INTERVIEW with Alex Rios.
First of all, we would like to know a little more about you. So that the audience has as much information as possible.
My name is Alex Rios. I was born in Colombia but quickly moved to Spain. I grew up Spain, but I spend my high school years in France. After graduating I moved back to Spain, to Barcelona to attend college. I didn’t know what to study at the time and was confused like every other teenager and after considering careers like biology, engineering or filmmaking I ended up studying graphic design.
How many years have you been making movies and how did you end up making movies?
After graduating design school, I opened a design studio which was going well, but one day one of my client’s saw the skate videos I was making of my skate crew for fun and started to request videos instead of posters or logos. I then switched to video and did what I guess life really had for me, I enrolled in film school in Los Angeles - The New York Film Academy in Studio City. This was back in 2007, but the truth is that I started making movies the minute I bought a camera to make movies for my clients in the design studio. I was winging it, but I was having a blast! I guess I always knew I was meant to make movies, so life put me on the right path.
Like I was saying, it was 2007 and that’s when I met Maurice Moore, my friend and partner in Motivate Pictures, and we have been shooting short and indie feature films ever since. I travel from Spain almost every year to film something with him, although this year, for the first time, he came to Spain to film with me here.
Let's talk about your project Déjà Vu. How long did it take from the initial idea to have it ready to be released?
From the moment (March 2020) Maurice and I sat down and said: why don’t we shoot a film during these extra days we have in lockdown, until the first viewable version, if I remember correctly, approximately 4 months went by. I wrote the script in 4 hours; I was so excited! Then Mo helped me tweak it and the day after we had a complete script ready to shoot. It took roughly 3 weeks to shoot it. We were taking it easy, shooting 1 scene at a time trying to accommodate Olivia’s (our child actress’s) time in the house since she was spending some time at her father’s house too. After that came the first rough cut, some tweaks, and then waiting for the amazing music Dave Wirth created for the film. But the truth is that I kept doing minor changes to the film until summer 2021 when it screened on the red carpet in Austin, TX.
We understand this movie would have never happened if a world pandemic had not showed up. What’s the back story here?
A lot of people remember what happened on March 13, 2019. At least I do. I was boarding a plane in Barcelona getting ready to go DP a film with my Maurice. Everybody around me was talking about the first steps on the lockdown, how schools were closing, and everybody was getting ready to stay home. I finally boarded my plane and landed in New York 5 hours before the US border closure. I was so happy I made it and was away from the European lockdowns! I flew onto Austin, ready to begin our feature film project. The next day we were in the middle of the cast reading for the film we were about to shoot when the lockdown craziness started in the USA. I was literally having my own Déjà Vu ha-ha!
We had to postpone the film - initially for 2 weeks, but we soon realized it was going to be longer than that. My airline ended up canceling my ticket to fly back to Barcelona and refunded me the money, so I was kind of trapped in Mo’s house and we didn’t know for how long. We then decided to put the equipment we had ready to go for our now delayed feature film and put it to good use. We were going a little stir crazy so figured out a way to at least have fun during those crazy times! Mo suggested I should write and direct a film, I agreed, and our little adventure began.
Can you tell us a bit about the process you've had with Déjà Vu? We understand this was a “skeleton crew” due to Covid-19 and low budget. How did you make it all work and how many roles did you play in creating Déjà Vu?
I really had to wear a lot of hats ha-ha. I was writer, producer, director, art director, cinematographer, gaffer, camera operator, focus puller, editor… A one-man band job. Of course, I had all the help I needed from Mo who was there during all the process, and Jennifer, Mo’s girlfriend, who agreed to record sound for us with no previous experience. It really was a blast to work with no pressure, close to very good friends, just enjoying the process.
No spoilers, but what will the public find in Deja Vu?
Déjà Vu tells the story of a father and his daughter who are going through a quarantine with a twist. It has elements of sci-fi, but it fundamentally is a part of the story of their relationship and how they face these tough times.
What was it like to direct a child actress in her first movie role and to direct one of your best friends who often plays the role of Director himself?
I have to say, directing Olivia was probably the easiest part of this film. She really is a talented actress and was ready to give everything for the film. Of course, I had Maurice´s (who owns Breathe Acting Studio) expertise with actors to help me, which only made it easier for me to work with her and with himself. Olivia, if you are reading this: thanks! you really helped to enhance the quality of the film and it was great working with you :)
Have you been inspired by any other film of the same genre?
I don’t think I could answer this question without making spoilers… so I will be a little cryptic, sorry. The main inspiration for my film was a YouTube video about how films treat the “twist” of a story. Most of them are not accurate to what physics predict would happen if the “twist” actually happened.
The funny thing is that one of those very few films that do it “correctly” over giants of the Sci Fi genre is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was not expecting that.
