By RACHEL REEVES
When looking at Martin Guigui’s award-winning and multi-faceted body of work, there are a few things that become abundantly clear. For one, he is a creator who refuses to limit himself to only one industry. On top of writing and directing feature films like 9/11 and The Bronx Bull, Guigui has also worked with some of music’s best as a performer, producer, music director and music video director. Familiar names like Lady Gaga, Slash, Christina Aguilera, Billy Gibbons, Haley Reinhart, Lemmy Kilmister and more have all crossed professional paths with Guigui in one way or another.
It is here in this wealth of content spanning genres, decades, industries and skills that another, more personal aspect of Guigui becomes evident. Accomplishing way more in just a few years than some do in a lifetime, Guigui’s passion for creative collaboration and zest for life shine through with ease. For his latest project, Guigui indulges his love of ’80s thrillers in his newly released film, PARADISE COVE. Based on a true story, the film follows a young married couple (played by Mena Suvari and Todd Grinnell) who have inherited a beachside Malibu home. While the home’s disrepair and renovations were expected, they were certainly not at all prepared for the mysterious woman (Kristin Bauer van Straten) living under their back porch. We recently had the privilege of chatting with Guigui all about PARADISE COVE, his musical background, and more.
Tell us a little bit about how you first got involved with PARADISE COVE. What is it that attracted you to this project?
I was approached by a friend of mine named Nick Stellate (also co-producer on the film) a few years ago and he said, “Hey man. I just came across this really cool script and you should read it! It feels like something you would want to direct.” And, I get those kinds of calls a lot. (Laughs) So I asked, “Well, why do you think I would like it?” And he told me most of it takes place in one house. As a director, I gravitate towards self-contained, character driven stories. And most of my films have been that. I’m also a fan of the thriller genre and have done a couple of those. So I said, “Sure. Send it over.”
As soon as I saw the title, PARADISE COVE…you know, titles are funny. Titles really have an impact on what tickles you, or what doesn’t. Not only when you’re watching a trailer or seeing a poster, but also when somebody is telling you a story. And this story sucked me in. A few years back in California, we experienced some horrible fires, in Malibu especially. That’s also the premise of the movie and part of what sucked me in — a house burns down in Malibu and little by little we start to find out what happened. Of course, the two people who come in from out-of-town that have inherited the house are also inheriting the ex-model, mentally unstable person who is living under the house. There was just something about it that brought me back to thrillers from the ’80s, like Fatal Attraction.
So, the writer Sherry Klein and I got together and we hit it off! We immediately jumped right into getting the movie made. Really, what gets movies made is the right team that comes together at the right place, at the right time. Also on this one, not unlike a lot of other films, it had a lot to do with the cast. It’s like a play. It’s this ensemble piece. And we found this wonderful cast that happened to be available and identified with the script. That’s what really green lit the movie.
We definitely have to talk about this cast. The film has many familiar faces including Mena Suvari (American Beauty), Todd Grinnell (One Day at a Time) and Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood) in the lead roles. What was the casting process like on this project?
Mena Suvari was first on our list for Tracey. We were fortunate that she was available, but more importantly, that she identified with the material. She just got it. A woman that’s trying to have a baby and the emotional journey and the fragile hyper-sensitivity that goes into making a baby with love. She’s incredibly intelligent, very spiritual and she put a lot of her heart and soul into this role.
For Kristin, we had a list of four or five people who we thought could tackle the complex role of Bree. There’s an insanity to Bree, but it’s justified with a lot of emotion and trauma. There’s also an entertainment factor to Bree. It was that combination that brought us to Kristin and we were again fortunate that she identified with the material and happened to be available.
Todd was on hiatus from One Day at a Time and they had been nominated for Emmy’s and whatnot. When that happens, it can be more difficult to get an actor to pay attention to something else, but he was very open to doing a feature film. I always say, whoever is on set on the first day of shooting gets to be in the movie. (Laughs) So that worked out for everybody.
The film touches on the issue of privilege in some really interesting ways. There’s the privilege of wealth, circumstance, and even the privilege of fertility. Plus, it takes place in Malibu which is a very wealthy community in general. Was this undercurrent present in Sherry’s original script and was it something you both specifically discussed addressing?
