Interviews

New York through the lenses (an interview with Alex Mercado)

It was a really long path to this interview… and it’s been all down to a Alex’s post in a Facebook group dedicated to independent filmmakers which I’d spotted by a chance.

I usually prefer watching full features, and not really into short movies, but for some strange reason I’ve clicked on the link to his Youtube channel and watched his latest short “A Thousand Hands”. Boy, was that creepy.

So I haven’t wasted time and shot a message to Alex enquiring about the possible interview and waited for his reply. And waited… Unfortunately, as it is sometimes with Facebook, my message to him has not shown in his notifications. Therefore, Alex has been able to respond to my message only by the end of October.

Is this a problem? Not at all! I am more than happy to introduce this talented filmmaker to you, my beloved readers of the Rubber Axe webzine. Enjoy!

Well, hello, Alex, thanks for your time doing this interview!! I know the very first question is not very original, but I’ll ask it anyway… For those who have no idea who Alex Mercado is, what would you say to them? What do you want people to know about you?
Hello to everyone, my name is Alex Mercado, I am an artist/Filmmaker from New York. You can find many of my films and designs at youtube.com/midnightpatrolfilm, mercadodesign.tumblr.com and @alexmercadodesign on Instagram

I guess it’s safe to say you are all about art. And I am not exaggerating, as you are an illustrator, a photographer and a filmmaker. Where this pre-occupation with art work comes from? Is there a tradition of art creating in your family? Or you’ve been just inspired to one day just sit down and start doing things?

The occupation of art did not come from family, they never discouraged me. I grew up with a wide array of influences from comic books, films and novels. I was very much a weird child, I found escaping reality much more pleasant. It nurtured my storytelling capabilities which I continue in my creative process. Starting out, I would read marvel comics, Archie and eventually find Manga as a child. I wanted to see a larger world beyond my small apartment in the Bronx. Thoughts of being a hero, saving the universe. Sure they were informed by a dull existence, but they presented to me the need to be creative. I couldn’t have been the only kid out there who wanted to know what it was to soar among the clouds, to have a freedom to do anything. That is the best thing about imagination, you use it
and can share it with others to unlock a passion. I tried my best at drawing to contain on paper what I had in my mind, but I really did not get a good professional look to it until college.
Music is my biggest influence, I can’t think of one project I have done that has not been inspired by music… too many bands to list.


Let’s start with the illustrations, as I think there’s where we should start. I really like those you’ve shown on your blog https://alexmercado.blogspot.com/, and with some of those in a form of a comic scene, have you ever thought about writing/illustrating comic books?
I love comic books, now more, the contained graphic novels or manga. I found that Manga was much more adult in it’s craft of character development and plot. European graphic novels also have awesome stories in them, very film-like.
I would love to sit down and draw entire comic books based on scripts I have done but I have little patience. Which is something I have to work on for sure. The closest thing I have done to comics are thirty-one page serials once every October (on my social media) telling a horror story. I storyboard a lot for music videos and short films so those tend to be very comic-book like, then again those are paid, so I have to be disciplined. Haha. I do though, have plans to get comic books going. I have only so far done a series of dark humor picture books with my friend called “Chicken Sh!t”. Our company is called Moustache and Girth, very subversive and strange but funny. I think its important as an illustrator to do all types of stories, and my illustration styles are different upon my mood for it.

The other illustrations are interesting as well, and I am pleasantly surprised that I can even see an illustration (namely of that bare-breasted Afro-American woman), which has reminded me of the illustrations done by the great Czech illustrator Kája Saudek. Now, obviously, many artists don’t really want to talk about their inspirations or idols (whether for the fear of bing acussed of plagiarism or simply because they want to present themselves as totally original), but when starting, did you have someone you want to follow in the illustrating style?

