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Flixclusive Interview: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Los Chidos)
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a very passionate man. As a huge fan of At the Drive-In, I was never truly aware of just how passionate he is. Most may know him as a guitarist for At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, but he’s also an aspiring filmmaker, having written, directed, and produced a few films under the Rodriguez-Lopez Productions name. Read on as we discuss what drives him as a person and his thoughts on gender roles in society and how that translated into the dialogue being created in Los Chidos.
Could you tell me a bit about Los Chidos and why you wanted to make the film?
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez: Just to open a dialogue, to get a dialogue open about things that aren’t really discussed, but are there in plain sight. I thought that satire was the best way to do it, because otherwise, it would be a mean film. If you use humor and satire, and the over-dub, you know, to keep an arm’s distance from the thing, then you remember you’re actually looking at something that’s actually supposed to provoke questions more than anything else.
The over-dub was a huge thing. Why did you choose to do that instead of just recording live?
ORL: Again, to keep an arm’s length from the whole story in and of itself, and to remind the viewer constantly that it’s a fantasy, that it’s a farce, that it’s a fable, that’s it allegory. It’s not about, like normally, films are about being emotionally invested in the characters and all that sort of thing. I did an interview earlier with a man who said, “Well, there’s too much crazy stuff and I couldn’t be emotionally invested in it.” That’s not the point of the film. That’s not the film I made. The film is to, again, get a dialogue going about a very real problem, not only in our culture, in Latin culture, but every culture in the world. For women who see the film, for the majority of them, they say, “Thank you. Finally someone who did this.” And there’s people who really like the film, and then there’s men who say, “Why?” They’re sort of off-put by it because it’s a critique on male culture, that’s the culture I’m talking about when I’m saying I’m critiquing my own culture. Yes, I’m a male Latino, but you have to see it in a broader perspective and not, you know… I’m talking about male culture, I’m talking about domination, oppression, exploitation, and the relationship between The Exploiter and The Exploited.
You do keep the film at an arm’s distance, but do you feel that distance could possibly undercut what you’re trying to say?
ORL: No, because there’s other films that can do it as a drama. That’s not the path I chose. Again, my intent is to have a dialogue going, like how one speaks is up to the individual. I chose to speak in a very particular way here during this dialogue. And I understand that it’s not for everybody, some people will be put off by it and not want to have the dialogue… It could because they don’t want to talk about the issues, it could be because, quite frankly, they didn’t like the film, and it wasn’t their cup of tea. All things being equal, that’s completely valid and just as important as the people who like my film.
For the over-dub, you did everything in post-production, I remember you saying that at the Q&A [following the premiere of Los Chidos]. You mentioned that your own Father did the voice of the Father. Did all the other [actors] do their own voices?
LA WEEKLY Interview: The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez wears the same thing every day: teal-colored jeans and a fitted canvas jacket. His eyes are intent behind his glasses; his focus is acute. For the bulk of his 35 years he’s been consumed with expressing his creative vision. Relentless in the pursuit of his own voice, he has alienated friends and collaborators. By his own admission, he’s behaved like a dictator.
The brain behind Grammy-winning progressive rock group The Mars Volta, Rodriguez-Lopez has written all the band’s music, mixed the recordings by himself and fired musicians at will — sometimes without so much as an email to let them know.
“I’ve been a real bastard over the years,” he admits, perched on a couch in the top-floor sun room of his Echo Park production offices, looking out over L.A.’s sun-soaked Eastside hills. “All in the name of following my vision.”
Wiry thin, he has an Einstein-style wild mess of dark hair and big, round, smudgy spectacles. He’s the kind of guy who forgets to eat, shower or brush his teeth when he gets on a roll writing music.
He certainly has his admirers; devoted Mars Volta fans liken the band’s members to gods. They obsess over their innovative, genre-shattering, long-winded compositions, full of changing time signatures, singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s high-pitched howling vocals and Rodriguez-Lopez’s experimental guitar riffs.
SXSW ‘12 Interview: Omar Rodriquez Lopez Talks Spirituality, Storytelling & The Symbolism Of ‘Los Chidos’
One of the more talked about films of this year’s SXSW has been Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s “Los Chidos.” Shocking, violent, funny and made in a style unlike anything else at the festival this year (unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen), the film is divisive, but its differences are what make it interesting and worth talking about (read our review here). Using, but also breaking convention, stereotype and tropes, “Los Chidos” is a crazy fable that explores socially ingrained cultural problems like misogyny, abuse and consumption. Not everyone is going to get it, but Rodriguez Lopez doesn’t seem worried about scaring off those viewers who don’t in order to maintain the clarity of his vision.
