From Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy and producer of A Single Man and In Good Company, comes A Better Life - a poignant, multi-generational story about a father's love and everything a parent will sacrifice to build a better life for his child.
Carlos Galindo dreamed of good things for his wife and future son when they crossed the border into the US. But when his wife left him, wanting more than he could give, Carlos' only goal became to make sure his son Luis was given the opportunities he never had. After years of hard work and trying to set an example for his child, he still finds himself drifting apart from Luis, now a teenager, who is susceptible to peer pressures that could lead him down a dangerous path. Seeing a way to control their own destiny, Carlos borrows what little money he can and invests it all into his own gardening business, hoping to finally achieve the better life he always envisioned for his son.
However, after an unexpected turn of events, when everything he's worked for is suddenly taken away, it is Luis, despite years of growing apart, who teams up with Carlos to take it back. Together, father and son embark on a physical and spiritual journey where they discover something more important - that family is the most important part of the American dream.
Directed by Chris Weitz, A Better Life is produced by Paul Junger Witt, Christian McLaughlin, Chris Weitz, Jami Gertz and Stacey Lubliner.
About the Production
In 2008, the United States Census listed the percentage of "persons of Hispanic or Latino origins" in Los Angeles as 47.7%. That figure doesn't include the many undocumented people, usually seen congregating at corners near construction sites, doing odd jobs each day, including tending to gardens all over the Southland, just to make ends meet. As contemporary as A Better Life seems, however, producer Paul Junger Witt has spent 25 years bringing this story to the screen.
"We have this invisible population in Los Angeles, that because we're so geographically separated in Los Angeles that we really don't know who we live with in the way that people in cities that have a smaller geographic area or have a public transportation system come to know one another. I started thinking about it as a film," Witt says.
Witt began working with Roger L. Simon to draft a script based around this concept.
"It was a pleasure to work for several years on what became A Better Life. Rarely do you get a chance in Hollywood to devote your talents to such a socially and emotionally meaningful project," Simon conveys.
As luck would have it, about 25 years later, Witt shared office space with producer Christian McLaughlin.
"I gave him one of the drafts to read and Christian responded as I had," Witt explains.
The office neighbors became friends and McLaughlin was eager to work with the famed producer of films such as Three Kings and Dead Poets Society.
"I really like Paul as a person and as a filmmaker. He has an incredible track record and is a total gentleman," said McLaughlin. "I felt Roger Simon's script provided a rich starting point for a movie. Not only did the immigrant backdrop of the story have a strong pull, the father-son relationship resonated for me on a personal level that transcended culture."
Eventually, McLaughlin would bring screenwriter Eric Eason into the process. He and Witt made the risky bet of paying him themselves, in order to retain creative control of the story.
"When I started developing the film, I thought of Eric, whom I previously hired for another project. He also wrote and directed Manito, and in that film, he authentically depicted the way New York teenagers talk and behave. I thought he would understand and embrace the story, which he did," remembers McLaughlin. "Eric has a gift for writing characters in an artful, compelling way that make you feel like you're watching real people you'd pass on the street. I knew he was the writer who would make this story come alive."
Manito, set in the vibrant Spanish-speaking neighborhood of Washington Heights, follows two brothers who grapple with the community's crack cocaine legacy, and in many ways, is a cousin to A Better Life which, at its core, is also a family drama.
"This project was a chance to work on something with a true heart and soul, with themes that had the potential to resonate across cultures," Eason says.
Witt concurs, adding that although the movie would dovetail with current controversial immigration issues, at its heart, A Better Life is a human film.
"The film has no political agenda. It puts a face on a population that until now, especially in Los Angeles, has been invisible. Los Angeles is unique in some respects but the story could happen anywhere. And the times have changed since we started. Sometimes stories take a while to reach their most simple and elegant form. The fact that the timing now works so well for the film, the story we're telling, is purely accidental," he says.
Says Eason, "Audiences don't want to be preached to. They want to be entertained and have an emotional experience. If there's any agenda in my screenplay--it's a desire to bring to life characters living in the margins of society, whose stories virtually never appear in studio films."
Adds McLaughlin, "In the film, when we first meet the Galindos, it's clear Carlos desperately needs to reconnect with his son. Luis is an impressionable kid, a teenager at a critical juncture in his life where the choices he makes will have irrevocable consequences into adulthood.
"Eric's script raised the stakes for both father and son. He captured that sense of urgency, and in the process created a story so riveting, you could see - even on the page -- that it would be a fantastic movie," says McLaughlin.
When Eason completed a draft, the next step was to find a director.
