Lupe is about a teenage girl who goes missing in a ghetto Chicago neighborhood and 3 of her friends take the search into their own hands. They begin to unravel the story over a night, but not everyone is telling them the whole story.
It was our pleasure to interview Fady Haddad, the director of Lupe.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
Not to sound too corny, but I’d like to think it chose me. I’m an artist and my job as an artist is, to tell the truth, to paint that picture as accurately as I can to what real life is. Visual storytelling allows the privilege and ability to tell those stories I want to tell. I grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood in Chicago and the fact that I can share my experiences, my point of view, and the themes that were present in that environment with beautiful cinematography, its truly a blessing. I feel like I’ve done that so far in my career and I hope to continue to do that as well.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than a film school?
We’re in an environment where you can learn all this stuff online, frankly. Phones that you buy come with video editing software on them and this next generation of people are going to naturally know how to edit videos in their daily life. Even someone who isn’t going to pursue a career in the arts, they might edit a video they shot to make it shorter, or cut out a certain part, or to apply a filter to it. Plus with social media “stories” like snap chat and Tik Tok, this young generation is already understanding how to tell a story very creatively within 6 seconds. But what it doesn’t teach you as much is how to collaborate and how to work with people, and how to do stuff you don’t want to do. In film school, they purposely design the courses so you have to learn all aspects of it. I took lighting classes knowing I had no intention to become a DP. Actors are taking writing classes, and directors are taking acting classes, etc. It teaches you all aspects, so once you choose your role, you’re going to understand how to communicate with every aspect and what it takes to get this done in reality. Also, you can learn about all this on your own but what film school also gave me was the people I met and worked with. I know people now who work for HBO, Starz, and big time movie producers because we took classes together. And the value of that is irreplaceable.
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
Well, I think it’s the one artform that puts everything together. Everyone can listen to a song and love it, or look at a painting and love it, but cinema combines all of it. You can look at a beautiful image, while listening to a beautiful score, and it can hit more of those sensory responses that we have. The dialogue has a rhythm and cadence to it that evokes emotion. Even for me, when I walk into that theatre, the smell of the popcorn hits me and makes me feel something before I even walk into the movie. At the end of the day, art is supposed to make you feel, and I think cinema gives you a lot of options to feel something throughout the experience.
Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?
I have a certain style that I try to make sure is applied to the entire process in pre production, production and post-production. I try to achieve a gritty, in your face, unapologetic style to my projects and when writing the script I keep that in mind so when the script is finished, I can follow that through when filming. I also tend to make films about real, gritty, and dangerous circumstances and so my style takes a lead from that. I want my style, and the style we shoot with, to always take the lead from the story. Lupe is very gritty, takes place at night, in a rough part of Chicago, so for me the style of the movie has to match. The audience has to feel it when they’re watching it. The audience should feel the danger, they should feel the tension that’s in the movie. Those are conversations you have to have with your DP and editor as the film is being made. The audience will get out of it what you put into it.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
I got lucky mostly. I feel like my cast n crew for this film made the entire film what it is. That’s usually the case, but for Lupe, without the specific people I had in the process, it wouldn’t have been successful. Derek Fisher, my DP, shot my last film and he’s a good friend of mine. I put him through a lot, because we often don’t have a big budget and he’s limited in the sense of people and equipment, but it works out because the style we achieve with those limitations fits perfectly to what my natural style is and we know each other enough now that we can communicate in shorthand and that’s important for a director/DP relationship. The star and lead of the film, Angel “CHI-ILL” Pedraza, really carries the entire movie and this is one of the first projects he began acting in, so I was blessed he was part of the process. Without his authenticity and effort he brings to this, it doesn’t work. I think a lot of people would hesitate to put such a vital role into a relatively new actor, but because CHI-ILL’s history as a Chicago rapper, his history of performing and music videos, I thought that he would transition smoothly and he put in the work and he deserves that credit. I think that he will have a long career doing this and I’m glad to be part of it. My editor Izaak Levison-Share edited my last film as well and I am grateful for him and I hope he edits all my films forever. Same with my audio team of Ruben Rosario and Javier Degante. Duane Deering who plays such an important part of this movie is so good in this, that I cannot picture anybody else playing the role. I randomly messaged him online after I saw a completely unrelated project and I’m so glad he responded. He’s phenomenal. I got lucky with Rebecca Escobedo who plays the title character “Lupe”. She’s such a dope talent and I think she’s going to do amazing things in her career. Her face is on the poster and so she is the face of the movie in many ways and I hope she knows how important she was to the process. My homie Eduardo Iglesias plays a big role and he’s been in my last two films. He puts in so much work into his craft and he was going through a lot during this process so I am appreciative for him. When I casted Myriam Raymond, I was excited because she’s so good and hilarious and her personality is one where you can’t not love her, and I can’t wait to work with her in the future again. The participation from Jennifer, Mario, Bobby, Ruben, Mykenzie, and Robert I will always appreciate and cherish. Something I’m really proud of is how much everyone gelled together and got along so well, I’ve never had that happen and it’s pretty rare. The cast and crew is so diverse and I am grateful for all of them.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
