Although the film Murder in the Woods is an all-Latino slasher, you will not find any stereotypes. But for director/producer Luis Iga and screenwriter/producer Yelyna De Leon, funding was an uphill battle. “Executives didn’t get it,” referring to the fact that this is an all-Latino cast. But as the director puts it, “It’s an all-American movie.” The film was a labor of love and, as Iga puts it, it all started by writing the movie down on a napkin.
Stephanie A. Taylor (SAT): How did you guys meet in order to do Murder in the Woods?
Yelyna De Leon (YDL): Luis and I were studying film and television production for our Master’s at USC. We were two of five Latinos in the whole program. We were talking about Latinos in the industry, and the lack of representation for minorities and people of color; especially women, that was really important. Luis has actually come to me about another project. Originally we set out to make that movie. I wrote the script, and we did a lot of research. We spent a lot of time to make it. We just couldn’t get the full funding that we needed. Luis met an investor who could pay a limited amount. That’s when we said, ‘Let’s put our resources together and figure this out.’ We were in Starbucks one day, just talking about the things that we could put together. He had shot a lot of short films while he was at USC, so he had a lot of locations. I had a lot of connections with actors. That’s when we decided that we were going to make the movie.
SAT: How exactly did the screenplay come about?
YDL: Luis and I really love horror films. We both love I Know What you did Last Summer, Scream… those kinds of slashers. But I said let’s reimagine this with all Latino roles. For me, I always had a love of scary stories. When I was a kid I would travel from Chicago to Mexico on the Greyhound bus with my grandmother who would always tell me really scary stories at just seven or eight years old. All of those stories just stuck to me as a child. So really, this is a love letter to my grandmother. She’s not with us anymore. I wanted to do something that she would really be proud of. Luckily we had all the actors in mind. It has been a labor of love and there were so many challenges to get this movie made. There’s no studio backing this. The studios don’t know how to market this.
SAT: The film industry, in general, is dominated by white males. I want to know about how you deal with those challenges being a person of color and a woman.
YDL: With a lot of patience, and understanding. I’ve been in many rooms where people would ask me where I’m from and I would always say ‘I’m from the Southside of Chicago.’ Then they ask, ‘No, where are you really from?’ They kind of try to box you in. I was doing another film. And someone was questioning why I had a big picture of the mother on the mantle. They said, ‘Why is the mother on the mantel like she’s the president or mayor of the city?’ These people are poor. They eat rice and beans. It was a very interesting thing because this person wanted me to change my story. I had a lot pushback on that film. I really have taken it upon myself to help educate any kind of ignorance that there is.
SAT: Not only did you write and produce the film, you also starred in it. Tell me about your experience with juggling those three roles.
YDL: I have about five projects always at once in different stages, whether it’s development, pre-production, production, post production or rollout. That’s in every aspect: film, TV and theater because it’s absolutely what I love to do. That’s advice that I was given about the industry years ago. If you don’t want be sitting there, waiting for the phone to ring always have at least five projects going on at the same time. I was a single teenage mom which means that I have always been at that pace in my life. I always just had to make things happen and juggle my life and my career. I’ve always been able to do that kind of stuff. I used to do a lot of teater. I used to put on shows that I would write, produce and star in. It’s something that I literally have been doing when I was a kid. As a producer, there’s no job beneath you and it’s your job to realize that things get done. As a writer, you have to make sure the script is up to par. As an actor you have to deliver and be in the moment. So I just always have to remind myself what hat I’m wearing at this moment. I do enjoy doing all three. At that point I’m thriving in all of my creativity and all of my schooling. The bigger the challenge for me, the better. I’ll taken it on.
Murder in the Woods premiered at the 34th Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival and is on Facebook and Twitter (@MITWMovie). You can also visit their site at https://www.murderinthewoodsmovie.com/#tickets for more info on tickets.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (4/10/18) FF2 Media
Photos courtesy of Murder in the Woods