I love the Canadian film industry. But what makes it even more interesting is the occasional mix of other countries and cultures at times. As of recently, one of the locals in Vancouver has made great strides in both voice acting, and directing. Who? None other than Mexican-Canadian filmmaker and actress Gigi Saul Guerrero who is already being hailed as one of the top emerging directors of horror films, as well as an addition to new and upcoming Latino talent. I mean, just looking at her experience so far, it’s stunning. She is the voice of SpiderGirl in Marvel Superheroes, Vida in SuperMonsters, but her most famous voice role is Stella the pink bird in Angry Birds. Plus, given her experience in directing horror films and her constant support of Joel McCarthy’s Run N Gun, she is one strong reliable force that keeps going fuelled on a power that takes great effort to be reached. I fuelled up on questions myself and engaged with Gigi one fine Monday morning in one of the greatest conversations I’ve ever had. Now sit back, and enjoy this interview. Just because horror is her focus, doesn’t mean this read will frighten you. Let’s get going.
HNMAG: So I hear you’re one of the biggest directors in Horror films. What do you like best about directing horror?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I think I love horror so much that it’s one of those genres that you can really sit in an audience and see and hear all the different types of reactions. People who are squeamish, people who walk out, you have people like me who are always cheering and clapping. Then you got people closing their eyes, or the people next to you laughing because they’re nervous. It’s one of those genres where you can truly get a different reaction out of everyone, and I’ve always said one of the best parts of the process is when you get to show your film to an audience and the reactions you get out of people is a blast. The second point that I have is horror allows you to have even further escapism to the true horrors of the real world, the true tragic and horrific things that our world has to face every day. I think genre films allow you to escape that in a way that you can have bravery and thrill to things that are so WILD and TWISTED. Yet genre movies give you a lot of entertainment. The last point is that the entertainment and escapism factor that genre films provide actually allow you to see. These genre films have social commentary most of the time. An actual message that has something to do with our world today. Filmmakers like myself, I love having an audience that can enjoy what they’re watching for the next 90 minutes instead of a clip of today’s news.
HNMAG: But is it difficult coming up with wild and twisted concepts for horror films?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: No, no. Not at all. We have so much of our own life experiences that we can’t put on screen. When you’re a pretty big horror fan, it’s not so hard to be creative about what you can imagine. It’s just fun to believe that this is your job. You can put ghosts, vampires, and a ton of blood on very intense human situations and actually call it fun. For me, it’s not a difficult process, but everyone has a different process. I start with music, my house is a very music-driven home, Dad’s a cello and violinist, my sister sings opera, my mom was a dancer, so I grew up with music. Everyone’s very classy, except for me. So music has always been a factor, classical music especially, and I think of scenes when I hear scores or beautiful melodies. That’s how it starts with me.
HNMAG: When you come up with scenes while listening to music, how do they evolve into a full story?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Yeah, it’s more scenarios and it doesn’t have to specifically be horror, people that watch my films know the acting has a lot of layers, and the story has a message. What I feel through the music is tone and mood. I’m a very emotional person, but I really like to gravitate to the feeling of something, what kind of mood it puts me on. Then I start to visualize scenarios and scenes, montages of a shot and stuff like that. It just starts to put ideas together for a story.
HNMAG: When working on a horror, or even writing one, what do you consider when developing the story?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I consider what my resources are. It’s very true when they say ‘No money, no time’ when it comes to movies. I think about what resources I can get for free and what actor friends I have and write something around them. Or what is something I haven’t told that I can with the resources around it. Lately now that I’m starting to grow out of the independent side of filmmaking, and actually working with Hollywood studios, it’s not so much about the resources but it’s more about what stories need to be told today. There is an open door, when it comes to diversity and authenticity. I think it’s pivotal right now that filmmakers tell authentic stories.