Thank you so much, a compliment looking at Kaja’s work. I love to talk about artists that inspire me. Who would we be without the people that have shepherded the next group.
There’s an artist named Balzac who said that if people use or borrow art they in a sense are adding to the original artist’s immortality. I, of course, don’t mean outright plagiarism or any of that crap. I mean being aware of your influences but putting enough of your own creativity in it, that it is like a wonderful new recipe.
The artists, strangely enough that inspired me are so incredibly different I don’t even know they can be seen in my drawings Robert Crumb is an Icon of underground art, his crosshatching black and white style and fearless storytelling is second to none. Akira Toriyama of dragonball fame had given me a sense of wonder and adventure. I used to read this American anthology series called HEAVY-METAL which had many different artists. Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) Todd Mcfarlane (SPAWN) Tim Vigil (FAUST) Junji Ito (SPIRAL) Mark Bagley (Spider-man) Now you can look at all those artists and be like, my art looks nothing like theirs but I definitively have collected my initial skills in design from them all. There is an action and sensibility in all their works that is very much inspiring.

It’s only natural to progress from the illustration to photography, at least to me. Being New York resident, one would assume you have a plenty of opportunities to take some great pictures (although, I’d argue, it’s mostly down to the iconic face of New York)…but you seem to like portraits, right? It shows in the movie we’re gonna talk about little later, and obviously, that helps you with the design of your short movie posters… are you self-taught or do you have any formal background in digital arts?

I am very aesthetic driven. New York City, fortunately, is a multicultural and architectural center of design. Every street is different, every person looks different. You can be a different personality any day of the week there. I do like portraits, rarely do I get to do them unless they are film. I actually like architecture photography though. To see these landscapes, these buildings all alone, devoid of people.
I’m really not good at drawings cities, so maybe this is my way of making up for that. If I do take photographs of people I tend to do it as documenting. I am very much self taught, that is probably why I do make many mistakes when making certain projects. Remember, there is a Youtube tutorial for everything so keep doing whatever you want!

I understand the rapid development of technology and its availability leads from one thing to another, and I believe it was the same with your progression from drawing to photography and, eventually, to film-making. When did you start seriously considering shooting movies? And, of course, I can’t but ask about the influences…are you (or have you been) influenced by particular director’s work, a genre or some movie to start your film-maker’s journey?

Strangely how I got into film was pretty unconventional. In high school I had my weird friends and I who loved metal and horror films so we made a short horror film with a vhs-c camera I begged my parents for. I would edit off of two VCR’s. It was tedious, but I was so obsessed with movies, that it didn’t bother me. I tried to make a feature and did about 60% of it on vhs-c and I have it in boxes somewhere, I would like to remake that film it’s absurdist horror.
I became a little disillusioned by that experience at how easily a film can fall apart when people you’re not paying can lose interest. Of course, who wants to be dictated to by anyone if you’re doing it for free?!
So I sort of let the film directing go aside. I went to college where I focused on my art and actually got much better at it. I got a job working at a movie theater, where a coworker of mine introduced me to his friend who is a director also. Seeing these guys, really inspired me to get back into telling stories through film. Since I had been doing art from college (I went to Fashion Institute of Design) I would take storyboarding work, i’d do it for low pay, if they would allow me on set to observe the process of filmmaking. I kept doing that and bought equipment and slowly began building my skills as a filmmaker.
As for directors, man, there are too many. Very influential, though, is Takashi Miike. He is a director from Japan like no other. He has done every type of film, in every genre but it is uniquely his style. He made one of the most repulsive masterpieces I have ever seen, ICHI THE KILLER. It is not for everyone.
Filmmakers I admire also, David Fincher (social network, se7en, Zodiac) Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) Martin Scorsese, Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue)
Also two very important films from two different types of genres that are rarely if never spoken about that influenced me are these: “The Gate” (1987) by Tibor Takacs, a very effective horror film with kids, and “Hangin’ with the Homeboys” (1991) a dramedy of four guys heading into the city to party by Joseph B. Vasquez. Both those films informed my use of unsettling, minimalist horror and complex characters.

A Thousand Hands screenshot

Your drawings and paintings can be described as somewhat macabre and/or creepy and in your short story “A Thousand Hands” you continue this theme. As you know, it was the first short from you I’ve had the opportunity to see, so let’s talk about this one. It’s your latest one, and personally, I’ve enjoyed it a lot (it generates that creepy J-horror vibe, you know). So, how did you get the idea for this little creepy short?
Thanks so much for the reference to J-Horror, it certainly has origins in that. Well the idea was actually thought of in the early 2000’s. Originally it was a person finding an instant camera randomly on the street that had eerie images on the photos when he went to process them. I sort of let it go to the side like many ideas. Of course as time has gone on, technology changes. I went back to the idea because it was pretty simple. It had to be a little more sinister, change the instant camera to a usb card.
I wanted the protagonist to be the only one who saw these images. As soon as you try to look into the card or take it to someone else, the photos are gone. Whether or not the force taking the photos in this is supernatural or not is to the audience’s guess.
Strangely enough as we were on the final day of filming there was an actual case of a person finding a usb on the street and it contained the murder of a woman on it. Thankfully, they found the guy and arrested him. It was very strange to hear about that while we were making this “scary” movie.

