It started out as a joke I'd tell my friends: "If I don't start making more money soon, I'm going to have to start dealing drugs." And then one day, I realized there was a great story there. What about two Americans who move to Bolivia and are forced by circumstances to make their own cocaine — and who eventually become really successful at it. The nice thing about fiction is that you can live out your fantasies without getting arrested.
The pilot was shot on location entirely in Bolivia in the cities of La Paz, El Alto and Copacabana.
The 16 kids who play Marty's orphans live in a children's home for victims of physical and sexual abuse. They were very sweet and very troubled and I wanted to adopt all of them. Oh, and they couldn't grasp the concept of a "pilot" and kept calling it "the movie." Eventually we all started calling it "the movie."
On set, everyone worked with a bilingual script. The dialogue was in English so the actors knew what to say, but all actions were written in Spanish so that they crew members knew what they were going to shoot. Most of the crew members, including the director of photography, didn't speak English. I would give detailed instructions in Spanish, yell "Acción" and then Meg would say, "Sorry, what am I supposed to do?" I often forgot that she didn't speak Spanish.
One of our biggest challenges was finding actors who spoke English. We had two options: Fly people in from the States or find Bolivians who spoke English without an accent. Guess what our budget decided on. Pictured above is half-Bolivian/half-Brazilian actor Fernando Arze who plays Jim, the thesis advisor. He had a part in a movie and was involved in three theater shows at the time of our shoot. To get him to find time to participate in our show, I used an old-fashioned tactic: I begged and begged and begged.
This woman was so excited she was going to be in a "movie," she got all made up and even painted her nails fuscia for the part. It was easy enough washing away her blue eye shadow, but we didn't have time to go out and buy nail polish remover. Fortunately, it occurred to me to put a scarf on the little girl, which covered up our nun's sexy, manicured hands.
There is a scene in which Sam finds a note from Marty taped to a door. I chose this wall cause I thought it was pretty and very Bolivian. What I hadn't counted on was the owner coming home in the middle of our shoot. There he is looking very confused, wondering why someone left a note on his door in English. He stood there for about five minutes trying to figure it out till one of the crew members explained what was going on and offered to pay him a nominal fee to let us continue shooting there.
The 25 kids who play Francoise's orphans came from a Catholic dance group in El Alto. To ensure the children's cooperation, I told the head of the parish that our show was about two Peace Corps volunteers who behave very badly. I neglected to mention the whole drug lord business. I am going to hell for sure.
Bernardo Peña plays the role of Grover, a melancholy poet/drug dealer. He's a Bolivian actor who grew up in the States. He's been on Law & Order and Passions. I was lucky that he was on an extended trip to La Paz at the time of our shoot. He is the nicest guy ever. All the crew members loved him.
Francoise is the annoyingly perfect French international aid worker who always makes our heroines look bad. In episode one, she's embarked on an anti-drug campaign to save the village, which makes finding drugs especially tough for Sam and Marty. I wrote this part for Elisabeth Salazar, a half-Bolivian/half-Belgian actress who's been my friend for years. She has the lead role in several of my short films as well. As a side note, Eli studied industrial engineering in Switzerland and acting in Los Angeles.
Cecile Montalvan is a Bolivian actress who told me she wanted to work on the crew to learn what goes on behind the camera. She always came to set looking more put together than the majority of our cast. There she is holding a boom while wearing her high heels.
These are the llamas that did not make it into the pilot. They simply couldn't be bothered to stop eating and look at the camera. Their friend, not pictured here, had what can only be considered a llama panic attack, when he started bucking like crazy and sent crew members fleeing in all directions. We had a few camelid problems, to say the least. (Meg Barbor is the human in this photo.)