Treading Water is the feature directing debut of Analeine Cal y Mayor who co-wrote the quirk comedy with writer Javier Gullon. A stellar cast tackles the unique journey of a boy who grows up with Trimethylaminuria or simply put, 'the boy who smells like fish' (The film's original title). Click through for my interview with Mrs. Mayor about her wonderful debut.
Treading Water has the unique element of being the first feature co-production between Mexico and Canada and both country's influence are imbedded into the film's plot. Canadian Douglas Smith holds his own as Mico amongst a talented cast of Mexican, American and Canadian talent. I was able to ask Analeine about her tremendous cast and so much more in this interview.
Interview with Filmmaker Analeine Cal y Mayor:
1. What was the toughest part of making your feature debut?
I think it was finding someone that believed in the project and trusted I could handle a feature film even if it was not my native language or my country. Niv Fichman, the Canadian producer believed in me and also he had credibility so that professional crew and cast committed to the film. He a took a leap of faith in my project.
2. Being the first feature movie co-production between Mexico & Canada what have you learned most from this experience?
It´s a fantastic experience to shoot in both countries. It´s like choosing the best of each place in terms of crew and cast, but it’s also different. I flew to Toronto with just one Mexican in the crew, Santiago Núñez, a very talented sound recorder. I remember I wanted to bring more people I knew from Mexico, but it was not possible because we had a tight budget and we couldn´t pay for more hotels. Then I met all the wonderful Canadian crew and felt like home. The Canadian film crews are very respectful and work quietly, and I think the actors are able to give more in that atmosphere.
3. It's an impressive cast that is extremely diverse. Can you talk about working with your actors, are there any scenes that stick out to you because of the acting?
I knew that comedy is a tough genre to write and to act. Actors need very good timing and also they need to have intuition. I went to a wonderful teacher in Los Angeles, Judith Weston and she told us “in comedy its always fast and serious”, so I started with those two words and then I got this talented cast and went deeper into working each scene. Then with Zöe and Douglas we had a bit more time to try different ways to approach a scene. I very much enjoy the scene where Mica is confused and kisses his therapist. Also a difficult scene for me and the actors is when Doug and Zöe start kissing on the sofa and the father arrives unexpectedly. Believe me, all scenes with sexual content are as difficult for the actors as much as for the director.
4. I loved the quirky element of the home being a museum. Can you talk about where this idea came from?
I wanted to have a Latin world inside the North American world. I visualized a very calm and peaceful neighborhood. With a lot of order, a limited palette of colors, specifically pastel colors. I wanted to make a contrast between the neighborhood and the inside of the house Mica lived in, make it more colorful, more kitsch. I wanted it to embody the world of a Mexican romantic singer with good self-esteem, ambition and arrogance. The idea came from Frida Kalho´s house in Mexico City and also Graceland, the famous home of Elvis Presley.
5. What's the process like working with your co-writer Javier Gullon (loved his adaptation of ENEMY)?
I think that the most challenging part of writing a script is laying out and writing the idea from beginning to end. Javier and I were together for that part and we had very similar tastes, so we were very close during that phase. But it was also very difficult because he was my partner at the time so we really couldn´t separate personal from our professional life and got into huge arguments! Many critics say that the film feels very honest and fresh. And I think it comes from the writing. We knew each other very well, we were not pretentious, we didn´t intend to teach the audience anything. I just wanted to make the audience laugh, maybe smile a little and get my point across in a very subtle way, and that point was that we should all respect people that are different.
6. I love the comedic elements that run through the full movie, like the air freshner necklace. What comedy influences did you look to for this film?
For me humor is so important in my life. Really I can´t be with a person that doesn´t have a sense of humor but also I know that when you film a comedy actors are usually not having a good time. And that´s how it works. I love the film “Harold and Maude” and I love The Coen Brothers. I´m a big fan of “Fargo”. And even Todd Solondz who is a lot darker, and also Wes Anderson.
7. What influenced choosing Trimethylaminuria as Mico's disease? Was there a lot of research into the disease?
The script didn´t start with a boy having a disease, the whole idea started with the disease which sounded like someone made it up. So I told Javi, what if the boy is really attractive but is always alone because he has this disease so he has no self esteem? I did some research but as its a very strange disease. There is not so much information about it. Its not curable (a thing that I liked) and for me it was very important that it´s not visual, you can´t see a smell. I wanted the audience to forget about it and focus on the relationship between the characters.
8. Carrie-Anne Moss and Douglas Smith's scenes are really believable and honest. Can you talk about shooting the therapy sequences and the intriguing kiss?
It´s probably a mixture of having wonderful actors and then my personal experience going to therapy and being the daughter of a therapist! I decided to work on a film with someone I was in an intimate relationship with for several years. That was a decision we made. Carrie-Anne Moss plays a parental figure, a friend but also she is very attractive, so Mica after losing his mother feels lost and kisses her in a moment of confusion, maybe extreme loneliness. The sequence was a challenge for me and for Doug. I wouldn´t know about Carrie Ann because she has a lot of experience but at least Doug and I were nervous and confessed it during the rehearsal. Its a scene where the actor really feels naked. You just have to let it go, trust that your director will not let you look ridiculous, trust yourself and the other actor. And I´m thankful that he did it. There is a very special silence, a very awkward moment and you are so close to him that I got as nervous as the character (and the actor probably) every time I did the take. I think Carrie-Anne Moss and Doug Smith were really able to transmit a very uncomfortable, unique moment.
9. What filmmakers inspire you?
There are so many but I think that there are some that I admire because they don´t repeat themselves and try new ways of telling a story or shoot it and don´t follow trends. Paul Thomas Anderson, Coen Brothers, Park Chan Woo, Kubrick, Claire Denis, Ulrich Seidl, among others.
10. What is next for you?
I´m finishing the latest draft of my new film with co-writer Gibrán Portela. It´s a comedy, but a lot darker. For now it’s called The Day When Nobody Died. Hopefully it will start taking shape this year, but it´s again a co-production so they take longer. And I´m starting to work in theater and will be directing my first play in a couple of months, titled Quisiera (“I Wish”).
A rare feature debut that takes a full arc of it's main character and still having time to enlighten the lives of it's surrounding cast. The color choices and sharp witty script really complete the fun quirky feel of the movie. Overall I found it funny, honest and unique.
The movie opens today in NYC and trickles through different cities over the next few weeks and months. For Texas Audiences:
3/20 – Sundance Cinema (Houston, TX)
And as of March 10th, it's been available on VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Youtube, Sony Network, XBOX, VUDU, Vubiquity and DirectTV.