Besides following him around with a camera, I began interviewing people Wolfe had met with in Miami during his research trips: Chief Timoney; Mayor Manny Diaz; auto mogul and art collector Norman Braman; Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal; the cops who took him on a boat ride in Biscayne Bay; the late police officer Angel Calzadilla and others.
A crew of one
I remember showing up to interview Mitch Kaplan, the book fair founder and owner of Books & Books, at his Coral Gables store in 2009.
“Where’s your crew?” he asked.
“You’re looking at it,” I said.
To the trained eye, the early interviews featured in the film are less than perfect. I had to run the cameras, sometimes two at a time, and conduct the interviews at the same time. Shots were sometimes out of focus, the audio levels wrong.
But I learned as I went, trying to improve with each interview. It took a village to make this film.
My wife became the main breadwinner at home — and hence the movie’s main investor and co-producer. My mother-in-law, Mariana Betancourt, chipped in and made it into the film as the Hialeah-savvy Realtor who drove Wolfe and I around.
My time with Wolfe was as much a personal adventure, as a professional challenge. I never quite morphed completely from an admiring fan into a dispassionate journalist covering his methods.
I made this film to leave a record of how one of our greatest living writers brings his literature to life. It’s the only film ever made about Wolfe, a character in the world of letters unlike any other. The film also serves to show how some of the things that seem wildest about Back to Blood are actually spot-on observations of Miami.
This novel marks a major cultural milestone in Miami, a city that for decades has attracted and inspired writers of all stripes. From this point forward, when someone new comes to Miami, insiders will recommend Back to Blood as required reading.
In a series of conversations, he talked about his choice of Miami as the setting for his book, and the impressions he carried away.
“Miami has entered the elite company of cities like New York and San Francisco that say, ‘we don’t care how you notice us, just notice us,’” he said. “There’s no other city like it in the United States.”
As time passed working on the film, money became tighter. I had no investors or financial backers. I continued working construction for two years. There were days when I’d haunt Home Depot and Shell Lumber in the morning and shoot Wolfe in the afternoon.
In the editing process, I worked closely with fellow independent filmmaker Mario de Varona to distill more than 35 hours of footage, including at least 14 hours of Wolfe, into 71 minutes.
Now I’ve got my mind turning over new projects, at least one of which involves a dusty construction site, an interior decorator and some drywall studs.