Cult Critic Interview: Filmmaker Andres Ramirez on “From Charlie, with Love”, his career and more
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Filmmaker Andres Ramirez portrayed his film “From Charlie, with Love” in the best way possible. It started with growth in the world of cinema and literature, followed by writing short stories. After moving on to Monterrey, Mexico, he started writing and filmmaking. He is currently working on distributing his successful short film “Frame,” which was presented at the Cannes Short Film Corner in 2018. He is also looking forward to completing his next short film, “Shutter.” He is currently attending film school at New York University.
Cult Critic catches up with Filmmaker Andres Ramirez to discuss From Charlie, with Love, his work, and more. Excerpts:
Cult Critic : Has life changed after moving on to Monterrey, Mexico?
Andres : Moving to Monterrey gave me the chance to get bits of what real filmmaking is. During high school, I had the privilege of taking a filmmaking class lectured by acclaimed director Carlos Algara. He coached me for my first short production. I learned the basic film elements that I still use today, such as screenplay format and shot listing, among other things. At age 15, he also invited me to participate in a professional set. This experience helped me understand the industry and helped me decide to pursue a career in filmmaking. I couldn’t be more thankful to him.
Cult Critic : How are you managing work and studies at the same time?
Andres : Well, it’s hard to balance because I would love to shoot every single day rather than studying. However, I value my education, and at the moment, I am prioritizing and embracing my current experience at New York University, trying to learn more to become a better filmmaker. Despite all the possible stress, I always try to find time to write and shot projects. I also keep practicing photography as a way to relax and express my creativity.
Cult Critic : How did you get the idea of Filming “From Charlie, with Love” by taking Charlie Chaplin as the inspiration? Can you please tell us about that a bit?
Andres : As stated in the film’s credits, this project was born as a school assignment at New York University, where we were challenged to shoot in Black and White and in a silent format. I remember that one of the creative challenges that I faced was trying to tell a story that fitted the limitations that justified shooting that way, and that felt like an authentic black and white film. So, I started watching old Charlie Chaplin films, and the idea of “what if a Chaplin’s movie got lost in time and was released today” came to me. I started writing the script from this concept, and I came up with a very simple story where the actors could have fun. From this point, all my decisions supported that vision.
Cult Critic : Does the music remain the core of the movie? Who assisted you with the music?
Andres : First I would like to congratulate the brilliant Sawyer Adler, the score’s composer, and to thank him for his patience during the 8-month process of scoring and for creating a sonoral sound that brought Charlie’s “world” to the audience’s ears. Whether the music remains “the core” of the movie depends on each project because there must be a balance between dialogue, music, and even sometimes silence. That said, for “From Charlie, with Love,” Sawyer and I knew that employing musical elements like “Mickey Mousing” was going to be a crucial element in portraying the early 1920’s movie feel.
Cult Critic : From the pictures of your film, we have noticed that you have not diverged from the character of Charlie Chaplin as described in books and films. Did you ever want to experiment?
Andres : No. To be honest, shooting in a 1920’s style where camera movements are very limited was already a challenge and experimentation from my previous work as I’ve become accustomed to working with color, sound, and modern cinematic elements, without regarding the acting style from Chaplin and the editing. As mentioned before, I wanted to make a film that would feel and look as authentic as Chaplin’s film would. The goal and only hope are that people enjoy it, remember the importance of silent cinema, reflect on the meaningful contributions that Sir Charlie Chaplin brought to the industry, and that, maybe, they get inspired to go and see his films.
Cult Critic : You are not only the director of the film “From Charlie, with Love” but also writer and producer. How difficult is it you balance all the roles?
Andres : It was a very cyclical process where I wrote the script first, and I managed all the production concerns like securing the cast, craft, lunch, location. This process allowed me to focus on directing while we were on the set and, ultimately, influenced some of my directorial and editorial choices.
Cult Critic : Let’s talk a bit about the casting. How do you choose the actors for your film? What are the criteria?