There are many creators who seek inspiration from other artists, literature, music, painting, etc. To create this work have you used references from other arts? If so, what are they?
I am a very sensitive and emotions-oriented person. I’m listening to music all day long to enhance what I am experiencing. A soundtrack for my life. I search for beautiful images everywhere I look, and I really like to feel and experience them. From a small piece of cheese to the craziest things I can afford to do in sports or motor racing. I also like to analyze and find out what is it that makes me experience everything the way it does, and that includes art. I can find inspiration almost everywhere.
One of the last projects I wrote and I’m developing now, comes from a design of a futuristic helmet that I casually saw on Instagram. This led me to think about how a test pilot in the future would solve a major malfunction in his untested aircraft the first time he pushes its speed close to the limit.
I then created a piece that is a reflection on imminent death and life choices. You have to keep your eyes peeled; you never know where the next great idea will come from.
So, actually answering your question… I’d say I feed from pictorial art, illustrations, music, design, comic books, other films and my everyday life. And I guess some of these influences come from my background in design.
We would also like to know more about your film preferences. We would love to know which directors you like, and which are your favorite movies?
I really love and enjoy complex films. That makes me like Christopher Nolan right away. I like how he creates deep working set ups to explore situations we usually don’t experience. From Memento to Interstellar… I just love it! I love David Fincher, of course, he’s a genius, but in my list you’ll also find Zach Snyder, Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noé, and David Cronemberg.
Lately, slow and steadily, Denis Villeneuve is making his way to the top of my list. I don’t think any other Sci Fi director has achieved to put so much beauty into their films. I also enjoy anything that has some philosophy in it, anything that has a strong and deep opinion on dense human matters.
I can also name a few films from my list: Ex Machina, Interstellar, Transcendence, Inside Man, Villeneuve’s Dune, Fight Club, Seven, The Batman (2022), John Wick, Mad Max (2015), Star Wars (mainly the first trilogy), Rogue One, Indiana jones, The Bourne saga, The Matrix, and Mad Max Smoking Aces. There are also some animated movies that I really enjoy: Spiderman and the Spiderverse, Batman the Killing Joke, Princess Monoke, Akira…
And the one film that seems to be a mistake in this list ha… Crazy Stupid Love.
I wish I could name them all, but you know, it would be a long, loooong list ha-ha.
There are great classics of cinema considered masterpieces, but for us cinema is subjective, and we also love films that critics may consider bad. Do you have movies that are not considered masterpieces but that you could watch over and over again without stopping? If so, which ones?
I totally agree with this question. I would even say that the opposite also happens. They are masterpieces that bore me to death. I can see they are outstanding movies, but they just don’t do it for me.
Among those that are not considered crop of the cream and I really enjoy are: The Fast and Furious saga (only up to the 6th) and almost anything that has motor racing it, Transformers (the first one), Rambo, Pacific Rim…
Your favorite black and white movie?
Have you seen anything by Stanley Kubrick? How would you define it in one word?
I have seen some of Kubrick’s movies, yes. I’m not a fan since I find them a little slow for my taste, but I enjoy the precision of his execution. Nothing is out place; everything falls right where it has to, and all the elements work together to deliver an almost perfect piece. 2001 is the one I enjoyed the most.
Since I can’t shut up and I was supposed to define it in one word… I´ll try again: Precision
Your favorite 2010-2020 movie or series?
I can’t name only one, sorry ha-ha.
Films: Interstellar, Rush, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049.
Shows: The Boyz, Westworld, Mindhunter and The Sinner.
Your favorite actor or actress?
I don’t have favorite actors or actresses.
Changing the subject, one of the concerns of many creators is the lack of financing or opportunities that producers provide. What do you think about this?
I think the lack of financing or opportunities makes sense. I understand it’s a big issue we face when we start in this industry and it’s not pleasant, but we cannot forget that that’s what it is: an industry. I know, filmmaking is an art. But unfortunately, it’s a very expensive art and it requires the industry behind to support it. It’s a little like being fit. It’s really nice when you are healthy and you look good, but it requires sacrifices. If you don’t train and eat properly, you’ll never be fit. Same thing happens with film. If you don’t adapt and make huge efforts to be the best asset for the industry, you won’t make it. Good news is, once you make it, you can make the art you always wanted to do ;)
in the meantime, I wish it was different, but those are the cards we were dealt.
A very personal question, but… What are your strong points and weak points?
I think one of my strongest points is actually a symptom of my weakest point. I tend to be insecure and not value what I do which leads to sometimes not believe in myself, but at the same time it makes me be more perfectionist and put more effort into it which ultimately helps me overcome tough problems and accomplish things I would never think I could, like starting a career in the US film industry while living in Barcelona. I’m also very analytic, I think that is a strong point that helps me in my filmmaking.
Do you have experience on the festival circuit? How do you see film festivals? Where do you think they should improve?
