Monday, May 27

Filmmaker ‘Squeezes’ Hollywood stereotypes

Thursday, May 30, 1996

Alumnus De Leon presents first film at Melnitz tonight By Emily

Daily Bruin Contributor

If movies were an accurate portrayal of real life, nearly
everyone except gangbangers and 7-11 managers would be white.

But as director and UCLA alumnus Marcus De Leon points out, "In
this society, we’ve got all kinds of colors."

In his upcoming film, "The Big Squeeze," De Leon tells the tale
of a woman who enlists a con man to help get insurance money from
her husband. Throughout the movie, De Leon attempts to represent
Latinos as real people and not stock characters. He realizes that
it will take more than just one film to change the way ethnic
minorities are cinematically portrayed, but he hopes that with
continuous effort, he can at least give audiences more realistic

"I’m half-Mexican, half-German, and one thing that I’m really
interested in is writing and casting ethnic characters who could be
played by anybody," says De Leon. "It’s about not making someone’s
ethnic background a story issue, but rather let these people just
be people. It’s something movies haven’t been able to do much."

De Leon attributes this problem to studio executives’ incentives
to make commercial successes rather than realistic representations.
He feels that it will take writers and directors like himself to
turn the tide.

"Nobody knows what is going to be a success," explains De Leon.
"When a screenplay comes in or an idea for a screenplay comes in,
nobody knows what is going to work in the marketplace. The surest
way to hedge your bets against failure is to cast big stars, and
big stars tend to be Anglo, so that’s how most of the casting

"Traditionally, it has been a matter of minimizing risk in
marketing movies, but I think that’s changing. Movies like ‘Waiting
to Exhale’ and ‘Desperado’ are chipping away at that and it just
takes more and more writing to make that happen."

The casting for his own film resulted from his attempts to make
characters in movies more like real people. Putting caucasian
actress Laura Flynn Boyle ("Threesome") and Latino actor Danny
Nucci ("Crimson Tide") in lead, DeLeon achieved his goal to have a
film with an ethnic mixture of stars. But DeLeon did not just use
race as a criteria for his leading actors.

"It’s very easy to go out and grab some actor who’s going to be
totally wrong for the part," admits De Leon. "What you have to do
is go after people who you think can redefine the character in a
way that will keep it within the context of the story."

As a virtually unknown director, finding the right actor becomes
even more difficult, but De Leon found that Boyle’s sincerity and
Nucci’s charisma were ideal for their parts. De Leon attributes his
luck to his determination and that of his financial supporters.

"It’s a combination of a writer/director who has a vision for a
film and sticks with it, and financiers who share that vision,"
says De Leon. "It takes patience and a real fighting spirit. These
are things that school did not prepare me for, but I don’t think
any school could. UCLA was really good for learning the
fundamentals of filmmaking, but this was a real life thing."

Something else that UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and
Television could not teach De Leon was how to bend with society’s
changes. As he tries to make cinema that gives minority actors
major roles without resorting to clichés, this writer and
director is watching audience trends like a hawk. He feels he is
ready to respond to their needs.

"Audiences in the 1990s are more sophisticated," explains
DeLeon. "They are no longer as interested in the straight-up
super-hero type of character and type of film, like Rambo mowing
down 50,000 people. Audiences are more interested in films like
‘Usual Suspects’ where you’ve got a complex story, complex heroes
and anti-heroes, and complex villains. By making characters
complex, people become more real because that’s how real life is.
Audiences are looking for stories and characters that are more
grounded in reality, and bit by bit, studios and filmmakers are
giving them what they want."

FILM: "The Big Squeeze" Directed by Marcus De Leon. Free
screening tonight in Melnitz at 7:30 p.m. Call (310) 825-2345 for
more information.

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