This Friday Laemmle Theatres and IFC Films are proud to present UNA NOCHE at the Royal Theatre. It’s the first feature by a young filmmaker named Lucy Mulloy. Here’s a an interview with her:
What was the genesis of the idea for Una Noche?
From the first day I spent in Havana ten years ago, I was struck by the energy of the city. I felt really strongly that I wanted to capture it on film. It was so powerful and rich visually. The film is inspired by true events. Back then, a young boy on the Malecon (Havana’s sea front) told me the story of three of his friends who left on a raft. I could not get his story out of my mind. Everyone I knew had a personal connection to people they loved leaving or attempting to. Una Noche was inspired by the feeling of being stifled and stuck, by the desire to get out, to get away and realize a dream, to risk everything for love.
Is this your first feature?
Yes. I had previously completed short films at NYU. The school was great in the sense that they throw you a film camera, a roll of 16mm black and white film, then send you out to experiment shooting on the streets of NYC. In graduate school I got to work on a number of my friends’ movies in various capacities. Una Noche is also my thesis for NYU. It was initially written as a short film, but the story naturally developed into a feature once I moved to Havana and spent time focusing on the emotions of the story.
How did you raise the money for the film?
Funding came from a variety of different sources. Initial investment came after I met with a friend from college, Mark Nichols. I met up with him after not having seen him for some time and I was telling him about what I had been working on. He was eager to get involved with the movie and helped raise some basic funds. Una Noche was also supported with a number of grants. Attending the IFP and Tribeca All Access labs was crucial in helping the movie develop and gain attention. We were also able to use facilities at NYU to edit. A lot of the support for Una Noche came through in-kind industry sponsors such as Kodak, who gave us 35mm film. Arri Media and Clairmont Camera supported us with cameras; Trew Audio gave us mics. We got flights from Cubana because we had to fly all our film stock out of the country, as there is no lab in Havana. Without all this support there would be no movie.
How did you find the main actors?
We started casting by following the traditional route to find young talent, through the acting schools and Cuban TV, but people were mainly trained for theater and we were looking for something subtle. We started street casting. We went to every high school, beach, concert, party, cinema and ice cream parlor with flyers, and we had thousands of people audition. Every weekend we had a line of people going down the high street waiting to try out for Una Noche. Every person who came did an improvisation, and I interviewed everyone. I was also on the look out for additional characters. We had a lot of really talented people come in.
As for the main actors, Javier’s (Elio) picture was taken at his school. He stood out in his photo with his collar popped, and his charisma was apparent even in his snap shot. When he came into the audition he froze and did not say a word for a couple of minutes, but when he eventually spoke, his improvisation was so good I could not tell if he was acting or serious. I set up an improvisation where he was supposed to argue with a young girl from his school who was trying out for the role of Lila. I wanted to see them argue. After a few moments he whispered to me that he thought that it was too harsh for her and he did not want to make her feel bad. At that moment I knew we had found Elio.
Anailín (Lila) was at the beach with her family when she was asked to audition. When she came in she acted next to Dariel, who had, by this stage, met practically every girl in Havana. I looked at Dariel and both knew without saying anything that she was Lila.
I met Dariel (Raúl) at his school entrance. He was surrounded by a group of girls and I gave him a casting flyer. He was charming and smart. As we left I told Betty, the casting assistant, that we had just found Raúl. He came to three auditions and got the part.
How did you research the process of illegally leaving Cuba?
When we were casting the role of Lila and Elio’s father, one actor came in to audition and the first thing he asked me was when we were going to shoot. I told him that we were planning to start filming in three months. He looked concerned and went silent. He glimpsed at the raft we had stored in the office and said, in a really quiet voice, he was making his own raft and would be leaving before we shot the movie. He gave us advice on how to make the raft better and what they would take with them on the boat. It is very painful to see that this is the reality. It was sickening to know that he was going like this. We did not see him again and I do not know if he made it. There were others who left when we were in pre-production. We were tracking down a young reggaeton artist named Elvis Manuel to do a song for the movie, but he left before we got to talk and passed away at sea.
What was it like shooting in Cuba?
There were difficulties, but in so many ways shooting in Havana was amazing. People were really supportive and worked hard to ensure that things worked out. So many of the moments that I appreciate in the movie were thanks to chance and to a flexible crew who were open to change and to embrace what was happening in the streets around them. There was no single day that went as scheduled. All the shots with the police car chases were off the cuff moments where the police agreed on the spot to do the scene. I asked them to chase Raúl and they were excited to do it. We only had one take though because they had to go back to their real jobs.
