When did you realise you wanted to be a Filmmaker\Actor\Writer?
I realized around high school that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was always telling stories in my mind, and entertaining myself with my own imagination. When I was a Freshman in high school I realized I was a fairly good writer, poet and storyteller. As the years progressed I focused more and more on storytelling, and the desire to direct was born from that process.
Do you remember your first time at the Movies?
Vaguely; as a child, my first memory of being in a movie theater was watching "Empire Strikes Back". I still recall the Hoth ice planet sequence and how amazing it all felt watching that battle unfold.
What do you think about Acting/ filmmaking schools?
You don't need film school to become a filmmaker, but you need to become willing to be a student of film. I learned how to write a proper screenplay due to my time in film school. I also learned to take chances, take on responsibility, work with a crew, navigate the needs of both cast and crew, and be bold by collaborating with others and sharing large visions from the work I did in film school. Do you need that? You can go right to work in the film industry if you can get a friend to get you on a crew, most film schools won't give you that. I think working in the film industry can teach you a lot about how film crews work, especially working in production on set, and in production offices, but it doesn't teach you to create.
Two films that have marked your life for better or for worse…
"Pulp Fiction". It took four years after the release of "Pulp Fiction" to STOP trying to write like Tarantino and Avery. It was so transformative to me and probably my generation, that it influenced everything I did for a long period of time. The other film, and this proves the lasting and enduring effect of this movie, is "Back to the Future". As a kid I loved the movie, and the love I had for that movie has endured to this day. The whole film is lightning in a bottle. Bob Gale's script is almost flawless, everything that happens in act one pays off in the movie. Robert Zemeckis' vision, pacing, timing, camera angles, and sheer creativity was very close to flawless, and Michael J. Fox's energy was infectious, you felt like you were in the movie with him the whole time. It's a film that shouldn't work on paper, but it absolutely does.
Have you ever hated your ambition?
I went broke twice trying to "make it" in the film business. I work as a furniture salesman now to make money, and I make enough money doing it that I could just earn a living. I am not a filmmaker because I want to be, I am a filmmaker because there is something in me that drives me to keep creating in this industry, however it looks, whatever it takes, because this is the thing that lights me up, and this is an artistic expression I feel called forward to share. I don't know that I hate my ambition, but life would be simpler without it. (laughing) But, then again, it's better to be ambitious than to be bored.
Francois Truffaut used to think that "Film Lovers are sick people”… was he right?
Truffaut was visionary. His work in the French New Wave to some extent influenced my short film "Let's Start Over", but I would argue most people are film lovers, not just sick people. Not all people like the same kind of films, not all films are popular, but all people like stories, and filmmaking is an immersive storytelling experience. People like watching things in movies they would never want to watch in real life, terror, heartbreak, isolation, world ending challenges. We tell stories to reach out to each other, to share an emotional experience, to surprise one another, and hopefully to win over other people with the stories we tell. If I can create a film that leaves the audience delighted and surprised then that's really all I'm trying to do. Filmmakers are no different than sales people, or class clowns, we just want to influence you enough that you buy into our story, or laugh at our outburst. It's high level communication, with base level relatability sprinkled throughout.
Close your eyes…if I say “Cinema” what do you see?
An illuminated marquee, with plastic letters placed over the light panel. But, I also think there is a pretension to the word, especially among cinefiles, so in hearing the word I can't help but imagine it's being spoken in an almost haughty manner and tone, somewhat reminiscent of the late James Lipton.
Who’s the Director\Actor\Writer that taught you the most?
At this point I don't even know. I grew up on Speilberg, I developed my voice under the influence of Tarantino and Kevin Smith (the latter being arguably the most relatable filmmaker I've ever admired). I'm a child of the '80's and a teenager of the '90's. I was amazed by the speciticle of big studio films, and inspired by the independent spirit of the filmmakers who made movies that didn't work with the studio system. But, if I'm being honest, filmmakers aren't the biggest influence on me at this stage in my life. I'm much more interested in life, history, time, and the lessons I've learned from my own mistakes. Sometimes to grow the most, you need to live more, read more, and be inspired from the world around you, not just the people who make movies in your world. At least that's how it happened in my experience.
About your job, tell us your biggest dream and your worst nightmare…
My biggest dream would be to do this full time, making money, creating and entertaining others, and having projects that are readily available for people who are inspired enough to see them. My worst nightmare is to lose my anonymity, lose control of the narrative of my life, and watch as it falls to judgment of others. That said, it's my life, the narrative of it really only exists in my mind, and I'm judged by others all the time anyway, so there's no sense worrying about it. I just want people to like my work so that my work can find an audience.
How important is it to have a good Cinematographic Culture?
I don't know. We've only had a cinematographic culture for around 125 years. We've only had a photographic culture for roughly 197 years, so in the whole of human history we found success without it. Storytelling on the other hand, I think is critical to human culture. I believe that storytelling has been what has allowed us to climb our way through evolution, and get to the point we are at today. Cinema, to some form, will be a part of our culture for years to come, but it might not be movies as we know them today. The world is getting more immersive, technology is changing rapidly, and what is being discovered in math, language, physics, and general intelligence is happening at a speed and depth right now that we can hardly comprehend. So how that affects cinematographic culture moving forward, I can't say. But, I can say this, we will, have, and will always learn from each other through stories, empathize with each other through stories, and relate to each other through stories. Whatever cinematographic culture becomes, it's the ability that it gives us to tell and share stories that will sustain its growth going forward.
What would you like to improve as a Filmmaker\Actor\Writer?
From a practical standpoint, I love the idea of being able to do more with less. As an independent filmmaker who has financed most of my own projects I know that every dollar counts, and people want to watch a movie that looks and feels like a movie, not a movie that looks and feels like a budget. So the ability to do more with less, and have a fully cinematic experience as a result is very appealing to me. From a creative standpoint, I want to be able to be able to tell stories worth telling, and make movies worth watching. It is cheaper to make movies these days, there's pros to that, more of us are able to create content and get it out, but there are cons too. There's a lot of noise in this industry, so to be able to make films that cut through all that and find an audience is very important to me. So before I go into any project, it's important to ask myself, is this project worth my time, and as I finish the edit, I must ask myself, is this project worth the time of my audience. Movies can get cheaper, the ability to broadcast movies can get easier, but the time one takes to watch your movie is more valuable now than it has ever been. So, if I can improve anything, I want to improve the impact my work has on its audience.
A big producer gives you the chance to direct\to play (in) the remake of one of your favorite black and white Movie (if you have one)… what film do you choose?
It's not an old movie, it's actually a television show from my childhood. I had a really good idea for a film version of "Knight Rider". With everything happening in AI, autonomous driving, technology in warfare, the idea feels like it's getting more and more timely as well. So, I would make a current version of "Knight Rider" as a movie.
Film Industry it’s a tough place and sometimes it is normal to feel lost and discouraged… Who's the person that keeps you motivated?
The teenager inside of me who really had big dreams of being a movie director. Disappointing him is the hardest thing I keep facing.
Alfred Hitchcock said: "To make a good film you need 3 things: The script, the script and the script". Do you agree with him? What’s your most ambitious project for the future?
Yes...unless it's a documentary. Then it's the story. I'm currently eyeing a documentary (as a filmmaker, those scare the hell out of me). Beyond that, who knows. A story that keeps my interest, that's what always moves me.
Do you think that sadness or at least melancholy lets us be more creative?
I used to, in fact if you asked me this question just after I finished "Let's Start Over", I would have said yes without question. I was also dealing with depression and didn't have a good solution for the depression I was feeling. I no longer believe that. Life is a cornucopia of emotions, and if you open your heart and expectations to anything life offers, you'll feel all of it eventually. But melancholy doesn't need to feed your world view, nor does it need to be the source from which you create. Empathy, above all else, is the special sauce for storytelling. You don't need to feel bad to write about it, but you need to relate to it, have compassion for it, and have an understanding for the emotion to write about it. The more you can empathize the deeper you can write, that doesn't mean you need to live in melancholy or sadness. If anything, I find it more inspiring now to live in excitement and hope, and write from a place of compassion. After all, excitement and hope fuel dreams, compassion fuels humanity. Believe in your dream, relate to your characters, and enjoy the journey along the way, whether your making millions of dollars as a filmmaker, or selling furniture to make money to make your movies, this is your only life, enjoy it as it is, be hopeful for the future you are stepping into, and try not to worry about the rest of it.