HNMAG: Would you ever want to try directing a different genre?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Of course! I just announced on Variety that my next feature film is a biopic of Jenny Riveria, a famous Mexican singer. Everybody’s talking about it and I can’t wait to show the world a drama film of mine.
HNMAG: So what production stage is that film in currently?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: We’re still writing, we’re exactly halfway through the script now.
Currently, they’re going pretty fast through the pre-production process, showing that Gigi has superpowers when it comes to making movies. But Gigi didn’t gain her super powers of super filmmaking super fast, it took quite some time at first, and she learned her craft at Capilano University where she met two colleagues Luke Bramley and Gordon Cheng, and tighter they went on to start their own production company, Luchagore Productions, a company I’m certainly familiar with.
HNMAG: You learned to be a professional through film school. Have you learned lots more outside of film school ever since you started Luchagore Productions?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Oh, 100%. I am a big fan of film school, I encourage it. However, networking and the business side of it, I have learned so much more. Through hands-on experience, making big mistakes or learning from others. Film school is a great filter place to make mistakes and prepare for the real world.
HNMAG: And how have you applied these skills throughout your career?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Oh, definitely. I think every filmmaker will continue to learn new skills every single project they make. Audiences are changing all the time, their attention span is different, the way cameras and equipment is being used. You have to continue to learn new skills all the time. It’s not about keeping it old school, things always evolve.
HNMAG: You also do some acting as well. What kind of roles do you usually play?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I’m usually cast in comedies all the time, I’m like a walking cartoon. I’m very expressive, but also here in Vancouver, there’s not a lot of Latinos. My competition is 5 people, so it’s nice to have a consistent job here in Vancouver but not just for the sake of income, it’s also really nice that I have a place where I can have constant work and it’s so wonderful now that there’s much more demand for authenticity in general and have tons to audition for. Being an actor is one of the best things you could do.
HNMAG: What would be your dream role?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I think I would love to be in a war film. (laughs) I LOVE how the actors get put through those sets and covered in mud and the stress and just talking about history. It’s absolutely amazing. I’d like to be in something like Michelle Rodriguez does.
HNMAG: Do you prefer directing over acting or do you like them both?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: That’s a good question, I think I like them equally for the same reasons, and for different reasons. At the end of the day, I’m part of a storytelling through a different department. I never like to look at film as a one-person show. I think it’s a collaboration, so if I’m part of it, I’m so happy. This summer all I did was act. Then I figured I’d get back to acting, and having the luxury and blessing of being able to go back and forth, it just keeps my creativity so active. I think my favourite part of directing is working with actors.
Gigi’s relationship of an actor to a director is her most favourite. She explained it helps to learn to be a director as an actor, because you can totally learn from other directors how they direct, and definitely learn what to never do if some directors are terrible. But also, as a director, because you’re an actor, you 100% understand where the actors are coming from. What it’s like to be in their vulnerable shoes, so she talks to actors from their perspective.
HNMAG: So being both director and actor helps develop good relationships then.
Gigi Saul Guerrero: So much, they immediately can see that I know where they’re coming from, so I like to really talk like I am with them. It really lets actors build that trust immediately. I think most directors tend to stick to the technical side, the cameras, the lights, which is good. But your actors are the face of the show and they have to trust every decision you’re making. Being an actor is a very stressful job, a lot of people think it’s luxurious and carefree.
HNMAG: How many locations have you filmed in throughout Canada?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I’ve only shot here in BC. Vancouver, and just outside of the area. I’ve gone to shoot a lot more in Mexico and the States.
HNMAG: What are some of the biggest advantages you’ve come across in the film industry here?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: From my experience, I love how in-demand Vancouver is as a city for film. There are so many big shows that come here, it’s incredible. The advantage we have of Vancouver is that it looks like 100 different places. It’s just such a great city not for the bigger studio shows that come down, but the indie scene in here is so supportive and wonderful. I’m glad that we have incredible organizations like Storyhive and Creative BC. All these wonderful places that can help filmmakers make projects. You have Crazy8’s, and Run N Gun, which is the best one. Literally every filmmaker gets together for that 48 hour film race. Those are the kind of communities that not just build great relationships, but a lot of new filmmakers and I think our city is known for that.
