‘La Loteria’ dir. Shahir Daud

While waiting for his plane to board so he can immigrate to America, Augusto Ramirez recalls the three biggest regrets of his life.

Director: Shahir Daud
Writers: Shahir Daud, Brendan McArthy & Gavin McGibbon
Producers: Shivali Gulab, Alejandro Soto Goico, Isabel Davis & Shahir Daud,
Key Cast: Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ines Milans

C8: Where did the idea for ‘La Loteria’ come from?

SD: ‘La Loteria’ is based on the true story of how my (then) girlfriend, Shivali, and I got married in New Zealand before moving to New York.

After going through a couple of quick rewrites I decided to make the film in Spanish because I had access to Spanish speaking actors and I thought the NYC locations could double for the Dominican Republic.

I should mention that I don’t speak Spanish at all!

C8: Describe the writing process. How did you work with co-writers Brendan McArthy and Gavin McGibbon?

SD: I would write a draft and then pass it onto Brendan and Gavin to review and do their passes. I think Brendan got the worst of it because I would make him meet me in the middle of the night while I was having a neurotic breakdown about the story. Gavin was living in New Zealand at the time, so he would just get frantic emails from me all the time.

The other person involved was our producer Alejandro Soto-Goico who would translate my writing into Spanish, and specifically into Dominican Spanish, which has it’s own nuances and quirks. Another close friend of ours, Marie Isabelle Palacios Hardy helped out with some more translations as we re-wrote the film in the edit.

C8: Romance is at the heart of the film. Why did you embark on a love story for your next short?

SD: I didn’t set out to make a romantic film! I just wanted to re-tell the story of how Shivali and I got married which I thought was so weird and funny. Obviously, since she and I are still together, there’s certainly an element of romance involved, but if anything I think the ending makes it a little uncertain if Augusto and Savanna would work out as a couple.

C8: Were you worried that you might get stray into the territory of romantic clichés? 

SD: I suppose because I lived this story, I didn’t feel like anything was a cliche. It certainly could have turned out that way, but Brendan, Gavin and myself were all conscious of making sure the film felt authentic and true.

C8: How did you cast the film? What were you looking for in your actors?

SD: What really helped was that Shivali and I could tell them how we were feeling at certain moments in the story. Shivali was also producing the film and worked really closely with Ines during the final moment in the church, and helped her get to that emotional point. Because of unfortunate scheduling the church scene was Ines’ first in the film, but she handled it beautifully.

We held open casting sessions in New York, and got the actors to recite the lines in English and in Spanish. Although we’re looking for certain characteristics in one actor, we’re just as interested in how they work with the other actors and if they have chemistry.

In both this film and my previous short film ‘Double Happy’, we actually found someone who we thought was perfect for the part, but once we put them together with the other actor, we saw that they didn’t quite click as well as we’d hoped. It wasn’t a reflection of that actors ability, but how their chemistry would work for the film in one way or another.

C8: Did you have a chance to rehearse with the actors? How did you prepare with them?

SD: The film was actually written, shot and edited within a one month period, so we only had one two hour session to rehearse, and Ines Milans (who plays Savanna) couldn’t make it! Ismael Cruz Córdova (Augusto) was a trooper and rehearsed his lines with Alejandro.

What really helped was that Shivali and I could tell them how we were feeling at certain moments in the story. Shivali worked really closely with Ines during the final moment in the church, and helped her get to that emotional point. Because of unfortunate scheduling the church scene was Ines’ first in the film, but she handled it beautifully.

C8: What other filmmakers or films influenced ‘La Loteria’?         

SD: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’m lifting the narration style straight from it. I’m also a big fan of Wes Anderson and both of Augusto’s and Savanna’s lists are clear homages to Dignan from ‘Bottle Rocket’ and Max Fischer from ‘Rushmore’.

C8: The film has had a great run on the festival circuit. Why do you think it has gained so much momentum at film festivals?

SD: Though I love ‘Double Happy’, I think ‘La Loteria’ is an easier film to program because it’s shorter and it’s more of an audience friendly film. It’s the only film I’ve made where my friends have said “I’d love to show that to my parents”.

C8: Do you think film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work

SD: Festivals are great places to meet other filmmakers and to show your work in specially curated collections. It’s also great if your film wins an award at a festival, because having those laurels on your poster is a big drawcard for people to watch it.

But it has to be acknowledged that the potential audience online is so much bigger than you’ll ever get at a festival. There’s also no rejection online since people either watch your film or don’t. Putting films up for festivals can be heartbreaking, time consuming and expensive. I definitely think there are plusses and minuses for either submitting to festivals or going online.

C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive any assistance from funding bodies?

SD: Shivali and I funded the film ourselves. We’ve applied for funding every year for the last fifteen years and only been accepted once in that time. When making this film we didn’t want to have to wait around for someone to tell us no again.

C8: What obstacles did you face while filming and how did you overcome them?

SD: Pretty much everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The weather was terrible, our director of photography dropped out a week before filming, we couldn’t schedule with our cast in time, and we couldn’t afford the airport location fees.

But we persisted and dealt with each problem as it arose. The best thing about having your wife as the producer who’s also committed her money to the project is that she would never let us fail.

C8: What’s next for you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

SD: I just wrapped and released a pretty cool music video called ‘Cymatics‘ for Nigel Stanford. It was an amazing project to work on because Nigel and I basically spent six months coming up with science experiments.  It’s having a great run right now, and I’m looking forward to making a follow up with Nigel soon.

I’ve written a follow up film to ‘La Loteria’ which follows Augusto and Savanna at another part of their lives and have a couple of other shorts I’ve been kicking around which I’d like to tackle eventually.

I’ve also been tinkering with a couple of feature scripts which are at different stages of development.

The online success of ‘La Loteria’ and ‘Cymatics’ has been great so far. Both projects became Vimeo Staff Picks within an hour of each other, and there has been a lot of interesting opportunities coming from that, so I’m just weighing up my options and trying to choose my next project carefully.

You can find out more about Shahir Daud and his work here.