Coinciding with the release of her latest film Ekaj, our writer Carl W. Zeigler chatted to director Cati Gonzalez. This is how the conversation went!
How did you think of the title? Was Ekaj Jake (the main actor’s name) spelled backwards?
The title was originally named Prince & Ekaj but I later changed it to Ekaj. When I started giving the characters names, I asked Jake what name would he want to be called in the film and he said ‘Ekaj’. I asked him what it meant, and he said, "it’s my name spelled backwards." I liked it, so I kept it.
Who are some of your favourite filmmakers/directors? How have they influenced you over the years?
Some of my favourites are John Cassavetes, Sidney Lumet, Brian DePalma, Ingmar Bergman, and Luchino Visconti. In every way.
Who are your favourite screenwriters? How do these people influence you as a screenwriter yourself?
Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon), John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence), Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), Paul Haggis (Crash). I can’t say how, it just does.
How did you go about casting the film? Why did you choose non-actors versus professional actors?
Casting is something that I have been blessed with. I worked as a photographer for 20 years and I have a lot of experience doing it. I found the main actor (Jake Mestre) on Facebook while looking through photos from a party that a friend of mine posted on his page. I immediately fell in love with his face.
I already had met another young man (Giovanie Paz) who was related to my partner Mike, who was also really beautiful but in a rougher, tougher way. I then met Badd Idea later on while shooting the film, through a friend of a friend.
I cast them knowing that they would fit the parts that they were playing perfectly because they were living or had lived similar experiences to the characters in the film. Plus, I really had not seen hot Puerto Rican “hood type” gay boys featured in a lot of films.
How did you write the script? What inspired you to do so?
It definitely relates to our lives and experiences. Both my partner and I have been broke and homeless, which is not an uncommon thing with artists. We’ve also lost family and friends to AIDS, so I wanted to incorporate that into the script as well. I was writing with Midnight Cowboy on my mind but with Nuyorican drifters, broke and discarded by life.
Did the actors do any sort of improv during the making of Ekaj?
There were some scenes where I let them improvise a bit, especially when they would forget their lines on the script.
Was Ekaj shot digitally or on film? How did you reach that decision?
The film was shot digitally on four different Canon cameras. As a photographer I shot my best pictures on 35mm film but for Ekaj I decided to shoot it in digital because it’s much cheaper to edit the footage than actual film. I didn’t have the budget to shoot in film, which would have been very expensive to cut and print.
How did you direct the actors? Did you guide them to get the performances you wanted or did you let them invent their character personae?
Both. I let them try to interpret the script with their own words and sometimes they got carried away and it worked great, but Ekaj is more scripted than people think, ninety percent of the time. I would read and they would repeat, if they didn’t learn their lines.
Although the film is fictional, it feels very raw like a gritty documentary. Is that the style you were going for when making Ekaj? Were there real experiences that inspired the making of this film? If so what were they?
I wanted it to feel as real and close as possible to the characters. As I mentioned before, it relates closely to some of our own experiences. Some scenes in the film like losing friends to AIDS, sleeping on park benches, receiving eviction notices, and others were all inspired.
Are many LGBT teenagers affected by the same tragedies that Ekaj suffers throughout the film?
Of course! There are so many kids going through this as we speak. I wanted to make a film about the discarded, the drifters that have so much potential but never get a chance to fulfil it. Most of the youth today consume drugs and alcohol socially at some point and that should say something about society today in general.
It’s most enhanced in the LGBT community because of the level of rejection and the number of runaway teens. In essence, all youth strive for love whether they are straight or gay. If they don’t have it at home or at school they fall into depression, drugs and alcohol. Even though it might ease the pain temporarily, it becomes their destruction eventually.
Are there any future plans to release the film on DVD and Blu-ray?
We’re hoping to get it released on DVD/Blu-ray soon.
Are you currently writing/directing any new projects? Do you have any film projects planned for the near or foreseeable future?
Yes. I have several scripts that I’ve written in the last year that have won screenwriting awards and I’m now writing the script about the story of my life. I’m also planning to raise the funds in the next few months for my next feature script through crowdfunding.
Have you seen Ekaj? We'd love to know your thoughts!
Written by Carl W. Zeigler