- Friday, Jun. 29, 2012
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- LOS ANGELES
Before he made his first splash in theatrical motion pictures--teaming with Nicholas Giacobone and director Alejandro González Iñárritu to write Biutiful, a 2010 release which went on to earn Academy Award nominations last year for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Lead Actor (Javier Bardem)--Armando Bo had penned with Giacobone another script which didn't bear fruit only until recently.
It too, though, has now resulted in a major yet different splash for Bo--his feature directorial debut, The Last Elvis (El Ultimo Elvis), which premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it earned a Grand Jury Prize nomination. The film went on to open the 14th Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film. And The Last Elvis just had two screenings as part of the International Showcase at the Los Angeles Film Festival which wrapped this past Sunday (6/24).
Bo has thus diversified successfully beyond his longstanding commercial directing endeavors which are ongoing via his Buenos Aires production house Rebolucion, which opened an office in Brazil last year, and bicoastal Anonymous Content, his spotmaking roost stateside.
The Last Elvis centers on Carlos Gutierrez, a singer who lives his life impersonating the late Elvis Presley to the point where his own identity gives way to that of the legendary entertainer. While his delusion is also his inspiration, it estranges him from his family. But a car accident which hospitalizes his ex-wife forces Gutierrez to take care of his daughter for a stretch, enabling him to find himself as a father. Ultimately he has to make a choice between reality and his dream of being Elvis.
Bo related that he developed the script with the hope and intent of it becoming his first feature directing gig. "The choice of your first film is so important and I was drawn to the themes in this story, including how people lie to themselves, the power of denial and fanaticism. While the main character has a gift as a singer, he lacks his own personality, filing the void by taking on that of an iconic celebrity."
Originally, Bo had lined up a major star in Argentina to portray Gutierrez. The director hired John McInerny, a real-life Elvis impersonator, to coach the big box office actor. But those plans changed as Bo became enamored with McInerny, envisioning this non-actor as a natural fit for the movie's storyline. Bo spearheaded efforts to train McInerny for the part, which also necessitated dietary discipline as the would-be Elvis needed to lose a significant amount of weight to be believable as Gutierrez. Both training and the dietary regimen succeeded and Bo had his unknown performer assume the movie's title role.
McInerny gives a captivating performance as Gutierrez/Elvis, underscoring Bo's acumen in nurturing talent.
"It was a huge decision but I'm happy it happened this way," said Bo of McInerny's casting. "I could see and feel that he was the right person to portray the character."
The unconventional casting sprung from a process which Bo described as being akin to "learning what a kid needs and wants. A film has its own life, just like a child. When you raise and develop that child, you discover his or her needs. Our film needed him [McInerny] to do justice to the character, his point of view and the story we were trying to tell."
Helping Bo towards that storytelling goal was his extensive spot directing experience. "Commercials gave me my life professionally. I have worked in this industry since I was 17. Commercials prepared me, equipped me with many weapons--lighting, art direction, wardrobe, cinematography, good production value, all essential elements to storytelling. But you still need the story to tell. Being a writer gave me that. As a director, you manage the character's life story, the emotions of the movie."
Conversely, Bo feels that his feature filmmaking experience helps him to bring more back to his work in the ad arena. "With the character development and emotions in The Last Elvis, I find myself able to delve more deeply into characters and situations in commercials, to capture the little moments so that viewers can relate to them." Indeed, one discipline informs the other.
This cross-pollination also applies to his production company ties. Both Rebolucion, the company he co-founded in 2005, and Anonymous Content are among the shops that produced and financed The Last Elvis. Bo said that he's grateful for the support of Anonymous' Steve Golin, who is one of the film's producers. "I feel lucky to have the trust of Steve and the backing of Anonymous for The Last Elvis. We've been together pretty much since I was starting out [at Rebolucion]. They saw something in me and my company and we've been working together ever since."
Bo hopes his collaborations with Anonymous will ramp up on the commercialmaking front in the U.S. He has spent recent years immersed in Biutiful and The Last Elvis, and now finally his schedule is free to accommodate choice American spot and branded content assignments. The reciprocal relationship also entails Rebolucion representing select Anonymous directors in Brazil via the earlier alluded to Sao Paulo office.
Bo is a third-generation filmmaker who attended New York Film Academy and studied both acting and art history in his native Buenos Aires. His spot directing career spans such brands as Axe (out of agency Ponce, Buenos Aires), Coca-Cola (McCann Erickson Madrid), Volkswagen and GE (both via AlmapBBDO Sao Paulo) and Got Milk (Grupo Gallegos, Long Beach, Calif.). Over the years, Bo's work has garnered assorted awards, including Cannes Lions.