Best Mobile Phone Feature Film: Grand Winner 2022
Thank you Miguel for your beautiful, compelling film. Please share with your audience how you became a filmmaker. And, what can you tell us of your first experience in filmmaking?
I came to filmmaking through writing. I thought I was going to be a novelist first, but I always wrote with music and visually imagined everything I was writing, so it was a natural transition to screenwriting. After attending NYU's MFA program in Creative Writing, I moved to LA to pursue film full-time. I started directing my own short films to protect the writing.
And then I started producing to protect the directing. After struggling in LA for a while, I moved to Chiapas with the full intent of making my first feature. I figured if no one is going to give me a chance I'm going to create my own. And then you realize that it's always been like that. Nobody can give you anything until you've proven a certain level of competence on your own.
What events inspired your story?
I played semi-pro soccer in Mexico. Then I injured my knee and dropped out and started taking school more seriously. I started doing my homework and realized I actually enjoyed it. I left Mexico to attend Kenyon College on a full academic scholarship. Kenyon is a tiny, highly academic, insanely expensive liberal arts school set in rural Ohio. That's where I started to seriously get into film. I lived in the US for many years after that, almost a decade, and in all that time I kept wondering what happened to all my teammates back in Mexico who sacrificed everything to pursue the dream of becoming a professional soccer player, but the dream never materialized. The odds are not in your favor. It's the story of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and of people all over the world. So part of the thematics the movie is exploring is the harsh reality that these people, my friends, encounter after the dream has faded but the socioeconomic realities of the country they live in remain everpresent.
You present yourself as a first-time filmmaker. How did you conceive the innovative, refreshing cinematography of the movie? How did you work with your DoP?
When I first told Demian Barba, my DP, that I wanted to shoot the movie with an iPhone, I was met with three days of silence. But the more we talked about it, and the deeper I got into pre-production, it became clear that it was the right choice. Shooting with a phone has some obvious drawbacks, but in our case, the positives completely overwhelmed the negatives. Working with non-professional actors becomes much easier, as a big camera sitting in front of your face can be quite paralyzing if you haven't had that experience.
We also got a lot of production value for free, like hundreds of unassuming extras that thought we were just filming a student project and totally ignored us. Also, the mobility of the camera translates into the agility of the crew. We were shooting a lot of setups and a lot of takes per scene, and the iPhone allowed us to keep the pace up.
But strictly in terms of cinematography, you kind of spec out the phone as much as you can using third-party apps and clippable NDs and so on. And most importantly, we moved the camera as much as we could. We played into its strengths: shoot wide, avoid close-ups, and always be moving the camera. Soccer is a dance and the iPhone dances on the field with the players. This approach would've been impossible with a bigger camera. Several operators would've passed out.
Your editing is also very dynamic and fresh, for example in the sequence of our heroes' team's training, with very fast cuts and a great variety of angles. What was your process?
I had edited serval shorts before but never a feature. This is an entirely different undertaking. It's like running a 5k vs a marathon. I got very deep into editing, read all the books I could find on the topic, and struggled my way through the technicalities. I love editing and I know this experience has already helped me become a better writer and director. You think about transitions a lot more, for example. But what I found is that you have to let go of the idea of the movie that you had in your head while you were shooting, or even writing, and objectively look at the material that you've captured.
You slowly discover the movie has its own intelligence, its own idea of how it wants to be told, and when I stopped forcing my pre-conceived vision of what the movie should be and instead started asking the movie what it wanted to, the editing flowed much better.
Another realization after months of editing is that film is closer to music than to literature. It's all about rhythm. And then come the technical aspects. You don't know what you don't know. So it can become quite frustrating trying to solve problems because first, you have to figure out how to solve them, and then try to solve them.
It's a two-step approach that takes some time. If I edited the movie again knowing what I know now, I would edit it 10% better in half the time. Another thing is that it becomes incredibly complicated just managing that amount of material. I felt I took a crash course on information technology. I did my own color correction and subtitles too.
Are all your actors professionals? Tell us a little about how you picked your Cast, and about your vision in Actor's Direction.
99% percent of the cast had never acted in a film before. Some had done theater, but most of them had never read a script. And that was the approach from the begging. I always wondered why there weren't any good soccer films considering it's such a massive market, and in exploring that question I found two answers.
First, filming classical soccer is incredibly difficult because there are just too many players to develop individually, the game can be slow as only two or three goals are scored per game, and for those that know the sport well, usually the simpler you play the better. Not the most exciting thing. That's why I chose to make the soccer tournament 7 aside. All of a sudden it's like filming basketball or hockey, of which there are many good movies. It's just a lot more dynamic and fun and visually stimulating.
Secondly, from all the soccer films I've seen, it takes me about 3 seconds to appreciate that the actors can't actually play soccer very well. You can tell by the way they stand or run or kick the ball. This leads to over-editing in order to compensate for the lack of skills, and you lose the rhythm of what it feels like to be on the field. I wanted to film soccer as it had never been filmed before, so I always knew I was going to cast real soccer players first, and then try to turn them into actors, which is actually doable instead of the other way around. Then you can film longer takes, play real games at top intensity, choreograph plays with a certain level of difficulty, everything clicks.
"For Diego" is a beautiful story, a subtle and balanced blend of drama, comedy and, to some extent, magic. It transcends borders, because of the quality of the story and the type of values it presents the viewer with. Would you nonetheless say it is typically a Mexican story, or did you feel that you were tapping in something more universal?
I subscribe to the idea that the more precise and particular a story is, the more universal it will turn out. An attempt to discover the platonic in the minute, if you will. So it's definitely a Mexican story with its own idiosyncrasies and challenges, but the reason I think people are resonating with the film is that the larger more overarching themes running through the movie are identifiable in the specificity of the challenge the characters are going through. Everyone can relate those.
What kind of reactions did you get from your fellow countrymen? And, would you like to tell us about your next project?
The movie has been extremely well received in Mexico and it's doing better than I ever dreamed of. Feel Content acquired the rights for worldwide sales, so we'll see where it eventually lands, but at this point everything is dessert. I'm still supporting it as much as I can. As for me personally, I recently sold my first TV show to a Hollywood studio that's now in development. It's an entirely different thing. It's in English, set in the world of cut-throat finance in NYC, and incredibly dialogue-heavy. I can't say much more, all I can say is that I'm mostly in a state of perpetual confusion trying to figure out how the machinery of a Hollywood TV show works. Hopefully it goes into production and I won't have to be so secretive about it.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema ?
Taking notice of my own patters are those of my friends, the theatrical experience will be reserved for big tentpole movies that are such a spectacle that it’s worth getting out of the comfort and safety of your couch. It was already heading in that direction, but as with most things, the pandemic has only accelerated the transition. Mid to low level (budget) movies now go to streaming, which is great because before they didn't have an outlet.
WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & EDITOR
Miguel Flatow is a Mexican writer, director and producer. At age 17, Flatow moved to the United States to study film and literature at Kenyon College. He then went on to earn an MFA at New York University (NYU) where he studied Creative Writing and Screenwriting. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing and directing full time. "Va por Diego" is his first feature. For television, Flatow recently sold a show to major Holywood Studio that is now in development.