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Live: ‘Book of Life’ Director Jorge Gutierrez

You’re listening to Port of Entry…

Where we tell cross-border stories that connect us.

BEAT

For this episode, we’re doing something a lil different.

We’re airing a conversation we had in front of a live youtube audience awhile back...with none other than Jorge Gutierrez.

Jorge grew up crossing the border between Tijuana and San Diego….and he’s an impressive human…

He lives in LA now and has worked his way into being one of the most acclaimed border artists working today….

He’s the the director of the gorgeously animated movie, “The Book of Life”

He and his wife Sandra Equihua are the creators of the hit Nickelodeon show “El Tigre”....

And he’s got some new, exciting projects coming out on Netflix very soon…

One of those projects…. Maya and the Three...will be out in October.

CLIP FROM TRAILER

We’ll get to our live and very lively conversation with Jorge Gutierrez…after a quick break.

No se vayan.

MIDROLL 1

Gracias por quedarte con nosotros.

So, I am super excited to see a full episode of Jorge’s “Maya and the Three” series on Netflix.

It’s a fantasy tale about a warrior princess that pulls inspiration from a lot of mesoamerican mythology and imagery.

The animation is uniquely beautiful and very soulful, and the cast reads like a menu of some of my favorite latin actors - Zoe Saldaña, Diego Luna, Gael garcia Bernal, Danny Trejo, just to name a few.

OK...so...let’s get to it….

Can you tell us a little bit more about how this came about and the quick summary of the, this epic quest you're taking this princess on?

Absolutely. Uh, so, you know, I I'm originally from Mexico city and I moved to the was a little bit. And one of the things that happens too, I think there are a lot of Mexicans.

Is that the further you get away from the center, the more you romanticize it, seeing a lot of the imagery of a handsome astic man holding the beautiful lady with the bubble, uh, you know, volcano behind them. All those images that I saw in Colby has, and then the side vans and, you know, tattoos and everywhere.

I always kept going like, wow, the women are, are just the object of desire and they're the price or the they're never, the war are the warrior women. A lot of this stuff is mythology. Why are there no more women? And so I looked into a lot of the myths, especially the Aztec warrior is such a huge part of Mexico.

It's in the money. It's in the soccer teams, it's everywhere. So I said, I think, I think we should have. Mythology. And I'm going to create this warrior princess and it's going to be a metaphor for it today. And it's going to be a metaphor for the history of, of the women in Mexico, who don't get credit for being warriors and just be married to a Mexican man.

You're already a warrior. You already, already deserve a medal. So all the, all the women in my life, my grand mom, my mom, my wife, my sister, I mean the lives they live, these are warrior women. So I wanted to honor them with the show.

Oh, that's beautiful, man. I think that's incredible because like we were talking about it a little bit before, uh, storytelling is so much more than entertainment, you know, I think if we want a lot of these societal issues to, to shift to a more harmonious place, the storytellers have a huge responsibility. The stories we tell shape our future. So I'm super stoked to see that, uh, I hear is going to have a soundtrack that includes a lot of metal music.

Oh, hell yeah. Is, uh, Gustavo and he's working with, uh, another composer named Tim Davies from Australia. And, you know, we start with was very much a part of the nineties sort of rocking Hispaniola era of music that I was in high school and all those things happen.

I joke with them that. I lost my virginity to his soundtrack. Uh, when I would tell him that he, he, he would like just shake his head, but all that influence obviously. And so there's metal cause to me, you know, there's a lot of metal bands and especially in south America that were huge. So all that made it into the show and all those ideas.

That culture is fluid and culture evolves to a kid today. And the music from the nineties is ancient. So that's ancient music now. So that, that was a big part of that. Mm.

Yeah, it sounds like, I mean, in a, in a lot of your work, I can see this, but it sounds like in my end, the three, there's going to be a lot of, kind of mishmash of Mexican American pop culture, indigenous folklore, all kind of meshed into this story.

Yeah. I mean, that, that was another big thing that I, you know, in book of life, Some people were a little shocked to see our main character, seeing a Radiohead song in the middle of a bull fight in 1910 in Mexico. And I said, if I, if I used an authentic song of that time, no one would know it. But by taking things that I lived through and remixes them right.

Basically you're appropriating the soul of what those songs meant into the context of the movie. Then you, you, you get to introduce him to a whole new generation and you get to introduce the duality of honestly, the border. Right? Cause I heard creep sang by mariachis and I said, look how great that song is.

It went somewhere else. And I remember at the time I didn't know any better. So I put it in the script and , who's a producer said, you're not going to get the song. They denied the song to fund. So quite often they denied me the song. There's no way in hell you're going to get the phone. So I wrote, I wrote the band and we sent them a video of the moment in the movie.

And I explained how that song was basically my, my war cry as a teenager when I didn't think I belonged and how much it meant to me. And, uh, how, as a kid in the corner, that was literally my little flag that I. Um, and Tom York said, yeah, you can use it based on that. So I am eternally thankful to Radiohead.

