Rodrigo Garcia '82 (Director, TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, NINE LIVES, THE SOPRANOS, IN TREATMENT)
By D. Dona Le '05
Rodrigo Garcia’s successful, unique career is stamped by both his driven independence and his ceaseless pursuit of themes, projects, and characters that he finds personally compelling.
The son of renowned writer Gabriel García Márquez, Garcia has carved a wholly distinct name for himself in the film and television industry. He has written and directed a number of films, including THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER (2000), TEN TINY LOVE STORIES (2001), NINE LIVES (2005), and more recently, the much-anticipated MOTHER AND CHILD, due for release in the United States in May 2010. Furthermore, Garcia has directed episodes for such television series as IN TREATMENT, SIX FEET UNDER, and THE SOPRANOS, among others.
Ultimately, Garcia’s interests lie in projects that he has developed himself from inception.
"I enjoy both film and television, but most of the movies I’ve done are movies that I’ve written myself. Although I enjoy working in television and series that are well written, like THE SOPRANOS and SIX FEET UNDER, the movies are more personal. I’ve directed stuff that others have written, especially pilots and television episodes, and it’s fun, but the themes are never as personal or dramatized in a way that’s close to me. I’d rather just write for myself.”
His passion for writing and directing, however, was derived from an early interest in still photography throughout his childhood. Then, at Harvard College, Garcia chose to concentrate in Medieval History, but he enrolled in many photography classes through the Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) Department. Garcia was a resident of Lowell House, and during his senior year at Harvard, he began considering a transition from photography into camera work.
"A lot of cameramen flirt with directing. I didn’t want to be another cameraman who was looking for something to direct. So I decided, ‘If I can think of some story that really interested me, and if I can write it, then I’ll try to direct it.’ I set that bar for myself.”
Garcia began writing his first script in his 30s, and he still considers this the most challenging aspect of movie-making.
"If you have a good script, you have cleared the single hardest hurdle. Production is physically demanding and frustrating and full of things you can’t control, but I think creatively, going from zero to screenplay is the hardest.”
In fact, Garcia reveals that writing screenplays was even more difficult than he had anticipated. As his oeuvre demonstrates, Garcia has clearly surmounted the challenges of writing, although he does consider the screenwriting process to be complex and haphazard.
"Ideas come easily, but an idea is not a story; it is not a script and it’s not a movie. So I’m constantly taking down ideas that I have: situations, characters, problems, some quest. I have hundreds of those. Some I store for later, and some I’ll start working on right away. Then, I may hit a roadblock, and I’ll have to put it to one side. Usually the ones that you finish are the ideas that won’t go away—despite the passage of time, you keep thinking about them.”
Such ideas are "inspired by my own daily life, feelings, events, and relationships. The more personal connections I have to a story, the more a story will stick to me. And by personal, I don’t mean it’s based on anything that actually happened, but themes that interest me and that are close to me.”
Despite Garcia’s clear preference for creating and developing his own movies from scratch, he acknowledges the unpredictable evolution and flux that any film project may undergo.
"The end product never comes out as expected, but what it ultimately communicates is what you set out to do. There are many aspects of MOTHER AND CHILD that did not come out as I expected them to, but Karen’s journey does reflect essentially what I wanted to talk about.”
MOTHER AND CHILD—starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson—centers around three women: Karen, who is haunted by her decision as a young adolescent to give up her daughter for adoption over 35 years ago; Elizabeth, the adopted daughter who has become an ambitious attorney; and Lucy, a young woman who hopes to adopt a child with her husband.
According to Garcia, "MOTHER AND CHILD is told in three strands, but they are part of the same story, and those three come together.”
This latest film is a slight departure from Garcia’s previous films, which often featured short vignettes or a number of peripherally interlocking storylines.
"For a long time, I liked the short form; I liked the miniature that’s significantly representative of the whole. But now I’m not that interested in the multi-linking strand. I feel I’ve done it enough, and I do like telling a story from two, three, four points of view, but in MOTHER AND CHILD, I bring them together.”
The subject matter of MOTHER AND CHILD, however, is not new to Garcia or to those familiar with his earlier movies, as he continues to take on the subject of women, particularly in the context of motherhood, family, and relationships.
In his films, Garcia dexterously reveals the complexities of femininity and of womanhood with subtle insight and realistic clarity. Asked why his films tend to focus on women, Garcia simply responds: "Female characters are more interesting to me than male characters.”
Given the explosive attention surrounding Kathryn Bigelow’s recent success with THE HURT LOCKER and the fact that many reviewers have explicitly made note of Garcia’s apparent focus on female characters, Garcia acknowledges that Hollywood remains under the grip of the largely male-driven box office and traditional gender expectations.
"The box office rules, and the box office is very much dominated by younger male filmgoers. In that sense, if you’re interested in making movies about women, aged 30 to 35, 40 and above, that’s always going to be difficult. The curious thing is, when most men make movies only about men, that’s never a topic of discussion. If you’re making movies about women, that’s always something that needs to be discussed—the representation of women is always worthy of discussion. I suppose it’ll change, hopefully.”
Regardless, Garcia will certainly continue to explore the topics and characters that capture his attention and imagination. His professional success can also be attributed to Garcia’s willingness—not only that, his desire and demand—to assume agency over all aspects of his endeavors, from creating the initial idea and writing the screenplay to directing the film. Garcia’s advice for others pursuing creative careers in the film industry is similar.
"Try to do your own thing independently as much as you can. You can’t always think that it’s the other person who’s going to open the door—‘If I had an agent, if I had a manager, if I had access to this director, if I had access to this actor.’ You simply have to make your way and decide, ‘I’m going to write this and film it, even if it’s on my little video camera for a thousand dollars.’ Of course, access is a part of success, but while you find access, find your own way.”
Although Garcia has continually challenged himself to find his own away at all levels throughout his career as a screenwriter and director, he also balances his ambition with the acknowledgement of his previous accomplishments. Garcia’s admirable self-drive and independent creativity have resulted in a career that he humbly recognizes as rewarding and fulfilling.
"On the one hand, you feel like you’re never doing as many movies as you want, or making them with as many resources as you want, or that not enough people are seeing them. That’s the ambitious part of you complaining. On the other hand, that I’m a director at all is an incredible privilege. I’m aware of how unique that is, making movies for a living.”