To be honest I don’t have a lot of experience in the festivals circuit. I won a couple of prizes in the past almost by mistake and it wasn’t until recently that Mo suggested we should go ahead and run the festivals with our films. That brought a whole new experience of people enjoying and appreciating my work through official selections and awards. So… so far, I can only say: thanks! Maybe in the future we can follow up to this question.
How important is social media in the Indie Film World?
Social media is not my field of expertise, at all. I’m not very good at it. I’ve been forever in Instagram and yet I only have 450 followers. Still, I think it’s a cheap and effective way of getting exposure. If used correctly it can be a great tool for promoting your work, which is exactly what you need when you are still in the indie world and trying to find your place or get financed.
What are some current or future projects you are working on?
At the moment the most important project I’m working on is the preparation of a feature film with Motivate Pictures. Mo will direct it and I will be the cinematographer. We are due to start shooting in April and if everything goes well and as planned, it could mean the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for a long time.
At the same time, since I love my art, I’m working on several short films I film with friends to be active, to explore techniques, film semantics, and storytelling. I already talked about the test pilot short film, but I’m also developing a Sci Fi film about a military base that might have been exposed to a biohazard agent and they need to find out what happened. I’m also finishing up 3 short films I filmed this summer. First, After Life - that is reflection on different possible options after one dies. Then Blue - a film I co-directed with Cris Sánchez (my usual editor) about the last days of a very depressed girl, again, with an interesting twist to the story. Finally, Light, a short film I shot when Mo came to Spain. We actually planned for this project to be filmed both in Texas and Barcelona, so we had 2 directors (one for each country) and 2 different teams (one for each country). Mo and I directed it, and we are in the editing process now. It was a really cool experiment!
You and your partner Maurice Moore have worked together for quite some time. What’s the back story here?
There was this girl…ha-ha. There’s always a girl. So, as I was saying, there was this girl in film school with me. I liked her so I managed to be on her team as a cinematographer. She brought a friend in to act in her film, and that friend came with another friend: Maurice. Mo and I started to talk films on set and there was an instant click. We talked about Seven and Fight Club for hours! We later in the week met for a burger (that’s our thing) and decided to start working together towards the Oscars. I guess we are probably halfway there :)
How do you two work together? How do you create a vision together? Are you two peas in a pod? Are you a yin to his yang? How do you resolve conflict?
We are definitely not two peas in a pod! Actually, we are highly complementary. He is great with all the dramatic storytelling and directing actors, and I’m great with camera lights and technology. We usually work together based on excitement. When something someone says excites the other, we know we are on the right track. If that doesn’t happen, we keep trying. We challenge each other all the time, and I think that’s what make us a great combo. We don’t set for the first idea that comes from the other’s mouth. We keep trying to push our artistic and technological boundaries.
How do we resolve conflict? Oh boy! Well, we try harder basically. Over the years we got to know each other very well, we know our differences and personal issues and we just adapt to each other. I think it is a lot like a couple. The more you try to understand the other person, the better it goes for both. We have had our tough moments, really tough, but instead of punching each other on the face we chose to grow, learn and use all that to our benefit for the future.
We see you recently created a European arm to Motivate Pictures, can you tell us about that?
As I explained earlier, I live in Barcelona, Spain and I travel to the US to work on Motivate Pictures projects. So, the rest of the time I’m here, doing my thing or working online with Moe. At some point it was obvious that having a European branch for the brand was just the right thing to do. I met Adam Yadlovskyi on set of a music video, and we became friends. I then started to participate in his projects and realized how talented he was, so I decided to invite him into Motivate Pictures. He was excited, Mo was excited… it all worked out perfectly. Then, shooting one of his action-packed short films, I met Cristina Sánchez. Same thing happened, we became friends and started to work together and then realized the same thing. She is a very talented editor, and she was invited into the team as well.
We are slowly growing, creating our own projects and as always working with the main branch in Austin, TX. We are all flying to Texas to be part of Finding Solace, the feature film we are shooting in April. We’ll see where all this brings us. We really are excited to push it forward. And… I already met the possible next team member. I’m waiting for the right moment to invite her into the team :)
More on that later…
What’s your vision for Motivate Pictures long term.
I share the vision with Mo. Actually, I respect Mo’s vision. He’s the one that dreams big about the company and is the visionary. His goal is to create a solid and consistent company working at the highest level in film. Me, personally, I only want to make great films, which in the end requires a solid company like MoPics. So, I’d say that rather than having a vision on the future of the company, I trust my friend on his vision, and I focus on accomplishing my vision when it comes to filmmaking, which in the end will also benefit the company. We are all here to support each other. Filmmaking is an endurance team sport.
Would you like to add something else?
Wow… I don’t know. This was quite an interview :)
I’d maybe say: Thanks and see you at the movies!