Interview with Chris Weitz
By: Toby de la Torre
Toby de la Torre: D. I watched you work throughout the filming of “A Better Life”. One thing I am certain of is that there was alot of passion and personal concern throughout all of the scenarios. Can you describe some of the personal emotions and concerns you had making the movie?
Chris Weitz: My grandmother is Mexican — she came to this country when she was seventeen — and my wife is Latina (half Mexican-American, half Cuban), so for me making the film was an important way of exploring my roots. I definitely had a sense of having in some respects lost touch with my culture, so this working experience was a good excuse to study Spanish, which I am still doing. To see the pride that people bring to keeping the culture of the charros alive is very inspiring to me; an of course it is also very melancholy when you think of people of Mexican descent in Los Angeles who feel rootless and disconnected. The portion of the movie that we shot at pico Rivera is very bittersweet — we see a proud man, who has left behind his tierra to try to make a better life for his family; and also his son, who is seeing, maybe for the first time. the culture that belongs to him. He hasn’t been able to get the benefit of this, because his father works so hard and can;t be at home very much. The movie is really about their journey towards understanding one another, and about the sacrifices that parents make for their families.
Toby de la Torre: Your production team and everybody involved in the making of “A Better Life” were wonderful and respectful to everybody. I understand some actors and contractors were willing to work for less than usual. What were your biggest challenges in making the movie?
Chris Weitz: I’m glad that the crew and cast were respectful to everyone in the locations in which we worked; the people there welcomes us with open arms, and we were very grateful to get a chance to shoot in real locations and to capture on film the way people live their lives. This was a big concern — to be accurate about all of the worlds that we were portraying, from the Charro culture to the culture of Boyle Heights, which is not rich in monetary terms but very rich in spirit. Even gang members deserved to be treated with an understanding eye; that was something that Father Gregory Boyle at Homeboy Industries teaches. The camera can lie but it can also tell the truth by keeping its eye open for the little details of life; and as for me and my crew it was our job to try to paint an honest picture of the struggles and victories that Mexican American people experience in this country.
T.D. You were climbing trees, riding horses, carrying on with cast and crew. What sports and activities do you like. Do you have many memorable moments throughout the filming.
C.W. So many! Just getting to know aspects of Mexican culture in LA that I didn’t know before and which I think people from my side of town are unaware of. Meeting father Boyle and greeting to know him has been an honor, as was attending and being allowed to shoot a real charreada. I think the best part of making films is the people you get to meet, what you learn from them. Thanks for letting me ride your horse! I was afraid that I was going to get thrown but of course the horse knew I was an amateur and took pity on me.
As for climbing a plam tree, that was definitely memorable! Wenever I am going to ask a cast member to do something difficult I want to try it first, so that i can understand what I’m asking of them.
T.D. The Charro community was excited to do takes and participate. The second anniversary “Mothers Day Extravaganza” was taking place during the filming. Will there be any footage of the Charreada event in the movie?.
C.W. Por su puesto, as you’ll see! It forms a really important part of the movie, in whcih the hero, Carlos, realizes how much he has left behind to work as hard as he does. I’ve been traveling around Scotland and England doing interviews about the film and everyone is just amazed by this sequence, and the fact that people are keeping this culture alive.
T.D. Good reviews and expectations of awards are in the air. Where and when will the film be released?
C.W. We went into a very limited release June 24th and will be expanding from there. A lot will depend on how much people attend in the early weeks, so get your families together! This weekend (4th of July weekend) we’ll be opening in Southgate, Winnetka, and elsewhere in the LA area.
T.D.The whole “A Better Life” experience was fantastic and fun for me. I had a really good time. I saw that you are a good rider, would you like to join the Charro community in a fun filled trail and poker ride? I’ll provide the Horses. Tacos, Chicharrones, Beer and live Banda music are the way we roll.
C.W.This works for me! I’ll have had enough of all the PR tours and after I get back from New York in August I’m all about horses, poker tacos, and beer!
T.D.I want to applaud you for the courage in expressing your views during a *interview and the “March” in L. A. The movie includes and touches on several life issues and I expect it will shed light on many of life’s victories and challenges. The Charro Family, it’s organizations and the Mexican American community thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your work. Do you have a specific message you would like to share with us? As for me and mine, Te deseamos lo mejor de la suerte y que te acompañe Dios..
C.W. I want to thank the charro community for their warm welcome and for opening their culture for us to film. It’s been a real privilege to get it to the screen and I want people also to know just how impressed audiences are that the Charro community is doing so much to show respect for Mexican culture and keeping this spirit alive!
T.D. The movie is a jewel and is a must see for the Latino community. It is a gift and love letter to L.A. and our community as *Jami Gertz put it. We absolutely have to support and appreciate this work by watching it and keeping it in theaters. Let’s make sure Hollywood continues to make positive Latino based movies. This is a great opportunity for us to flourish.
Cannot say enough about the wonderful experience I had with the producers and everybody involved in the making of “A Better Life”.
A Special thank you to the most beautiful person and friend Laura Greenlee, Line Producer.
My hat’s off to *Jamie Gertz , Chris Weitz and Christian McLaughlin and of course Summit Entertainment.
The list is too long but it was great to meet and work with Missy Stewart, Javier Aguirresarobe (aka the most interesting man in the world), Linda Morel, Carlos de la Torre, Richard Mendez, Elaine, Maritza, Melissa and Tammy Smith, You are all a bunch of wonderful people.
The movie was originally called “The Gardener”, but the name was changed and rightfully so because the dream and reality is that the movie will be instrumental in creating “A Better Life” for our community.
More than 150 Charros and personal friends worked in and had a lot of fun while filming this great movie.
I personally want to thank my dear friends Don Leonardo Lopez and Fernando Lopez for continuing to promote Charreria and Mexican American Culture at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena . Thank you for all of your help and support. Thank you for loving Charreria and our community.
Como siempre, les deseo lo mejor de la suerte y que los acompañe Dios.
Un servidor, Tobias de la Torre,
CEO Charros Federation USA Inc.
National Director, Preservation Committee of Charreria, Federacion Mexicana de Charreria