Andres : For this project, I opted for an open online casting call, where we received over 100 submissions. The casting process required an audition tape and a phone call conversation to get to know the actors, their work ethics, and schedules. In the end, not everyone sent video materials, and that narrowed the number of candidates. I value the most professionalism and interest in the project, qualities I found in Steven and Clara. Honestly, I could not be more thankful for their wonderful performances, trust, and collaboration.
Cult Critic : Tell us about working with Steven Burgos and Clara Carlo. How was the experience? Did they get late on the sets?
Andres : I was very fortunate to work with such dedicated, professional, and expressive actors who captured the magic of silent cinema. The only challenge we had on set was keeping the actors and crew warm as we shot during a freezing New York’s winter day. We kept buying coffee and implemented more breaks to get inside NYU’s library to keep us warm. Despite that weather, they always remained professional and gave their best, and for that, I am incredibly thankful.
Cult Critic : How often do you watch movies made by other directors? How have they impacted you?
Andres : Of course, I watch movies! The thing I miss the most at this point in the pandemic is going to a movie theater. I try to watch either one TV episode or film a day as I believe that watching content is a great way to learn if you truly grasp and deconstruct the film. I like to think that all movies have shaped me in one way or another. I really appreciate movies from Alfonso Cuaron, Damien Chazelle, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and of course, Charlie Chaplin. These directors have influenced my love for cinema, and I’ve been inspired by their styles in many ways, like doing long takes, exploring new techniques, and writing musicals.
Cult Critic : What’s the status of your upcoming project?
Andres : As an independent filmmaker and low budget, this pandemic has paused all near- future production plans both within my academic and independent environments. On the positive side, I have been using this time to write stories, practice with new technologies like VR, and take my photography hobby to further new experimental narratives. Despite my school offering limited productions at this moment, I am waiting for a sense of normalcy to have a “safer” investment in my next project.
I am looking forward to continuing with “From Charlie with Love’s” successful festival run, hoping that restrictions ease, allowing us to attend more screenings around the world. I am also currently developing my next short film with the hopes of shooting in 16mm. I am also developing film and tv series ideas that will hopefully lead me to direct my first feature film for the long term.
Sawyer Adler’s Composer Q&A
Cult Critic: The music in “From Charlie, with Love” is an absolute love. The vibrant piano play balances the movie scenes. Being the music composer of “From Charlie, with Love” What did Sawyer Adler consider the most challenging aspect of composing music?
Sawyer: The most difficult part of this project was balancing the different needs we had for the music. We needed it to fit the style of the movie, so the music had to have a certain sound and playfulness that characterises the old style of picture-house live piano accompaniment.
However, we also had a desire to work with the music in a way that was quite modern, keeping certain themes present throughout the score and consistently developing them. The biggest (and most enjoyable) challenge I faced in writing this score was in this balance of keeping the music true to the style whilst still making use of more modern compositional techniques.
Cult Critic; Describe a time when the director disagreed with you. What happened?
Sawyer: There were rarely disagreements, but rather suggestions and differing ideas. Since Andres created this film before I was enlisted to provide the score, he had a very clear idea of what he wanted, and I was always happy to work towards that end goal. When I write incidental music for film or theatre, it’s always my goal to give the project’s creator exactly what they want. To this end, we rarely had disagreements because I was always eager to develop the score towards what Andres had in mind.
Cult Critic: Can you explain how you might compose a new piece of piano composition?
Sawyer: When I write piano music that isn’t meant to accompany film or theatre, but rather to be listened to on its own in a concert setting, I take a very different approach. My goal is usually to identify and creatively present new sounds and ideas from the piano that, perhaps, have not been explored before. This extends not only to note-choice or rhythm, but to elements that are inseparable from the piano, like use of the pedals, as well as modern modes of making sound from the instrument, like plucking and striking the strings inside the body of the instrument. My approach to the piano is heavily influenced by the composer Helmut Lachenmann, who writes some of my favourite piano music.