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The Odyssey of “Water & Power” from the Stage to Film PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Montoya | Writer/Director   
Thursday, 01 May 2014 06:09

Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun / El Sol

The film "Water & Power" opens Friday, May 2nd in theatres around the southland.

In 2005 following the success of my play, “Chavez Ravine” with Culture Clash at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles which examined among other things the power structures of LA of the 1930's 40''s and 50's, I began to obsess about the changing political climate in a town that had just elected its first Latino mayor in over 100 years.

The paradigm, as they say, had shifted under our feet and suddenly we were thrust into very interesting civic times: time to write a new play about LA.

And from this smoggy but exciting air Water & Power was written.

“Water & Power” was nearly as big a hit as “Chavez” was. Angelenos were hungry for stories about their town it seemed. L.A. and the Valley have always been wrapped in mythic layers for me — from “Chinatown” to “The Long Goodbye” and even “Boogie Nights,” I have always had a serious bromance with noir and the City of Angels. There are a million stories in the city but I only wanted to tell one.

Stage noir. This was my racket. I wasn't thinking of a film back in 2005-06, but people kept remarking how cinematic the play was on the Taper stage. So when the resident producer of the Sundance Institute — a gift of an intensive workshop created by Robert Redford and Michelle Satter — came to see the play, she urged me to submit the script to the Sundance Lab's. It was still in play form but I took a chance and was accepted with the understanding that I spend the next five weeks and turn it into a screenplay.

And so the journey from stage to screen began.

It was rough at first. There was so much I loved about the play, and not just me; it did win the 2007 Drama Critics Circle play of the year. But the first few drafts were rough and while I loved film, I really didn't know how to begin to shape the play into a film. So I forgot about the play and began from scratch.

Theater is the forum for language and too much language can kill a movie! Darn it. The language in film is visual and what would be the visual style of “Water & Power”?

We had three stage sets on the stage but the film had hundreds of setups and dozens of locations, not to mention shooting L.A. under bridges and down on the river bottom as well as high above the city threading the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi in a helicopter with a crazy but lovable cowboy of a pilot.

I wanted to get L.A. right, more specifically East L.A. I wasn't always a fan of movies that used East L.A. as an exotic or folkloric background or color. I wanted to capture L.A. from the East looking West, not the other way around. It had to ring with authenticity, much the way “The Town” or “The Departed” has. L.A. was a character. There were the two brothers of “Water & Power,” two young princes of the city rising too fast with new power. There was the street poet and sage Norte/Sur. And then there was our Queen of Angels - L.A.

Michael Mann always gets L.A. right, as does David Lynch. And I am always blown away by Roman Polanski's and Robert Towne's vision of L.A. in “Chinatown”: it is very Mexican from the child on the slopeback horse on the river, to all of John Houston's “muscle," to Escobar the first LAPD detective of Mexican descent. Polanski was paying attention — L.A. was a dangerous and exotic world city.

the film version of “Water & Power,” not just mimic the great noir of Chandler and Elroy but to contribute to the language of it. Nothing is concrete in L.A. except the river…it might join its place among the great lines about L.A. in the sunshine noir tradition — only time will tell.

Its been a long time since my Sundance advisor and novelist Walter Mosley threw my screenplay on the work desk and announced "this isn't a screenplay yet!" to getting ready for our opening day on Friday, May 2, at AMC theaters in Southern California. But that sort of tough love was just what I needed. These were folks that never saw the play or who didn't know who Culture Clash was so I stopped telling them. The film, the script had to live on its own, work on its own.

And in twelve furious nights on the streets of L.A. we filmed our opus, and by golly I think we captured or stole the city when everybody was sleeping. I headed up the second units, and when my camera man was arrested for crossing the runway at Van Nuys Airport I had to sit in the co-pilot helicopter seat high above the city. And that's what first time writer/directors do: EVERYTHING!

Like the play, “Water & Power” follows the lives of two paternal twin brothers in one night. Holed up in a small motel on Eastern Sunset Boulevard, one brother is in terrible trouble, the other brother may not want to hear about it since his legislation hangs in the balance — can there be Water without Power?

There are bad cops and crooked cholos, and “fixers” and gangs, and a city that seems to breathe and sigh and eat up soldiers like a hungry infant nation. L.A. needs her soldiers, she hungers for them, even if they're gangsters in suits and ties....

I want this L.A .Story to be seen and play in NYC and the rest of the country — how many movies do we have to see with Canada doubling as Anytown USA! Here is an authentic picture about authentic L.A. made by people who love and respect the region. I think we can play in Peoria.

But first we have to play the SoCal cineplex near you, and I do hope to see you at the movies. Because the only thing I love more than the movies is Los Angeles itself!

Viva L.A. and The Valley!

Richard Montoya is a Sundance Alumni of both the writers and directors labs of the prodigious institution where “Water & Power” was developed. An established American playwright of several awardwinning plays, Montoya cofounded Culture Clash in 1984 in San Francisco's historic Mission District. Montoya currently lives in City Terrace, on the “Eastside” of Los Angeles, with his wife and young son.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 06:16