Shooting in Mexico: The Assistant Director’s Take Part 1

Rodrigo Urbano is one of our most trusted Assistant Directors, working with us on projects from Corona to Bimbo to Levi’s (twice!) to HP to FIFA to Motorola to a music video for Röyksopp and Robyn.

This month, we are discussing the varied aspects of production in Mexico with the incredible behind-the-scenes collaborators we are lucky enough to have local (check out last week’s producers’ take if you missed it).

Today we talk to Rodrigo, who is a supremely talented AD and who started his career working as a casting assistant on familiar productions like Apocalypto, Quantum of Solace, and Che, to name a few. You can keep up with his happenings here. Stay tuned for next week when we speak with another gifted AD!

As a Mexico City native, do you feel like that gives you an advantage in your job?

Absolutely. On a personal level knowing the city as a citizen helps to know places around. Having worked in the city for a long time gives certain nuances which definitely helps in the early stages of development (locations and looks of the city) and the logistics of it all, company moves and rush hour times. Unlike any other major city, Mexico City is a unique one. Anyone who has ever been here can really give a testament of this.

What are your favorite projects you’ve AD-ed for The Lift or otherwise?

Tough to answer, every single project has something special to it.

Working with Martin de Thurah has always been an adventure. The “Mountain” short film, was great to see Martin on his full creative freedom. The music video for Robyn and Röyksopp, “Do It Again,” was very ambitious to capture several storylines and so many different locations in such a tight schedule. But it was certainly worth it.

The music video for David Guetta “Play Hard” introduced me to the work of Andreas Nilsson, his sense of humor is out of this world, and his aesthetics are always out of this world.

Working with Dori Oskowitz is always great, the vibe and energy he brings on set as well as his aesthetics are amazing. Our latest collaboration, Levi´s “Firsts” (see above) was a great shoot, we moved all over the city.

Also, working with Carlos Cuarón is just a treat. His approach to the work is so straight-forward and honest. He know what he wants and how he wants it. He is very production-oriented so he tries to approach everything on the most logistically sensitive way possible. Bimbo was a huge campaign which required two units and traveling to different states in the country.

Last but not least, working with Yael Staav has been an absolute pleasure. We have done three projects together and its always an honor. Whether it is FIFA, Coca Cola, or Del Valle. She brings such an unique vision to her commercials. And she leads with example, she is so down to earth, humble and disciplined. She is everything you want and need from a director.

Throughout the years The Lift has given me the opportunity to work with worldwide production companies and directors. Working with Reset Content and Us for the Airbnb job was a privilege. As well as with Sara Dunlop from Rattling Stick.

What was your experience like in casting on such projects as Apocalypto and Quantum of Solace?

Just thinking back on it now, it is astonishing to think that I was so young and just out of film school. Being thrown out there in such a level of production was a huge learning curve.

A normal casting process is usually around three months. Apocalypto was so tight we did the whole cast including bits in five weeks total. Still remember going to small towns in the middle of Oaxaca and doing auditions of real people. Also remember very clearly being next to Mel Gibson for the auditions and looking at his process which is just mesmerizing.

Quantum of Solace was such an undertaking. You are doing a Bond film and we tried to look for a Bond Girl, which is not easy, we saw hundreds of options and the stakes are so high. It’s a world on its own.

If you could tell one person not from Mexico or who has not shot in Mexico before what it is like to work there in production, what would you say?

Where do I start? Whether you shoot or not down here, Mexico is a must, just on its own. The culture, the food, the vibe, is just a plethora of flavors and experiences into, not only a city, but a whole country.

The vast varieties of locations you can find in the country are unbelievable. From desert, to forest to beaches and mountains, you can find it all.

As for shooting you can ask anyone, we probably have the best and most talented crews around. From grips, gaffers, electric technicians; to wardrobe, make up, art dept. and production teams. We have very proficient people all around. More importantly the warmth of our crews is the one thing overseas people take away from shooting down here. We are like a huge family.

Is there anything upcoming you’d like to plug?

Towards the end of the year, we´ll be starting prep on a feature film called “Detras de la Montaña” directed by David Romay, produced by The Lift´s partner Filmadora Nacional.

It’s a Mexican film which will be shot partly in Mexico City and partly in the state of Chihuahua. Really excited about the film, it is a very strong story with an interesting character development.