What do you wish for yourself as a Filmmaker\Actor \Writer?
First and foremost, I wish that my short film "Let's Start Over" gets picked up by a distributor or a streaming service so it can be enjoyed by a bigger audience. Then I wish I can keep making movies, and enjoy the process, while prospering along the way. Finally, I hope that my films have an impact on others and find their audience, so they can move, delight, excite, and endear those watching for many years to come.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor/director/ screenplayer?
It wasn’t really obvious for me that I would become a « director ». At the very beginning, the idea of being behind a camera or even approaching one frightened me. I had this image of a male-dominated, highly specialized field, and it was obvious to me that I’d never have what it takes to deal with that and an entire film crew . No, what I did want was to tell stories, to make the audience live amazing adventures throughout the movies. So, I thought I could at least try to become a screenwriter (let’s agree, on the paper it appeared to be simple. I still had the image of a writer, locked up in her office, sending the scripts to whomever would read it) and so, I wrote my first project. I had to face the reality of this world really quickly. I decided to go further with my project. Iwanted to create pictures, feelings. Step by step, I went outside of my comfort zone, away from the shy woman I was(well it’s a work in progress) and I tried to improve, following this path. Now, I wouldn’t want to stop for anything in the world.
How did your family react?
" If you’re going to do it, you’re not doing this halfway. Go for it." That’s what my parents told me and I think that’s what everyone beginning such a life plan needs
Do you have a Muse or a Role Model?
I am deeply convinced of the values I hold. They make me feel ready to fight and they inspire me. Through my fantasy creatures, I just want to speak about humanity.
Who's your biggest fan?
Oh, I don’t know. Don’t you think that it could be a little bit presumptuous to answer this question?
What brings you inspiration the most?
I don’t necessarily have an answer to this question. What I do know is that there ’s never really a break in my thoughts and that everything can have an impact on my decisions and state of mind. I am a little bit like a sponge and, in the end, the film is a (selfish) way for me to free myself from it, to engage in a dialogue about injustices and the values shaping my daily life.
Which actor or director would you like to work with?
Oh that’s the tricky question! I have the hope that one day I’ll write and direct a movie that will catch the attention of Tom Hanks (why not dream big?) His acting makes the ordinary extraordinary. The roles he portrays are so deep…it’s simple, he weaves a soul into them. I am always shaken when I watch one of his movies. That would be, for sure, a wonderful adventure, a story such as the ones I love to tell. Do you think that he can read this interview?
Have you ever seen a film that was better than the book?
I don’t really compare both arts. They are elevating each other, completing each other… It would be like comparing music and painting and vice versa. It doesn’t really make sense. I believe that there are good directors, good writers and, above all, good circumstances that lead to success and failures at one point or another.
What's the movie that taught you the most?
Pan’s Labyrinth is the one movie that changed the vision I had over my work, my artistic « when I grow up ». The poetry that glows from the movie and the way the story runs overwhelmed me. A world full of possibilities opened up to me
About your artistic career, have you ever had the desire to quit everything?
It’s tough. I think that it’s terribly hard for everyone. There is, of course, a financial aspect but it’s not only about that. It’s a constant self-questioning, a permanent struggle to push yourself and keep moving forward despite the obstacles. So, yes, there are moments where you question a lot of things. You always need to convince, nothing can be taken for granted, never. Would I therefore want to stop ? I think that cinema is a path you can’t turn back from.
On set what excites yuo the most?
It’s a matter of timing. This one moment (brief, almost suspended) when with the whole crew we reach the exact place where I’ve been with my imagination. This instant when on screen, there are the lights, the captured emotions, when I see on pictures what I want people to feel in their heart.
And what scares you the most ?
Failure. This scene that doesn’t come to life no matter how hard everyone work. It’s awful, especially for the small productions who can’t afford to reshoot or to add a simple day of shooting.
What's your next project?
I am currently writing a fantasy feature film. I want to explore the theme about
intergenerational bonds between a grandfather and his grandson. I’m in the process of creating the world that will embody this character’s story where I’d like to blend magic and science.
You can steal the career of an artist you really admire, who do you choose?
