Here at Cultist, we love a "local artist makes it big" story. And those stories are all the more impressive when said artist had to overcome some difficult situations to reach his success.
That's what Miami-born filmmaker Jesse Quinones is doing with his upcoming family drama, Calloused Hands. The filmmaker, who left Miami to become a film writer in London a decade ago, has returned home to shoot his latest film with a cast of seasoned Hollywood stars. But not without first facing his own difficult past.
The film's plot is sourced mainly from Quinones' own difficult childhood. The movie follows Josh, a promising 12-year-old baseball player. Neglected by his mother Debbie (played by Daisy Haggard of Episodes) and abused by her boyfriend Byrd (played by Andre Royo of The Wire), he finds a new path when his grandfather (played by Hans Howes of There Will Be Blood) pushes him to study for his Bar Mitzvah.
After 10 years working as a writer in London, Quinones has returned home to finally shoot his biopic -- a project he began 11 years ago. The script has already been selected to the BBC Writers Room, the HBO sponsored NALIP Latino Writers Lab, NALIP Latino Producers Academy, and is currently a quarter-finalist for the Bluecat Screenplay Competition.
Cultist spoke to the filmmaker on his labor of love, healing from childhood wounds and Miami talent.
Cultist: So how much of this film is based on your life story?
Jesse Quinones: I would say between 90 and 95 percent. A few elements are fictional to sort of make it work in the one and a half hour time frame.
The main character is based on me and my brother Daniel. A lot of it happened to me and happened to him. It's been a tough process, and it's taken 11 years to come to a place to finish the story.
It's taken me all those years to kind of forgive, and also, having a son put me in a place where I can tell the story objectively. Now I feel ready.
What made you want to bring the story to life?
Well, my mom is a writer; she's done a lot of writing on her own life as well. She always encouraged me to use art as a way to heal. As I started working on the story, it definitely closed up a few wounds.
There were really two reasons. One was personal, to kind of delve into some of my own demons that I'm still battling to this day.
The other is that this is a story a lot of people could relate to. It's not even about a kid, it's about a family who have all gone off the path they should be on. It's about them finding their paths in life.
Have you spoken to the real Byrd since those days?
He actually reached out to us about two years ago, but I don't think he was aware of the film. He wanted to ask for our forgiveness and apologize for what he put us through.
Apparently he turned his life around, got a master's degree and has his own children now. I don't hold any anger anymore or hard feelings. Now, I wish him well.
If he were to hear about the film and we could sit and watch it together, I think that would end up being a beautiful experience.
How did you choose and recruit your team for the picture?
As far as the cast, I really just contacted them myself. I did have a casting director who helped. We were very honest said it was low-budget independent film, and that the project was about telling a story. They're making nowhere near what they normally make, but they all really connect to the story. Fortunately they believed in it and in giving us their time. And they're putting that much more energy and respect into it knowing that it is based on real people.
Other than the Hollywood actors, the rest of the team will be Miami-based?
I believed it was important to use as much talent in Miami as possible. We're casting a lot of great Miami actors here and we have a young producer by the name of Danny Mendoza who's guiding the whole process. I felt very strongly that my first feature film should be in my hometown.
We're still casting for some of the smaller roles. We have some interesting names on our possible list that would raise eyebrows in good and bad ways. Some of them are well-known in Miami so I think they would be very interesting casting choices.
What does the timing look like?
We're a month away from shooting. The start date is September 10 and it's a three week shoot. Post-production will start September 30. The film will be out around December.
We're looking for a very strong festival premiere. We made the shortlist for Sundance, but the deadline is around when we stop shooting, so we're hoping we can get a leg up there.
We're also thinking about South by Southwest, Tribeca, and of course the Miami International Film Festival. We definitely want to have a premiere here.
We've really supported by local art house cinemas. O Cinema has been great, and we want to work with them on a small theatrical release.
Visit callousedhandsmovie.com for further details about the film.