Miguel Arteta is the first to admit that his fantasy/melodrama script, with its 40 locations and numerous characters, was the worst idea a first-time feature filmmaker could attempt.
“Additionally the film is about a Latino family and a father who puts his son into prostitution,” says the Puerto Rico-born Arteta, who came to the U.S. at age 16.
Arteta and producing partner Matthew Greenfield, whom he met while attending film school at Wesleyan University, first tried approaching people in Hollywood for money, but in the end relied on 15 private investors to come up with the necessary $90,000 to film “Star Maps.”
“We met our first investor through a mutual friend who had brought him to see Miguel’s AFI film,” Greenfield recounts. “He invested $50,000 and we went into pre-production and started casting and location scouting immediately. We had made up our minds that we were going to jump and hope someone would catch us.”
It took a year to find the rest of the money, but when the camera rolled, they had raised enough money to shoot in 35mm for 29 days instead of the usual low-budget 16mm, 18-day shoot.
The crew was mostly made up of friends (with the notable exception of the cinematographer, Mexican Ariel winner Chuy Chavez) who took pay deferments and slept on floors in exchange for a 14-hour/six-day-a-week shooting sked.
To thank them, Greenfield gave the crew profit points.
“We gave away more than half our share of the points,” Greenfield explains. “We felt it was important that the crew should share in the success, if there was any. We are very proud that not only are they getting their deferred pay, but they are going to see some point money, which is incredibly unusual.”
“Star Maps” almost didn’t make it to Sundance. After editing for l1 months, Arteta realized they needed to reshoot many scenes for the film to make sense. By that time, friends and family weren’t returning his calls.
“They thought we should have just worked with what we had and moved on, but we chose to use the money we had originally set aside for post-production to reshoot, and then worried about raising the additional money for post,” Arteta says.
Fortunately, all the actors came back for reshoots.
“We cheated locations, and worked around schedules. A few actors even wore wigs, but everyone was cooperative,” recalls Arteta, who was able to complete a viewing copy good enough to submit to festivals before he ran out of money.
At one point, Greenfield had deposits on the sound, negative cutting and titles, but didn’t have money to pay the balances. “The vendors gave us a lot of discounts and were very nice, but none of them would give us credit or take any points. They just wanted to be paid cash,” Greenfield recalls. “It was (executive producer) Mitchell Kelly who came in at the last moment and paid our bills so we could get to Sundance.”
The filmmakers went to Sundance with low expectations and came home with the brass ring.
“We were entered in the non-competitive American Spectrum and had a lot of calls beforehand from distributors, but only Fox Searchlight showed up at our first screening,” recalls Arteta, who had supplemented his income and made key connections while at AFI by delivering packages to entertainment industry people — one of whom was Fox Searchlight’s Claudia Lewis.
By the end of the second screening, Arteta and Greenfield had signed a deal with Fox Searchlight, giving it all worldwide rights except for the soundtrack, which went to Geffen Records.