/Interview by Natalia Dukhovnikova/
We talked with Eddie Baca (producer), Perry Dell”Aquila (director), Marcus Jahn, and Gus Ferrari about the film ‘Look In My Eyes’. The whole film is imbued with an atmosphere of honesty and sincerity. And the same our conversation was. But what history does this story have? Will it be continued? And why is it important today to tell stories like this? — read in this interview.
A NYC taxi driver from Crimea meets a sober older gay man. Romance, deception, self truth and acceptance, intrigue. All this is going to be discussed in the following interview but first of all, let us introduce the key cast of ‘Look In My Eyes’.
Tell us more about the idea of creating this film. How did it come to your mind and what was your inspiration, Eddie?
Eddie: It’s based on a true story. But then, of course, I looked a lot younger than I am now. The AA meeting place where everything happens in the movie is real too, we are sitting here now. I ran it. One night I closed up about 2 in the morning, went to the street corner, got in the taxi and there were these eyes that kept staring at me in the rearview mirror. The driver turned out to be a young man, new in town. He was from Pakistan but for political reasons he had to move to Ukraine and then to the USA. And you know he just fired away all the questions. Literally, the taxi scene is 90% accurate of what happened in real life. The relationship just took off from there.
It took me around 8 years, just writing the script over. I had to be very sensitive to the fact that the world was getting introduced to the muslim community and I didn’t want to do or write anything that would trigger a bad reaction. If you look closer at the portrayal of the muslim community, there was a period, as I think, when the rest of the world, especially Americans, were not knowledgeable about that part of the world. Nobody thought about their true nature, who they and their families were, about their real motivation. And that’s what’s going to happen in my movie later.
What emotion did you want to evoke in the audience with your film?
Eddie: We all come from different backgrounds, we all carry certain political baggage and personal beliefs with us and often we can’t get beyond those issues, we can’t really form a union with another person where love prevails over everything and gets people to think of going to another part of the world and have a completely different life with somebody they love.
Captions from ‘Look In My Eyes’
How was the cast formed?
Marcus: It started as any other normal audition where you see the casting call and apply “Hey, maybe I’m right for this role”. But what was really great about this experience is that my audition was basically a meeting with Eddie and Perry of just getting to know each other a little bit. It was important to get this unique connection when we started to discover the personalities of each other. And what was so different about this project is that usually you are not going to meet that actual person in real life which your character is based on. But I had Eddie all the time and that resource was such an amazing experience frankly. I was very fortunate to get it.
Gus: And about me, I’ve been doing theater and film for about 25 years now. I came on board when this story was a play. One friend of mine told me about Perry who was looking for people to be in this place and that’s how I got involved in “Look In My Eyes”. The play went well and Eddie mentioned that one day he would like to make a film. And sometime later he suggested taking up the role of Stefano, my character, in the film. This character is close to me as a person so I felt comfortable when playing him. I really like the script and the way my character is.
How was this experience for you as an actor, Mascus?
Marcus: It wasn’t my first project but I’m thinking it was the longest one and the biggest thing I’ve done for now. The production itself was real chaos as every independent filmmaking is. But at the same time, it was so charmed where everything came together. I’ve never been so happy with any of my performances before. After seeing it, I just got the feeling that it was better than I could have ever imagined. It was a blessing and honor to be a part of this project.
Then maybe you already have some plans for your actor’s carreer?
Marcus: That’s a really good question. I’ve been in New York acting for about 5 years and the first couple of years were very rough, to be honest. And NY is actually known as a theater city while LA is a film one. But I really feel very grateful for being here. It was my first dream – to live in NY – even before I understood I dream to be an actor. NY is full of hungry, ambitious, talented filmmakers who just want to make art, and to be a part of – it is priceless. So I want to stay here and do everything I can as long as possible. It’s such a privilege to be able to create something magical.
The crew of ‘Look In My Eyes’ filming
And what about you, Gus? In your opinion, is it hard to realize your ambitions and potential when you are a young actor?
