Many people have a dream in life, but some choose to abandon their dreams all too quickly. Juan Vargas, while he may not have succeeded in living out his vision just yet, has at least taken the first step. His first movie, 90 Days Visa, filmed here in Shanghai, aims to prove that people with ordinary jobs can make a proper flick on virtually no money. Shanghaiist met Juan and got the behind-the-scenes scoop on 90 Days Visa.
Where are you from? What’s your real job? How long you have stayed in Shanghai? I’m a private tutor of language teaching, English and Spanish. I was born in Columbia, raised in America and Europe. I’ve been in Shanghai for two years.
What made you want to make a film? I’ve always like the arts. I wrote before and have always liked writing. One day I had a meeting with a group of friends and I just had this idea to make a film. There are so many films made every year but there are so many bad ones. The objective is for people who have normal jobs can make a proper film. Now the technology is available, ordinary people like you and me can also make films.
Who are your influences? Any particularly favourite directors? I’d say Stanley Kubrick and Pedro Almodovar. I like the way Kubrick tells the story in his film, he also makes a lot of original films. As for Almodovar, his films tell crazy stories but with a human touch.
Where did you get the story? Who wrote it? There were five of us, including Juliette McCawley, Shane O’Donell, Chantal Barttenfly and Paul Cichecki. All of them are my friends. And this film is co-directed by me and Juliette McCawley.
Who are the people in the film? where did you get the crew? How did you recruit actors, actress and extras? What about their acting skills? The majority of the people in the film are first-timers for filmmaking. I posted an ad on the internet and received an amazing response considering that we don’t pay people. About 60 people, both Chinese and foreigners sent us replies. We also pull people from where we’re shooting to be our extras, like the waitresses and bar owners. I’d have to say at the beginning I think it’s too much to ask that everyone can act. In reality, most of the people are nervous facing the camera for the first five minutes. It amazes me how people can act well. Though maybe acting in a comedy is much easier than other dramas.
What’s the story? The story is about the misfortune of an American guy in Shanghai, Starcy Jordan, a jackass who comes to China and wants to be Chinese in three months (that’s also why the film is called 90 Days Visa), and tries to get a Chinese girlfriend.
Where did you shoot the scenes? Mostly at the bars where we know the owners, like Papa’s Bierstube, No.5, Mad House, Backyard Café, Elm Villa and Harley’s. The other places charge too much — like RMB 2000 per hour — that’s too much for us. Also at some crew’s apartment and a lot on the street and in parks. I would like to mention Daniel Pellerin, the Canadian who plays the leading actor in the film. He’s great!
What equipment did you use to make the film? Sony Digital Video Camera T150, a normal PC and garden lights.
Is money the biggest problem to shoot the film? Well, we’ve got some money through sponsorship. The biggest expense for us is actually food. So far we have spent RMB 22,000 on this film.
What was the most difficult thing about making the film? Any strange things happen while filming in the middle of the night in Shanghai? The biggest obstacle is to managing everyone’s time. We were always shooting at weekends since everyone has a job. But there is always a situation, like one person needs to go on a business trip, another person is pregnant … it’s a pain! Some people have to play two roles in the film — just with another wig and a different makeup! One funny scene is at the end of the film, the main character Daniel gets kicked out of the apartment and has nowhere to go, so he starts singing Beijing opera in People’s Square. There were pedestrians who really believed it was true and gave him coins. Another one was shooting the scene in Julu Lu, where Daniel is supposed to get drunk and got kicked out of the bar. When we were there, the girls on Julu Lu really did kick us out.
Describe the schedule of a typical weekend of filming? 9 pm til 12 am on Friday night (this was probably 30 percent of the weekends we shot). 9 pm til midnight on Saturday (give or take a few hours) and 9 am till 6 pm on Sundays. An interesting weekend was August 26-28, when we had to film all the scenes that take place in Stacy’s (the main character) flat. A big chunk of the film was filmed from Friday August 26, 9 pm, till Monday August 29 at 3 am. By the time we packed and left the flat it was 5 am. All the crew slept in the flat, sharing beds, on the sofa, on the floor. We slept max four hours and shot one scene after the other. It had to be done like this because the flat (very nice one) belongs to a friend of mine and after it was not going to be convenient: his parents were visiting for a while, his colleagues from Switzerland were coming and staying there, and so on.
What are your realistic expectations for the film? Do you really think it can make money? I think we can sell the film. One of the conditions is that we don’t pay people, but once we start selling it we will definitely pay the people involved. I think this film can get recognition for the fact that no one had experience in this and how quickly we were able to shoot the film. We started shooting on August 20, finished on October 31 and only filmed on weekends. People put effort into this movie and you have to feel the spirit. I don’t see why the general public won’t be able to notice it. People in China should find it interesting to see what are people doing in the film. And in overseas countries, anything from China is welcome.
Are you happy with the finished product? Can you compare the quality of the production to a movie that readers might be familiar with? It’s not finished yet! We’ve just finished shooting but still need to edit the film. From what I see I think the quality is pretty nice.
Is moviemaking a career for you? Do you want it to be? I think I’d like to try now. Like I said before I always like writing. For sure, I want it to be my career!
How are you going to deal with the distribution? By luck. Okay, the production company deals with it. What we do now is edit the film then send it to the production company. Most of these companies receive thousands of film proposals every month: you can’t expect they will go through all of this. Right now, I can only say there is potential that some overseas production companies might be interested in the film.
When will the film be released and where can people buy it? Right now, we don’t know. The official release of the film is going to be decided by the production company but we do plan an underground premier in early January for people who participated and the Shanghai media.
Contact Juan Vargas at [email protected]