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Muted | An Interview With Alexandra Talavera Mendez

The film Muted is based on a tarot card reader, experiencing a spooky and awry atmosphere around her. Alexandra Talavera Mendez has directed the film. The film is short and crisp that keeps the audience glued to the screen and keeps us thinking what exactly happened to her.

We have prepared a bunch of questions for Alexandra to whet our curiosity regarding the film and her art.

Cult Critic – How did you come up with the idea of making this film?

Alexandra – I was trying to come up with an idea that not only could be shot remotely but that the computer screen element was actually part of the story. With the pandemic people adapted and stayed connected to their friends and loved ones through video call apps. So I knew I wanted that to be an element of the story and I wanted to do horror because it’s a genre that is always fun and exciting.

Cult Critic – Do you believe in tarot card reading? Have you ever been to one?

Alexandra – I do believe in them but my experience with tarot is limited to general readings on YouTube. It’s something I have a lot of respect for and I think it takes special kind of people to get it right. Personally I haven’t found a tarot reader I feel I can trust and honestly it scares me to jump into it with someone who doesn’t know how to handle it properly and could put us in a situation like the one in the film.

Cult Critic – Have you or any crewmember ever experienced any spooky or awry situation?

Alexandra – Not exactly but actually part of the inspiration for this film was something that happened to a family member of our producer; after starting to learn tarot one day someone took a photo of her and then when they went to look at the photo there was a strange human like shadow behind her. That’s where I got the idea of, what if you open a door to the great beyond and let something into our plane of existence without realizing it.

Cult Critic – What/Who is your source of inspiration when it comes to making films?

Alexandra – I get inspired by the people around me and our shared experiences. I think that is one of my favorite things about film in general, how it brings people together. Wether it’s from relating to the characters and situations we see portrayed on screen or simply from watching the same thing and talking about it afterwards. I want to do my part to give back, to give people something they can see themselves in or have a good time with their friends watching just as so many filmmakers have done and still do for me.

Cult Critic – The film is made in a very interesting format. How did you come up with is idea of making the film? How was the experience while filming in this format?

Alexandra – I wanted to find a way to work around pandemic restrictions. Setting up a production now comes with a lot of added expenses for cast and crew safety. I had read of other films that were made entirely remotely or that happen completely on a computer screen and thought, why not give that a shot? It was a very interesting experience, as I went through pre-production I kept finding things that I would have to adjust to make things work. For instance I had to completely restructure the way I do a storyboard, I had to rewrite sections of the script knowing that my lead actress had to do her own make up and some practical effects, plus I had to do research on how video call apps work to make the shooting as seamless as possible.

Cult Critic – If you would like to share any anecdotes surrounding or about the film for our audience? 

Alexandra – As I mentioned before, my lead actress had to do some special effects work by herself. When I first started writing I didn’t immediately realize that some of the scary elements I had written into the story were not viable while shooting remotely. I had to change flickering lamps for candles… until I found myself stuck on how my lead was going to have to put them out and turn them back on without it being obvious on camera. This was particularly complicated since there are barely any cuts on the film. Then while doing online shopping for regular candles i kept getting ads for LED candles, I ignored them at first and kept going over the situation in my head tryin to find a solution. I had the real candles in my cart already when I saw that these fake candles come with remotes. At the click of a button my lead could make lights flicker, go off and on again completely off camera. It’s a little embarrassing to admit but it was purely by accident that I found this amazing solution to my special effects dilemma.

Cult Critic – When did you start filming the film, how did you decide on the cast and crew for the film?

Alexandra – Considering the shooting format of the film the crew was really simple. This was made only by myself and my producer. The cast on the other hand, we had to pick carefully. We wanted three people that aside from being talented, actually looked like they could be friends. It had to be people who could convey the essence of the story with just a few lines. The lead was the hardest one because she also had to be willing to do the make up, effects and small stunts. Thankfully we live in an era where so much can be accomplished through the internet. We were able to see their self-tape auditions and we had the advantage that they could be anywhere in the world. My cast was in three different cities, two different countries actually. That really helped getting the best people we could find for this project.

Cult Critic – If you like to share your journey while making this film right from coming up with the story line to finishing the film?

Alexandra – It felt great to get to work again after the year we’ve all been through. It was exciting to come up with an idea that could go around the pandemic roadblocks and to do something different, something I had never done before. Through the production process, I had to adjust and learn new skills that now I can use for future projects. For my cast as well this was their first remote project and it’s always good to see new possibilities to have our work out there. As I was finishing the film and adding the last details on post-production, I realized it was just as fulfilling as if it had been a normal in person project.

Cult Critic – How challenging or interesting it was to shoot during the pandemic?

Alexandra – As I mentioned before, I came up with this project specifically to avoid the pandemic production obstacles, which did give me a very interesting shooting experience. We were all working from home through the whole project which not only kept us safe but it also turned into a very unique endeavor.

Cult Critic – Tell us something about your upcoming projects and when can we see them?

Alexandra – I am actually on pre-production for another remote short film, this time it’s a family comedy.  I wanted to create something lighthearted and relatable that reflects the situations so many families have gone through in this pandemic, while trying to stay connected. It should be done in the next couple of months. Also, after this experience, I want to take on the challenge of creating a full feature film that happens all on computer screens. It’s a recent trend, there aren’t many films like it at the moment and it’s definitely something I want to explore.

Cult Critic – Lastly, any piece of advice for budding filmmakers.

Alexandra – I guess my biggest advice to budding filmmakers is to just do something. Pick up your smartphone, gather your friends and give it a shot. Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about not having enough money or the right equipment but we live in a time where so many things are possible thanks to technology. We basically carry a small computer on our pockets everyday. So just go out there and make something happen, and don’t be afraid to network, even if it’s not possible in person, join online groups or events and reach out to people who share your interests.

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