The year was 2009, the place, Montreal, Canada. I was working in the videogame industry as a translator and quality assurance tester. The job was seemingly stable and, one would think, very fun. Where else could a manager storm in the room and ask, “Who here is good at killing the Minotaur?” and I would volunteer and be the hero against a mythological monster. In my spare time, I watched tons of movies like I’ve always done and I had good friends and a few love interests. And yet, everything felt off. My salary hadn’t been raised since day 1 and I had no prospects for a promotion. Playing games all day long gets old very fast. Then, one day, the company decided they needed a promotional video and asked for a volunteer who could write the script and direct the shoot. It seemed that finally my real skillsets would be put to good use and that I could do something much more rewarding.
Just a couple of years earlier, I had pursued a career in cinema and TV, right there in Montreal. I joined the local union as a permittee of the Assistant Directors department. I edited two weekly TV shows for a Spanish-language network. I wrote, produced and directed two short films with professional actors. But then, everything crumbled down. The Montreal film industry was paralyzed while two rival unions battled for productions and power. The TV production company wasn’t making any money and they stopped paying its employees while demanding everlasting overtime hours. My short films didn’t open any new doors. All my pertinent job interviews did not materialize into actual career opportunities. I became a translator for the DVD industry, working on feature films (such as the Oscar winner THE QUEEN) and TV shows (including PRISON ESCAPE, CRIMINAL MINDS, WEEDS and GILMORE GIRLS), but it’s not a profitable activity for the freelancer. Survival directed me then to the videogame industry.
Several coworkers volunteered for the video gig at the videogame company, but none of them were remotely qualified. Nonetheless, the company decided to accept everyone and asked us to become a committee of writers and directors for just one video. I knew it was over, both the video and my future at that company. The holidays were coming up, so I planned a trip to Argentina to visit my mother and recharge my batteries. Suddenly, I crumbled down as I realized that there was nothing for me in Montreal to come back to after the trip. I handed in my resignation and sold most of my belongings. I donated half of my clothes and all my shoes, except for the pair that I was wearing. And so, I got on the plane to an unknown future. And it wasn’t the first time.
My parents were from Argentina. They lived in Mexico City while my mother studied the PhD curriculum in Psychology. She went back to Argentina so I would be born there, but my father decided to stay in Mexico and forced my mother to lie to the airline and board the plane while 7-months pregnant. I was almost born on the plane. My father was a writer and stage director. He had won a Martin Fierro, the Argentine Emmy, a year earlier. He wasn’t good at parenting, but he was as an avid cinephile as anyone could possibly be. He watched GONE WITH THE WIND over 40 times on the big screen and was obsessed with Classic Hollywood and European cinema. I became a cinephile too since little, as well as a storyteller, just like my father. When I was 9, my parents divorced and my father moved back to Argentina. By the time I was 14, I knew I wanted to be a writer-director and make movies.
I decided to go to film school in the USA and became one of 20 Mexican high school seniors selected by the Institute of International Education for assistance in securing a US college. I received no news from my preferred option, USC in Los Angeles, but was accepted by a couple of places, including the American University in Washington, D.C., and Ithaca College in Upstate New York. I chose to go to Ithaca as they offered me a huge scholarship, and its School of Communications was well respected. A plus was that Rod Serling had been a professor there. I eventually worked at the Media Center and took care of Serling's original broadcast collection of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. I was a recipient of a Film Production scholarship and every academic honor. I completed the Cinema & Photography major, along with minors in Writing and Italian, graduating summa cum laude and Valedictorian of the Cinema Department. My senior film won an award at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Half-way through college, I got a summer job in Mexico working as Assistant Editor in the major film LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, shot by future multiple Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki and nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. After graduation, I returned once again to Mexico and worked as Programmer of the Cancun International Film Festival, which allowed me to mingle with a few big names in Latin American cinema. Later on, I worked in a couple of Mexican features as Assistant Sound Editor, and in the big Hollywood production CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER as a Sound Assistant and interpreter. I even worked for a week as a Boom Operator directly under Harrison Ford's helm. This movie was nominated for the Best Sound Oscar.
