Your new movie El
Quetzal de Jade - in a few words, what is it about?
The plot and characters spring from noir archetypes, and the world that
we put them in is a sort of romanticized exotic adventurous place. That
sense of placing you in a world that never was, but always will be, that
was very important to us.
Quetzal de Jade uses quite a few film noir mainstays - is that a
genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?
we started to really get into film in high school, noir really appealed to
us more than anything else. We immediately started making films with
little boys running through the brick alleys of our hometown of Stamford,
CT saving very young damsels in distress and having fights with acne faced
thugs. Some of our favorites are Murder My Sweet, Double
of Evil, The Lady from Shanghai, The Maltese
Falcon, just to name a few.
sources of inspiration when dreaming up El
Quetzal de Jade?
Other than noir, we are big Hitchcock fans, and that definitely shows up
there. Of course there is the action element which goes back to films
like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Another very important genre that we
called upon was the Spaghetti Western. You can see that particularly in
the flashbacks. I think that genre really contributed to the operatic,
atmospheric quality that some parts of the film have.
Even though El
Quetzal de Jade features quite a few exotic locations, most of it
was actually shot in your apartment - so do talk us through the process of
how that was achieved, and what were the advantages but also challenges
filming that way?
I would never suggest anyone make a film
this way if they've got an alternative. It really wore us down, making
something out of nothing in every single scene, and always having the fear
of the whole thing falling apart if an effects shot didn't work. The total
budget of the film was $10,000, and that was all our own money, no
investors, no Kickstarter. It all went to the actors and the composer, we
did everything else ourselves for free. We already had a camera,
greenscreen, a few lights, and our computers, so that didn't have to be
budgeted. We wrote the entire film knowing exactly what we had access to,
and what we could do with VFX. I (James) had visited Guatemala and Quebec,
and I shot tons of material that would eventually (after an intense VFX
process) be suitable for background plates and establishing shots. We
probably used every wall of our two apartments to be different locations,
and ran around the neighboring streets. It certainly did help that the
area that I live in can actually double for Guatemala pretty well. When it
comes to greenscreen, the key is to always be scared. We did everything
that we could to de-emphasize the shots by making them darker, or quick
cuts, or out of focus. You always have to assume that it is not going to
work, and figure out every possible way to hide it. Many scenes had to be
completely reworked again and again and again because they didn't look
What can you tell us about your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
were probably the most interesting parts to direct because they're so
dynamic. We really wanted it to feel like a combination of dream and
memory, and we knew that we could make them really stylized. We're not
crazy about doing talking heads. There ended up being more dialogue scenes
at tables in this movie than we originally thought. A lot of it ended up
being standard coverage for practicality, but the most interesting
dialogue scenes for us are when the characters aren't looking at each
other, or their eyes are covered in shadow. With the action sequences, we
really worked very hard to try to string them together from nothing. We
couldn't actually have stunt performers, so its more about putting
together competent chases where the geography makes sense and then leading
up to whatever big gag we could do.
What was the
collaboration between the two of you like, actually?
one of us would have a clearer idea of what the scene would be like than
the other, so that one would take over. It usually ends up being that one
of us takes a big scene and just finishes it because if the other one came
in to try to figure it out from the beginning, it would waste time. One
important thing is that no shot is actually finished until we both see it.
Sometimes one of us will kill ourselves on a shot, and then when the other
one sees it, they say its unacceptable. That impartial review is very much
necessary. Robert's role on this film was somewhat less than usual because
I (James) developed and guided much of the project with my wife, who is
Guatemalan. We worked together to take the experiences from our trip there
as well as her knowledge of the texture and character of the culture and
put in into the scenes wherever we could.
can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
They were extremely cooperative, which is strange to me because they're
coming into some idiot's apartment and these two punks are there telling
them to run in front of a green bedsheet. They didn't know that any of
it was going to work, but they trusted us. It was difficult to find a
lot of non union actors that were fluent in Spanish and would be willing
to do this.
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
have a sense memory of sweating profusely under extreme heat in a very
tight space. The apartment was so insanely small, and the greenscreen
needed sufficient light, and we couldn't run the air conditioner because
we would trip the circuit breaker. It was just a terrible shoot. Whenever
we were outside, we were paranoid of someone seeing us and kicking us out,
so we had to go so fast and keep looking over our shoulder. On weekends my
(James) wife was there, so it was a little better. That's when we did most
of the dialogue because I barely understand Spanish, and Robert doesn't
have a clue. By the end though, we trusted the actors so much that we shot
some dialogue on weekdays and my wife didn't see it until we were cutting.
few words about audience and critical reception of El
Quetzal de Jade so far?
So far the comments have
been fairly positive. I don't really think many people will ever see the
film because it has no name actors. We pretty much knew this going in.
