Faith-based films are the talk of the town in Hollywood. From the biblical epic Son of God to the true story of Sony Pictures' Miracles From Heaven, faith-based films are bringing in big stars and big box office numbers.
We have often wondered how directors are dealing with faith-based films. One of these directors is award-winning Puerto Rican director Luis Enrique Rodriguez Ramos, director of the groundbreaking faith-based film Dos Caminos. This film ranked in big box office numbers in Puerto Rico as well as a star-studded premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.
CB: Describe the beginnings of your career. What was your first directing job?
I’ve been a director for the past 24 years working in advertising and film. I started out as a producer in college.
I was as accepted at the University of Puerto Rico's School of Communications in 1992. Our film class first group project was to do a music video. We were six people and only one could be the director so one of my classmates got voted as the director. I was voted as the producer. After that project I knew a few people in the industry. I worked my way up to make a few short films and videos with almost the same team. Soon after I was working as a production assistant in a few commercials and later as a production coordinator. I was very happy in the production department but I knew that directing was my passion. I kept producing and started editing at the same time. This was a great move since editing is very creative.
Few years later, I was able to create my own production house and started directing and producing with the help of great people who have impacted my life. They know who they are. Ever since I have being directing and producing commercials, documentaries, content and in 2013 I directed my first film Por Amor en el Caserio a social urban film with great reviews. In 2017 I released my second film and hope to be directing my third at the end of 2017.
I would say that telling stories and making moving images is my greatest inspiration in shooting a film. That element of creating something that people love, reacts to, see themselves in it... is awesome and very inspiring.
My first commercial was a Coors Light spot. I remember I did that commercial in 35mm with an Arri 435. The cross process (skip bleach) was very in. It was a very visual promo. I was so nervous about all the decisions I made that day as a director. That same day I understood that directing is so much more than visualizing. It is to be a leader, to put a great team together and to feed them your vision leading them to create what you have in mind. That day I knew what teamwork is all about.
CB: How was your family life growing up?
I’m from Bayamón Puerto Rico, from a Barrio called La Aldea. I have 2 brothers and awesome parents. My father is a very hard-working salesman and my mother was a housewife and great mother. My two brothers are Psychologists and College professors great guys to have around. Love them all ‘till death.
We were raised in a modest home. Most of my childhood I spent creating things to do outdoors and creating stories with my things and whatever I had in hand. I come from a place where family comes first. Where the sun comes out all year-long (a year of summer) and where food and festivities are everyday life, but hard work was one of the lessons to be learned no matter what.
My family and Puerto Rico are an essential part of who I am. It's the definition of my persistence and my constant fight for what I believe in and want to achieve. That early life gave me blueprints of what I wanted to seek as an adult and professional. And now, being a Film Director, husband, father and soon to be father again of twins, I’m very grateful of everything that my family and country (Puerto Rico) has given me.
CB: You directed one of the most commercially succesful films in the history of Puerto Rico, Por Amor en El Caserio, tell us about this Romeo and Juliet of the projects.
Por Amor en el Caserio was a very special project. The film was one of the most successful films of that year (2013). Originally, “Por Amor” is a play that ran for over 12 years in a row. Its a very special play that Antonio Morales (creator) did for the youngsters in the Caserio that he lived in (Luis Llorens Torres). Soon enough he started to show the play in other places until a group of producers saw the play and thought it would make a great film.
When they called me I was thrilled but nervous. I always thought I was ready to direct a film but you never know until you are on set. My biggest experience was in 30 and 60 seconds stories (commercials) so I had to prepare a lot for this film. I read the script everyday and made notes. The producers and the writer wanted me to use my visualization but keeping the essence of the original play. That was most challenging. I wanted to be different in a good way, to be true to the story but having a cinematic look. I visualized this film everyday and every second during that time. I knew that we had a great story, people started to call it the Romeo and Juliet of the projects. I wanted to give the story more, so I created the most important character in the film “The Caserío” (the actual housing project) I thought that through the eyes of the caserío the story will take another life and will be very different from other stories. With that in mind I started profiling the characters and blending them within the Caserío. After we put all the characters wihtin the story's perspective all the other details just fell into place. We shot for 24 days most of them inside the Caserío. We got to live the life we were portraying day by day. Por Amor is a very classic Romeo and Juliet story but with lots of twists. It is a story about family, betrayal, love, compassion, decisions and consequences.
CB: What are some of the challenges you encounter as a director in getting a film off the ground?
Making a film is hard work. Many details and many people are involved in the process. First, we need a good story. I think that if you have a good story the project is halfway there. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a done deal but knowing that will give you the confidence to move forward.