Funding was non-existent. I don’t know any rich people and I think people aren’t into the crowdsourcing as much anymore, so I paid for it out of my pocket. I tried to keep costs down and when we needed to have a big expense, I tried to time it around payday for me, but I just self-funded it and I hoped for the best. We were limited with people and equipment but despite that we pulled together and made a great film. Filmmaking is a challenge in general, and when you can’t throw money at the issue, you just learn to adjust or move on from what you want to do. Not having a bunch of people to help is a challenge, not having all the gear you want is a challenge, and not being able to pay your cast and crew to take an extra day off work is a challenge too. At the end of the day, that’s the game in the indie world and you got to adapt and make it work.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
I think everyone is an indie filmmaker until they aren’t. We all (most of us) start off at the bottom, and we keep climbing up the ladder as much as we can until one day a studio calls, and then we aren’t indie anymore. Most filmmaker's careers tend to go that way. The challenges, ironically, are the same for all of us. I think its money and resources. Especially for minority filmmakers, like myself, you need money and resources and you don’t have as much access to that stuff when you’re an indie filmmaker. But it teaches you how to adapt, how to solve problems creatively, and it often usually works out for the better. I’ve done a lot of run and gun and gorilla filmmaking to get shots done that we needed. I’ve also done a lot of stuff I can’t say here that probably wasn’t the safest, but it helped me develop my craft and style. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
Hope and pray… all jokes aside, I think we have a really good film that, in our few screenings we’ve had online and in person, people have responded well to. I think films like this, about people where I come from, made by people who come from those places, is missing in the film world today. You see a lot of the big blockbusters, which I love and I think have a place in our world, and then you see the Oscar bait movies that are manufactured for award seasons. And I feel like our film Lupe has a lot of heart and is very topical with all the things happening in society and so I want to make room for films like that too. We’ve gotten into 4 festivals so far and I hope to continue on the festival circuit. Then after it makes its run, we might do an online release in hopes to build some traction. We’re still in the process now, so we’ll see in the future how it that goes, we have some options now.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
I want to say that it would be great to get a Marvel film one day, or it would be great to win an Oscar one day and I do want those things but what I really want is to tell the stories about places where I’m from. Both my parents are immigrants to this country and we grew up in a neighborhood that’s full of blue-collar families that also struggled like we did. Movies tend to simplify places like that. I want to try to put a voice to that neighborhood, I want to try to explain how places like that exist, and at the same time show the nuance and the humanity that can exist in such a violent world. A lot of my films are about normal people that feel a sense of duty to step in when the community needs them to, I want to tell those stories the most. We come from a place I feel is misunderstood and I want my films to help portray the people that make it. My passion for that is what I hope to communicate to the audience so that they can feel it too.
What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?
Lupe is about a missing girl, an all too common story that we all relate to. And when we’re all scrolling on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, we always see the “Missing Girl” posts. We always see it and we might look at it but mostly we all tend to scroll by. We never find out what happens. Was she found? Is she still alive? Who did what? Why? And so I wanted to tell this story because I wanted to explore those questions. How can someone go missing in that scenario and how we can step up as a community to try to protect the most vulnerable people of our communities. The impact I want to have is hopefully we can stop scrolling in those moments we see the “Missing Girl” posts…hopefully, we can just ask why? Who? Who is this girl? What does she mean to the community? If Lupe can help keep it in the back of people’s minds, that would be a good thing. After we screened the movie, I get so many people that text or tag me in posts because a story on their timeline reminds them of Lupe. I want to talk about these girls more, I want to talk about places like my neighborhood in Chicago more. If the more we can pay attention to those stories, I think the better we can be as a community. In my film, a character explains to another that Lupe is “one of us.” And that “we all know Lupe”. From whatever walk of life you are from, you probably know a Lupe. And her story is usually told within communities, told at family gatherings around a campfire. That’s how the first storytellers did it, anyways. And I wanted to tell her story because it needed to escape those campfires and be told loudly and publicly. Because, just as I found out, it’ll bring us all together to share our own version of Lupe.