If you go to cool genre film festivals, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen a short film directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero and created by award-winning Luchagore Productions. Based in Vancouver and founded in 2012 by Gigi Saul Guerrero, Luke Bramley, and Raynor Shima, these horror-loving peeps have upended the notion of Tex-Mex horror cinema with their crazy-prolific output.
Luchagore short films include the ever-popular El Gigante, as well as Bestia, Madre de Dios, M is for Matador (ABC’s of Death 2.5), Dia de los Muertos (Mexico Barbaro), and the viral sensations Evil Dead in 60 Seconds and A Luchagore Christmas, which was featured on Eli Roth’s Crypt TV. A mouthful, for sure.
Most recently, Gigi and Luchagore have unleashed the hotly anticipated action-horror series “La Quinceañera” with Warner Brothers and the Stage 13 Network, for which they recently won the Audience Choice Award at Mexico City’s Morbido Film Fest.
I was able to talk to both Gigi and producer Raynor Shima about all things Luchagore and the making of their new series.
The series can be seen on the Studio Plus app, which can be found on the Apple store and studio.plus.
DC: For those who don’t know you well, tell me about your backgrounds.
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I am Gigi Saul Guerrero, with the awesome, fan-given nickname “La Muñeca Del Terror.” I am Co-founder and Director at Luchagore Productions. Born and raised in Mexico City (So Chilanga for life). I’ve always had an interest for storytelling ever since a little kid. I would watch obsessively my Disney VHS films and press “play” and “pause” to find continuity mistakes. I know, right? Weird kid!! And then I was never, EVER allowed to watch anything horror-related. Growing up in a Catholic home (and being Mexican). we are very spiritual people, so I wasn’t allowed anywhere near things of terror. And well… because of that, my curiosity grew more and more until I stole a Child’s Play VHS from Blockbuster when I was seven years old. Hahaha — still today — my mom is so mad at me for it!
Raynor Shima: My name is Raynor Shima; I am the producer at Luchagore Productions, where I made “La Quinceañera” along with Gigi, Luke, and our team. I am from Vancouver, B.C., born and raised. I’ve been a lover of films since childhood. Filmmaking has always been a passion of mine, and when I finally decided to take that leap of faith back in 2011, I never looked back. I’ve produced all of our films and have had to wear many hats when we’ve done our low-budget short films. The process of bringing films to life has always been such an exhilarating experience for me.
DC: Gigi, you and your family moved from Mexico City to Vancouver; was that huge move difficult?
GSG: It was. It’s a whole other world when you try to compare Mexico with Canada. But the struggle trying to adapt to a new language, culture, new people, and basically a new life has been the perfect tool for inspiration and motivation in what I do. I don’t ever want to lose my roots in anything I do. Representing where I am from is most important to me, in how I am and who I am. So if I can put all my life experiences into my films and my voice as an artist — I’m happy. I guess you could say that’s why a lot of our films have a Tex-Mex vibe to them.
DC: Gigi, who inspires you?
GSG: Easy… my family. I’ve gone through everything and experienced so much with them… If it wasn’t for my family and my Abuelita, I wouldn’t the woman I am today. The support and love I share everyday with them just adds to my dedication in life and my work.
DC: Gigi, What would you say to women or girls just starting out who want to make films?
GSG: Make something! Grab a phone and shoot a story with resources you have. I want to inspire upcoming filmmakers like others have to me. And by teaching directing at Vancouver Film School, I have been approached a lot by girls saying that they aren’t too sure about directing — that they’re a little scared and discouraged. I always share the same thought, and that is, “Never be afraid of failure.” You won’t know how much you love something until you try it and learn from that experience. Especially for anybody who chooses this genre as their starting point —even more so you have to try it, because it’s the most supportive genre in the industry today.
DC: Raynor, you’re part of an awesome team. Tell me about Luchagore and everyone’s roles in it.