Gus: Obviously, every actor would love to be a part of a big Hollywood production and so would I. Although I am a New Yorker and don’t see myself living there, I would work there and try this experience of being involved in big studio production. Today the situation with independent movies is better than it used to be. There’s a lot of independent film happening in NY now and also in Atlanta. But as a theater actor, I’m glad to be in the heart of the American theater world.
Coming back to the film production, how long did it last?
Perry: When Eddie first told me this story, I understood that this should be a play. So we originally did it as a play, in front of the audience. When Eddie decided to make a film out of this great story, I directed it. We filmed everything in one location, in this building in New York. It was a crazy film production. It took only several weeks. The bulk of the movie was shot in nine days. Of course, we went back to reshooting but not so often. And I would say it was pretty terrific because New York City at night is a crazy place and we were literally on the streets where everyone wanted to see what we were doing. Yes, it was crazy but you can do something like that only in this city because the story happened exactly here.
Eddie: It should be noticed that I’ve written all my life. But I’ve never produced anything before. And this was my first experience and it was so great. I’ve learned so much from it. And yes, our movie was filmed in one room. We separated it into several areas which later became the dining room, the living room, the bedroom and it worked. We had one more room for the clubhouse where people who are troubled are coming in for help. It was all filmed here. We also took advantage of the outside in terms of one entrance was for the clubhouse and another one for the apartment.
Did you force any problems during filming?
Perry: We did. Sometimes we need a permit to film in NY on the streets which we didn’t have so all the time we were looking over our shoulders. Besides, this city is so loud that we had to refilm scenes lots of times when someone honked their horn. But we had a great advantage called Eddie. Every time when we were having problems with the scene, all we did was talking to Eddie who knew what happened and how to tell this story right.
Eddie: Previously Perry mentioned that we did a play before that. We had a principal actor in there and actually not everyone liked him, the way he positioned himself on stage and in real life. So we learned from that trial and did everything to not duplicate that situation here. And when it came down to filming, there was a lot of harmony in doing this. Of course we had issues with each other and who wouldn’t? But they were always able to be worked through.
Cast of ‘Look In My Eyes’. From left to right: Marcus Jahn, Eddie Baca, Aman Singh
How big was your team when working on this project?
Perry: We had a cinematographer, one person to do the light and one to do the sound. All others were actors and several extras – people in the background. And that’s all.
Gus: Every film production is spontaneous and dynamic and ours was so too. We all had to put several hats so while I wasn’t acting, I helped with the lights or microphone. Oh, and Ezra’s apartment decor is also the result of my creativity. I got in touch with my feminine side and picked all the stuff for him.
Eddie: I even gave Gus my credit card when I wasn’t able to find an apartment to rent. And he got every item perfect!
Where are you getting the feedback from the audience?
Eddie: We just started submitting it to various festivals. And that’s kind of the direction that I’d like to move in. There are so many angles that you can expand upon after this. I was just really pleased that the outcome was great because during the process I wasn’t sure how this movie was going to end up.
Will this story have a continuation?
Eddie: I’ve written so many different versions of it. There’s an expectation in the current movie that the main character’s mother is coming with the two brothers. There’s that angle. Besides, I really went through the symbolism with Marcus playing a Jewish character and Aman playing a Muslim but this fact was never an issue between the two of them in terms of how they related to each other. So we have that and it could play out. And there is just a lot of material that we can go into.
Perry: The film is certainly not over. There’s so much more of the story to tell and I think that’s the way it’s gonna proceed as a web series. Because even in the play there was a lot more that we didn’t put in the film yet. And it was just a stop at a moment but there’s so much more to come. The current ending allows us to even do a flashback of the characters’ lives before they met in the cab.
How difficult is it to create an independent movie today?
Perry: These days I think it’s a lot easier and accessible to make a movie in general. Anyone can do it now. Back in the day when I went to film school, you had to rent these big cameras and needed a crew and permits. Today it’s not like that anymore. If you have a story to tell, you can find many ways how to do it. It doesn’t even necessarily have to go through the film festivals circuit. You can film the project and stream it on different sites and it will take off from there. And then someone of importance with finance will notice it and help you out. Twenty years ago it was unreal.
