Artist To Artist: Lucy Mulloy and Paola Mendoza, Part 1

With the Tribeca Film Festival beginning later this week, we thought this would be the best time to kick off our latest feature on the site, Artist To Artist. Here we'll bring together two TFI alumni to sit down and discuss the business of filmmaking, their projects and the stories behind how they were made.

To kick it off we've brought together two talented filmmakers who've gone through TAA.

Paola Mendoza is a screenwriter, director, actress (and soon to be author) who received high acclaim for her tour-de-force performance and direction in Entre Nos (she co-wrote and co-directed the film with Gloria La Morte), which premiered at TFF in 2009. Based on a true story, the film follows a Colombian woman (played by Mendoza) who comes to the United States in hopes of a better life only for her husband to run off leaving her to fend for herself and two children in a foreign country.

Lucy Mulloy is making her directorial debut with Una Noche. Shot in Cuba, it's based on true events and filmed with three non-actors in the lead as their dreams of Miami motivate them to embark on the 90 mile voyage to freedom. Already having found acclaim when it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, TFF will mark the film's North American premiere.

In part one of this two part interview, Mendoza and Mulloy sat down with TFI in a quiet bistro in Tribeca to talk about how Una Noche was made and how both filmmakers work with non-actors.

Paola Mendoza: I’m super excited to see your film, congratulations.

Lucy Mulloy: Thanks. I have heard so much about you. I’m happy to meet you at last. 

Mendoza: I’ve traveled a lot to Cuba, so I know the area, where did you shoot?

Mulloy: We shot in Havana and Cienfuegos as well.

Mendoza: Oh my god, I’ve been to Cienfuegos! That’s where one of my projects was years ago.

Mulloy: It’s a beautiful place.

Mendoza: So tell me about shooting in Cuba.

Mulloy: The stories were so compelling and the architecture and the energy of Havana was really inspiring. A sentiment that I kept hearing about was the desire to know about the outside world. A lot of people’s life stories were about leaving, trying to leave or being left and I wanted to tell something that related to that. Is that what you experienced?

Mendoza: Yes and no. We did a project and the government was one of the sponsors. It was the first cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba since the embargo.

Mulloy: Oh, wow.

Mendoza: So the cultural exchange, while there wasn’t exact talk about leaving when we were there, the play [the kids did] dealt with a lot of cultural issues. How old are the kids in your film?

Mulloy: When we shot they were teenagers and Dariel Arrechaga, who plays Raul, was twenty.

Mendoza: How was it working with non-actors?

Mulloy: It was cool because they were so fresh and receptive and their relationships were so real. We worked for a year together just rehearsing non-stop, because I wanted them to really get comfortable together. We did rehearsals in the ocean and swimming pools and Anailin, who plays Lila in the film, she had to learn how to swim because a lot of the film is shot in the ocean. It was a big process to get them ready. I didn’t want them to be surprised by anything and know about continuity and how they would have to repeat everything a million times.

Mendoza: How did you find them?

Mulloy: First we did a casting where we went to acting schools, to theater classes, down the normal route to find young actors. But a lot were theatrical and trained more for theater. Then we decided to print up loads and loads of flyers and just went out to people in the street. Anywhere we could find characters. We went to concerts, the ice cream parlors, schools, everywhere. We would hand out flyers during the week and on the weekends we would have casting sessions in this huge old building. Kids would be lined up down the street [to audition] and I saw over 2,000 teenagers. We found Dariel outside his school. He’s a trained musician and Elio (Javier Nunez Florian) was training to be a chef and Lila we met her on the beach. She was training to be a professional Taekwondo artist and I wanted Lila to be into Taekwondo. 

Mendoza: Oh my god. [Laughs] That’s amazingly lucky.

Mulloy: They all just clicked. As soon as Anailin came in, Dariel and I looked at each other and we all knew immediately. We had so many girls come in and audition. I think he met every girl in Havana. [Laughs] He was like, “I don’t want to stop, Lucy, I want to see more.” But when she came in we didn’t even have to say anything, it was just clear that it was her.

Mendoza: What was your favorite part of the whole filmmaking process?

Mulloy: That’s such a hard question… what was it for you in making Entre Nos?

Mendoza: I think my favorite part was actually the rehearsal. Our two kids were non-actors as well so they had never acted and we had a four week rehearsal process with them every day for four to five hours, training them, as you said, so they knew what it would be like to work on set. We did this thing where they created a magazine collage of their characters and explained it to each other and every four or five days they would add different pictures as they got to know their characters –

Mulloy: That’s great.

Mendoza: Yeah, and I really liked the process because I could really see the characters that we had written not only coming off the page and becoming alive but changing into whatever these kids were creating as we were rehearsing.

Mulloy: For me, my favorite part was to see the dailies. Seeing what you’ve imagined so long ago, just this little thought, now be in front of you on screen and be a reality that other people can enter into and see. When it takes shape, that’s pretty amazing.

Tribeca Film Institute: Though both Una Noche and Entre Nos are similar in that you worked with non-actors, Paola, you had to also be on screen with the kids, while Lucy you could look at things from behind the camera. Could you both talk about what you were watching for besides the performances?

Mulloy: I shot video of the rehearsals so we had a shorthand between us already before the shoot. I don’t even know how to pinpoint it but we could feel each other. You could even hear on some of the dailies, when I’d say “Action” it sounds really aggressive. [Laughs] I’m trying to give them energy into the scene and that was how we worked.


Mendoza: Because we were under such tight time constraints when I was on screen we rarely did playback, maybe we did it two or three times and it was more so for focus for our DP Bradford Young. So Brad, Gloria and I worked extensively in preproduction, Brad would come to rehearsals a lot and I had to trust that the camera was doing its job so I was really able to focus on the energy of the kids. Unfortunately because they were 8 and 11 I couldn’t be like, “Come on! Buck up!” and crack that whip. When they got tired they would be crying and would just refuse so it was definitely feeling that energy and then capitalizing on it.

Mulloy: Yeah, it is really wonderful working with young people because they are still free enough to play and really believe their characters. They don’t have hang ups and they’re not worried about how they look.

Mendoza: So many directors don’t like rehearsals, moving forward is this how you want to make movies?

Mulloy: I really like rehearsing because it gives you chances to think about every aspect: where the camera is going to be, seeing your actors in the location. I’m sure there are many actors who don’t want to go over it too many times so it doesn’t get old, but I found working with these guys in the rehearsals we weren’t even doing the scenes, a lot of the time we were doing other things.

I’m not sure about future projects, but the next project with them we’ll go through a similar process, but they are a lot further on than when we met.

Mendoza: So you’re doing another film with the same actors?

Mulloy: Yes. Una Nocha is the first of a trilogy.

Mendoza: Wow. Have you started shooting the second film?

Mulloy: We haven’t started principal photography. Everybody told me to not start the second one until you finish the first, so I’m kind of trying to resist to get into that one too much yet.

Read part 2 of the interview as Mendoza and Mulloy discuss finding structure through improvisation and being female filmmakers.

[Photos: Still from Una Noche; Lucy Mulloy on the set of Una Noche; a still from Entre Nos.]