Julio O Ramos

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Synopsis: When one of the night's customers at a disreputable motel leaves an unexpected mess, the young manager sees an opportunity that may change his family's fortunes forever.

Where did the idea for this film come?
The idea for this film began when I was sitting in traffic and a street vendor tried to sell me a bootleg movie. I wasn’t interested. Then he showed me these DVDs with motel porn, recorded with secret cameras. That blew my mind because it’s very common for young Peruvians to go to motels to enjoy these intimate moments with their partners.

Around the same time, Joran Van Der Sloot, a Dutch guy, came through and killed a woman. Basically, what happened is that he took her to a motel and then next thing you know she was dead. I remember seeing the news and seeing the footage of him going into this motel. This motel is very near my house. Then I began thinking about the person trying to sell me the motel porn DVD and I thought if one of these people were in this motel, they would have evidence of the murder of this woman. So that’s how this idea turned into an epic film where this weirdo had access to information that nobody knows. But this was getting too complicated for a short film. I cut it down a lot, basing it on the relationship of a couple working at the motel.

One of your short films, Doctor’s Job, was featured in last year’s Festival. What that film and this one have in common is that they are about characters on the periphery of illegal or illicit behavior. There’s someone always on the edge of bad behavior.

Right. I think every single person’s in the world has something good and something bad inside them. Some people have more bad in them than good. I always search for the humanistic element in “bad people,” especially if I can think of a reason why I will connect with these kinds of people. I’m one of those who are not perfect. I try to identify with these people. I identify with these people very easily.

Where’s the main actor from?
The main actor was very famous here in Peru. Unlike previous short films of mine, we used all professional actors in this one. Doctor’s Job had a little bit of success and created a buzz down here in Lima so people were willing to work with me. Secondly, my producer for Behind The Mirrors was casting for this big show and had access to all of these actors. The dead woman is a former Miss Peru. She’s very active right now in the Peruvian film industry.

This is the second film you have shot in Peru. And you’re obviously making a lot more contacts there. Are you going to make a feature there? Is that opening up for you?
It is. Behind The Mirrors was initially is a feature film project. That’s how I started working on it. It was originally supposed to happen in Peru but given the buzz that this short film is creating in the US, there has been some talk about adapting the story for the US. So right now, that’s what I’m doing. I’m adapting the story and we will see what happens. Regardless, I’m very interested in making films in Peru. It’s true, these past couple of years I have been able to contact a lot of people, to know more of the little community that has been established here in Lima and it’s great. This is a place where I want to make films.

Our hero, what happens to him at the end of the film?
I really want to ask him what happened. (Laughter)

Is that why we’ve got to see the feature?
I don’t have an answer for you. Whatever happens is definitely not good. (Laughter)

It’s clear from your use of camera angles that you’re a gifted director and your work is instantly recognizable. What’s the process between you and the director of photography? The lighting, for example, is very dim.
For this particular film, there was a lot of preparation work. Our biggest challenge was the fact that we were shooting in one location. This location was a boring looking motel. So the challenge is how do we get it to look interesting? We worked extra hard on production design and the camera angles. We improvised a lot. Initially, we thought we were going to go hand-held for the whole thing. It was only when we were at the location that we thought of shooting the film differently. The way we follow the actors is something that developed organically during the shoot. Of course, we had a plan. We knew what we wanted to get the close-ups and where to go in certain moments. But most of it was improvisation. You see the restrictions of the location and move the camera around in it. That gives you the sense of claustrophobia. You don’t know where you have space. I think it’s interesting. It helped me directorially to believe that we are in a dangerous place that makes the stakes higher. That’s how it came about. In terms of lighting, my DP told me that he would light with basic bulbs and fluorescent lights.

What did you think of that?
I was scared. (Laughter) I didn’t know what was going to be the result but we didn’t have that many options given the fact that we were in a small area. We knew that we wanted to move the camera a lot. If you set up a light here and there, it might be in the way. So my DP, the gaffer, and the whole lighting department took a half a day just to rig things. Like you say, the film is dimly lit and it moves from shadows to brightness quickly. We wanted that. We definitely wanted a lot of contrast in the look. And I think it works, especially when you use practical lighting, those balls of fluorescents. I think it helps a lot to believe the place. It feels very realistic.

So what is next for Julio Ramos?
I am working on a couple of scripts right now. One of them is Behind The Mirrors, the feature film. It was meant to happen in Lima but given the opportunities that opened up in LA, I’m rewriting the script, adapting it for the US. Also, I’m starting to write ideas for feature films that could happen here in Lima, Peru, but it’s going to take a while.

It’s not a secret that you’re one of this Festival’s favorite directors. It’s a pretty hard film festival to get into once, let alone twice. We’re very proud of you. Congratulations.
Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be a part of this again.

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