Eddie: Two things worked in our favor. One is – risk. You have to take a risk in doing an independent movie. Usually, you gather all your savings and decide to invest in your project. Hopefully, it’ll pay off and the returns come back. The second thing is the pandemic. It really worked in terms of having the space and time to do this movie.
It was mentioned that this story firstly used to be a play so you all came to the cinema from the theater. But how did you get involved in the theater world?
Gus: I used to be into music before, I played with bands. I even tried to produce a record but it didn’t work out. So I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to be in the arts but didn’t know how to do that. One day I randomly found an ad in a newspaper where they were looking for movie extras. I thought that it sounded like a fun job and I just showed up and did it for free. I hang out around movie set and found all that process really interesting. I didn’t know before how movies were made. One friend of mine suggested me to take some acting classes. So I did. I was lucky enough to be a part of a group that was involved in working with Moscow Theater and they invited us to do the Stanislavski’s seminar. It was great and I learned a lot from there. And I’ve been doing theater and film since the early 90-s.
Perry: Well, I went to the American Academy of dramatic arts for acting. So I started as an actor. Then I went to a film school and worked on Broadway in the theater. That was my survival job. And then over the years, it transferred over to theater directing. What I would do is someone would come to me with a story and we would make it into a solo one-man show. I’ve done lots of such shows. And we also turned Eddie’s short story into a play.
Is it really necessary to get some education if you want to become a part of the film industry?
Perry: I think it’s important to have a good base of knowledge and then you can be creative from there. If you don’t know the basics, you are going to be in trouble. Not everybody has an opportunity to learn from being an apprentice. For example, when working on this project we had our sound person and our lightning person and they were talking like another language to me at first. And the sound person told me that she knows all these terms because she did get a basic knowledge of how everything works.
Marcus: Talking about me, it’s funny because I went to a college and my main focus there wasn’t acting. I studied political science ad criminal justice. I was a member of a theater but only as I got through college, I realized that that’s actually what I wanted to do with my life. I went to a four-year university in Wisconsin and majored in theater. And I agree with Perry, especially on the technical side. You really need to know that language. But honestly, moving out to NY and trying to be an actor and doing it, I’d say I learned 10 times more from that experience, especially in my first year than in university.
Eddie, as the creator of this story with a rather serious political idea inside of it, do you think it can change something in people’s minds and life?
Eddie: I’ve always had a political background. Politics is in my blood. From this experience I learned that cinematography is a very powerful tool for putting out different messages and also for highlighting people in other parts of the world that the rest of the world have no idea what their life experience is about. And cinematography can keep it alive forever while regular media tell you certain information only for several days. Then these stories disappear and the media’s focus moves on to something else. But a movie is forever and it can always be played over and over again keeping these ideas alive.
Can you name your favourite scene in the movie and something you would like to change?
Perry: My favorite scene is in the cab in the beginning. I love it because it sets the whole mood and the whole catalyst for the rest of the movie. I think it looks beautiful although the night when we filmed it was real chaos. And that’s why I love it so much. As a director, I always want to change something in a project. So it’s hard to name one certain moment or scene.
Cast of ‘Look In My Eyes’. From left to right: Perry Dell”Aquila, Marcus Jahn, Aman Singh
Eddie: For me, the best scene is that one when they are talking and arguing and actually they both understand how much in love they are with each other. When we were filming it, nobody around said a word. It was so emotional. Someone even cried during it. About the moment that I would change, well, I think it’s the scene when a guest stays for a night at Ezra’s home. I didn’t get the impact I wanted to from the final version of the movie.
Gus: I’m very pleased with the final result. As an actor, I always think how differently I could do this or that scene when I’m watching a movie. But I know that we should just trust our director. So did I. And you know, my favorite scene is when Ezra and I argue about Ramzi. Both of us were emotionally invested. That scene had a great dynamic. I love it.