RS: Well from the beginning, its been Gigi, Luke, and myself as the co-founders of Luchagore. Gigi is our fabulous, vibrant director, writer, creator, and editor. Luke is our talented Director of Photography, editor, creator, and many other things. Myself? I’m the producer, creator, 1st AD, and sometimes jack-of-all trades when need be. That is the core of our team, but what really makes us Luchagore, from what you see on the screen, to the makeup, production design, costumes, music, sound design, and camera, is our fantastic crew, who’ve been with us from the beginning. I probably could write pages about our crew, so I’ll just let you know who they are respectively in their departments. Shane McKenzie (Writer), Carolyn Williams (SPFX Makeup), Jocelan Jansen (Production Designer), Courtney Karg (Art Director), Topher Graham (Set Decorator), Jessie Jade Churchill (Costume Designer), Chase Horseman (Composer), Jordan Williams (1st A.C.), Chris Booths Orchard (VFX), and Lex Ortega and Luis Flores (Sound Design). These amazing people have been with us from the very beginning, and I’m so grateful that I get to still work with them today!
DC: Gigi, you directed the gritty new web series “La Quinceañera” for Warner Brothers and Stage 13. How did that come about?
GSG: Our most famous short film, “El Gigante,” screened for so many years (almost three) at festivals around the world, and sitting in the audience at one of these festivals was Christine Davila, a development executive at Stage 13 and the WB network!! When she contacted us, I swear I didn’t think it was real. I remember telling Raynor: “Uhhh, do you mind talking to this lady? She says she’s from WB and saw EL GIGANTE.” Suddenly, we were on Skype with her and five other people, and yup — sure enough, it was real! (You should’ve seen our faces that day.) A short time later, Luchagore was pitching ideas to Christine and Stage 13’s SVP of Scripted Content, Christopher Mack.
One of those pitches was about a fifteen-year-old girl whose family gets massacred during her Quinceañera by a Mexican cartel. Boom! The rest is history!
DC: Raynor, what was it like working with a studio on this project, and what was the whole process like creatively?
RS: Working on a studio project is like working on a whole other level. We learned so much more from what we already knew from film school, and it really kicked our asses. Being able to get that experience working with the collaborative team at WB/Stage 13, really helped to see what they where looking for in a story, character, and overall structure of a film. Chris Mack, Christine Davilla, and Kim Sherman (WB/Stage 13) were there with us from the beginning to end, giving their input and feedback, not only as mentors and guides, but to help push and challenge ourselves as well. The process was very structured and by-the-book, which I expected.
Gigi and Shane worked hard in creating a script that was not only what the studio was looking for, but also kept the Luchagore signature we all love. This really encouraged us to be more creative in terms of development, production, and post-production. Of course, when you’re working with bigger budgets, you’re able to expand that creativity a lot more. Having an open line of communication with your team on the vision is crucial; if you don’t, that can really hurt what you film on the day, and it shows when it goes to the cutting room floor. We had such an amazing team to work with at Stage 13; they really did make the process work for us, and that helped us to be able to let the creativity flow.
DC: What was the most important thing for you in creating and making “La Quinceañera”?
GSG: In the pitch, we described how the audience would watch the girl become a woman — which is what a Quinceañera is all about — as she and her Abuela get their revenge. The series was inspired by strong Mexican women, including the featured song in the show, “Anoche Estuve Llorando” by Lola Beltran. It was so important for me to not only keep the fun and gritty Luchagore vibe alive, but to be honest to myself as artist to showcase my voice as a Mexican storyteller with my Tex-Mex horror vibe.
This was the perfect opportunity to bring so much of my experiences to the scenes, dialogue, and relationships; I wanted audiences to really connect with the story. Working with talented people from beginning to end on “La Quinceañera” was a blessing, and I couldn’t have done it without everybody involved. I wanted something unforgettable while still keeping a gritty, raw Latin horror atmosphere. “La Quinceañera” became the perfect blend of this! Think Kill Bill meets El Mariachi in a Luchagore world.
DC: Was it difficult to find the right cast?
RS: The casting process was an interesting one on this show. We were filming in Vancouver, B.C., trying to make it look like we were in a southern Border of Texas, with a majority of Latino cast.
Our talent pool doesn’t have a lot of Latino actors in Vancouver, so we had to do casting in L.A., Toronto, and Vancouver. This helped to open up acquiring the right talent for the roles; one of our biggest challenges was finding our two main leads, Alejandra and Abuela. Since there is such a dynamic relationship between these two characters, we needed each to have their own integrity and strengths, and that you could see the chemistry between them. We spent the longest time looking for those two, but when we finally found Mia Xitlali, she just embodied that role of Alejandra — she got the character and really made it her own. For us, she made it feel real, and we could follow her journey and see her character transformation clear as day.