Recalls McLaughlin, "I immediately thought of my friend, Chris Weitz. Long before he directed New Moon, we made a pact to make a quality studio movie together, to do something with our friends that we really loved. In addition to being a really great story, Eric's screenplay had all these elements that I felt would appeal to Chris. There's the father-son theme that he loves, he recently became a father, and his Mexican heritage was this part of himself that he'd never really explored."
"I was seduced by its sheer quality," Weitz says. "It was the best thing that I had ever read. It's a great story of a father and son and the lengths to which a father will go to try to make a better life for his son, for his family. It's about hard work and decency and how an honest man can face tremendous difficulties in life. And yet it's redemptive because this man and his son, who are essentially stranded from one another emotionally, learn to appreciate each other. It is at once simple but full of all kinds of unexpected complexity. I instantly knew that I wanted to make the movie."
It also had personal resonance for Weitz.
"The majority of my family is Hispanic. My wife is half Cuban and half Mexican. My grandmother, who is Mexican, was a very famous actress in Mexico and a silent film star here. My mother speaks fluent Spanish. Most of my family speaks Spanish, but I didn't learn the language until just before I started shooting the film, so this was an opportunity to get in touch with my roots, really," Weitz comments.
Although it was clear A Better Life would not be big budget tentpole movie, Weitz was not interested in making a film that was "super indie."
"We wanted the lushness that film means, to be able to get the sizes of crowds we wanted, to shoot in the appropriate locations, and to work with top notch talent, both in front of and behind the camera," Weitz says.
Fortunately, several factors coalesced to make Weitz's vision possible - notably, a little movie about teenage angst, vampires and werewolves and two producers who were passionate about the project.
"Fate and Summit intervened - the studio was willing, after I did a good job for them on New Moon, to take a risk on this. Then, Stacey Lubliner and Jami Gertz also fell in love with the script and put up the remaining funding that we needed to make the movie we had envisioned," Weitz says.
Stacey Lubliner has known Weitz for years - her husband David is his longtime agent. Lubliner, a onetime agent herself, had recently formed a formed a production company, Lime Orchard Productions, with actress Jami Gertz. Because of Lubliner's experience as an agent, she had close relationships with the production executives at Summit. Coupled with her longstanding relationship with Weitz, she became a natural liaison between the studio and the production.
"A Better Life is absolutely the kind of project we are interested in, as a company and, of course, I knew about it because of David. Chris had given us the script to read before it was clear that Summit was going to be involved and we loved it. We also loved his passion for it - after New Moon, the reality is that he could have done any movie he wanted and this was the one he chose. The script's characters and themes really spoke to us and we felt like we could also bring something to it," Lubliner says.
Lime Orchard provided the last chunk of financing the movie required but beyond that, Lubliner and Gertz brought personal strengths that aided the movie in more nuanced ways. Because of their backgrounds, they describe themselves as "macro" and "micro;" Lubliner is most comfortable with budget, big story points and marketing, while Gertz hones in on performance and character development.
"I think 25 years as an actor is helpful," Gertz allows. "I have a feeling about things - what sounds right, what looks right. To know (innately) when we have it - that's something … I thought that could be useful. My attitude about movies in general and performing, specifically, is that it is a huge team effort and the goal, for me as a producer, is to facilitate that spirit of collaboration and camaraderie in any way I can; to help everyone shine and to do the best work that they can in a safe and supportive atmosphere," Gertz says.
About the Cast
The first actor cast in the movie was famed Mexican actor, Demian Bichir, in the pivotal role of Carlos Galindo. While US audiences are somewhat familiar with Bichir's work on the series "Weeds" and his portrayal of Fidel Castro in Che, he is a superstar in Mexico, who comes from a family of performers - his parents and two brothers are also actors. Indeed, the Mexican MTV Movie Awards created a special category for the brothers Bichir - "Mejor Bichir in una Pelicula," "Best Bichir in a Movie." Read more
Shooting in Los Angeles
The practical details involved in filming the Galindo's quest for the stolen vehicle took the cast and crew on an eye-opening road trip through Los Angeles. Read more
A Better Life in the Real World
A Spanish-speaking cast and crew was not merely an affectation: it reflected Weitz's commitment to authenticity and his desire to accurately portray the community he would represent on film. This began as an intellectual exercise and ended with Father Gregory Boyle. Father G., as he is known, is a Jesuit priest who ministers to and lives in the East Los Angeles community, as pastor of the Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights. After the 1992 riots, he created what would become Homeboy Industries, which "assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education." Read more
About the Music
The filmmakers began planning the soundtrack before they'd begun pre-production, engaging top music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas (Summit's The Twilight Saga series, Mad Men, The O.C.), who collaborated with Weitz on New Moon. "Chris called me about a script about the immigrant experience in L.A., which he said had moved him beyond words," Patsavas recalls. "He said, 'We're looking for the real deal, realistic tracks that the characters would listen to on the radio and in record stores.'" Read more
About the Filmmakers
Writer/Director CHRIS WEITZ (Director) most recently directed The Twilight Saga: New Moon, based on the second novel in the best-selling Twilight series, which has grossed over $700 million worldwide.
