A European co-production about struggling migrant workers sounds just like Ken Loach's cup of tea. The difference is this story is set in LA. Natacha Clarke reports.
Ken Loach takes on America in this story of immigrant workers fighting for their rights.
Former human rights lawyer Paul Laverty goes to LA to study writing. While riding the city's late night buses he gets chatting to the Hispanic janitors travelling to and from work and learns of the Justice For Janitors campaign, aimed at improving their working conditions. Laverty feels their struggle would make a good script. He tells director Ken Loach, who is enthusiastic about the project. The two are collaborating at the time, on the very early stages of Carla's Song. A year into his stay, producer Rebecca O'Brien of the UK's Parallax Pictures - which produces all of Loach's films - calls Laverty back to London for an acting part in Loach's Land And Freedom. In 1996 Parallax commissions Laverty to write the script for Bread And Roses, developing it with money from its development deal with Jeremy Thomas' The Recorded Picture Company (RPC) and France's UGC.
Although Laverty is still working on Bread And Roses, he is also commissioned to write the script for Loach's next film My Name Is Joe. The RPC/UGC deal is coming to an end and UGC wants to concentrate on French projects for the moment. In 1998 My Name Is Joe picks up a slew of awards including best actor for Peter Mullan at the Cannes International Film Festival.
End of 1998-April 1999
The RPC/UGC deal runs out and Parallax approaches the UK's FilmFour, which agrees to take on TV and theatrical licensing for the film. British Screen steps in with investment money through its development deal with BSkyB. With Loach attached to direct, Parallax's regular partners - Road Movies Vierte Produktion in Germany and Alta Films and Tornasol in Spain - board the project. Rights are pre-sold to Bac Films in France, BIM in Italy, Cineart in Belgium and the Filmcooperative in Switzerland. The film also receives funding from Germany's WDR, ARD/Degeto Film and Filmstifung Nordrhein-Westfalen, and France's Arte and La Sept Cinema. The Sales Co takes international sales.
Casting begins in January with Loach, Laverty and researcher Pablo Cruz travelling between Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City and Tijuana. The film tells the story of Maya, a young Mexican woman who joins her sister in Los Angeles where she is working as a cleaner for wealthy corporations. In casting Maya, the three look for someone unaffected by Hollywood. Loach is drawn to Pilar Padilla, who has actually been contacted by Cruz to act with the auditioning artists, and she is cast in this central role. Adrien Brody will play the union organiser Sam, following auditions in Los Angeles. As the film is about supporting labour solidarity it is important that it is shot in accordance with the union rules. O'Brien goes out to Los Angeles to talk to the unions about whether they can work to the level of budget she and Loach are used to. It is agreed the crew can work at scale - the minimum rate.
With the rest of the cast on board, all that remains is to get US work permits for the regular Loach team - DoP Barry Ackroyd, production designer Martin Johnson, first assistant cameraman Carl Hudson, script supervisor Susanna Lenton and sound mixer Ray Beckett.
With the budget now at $5.5m, shooting starts in Los Angeles on Aug 25 and goes remarkably well, with no major hitches. The biggest challenge that O'Brien faces is the huge amount of bureaucracy and paper work that has to be dealt with in order to be able to shoot in the US. "Everything has a price [in the US] and nothing is for free," says O'Brien. "I spent a lot of time explaining to people that we like to make films in a much simpler way. But the American way is cast in stone."
During the shoot both O'Brien and Laverty work closely with the janitors and cleaning unions who provide invaluable input. The film is shot in English and Spanish.
October 1999-May 2000
After a six-week shoot the picture wraps. The film is cut at London-based facilities house Goldcrest and the sound is mixed at Pinewood in preparation for this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Prod co: Parallax Pictures. Backers: Road Movies (Ger), NRW (Ger), Alta Films (Sp), Tornasol (Sp), BSkyB, FilmFour, WDR, Filmstifung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Arte, La Sept Cinema, ARD/Degeto Film. Int'l sales: The Sales Co (44) 20 7 434 9061. Prod: Rebecca O'Brien. Dir: Ken Loach. Scr: Paul Laverty. Main cast: Pilar Padilla, Elpidia Carrillo, Adrien Brody, George Lopez, Alonso Chavez.
Territories sold: US (Lions Gate Films), France (Bac Films), Italy (BIM), Belgium (Cineart), Switzerland (Filmcooperative), Japan (Cinequanon), South Africa (Ster-Kinekor), Taiwan (Spring Cinema), Iceland (Haskolabio).
IN THE FRAME'
Actor Pilar Padilla
Mexican actor Pilar Padilla did not speak English before she won the part of Maya and had to undergo a two-month intensive English course in LA before the shoot began. Prior to Bread And Roses, Padilla had only acted in independent Mexican theatre.