HNMAG: What do you like about Run N Gun most of all?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: It amazes me how every year it grows. No matter how successful or how Indie you are. Every year there are so many types and so many different people that come to Run N Gun to compete and just take that weekend to be part of it. I think that’s what films should be about and what my best friend Joel McCarthy promotes.
Gigi said a timeframe of 48 hours is a good way to encourage young and upcoming filmmakers to work hard in such a small time frame. It’s a great way to finish what you start, and she says it’s an opportunity to learn and find out new things about yourself. Plus, Joel throws very good parties.
HNMAG: Let’s get into your teachings at Vancouver Film School. What courses do you teach?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Directing for Term 2. It’s a lot of fun because I don’t get the older students that have been there a bit longer. I get them right in the middle where they’re starting to find their voice, starting to experiment with camera movement, and what kinds of movies they watch.
HNMAG: What kind of lessons do you try to show students?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I’m a big fan of showing them a lot about the creative side of why you use specific shots. It’s more about from camera to screen. One of my best classes is working with actors. If you don’t get that relationship, it’s going to be a really tough process. I like to bring in working actors from Vancouver that are my friends, I bring them into class and we work with the students on their scripts so we really get the idea of what it’s like to work with real actors. The other thing I love to teach is making these students watch old films!
Gigi says it’s a great way to show classic styles of filmmaking, and she finds it interesting how so many are students are unfamiliar with movies like Good Fellas. On her last class of the course, Gigi loves throwing a good classic horror film to her students.
HNMAG: Have you ever had students show you something you’ve never realized?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Oh, all the time! They know things that I have no idea about, and we always have to keep up with the times, especially in the entertainment industry. Sometimes it’s really cool to learn something from the younger generations you never known. As well as stories. We’re really seeing through the lens a lot of new and unrepresented stories. That’s really impressive to continue to welcome and encourage.
HNMAG: How do you decide what to teach them in order for them to succeed?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: What I think works for my classes and why my students like me is because I use a lot of my own experiences. I love showing these students what worked and what didn’t from my experiences and I keep it real. It’s not a glamorous job, a lot of people think it is. It’s a lot of hustling, a lot of blood and tears, literally. I make it work by sharing with them it’s okay to make mistakes, but you need to get back on the horse.
HNMAG: What other things do you enjoy doing besides directing and acting?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: I love boxing! I enjoy waking up every morning and going to the boxing gym to wake up my rage, punching the bag. I think about all my ex-boyfriends- Nah, I’m kidding (laughs) I don’t have the patience for yoga, my friend. It gets me anxious, so I take a wild workout like boxing which is so much fun. I’m a big fan of just being able to escape a little bit. Whether it’s boxing, good hikes, swimming, I’m a bit of an athlete lover. But also, I’m all about family and I love sharing movies with everyone and spending quality time. It’s important as a filmmaker to give yourself quality time with those around you. We’re talking 16-hour days, days where you don’t stop working. I’ve learned to pace myself, I quite enjoy taking off my filmmaker hat and watching bad TV (laughs).
HNMAG: Aside from the biopic, are there any other productions you’re currently working on that we can expect soon?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Angry Birds Season 3 on Netflix, that’s coming out soon! I’m so happy, 3 seasons working on that show, it has been a blast! Also another cartoon that I voice in called Guava Juice is out, and then soon I’ll be able to announce the two big horror projects that I’m shooting in Mexico City. They’re two very popular ones so I can’t wait to share them.
Sounds like Gigi is on a roll with this content. I think we should all get on a roll and start following her updates to see where she’ll go next. Check out Gigi Saul Guerrero through her social media, like her production company’s official Facebook page, her Instagram, Twitter, IMDB, and of course, plenty more links here.