And after that, every band that we asked who was on the fence about letting us use their songs, we would say, oh, So you think you're better than Radiohead? Is that what Tom York said? Yes,

that's incredible. Yeah. It seems like just having grown up at the border and crossing the border, I'm sure on the way to school and on and all that, it seems like a lot of that, the bright and wild, colorful vision that you see at the border are very influential in your work. And I know in this book of yours that I have right here, border bang, you shout at the border. And like all the border vendors who we've spent a lot of time talking to and their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, how, how they're like they seize on pop culture and taking on the zeitgeists, you know, and any characters, movie stars, rock stars, and kind of make, make them their own and are able to make a living off of them Support their families. It seems like this mish-mash kind of like culture is fluid, like you said, has very much influenced your work. Can you tell me about like how, how crossing the border if that's accurate?

So literally, uh, you know, as a kid, as a nine-year-old crossing that border, you know, two hours every day to go to school, You're a sponge and I would absorb everything that the vendors had. So seeing Tupac next to SpongeBob next to Bob Marley, next to Scarface. Next to chapel, the Lord show. A lot of times, I didn't know who the people were. And I, I would sort of decipher, like, why is Mickey mouse next to the Virgin, Mary? Like all those images got tattooed on my, on my eyes and then the borders alive.

Right. So I remember when, you know, when Kurt Cobain passed away immediately, all this Kurt Cobain stuff started popping up. It's almost like the border honored him with the bootleg. The like were laying down for him. And I remember it, you know, same thing with saline. Uh, was murdered. All the Salinas stuff started coming out.

You would know who, what teams are doing well, because all their stuff was selling. It was like the border was alive and who they chose to to honor. And who, by the way, who they chose to vilify. Right. So in Halloween, have you saw, uh, costumes? Basically the border were saying, yeah, the president of Mexico is the devil, right?

Like all, I mean, all these immediate reactions that as a kid really informed me really informed. The way I see characters and the way I see color mixing things is in our DNA. I think as border kids, having grown up with one foot on each side, you kind of get used to that back and forth every day and then be able to, to go look at what happens to American culture when it comes down here, but then looking at what happens to American culture when it's recontextualized and represented to an American audience, um, you know, Bart Sanchez from the Simpsons.

That happening. I love all that stuff because to me, culture is evolution. And so grabbing these things and making them your own, your own. That's, that's the one that right. That's that's San Diego. That's the hybrid state we get to live in.

Yeah. It's such a fascinating thing. No matter how many hours I've spent talking about the border, I never get tired of it. Cause it, it has this like paradoxical nature where the fact that there is a border. The artists of this region kind of borderless like your, our imaginations become very boundless, which is such a wild thing that this border creates.

Yeah. It's like the, the vision allows us to grab from both, which is very rare.

And, you know, I always say be Quanah is the last corner of Latin America, the whole continent, all the, it ends there. The funnel is like everything's funneling through. Right. And the U S probably one of the most influential. Cultures in the world. Again, it was right there. Right? Los Angeles is two hours away where a lot of the music industry, film industry.

So the fact that these two forces are constantly at each other, I think that's where the magic happen. Mm. Yeah. I completely agree. It's a fascinating place. Um, before we continue, I want to go back. Yeah. As I understand it, your dad was born in Tijuana, but he moved to Mexico city to study architecture and you were born there, but then he, for some reason was called back to Tijuana.

Do you remember what that move was like and why, why your dad decided to go back to the corner? Yeah, you know, it was, uh, it was early eighties, uh, 84 and my dad having grown up in the planet and, you know, there was no universities in decline at that time. So he studied architecture in Mexico city started doing pretty well.

Met my mom. They got married. And then he said in Mexico city is crazy. There's too. It's just too crazy. I want to go home. I want to, I want to basically convince my mother to return to the corner. I was nine years old. My sister was 10. It was a huge move. I mean, for a kid at that age, especially Mexico city was, was our home.

So coming to the corner. Was really powerful. Uh, my dad wasn't doing well economically at that time. So we, we went from living in a house to live in an apartment. It was a huge change. We had gone to, uh, a school in Mexico city that was supposed to be bilingual, but my parents didn't speak English. So they didn't know any better that we weren't learning English.

We didn't know they were little kids as soon as we come to, uh, to be quiet. And this is, you know, They just didn't like people from Mexico city. Do you want, I was a little, a little closed minded back then, so we couldn't get accepted into any schools in China. So then what a lot of middle-class parents do, they get a student visa for their kids, so they can go to study in San Diego.

So we were sent through a Catholic schools and again, the nuns would say, what is your name? And I'd be like, oh, okay. And real, why were you born? Hi, what's your favorite food? Hi, and share enough. These kids are naughty. So they, they put us in a school in San Ysidro, in the middle, basically for kids who didn't know English very well and knew Spanish.

And that's kind of where we learn English, but I learned English watching. Cartoons because I became obsessed with that stuff. And you know, if you told that kid, because I got held back two years, that's how that's how bad I was. If you pulled that, keep that one day, someone will pay you to write, like, it's insane to me that that eventually happened.

But being as it was, was pretty shocking. And then I always say, I didn't know, I was Mexican until I crossed into the U S. That was the first time someone explained it to me like, oh, you're not from here. You're from over there. You're not an American, you're a Mexican, like I, again, at nine years old, you're starting to realize, oh, this is, this is different.

And then for a kid like me, Basically, you got to experience two countries every day and you got to see your country. You go to another country to go to school and then come back. And so there are moments in the day where I felt like, well, I'm really lucky. And I think my parents were doing really well.