Jumping from one area to another in the film industry provided me with a much deeper formation than what I had received in college, but wasn’t getting me any closer to making my own movies, so I started writing scripts. In that period, I wrote 4 features in English, 4 in Spanish, short films, TV pilots and a spec for LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. This spec was a finalist in the now defunct American Best Writing Competition and my feature screenplays won a couple of awards at film festivals, which led to New Line Cinema and other companies reading one of my scripts. In the meantime, I made a living as a translator for Videocine (Mexico’s biggest film production and distribution company at the time).
It was about time to direct something, so I wrote EL PAJE, a 30-minute film about a father and son that embark in a dark voyage into their past and the underworld in the border between Mexico and the USA. Among other things, it was an allegory about my relationship with my father, who cried when he read the script. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s quest when making RESERVOIR DOGS, I used my Videocine connection to conform my dream team in cast and crew, which at that first instant included future Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto. I was only missing the funding. After a year of hustling for grants and not getting them, my mother sold her company (for unrelated reasons) and gave me a good chunk of the sale for the budget and also to buy video equipment. By then, Rodrigo Prieto and a couple others in my dream team were busy with other projects, but I still assembled an amazing group of people to make my film. The final product was shown at 12 international film festivals and broadcast on Mexican and International TV. I attended some of the festivals and was invited to a presidential palace for a gathering of the biggest personalities in Latin American cinema.
The momentum made me attempt to develop one of my feature-length projects. I moved the script around the Mexican film industry, carried out casting auditions and a full reading with the cast. The script only reached semi-finalist level for a grant at the national film institute (IMCINE), but was so well-liked that it opened many doors. Sony / Columbia Pictures was setting up a production office in Mexico City. Sony invited me, along with an impressive cross-selection of directors, writers and actors, to attend a workshop on the Enneagram as a creative tool. I was told by the Development Head at the Sony office that everyone there loved my script, but that it was too expensive to make, considering the extremely modest budgets that they had for Mexico. As an alternative, I provided a treatment for a cheaper project for their consideration. I was then invited by Argos TV (the most respected TV production company at the time) to be part of a writers' room workshop with other Latin American writers. Under the guidance of our instructor and mentor Luis Zelkowicz (Emmy-Award winner with Telemundo's EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS), we developed pilot scripts for two dramatic series projects. Unfortunately, neither these pilots nor the treatment at Sony were picked up.
Disillusionment and darkness filled me up at that moment, probably the first time that it felt as if everything was over. Like other artists that journey deep into darkness, I found my way out by writing a vampire story, DHAMPIRA. I made this short film with very little resources and the help of my friends, along with the legendary actor Roberto Cobo (the villain in Luis Buñuel’s Cannes winning movie LOS OLVIDADOS, made 50 years earlier). The book POP CULTURE LATIN AMERICA! (ABC-Clio, 2005) in its section dedicated to Mexican horror cinema, and right after discussing Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER), mentions, "Other innovative recent incursions into the horror film genre include Eduardo Soto-Falcon's short film DHAMPIRA." This short film has a cult following in Mexico, where it's considered by Gothic fans and vampire experts as one of the greatest Mexican vampire films ever. The prequel, DANIEL’S DAUGHTER, competed in pioneering web festivals, receiving the award for Best Direction at the Festival International du Film de l’Internet in France.
My short films opened a couple of doors in my directing career, although not exactly in cinema. I directed dramatized corporate videos for Volkswagen and Audi, as well as a fashion TV pilot show, which was partially broadcast by one of the big networks in Mexico. I then concentrated on videography and video editing for TV, DVD, digital platforms and a varied clientele. I also returned to translation, this time for the UK-based Research International (who had acquired my mother’s former company).
