30 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director John Butler Talks 'Papi Chulo' with IFTN
07 Jun 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Writer/director John Butler
IFTN caught up with Irish director John Butler to find out more about the inspiration behind his third feature film ‘Papi Chulo’, working with an Irish production in LA and other projects on the horizon.

The film, which releases in Irish cinemas this Friday, June 7th, had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival last August and sees the Irish filmmaker return to the themes of empathy and unlikely friendship in his first feature shot outside of Ireland.  The film is the third collaboration between Butler and Treasure Entertainment following his hit comedies ‘Handsome Devil’ and ‘The Stag’.

Cast adrift in Los Angeles, Sean – a lonely TV weatherman (Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer – 'Will & Grace', 'The Nice Guys', 'Magic Mike') drives past a middle-aged Latino migrant worker (Alejandro Patiño – 'Desperate Housewives', 'Always Sunny in Philadelphia') standing outside a hardware store looking for work.  He decides to hire this kind-looking man – to be his friend.  Sean is young, gay and white; Ernesto, portly, straight and married.  Despite having nothing in common and the language barrier, they build a sort of friendship – until Sean becomes consumed with a deeper obsessive need. The film is a heart-warming and poignant tale of finding friendship in the most unlikely places.

‘Papi Chulo’ is produced by Rebecca O’Flanagan and Robert Walpole of Treasure Entertainment. Cathal Watters features as DoP, with John Connor as editor, music by John McPhillips, production design by Susannah Honey and costume design by Joanna David.

‘Papi Chulo’ received financing from Screen Ireland, Head Gear Films, RTÉ and Windmill Lane.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Butler to find out more about the film.

IFTN: The setting of the story is quite a departure from your previous feature films. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the setting of this film?

John: “Yes, I just spent a lot of time in LA through work and I lived there for a while too and I love it. I started relying towards it, I suppose. That's why I've spent time there through work and the idea just manifested over time. Also, I've seen the relationship between the white middle-class and working-class Latino communities there. I've driven past Home Depot and seen the guys standing outside looking for work. I took some immediate inspiration from that and also certain relationship things in my own life as well. It's a combination of the place and the people that have been giving me the inspiration.”

IFTN: So your research was very much shaped by your own experience having been over there?

John: “Yes. Well, it wasn't that I decided to make a film about any particular type of people and then started to research. It was more like it just became really interesting to me through being there. Although I've been working in TV stations before, I was also very interested in the on-air talent and the public face that they have to present to the world that's always smiling, even when there are difficult things going on in their life. It was just from personal experience and place.”

IFTN: Although the film is based in LA, the movie is very much an Irish production with a prominent Irish crew. What was the experience like working abroad with such an Irish influence?

John: “It was great. We brought over our camera department, our first AD, sound and all the Treasure Entertainment production people also, so we had a little bit of Irish base over there and then we hired the rest of the HODs in LA. It's great to go to Hollywood and make a film about LA and about a part of LA that is very much underrepresented over there. It was a real thrill for us. Also, just personally, it was great to be bringing over those people that I love working with so much and getting to work in America with them. That was a great achievement.”

IFTN: How exactly did that work logistically - bringing an Irish crew over to America that is - Were there any complications or did it all run very smoothly?

John: “It was pretty smooth. That's a question for the producers really, but in terms of the practicalities, we were living in the same big house in Silver Lake in LA. Everybody stayed in the same place. There was a transport hired for the equipment that was brought over and then the rest of it was hired locally. Then all the local-specific stuff that we needed like locations and wardrobe, and so on, was hired out there, but it went well. When you have good producers, you're shielded from whatever problems are going on behind the scenes. As far as I can tell, it went very smoothly.”

IFTN: The film stars Golden Globe-winning actor, Matt Bomer, and Alejandro Patino. How exactly did they get involved in the project?

John: “I sent the script to Matt's manager and got a response from him and Matt very quickly, which was fantastic. Then we did a Skype and then I met him in LA and he signed up pretty quickly afterwards. That was pretty painless, and that's great, because then we could see a way in which the film was going to get made. We hired an American casting director called Barbara McCarthy to cast the other roles. She got tapes from various actors and Alejandro's was the first tape that I saw. His performance was so warm and compelling and interesting that I immediately knew he was the guy I wanted to work with. I was very lucky with the leads.”

IFTN: I interviewed Cathal Watters, the DoP on ‘Papi Chulo’, a few months back and he spoke to me about how a specific focus was put on using anamorphic lenses and lens flare to create a very dreamlike, aspirational aesthetic in the film. Could you expand on that?

John: “Yes, we wanted to use anamorphic lenses and the lenses Cathal had in question bring with them a certain aesthetic. LA to me is a very atmospheric, woozy, dreamlike place anyway. I always find the atmosphere of the place is dreamlike. That has always countered to how people often perceive it as this fast-moving, very rapid, very superficial city. To me, the parts that I like or the LA that I know is it seems to almost be like walking through quicksand.”

“Visually Cathal and I spoke about this. It was great during prep to drive around LA with Cathal and to experience these places that I'd known so well and to show him what I meant. He just understood that so well. We wanted to go for lens flare - not quite J.J.Abrams levels… but some, and also for the film not to be hyper-saturated so you can really feel the brown of the hills, the type that you get when the drought is there. We had a brown and blue palette.”

“You're making a film about loneliness and a guy who's going mad, that's really about an absence in the brain. Cathal really understood that very clearly as well. It was a very close collaboration with him. He's a joy to work with and he really understood our storytelling level, what I was trying to do. That was a real pleasure.”

IFTN: You continue to have a very fruitful relationship with Treasure Entertainment. This is your third feature film with Treasure, alongside another two in development – ‘Kids These Days and Bi Bi Baby Is that correct?

John: “Yes, they are in very early-stage of development. They are film ideas that will happen any decade now! They're still at the early writing stage. I love working with Rob and Rebecca, and with Treasure, in general. They've been great and we've got on great so far so I'm very happy to able to continue working with them.”

IFTN: What other projects that you have upcoming?

John: I have a film in development with Element at the moment, which is a Christmas film, an ensemble film. Then I have a couple of TV ideas. One's set in America, one in London. I was also just working with Stephen Merchant on a show for BBC as well. There's a few things out there.

Eclipse Pictures releases ‘Papi Chulo’ in Irish cinemas from June 7th.

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