Oh no, my parents aren't doing very well compared to this. So I got to be rich, poor, and middle-class every day, three times. Based on where I was. And that also, I think affects you and you value things differently and you value evaluate your country differently. And I think you start, especially for, as a teenager, you start to go, all right, well, this side is cleaner, but I can have more fun on this side.

This side is better for this, but this side is better for that. And you start creating your version of the border and you start creating your version. What's better for you because now you have options. And I think for a lot of kids in other places, you don't get to do that. They don't get the other weekend.

I'm going to go here and then I'm going to go here and, and basically get the best of both worlds. And I think that also makes it racist. Yeah, I agree. I think if you do have that, that privilege to be able to cross the fact that you do have options, like you said, it's like almost neural pathways. Like if you, if you get caught in one way of viewing things that your whole life, you don't know, what's outside of that.

I think that the reason this such an imaginative, like all the artists from this region that I know are so imaginative and, and borderless in their minds is because you do get to see so many angles of the same thing. Do you remember what shows you were watching to learning. Well, the traditional GA Joe transformer, but honestly, everything with gem and the holograms, I would just try to learn.

And I was that kid who could barely speak and kids made fun of, but it just fueled me to learn it. And then I remember, you know, another, another thing that was a big thing was there was a club and it was more teenage years, but there was a club called iguanas and that's where a lot of bands would go from the states.

So as a 15 year old kid, and . Go see the chili peppers and you could go see, uh, you know, fishbone. Like you can go see all these bands that would come to your little city in Mexico. And again, that was super unique. So all those influences you turn on the radio and you're listening to stations in San Diego and you're listening to music from both sides.

So all that is, I always say it's like, it's like heart proteins coming in from both sides. Yeah, I guess a lot, a lot of nourishment. I, yeah, I just, coincidentally met Harlan who was the guy who was bringing all those bands to eat one of those, which was yeah. Incredible. Yeah, please. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I, I told him like that.

How many people I've talked I'm I'm too young to have gone to iguanas, but every musician that every artist that's that I admire from the border region was somehow touched by one and I was in their life was enriched by it. So, so I thanked him forever. Yeah. I mean, honestly, that there's a whole generation, uh, especially in the nineties where we got to, we got to live and experience both worlds exploding in a positive way.

It was, it was a unique era that night. Hmm. How, how young were you when you started funneling your, all this creativity, the heart proteins into art. When did he start drawing or thinking of yourself as it is? Well, you know, all, we always joke that every kid is an artist and some just stop doing it. Right.

Cause every kid draws pretty much. So we were my wife and I were the kids. We didn't stop. We just kept drawing and drawing and drawing and drawing. And then at some point, my family. Especially when I was 13, they started going all right. Well, if you're really serious about this, we're going to pay for you to take classes.

So in decline I would go to and I would just take as many classes as I could in somewhere very formal. And I wasn't a very formal artist, but I got a lot out of them. And I remember my dad, uh, you know, especially the only, uh, um, models that they could get were of course. Exotic dancers from, from that level.

So he would look at my drawings and he would go, what are you drawing? I'm like, dad, this is what the, this is what the models look. So it was, it was very unique. Again, wanting to be an artist in Atlanta. It was a pretty much a giant stretch. And I, and I remember a lot of my friends who'd be wanting. I can do this as an aside, but there's no way I can study this.

There's no way my parents will ever support me being an artist. And I had friends in San Diego who would always tell me, you know, my parents worked so hard to come to the U S. I can't use up that dream to try to pursue something as unstable as the arts. And so I think for a lot of Latino youth, especially in on both sides of the border, it just seems really risky.

So parents are not really encouraging their kids. And, and I remember at that time thinking, wow, Someone's going to be doing this stuff. And if you're really passionate, you have to power through. But it was really tough. I mean, when I finally got into art school, I kind of got in as a fluke. I was 17 years old.

I was painting all this Mexican stuff. The cello is, and there, the dad and all these things, and I was painting all that stuff. Because I loved it. Right. And I, and it was the stuff that I genuinely felt passionate about, but because I wanted to go into animation, cause I love cartoons. I started drawing all the things I thought the Americans wanted to see.

And so I would draw bugs bunny and Mickey mouse and you know, Bart, Simpson, literally all the things I saw, well, this is what they want. And when I applied to Cal arts here in LA, The guy who was reviewing my portfolio, he was Hungarian and I was 17. He looked at my drawings and he said, this is crap. This is terrible.

And he just me drawing by drawing. He said, this is awful. This is awful. And he said, a copy machine could have meet this. You have no voice. You're not an artist. You're just drawing what you saw. I was devastated, close my portfolio. And then. I left my painting portfolio on the payroll. And he opened that and his eyes exploded and he called me back.

He said, you know, you saw what is this? Uh, and, uh, and I said, oh, this is, you know, these are my paintings. And he grabbed me. He said, why did you paint this? I said, well, because this is the stuff I love. And he started laughing and he said, you stupid, boy, this is you. This is your voice. That's not your voice, the other stuff, the other stuff that you should burn, this is who you are, make this move and you'll be doing something I've never seen welcome to the school.

And that was it, my life. And from that point, the moment that I had thought my culture was to some extent, a weakness, because I had never seen it in animation nation, and I never seen it in cartoons with those words, he flipped it and it became my story. Hmm, what an angel man. I know. I know. Right. So the ambitions that you had before that, and after that, would you say like clearly very different, like what you, how you saw your future as an, in the arts?

