It’s every moviemaker’s dream: Embarking on a life-changing project with a universal story, ample room for creative leeway, an ever-supportive cast and crew and—upon completion—celebrated reviews.
“La Soga was a transformational experience and I am a different person because of it,” says director Josh Crook, on what he considers to be his first feature film. Crook and his brother Jeffrey have jointly directed six films and produced some six more, yet this one is distinct.
La Soga, which translates to The Butcher’s Son, is one of those passion projects where the blood, sweat and tears of everyone involved are materialized on-screen. People are taking notice; the film was an official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival and will open in theaters on Friday, August 13th. So what made this project such a breakthrough for Crook? Maybe it was the edgy, action-packed script? The experience of filming in a foreign language? How about the unconditional encouragement from cast, crew and Dominican Republic locals? MovieMaker caught up with the moviemaker to find out.
Kate Ritter (MM): La Soga is a film about corruption and redemption, inspired by true events from actor Manny Perez. What drew you to this screenplay?
Josh Crook (JC): Manny told me about the script while we were working together on another project and the first scene he told me about was where a 10-year-old kid slaughters a 150-pound pig. That really drew me in, because I’m so accustomed to our American distaste for something that is a part of daily life in most of the world—killing the food that you consume. That was just one scene in the script, but the entire screenplay was so honest and real that I devoted the next four years to making the film. It was an inspired work all along the way, and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
MM: How was creating La Soga different from the other films you have worked on?
JC: La Soga was different in a lot of ways. First of all, I was partnering with Manny Perez, who wrote the script. By necessity, my brother and I wrote most of the other films that we made before that. But La Soga was Manny’s baby, and I wanted to be true to his inspiration for the film. Another major difference was that we filmed on location in the Dominican Republic and on a budget that nearly every producer we talked to told us was impossible. It was an adventure, to say the least.
MM: You don’t speak Spanish, yet La Soga is a Spanish language movie. How were you able to deal with the language barrier and location shooting in the Dominican Republican, and why did you make those decisions?
JC: La Soga is a story about a Dominican man who doesn’t speak English. It was out of the question to shoot it in English. It’s true that I don’t speak Spanish, but shooting in a language I don’t speak was actually a lot easier than it sounds. I had people on set who worked with me to make sure the actors delivered the lines correctly, but so much of a performance is non-verbal, so I usually knew when a take was good even without speaking Spanish. Also, it had an added benefit of freeing me from the constraints of dialogue and allowed me to envision the film in a more cinematic way.
MM: How were you received by the locals of the Dominican Republic? What was the experience like shooting there?
JC: We were received with so much hospitality and support that I was blown away. The residents of the small town of Baitoa, where Manny grew up and where we shot a good portion of the film, came out every day to help us and many of them are extras in the film. There is a lot of poverty in the DR and a lot of corruption, so there were a few tense moments related to that, but the people welcomed us with open arms. We could not have made the film without them. That is a fact.
MM: The film won the Audience Award and Best Film at the Dominican Republic Global Film Festival and was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. Why do you think it’s connecting with worldwide audiences in such a way?
JC: I have been so happy with the way the film has been received, and I think it’s because it is an inspired work that takes place in the real world with real stakes. The context of the story is very specific—it’s a Dominican film. However, the issues that the protagonist is dealing with are universal, so I think it’s a film that everyone can relate to and really believe at some level.
MM: You went from breaking into the New York Film Academy to edit your short film in the late 1990s to La Soga. What advice do you have for aspiring moviemakers?
JC: A mentor of mine once told me that this business is a war of attrition. Sticking with it is a big part of the battle. A lot of kids come out of film school with big dreams of being famous, but no real perspective on life because they haven’t really experienced anything. Graduating with a $200,000 degree doesn’t mean you have anything to say.
For more information on La Soga, visit www.lasogamovie.com.