Sherry’s vision of these, as you called it very appropriately, these privileged environments and circumstances coming together were all in the script originally. It’s actually based on a true story and we did shoot in Malibu, in Sherry’s house. Both inside and outside. Then, we replicated on a soundstage at Thunder Studios in Long Beach, an exact to scale replica of Sherry’s home. Because it was based on a true story that took place in Malibu, she intimately understood these characters. It was also great to have her on set. Very rarely do you have a writer on set. She really knew these characters and it helped the actors while also making life easier for me. That way I could just focus on the craft of filmmaking while nurturing the actors along with her. This story could only maybe happen in Malibu. We have such a homeless issue here in California. It was getting a little better, but now, with COVID, it’s just getting even worse. If you drive down the Pacific Coast Highway you can physically, easily see it. At least in Malibu, if you’re homeless you’re going to help soon one way or another from somebody.
From what I understand, PARADISE COVE was filmed before the pandemic hit. However, did COVID affect anything related to post-production?
We were actually in post-production when the pandemic hit. So, it didn’t impact the filming process, but what it did impact was the distribution plans. At one point or another it had been slated for a theatrical release and obviously right now, that’s just not conducive. We would have loved to see the movie on the big screen because it does translate beautifully, cinematically onto a widescreen format. And we shot it that way. Especially with the Malibu coast and the emotional journey that these characters travel through in this paradise cove. Visual landscape is really fun to experience on the big screen, however, it’s just unfortunate. And I think that’s been the case for a lot of movies right now that haven’t seen the light of day because of COVID.
On top of being a director, you’re also a composer and music producer. Do you think your background in music influences your filmmaking style? And if so, how?
That’s a great question and very intuitive. I was born into music. So when I started making movies, in a very organic, natural habitat format, it translated to my understanding of an emotional story, which is what a song or a symphony is. How that actually translates to movie making is through tempo and through timing. The tempo of how a scene is shot and how a camera moves and in the way that the lines are being delivered. Timing and tempo set tone. So it’s very similar to how we make music. It’s about finding the right beat or the right groove. Every song has a true tempo to it, and the same applies (in my opinion) to cinema or even theater. There’s a certain rhythm that can engage an audience’s emotional investment into a story. So that’s how I am able to jump back and forth from making movies to making music and sometimes combining both. I have a good meter, a good internal clock, so to speak. That impacts editing too and where the cuts should be. Then, the composer has to match the rhythms of the visuals with music so that it has a congruity, a symbiotic impact. I love that. Especially in a thriller like this one where timing is everything. The key to a thriller is what you feel, what you don’t see and what you don’t know. Little by little that gets revealed through a three act story. So, tempo is what translates for me emotionally to both mediums.
You have such a versatile skill set and have generated a truly impressive resume of unique projects. Because of your diverse industry interests I have to ask, how do you decide what project you want to tackle next?
I don’t know! (Laughs) It’s definitely a variety show over here and it’s been that way since I was a kid. I’ve always done so many different things. I’d jump out of bed just to have fun. My parents, at a very early age, nurtured me to just follow my heart. So, I tried a lot of things and I loved everything I was doing. I didn’t want to be a jack of all trades. My mom and dad as artists, they mastered a certain art or trade and that’s what my goal has always been. I’ve dedicated a lot of hours, a lot of time to really understanding those mediums. Also, if you can do a lot, there’s less people to argue with. So if I’m on a set and I can run the camera, direct, maybe even be in a couple of scenes or I wrote it, then in the editing room I can cut it, and I can also write the music, it might go a lot quicker and maybe I can get more done in one lifetime.
But that wasn’t my impetus or my focus. When I am excited about something, I go for it. So whether that’s a musician, songwriter or music project that I get jazzed by or inspired by, I just go for it. I’m also not married to any specific genre. I’m rather genre agnostic in both music and film. I just love great music, I love to nurture others and I love to help others shine. That’s sort of my main purpose in life. As a music producer or as a music director, and similarly as a movie director, those roles allow me to empower others. I love the collaborative, creative spirit. Now, how am I able to do all of the things I’ve done? Well, if you saw where I live you’d see piles of books, scripts, paperwork and recordings. (Laughs) I did a few corporate things. I worked for ABC News, NBC and SNL, it just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t punch the clock. I’m too much of a free spirit and it runs deep in my DNA. We’re visitors on this planet and we have to enjoy the journey. We’ll ultimately be remembered by how we impacted others. Music, movies, and laughter: those are great healers and that’s really what brings us all together.
PARADISE COVE is currently available to stream on VOD.