Sugar: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck interview
After receiving critical acclaim for the superb Half Nelson back in 2007, Indie directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have returned with the lovingly crafted Sugar. Sugar tells the story of struggling Dominican born Baseball player, Miguel 'Sugar' Santos. Armed with the determination to succeed, Sugar swaps his home town in the Dominican for the US, with varying degrees of success. We spoke to Boden and Fleck about language barriers, baseball and the American Dream.
LOVEFiLM: Half Nelson came out over here back in 2007. Were you surprised by its success?
Anna Boden:Yeah (laughs)
Ryan Fleck:We all felt that it was a pretty good movie and we thought we would get some good reviews, but it was hard to tell when the film came out how it was doing.
LF: Sugar is obviously rather different to Half Nelson...
RF:I’m a big baseball fan so I felt like I knew a fair amount. I’m not totally obsessed like Fever Pitch. Only recently did we learn that every major baseball league has one of these academies in the Dominican Republic. It’s not a secret but it’s something that’s not publicised very often.
AB: There were a couple of articles that came out mentioning these academies in the Dominican Republic several years ago, when we were starting to develop this idea. A lot of people in the United States know the story of these great superstar baseball players like Sammy Sosa and Manny Remirez, but there are thousands of players whose names you’ll never hear.There are thousands of young Dominican boys coming over every year to play in the minor league system in the Unites States. We thought this sounded like an interesting journey and we wanted to find out more about it.
LF:How did you research the film?
RF:We did a lot of book and internet research and we came up with an outline. Once we had written the first draft we went down to the Dominican Republic and interviewed players who had been through every stage of the process. Some were 16-year-old kids about to get signed onto a team and the others were guys in their twenties who had already been through the process and had come back home. The scene at the end of the film - where Miguel plays with other players - those were real guys who we had interviewed, who had gone through the process and stayed in New York.
LF: How did you go about casting Algenis Perez Soto who plays Sugar in the film?
RF: I don’t think we set out to cast an unknown guy but logically we knew there weren’t many movie stars who fit the requirements for the role; a young, 20-year-old, Dominican, dark skinned, baseball player. It became clear that there’s not much of an acting community out there.
AB: There is an acting community but it’s for soap operas or comedy which is a very different kind of acting. We needed to avoid the acting community to get the people we wanted.
LF: Was it Algenis’ first time to the U.S?
RF:Very much the first time but I think he enjoyed it a lot more than the character in the movie. He was an actor in a movie so he was treated a bit better than the players that came over here.
AB: He was living in a hotel room with all these guys so it was certainly less like the character. However,in a lot of ways his journey was the same – he was away from his family for the first time in a country where there are not a lot of Spanish speaking people.
LF: Were you always keen on giving Sugar a documentary look and feel from the very beginning?
AB: I think that we knew we wanted to make a movie which felt really grounded in a lot of ways. We went into making it, feeling like we were going to learn about these characters and their lives through the process of research. I think that the film automatically took on documentary characteristics because we were trying to let things unfold in a natural way.
RF: Plus we shot it in real locations, which made it feel like we were documenting a certain reality.
AB: And they were all non-actors.
LF:How easy was it to get finance for a film like this?
RF:There was one company that we knew would make the movie: HBO Films. Only HBO films - which has a track record of making films such as Real Women Have Curves and American Splendour – do these kind of movies, so they got it. The executive over there was really excited about the project.
LF: Do you think audiences need to have a love for baseball to enjoy the film?
AB: Ryan says that we made this film because he’s a huge baseball fan but I’m not. I think that the sport is beautiful and I have an appreciation for it but I am more interested in sport as a vessel to explore this character and the journey of the American Dream.
LF: Was this film harder to make than Half Nelson?
RF:It wasn’t hard getting the money, but getting it made was very ambitious and very difficult. Shooting it in a different language, shooting it in a different country and then even shooting it in the United States was difficult. It’s our country, but we don’t know Iowa, we don’t know Arizona, we don’t even know the Bronx even though we live in New York. There’s a completely different community up there. It was very much a learning process for us but it was fun.
AB:With Half Nelson we had to fight tooth and nail for funding but once it was funded it didn’t have the same challenges for us that this one had.
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