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The Hero's Journey

I am going to let you all in on a little secret. It wasn’t my original intent to get into the culinary industry. The truth is, 3 years ago when I was greenlit to write and shoot a coffee docu-series, I got extremely lucky. I didn’t have a background in film or television. Outside of high school theater production and some college courses, I never really tried to pursue the thing I was truly passionate about.

Back in 1999, I was a movie extra for about 3 years, but I did that mostly because it was an easy way to make money while going to school. Oddly enough, I did enjoy it very much, especially because of some of the people I was meeting on set. The people working there on the sound, the lighting, the grips. The “not-quite” directors and assistant directors on set. This is going to sound crazy but, we didn’t have cell phones back then. Well, we did, but they weren't quite the same. If you were a real pro you would bring a camping chair, a book, and a walkman if you had one. Otherwise, it was just a long day of having to listen to kids from the Midwest asking a thousand questions about how to break into the industry. But I never really pursued the industry beyond that. I just kept watching more movies and more shows and complained about all the mediocre shit that kept being made. In a way, quite the parallel that I felt with Mexican cuisine for almost 30 years. When the pandemic happened I knew that the chances of me returning to Mexico to shoot my show were slim to none for at least a year. Rather than waiting it out, I just figured that I would make progress on my writing by simply buying my own equipment and shooting our own content. However, before I had the chance to do that, I met this dude who was visiting from Mexico and was looking to shoot some video content for his portfolio. His name was Braulio, and he was in Portland for a month before he was to head back. Mind you, this was the summer of 2020, a pivotal and extraordinarily busy summer for us. We had just reopened La Perlita, and every day we hosted a different pop-up in our space. The place was a hit. And it was a hit because weeks before we opened, I met with Axel and said something like “This is going to be bigger than anything else you’ve been a part of in your life. You worry about running your shop and I’ll worry about telling the story”. In the end, I took my new friend Braulio up on his offer. I told him exactly what we were going to do. It was going to be a 2:30 minute video, telling the hero's journey. He kinda looked at me funny, but he said “great, when can you have a script?” I told him to come back in two hours and promised him that this was going to be the best thing he ever shot. Once again he looked at me funny and went about his way.

As promised, by the time he came back I had a script. I also had the outline and our Protagonist lined up. We talked through the details, of which there weren't many. I was relying on writing something so good that he could just shoot and edit. To be honest, at that moment I didn’t realize how good this man was going to be. A week later, we had our first finished product, something that took me exactly 20 fucking minutes to write, and my brother Braulio, two days to shoot, and three to edit. To be honest, part of why it only took him three days was because the audio narration we provided him was so bad. I am not kidding. I had Axel (our protagonist) read his lines back into an earphone jack microphone and onto an app on my laptop. But, we got it done, and that video truly put us on the map.

Afterwards, Brau went back to Mexico and promised he would come back next summer. During the time he was away, we opened República and started making a name for ourselves. When he came back the next summer, I had a number of ideas lined up. We started with short, beautiful reels and followed with 3-5 minute videos on the Restaurant. We then shot a video for Orox and toyed with the idea of shooting more videos for other folks in the city. But, by now we were really starting to move along, and so we said, let’s just shoot our own docu-series. Now, before I go any further, let me just say, that is not how the industry works. In fact, you don’t want to shoot anything unless someone has already agreed to buy it. And for someone to agree to buy your work, you have to be somewhat established or accomplished, it truly doesn’t work in any other way. When I moved to Mexico I had someone who believed in me but also had a contract to produce hours and hours of content for Netflix, including a show about coffee.

We did not have any of that, but of course, we didn’t let that stop us. We shot our first version of Rose City ‘Til I Die. One camera, four interviews, two microphones, and very VERY little structure…still, it was pretty good. We learned a lot from shooting this. For one, it lacked any linear story. It was simply beautiful shots and semi-interesting conversations. But, it wasn’t quite what we were looking to get out of the project. By the time we wrapped it up in 2021, Brau went back to Mexico, I went on our trip to Europe, and we made arrangements to meet in Oaxaca to shoot something entirely different, come February. Again, still lacking structure, direction, and most importantly, a buyer. The time came. We met in Oaxaca, only this time we invested in equipment, travel, lodging, and a full crew that had absolutely zero experience doing film production. It wasn’t a disaster, but it was certainly a lesson that I will save for another chapter. After we left Oaxaca, we came back to Portland and began production on Rose City ‘Till I Die, only this time we had a format, structure, and direction. Again though, still no buyer. And despite being much better this time around, we were still lacking…so much. At the same time, República & Co. was expanding so fast! I am not sure how I was able to write anything or give direction during that time, and eventually both the creative piece and the Hospitality began to suffer. October 2022 came. By this point, we were sitting on hours and hours of footage with still no plan as to where any of it was going. I had a number of conversations at that point, some that seemed very productive, others that gave me great insight as to what I should have done differently, but at the end we still had the same thing that we started with - hours and hours of content that we could mold into whatever it is that we wanted. 2023 came, and we began releasing Rose City “Til I Die in individual episodes as opposed to the hour long format we initially planned for. We then took the Mexico content, created a teaser trailer, and edited the cold open scene in order to spark conversations with potential buyers. As always, you are probably wondering where I am going with all of this. Well, as I said very early on, I never intended to get into the culinary scene. My goal was always to be in film; writing, directing, producing, and if necessary acting/hosting. When I knew that this was what I wanted to do, I began to work the formula backwards. I knew that I was too old to go film school or join some sort of writing collective. I saw the easiest things to produce are either short films or documentaries. To me, short films were out of the question. The documentaries however, seemed doable, especially if I was some sort of expert or credible voice in my field. I felt that food gave me that in. Especially telling the stories of the food and the people from Mexico. I found my answer. I simply had to open a Mexican restaurant and build it to be one of the best in the country. Now, in order for me to do that, I had to figure out what that formula looked like. I needed to know who the best Mexican Chefs in the country were, for what restaurants, and what they were serving. After that I needed to figure out what problem I was solving. That part was easy.

I started with the food and went down the list. I pinpointed what I loved about it and what I hated most. I took apart menus and read the way those in our industry spoke about it. All the things that had sat dormant in my head regarding the topic, suddenly all came to life. I read up on the food, the history, and the way it is often misinterpreted. I wrote out our story and our purpose. I gave everything on that menu meaning, everything! If you tried to order a margarita, you would know why we didn’t have it on our menu.

You would learn the characters of that story. Everyone had a role, something that had not been seen in a restaurant like this before. If you don’t believe me, at one point I passed on an interview and suggested to the writer that instead they take the time to get to know the most important people on our staff. It was a great piece that would not have happened unless I took a step to the side the same way I had done when we told the story of Axel’s journey the year before. Good characters are essential to a good story. The point of why I got into this industry in the first place is because I knew that it was going to bring me closer to the thing I wanted to do the most. And I am sharing all of this with you, because I hope that it inspires you to think of the ideal life you want for yourself. Because to have that ideal life you first have to draw it all up and put it down on paper. You have to know how much you are willing to sacrifice to get there. I mean that. Sometimes it's money, other times is work/life balance, other times is friendships, and all of it ties back to how much you are willing to forgo when it comes to the happiness of now vs. the happiness of later. It might take years before I get lucky again and get my foot in the door. But I like to believe that I am realistic about it all. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll turn on your TV, go to a streaming channel and say to yourself, “ain't this the guy who owns República?” Write it down, or it will never happen. Trust me.

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