I’m a music guy. I grew up playing and producing music. The soundtrack of my childhood was John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nirvana, Collective Soul, and Aerosmith, among other great artists. I thought I’d be involved in music. But I never had aspirations to be in the film industry let alone make a movie. But here we are, and my first feature film production Fandango at the Wall debuts this week on HBO and HBO Max.
How did this lowly music producer land a project with a premiere distributor? By embracing his portfolio career.
Here’s what it took:
- The Spark – In 2016, I was having dinner with my friend Arturo O’Farrill. He said he had come across this article about Jorge Francisco Castillo, a retired librarian who lives in Tijuana and who created the annual Fandango Fronterizo festival in which musicians on both sides of the US-Mexico border wall gather for a fandango. Remarkably, Jorge turned the US-Mexico border wall from something that divides into that which unites. I cold called Jorge to see whether I could visit his festival, and he obliged. While at his festival, I asked whether he was interested in recording a live music album and possibly making a film inspired by his festival. He agreed, and we got to work.
- The Team – I didn’t know any filmmakers. A few months later, I was on a book tour in the San Francisco Bay Area and someone in the audience mentioned he worked in the film industry. I wrote down his name. I shared the film idea with him. He then sent word via his network. We quickly heard from Varda Bar-Kar, an outstanding director whose previous film Big Voice had been distributed by PBS and Netflix. We hit it off, and she agreed to direct the film. In my humble opinion, the film team is first class: Doug Davis, who co-produced the film; Matt Porwoll, director of photography; Luisa Maria Martinez Arcaraz, editor – are just three members of the “small army” that made the film. We worked with Dinamita, based in Mexico City, for post-production. We wanted the film to be a bi-national collaboration.
- The Music – Jorge explained that the type of music found at a fandango is known as son jarocho from Veracruz. He took Arturo and me to Veracruz to meet the masters of this music — such as Patricio Hidalgo, Fernando Guadarrama, Tacho Utrera, Wendy Cao Romero, Ramón Gutiérrez, Andres Vega, Martha Vega, among others. Most of them joined us at the border concert, where we were blessed to include the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Regina Carter, Villalobos Brothers, Antonio Sanchez, Rahim AlHaj, Sahba Motallebi.
- The Financing – We raised the capital the old fashioned way. We self-financed the project. And then we asked our friends and their friends for support. We were blessed to receive funding from Just Films and the Miranda Foundation, among others. The Afro Latin Jazz Alliance played a significant role in helping to find supporters.
- The Distribution – Almost all film festivals were canceled or postponed because of the 2020 pandemic. We couldn’t rely on a festival to launch the project into the world. We shared the film with Sony Latin. One of its executives said, “We have to be part of this project.” They came aboard as a production partner and then helped to bring it to HBO, where executives were also enthusiastic. And we were eventually accepted by several wonderful festivals like the Atlanta Film Festival, Cinequest, NewFilmmakers Los Angeles, among others.
It “only” took four years, hundreds of people, and the deep commitment of everyone involved. But it was worth it. And I’m so proud of the entire team for pouring their hearts and souls into this special project. I hope you watch and enjoy the film!
Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author of fifteen books. His debut feature film production Fandango at the Wall premieres on HBO on September 25, 2020 and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Follow @ LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube.