I recently had the privilege of sitting down with filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, as well as the movies lead Algenis Soto for their upcoming film, Sugar. After breaking into the independent film scene with Boden and Flesck’s incredibly well-received film Half Nelson with Oscar-Nominated actor Ryan Gosling, they have come to impress audiences, yet again, with their ability to tell relatable, honest stories, in an enjoyable and interesting way.
Check out what they had to say about their latest film below…
Where did you come up with the idea for the film?
Ryan Fleck: It started with reading an article somewhere that referenced the Dominican Academy’s that every major league baseball team has. And I realized that those places existed, so I did a little research online and thought this is an interesting story. Cause we had heard of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, all of these Dominican superstar baseball players but we became curious about the guys you don’t hear about. You know, what happens to the hundreds of guys who go through this journey every year, and don’t make it. What do they do?
You guys really wanted to keep the story as authentic as possible, what was the casting process like?
RF: We did have a casting director working in NYC. We started looking there because there’s a big Dominican population, but it became pretty apparent quickly that we needed to go down there and find a real Dominican player. There’s a lot of cultural differences between Dominicans living here and down there… we interviewed about 500 people. Algenis was number 452.
Algenis, had you ever considered acting before? What was the biggest challenge in creating Miguel?
Alegnis Soto: Not any acting at all. I was always a baseball player. I had my own dreams of becoming a pro baseball player…and coming here to do that. For me to learn to pitch was a challenge. When I was a baseball player, since I was like 8 or 9 years old, I always played short stop or second basemen, sometimes outfield…but never pitching. It was the first time for me to be a pitcher in this movie. I had, like, two months of training with Jose Rijo, he was teaching me the curve… everything.
Anna Boden: And just something about Algenis, he’s such an amazingly hard worker – and his amazing English is a testament to the same way he approached becoming a pitcher and [learning to] act. He totally put himself into it. You don’t have to push him, because he really pushs himself.
Where you guys trying to target a specific audience? Was there a particular message you were hoping to send?
AB: I don’t think it’s a message or a cautionary tale. I think we were trying to give a realistic portrayal. I don’t think we were approaching it as lessons to be learned, but we were more exploring what this persons life was and what his choices were.
RF: I think it’s a very hopeful story. It’s a really unique journey. It’s about a guy who’s learning about himself and eventually makes choices that are not necessarily the right or wrong choices, but the choices that he thinks are best for himself. And finds a community – which is something he’s looking for throughout the film.
You did a ton of work in the DR. Did the baseball community down there embrace the film?
RF: Right away when we went down there to do research w were surprised at how open everybody was. We’d go into these baseball academy’s and they’d show us around, let us talk to their players. It was incredible. They were very gracious.
AB: This was a topic that we didn’t have any personal experience coming into, so we really relied on the openness of those people who shared their stories, or else we wouldn’t have been able. We felt very lucky to have run into so many helpful people.
RF: We really needed the help of those communities everywhere we went. Our art department would go to local homes in the DC, and if they saw an interesting prop, they’d rent it from them and we’d put it in the movie somehow. The party scene that sees him off to the US, everybody came out form the neighborhood and danced and had a good time with us…it was late, we were all tired, but it was fun! In Iowa, we had a small stadium but we had to fill 800 people in there and we couldn’t afford to pay them all, so we had raffle prizes… tried to make it a party. The community came out and really supported the movie. I don’t think they knew it was going to be 10 hours of sitting around when they signed up for it…
What was the biggest challenge you made while making the movie?
AB: The challenges began once we started shooting. We made this little movie before, Half Nelson, which is a lot of two people sitting in a row chatting, you know, letting actors go and following them with a camera – a very specific way of making a movie. Then all of a sudden we had to shoot baseball. Getting used to working like that was the biggest obstacle I think. The first day there our DP was terrified of the baseball, actually. All of a sudden he’s like “baseball’s kill!” – he comes out onto the field and all of a sudden his grip crew is pushing this HUGE plexy glass thing that’s going up in front of the camera to protect everyone…
You mentioned being interested in the stories of the guys you never hear of. What draws you to these characters?
RF: I think it starts with us as movie fans. A story wed like to see. We hadn’t seen this story. I feel like weve seen the movies of the weak, or even the rookie! Which is not a bad movie, its very uplifting, and Dennis Quaid, he does a good job, and by the end of that im nearly crying. We wanted to do something different, we wanted to see something the common journey that these guys go through.
There’s a scene in the film where, for the first time, Algenis is speaking without subtitles. The audience has no idea what he’s saying. It seems like this was an opportunity for the viewers to experience what he’s been struggling with throughout the entire movie – can you elaborate on that?
RF: Yea you just did a great job of it! That’s exactly what it was. We see him in DC and he’s very charming, he’s at home, he’s really a guy on top of the world. And when he comes to Iowa, he begins to struggle and he can’t communicate, and that really begins to wear on him psychologically, and his ability to perform on the field. And we just thought it would be a great moment, at some point in the movie, to sit and watch him articulate himself. And it didn’t really matter what he was saying – just to be able to see that.
How was the premiere in the Dominican Republic? Did everyone respond well?
AB: It was at the national theatre in Santa Domingo… 1,400 people came out, including entire little league teams. HUGE baseball stars. Pedro Martinez, David Artiz…for me it was the most amazing thing. I’m sitting there watching the movie, and I hadn’t watched it in a while because I made it, I’d seen it a million times, but I hadn’t watched it with an audience… People were laughing so hard, there’s so much energy in the room! People are yelling at the screen and clapping..it was really great to see the reaction of the people who really understood the experience of this player from a first hand perspective.
This film opens Friday April 3rd in select theatres nationwide!