On February, July 14th, FilmGate was privileged to be able to moderate an event with Angel Manuel Soto, director of the indie features La Granja and Charm City Kings, as well as the upcoming superhero film, Blue Beetle. We met up with Soto at the Silverspot cinema, with an audience comprised of prospective young filmmakers and FilmGate community members.
To the start the event the trailer for the film was shown to the audience, and concluded with a large wave of applause. Soto said that he still gets chills whenever he sees the trailer. He then began speaking with our co-moderator from Remezcla, Thatiana Diaz. She began by asking him about how he represented the Latino community onscreen in such a big movie. He said that he didn't take the opportunity lightly. Soto, who was born in Puerto Rico, believed that his authentic Latin experiences enabled him to be able to tell this story, and believes that every story should be told by people who will be able to bring their authentic experiences to those stories.
On his journey to directing the film, Soto said that he came a long way, not having film school where he grew up and having to learn filmmaking on his own. He began his career in film working as a PA on music videos, and eventually ended up making indie shorts and eventually features. He said it was hard to develop his career without any family connections but it was a "long but satisfying" journey.
On balancing the superhero elements with the Latin cultural elements of the film, Soto said that the cultural elements were already a part of who he is, so they were able to come naturally to him. Those elements were worked on first, and were the heart of the film, and then the more fantastical superhero elements were worked on. He said his agreement with DC was that they could tell him how big the explosions were going to be, but he told them how Latino the movie was going to be. He also added that his film was not the be-all-end-all of Hispanic representation and that he wants to see a lot more stories by different Hispanic storytellers.
On tips he would have for aspiring film professionals, Soto told the young members of the audience that they were lucky to have a community around them, and that they were blessed to be abe to talk to each other about the passion that drives them. The biggest piece of advice he gave them was to never see each other as competition. He said "I have never grown by competing with my peer. I have only grown by collaborating with my peer."
After that round of questions, FilmGate representative Michelangelo Alvarez (whose blog posts have graced this very site) came onstage to present his own questions to the director. Referencing Soto's previous features, Michelangelo asked how research for Blue Beetle, which takes place in a fictional, futuristic city, differed from his previous films which were set in real locations.
Soto responded by saying that a lot of the research went into the topics they wanted to address in the film, those topics being gentrification, marginalization, and homeland security. He said that these topics were familiar both to him and screenwriter Garreth Dunnet-Alcocer. On the setting, he said he did a lot of research through DC Comics and comic-related media, specifically citing Young Justice and Injustice 2 as sources of inspiration, as well as the comics for the original Blue Beetles, Dan Garret and Ted Kord.
On the casting, Soto said the most important part of the casting process was seeing the chemistry between actors before casting them, emphasizing the importance of chemistry tests. However he said that lead actor Xolo Maridueña was his top choice to play Jaime Reyes since he first met him.
Finally, Soto ended the event by answering questions from the young filmmakers in the audience. His answers included a heaping of praise for actor George Lopez, and the advice that the best way to become a director is to keep watching movies, talking about movies, and practicing making films.
At the end of the event everyone was sent home with a free poster and photo opportunity on the blue carpet, a fitting alternative to the traditional red. We are grateful for all members of the FilmGate community who attended or took the time to read this recap, and we hope to do more similar events in the future. Special thanks to Warner Bros. Pictures, Blue Beetle, DC Official, and H&M Communications for partnering with us for this amazing event and providing our community with an incredible opportunity to gain more insight into the industry. We are grateful for your support in encouraging our filmmakers to keep dreaming, creating, and believing in the power of our stories.