Yeah, I mean, at that time I thought, I think I'm pretty good at drawing. I can work in animation and then I'll paint on the side for me. Cause I had a lot of friends who would say, oh, I'm going to go into graphic design or engineers. And then I'll play in my band or, uh, you know, do my art on the side, but it, but it was never the same.

It was always separate, you know, a lot of it was their parents basically saying, yeah, yeah, I know you love music, but. You got to go to, you know, be a doctor or be a dentist, and then you can do your music on the side. And I think that that's a big part of Mexico where parents are just looking out for their kids and they don't want, they don't want them to take that chance.

It's understandable. I've had that in my, in my life where it's like, okay, so you love music, maybe write jingles and then do your music on this. And, and it makes sense. It's your parents just want you to not starve. You were saying how, like that's very, uh, prevalent in Mexican culture. Were your parents supportive when you decided to go to art school?

And at what point did they stop worrying about. My dad, uh, being an architect, you know, it is an art, but it's a very conservative and more serious art. Uh, he didn't know what to make of me. And he said, you have this rebel fire in you, and I think you should pursue this. And if it doesn't work out, then you'll have no idea.

Which is super rare for a Mexican bad to say that. And so he, he really supported me. My grandfather supported me. Of course. I can't say my mom supported me. Cause I think all Mexican moms just support you. Right. If I told my mom like, mom, I want to be the Pope. She'll be like, great, uh, Pope. She used to like start making me laugh.

So I think, I think that was a big moment, but the fact that the school accepted. And then I was really lucky. I got scholarships from both sides of the border. The school gave me scholarships. And then back then the phone of a Mexican arts council sponsored me. So I got to go and I did my bachelor's and my master's in animation.

And the more Mexican stuff I did, the more stuff, the more stuff came to me in a natural, organic way. And I remember at that time, a lot of teachers say, You keep doing this stuff and you're not going to get work because there's nothing like this out there. And so they were right. As soon as I graduated and I would show my work to different studios, you know, I'd go to Disney or cartoon network and the collodion, everybody would very politely go.

This is great. Where's your, you know, Other stuff. And I was like, what do you mean? My other stuff? You know, you're, you're not the Mexican stuff, the other stuff. And I didn't have any of that other stuff. So I couldn't find work. And I remember a producer at Nickelodeon sat me down and he said, well, I'm not going to hire you, but I love your stuff.

And I'm going to give you some advice. The only person who's going to hire you to do this Mexican crazy looking stuff that you're doing is you. I was like, what do you mean? You have to be sitting where I'm sitting, so you have to pitch your own movies and your own TV shows. And then it can look like this because it's about this.

And that was it. I went home and I was like, I'm starting over. And I just started pitching and pitching and pitching. And you know, that was 20 years ago. I love so much hearing stories like yours, because it really shows you that if you really stick to your, like the truest version of your creativity, Eventually it's going to work out.

Um, even if you go through the, the challenge, the very challenging years. Yeah. I mean, those early years are, I think are tough for everybody, but for me it was, if you're a Mexican and you graduate college in the U S the U S government gives you one year called practical training. And that year you're allowed to stay in the country.

And if you don't find that job, that sponsors you, you get deported. So as you can imagine, my friends, uh, graduate and be like, ah, I don't know if I want to work. Uh, Pixar cause it's different. Cisco is too cold for me. Like stuff like that. And for me it was holy crap. If I don't get a job, I'm going to get deported and all the support I've gotten from my family and from my country and literally my cultures on my back willing me to do these things.

If I fail and I go back to the Quanah, I'm going to be the, you know, the most talented backlog Stan guy. I basically learned to do something that can be done. Hmm. So it was, it was monumental for me. And it was definitely, especially at that time, because I graduated in the year 2000 man, the, the energy and the world was, you know, the world has changed and all these things are happening.

The internet was just sort of starting to, to happen. And I got really lucky. I got to admit there was a lot of moments where, because of the technology changes. They just hired people who knew new things. And I was graduating at the perfect time and I got to do, you know, my first job out of school was making my own cartoons.

So that's that ruined me because I thought that was, yeah, you, you became a spoiled in the sense that it's like, I'm not gonna go be a nine to five animator anymore. Right. I said, you know, this is the greatest country on earth. They pay you to make your own stuff. Okay. Wow.

Alrighty...we gotta take a quick break..

But when we come back..

The immense privilege and sense of responsibility, but also the mental trauma that comes with crossing the border to follow your dreams....

No se vayan a ningun lado.

MIDROLL 2

Y estamos la vuelta…

Let’s dive right back into the YouTube Live conversation I had with animator and movie director Jorge R. Gutierrez….

I want to touch on what you said, cause like this idea of kind of having the culture on your back and all the support from your parents, all the sacrifices that your grandparents have made to you to get there.

You told my producer Kinsey something that, that when you were holding your student visa and being able to cross into the U S you felt you were kind of holding your life in your hands. Can you talk to me a little bit about that kind of responsibility and. Family to your culture and privilege that you felt and how you processed it as an art.

Yeah. And Matt, imagine being nine years old and being handed a little visa card into your passport and told if you lose this, that it can't cross. You can't go to school. You can go to the states. You've literally, you've let us down. You let your grandparents down. You let your country down. Take care of this document.