Gabriela Reynoso, who plays Abuela, was right under our noses. Originally from Mexico City and now living in Vancouver, we’ve had worked with her on another short film a year ago; she had come in to audition for another role in the show. But when we where really struggling that we haven’t found our Abuela yet, it dawned on me that the role she auditioned for, which she nailed, I found that this wasn’t for her, that she needed a bigger role. When I asked Gigi, “What do you think about Gabriela trying out for Abuela?” Gigi was like, “Ohhhh yeah! Let’s convince the studio to let them see her audition.” So, as the clock was ticking, with very little time to spare, casting was coming to an end. They allowed us to give her a chance, so we headed to her place at 11 o’clock at night, filmed her audition, and now the rest is history. We couldn’t be more proud to have Mia and Gabriela, and we’re so glad that they took those characters and brought them to life for us.
And let’s admit it… what’s a Luchagore show without our famous guy — Mathias Retamal?! He was born for the role of the villain, plain and simple. But overall, Gigi and I feel so lucky, every day, for the cast we have. There were so many roles to fill (and not easy ones either) and the talent we brought from L.A. and found in Vancouver brought the show to a whole other level. The acting stands out so much in “La Quinceañera”!
DC: The “La Quinceañera” premiere at Morbido last fall in Mexico City went so well that they added a second screening; what was the crowd’s reaction to the screening? Did this feel like a dream come true?
RS: Oh my god, it was so amazing to actually see the show in front of a live audience; we were all nervous on how the crowd would react to the show. After the first screening, Gigi was freaking out on the inside; it’s common procedure for her, hahah. I’m usually the calm and collected one, Luke is about the same, but we were all on the same page this time around. The crowd reacted so positively with the show; they loved how the characters and story really portrayed Latino culture. One character I found people loved was the Abuela and how they could relate to her as a grandmother, because like a lot of the grandmothers in Mexican culture, they are these strong woman figures to their grandchildren; this was something I know Gigi really wanted to incorporate in the show, and she executed it perfectly. It truly felt surreal to be there, watching this with everyone. The second screening was so packed, they had people sitting on the stairs so they could watch the show. We’ve never had that before, and when you put all that time and effort creating a film and the people love it, well, let’s just say we were all crying a little from excitement and relief!
GSG: Yeah, I agree with Raynor! It was amazing! And hey… Raynor was totally crying of joy by the end of this, as was our actor Mathias Retamal, too, hahaha! But oh my god! My jaw dropped at the second screening; I couldn’t believe we were sold out! Morbido is such a beautiful festival. I’m so happy our world premiere happened there! Being from Mexico, I felt so honored to be there and showcase my first big project as a director in my very own city during Day of the Dead! Hearing all the fans cheer, applaud, and react was the most rewarding feeling of my life.
DC: Gigi, you’ve now written a game for Capcom; can you tell us anything about that?
GSG: Working for Capcom was a great first-time experience, especially being hired as a writer. It brought a whole new perspective to me of what it’s like to be a writer for hire — now I know why writers feel like a part of them is let go when their script is sold and finished. It’s not theirs anymore.
I still remember my last day at work finishing part of the script and being like, “Well… my job here is done.” I submitted it to the leaders of the show, and now it was out of my hands. It was amazing, but at the same time, I still think every day: “I wonder how much the script has changed” or “I wonder if that script still exists.” It’s a crazy feeling!
I can’t wait to see what the company does with the game in general. A lot of hard work was put into it, and writing for a game is a whole other system than film. You have to think of alternative storylines because your audience is the player, and they can manipulate your story in any direction, so we have to be prepared for it all!
I gotta say… Motion capture has been the most fun part of the experience. I can’t wait to act again on this one — but stay tuned — I can’t tell you any more! [laughs]
DC: What are you working on now?
RS: We are currently working on another feature script right now, hoping to get it in production this year. At the same time, developing many other projects as we go. Hoping to jump on the next opportunity that comes across to us!
GSG: Crossing fingers for Season 2 of “La Quinceñera”!
DC: Where can people find out more about your work online?