Pride on Film: ‘Elliot Loves’ by Terracino

Photo Credit: Terracino

“Elliot Loves” is a heartwarming story about the adventures of Dominican American Elliot Ayende at two stages of his life: as a child who is the side-kick to his single mother; and as a young gay man looking for love in New York City. Terracino, the film’s director, writer, producer wrote “Elliot” in 2001.  The film’s script earned MTV’s Script Award and the Vito Russo Award from New York Newfest. Unfortunately homophobia, industry racism and an unforeseen event threatened to derail it.  In March 2012 “Elliot” debuted at The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Feature.  Terracino, the hopefully romantic filmmaker talked with PrideIndex about his influences,  journey to bring the film to the marketplace and the future of Papi Chulo Productions.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): When did you first know that you wanted to become a filmmaker?

TERRACINO (TER): I’ve always been a writer, for as long as I can remember. When I was about 10 years old, my mother bought me a typewriter because I had been writing from a very young age. However, I had no interest in film directing until I studied acting at NYU. While at the Strasberg Institute in college, I realized “I don’t want to be an actor. I want to direct!” (LAUGHS)

PI: Where did you study filmmaking?

TER: I took a film course at NYU while in the theatre department; that’s about it.  I loved studying film production at NYU (it is an excellent program). However, on more than one occasion, another film student or even a film instructor would say to me, “You’re so talented. But you know people like you don’t have careers in Hollywood; except for Spike Lee.” This was their way of saying, “There are no Latino filmmakers in the industry. Give up.” It offended me deeply.

PI: Do you have any influences?

TER: When I was at NYU, a girlfriend took me to the Cinema Village revival house on West12th street. They were showing “She’s Gotta Have It.” It was mind-blowing! I’ll never forget it. I had never seen someone like me on screen. Here was a person of color, writing, directing and producing! I knew at that moment I did not want to be an actor-writer, I needed to be a writer-director! And Spike Lee showed me that it was possible.

The next day, I returned to the Cinema Village and they showed the quintessential revival house double bill of “The 400 Blows” and “Jules & Jim.” The day before, Spike Lee showed me that a person of color could be a filmmaker and didn’t need Hollywood validation. Now, the very next day, Francois Truffaut, with “The 400 Blows”, was showing me that my life could be captured on film!  I had never seen a film so personal. “The 400 Blows” and “She’s Gotta Have It” changed my life forever.

The directors who have influenced me the most stylistically are Truffaut and Pedro Almodovar. To me, one is the sun, the other the moon, and they define my filmmaking universe.

PI: Talk about your filmmaking journey. How long did it take to make “Elliot Loves” from conception until the time it took to bring it to the marketplace?

TER: I wrote, produced and directed a short film when I was in my very early twenties: “My Polish Waiter.” It debuted at Sundance, went on to Lincoln Center & MoMA’s New Directors/New Films and was eventually released on home video. I also have been a staff member of the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival since it was founded in 2000.

I wrote “Elliot Loves” in 2001. The script started winning awards immediately (MTV Films Script Award, Vito Russo Award from New York Newfest) and was in the Outfest Development Lab. However, the film industry was really hostile to it. It was gay and Latino-themed and there is an enormous amount of racism and homophobia in the industry, especially then. With animation and visual effects, at that time it was not feasible for me to do “Elliot” on a micro budget. It was a very brutal experience trying to get “Elliot Loves” going.

“Elliot” was eventually optioned by two small production companies in Los Angeles. After optioning my script, they went under. That, too, turned into a long, brutal experience. When I eventually got the rights back (via my amazing attorney Ben Feldman), Juan Caceres, head programmer of the HBO New York Latino Film Festival, said to me, “When are you going to stop looking for industry validation? Technology has caught up with you. We can do this on our own.” Francois Truffaut and Spike Lee changed my life. Juan Caceres saved my life.

Around that time, legendary casting director Kerry Barden read the script (Kerry cast “Boys Don’t Cry” and “The Help” among many, many others) and he and his casting partner Paul Schnee agreed to cast and lend us the heft of their expertise and reputations.

We started shooting “Elliot Loves” incrementally, one weekend a month. We’d spend a month paying off a shot and then shot again. Along the way, Elizabeth Gardner (Executive Director of The HBO New York Latino Film Festival) and Marisa Viola joined us in helping to produce “Elliot Loves.” Liz brought us product placement with Hennessy and Heineken (both companies are incredibly supportive of gay and Latino projects) and individual investors for our LLC. Marisa really helped me to plan better so we could focus on the end game of wrapping production and she was actively involved in the additional casting we had to do over the many months of shooting.

In August 2010, as we were wrapping, we went on Kickstarter and made out like gangbusters! Our goal was $5,000 – we raised $9,000 from 67 people in just 28 days! At the time it was one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. By the time we wrapped, we had shot 21 days over 12 months. With animation and visual effects and our very limited budget, post production took nearly 18 months. My editor and post supervisor, Lyndon McCray, has the patience of a saint and the wisdom of a sage. He is also brilliant. We picture-locked just a few weeks ago.

“Elliot Loves” ended up costing around $77,000, with a little over half coming from me.

PI: Is  “Elliot” based on events that took place in your own life or is it all fiction?

TER: “Elliot Loves” is very personal and at times intensely autobiographical. But film is an inherently fictional medium; even documentaries are somewhat fictional. I say that “Elliot” is deeply personal and somewhat autobiographical, but, of course, ultimately fiction.

PI: The main character is like his mother, both have a knack for selecting the wrong kind of men.  Was this intentional?

TER: Well, yes. But the film also illustrates some distinct differences: Ma, as a woman and a Latina, is inherently constrained. She is 25 years old with a 9 year old son and the life has been drained out of her already. She’s in over her head and believes the right man will solve everything. With Ma, there is the cultural undercurrent that she is solely defined by having a man and a child, with few other options.

Elliot, on the other hand, is young single and gay, and though his abusive childhood has damaged him, he has options and freedoms that his mother is unaware of.

PI: Can movie goers expect more adventures from Elliot in his quest to find true love?

TER: Yes!

PI: What other projects do you have coming down the pipeline from Papi Chulo Productions?

TER: A project in development called “Faithful,” which I am producing but not directing, and a few other things. (SMILES)

PI: Are you a hopeless romantic?

TER: I was. Now I am a hopeful romantic. (LAUGHS)

PI: When and where will “Elliot Loves“ show next?

TER: We have a dozen film festivals throughout June, July and August, but I can’t announce them yet. Look for dates on our Facebook page: