Get The Gringo (also known as How I Spent My Summer Vacation) has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray following a platformed release on DirecTV and VOD.
I spoke with the film’s producer and co-writer, Stacy Perskie about working with Mel Gibson – as well as discussed what it is like to shoot a film in a real life Mexican prison.
How did you first become involved in Get the Gringo?
It was one day working with Mel Gibson on Apocalypto. I went to visit him in his office in Los Angeles and he started talking to us about the idea of making a film in a Mexican prison – about an American in a Mexican prison. He wanted Adrian (Grunberg) to direct it. Then a couple of months later we were back in Mexico and he called us up and said that he wanted to talk about the project, so we started actively doing research and then we progressed into inventing and to write it.
The film has an old-fashioned feel to it, did you watch any old films to get the tone right – and what research did you do with regards to the Mexican prison?
In terms of research, we did a lot regarding Mexican prison life. We read a lot of books, newspapers, a lot of magazine articles that had been written about it in the past. We interviewed people who had been inmates in prison and also guards, people who had been part of the system in general.
In terms of the whole feel, one of the things that we liked was Yojimbo, the Kurosawa film. Like a character that came into play, different aspects of the small town. We liked the feel of that as one of many references.
The film was shot on location – did the script change at all when you got to the location?
Yeah, I would say so. Certain aspects of the place we were shooting – a real prison which wasn’t active anymore and that became our set. We did have to adapt the script in some ways to fit the location.
Writing action must be difficult – how do you come up with interesting sequences on the page – and how do they change once they start filming?
Both Adrian and I come from a moviegoer image generation, you know. Where we’ve seen many, many films in different genres. I see a lot of everything in terms of film, so I have a lot of reference points. Then Mel, you know, a lot of his body of work has been action based, so I think throwing ideas and trying to come up with things you haven’t seen before was our main drive – to try and make it as interesting as possible. It’s difficult in terms of you’re exposed to having seen so many action films in the past.
In the past you’ve worked with some of the best directors in the business. What have you picked up from them and how did you apply it to writing and producing Get the Gringo?
Being able to observe their style is a great opportunity because you’re able to pick up on different types of visions and different systems and ways of working. Some are more actor related, some are more image related, some are a combination of everything. So it’s great to see those different ways of working, ways of thinking, and to be able to create your own.
It must be difficult being a producer and a writer – as a writer you want to be creative but as a producer you must be keeping one eye on the balance sheet. How do you manage it?
We had a really great team and a lot of support, so that wasn’t that much of a challenge. Whenever something needed to be scaled down in a sense we had the support of the whole team, and both Mel and Adrian onboard with how that needed to be scaled down – if anything. Fortunately, we had the right budget for what we wanted to do, so that wasn’t a problem either. We had budgeted for the film from the beginning and knew where we were going with it in terms of structure and on everything we wanted to do with the location. I think we were well prepared for what we wanted to do.
You co-wrote the film with Adam Grunberg and Mel Gibson, did you ever feel any pressure to try and fit the film into Mel Gibson’s onscreen persona, or was he willing to let you go off on your own track?
Originally Mel hadn’t decided that he wanted to do the film, as an actor, so we were just writing the story. We did imagine Mel as the character from the get go. It wasn’t until later in the process that he wanted to play the part.
The film is based on a real-life prison, “El Pueblito.” How much of what we see in the film is real, and how much is fiction?
Everything that you see in the film is pieces of research that we picked up in the process of writing the story. In general, the backdrop of what you see in this actual prison, El Pueblito, which is the one we based it on is real. The general rules that we set up were in the prison when it was raided and shut down. The fact that you had men, women and children living together; the fact that the inmates could bring their relatives to live with them inside this prison – it’s all fact.
How do you make a criminal likeable – apart from casting Mel Gibson as the lead?
Well, as Mel put it in an interview about the film – it’s in the virtue of having the other guys be worse than him. Basically, everyone in the film is a criminal, except the kid. That makes him better than the rest in a sense. In the beginning of the film he’s out for himself, he has his own agenda; he grows a heart in terms of the kid and his mom and gets involved with them. That’s also an arc. It gives another dimension to the character.
How much was Mel’s relationship with the boy (Kevin Hernandez) on the page and how much was created on set?
I think everything was on the page; however the fact that in real life there was chemistry between the two of them, the two actors, and that worked. Kevin was such a great actor and picked up so much from Mel and that made it come to life.
Get the Gringo was your first credited writing job – is it something that you want to continue doing?
I’d love to.
What’s next for you?
Both Adrian and I have a project that we’re developing to produce, as well as we’re starting to look at some things to write ourselves. We’re reading scripts that are being sent to us, you know to possibly direct as well.
So, definitely looking to work with Adrian again?
Get The Gringo is now available on DVD/Blu-ray.