Throughout the production, we would often wonder who the audience would
be. We were afraid that the running time would be so short (66 minutes)
that it would be unmarketable as a feature even if someone was interested.
I'm just happy that it's on Amazon now, and I can tell people that it's
available. We don't usually make films with much regard to marketability.
We just make what we would like to see ourselves and hope that there's
someone out there with similar tastes.
Any future projects
you'd like to share?
Since this film, my wife and I made two animated shorts. Everything that
we have done is on our YouZube channel (dastolidigital). We have no
plans for features, and I really can't see us making another one. Our
concepts are mostly two minutes, or five minute web series episodes.
Making a feature like this while having full time jobs and giving
adequate attention to our families just doesn't sound appealing. It's
difficult enough finding the time to make a two minute short. The one
large project that we have been developing for many years now is a live
action sci-fi web series that we would definitely want to kickstart,
rather than putting up our own money. That's years away though.
What got you into filmmaking in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
do have Film BFAs from the University of Central Florida, but in terms of
VFX, we received no formal training. We started out in high school by
making Star Wars fanfilms and James Bond knockoffs with our friends. It
was so innocent back then, and it used to be fun. Now, the fun parts are
few and far between, but it sure as hell beats working in an office.
writing and directing movies, you've also done tons of effects work - so
what got you onto that side of the filmmaking process, and what are some
of your preferred techniques?
The VFX came simultaneously.
It's part and parcel with doing a Star Wars fanfilm. Back in 1999, when
Phantom Menace had just come out, there was this amazing sense of
camaraderie on fanfilm forums like TheForce.Net. All the little boys and
girls helped each other out with tutorials and sharing of ideas in a way
that was really inspiring and exciting. I don't think you'll ever have a
time like that again in filmmaking, because now it's everywhere. Back then,
digital indie filmmaking was in its infancy, and the technology had not
matured yet. We used VFX back then not only to do lightsabers, but to
accomplish things that would be simple for films with a modest budget, but
impossible for little boys with no budget. We just always think of every
shot in terms of a possible VFX layer breakdown just because we've been
doing it for over a decade. We are not very good with 3D, so we always
have to hide it, and be very disciplined. We prefer using miniatures when
it comes to things like spaceships. That's one part that is still fun,
when you've just built a huge model spaceship and you get to fly it around
What can you tell us about
your filmwork prior to El
Quetzal de Jade in whatever position?
We made tons
of films when we were in high school and college. We always just did every
crew position, but in college we would help out our friends in whatever
capacity they needed. None of the stuff that we did back then really holds
up now, but its interesting to watch the beginnings of ideas that we
developed in El
Quetzal de Jade.
you describe yourselves as directors?
I think many
directors treat performance as the most important aspect of everything and
ignore the actual use of cinematic language. For us, the way that a scene
is lit or composed is just as important because it's giving you so much
subconscious information. It goes back to what I was saying about having
characters looking away from each other or obscuring their eyes in a
dialogue scene. Design is also really important to us. You rarely see us
putting normal looking people in front of blank white walls. I feel like
there's too much of that in indie film. El
Quetzal de Jade is a rare
example of a film of ours that takes place in the real world, rather than
an imagined one.
writers, special effects artists, whoever else who inspire you?
favorite director is definitely Hitchcock. Star Wars has always been our
favorite franchise. Recently we read The Making of Star Wars by J. W.
Rinzler, which is a magnificent look at the making of this B-movie that
nobody thought would work before it actually became the Star Wars that we
know. Reading that was such an inspiration because you're looking at
interviews of people while they're making the film and all of the failures
that they are going through on set and at ILM, just trying to piece
together something that is comprehensible. Of course now all of these
people are legends. Another main source of inspiration for us in whatever
we do are theme parks. We consider theme parks to be a serious art form,
and any time that we can't think of anything and are out of ideas, all it
takes is a trip to Disneyland to fill our heads with possibilities.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Aside from the noir mentioned earlier,
some would be Star Wars, Indiana Jones, James Bond,
Aliens, Terminator, Back to the Future, Jurassic
Park, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon,
Fistful of Dollars, Blade Runner, 2001, Casablanca,
Citizen Kane, Conan
the Barbarian, Flash
Gordon, Forbidden Planet, Danger
Diabolik, The Goonies, North by Northwest, White
Heat, there are just too many...
... and of course, films you really
The films that anger us the most are the bad
entries into the franchises we love. In general, there's no reason to
remake, reboot, or even to make more than a few of these films that are
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Everything can be seen on the dastolidigital YouTube channel.
We also have a Dastoli Digital Facebook page.
And our main website is www.dastolidigital.com
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
Just that I'm glad that this film
is finally out there for people to see. Thanks for the opportunity to talk
Thanks for the interview!