Now, more than ever in society, it is acceptable to take important world issues and start meaningful conversations about them. With topics ranging from mental health and sexual assault, to human rights, education, and everything in between, individuals are feeling increasingly comfortable debating the moral and ethical conducts underlying each category. One of those individuals is film producer, Mariana Mendez. For as long as she can remember, Mendez has been passionate about starting conversations before the eyes of her audiences and doing so in such a way that allows the conversation to carry on beyond the screen. Ultimately, she wants to help contribute to a society that speaks freely about change while she freely changes society through the quality content she produces before her audiences. This mentality has made her a highly sought commodity in the film industry; however, she remains simply humbled by the fact that she gets to live out her dream every day and call it a job.
In 2017, esteemed director, Luis Téllez set out to complete a stop motion animation film that tells the story of a black pawn who watches the chessboard around him crumble when a game ends due to the battles it has been subjected to. This, in turn, creates a new opportunity for both sides in a “game” that gathers new dimensions. The character that Téllez was looking to portray was one he had had in mind for the better part of seven years. His issue was the he couldn’t seem to make the character fit anywhere. It wasn’t until he and Mendez began discussing the feelings that human beings undergo when something undesirable happens to them. They determined that the true signs of character show in the way in which an individual reacts to these situations and from there, Mendez and Téllez knew that they had to bring this character, and these realities, to life before their audiences. What followed ended up shaping one of the best experiences of Mendez’ career.
“After we decided where we wanted to go with the script, it was fascinating to watch crew members of all different ages, from all different walks of life, come together. I am a fan of animation, but it definitely amounted to a very significant learning process. In many ways, I learned to appreciate animators and the work that they do in ways I hadn’t previously understood. Animation sets are so different than live-action sets. There are issues that arise from the puppets or software that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter on a live set. This had a large impact on the day-to-day decisions we made and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” she described.
For the film, Mendez proved herself to be invaluable as she handled regular production duties that had to do with scheduling, organization, and more; however, she also managed to attract investors to the project and have them help fund she and Téllez’ dream for the script. Her philosophy, as a producer, is to always lead by example and set a precedent for everyone around her. She remains respectful and welcoming, always ensuring that she fosters an environment of open communication, hard work, and dedication. She also aims to hire people based on both their abilities, as well as their personalities. Above all else, however, she prioritizes the selection of projects that reflect what is going on in society and to help spread awareness of major and minor issues alike.
Mendez, being a very detail-oriented individual, gained a new-found appreciation for the level of detail that goes into producing a stop-motion animation. She dedicated herself to learning how to shoot a stop-motion scene properly and planned her timelines and budgets accordingly. Ultimately, what she loved most about the project, was the fact that every day on set served as a reminder that we have the technology and resources available to tell just about any story out there and given her passion for storytelling, she can’t think of anything more exciting.
“Production-wise, it was an honor to be able to immerse myself in the world of animation and I gained a new-found respect for all the animators, designers, and visual effects people working in the industry. Story-wise, I loved to be able to tell such a crude and real story via such an innocent art form. I’m a very detail-oriented person and I was impressed by the amount of detail that went into it. In general, I was reminded that due to technological advances and the software we used, our own imagination is the limit, which pretty much instilled in me that I could potentially tell any kind of story in the future,” told Mendez.
When Viva el Rey premiered at Sitges Film Festival in 2017, audiences were drawn to its relatable storyline and expert animations. It later screened at other film festivals around the world and is still completing a festival circuit today. Mendez’s success with the film is the reason that she was asked to work with the same team again for their latest project, Inzomnia. She is eager to learn how audiences will receive the new film and hopes it will be just as great as the result of their work on Viva el Rey. Keep an eye out when it premieres in festivals near you.
Written by Joyce Cameron