Each and everyone person working with me could answer this question! I would love, so much, to know more about how Guillermo Del Toro makes his movies. That would be him, for sure. Well, I would really love to be myself with as much talent as this cinema master.
An actor/director/screenplayer is made of....
Emotions. I think what drives a director is the ability to understand each of them and to successfully convey and work with them
For you Cinema is....
A universal language that translates human emotions.
Do you think Black and white movies have a powerful impact?
Personally, I love colors. To me it’s a whole writing in itself, an additional layer of reading. Color is so powerful… it’s a language! But there must be another language for black and white, and like every language, when you master its codes you can have a powerful impact.
Have you ever dreamed of winning an Oscar?
No. Obviously, it’s always pleasant and reassuring when your work is recognized. It’s even useful. I definitely have ambition and I hope that I will constantly progress in my career and create beautiful movies filled by the values that animate me. However I don’t want to dream about distant awards. I am focused on the present moment : on what I need to improve now, what I
need to learn. The future in the film industry can easily consume people from the inside.
Do you think you're gonna win it?
I don’t know. For now I just hope to win the audience’s affection, at the very least.
NYMA: Good Morning Leslie, your screenplay Proud Girls is about American politics where men use the bible to justify their ungodly behaviour.
Leslie: My script is a humanitarian parable.
NYMA: Where women of the future act like the men of today?
Leslie: Women acting like small men turns out to be funny as hell.
NYMA: What do you want your fellow Patriots to know about your movement?
Leslie: As of October the F.B.I. is monitoring my LinkedIn account.
NYMA: How do you feel about that?
Leslie: Nailed it!
NYMA: Why do you think they’re monitoring you?
Leslie: Probably afraid women are going to overthrow the world and that I’m their leader.
NYMA: Are you their leader?
Leslie: Vagina’s unite! I mean, “No comment.”
What's the absolutely necessary ingredient to be a good actor/director/screenplayer?
I'm a screenwriter. I believe that a professional writer should confront every opportunity. In any case I prefer to work with the urgent issues of everyday life.
The necessary ingredient is Curiosity.
First and last cinematographic crush?
First, "King Kong" by John Guillermin; last, " La La Land" by Darmien Chazelle.
How old you were when you decided you wanted to be an actor/director/screenplayer?
I started by chance when I was thirty.
For you a Film is...
The life. Life that speaks.
What do you feel when you're acting/directing/writing?
Maybe you'll think I'm crazy. But when I write I feel like a little god, in the sense of "creator of reality". For this reason, even if it is fiction, great responsibility and good values are needed.
You can go to the Movies with an actor/director/screenplayer that you
love. What kind of movie do you choose and with who you're gonna whatch it?
My dream would be to watch the movie "La La Land" with the great Emma Stone.
Audrey Hepburn used to say “Nothing is Impossible”, what do you think
I've been fighting for my passions and my sense of freedom all my life. I would say t
Can you live just of your passion?
Now that I have a family, two children, I would like them to have the best. For the moment I can't live off my passion alone, but I'll try!
What's more important talent or luck?
You must go to a desert island but you can bring with you just one movie...
Provocative answer: "Cast Away" by Robert Zemeckis, without a doubt.
Have you ever accepted a part/ a movie to direct/ a script to write even
if you didn't like the project?
Yes. I'm a professional, if they pay me...
What's the best compliment you have received about your Job?
Many tell me that working with me brings good luck.
Are you satisfied about your career?
Yes. In the future I hope to work on many other projects.
Do you have a good luck charm?
I often think of loved ones who are no longer here. They are my lucky charms.
Which is the worst moment on set ?
When you have to shoot a scene during the day and it's already night.
How do you feel when a job you've been part of it's ending?
A long time ago I was in pain. Now I feel joy in the work already done.
Have you ever lied to get a part/job?
If you should win an Oscar your first taught would go to…
I only have myself to thank; maybe even my body that has never abandoned me.
Do you prefer Comedy or Drama?
I prefer dramadies. The best movies for me are thought provoking, but also don’t take themselves too seriously.
Life imitates Art or Art imitates Life?
There are definitely stories that you just can’t make up if you tried. Art imitates Life.
Which is the best Moment on set?
