By: Vernon Nickerson
Edited By: Colleen Page
The Art of Monteque sat down this week with Richard Montoya, Writer and Director of the soon-to-be-released film Water and Power. We talked about the making of the film and his journey as an artist.
Water and Power is such a strong and meaningful work. What caused you to create it?
RICHARD MONTOYA: I was inspired by the mythical landscape of Los Angeles after dark and wanted to make a film that captured the city from the lens of East Los Angeles looking westward as opposed to the typical filmmaker’s’ lens looking at East LA from a West LA perspective.
The characters in Water and Power have a raw reality to them. Are they based on people you have known or learned about in your life’s journey?
RM: Yeah, I’m very much a lover of local politics and global politics. For example, the story of Gilbert Cedillo, (former State Legislator and current LA City Council Member serving District 1). He drafted the original bill providing special drivers licenses for immigrants and championed the legislation for more than 15 years until it finally became law in 2013 . Latino power is a relatively new thing in the West, so the idea of a writing a cautionary tale set in the present day was especially compelling. I have five brothers…we are ambitious and we want those things (that mark success) just like most Americans today. I never wanted to take it for granted what being an American is. Water and Power is a Chicano version of the genre of cautionary tales of immigrants aspiring to and achieving power, like (the Italian-American cautionary tale) “The Godfather”. I’m actually developing a new play about LA in the 20’s and 30’s.
Los Angeles plays a central role in the film. How did you come to pick the City of Angels as the setting for Water and Power?
RM: I came here (Los Angeles) to do do theater 25 years ago and I would get in my car and just drive around the city and didn’t believe how beautiful is was at night. I tried to find James Elroy locations (from the story “Black Dahlia”). I wanted to depict how the city became a different and dangerous place at night. I also wanted to capture the essence of films like Dial M for Murder, for example, the (character played by) Fred Mac Murray’s style of narration. The city is intertwined with the history of movies and movie making. I cannot recall a script (I have worked on) in last 10 years that doesn’t feature LA.
Was it difficult for you to make Water and Power, the play into Water and Power, the movie?
RM: The stage play was first produced at The Mark Taper Forum. It was a 5 year process to “beat” the film out of the play. You know, unless its a musical, filming a proscenium (stage) play is not conducive to film. Getting from stage to film took about 7 years.
Did the influence and support of being a Sundance alumnus help you in the process of creating Water and Power and if so how?
RM: I can still send Michelle Satter a letter! I will always be grateful and appreciative of the generosity and tough love that I received through the Sundance creative process. It was drilled into us that “You are going to be a storytellers and you are going to be the best storytellers that you can be.”
My very first meeting was with the novelist Walter Mosley; he tossed my script on the table and challenged me to develop it into a screenplay. The Sundance creative process broke open my original script like a pinata. You go into (the process) thinking, “what a great script I have created”; thank God I didn’t know (beforehand) how difficult the process was!
Catherine Hardwicke, Alfre Woodard,…you find the people you vibe with and stay friends (with them) for the rest of your life. I want to do that with the younger filmmakers I come in contact with.
What made you want to be an artist? Furthermore, what made you want to undertake your particular artist’s journey, one which is flowing and unfolding into the ever changing realms of creativity?
RM: Just like everyone, I kind of drifted (for a bit), but just watching the way that my dad and his fellow artists lived and worked, they never had 9 to 5 jobs. I’m raising a child and have a mortgage and wife. I got that (work and life ethic) from watching him. I love the artist lifestyle and the way I am a political artist; that has an extra weight. I’m a flawed man, but when it comes to creating and presenting the work, I have to operate on a certain level, and…I need to put food on the table. I need to create and write and work on projects that I have a big say in and I want to put stuff out there that is beautiful and has something to say about the world. I love the medium of television.
What does it mean to you to be an artist?
RM: Its everything. I come from a family of artists and it informs just about everything I do. I want to be ethical and not screw people over. It (the artist’s life) can be lonely, but it can have wonderful rewards.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to create Water and Power?
RM: Just like any indie filmmaker the first obstacle I overcame was finding Producer Mark Roberts. Marco Santiago, Co-Producer, who became a screenwriter, connected us with a major financier. Next… preproduction…then (the) first day of shooting- that takes about 5 years off your life. Windows of opportunity open and shut and you (have to) land perfectly on many different windows.
Do you believe that art has the power to create change and make a difference in society?
RM: Yes, I think more so than politics and more so than alot of things, absolutely! Culture is leading the way…music is leading the way. If I go to a Palestinian film festival, (and) there’s an Israeli film there. (Another example)…Documentary film makers who go to the border and create work that bridges the gap between border patrols, immigrants and residents on both sides of the border. I am an investigative journalist/artist trying to find some sort of light out there and at least a way to have some conversation.
As you continue to do press and interviews for Water and Power, what one question would you love to be asked? What would be your answer to that question?
RM: Boy, what a great question! I think…oh man…I can just think of so many things…When (do) we write and how do we write and what is the process of writing? (Answer): Its such a mystery to me. Writing is the most non-ADD thing in my life. It means doing the most focused work that I do. Being that writer every day that I can be is my objective. While I would love to go and have dinner with my 4 year-old son, I must leave you now and go put in several more hours of writing on various projects.
Thank you so much for your time today.
RM: You’re welcome! [TAOMR]