At nine years old, that immediately made me and we grow a mustache and like H instantly I think like I had white hair come out, but literally crossing the border. With such an event every day and, and talking to their border border agents, it was a very strong experience at nine years old, especially having grown up in Mexico city.

I wasn't used to any of this. And so when they would talk to me and I didn't understand them and they could see me. Terrified face. I think it just, it just made them a lot of times they would laugh, but a lot of times they would wonder if there was something wrong with me. One of the most eventful moments as a nine-year-old was we were sent ladies would take turns.

Dropping off kids at school. So it was like a carpool. And I remember we got sent to secondary inspection. We're all holding our little visas, right? Nine years, nine years old to like 12 or 13 kids. They line us up. They were very, very nice. I will say they were extra nice because we were kids and they went by one, one by one and questioned us.

And I remember, I will never forget this. The border patrol agent asking me, Hey, did you. Eat or swallow any balloons. And as a kid, I understood the word balloon, but I wasn't sure like eating balloons. I was like, I'm not the endo. And then the kid next to me kind of explained it to me. Like, did you eat any balloons?

And I was like, no, why would, why would anybody eat a balloon? And the guard was like, can I poke your belly? And so he made me raise my shirt. And, you know, it was a chubby kid and he literally started poking my belly and I started giggling and then that was it. Right. We got sent, we got in the car and this 13 year old, who seemed to me like the most exp it was like a, he was like an ex-con.

He seemed to know so much explain, like there's people who put drugs in, uh, balloons, and then they tie them and then you eat them and then you cross the border and then you poop them out. I was nine when they were explaining this to me. And I was like, what happens is the balloon breaks? And I remember even him going well, then you die.

So the uneven, any of those. Oh, okay. That 12 year old knew a lot. I didn't know that stuff as a 12 year old. And then he took out a cigarettes.

Wow. Sounds like a lot to handle as a, as a nine year old. Do you think all these kind of heavier. Stressful experiences with border patrol and like even facing the idea of death as a nine year old, right? Like, oh, you eat the DRO, like all these experiences with border patrol specifically. Do you think they shaped your politics or how you think about the world and your place in it as an adult?

Absolutely. I mean, you have to, you have to remember, especially back then as a kid, you're already terrified. So to hear these stories, they leave a huge impact and you know, a lot of the border patrol people, they're doing their job. And you're terrified of them as a kid. And then when you see someone forget their passport or lose their passport, those are the most horrific, traumatic experience I've ever experienced.

Uh, you know, watching kids just break down crying and peeing their pants being so destroyed having to turn back. So those, those are big, big things. I think lib leave a big imprint on you. And then as again, as a, as a kid growing up on that side, Instant mistrust of the police, because of all the stuff that you hear from your parents and all the things that you're witnessing on the Mexican side.

And then on the U S side, you're also terrified because there's something wrong. You can get deported or they're going to kick you back, or who knows what's next happened. So I was terrified equally of the police on both sides. Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine. I want to talk about music because I'm a musician. We briefly went into it.

How being at the border kind of amplifies your musical tastes. You know, there's like always these pictures of Elvis I heard, and I know that you got into Elvis for a while, but as a kid also growing up in Southern, Southern California, you said you got really into hip hop and punk music, and you, you met your wife, Sandra at a punk show in Tijuana.

Can you talk to us a little bit? How about your growing up at the borders? Your musical experience? Absolutely. I think the airwaves don't have visas and they don't need to do the line. So we got to hear music from the U S you know, many, one X was pretty big in our, in our time. And then we were listening to all the bands that would come through.

Again, as teenagers start falling in love with these bands and you get these tastes. And I remember going to tower records, it was like going to Mecca and then looking at all these CVS and just going like, well, I can't afford one CB, so you'd spend hours listening on those stations to see which one you were going to get.

So it was. Music was had no passport and had no visa and really carried over. And I remember I discovered hip hop on the border because I bought a bootleg is how big of an animation nerd? I was. I bought a bootleg little mermaid soundtrack because I wanted to hear the little mermaid soundtrack and the CD had an NWA album in there.

So thankfully I got that one. Wow. Yeah. And I was like, this is incredible. What is this? Uh, and so I kinda, I kind of discovered a hip hop, thanks to the little mermaid and, and who do it. Right. And then after that, and I started asking around and, and, and basically I got really into hip hop and I got really into sort of this idea that.

This music is music, and it doesn't matter if I'm, you know, I'm not white, you know, I connect to the core and I connect to the goodness of certain because you got to remember that NWA album, the first one it's really political. Like it's all about, you know, the police and equality. And like people forget that our album is super political.

So then I got into public enemy. Woo Tang. And I got into all these, this nineties hip hop bands also, you know, I lived through grand Chera. So all that stuff was happening, but yeah, music was, was a huge part of it. And then what was happening in Latin America was New Mexico. You weren't allowed to have rock shows for many years because the government was scared that there would be a student revolt or the youth would take over.

So, so rock and roll was outlawed, literally outlawed for years, for many, many years. So once the eighties started happening, Especially in the nineties, you started seeing bands who would go, Hey, I love Scott, but then I love and I love folkloric music, but I love David Byrne and I love electronica and I love so you started seeing the.

These hybrids of bands that were to embrace the traditional music and mix it with punk and rock and electronica. And it really exciting because they were singing in their own language, which was very rare. And they were talking about things that would happen to us. Cause it was always like listen to the sex pistols.

