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The new comedy ‘Get the Gringo’ spent two months filming in the city of Veracruz primarily in the shuttered Ignacio Allende Penitentiary which served as the setting for “El Pueblito.” This was the second time Mel Gibson and his company Icon Productions filmed on locations in Veracruz, the first time being 2006 when Gibson directed “Apocalypto.”
The Ignacio Allende Penitentiary was built over 105 years ago to replace the old jail located in the basement of the Municipal Palace of the Port City, and the prison became a model for other penal establishments of its kind in Mexico. In January 2010 the remaining 300 prisoners were relocated from the building to more modern facilities.
It was the assignment of Bernardo Trujillo, production designer to design and create the realistic sets, the world of El Pueblito inside the Ignacio Allende Penitentiary. And with the creative vision and tireless work of art director Jay Aroesty and set decorator Julietta Alvarez, they re-created an astonishingly real world of El Pueblito, where the character Driver, .
“The prison in Tijuana, El Pueblito, was a very chaotic place built out of the inspiration and money of the inmates without regulations imposed upon them by the administration inside the prison,” said production designer Bernardo Trujillo. “There was a lot of corruption and also a lot of spontaneity going on there.”
The biggest challenge of the Art Department was to create production design for the movie that came from this sort of chaotic mixture of materials, architecture and makeshift structures and homes that the inmates built from their own ideas and manpower in the real El Pueblito.
“This created a very specific aesthetic that was not organized at all – and we started with a very organized canvass here at the Allende prison,” continues Mr. Trujillo. “Fortunately we had the freedom to tear down walls, to take over empty spaces and to create empty spaces. The shanty town that you see in our movie El Pueblito began with four empty walls, and we opened up that big wall in the prison and stated building from scratch.
A large part of Art Director Jay Aroesty’s job was the construction of the sets coordinating the carpenters, painters, and working hand in hand with Set Decorator Julietta Alvarez.
“Basically we had a non-orthodox way of production design, aid Mr. Aroesty. We constructed a cardboard model of El Pueblito and the prison an then we bean to build it – with wood, brick, concrete — with all sorts of real materials and objects you usually don’t use in a film.”
When Penal Allende was closed, the authorities thinking they were doing the production a favor, painted all the interior walls white. “So we had to go back to the original walls and bring out the old textures on the walls and make it look like it was before the walls were painted white,” said Mr. Aroesty. “Also, we had to deconstruct a lot because it was very cramped. We didn’t have a real main square so we had to open up the big wall to get the two courtyards and we had to take down a couple of buildings.
“When we came in the first couple of days after they had just emptied what was left of the prison, it wasn’t a nice place to be in,” he continued. “It’s an improvement, maybe not visually, because it probably looks more run down than when we got here. But the interiors were pretty intense – definitely. The real titanic labor was done by decoration.”
Said Jay: “Deconstruction of the prison started on 1/22 – about one week after the prison was emptied. The Art Department worked for five weeks on deconstruction and construction, and Set Decor tin a total of three weeks – and the results are amazing considering all the work and minute details that went into re-creating El Pueblito with the realism that you would swear people had been living in those homes, walking in those courtyards, and eating at the kiosks just moments before the director yelled Action!”