HERNAN JIMENEZ writer/director/actor of EL REGRESO (THE RETURN)
Interview by: Melanie Brooke Sweeney
Hernan Jimenez is a talented filmmakers with some impressive credits to his name. Jimenez was born in San José, Costa Rica and is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. Jimenez is an actor, writer and director. His work rages from directing short films, features, documentary, two seasons of Costa Rica's hit sketch comedy show "LA 1/2 DOCENA." His work has garnered him critical acclaim and a host of national awards in Costa Rica's most important film festival - including Best Documentary, Best Editing, Best Screenplay for a Short, Best Musical Score, Best Actor and Best Actress in a Short. He wrote and directed "A OJOS CERRADOS", his first feature film, which was theatrically released and became a local box office success. Jimenez’s feature EL REGRESO is a Kickstarter success story.
What inspired EL REGRESO (THE RETURN)?
HERNAN JIMENEZ- On the thematic front, the story was inspired by the many returns to various places through out my life. I left Costa Rica when I was 16-years-old and since then my life has been marked by countless departures and arrivals. Each good-bye has a very special place in my heart and they have made me who I am. The Return is an attempt to explore those intimate experiences, but it’s also the story, naturally, of a return. It’s about coming to terms with those good-byes, but also about embracing new hellos. It’s about coming to terms with your past in order to embrace the future and, most importantly, the present.
What was your goal in making this film?
HJ- To learn how to write. It’s the one aspect of filmmaking that I consider most challenging and the one for which I’m least naturally competent. After my first feature I became fascinated by the idea of writing an engaging three-act structure that remained true to my style and my stories. I read several books on screenwriting, watched more movies than in the previous 10 years of my life and really made an effort to understand the medium. I think the result is a much stronger script than my first feature, but there’s still lots to learn – and I mean lots – and this is still one of my biggest motivations.
What type of camera did you use?
HJ- We used Canon’s 7D.
How long did it take to shoot El REGRESO (THE RETURN)?
HJ- Six weeks, a true luxury for an independent film. We had virtually no money, but the little that we had I invested in time. If you have no experience and a small crew, I think time is always your biggest ally. I wish I could have shot it in eight weeks.
Did you shoot the whole film in Costa Rica?
HJ- Yes, the entire film was shot on location in San José.
There is an interesting story about how you got the funding and finishing funds for this film, can you share a little about that?
HJ- I jumped into this project without a clue as to how I would finance our post. I was ok with that. It was a leap of faith. I believed in the story and I knew it would be easier to find money for it once I could show it to someone. I hate reducing a film to a few sentences and promises to generate funds. I’ve done it and I understand it has to be done, but I hate it. So the freedom of cutting a trailer and saying hey, what do you think of this? is hugely important for me. And I did just that. I cut the trailer and began looking for money. But I never found any. I applied to a couple of film funds and got rejected. That’s when I began to do some research on Kickstarter. I closely (perhaps obsessively?) monitored a couple of successful projects on the site and designed my own strategy. We launched a 45 day campaign to raise a minimum of $40k and we reached that goal within the first week. It was a beautiful and humbling experience. There are over 1600 backers and most pledges are small.
What was the most challenging part about making El REGRESO (THE RETURN)?
HJ- The obvious answer would be working with such a tiny budget, but I’ve decided to stop complaining about that. I would have to say, then, that finding the right actors was the biggest challenge. I’m an actor myself and it’s the one aspect of my filmmaking where I hate – and absolutely refuse – to compromise. Costa Rica is a small country with virtually no film industry, so our already small pool of professional actors has very little experience on-screen, most of them don’t come to auditions out of pride and you need a lot of time to break them out of bad acting habits – which requires money you don’t have. So casting is an uphill battle from the get-go. Thankfully I got incredibly lucky with this project. I found very talented people to work with and they all committed fully to the story, but it took time, patience and a lot of dedication.
You also starred in the film, was it challenging to act and direct at the same time?
HJ- Not as challenging as you would expect. I mean, yes, there were times when I wished I was glued to a monitor, and there’s things I saw in the cutting room that I wished I could have had more time to notice on set. But overall, my sense of what I needed from my own performance was so clear that I could actually focus on other actors as I worked. It helped that I really trusted my crew with all aspects of production, including performances. So if I ever in doubted, I would simply ask. In any case, I enjoy both acting and directing so much that I would do it all over again.
What was your favorite memory from shooting this movie?
HJ- It’s a recurrent event, something that happened almost every night through half of the shoot. Our first three weeks were all inside our main location, a house that we rented in the outskirts of the city. We got comfortable there, we made it our own house and there were gardens all around it. And every night after we wrapped for the day, the whole crew would sit outside in a big circle and have a beer. We would laugh together and wind down before going home, no matter how tired we were. It sounds idyllic because it was. It was a great reminder – at least for me – of the true reasons for being there: having a good time and making friends. If I can tell a good story while doing just that, then my life is complete. And it certainly felt that way during those nights.
Is there anything you would change given the opportunity?
HJ- Sure, there’s always little things that you wish you had done differently. I’m very critical of my own work. Basically I wish I could have made a masterpiece and then you realize you very much didn’t, because you’re not there yet. I’ve learned to be ok with that, with a lot of effort. I let things be what they are, and under my budgetary circumstances, this is the best movie I can make right now. It’s better than my previous one and I hope my next one is better than this one.