Titanic brought a wave of gifted people to the surface
One of those talents was Luisa Gómez de Silva. An invitation to work on the James Cameron film revealed the makings of a great producer.
Luisa Gómez de Silva has always been a fan of romantic comedies, but she never imagined she'd get to make them in real life. Her career in film began like a script for a short film that transformed into a cult feature: one minute she was behind her desk at a local newspaper in her native Baja California and the next she was on the production team of one of the largest box-office busters of all time: Titanic.
After that, there was no turning back. This busy producer now has twenty or so films and about the same number of television series and commercials under her lifebelt, as well as three documentaries and three short films.
Luisa's schedule is so packed she barely has time to spend with her family, but she finds her work so satisfying that she has started her own production company, Baja Estudios, which is currently working on a television series for Latin America, a drama and two romantic comedy ideas for audiences in the US and Mexico.
—How did you come into contact with the world of film?
I was about to graduate from university and was working for a newspaper. I needed time to finish my thesis, so I asked for a leave of absence, but when I was informed the job was 24/7, I had to resign. I needed work and a friend told me they were looking for people on Titanic [which was filmed in Baja California]. I didn't want to be an extra, but I was told I might be able to do something else due to my experience in other areas. So I sent in my résumé one weekend and the next Tuesday I had an interview that lasted three hours. Today, 19 years later, I'm still working in the movies.
—What was your first job on Titanic?
I started out as an assistant in the art coordination area. Then the Australian woman in charge had to resign and I took over as coordinator for the final stretch of the film.
—It was a big leap from a local newspaper to a mega international production…
I didn't realize the magnitude. The art coordinator resigned in December and I had to see the film through to the final cut. It was like studying a whole new professional career, especially in terms of the handling of language, vocabulary and logistics. I was 22 and learned everything from basic skills, like folding napkins and hanging drapes, to making stained glass and performing administrative tasks.
—After Titanic, how did the other big productions arrive on your doorstep?
Due to Titanic and the film's success, the things I learned and the contacts I made while working on it. I got to know big celebrities who looked me up later. Tomorrow Never Dies wanted to do a second unit and the producer took me along as an administrative supervisor. From there, I started acting as a liaison between the studio in Baja California and the productions that wanted to come to Mexico, like Tomorrow Never Dies, Pearl Harbor and Commando. I left when my first baby was born and started rendering production services on a freelance basis. The same people I had worked with would ask me for information, not just on locations in Baja California, but in Tijuana and San Diego.
—The movies are fantastic, but it's a cutthroat world. Do you know what it was they saw in you to make them come back for more?
I'm from a state in Mexico where everyone is bicultural and hard working. On Titanic I was eager to learn and would raise my hand to help out no matter what the job. Century Fox called me to work in Los Angeles and it was like going back to school. At the end of the day, it's what I still do. The "Titanic Generation", as we call ourselves, were talented people with a lot of enthusiasm, who had a vague notion of filmmaking, small things, but that went on to do big things.
—Which do you prefer, large productions or independent ones?
Both. I've been very fortunate in that I've gotten to work with acclaimed directors on large productions, with the people at Walt Disney and Walden Media, and the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu on Babel. Those were all big projects with a special dynamic: there were no budget concerns. Well, there are now. No one's exempt (chuckles), but back then there weren't.
The difference with the independent productions I've worked on in Mexico and other projects in Latin America and Europe is not knowing if the financing will come through, although you have more freedom. In cases like that, I find a way to get the film made.
Every film, from the biggest production to the smallest, wants to tell a story and it's the passion of the teamwork that goes into it that makes a film.
I've learned a lot from both. I worked on Little Boy, which had a budget of 27 million Usd and All is Lost by Robert Redford, which was made with 10 million. After that came two films that cost 2.5 and 3 million Usd, respectively. Filmmaking is becoming standardized in the sense that we're all seeking to make more efficient use of resources. The economic situation is complicated for us all, but anyone with a good story and a small team can go far. It's all about who has the best story and the most original way of telling it.
—Old school or hi-tech?
I've used both formats. It all depends on the photographer and the budget. Until not so long ago, digital was more expensive, but technology has become more simplified. As a producer I'd go with digital because you can shoot and shoot and shoot and it's cheaper, but nothing beats 35-millimeter quality.
—Are television productions worthwhile?
Platforms like Netflix are spawning new projects. We're witnessing the emergence of viewers who want a different kind of television. Movie folk are starting to sit up and take notice of certain Spanish-language series and foreigners are starting to turn their gaze to Mexico. There are web series being broadcast on a range of platforms. It seems that's where the future lies.
—You sound very excited.
You have to be a bit loony to be in this line of work. It takes a lot of persistence. I was in journalism and I thought I liked it, but I wouldn't go back. I've discovered my niche. My job has more to do with numbers. It might not be that creative, but it implies a lot of work. It means missing birthdays, graduations, Mother's Days. You miss out on a lot, but my kids understand and it feels great to be able to share my success with them and do what I love doing.