Q&A WITH THE DIRECTOR: PAUL KAMPF
Tell us about the production.
The film shot entirely in Puerto Rico, using locations from all over the island, including San Juan national historical sites: El Morro and San Cristobal. The film was a 29-day shoot, which we completed in 28. Our director of photography came from Los Angeles, but every other crew member was hired locally.
The film stars American actor Laurence Fishburne, and a strong international Latin cast – how did you convince Fishburne to play a morally suspect prison warden and how did you go about casting the film?
Laurence strongly responded to the material, first and foremost. He loved the duality of Warden Calvin and felt that there were very few characters in films allowed to have such a complex duality.
We worked with casting director, Carla Hool to find the most culturally and creatively accurate lead cast members. She was able to place the script in the hands of amazing actors who responded very strongly.
As we cast locally, we looked to find an authenticity to match the rest of our cast. In doing so, we were able to offer a supporting role to a formerly incarcerated individual who took on this challenge as a first-time actor and delivered a dynamic and authentic performance.
What was it like working with John Heard on the last film he shot before he passed away?
John Heard was one of my acting idols and I was fortunate to cast him in a lead role in my first film, ‘brothers three’ in 2005. John was revered in the acting community, and for many actors in this film, as well. Therefore, it was very special to me that his time on the island was a glorious experience for him. I saw him laugh, play and truly enjoy his on set and off set experience in Puerto Rico. My last conversation with him was about how much he loved the experience and was looking forward to working together again.
Did the film have a positive social impact in Puerto Rico?
We achieved this in many ways, including equal pay for our female and male leads. We worked closely with the formerly incarcerated to provide them opportunities in front of the camera, and also left a positive footprint in every town and location where the film was shot, by working with the local businesses to ensure community involvement in the making of the film.
With the release of the film, we are collaborating with the nonprofit organization, PeaceLove, to bring awareness to their work and will be donating a portion of ticket sales to bring more mental health art therapy sessions to incarcerated men and women across the globe.
It was important for us to promote female and minority heads of departments whenever possible to diversify the whole filmmaking process, and we had a talented group of women heading up several positions:
Casting Director: Carla Hool
Casting Associate: Kim Williams
Puerto Rican Cd: Patricia Alonso
Production Designer: Mayna Magruder
Set Decorator: Glenda Rosa
Costume designer: Ana C. Ramirez Velez
Head Makeup: Dominique Borrel
Key Makeup Artist: Marta Ezal Colon
Key Hair Stylist: Edna Franjul
Production Manager: Rosi Acosta
Production Supervisor: Lauri E. Vega
Were there any big on-set challenges, or Puerto Rican specific hurdles?
We were shooting primary fight sequences in the national historical fort, San Cristobal where they had not allowed such shooting prior. We had the major ‘fight sequence’ in the brick and cobble stone hallways underneath the fort. Because of the significance of this location, we could not touch the walls during the fight sequence, nor could be make any alterations. So, our fight choreography needed to be adjusted to create the desired impact, with these unique limitations.
Further, we had a gallows where hangings in the movie take place. Because the film moves between this location 25 years apart, we needed to be able to age and damage the gallows in the present and have it look/function normally in the past. However, we had to shoot the scenes all in the same day and it was impossible to have the structure look new, then aged and then new again.
Creatively, we found two identical rooms in San Cristobal that allowed us to have mirrored spaces where one gallows could be shot, taken apart, and moved to the second space, which was already aged and ready for camera. By coming up with this solution we saved an amazing amount of time and money while not sacrificing the aesthetic of the film.
Much of our shoot took place in Vega Alta Prison, which was an active, but cleared out location. In one of the key climactic scenes, we intended to have rain during a prison yard fight. However, logistically we needed to hold the scene inside the main prison. Through special effects ingenuity, we were able to get the sprinkler system in the prison fully active for the scene. To trigger them in the story, we needed a fire to light during the fight. This led to multiple stunt actors being willing to be lit on fire to motivate the effect.
This was the last group scene to shoot, so when we rolled multiple cameras, the water went on and the fight, which included 50 people, was glorious.
When did you wrap in relation to when the hurricane hit?
We wrapped June 22nd of 2017. We were the last film to wrap prior to the hurricane.
Our post-production housed in Puerto Rico and when the hurricane hit, we lost contact with our post-production team for over a week. We had no idea how anyone was, personally, nor how it had affected our footage. Once we re-established contact, we lost time, but not the footage. Based on backups in Puerto Rico and LA, we were able to reassemble the edit and continue within two weeks of the hurricane.
Did the hurricane do any damage to the locations where you’d filmed?
The only locations that sustained no damage were the historical forts, as they were built to sustain foreign invasion.
The home for Maria and Dylan, as well as their restaurant and the bar where we shot all were deeply impacted by the storm. Power all over the island was out, but more importantly, windows, roofs and property structures were all damaged. Rebuilding started after the hurricane and continues to this day. Each location is forever altered by the storm’s massive impact.
Can you expand upon the decision to use fictionalized hangings in the film?
The film explores capital punishment’s value for deterrence versus revenge and the power of redemption. Although hanging is not legal in Puerto Rico, it serves as a visceral and effective representation for the film’s deeper conflicts and themes surrounding rehabilitation and punishment.
Can you tell us about the music and live band in the film?
The music played live in the movie is by Puerto Rican band, Orquesta el Macabeo. They formed over ten years ago and made up of some of the most talented musicians on the island. Well-known locally, they also have performed all over the world. It was a great pleasure to showcase their talent and music in this film.