And I was like, well, we don't have a queen, but. I get it. I totally get it like F authority. Uh, so, so hearing about your president and your government and the things that were happening was hugely influential. The band that me and Sandra, we, we met at a. The California fairest I study is in a California.

They would bring bands from Mexico city and from all over. And I remember it was a concert for a band called LA Lupita from Mexico city, but the opening band was Tiguan. I know, which was the band that I love. Right. Cause it was a local band, uh, you know, Ceci, Bastida. used to be in that man. Uh, and I, we met at that concert and I immediately, I fell in love with her and I asked her to marry me two weeks from the day we met at the concert.

And she said, no, right. She's very smart. So, but, but music has always been a huge part of, I think the border for us. And you can acknowledge where you're from, but don't let that limit what you do. Because you can grab things from everywhere else and make those your own. So I think that was a big lesson that music gave me.

So when I started doing my artwork and when I started writing, when I started making movies, that's kind of what I do. I go, I like this Bollywood movies, so I'm going to grab that idea from there. And I liked Japanese animation, so I'm going to grab it out from there. And I, you know, I love, uh, be able to read on murals and then I love SQN music for scifi and.

Doing what we do in the border, where you start, you know, you grab your Elvis and you grab your Tupac and you grab your, uh and then you basically, that's what we are. Right. We are a sum of everything we love, but we're also a product of all those things. Wow. Yeah, that's so beautifully put and I was just music to my ears.

It's so funny. How many alignment points I have with you? I just spent like two weekends ago following Ceci around to tell the story of the, to know. And that's where I met this guy for because you have to take one. I know his story. It's so funny that this says he know this story that you met your wife there.

That I'm on an Instagram. Please tell her I'm a huge fan. I'm going to tell her, I'm going to tell her I'm going to see her when I go to LA soon, I'm going to, for sure. Tell her she's that's so funny. And tower records to tower records was like ultimate church to me grew up when I was a little kid, like nine.

I also moved here from Mexico city. My parents would give me like whatever it was 10, 20 bucks a month, because all I wanted to buy was CDs. And I'm not proud of this as an adult, but at the time when I was younger with what 10 bucks. I can afford like one CD a month and I wanted more because there was no Napster Spotify, so I would switch the stickers cause they had the youth section.

So I would switch the stickers so that I could get like two or three CDs. Hey yeah. Yes. The, for the good of the arts for the yes, yes. That's what I told myself. No, it was like really old school pirating. Um, anyway. When you started going to college at Cal arts, did you have any sense cause you, you were not an American citizen at that point, right?

Oh, I mean, I just became an American citizen three years ago. That's how long it took me. Wow. Wow. Did you have any sense of feeling different or like an outsider walking around such a prestigious college campus? Well, the good thing about a school like that is that it's very international. There were kids from all over the world and then I gravitated towards the kids from McNamara.

And it was the first time I, I had friends from Colombia and Brazil and Argentina, and that's when you started going, oh, we're very similar, but we're completely different. And when they, when they would use, you know, lat Latino back then to encapsulate a whole continent and the Caribbean islands and put you all together in a group, and then you go.

Well, we all speak Spanish, but our cultures are completely print that's like saying earthly, right? Like, just because you're from earth doesn't mean you have that much. It was, that was the first time I found myself going, oh, we are seen as a collective, even though we're completely individual in the way we were raised.

And then for example, for me, I started, I started really falling in love with Mexican American culture and falling in love. With this idea that you could be both and that you could feel comfortable with both. And especially in Los Angeles, we got to live in Texas for five years, Mexican Americans in Texas, completely different.

Uh, it, depending on what state you're in and what literally what city you're in the culture just evolves and changes and getting to go to the every two weeks. Right. Cause I would go visit some that every time. I got to experience college in LA and in Mexico. And it was incredible. It was incredible to, to, especially when you're at that age, when you are feeding your soul with inspiration to have both of those things, it's a huge luxury.

And I, you know, I feel super privileged that I got to do that. Crazy. They're like, why are you going to be one every two weeks? This is nuts. And then they would go with me once and then we'd go, oh, that's why you're here. You got to come back. It was funny at the corner. Has that, that electricity for anyone who I'd say that word too, they're like immediately excited.

And as soon as I go there, like, it's one of my favorite things in life to bring people to the corner and see the image they had of it. And then the reality, like shift before the ride. Yes, it's a magical thing. And I think the Quanah is the Quanah is what you make of it. I have to be a place that inspires you.

You can, but if you want it to be something that is not good to you, then you go to those places that are not good to you. It's it's a living city. I think that's never, I've never heard. It is, it's like a blank canvas for how you like the consciousness, you, you project onto it. You can find whatever you want, whether it's from the darkest to the lightest.

It's it is, it's a mirror. That's crazy. I never thought about it that way, but yeah, it's true. When you were at CalArts, you made a 3d short that started getting awards and attention. Can you tell me about what the film that wasn't what you. People were responding to in that film. So the little short is called Carmelo and it was me in a computer.

It's all computer animated and it was folk art, Mexican wooden dolls. Uh, again, inspired by the folk art I would see in the border. Uh, and it was really sad. It was about a kid bullfighter who died. And the whole short is why would a kid die in a bull ring? And so we basically told you the story of, of this kid who wanted to be able to fight her.