Shooting the short you’ve worked again with Stephania Papadopoulos…you’ve worked with her on your previous movie “The Things I’ve Learned About Heartbreak” (2019). What can you tell me about that co-operation? How did you two meet and what made you to ask her to act in your movie again?

Stephania Papadopoulos

Stephania is a great person, working without looking for recognition and very serious. I met her through a mutual associate for “The Things…”. I worked with the DP of A Thousand Hands (Byron Guinanzaca) and I connected them. Let me reiterate strongly. ATH could not be done without Byron, the way it looks. He is such a good guy, and incredibly talented. (bagastudios.com) If he had said no when I asked him to make it, It would not look the same. With him on it, I had the courage to ask Stephania to be on it. She is so talented and intelligent, brings a lot to a film set. Ideas, encouragement. I made the film without dialogue so it could play internationally, I asked if she wanted some lines in it She knew it wasn’t necessary and went through. Very grateful to have her on it, she really will be giant in the industry, she and Byron.

A life of an independent film-maker is probably not the easiest one, even with the aforementioned availability of technology allowing one to achieve things in movie using the bedroom computer (which previously was something unthinkable). You, personally, what do you consider the most difficult aspect of independent filmmaking (cue Abba and “Money, money, money”… 🙂 ) and what’s most engaging, most interesting one?

Money is obviously the be all end all of that question. You want to take care of your crew, you want to show them you appreciate their willingness to believe in you as a filmmaker. That is the number one responsibility of a filmmaker (besides obviously telling a story) is making sure you prove these people didn’t make a mistake in being part of a film. T-R-U-S-T. Money and Scheduling are possibly the most difficult aspect. Also try to do different things, I bought a keyboard and made the soundtrack, learn all types of art. Once the whole thing is filmed though, I find editing to be the most serene and wonderful part of it. A lot of people hate editing, but I think its the best part of it. You get to shape the story… originally the short was 15 mins but you push yourself to a clean 10 minutes. You learn something new about yourself and film when you edit.

So far you’re making shorts… I guess it would be useless to ask if you want to shoot a full feature, but still, any plans for a feature in the near future? If so, are you already working on one? Scripting, scouting locations, etc…?

Yeah I have to take it seriously, clearly a feature. I have done my time in shorts (and I will still make them) But the challenge is to make a full length film. The current state of the world is essentially telling people that nothing is guaranteed, so when hopefully, things are back to somewhat normal…. get off your ass and create! I am on post production of a feature dystopian thriller (part of a linear anthology so I’m one of five directors on it) and recently co-directed another short called SHELTER with a brilliant artist named Gemma Fleming (it was released in October) I have many ideas for films in many genres, and well there’s nothing else to do but get on it. Now if we’ll still have theaters to show them…..

Before we are finished with this little interview…what is your advice to any aspiring filmmaker?
Observe. Observe. Observe. Don’t be a mean person, in turn do not be weak. Fight for your ideas while not trying to crush others. Kindness goes a lot of way in film, especially to your crew. But be strong, show you believe in yourself. Write, even if you don’t write, write. Find writers that inspire your, befriend writers. always find a reason to create. The world is enormous. You will find your place in it as a creative. Someone will always find you.

Alex, many thanks for your time answering those questions, any final message to our readers?
I want to thank you for letting me ramble about the things I care about. I want you to look ahead to a future that you can exist in unafraid of being who you are. We are only on one planet, we’ve got one life. Make something of it, find a way to be creatively satisfied. Be that light in the darkness, even if that darkness is what brings the light.

Rudolf Schütz

A father to two little perpetuum mobiles called kids, Rudolf is a main force behind The Rubber Axe webzine, a bookworm, musick lover and a movie fan - not to mention his virgin forays into the comics and board/card games.

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