When Lionsgate decided to make a mainstream movie in Spanish for Latino audiences in the United States, the studio had to find a director who was both bilingual and had "Hollywood sensibilities."
Their search led them to Joe Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, who had made two indie films and had directed episodic TV.
"They saw this film I made a few years back, called the 'Hunting of Man,' " says Menendez. "It was in English but with a 98% Latino cast. Most indie movies, with rare exceptions, tend not to have happy endings and the uplifting, John Williams-type music. But my movie had that. I grew up loving Steven Spielberg and 'Star Wars' and 'Die Hard.' My tastes were always mainstream."
Menendez recalls Lionsgate asking him, "Do you have anything that can be made in Spanish? What ideas do you have that you could shoot in 20 days and for not a lot of money?"
Menendez called a friend, screenwriter José Angel Henrickson, before going into the pitch meeting. "I remembered an idea he came up with about a heist pulled off by the people you never notice that are sort of invisible -- the maid, the gardener, the chauffeur. Nobody looks at a Mexican with a broom."
Henrickson refreshed his memory on the plot points, and Menendez went and pitched it -- sort of.
"I forgot half of it, so I had to make up half the movie. They bought it right in the room. I called José and said, 'The good news is that they want to make the movie. The bad news is that I pitched it wrong, and this is the new movie you are going to write.' "
The result, "Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón," opens Friday. The caper comedy revolves around two veteran thieves who reunite in Los Angeles to rob a TV infomercial guru/con man who has made a fortune selling useless health items to poor Latino immigrants.
Though he won't reveal the film's budget, Menendez says it was "way under" $2 million. He credits his wife Roni's producing acumen for getting the "most bang for so little bucks."
"She could squeeze the last drop out of a rock," he says.
Though Menendez has several ideas for English-language features, he hopes to do more films in Spanish. "But it's all going to depend on the box office," he says.
That language never changes.
-- Susan King