And it won the student Emmy. It literally changed my life. I got an, a manager after that, but the, the, the thing that I I look back on is that's the short that started book of life. When you look up book a life it's about wooden folk art dolls, and it deals with bullfighting. So. That's where the inspiration came from.

And I remember a teacher in school telling me you have to die in order to be born again and be an artist. You have to basically kill the non-artist in you to really embrace who you are. And that to me was very mad. Right. This idea that in order to live, you have to die. I was already obsessed with the concept of death in Latin America and especially in Mexico.

And that, that relationship that we have with death that is so unique. I love this idea that having death all around you is a great reminder to live. Only thing that gives life value is death. So what better way than to have a constant reminder? I, you know, I love the saying that every Mexican has death in their ear whispering live.

I love it. I love that too. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. It seems like it's a very recurring theme in your work because it's very, at the end, like Christian Catholic, like the, you must be born again, but there is like, there's such a in Mexican culture. I think it's a lot more inviting because it's almost like you can be born as something more joyful rather than like being this morose morbid end thing.

It's like, there's joy on the other side of this and the idea that as long as we talk about those who are not here, they're with us, right? So about my grandfather all the time. And I talk about, about them in a joyful way and what I found, especially early on. Talking to my American friends. They'd never talked about anybody who passed away.

It was such a taboo thing. And they, they always sort of got sad thinking about it. And to me, it was always the opposite. It was, oh, we should remember all the good stuff. Like what was, what was her favorite food? Was there favorite song? And, you know, I would hear something that reminded me of, you know, I had a friend who passed away when I was a kid and I love, he loved transformers.

So then I love transformers. And every time I played with transformers, I would think of. So it was a positive thing, but I think that is instilled in you as a kid, your, your relationship with Def and your gay DIA, that as long as you remember them, and as long as you talk about them, your loved ones are with you.

And then if you never talk about them and then they really are, right. Yeah. That's a, that, that is such a, such a beautiful relationship. To such an inevitable, natural part of life. You might as well make it. You might as well make a joyful if it's going to be there. Spoiler alert. We're all good. Yeah. Yeah.

It's like, you might as well bring some color into it. So, so let's talk about the book of life a little bit. Cause you said it apparently the inspiration for it started many years before the movie actually came to life. And I want to ask you about it, but is it, is it really true that when to get, to get a made of you showed up at doorstep with a handful of sketches and a trunk full of tequila, Absolutely man, this, every time I tell this story, I get to relive it.

And like, again, like hair, white hair comes out and like, but he, he, you know, he's my hero game. I thought, oh, I think I love and Yeti too. And I love him, but on a, but yeah, more especially because of the fantasy. He's, he's always been my hero and I, I have made a beacon in the theater had done pretty well at one, you know, one seven Emmys.

So at that point, uh, when we started developing the booklet. I said, who would be your dream producer? How's that Bob Yammer, the owner would be my dream producer. Are you kidding me? So we tried to get him. He turned me down 15 times. Literally this is meetings that we were set up where I would drive to the meeting and I would see him like getting this car and drive off.

It was like a cartoon. And I remember all the producers gone, like. He just doesn't want to do this. We're wasting time. Uh, but I was like, no, I want to get a, no a no from his face. I want, I want that picture. So finally, uh, you know, now we're friends and he, he admits to me that he was fed up and he was like, bring him to my house so I can say no to him, to his face.

Well, you go to his house. Uh, I show up with, you know, we had mechanics, we had all this art, obviously we had with tequila and he had given me 30 minutes to preterm the movie. He gave me a tour of his house, which is in the, in the granolas, uh, extended edition, uh, bonus features. You can see the crazy beautiful house he has.

It's like a museum and he gives me a tour of the house and I'm like, peeing my pants. I'm so nervous. Finally, it's time for us to go outside and pitch him the movie and man. Those moments where I said, this is, this is ancestors, get in me and come through. And, uh, and just as, um, you know, opening my mouth at this point yet, you know, have to on cancer, like he we're buddies.

So he's like you have five minutes. So I was like, what? I've been practicing that 30 minute pitch. All right. Ancestors gave me the strength. I think this giant breath. And then I kid you not. Our people, our people betrayed me and the mansion next door, there was three leaf blower guys. And it was, it was almost like they were waiting for me to open my mouth.

Cause as soon as I opened my mouth, they were like, oh, alleyway. And so like a wave of sound, like, so I remember looking at the animal and like yelling at him. Yeah.

And he goes, God far mandates. So I've mentioned the worst version of the movie. You can imagine it in four minutes and I almost fall in the pool and one of our producers just couldn't take it. He just laughed. He was like, I've seen enough disastrous meeting. Um, I'm drenched in sweat. We go back to his house and I just apologize to him.

And I'm like, yeah, I'm, I'm so sorry. I wasted your time. I, you know, looking for him to give me some, some hope and he just destroyed me because I said, you know, I'm sorry about the crappy pitch. And he lives, that's the worst pitch I've ever seen in my life. So I've even more devastated. And then he goes, and he goes, I have two daughters.

We would watch him be there on Saturday mornings. I know you, I know your sense of humor. I know your ours. But most importantly, I know how much you love Mexico. And I love how you see it. So horse, I'm going to produce your movie so that, you know, I stood up and I, I was grandpa tonight if he was strange because it was so high.

And I'd like to believe that our liquids combined at that moment, and I got some DNA from him. And then he said, if you didn't write the script, you're not a real director. And thankfully I had written the scripts. I ran to my car, but the Keela bottle I had bought broke. And so the script was drenched with tequila.