The great thing about festivals, is that after you see a movie like “Los Chidos,” you can sit down and ask the director what was going on while the film was made. We got a chance to do just that with Rodriguez Lopez in Austin last week. It’s a wide ranging conversation that spans religion and spirituality to Rodriguez Lopez’s filmmaking inspirations and his creative process, to deconstructing the meaning of some of the symbolism in the movie. There are a few spoilers ahead about some of the more shocking moments in the movie, but we’ll warn you before you get there.
How did you transition from doing music into making films? What inspired you to want to start creatively working in film instead of other channels of expression?
I never understood music as something that could be done as a career. Music is just something that happened. I come from a very musical culture and a musical family. I have no musicians in my family but everyone plays music, everyone plays piano. My mother sings, my father sings. In our culture, dinners usually revolve around writing songs about what’s happening in the room. Actually, I always wanted to make movies. In 1987, my father got his first VCR and camcorder and I started playing with that; that was really where my energy was focused all of the time. That’s what I wanted to be doing. Music is something that just happened that I was fortunate enough to have happen to me as a career. All along the way, I made short films, and then I made my first feature in 2000 and I just thought I’d put myself directly inside of the process, which is the most important thing. I can’t articulate enough how much that is the thing. The end result is just like icing on the cake.
Is 2000 when your filmmaking collective started to come together?
That’s when I started forming it. Very much in the way that a theater group functions or a musical group of like minded people that were interested purely in the process and expression as a form of therapy. The expression as having some sort of medicinal property to it and not just entertainment… Musicians are some of the most awful bunch that you’ll find on this planet, and the drive usually is girls first and foremost, and second to that money, and I just didn’t relate to that at all. Right away it’s like going through a crowd and then you find someone who’s not talking about either of those things, and is talking about the things that are important to you, and you grab onto them. You grab onto them and twenty years later I still know those people.
What was the shoot like? What it was like working for with these people and doing this crazy, wacky film?
It was amazing. It served exactly what it was supposed to serve, which was the addiction to the process and to therapy. Everybody, the crew that didn’t live in Guadalajara, mainly the editor and the cameraman and one of the lighting guys came and stayed at my house. This is where I lived until recently, and the rest of the actors and the rest of the people who were involved were all people that I met while living in Guadalajara and going to see theater and going to see plays and seeing children’s plays. There’s this theater group called Opa, they do anything from kids stories, to issues about the murdered women of Juarez. Immediately I said, “I have to know these people.” I snuck backstage one day and I said “It was beautiful, I want to make a film, would you like to be a part of it?” And once we sat and talked about it and understood where I was coming from and saw the script and realized that, more than anything, it was this social commentary, they were on board, and said anything we can do to help. So they gave me access to all of their facilities where they rehearsed, their own actors, their people, their locations, I really couldn’t have done it without them. The shoot itself is like any independent movie, which is 18 hour days, absolutely insane, but also done in a third world country, which means that the rules are made up as you go along. The hotel that we shot at was in a very dark part of town. Very nice people who run it, but it was a place where people come to do drugs and to have sex and things like this. They gave us full run of the place but we definitely had to respect the ecosystem there and not get in anybody’s business—just stay focused on what we were doing. And humor anyone if they wanted to, if they had questions or wanted to be a part of it somehow.
How did you come to cast Kim [Stodel, who plays the American interloper]?
Kim worked before on the previous film called the “Sentimental Engine Slayer,” and I thought he was interesting, and I needed a character that would represent consumerism and globalism and corporate America. I knew that he would get it and he had enough of a sense of humor about himself and his culture to participate.
Bianca Interviews Omar Rodriguez-Lopez: Love, Communicating With God & Le Butcherettes
Omar Rodriguez- Lopez is one of my favourite musicians. You might know him from At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta, De Facto or his 20+ solo records or you may know him for his films (his most recent The Sentimental Engine Slayer – trailer at end of post). He is incredibly prolific and offers beautiful insight into creativity and life through his eyes. Whenever we catch up we always have the most thoughtful, inspiring chats. I’m super excited about the Australian tour that kicks off on December 9th…I’m even more excited he’s bringing the Mexico/Los Angeles band Le Butcherettes he signed to his label. He will also be joining them on bass! These shows are not to be missed. Seriously. - Interview by Bianca
What’s life been like for you lately?
OR-L: It’s been mellow. I’ve been taking time off and just being around my family.
That’s lovely, family is so important.
OR-L: Definitely! Without a doubt.
You live in Mexico now these days?
OR-L: Yeah. I’m in the process of moving. I’m actually going to move back to Texas to be with my family.