In part to look for a new horizon and in part to escape the overwhelming problems in the quality of life in Mexico City (violence, crime, corruption, pollution, etc.), I applied for Permanent Residence in Canada and got on an airplane. I used my frequent miles balance to upgrade to Business Class, which allowed me to bring more luggage and have as sweet a transition as possible into my new home, Montreal. I didn’t anticipate that a few years later, now as a Canadian citizen, I would be heading south again on another plane.
Now the year was 2010 and the place, Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was writing a novel by developing the extended universe of my shorts DHAMPIRA and DANIEL’S DAUGHTER. The novel was set in Boston, which was quite hard to visualize from Buenos Aires. My father had passed away two years earlier and I was in charge of selling his apartment, the only inheritance he left for his 4 children with 3 different (non-simultaneous) wives. The day I secured a buyer for the apartment, I received a call from the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, Canada. I was a finalist for the Cineplex Film Directors’ Lab, so I had to fly back to Canada for an interview. The CFC selects only 5 people each year from all over Canada for each of the labs. So, just a couple of months after leaving Montreal, I was on another plane to Toronto.
The interview in Toronto was a bit daunting as it was with a panel of about a dozen people. I think it went well and one of the panelists told me that he really enjoyed my films. I went back to Montreal and stayed with friends and waited for their final decision. I did not make it among the 5 chosen directors. Life had made its move, now it was my turn. I really wanted to keep going with my novel, so I chose to go to Boston to live there for a time and research everything I needed for the story. I went by bus and was almost not accepted into the USA as the border agents could not understand the purpose of my trip. Thanks to another agent who was a Stephen King aficionado and who understood why I needed to live in New England to write a Gothic novel, I was finally allowed in.
I enjoyed my 4 months in Boston and supported myself with my share from the sale of my father’s apartment. I even completed a Literary Publishing certificate at Emerson College. Through my research in New England, I was able to develop the full storyline required for the novel. I was also able to recharge my batteries fully and be ready to tackle a new chapter in my life. I rode another bus back to Canada and moved to Toronto, to make my own luck there without the CFC. I continued with my novel, worked in a few TV advertisements as a teleprompter operator and marketed myself as a freelancer videographer, which made me go around Toronto doing camera work and editing for all sorts of clients and jobs.
Amazon Studios suddenly appeared in the USA and launched a year-long global competition with tons of money in prizes. I jumped in that bandwagon immediately with one of my old feature projects. A group of actors and a photographer joined my project, but it did not go anywhere in the competition. Then came the supermoon phenomenon in March, 2011, and I went to a park at nighttime to take pictures. As I was staring at the brighter and bigger moon, I came to the realization that my novel was advancing too slowly and that I might never finish it. I wasn’t a novelist, but a screenwriter, so I should be writing new scripts. The next day, I started writing the extended Dhampira universe storyline in screenplay format. A few months later, I had two new feature scripts and submitted them to the different Amazon Studios contests. At one point, I was one of 11 semi-finalists competing for a $100,000 USD prize.
I only won a few souvenirs from Amazon Studios and a 15-minute phone call with the studio head, who encouraged me to try a project in historical fiction. But the most important thing I got from this long competition was to identify myself again as a writer-director that maybe someday will finally find his big break. Tough financial times returned to my life as the videography gigs were not enough to cover my basic expenses in Toronto. I took a job in a different industry for 3 years and suffered the loss of my mother to cancer. I then moved to another city, near Toronto but more affordable, and made my goal to finish new scripts and improve some of the older ones. In this couple of years, my scripts have placed over 35 times in second round or better at competitions and film festivals. I plan to direct new narrative projects and expect to tackle the "development hell" once again soon with a new feature screenplay, hoping to be victorious this time around.
The new planes in my itinerary are flying me once again to film festivals and hopefully soon to shooting locations. There’s still a lot of mileage to accumulate in my frequent flyer cards.
— Eduardo Soto-Falcon