision??? I really didn't know why... But it bugged me. That's when I decided to make a trailer and show some sample work. I talked to Santos and I told him the situation. He thought it was a good idea to show some sample work. Therefore, we made some arrangements where I would spend some time with him. I got some footage of his daily life, collected old footage that he had, shot some concerts he was performing, and got a short interview from him. During that time, Santos gave me a copy of his first album, "Dialecto Nativo." It was an album where he collaborated with Pezcozada. I have to say that album is classic! I decided to use one of his song to go along with my sample trailer. 

Not only was I filming Santos, I had some footage that I shot at the festival and I happened to shoot footage of Reyes del Bajo Mundo when they were performing on the Hollywood strip. I had enough material to put together a trailer. It took me about five months or so to assemble a 2-3 minute trailer. I went through every footage as detailed as possible. I stayed up late nights and worked every weekend to create various cuts. The trailer turned out to be very good. I was very happy with it. I was getting some good feedback from peers and friends. With the trailer you can clearly see the potential of the project. I said to myself, "with this sample work there is no way that I can get rejected from programs or investors." But I did.

I re-wrote and re-wrote... I even had my friend who is a very smart, beautiful, and a very creative writer to help me with my proposal. She helped a lot with clearing my thoughts and expressing my words carefully. We simplified the proposal. She was a big part of the proposal and I thank her everyday. I really believed that my proposal was very sound. Now that I have revised my proposal and finished making a trailer, I felt very confident about my project. I was hoping this time around that someone would believe in my project. And again... I received more rejections.

The year after that I had to take some time off away from the project. It was heartbreaking and frustrating that no one would listen or give me an opportunity. I ended up getting involved with other projects to keep my mind off "Words of Revolution." These other projects weren't something that my heart was into, but it was work. So I was a little lost and felt maybe "Words of Revolution" was not good enough. But deep down in my heart, I knew that wasn't true. While time was passing, it was also hard to focus on my project. I was off and on with a job and being unemployed at times. Financially, things got rough for me because it was when the country was in the height of a recession. Not too many jobs were available and a lot of people were loosing jobs. So I had to act quick before things could get a lot worse, like being homeless. I was working so hard to to find financing for my project... But nothing was rolling in. It was getting difficult for me to dedicate my time to the project because I had to find money to pay rent, eat, and live.

One year was passing, another year was passing, and another year was passing... It was getting to the point that nothing was moving forward. I was afraid of loosing faith from the Salvi Artists'. I was scared that they wouldn't be interested in the project anymore because there were times that I would be out of touch. But the good thing is I wasn't completely out of touch. I would send emails here and there and maybe give them a call to let them know I was still around. I'm just glad they didn't give up on me. It was tough and I had no other choice, but to take a break. I ran into a wall! I had to re-group and take a step back because financially I was not in a good situation. Going through emotions, I ended finding a freelance gig and also ended up writing a script based on my documentary (I figured out a structure that would work for a feature). It ended up becoming the Salvi version of "8 mile." It's still in works, but I'll save that for another conversation.

The time off helped a lot. I decided to give it another try and re-write my proposal. I ended up sending my proposal one last time... And again it was rejected. I had no clue what the issue was. I kept revising my proposal. And then after awhile I said to myself, "Why do I need to re-write?" I'm basically writing the same thing over and over. I was only expressing my proposal in different ways and re-arranging the structure... Then I said, "Who am I writing this for? For the programs or for myself?" 

This is my project, my voice, my vision! That is when I woke up and said, "its time to make moves."

I never been so attach to a project as I am to this one. But, I really believe in it, its my baby.

This is all for now.

Junior Gonzalez
The Filmmaker

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