April 20, 2015

SCA Family Stories: Luis Iga

By Kaiti Williamson

Luis Iga

Luis Iga, an M.F.A. candidate in Film & Television Production slated to graduate in May, wrapped principle photography in early March for a micro-budget horror film for the Latino market. With the working title, Murder in the Woods, the feature was written by Latina USC alum, Yelyna de Leon, and is fully casted with Latino and minority talent. The film is Iga’s debut directing and producing a feature. Iga hopes to screen the film at USC both before and after the film is picture locked. The film stars Jose Julian (A Better Life, Spare Parts), Chelsea Rendon (McFarland USA, A Better Life), Catherine Toribio (Paranormal Activity, McFarland USA, Jane the Virgin), Jeanette Samano (ISA), and features Danny Trejo. Iga was born and raised in Saltillo, Mexico and came to the U.S. when he was 17. Although he has always been interested in film, Iga was initially educated in fine arts and graphic design with the intention of pursuing 3D and FX. An Annenberg Fellow, Montes Scholar, and USC LAA Scholar, Iga has been developing a producer’s binder for his thesis project, a Latino television show based in the 1950s, written by SCA alum, Dana Shaw.

How were you able to balance filming Murder in the Woods and working on your thesis project? When I started my masters at USC, during 507 and 508, I had to keep my full time job in Miami as VP of Marketing for a radiopharmaceutical company. I just worked, attended classes, shot shorts, worked, eat and slept. I literally had no life, which is still the case. Since I moved to LA, I’ve dedicated myself to breaking into Hollywood as soon as possible, so I’ve just been working 24/7. I actually have 11 films and four TV shows that I’m either fundraising or packaging or developing with different writers. I’ve been pitching three of the TV shows and we’re going to start pitching another, Havana, in two weeks to Red Hour Productions, FX, FOX Network, and FOX 21 Television Studios.

Do you have a particular genre or style that you lean toward? I mostly like stories based on true events. The next movie I’m going to be directing, Magdalena, is in August, and it’s a movie based on a true story of a domestic violence survivor. She’s also Latina. She’s an undocumented Mexican who came across the border when she was a kid and almost died.  She found herself in an abusive relationship until she had the strength to leave. Now, she’s a success story because she’s worked with Hillary Clinton and is finishing her masters at UCLA. She’s getting into public policy. It’s very inspiring for a lot of women and important to talk about domestic violence and how big of a pandemic it is. It is actually something that affects a lot of women, children, and even men. It’s a global problem; it’s not only in the U.S. or Mexico, it’s all around the world. It’s something that a lot of celebrities like Angelina Jolie have championed. We have a lot of celebrities that have actually gone through it, like Rihanna, Halle Berry, and Charlize Theron. It’s a subject that for some reason people don’t like to talk about or don’t like to mention.

Luis Iga with actor, Danny Trejo

How important is it to you to promote minority representation in film and television? One of my goals in everything I do is to portray Latinos and other minorities in the right light. For example, in Murder in the Woods, it’s six teenagers who go out on this trip and they’re wearing nice things; they’re just upper middle class Latinos and African Americans. It doesn’t mean that just because you’re Latino, you have to be a waiter or a maid or a gardener. It’s about putting minorities in real places. There are Latino doctors who are very successful.  One of the wealthiest men in the world, Carlos Slim, is Mexican. A lot of people don’t see that there are Latinos from many parts of Latin America who are very successful – they’re doctors and they’re lawyers and they’re directors. You can see Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won an Oscar this year, and Alfonso Cuarón, who won an Oscar last year. It’s about putting the minorities in the right light and not stereotyping them.

How has your background in graphic design helped you be able to tell visual stories now that you are pursuing film? I’ve always liked video and I’ve always been very big in motion graphics and animation. Being a graphic designer has trained my eye for composition, and I’m able to see things that other people don’t. I think it’s a huge advantage for me to have that background and experience.

Are animation or graphics something you would like to integrate back into your work in the future? Actually, one of the projects that I have right now is a dark animated comedy. We did a two-minute proof of concept that was animated by USC Alum, Nicholas Dobkin. The writer wrote the pilot and together we created the pitch package. This show was one we pitched to Red Hour Productions. I really believe it could be the next South Park. It’s a very dark comedy, and we’re going to be pitching it to other places as well. I like directing and producing, and when I was thinking of becoming an animator, I actually wanted to do the animation and create the characters, but I think after all those years of being behind of a computer in a dark place, I craved being on set and working collaboratively as a director and producer.

With all of various projects you are involved in right now, is there anything you feel you still havent done yet or would like to try in the future? I think usually directors are positioned into a certain genre, and I’m not a big believer in that. Before doing Murder in the Woods, I’d seen horror, but it wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. Then,the opportunity arose and I educated myself in the genre. I believe that if you want to do something, just educate yourself in whatever genre you want to do. Read books about it. Read articles about it. Watch a lot of movies. I watched a lot of horror movies when I was preparing for this movie last semester. There was a Hitchcock class being taught and I wasn’t enrolled in it, but I would attend every once in a while and just listen to the stories, watch the movies, and it helped me a lot in understanding how suspense is built – showing less is more, the pacing, and the long takes. I would say one thing that I haven’t touched on would be virtual reality. I think that’s where this industry is going. Interactive, virtual experiences are something I’d like to explore in the future. One of the people I look up to is James Cameron. That guy has done everything. He’s a leader; he’s a producer; he’s a director; he just goes and goes and goes. People tell him all the time, “It can’t be done,”and then, he proves them wrong, so that’s my attitude. I just go, go, go, and do what I believe is best. The worst thing that can happen is somebody says no, or you fall – but then you get up and try again.

What is something that continues to motivate you when you approach new projects? I’m doing projects for the Latino market, but I’m also doing projects for other markets because I don’t believe that people should be pigeonholed into one thing. I believe people should be able to do what they love and explore different things. There are two sayings that I live by that I remind myself every day. The first is, “Things are only impossible until someone does what others believe can’t be done,” and history proves that. There’s always people who say things can’t be done and then somebody proves that it can. So that’s what I live by, if somebody tells me it can’t be done, I’ll prove them wrong. And the other quote is, “If what you’re doing doesn’t scare you, you are not living life.” That also keeps me thriving because I always ask, and the worst case scenario is that people say no.

In your next feature, what will you bring with you from your experience with Murder in the Woods? I learned a million things. I’ve always known that pre-production is key, but now I’m more aware of the actual things that can go wrong in the project. I don’t like to have that mentality because I think it attracts bad energy, but just being aware of the things that can happen is important. What really built my confidence as a director during this experience was that everything that could have gone wrong literally went wrong on set. Every day I had to think on my feet, so it gave me a lot of confidence that I am able to actually think on my feet and make decisions last minute. That is the biggest thing that I got from it – to be more confident in myself and know that I have what it takes to direct and deliver a full feature length film.