Chris Weitz previously adapted, and directed, the Oscar-winning epic fantasy adventure The Golden Compass. Based on Philip Pullman's best-selling and award-winning first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass was released by New Line Cinema and has grossed over $350 million worldwide.
Weitz previously co-directed, with his brother, Paul, the award-winning hit film About a Boy, adapting the screenplay from the Nick Hornby novel. The screenplay received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as similar nominations from BAFTA, Writers Guild, Chicago Film Critics and Humanitas; the film was named one of AFI's Movies of the Year and was nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Comedy, winning Best Studio Comedy Feature at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
Weitz's first directorial collaboration with Paul was on American Pie, the phenomenally successful first installment of the PIE franchise, which was followed by American Pie 2 and the final installment, American Wedding, both of which he also executive produced.
Prior to their screenwriting work on About a Boy, the brothers collaborated on several screenplays, including Antz and Madeline (adapting the popular children's book).
In 1999, Weitz and his brother formed Depth of Field, their Los Angeles-based production company through which he and Paul produced the critically acclaimed film, In Good Company, directed by Paul; the comedy American Dreamz, starring Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid, also directed by Paul; the hit romantic comedy, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings; and Tom Ford's award-winning drama A Single Man, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.
Weitz also made his acting debut in the Sundance Film Festival hit Chuck & Buck.
ERIC EASON (Screenwriter) was named Best Emerging Filmmaker and awarded $25,000 from the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 for writing and directing his full-length feature debut Manito. He also earned the Best Directorial Deut Open Palm Award at the Gotham Awards that year. The film earned many other awards and nominations, including the SXSW Narrative Feature Award and Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best First Feature and Someone to Watch Awards. Prior to Manito, Eason wrote and directed the short film Alone Together. He went on to write and direct the dramatic thriller Journey to the End of Night, starring Brendan Fraser, Mos Def, Scott Glen and Alice Braga. Eric splits his time between the US and Buenos Aires and his most recent writing project is A Better Life directed by Chris Weitz.
ROGER L. SIMON (Story by), the only writer alive to be profiled positively by both Mother Jones and The National Review, is an Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter, prize-winning mystery novelist and now the CEO of the influential new media company Pajamas Media.
Born in New York City, Simon graduated from Dartmouth and the Yale School of Drama. While at Yale, he wrote his first novel Heir, which was bought by United Artists and made into the film Jennifer on my Mind. This brought Simon to Hollywood to write screenplays.
Simultaneously he embarked on his career as a crime novelist, writing The Big Fix, the first of eight mysteries about radical detective Moses Wine - dubbed the hippie Sam Spade by the LA Times. The Big Fix won the John Creasey Award of the Crime Writers of Great Britain, was nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America and then made into a successful film starring Richard Dreyfuss. Simon wrote the screenplay.
Other Wine novels are Peking Duck, set in the People's Republic of China, and The Straight Man, based on the life of comic Richard Pryor, for whom Simon wrote a screenplay. The Straight Man was also nominated for the best novel Edgar. The Wine novels have been published in over a dozen languages in many editions. Another edition of the books is being published in 2011 by iBooks in paperback and digital media.
In film, among Simon's credits are the box office smash Bustin' Loose with Richard Pryor and Scenes from a Mall with Woody Allen and Bette Midler. In 1989, he co-wrote Enemies, A Love Story with director Paul Mazursky. The film garnered Simon an Oscar® nomination in screenwriting and won many prizes, including Best Picture from the New York Film Critics.
More recently, Simon directed and co-wrote with his wife, Sheryl Longin, the independent feature Prague Duet.
Simon has also written journalism for The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Commentary and The National Review, among other publications. He served on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, was the West Coast President of PEN and the North American Vice-President of the International Association of Crime Writers. He is a member of the writers' branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
After September 11, 2011, Simon had a political transformation. A lifetime left-liberal, he moved to the right on foreign affairs and later financial issues (not social issues). He began a blog to describe his transformation and it became something of an internet sensation. This led to his co-founding Pajamas Media and later PJTV, the first online political television network. He was named a Hoover Institute Media Fellow at that time. Currently he does the Poliwood Show on PJTV with filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd on which the two discuss the intersection of politics and the entertainment industry.
In 2009, Simon recounted his adventures in Hollywood and his political transformation in a memoir called Blacklisting Myself. It has just been reissued in paperback by Encounter Books with additional chapters as "Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown."
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