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From Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy and producer of A Single Man and In Good Company, comes ‘A Better Life’ – a poignant, multi-generational story about a father’s love and everything a parent will sacrifice to build a better life for his child.
Carlos Galindo dreamed of good things for his wife and future son when they crossed the border into the US. But when his wife left him, wanting more than he could give, Carlos’ only goal became to make sure his son Luis was given the opportunities he never had.
After years of hard work and trying to set an example for his child, he still finds himself drifting apart from Luis, now a teenager, who is susceptible to peer pressures that could lead him down a dangerous path. Seeing a way to control their own destiny, Carlos borrows what little money he can and invests it all into his own gardening business, hoping to finally achieve the better life he always envisioned for his son.
However, after an unexpected turn of events, when everything he’s worked for is suddenly taken away, it is Luis, despite years of growing apart, who teams up with Carlos to take it back. Together, father and son embark on a physical and spiritual journey where they discover something more important – that family is the most important part of the American dream.
An authentic ‘Better Life’
A Spanish-speaking cast and crew was not merely an affectation: it reflected Weitz’s commitment to authenticity and his desire to accurately portray the community he would represent on film. This began as an intellectual exercise and ended with Father Gregory Boyle. Father G., as he is known, is a Jesuit priest who ministers to and lives in the East Los Angeles community, as pastor of the Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights.
After the 1992 riots, he created what would become Homeboy Industries, which “assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.”
Weitz says, “Being somewhat of a nerd, my first instinct was to go to the bookstore and get some books on the subject because I didn’t know East LA My first foray into the culture was to try to get a sense of the demographics and what it is like to be a young person living in East LA in an environment where gangs exist, and what it’s like to be an undocumented worker.
In the acknowledgements section of one of these sociological texts I found Father Gregory Boyle mentioned. I thought, well he seems like a really interesting man. I begged a meeting with Councilman Richard Alarcon who called him up and within minutes, I was talking to the guy who I thought might really be able to help us in terms of being able to enter into these neighborhoods with a show of respect on our part.
“I showed the script to Father G., he took the time to read it, even though he has a very busy life and he found it just as wonderful as I did. And from that point forward, he and Homeboy Industries showed incredible faith in us and I would say also us in them. Father G. has a way of believing in you that makes it very difficult for you to let him down.
He blessed the set on our first day and since then I kept in mind that the people we are doing this for are not just the audience but the gardeners and all the people that Father G. ministers to.” Specifically, Father Boyle and his group vetted the script and helped the A Better Life team navigate the neighborhoods in which the production would film. Indeed, some of his Homeboy Industries members literally became part of A Better Life cast and crew.
“I told Father Boyle that we wanted to engage in the neighborhoods we would shoot in, we wanted to make a good impression. We were also willing to have a long- term connection with Homeboys Industries – I personally will always be involved with them. We asked Father G. if he thought it would be possible to set up some auditions and he gave us five people – we cast all of them. We hired his people to work in catering, in security, as location liaisons.
“We also tested our script and the presumptions in it against what Father Boyle knew, from 20 years of working and living in these neighborhoods and the amazing thing was that our writer, Eric Eason, had done a tremendous job of research so that 99% of it felt very right, true and compelling, but also fair-minded and redemptive.
The one percent was about particular expressions or the way gang members behave, housing, did a place look right, did the way they were talking seem correct? And these things can come down to the difference between one block and another one five blocks over. I don’t want to claim any street cred from our association with Homeboy Industries. They do amazing stuff and we were incredibly fortunate to have their help,” Weitz says.
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