So I run back and I'm like blowing on it and I handed him and he, you know, grabbed it with his beautiful meaty hands. Isaac. And then he smelled it and he goes, this is a good script,

besides that as a producer, what an incredible story and, you know, get them a change. Right. That's comedy do that story. Like everything happened like a Charlie Chaplin movie. Yeah. Wow. So why do you say no? So many times if he, at the end of the day, he was like, I know you, like, I know just like kind of maybe it was like just a test, your persistence or something.

I mean, I have asked them and he said, well, you know, I wasn't sure it was you and I get pitched a lot of crappy day to day. And so I just wasn't in the mood. Like, I mean, obviously he had the most, so he gets pitched projects from all over the world at all times. But now, you know, when your hero becomes your friend, it's always awkward.

Right. He'll call me and like, I'll throw my kid away. I'm like want, well, that's incredible for people who don't know, can you give like a quick pitch of what the book of life is and what it's. A book of life is a, is a 90 minute animated feature a much, a love letter to my version of, of what they added that is and what it means.

And it's about a kid who is from a family of bullfighters and he is naturally gifted to be a bullfighter. But when he really wants to do is be a musician and play the guitar. And so he literally has to die to make that come true. And when the love of his life. And basically absolved his whole family of both fighters, uh, by apologizing through every bull they've ever killed with a song.

So it all comes together. And then he gets to come back to earth, rights, Orpheus, and fight the bandits that are attacking this town. And then he saves his, his whole, uh, his whole town. And it was a huge battle. Every artist, kid that I've ever met, who their town didn't believe in them or their family didn't believe in them and what they had to do and what they had to go through in order to, to become that artist.

Mm. Yeah. And it's so beautifully told the animation is, is wow. I was really. Like a little kid. And when I remember seeing any Medicaid does a movie, like I hadn't, I hadn't felt that in a while where you're like, this is so uniquely done. Like any, I mean, any animation can be realistic now with, with technology, but, but the quality of the animation I was, I was blown away.

It was amazing. And, and, you know, I love Pinocchio and I love. Folk art in Mexico. So I was like, I want to do my Pinocchio. I want to tell a story. Mexican folk are dolls coming to life. What was your favorite cameo? Cause there's some really good ones. There's like ice cube and the ice you again, how has a hip hop fan?

That must have been unbelievable. Given your love for NWA. Yeah. And, and by the way, when I pitched him the movie, he literally took his sunglasses and he was like, you know, I'm not Mexican. I'm like, yeah, I know. I know. Then I tell them, they'll pick you, you basically get to play God. And he put his sunglasses back on and he smiled and he was like, I'll do it.

It was like conic moments. But yeah, I mean that, that cameo, I mean, I got to work with Danny and I got to, you know, I'm a big fan of pretty much Cheech. She has a big influence on my comedy. So getting to put Gabrielle Lee last. Yes. Uh, you know, I basically wrote it for the . I love . That's one of my favorite.

So getting to work with, you know, come a big soap opera guy too. So it was pretty much everybody I asked, said yes, which doesn't happen very often. That's really amazing.

BEAT

Y ahi estuvo la entrevista con Jorge.

I have to say, this interview with Jorge was really special to me.

After these last years of everything changing and moving all our interviews to zoom, having to interact through technology and screens and without the immediacy and intimacy of a real life conversation, I was getting pretty burned out and unexcited by something that normally fills me with LIFE.

Talking to people, connecting with their hearts by hearing their most intimate stories, it’s like medicine to me and after awhile the online thing just felt too distant and cold.

Talking to Jorge though…. through the internet reminded me how hearing great stories told from the heart is transformative through any platform.

This conversation reminded me why I love asking people questions and listening intently. To absorb different experiences and hopefully learn how to be a better human. And to be inspired and remember that no matter what happens, committing yourself to the things you love and nourishing those things is what makes life full.

Jorge’s passion is contagious and it reminds me that is possible to wake up and love what you do. Life is too short to not and this conversation refilled me with fuel to do what I love with gusto.

You can keep the conversation going by following Jorge on Instgram or Twitter...he’s @mexopolis….and make sure you keep an eye open for Maya and the Three coming out this Fall on Netflix.

And...just a quick note…we made some changes to our last episode..the bonus episode called “Fido Goes South.” We made a clarification and added more details about why vet care is so much less expensive in Mexico than it is in the U.S.

Port of Entry is hosted by me, Alan Lilienthal. This episode was produced by Kinsee Morlan, with additional production and editing by Emily Jankowski. Lisa Morissette is operations manager and John Decker is the interim associate general manager of content. This program is made possible (in part) by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people."

Thanks for listening.

jorgeguitierezlive.png
Film director and animator Jorge Gutierrez grew up crossing the border between Tijuana and San Diego almost every day.

That cross-border experience can be seen in the work Jorge does today.

Jorge is the director of the animated movie, “The Book of Life.” He’s also one of the creators of the hit Nickelodeon show “El Tigre.” And he’s got several new projects coming out on Netflix soon. One of those projects is “Maya and the Three,” an animated series that will be released on Netflix in October.

In today’s bonus episode, which is a recording of a YouTube Live event we had over the summer, we talk to the famed animator about his new show, how his cross-border life has impacted his work and more.