Any particular difficulties during production?
The embargo made things harder. We had to bring everything into Cuba. Maite, the producer, and myself filled half the plane’s overhead lockers on a London to Havana flight with 90 heavy cans of film stock. In general there were challenges. We were working without cell phones and with frequent blackouts.
We did everything humanly possible to prevent any limitations from deviating us from our vision. Nothing was cut from the script because it could not be done. The actors rose to the challenge and production made it happen. We had car chases, stunts, multiple locations, underwater shots, sharks, a huge number of extras and very elaborate scenes. We did not compromise anything in Una Noche, which required a massive amount of work, focus and collaboration from the whole cast and crew.
The time of the shoot was a very difficult time for the actors. Anailín was dealing with her parents’ divorce. María Adelaida Méndez Bonet, who plays Raúl’s mother, also faced a tragedy during filming when her son was arrested for murder. We were grieving during the shoot as Javier’s father passed away the week before we began to film. He was incredibly strong and brave. It was an extremely difficult time.
How did you find your locations?
We spent a year scouting, knocking on people’s doors and finding corners of Havana that had not been shot before. A lot of the location work also became woven into the script and helped make it more sight specific. We discovered some amazing abandoned buildings and rooftops with incredible vantage points. I wanted to let the visual imagery of Havana to speak for itself, almost like a character in the movie.
Any stories or anecdotes that stand out from production?
We were shooting pickups on the beach one day with the raft when suddenly twenty military men in fatigues carrying AKs crawled out of the bushes. An informant had tipped the Coast Guard that someone was attempting to illegally leave the country. We had to explain the raft was just a prop.
How did you come by the original music for the film?
Initially we were so wound up in the shoot that we did not have a song for the cabaret scene in the movie. I sat down and wrote the lyrics to convey the feeling of the movie in a song. I made up a melody and was lucky enough to collaborate with the legendary Anais Abreau who sings Una Lagrima Mia . We had to record fast because Anais had to sing it in the movie and the scene was scheduled to shoot the next day. I also got to work with great Cuban voices like Waldo Mendosa. It was fun because we were recording salsa, reggaeton, rap, and jazz. All are original music and lyrics inspired by the story of Una Noche. It was an amazing privilege to work with such talented musicians, rappers and singers. A lot of the talent are also “undiscovered” artists.
How did you find the actors for the film?
DARIEL ARRECHAGA (Raúl) from Havana, Cuba. He is a trained musician, having studied percussion since the age of ten. Mulloy met him when she was handing out casting notices next to his music school. There was a group of young girls surrounding him. Immediately upon meeting him, Mulloy knew she had found Raúl. Despite having never acted, he was a natural for the part.
ANAILIN DE LA RUA DE LA TORRE (Lila) was a Taekwondo champion in Havana; she was training when a casting assistant discovered her at the beach. When she auditioned with Dariel, both he and Mulloy felt the connection and instantly determined that she was the one to play Lila.
JAVIER NUNEZ FLORIAN (Elio) is a Havana native. He attended culinary school and was training to become a chef. He submitted his photo along with hundreds of other high school students. When he auditioned, he was incredibly shy, but he stunned the director with his presence and innate natural ability.
All three are first time actors who worked in training workshops in Havana with the director for a year before shooting began. They were selected out of thousands of young people who flocked to audition for the roles. They are now pursuing acting careers. The Berlinale was not only their first festival appearance, but also the first time any of them have left Cuba.
LUCY MULLOY is a Student Academy Award-nominated writer/director. She graduated from Oxford in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and from NYU’s Graduate Film Division. Mulloy was included in IndieWIRE’s On the Rise: 10 Directors of the Future and was on the Berlinale 2013 Generation Jury. Una Noche, her first feature, premiered in Berlin to critical acclaim, nominated for the Crystal Bear. Una Noche will be released in the US by IFC in 2013 and has swept the international festival circuit winning awards including Best New Narrative Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival 2012, Best Script at the Brasilia and at the Athens International Film Festivals, and the Grand Jury Prize at Deauville American Film Festival and The International Film Festival of India amongst numerous other international festival awards. Una Noche won the Spike Lee Production Grant, Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant, Tribeca Creative Promise Award, Adrienne Shelly /IFP Director’s Grant, and a Gotham Independent Film Euphoria grant. Lucy is currently in NYC developing her next feature film.