The other challenge is finding investors to produce that great story. Puerto Rico has a great film incentive that can make the local film industry a success. Right now Puerto Rico is going through economic challenges. The government can’t support the incentive offers nor can afford to lose them because if we lose the progress we’ve made over the last few years we will lose a great opportunity to develop one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It is like being between a rock and a hard place.
My experience is that although it is hard work, no challenge is bigger than the passion you have for your project. Many challenges will come. Maybe some will be different from mine but what we must not forget is that at the end of the day you will know that all those challenges were necessary so that your project becomes a reality. Keep on rolling!!!
CB: Which legendary directors inspire you?
I love to be inspired. I admire lots of directors and their stories. I’m the kind of director that looks in the micro and not so much the macro. I like the details that make everything different. I can get inspired with a director for his personal story or by the way he directs or maybe because of his persistence as a professional. Inspiration comes in many ways, but I get inspired not from names or awards but from how he got there, their persistence, for fighting in what you believe in. I admire Francis Ford Coppola for his tenacity, Milos Forman for his cinematic style, Stanley Kubrick for his stories, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and A.G.Inarritu for making it as successful Latino directors in Hollywood, Wes Anderson for his look and symmetry, Tony Scott for starting (as me) in advertising and then doing cinema, just to name a few.
CB: You are being compared with director Guillermo Del Toro. Why do think the comparison is made and which similarities do you share with the Academy Award winning director?
To tell you the truth I don’t like comparisons that much, (laughs) but what I really know is that all directors share a great passion for what we do. We share passion for stories and images and we put our stories out there so that someone can enjoy it in some way.
I have my own style but I know that I’ve been influenced by many great directors including him. I enjoy so much Guillermo’s visual concepts; he is magical in a lot of ways and to me that’s very important. He has a very realistic approach to stories. It’s a style (craft) that I certainly try to do in my movies and would love to master.
CB: What would be your ideal cast in a film and why.
I’m usually very visual about my cast. I have a classic approach towards characters but try not fall into stereotypes. So, what’s ideal?. I like actors with initiative but not over-confident, actors with experience but able to learn with the process, actors that respect the craft, new actors with illusions and new techniques to be learned. I like to mix new actors with more experimented ones. In a nutshell It’s just a matter of what the story needs and what you as a director are able and willing to give to that character.
CB: You directed another hit film, Dos Caminos, a faith-based story with a twist. Could you please elaborate on how you were able to deal with a faith-based message mixed with violent elements.
Dos Caminos was a very special project that I shot in 2016. The producers at MAG Film Studios wanted to make a faith-based film in spanish with english subtitles so they contacted me. The story was originally created by one of our executive producers, Polo Avilés. These producers were the same from my first film so we knew each other very well. They wanted to make a film with great social and faith impact but with a commercial and entertainment twist, so we did it. We came up with a great story about two twin brothers. Their constant struggles in life and how second chances are in Gods every day miracles. It is a very eye-catching story of good and evil in everyday situations and how good people around you can help you get up on your feet and start walking the path of the real truth, God.
The challenge was to deliver a strong message for the Christian community but interesting enough for the secular public. We made a film where the message was not boring or preachy, used language and situations that everybody could relate to. Film techniques which make the visuals stand out and make the story flow. We tried to create a double standard in every character, expecting that audiences would interpret them the way they wanted. For instance the Sargent... was he the villain or was he the devil?
We had a premiere for the film in LA and afterwards we did a Q&A. We had great reactions from the public. The most amazing thing was that some people would compliment the film for it’s Christian value and others for its social value, so I think we accomplished our goal.
CB: What drives Luis Enrique Rodriguez?
I’ve been so blessed in many ways… My family, my wife and my kids make me want to do so much more… Those guys are the reason I work so hard and they are proud of me. Its funny, I always wanted to tell stories, but I never expected to get paid for it, so I’m very blessed to love what I do and do what I love. Passion is the heart and soul of everything.
CB: Tell Cinema Buzz about your current projects in pre-production.
My new project is called The Road Ahead (God’s Eye) (WORKING TITLE) We are still playing around with the title. It s a beautiful story about a teenage girl who lost her father. Her mother's new boyfriend triggers her to run away from home hiding in the back of a truck owned by Carlos, a depressed old man grieving the death of his daughter. His loss left him with nothing, including no faith and no desire to live. This action will release a series of events that will teach our characters that love, friendship and faith will endure any situation. All this will lead us to a place of magical powers with a surprise ending.
The Road Ahead (Gods Eye) will be a very visual film. One of my passions is photography. I’m spending every second of my time developing a very different visual. This film is a very well-rounded story that people will love and hopefully learn from. I’m very excited to make this film. It is the kind of film I look forward to make as a director because of the story, visuals and techniques.
After that, I have an offer to shoot a spanish language thriller called Utopía. It’s a movie with great pace and a very dense storyline about parallel worlds. It would be my first thriller.