Hugo Fernandez: Exclusive Interview
I recently had a sitdown with perhaps one of the most controversial filmmakers in the industry. I was initially going to call him a Latino filmmaker, but I’m sure he’d object to that. A lot of the new cats don’t want to be confined in mediocre boxes and understandably so. Nevertheless, he’s one of the Latino New Wave of filmmakers who have a better chance at breaking into mainstream. At any rate, get to know an up-and-comer writer/director, Hugo Fernandez, que no tiene ni un pelito en la lengua. My kind of people.
What is your best/worst experience in your career thus far?
My best experience was everything going wrong during shooting of my first film, “Erza Fear of a Faceless God.” As a writer I had a few accolades and enough academic hoopla to go with my bloated ego, but as a filmmaker I didn’t know my ass from my elbow or anything in between. Thank goodness I had my co-director, Pablo Chirinos, who was so apt at dealing with the actors and hip with the filmmaking lingo. My actual film school was that first flick.
My worst experience might get me in trouble, but, f*ck it. The love of my life, my wife and soul mate, Francelia Alfaro, recently died of a high-grade brain tumor. Several years ago after she was first diagnosed, we went to a fertility doctor, Dr. Hershchlag, because Fran wanted to see if we could have children before her ovaries were too compromised by the chemo. I personally was fine without kids. Fran really made me happy as is. To our surprise, we realized the doctor was Natalie Portman’s father!
We thought maybe it’s a sign? Since I was a writer. But it seemed classless for me to bring it up. We were there for Fran, not me. Fran kept pushing for me to say something. Once he joked,”You could be Johnny Depp’s stuntman. Anyone ever tell ya that?” Fran nudged me as if that was an opening, but I froze. Then he gently broke the news to us that we could not have children. At that point I didn’t give a sh*t about a career connection, just worried how Fran would cope with the news. I wanted her to not worry about the kid thing for me- just wanted her to focus on her health. And like a trooper she did.
Upon understanding Fran’s plight, Dr. Hershchlag affirmed, “I’m so sorry, if there’s anything, I mean anything at all I can do or anything you need, just let me know.” Then we thanked him and walked out of his office. Upon walking out I was happy to see Fran take the news in stride and we both realized, from here on, it’s all about us. Then Fran abruptly says,”Go back and ask him if he can refer you to an agent or something?” I was like “Hell no! How shitty would that look! Hey, my wife has a brain tumor and all but can you give me your daughter’s digits homie?” Wink wink.
Fran insisted, “Bobo, not like that, obviously! He asked if there was anything he can do… I’m going back.” I pleaded, “Fran wait! Chill, um, let me think.” In my head, I was like, of course it would be awesome to get that connect, but this setting didn’t seem right. Fran professed,”The worst thing he can say is no and we tried, right?” Fran was fearless. I had a knot in my throat and butterflies eating out my insides. She went back into his office! Then she came back with a perturbed look on her face. I asked, “What happened?” She replied, “He got really serious and said he doesn’t deal with her career and his daughter has an agent for that thank ‘you very much’, smile, goodbye.” Not gonna lie, I got a little pissed. I wanted to go punch him in the face and be all ghetto, like, “Watch your tone with my wife!” But, really, we were the ones bringing up something not in line with his office’s function.
But I was like, shit, his daughter got an agent on the street so why should he be the nepotistic type. Then I realized what was more important here. This woman, my wife, just found out she can’t have kids, dealing with a severe brain tumor, and what she’s thinking about is me. And that was just one of many times I knew I landed an angel. Not metaphorical complimentary garbage- a real one. From that day on I told her I never wanted her to submit herself like that again. I’ll deal with my own rejections. That experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like I should’ve gone back with her. He wouldn’t have dared have any tone with a woman fighting a brain tumor while her husband was around. Felt like it was a moment I dropped the ball in protecting her.
What is something about the industry most people don’t know and you’d be willing to share?
Don’t know if I’m the authority on the secrets of Hollyhood illuminati, but I did learn two things. A manager, Brandon Guzman, illustrated these two things, and it was confirmed by every executive I met in L.A.: There are only two ways inside the elite pecking order of the network industry. From within the networks, be it a writers’ program, a reference, or a mailroom bottom up position. Or a spectacular independent success that cracks the mainstream. That’s it. Even if you’re a promising prospect getting noticed, it’s not enough for a network to let you show-run out of the blue without ever working under a showrunner or been one of their writers unless you had done something blockbuster or really credible before. Though there are luck of the draw happenings like “Sunny in Philadelphia” writer/actor/creators getting to do their own thing off the bat. But apparently, from within the network belly is the most feasible. I don’t think I’m bestowing any hidden jewels, really, but the reality of these realities never seemed more clearer to me than now. Our company, Cinemerica, is trying to put eggs in a couple of these baskets. And even one extra. Compete with all of them for our specific demo… with our own programming.
LA or NY?
Thought about that a lot recently. L.A. is great, when you have the hookups first. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of Hugos all trying to do the same thing. To be honest, I really love the acting pool in New York. Though I’ve never cast in L.A, so I can’t compare it that way to New York. Juan Caceres, a filmmaking peer in New York, made an interesting point once. I’m paraphrasing but the gist of it was L.A. execs might be nice and take a lot of meetings, but they’re just better at smiling with no intentions of really furthering projects. That could be true. Overall, I think bicoastal is the way to go if you’re serious about this craft.
Indie or mainstream?
I’m indie so I can’t hate on indie. Though I hate the moniker people think of when they think “indie.” Contrived, pseudo-introspective, hipster-orgasmic student film crapola. I love it when indie has elements of that mainstream popcorn-munch factor.
Hands down, “True Romance.” That combination of Tony Scott’s larger than life cinematic style with Tarantino’s writing! Shit, what effin’ ice cream that movie was. I love how Tarantino recycled some of the writing from True Romance for Pulp Fiction. He features a character having a burger for breakfast in both scripts. He also reveals his obsession with the N-word in both and utilizes one same punchline in both; I don’t know why I was so proud of catching that stuff. What’s weird is that I love how he writes, but trying to be another Tarantino is so freakin’ lame.
What projects have you worked on that you’re the most proud and confident about?
Filming wise, “Inzombnia,” because I got exactly what I set out to do. I found myself on that project as far as my voice. “Erza,” I was a bit insecure. “A Good Dad,” I was guilty of mental masturbation, but, hey, something for the writing nerds and my creative writing teachers to be proud of. As far as writing wise pride, I’m all excited about the mileage I’m getting from two new scripts recently, “Joaquin” and “Young Lordz.” Really proud of those effers.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a spec for the Weinstein company which I can’t really elaborate on. Manager rep extraordinaire, Jackie Quinones, hooked me up on that one. We’ll see what happens. And writing another project with Emmy award winning producer/filmmaker, Eddie “Pull” Frente, for another producer I can’t mention by name right now. But let’s just say I can think of 300 reasons I’d wanna work with him.
What would you say to anyone thinking about making a career out of filmmaking?
Ha, don’t give it up. Less competition for me. No, but, for reals, don’t think of it as a career. Love the journey doing it, take yourself out of it, don’t focus on being Mr. Director, focus on the work, and the more you do it the better your projects and your chances get. Zap the emotion out of it. Don’t spend too much energy on disappointment or overzealous joy. Because you’re probably making a bigger deal out of it than what it is, one way or the other. Just be aware of what you’re doing right and wrong.
An analogy I always implement is if you have a pathetic streak at not finding good dates, do you decide, “Oh well, this isn’t working so I think I’ll become asexual like a plant.” Nope… and every chick can vouch for this, no matter how ineffective some dudes are with pathetic raps, those crazy bastards keep trying. Why? Desire. Just have that resilient desire for this and be ready to take a lot of rejection. It’s Okay. It’s a numbers game.
In fact, I would only be worried if you’re not experiencing a lot of positive or negative reactions. It means you’re stagnating. A steady streak of closed doors means you’re in motion with the laws of probability to catch an open one, eventually. Oh yeah, and one more point, why are you listening to me, really? What the fuck do I know.