Interview: Felipe Bustos Sierra on Three-Legged Horses
Felipe Bustos Sierra, the writer, director and producer of Edinburgh-based short film Three Legged Horses, discusses a development process which has seen the production reach the editing stage minus one key element...the theme to Rocky.
Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me about your background?
Felipe Bustos Sierra: My father's Chilean, a political exile who fled from Pinochet's '73 coup and found a home in Belgium where I was born. I've been traveling for most of my 20s and settling in Edinburgh. I've been doing little films since I was 16, rarely professionally, mostly elaborate home-movies with friends.
I'd never stay in one place long enough, until I got to Edinburgh. That was six years ago. I started Debasers Filums about a year with friends I'd work with on other projects. We made our first short Tixeon in January 2010. Three-Legged Horses is our second short.
How did you get involved in pedicabbing?
Just lucky, I guess! I'd done it briefly in Dublin in the summer of 2001 and kept great memories from it. It looked like Ireland was about the qualify for the next World Cup, U2 were back doing their homecoming gigs at Slane Castle and the atmosphere in town every night was electric. It's also a great vantage point to observe the night life and the little stories that happen there. A couple of of them ended up in 'Three-Legged Horses'.
What inspired the film?
Most of it is based on my own experiences as a rickshaw driver in Edinburgh, but there's one moment in particular that I'll never forget and provided the climactic scene for the film. I took three drunk lads from Manchester on a ridiculous journey through town, ending at the 'pubic triangle'. They were an awful bunch and I wouldn't have taken them on at any other time, except that I'd had no lifts that night and needed to make some money to pay for the rickshaw's hire. This was soon after the Fringe, I'd been working most nights and my knee was killing me.
Halfway up West Port, one of the steepest streets in the town centre, as I was considering giving up, this guy appeared at the top of the road, very drunk. He saw me, started clapping and began singing the theme from Rocky, Gonna Fly Now. He was so loud, he attracted a bit of a crowd and together, still singing, they pushed my rickshaw all the way to the top. It was the best thing that'd ever happening to me pedicabbing. I've wanted to make a film about that moment since then.
How long did it take from having the initial idea to the writing of the script, budgeting, casting, etc?
I've had the idea since then - 2007 - but the process of making this film started in earnest in June 2010. I'd finished my first short, Tixeon, and it'd just been accepted into its first film festival. The initial thing was to check if we could afford the rights to the Rocky Theme. It evolved from there. I set up the first crowdfunding campaign in October, on Kickstarter, and we filmed for a week in November. It's in post-production now which should last until February.
Did you approach any organisation for funding?
We received some money from the Anonimul International Film Festival when they gave their Jury Prize to Tixeon. That was our first big push. The week later, the UK Film Council was abolished, so we had little hope. It's why crowd-funding - looking for dozens, hundreds of small investors and offering them project-related incentives, rather than financial returns - became so vital for us.
I got in touch with anyone I'd ever met and anyone slightly related to pedicabbing and busking. Kickstarter funded the shooting and Sponsume, which is still ongoing for the next THREE days, is funding the music rights. We're halfway there. It's going to be tight!
You've set yourself a task of using the Rocky theme for the finale of the film - why that music? What will happen if you can't get the rights?
The reactions to that particular tune are so strong and immediate. It's part of our cultural consciousness. It makes people happy. We had a great moment shooting that particular scene. We were on Johnston Terrace, just underneath the castle, holding the traffic. It was tense. The three actors playing the passengers were slowly going numb from the cold.
We had about 30 extras and local brass band Orkestra del Sol playing the buskers. Such a big cast and crew for such a low budget. We had much to film that day, we were looking at a very long night and everyone was getting a little grumpy. When we rolled on the first take of that moment, when the buskers start playing Gonna Fly Now, you could feel everyone lightening up. We all knew that, no matter what, this moment would click. That song works wonders.
We can't show the film publicly if we don't get the rights. This film has had so many obstacles in its way and we've managed to get this far. We'll get the rights eventually. Ideally with Sponsume, as we would have it ready on time for the big film festivals.
How do you plan to release the film and distribute it?
I made a long spreadsheet of film festivals we sent Tixeon to. The one for Three-Legged Horses is three times the size of it. People get excited just hearing the original story. It'll find an audience.
What has been the hardest part of the process so far?
This project has received so much support already, it's very much been a community effort. Most of the crew was made of friends who were working on a film set for the first time. The actors were brilliant, very committed, considering the conditions and zero money.
Filming was pretty tough. There were 25 pages to film in five nights of Scottish November, 14 speaking parts, one stunt. I didn't go to film school, everything I know about film-making, I learned from watching films or making my own. There were a lot of moments where I realize there were things we couldn't do within the time and resources we had, which was tough, but we got through it okay.
I'm very proud of it and everyone involved.
Visit the film's Sponsume page to find out more about Three-Legged Horses.
Watch the Three-Legged Horses trailer:
Watch the making of Three-Legged Horses:
BTS stills by Graham Clark