When everything works as planned, or more often than not, your troubleshooting is done quickly and efficiently. I just finished my first documentary, so I didn’t have actors working through their process of acting per se, but I did have exceptional moments when my interviewee became comfortable and more relaxed to answer some tough questions. Those were great moments. I can’t wait to be a part of a project where I can support an actor through finding and moving through the brilliant portrayal of their character.
Did anyone ever tell you weren't good enough?
Oh, for sure a few memorable moments throughout my life, and I do believe that is one of the reasons that I am so driven. However, the older I get, I certainly don’t put too much stock in it anymore, which is a good thing because there is rejection and obstacles around every corner.
How can you stay focused on your goal?
For me, it is just having the flexibility to maintain a course and breaking the goal down into bite-size pieces if need be. It is really about learning new things and (trying) not to be so perfect all the time. That is definitely something I learned working as a nurse in the ER. No such thing as being perfect in every situation.
Have you ever had a breakdown because of your Job?
I think I have felt stress of certain jobs before, but I have never had a breakdown. I have been close to burnout however. I think we all can get a little “crispy” if we don’t practice self-care and neglect ourselves or signs that we need a little stress-relief (in any situation) not just our jobs.
Talent is a blessing or a curse?
No doubt my thought on this is a blessing. I feel so fortunate to be able to share my talents.
What would you like to improve about yourself as an actor/director/screenplayer?
I would like to just keep practicing the entire process from screenplay to picture lock and everything in between. I need to just get some more work under my belt.
What's the worst critic you have received? It was said by a doctor that I worked with in front of a patient. I moved on from that job shortly after that.
If you weren't an actor/director/screenplayer what would you like to be?
Let’s see, (totally random) but I would love to work as a marine biologist and study the ocean and sea turtles specifically. I have been lucky to be able to work in my dream jobs, but that has been a dream since I was a child growing up in the land-locked high desert of NM. I suppose I just need to shoot a doc following them around the world!
If Cinema was a color what would it be?
A day without a movie is...
An opportunity to shoot one.
If someone offered you to play/direct/write in/a movie that you despice but that for sure will make you rich and famous...would you accept the job?
Why would I put myself through that? I would figure out a way to make a movie that might make me “comfortable and able to go to the grocery store without someone recognizing me”. But who am I kidding. If my wife reads this, she’s laughing because I never go to the grocery store anyway. LOL.
What's your greatest ambition?
To continue to find ways to entertain and enrich people’s lives with stories, whether by pieces of art, music, photography or cinematography. I think that should keep me pretty busy for a long time.
What's your biggest fear?
Losing people I’m close to.
Does music helps you to play/direct, write?
Oh yes, for sure. It always has been such an important part of my life. I have always lived my life’s moments almost like a movie with music being the catalyst of emotion. In fact, the first song I learned how to play by ear on the piano was the theme from the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire”. I mean come-on, it was the eighties so big synth and piano and slow-mo running on a beach? So inspiring, even if it was so cheesy. But music can make or break a movie in my opinion. And it is super inspiring to take a Masterclass from someone like Hans Zimmer to see just how amazing professional composers are.
You have the chance to make a Silent movie, what's your message to the audience?
Interesting. I guess this would go along with the last question about music. It would be so important to have great cinematography and even better sound design. But if this was a truly silent film with no sound design, it would be so important to make a story full of intention. Intention in each and every scene. The message would be “beauty in movement and intention”. Almost like the experience of a Japanese tea ceremony where absolutely every movement during the ceremony has meaning.
Share your speech if you should win an Oscar.....
I wish I could say that this speech would be a breeze and go smoothly, but maybe my biggest fear is public speaking, so I see it going something like this:
I wrote a speech and wrote it out, but my hands are so sweaty, that I can’t read it. I’m so nervous right now, and don’t want to ramble on, but I know I want to thank all my friends and family who have been so supportive. I’d like to thank the Academy for such an honor. This is for my parents. To my Mom who always said that I can accomplish anything I set my mind on. To my Dad whose story was the motivation for my first documentary. Finally, to my beautiful wife, Peggy, who for 25 years has always been so fiercely supportive and still reminds me to this day, with love in her heart even if mildly annoyed, when I need to stop working and come to bed.