Tamara Hernandez - filmmaker, "Men Cry Bullets"
On the phone with Philip Anderson - November 1999
Being an independent filmmaker, no matter how popular some of your films may have been, isn't the easiest job in the world, just ask Tamara Hernandez, writer/director of Men Cry Bullets. Tamara, a South California resident, wants to hone her craft and be seen and she works hard to get there, though the traveled road has it's bumps.
Men Cry Bullets, a quirky, surreal vision of twisted perspectives and a look on relationships - such as dependencies, domestic abuses, insecurities and all the rest of the wonders of "being with someone" - is Tamara's first feature length film and stars, amongst other up-and-coming actors, the now well-established Jerri Ryan, everyone's favorite Borg on Star Trek Voyager. We took the opportunity to chat with Ms. Hernandez about her ideas of making Men Cry Bullets, where she is planning to go, and other tidbits into her life.
We started off on a weird discussion of fan/idol obsessions and stalkers in general. As a writer and director, Tamara too has had her share of "overly interested" parties that prefer to watch her from a distance. Of course, she is not the only director to face such compromises - just as Steven Spielberg.
K2K: So you get stalked too? Are these fans of your films who are overly enthusiastic?
TH: I think that people who show up at my house have ever even seen my movies. Weird guys.
K2K: So is this your first feature movie?
TH: Yeah, I only made short films, four shorts in the past. The shorts were, "The Slap", "Baby Fat", "Lipstick And Lightbulbs" and "Panties".
K2K: What were those about and how long were they?
TH: They were all no more than eight minutes. Five to eight minutes. "The Slap" is about this girl who wants to get slapped on her date. She's like a prom queen and her boyfriend wants to kiss her goodnight and she wants a slap across the face. "Baby Fat" is about a mother tries to talk her 350 lb. son into buy side-by-side burial plots. It's this sort of intense mother-son relationship, almost romantic.
K2K: What got you into doing feature films?
TH: I wanted to. That's what I wanted. The shorts I just made to try to get someone to have faith in me to make a feature, and just to play around and experiment to see if I wanted to do it and if I was any good at it.
K2K: Men Cry Bullets has won some awards?
TH: Yeah, it won six festivals. It won Best Feature at South By Southwest. At Chicago Underground it won Audience Award.
K2K: How long has it been out in the theaters?
TH: Only since October [1999].
K2K: You made it two years ago though, right?
TH: I shot it in 1997. 1998 it went to the film festival. In 1999 it got picked up but we didn't have enough money. We had to make the trailers and there's the Delivery Item, you have to deliver certain things to the distributor, we had to get the money for that and it kind of slowed us down a little bit. It took me a long time just to make a poster. It's complicated because that poster is going to represent your film. I still don't think that I did the best one. You never want to use black and white to represent your film because it makes it look low budget, on a poster. I didn't know that, so it was trial and error.
K2K: When I first saw that picture of Honey Lauren [Gloria], I thought it was Tura Satana from the Russ Meyer movies. She had that whole tight black outfit with a gun look.
TH: Yeah, she has that sort of 70s look. It's kind of odd to have the same taste as a guy like that, being a girl. I have a lot of taste that... what I think is funny, from my point of view, is very similar to a lot of real chauvinistic men. But I turn it around. I look at men as men look at women. I just feel like throwing my arm around them, like I want to be the one who "leads us where we're going to go". It's just natural. I always have to hold myself back and remind myself that I'm a girl.
K2K: Does that come from something or somewhere?
TH: I don't know, maybe a hormonal imbalance. I was always a tomboy. I was always like, captain of my team or the president of my class, or the bully. I was a bully.
K2K: Now, is Men Cry Bullets based on something from your own life?
TH: Yeah, my father and my stepmother's relationship, that's their relationship. That's the way they behaved.
K2K: As the main two characters in the film?
TH: Yeah.
K2K: It didn't end the way it did in the film though, did it?
TH: No. Well, I don't know what happened to them. I haven't talked to him in five years, or maybe longer now. He doesn't even know that I'm a director. But also, I got beat up too. I think I sort of became like my dad, instead of turning out more like "her", I turned out like "him". I don't know why. Sometimes I crossover.
(In talking about the characterizations of the people in the film compared to people we know personally, we get into how clingy and obsessive relationships develop and how they were portrayed in the film. The basis is that abused people many times tend to cling to the abusers and cannot let go.)
TH: I can understand both sides. I can understand the victim and then I can also understand why the [abuser] hits and how they feel afterwards. I don't think it makes it OK. I made the movie for people like that but what I didn't realize is that people who are like that don't go to see movies like mine. That would have had to have been a TV movie. They're not going to a midnight movie showing.
K2K: In the end of the film though everyone looks like a victim though. The only one who seems to end up looking semi-normal is Jerri Ryan's character because people are into themselves [as she was] and she was a little clueless. The rest of the characters seem to all be victims with some sort of mental quirk or another. It makes for a fine movie, but in real life people don't want to deal with people like that. In this case it looks like the victim's made themselves.
TH: She [Jerri Ryan] was actually the voice of reason, the debutante, by saying that if you let somebody hit you, you're just as responsible and it's just as disgusting as if a child was being abused because you can't allow yourself to be abused that way. I think he [Billy] got it in the end though.
(We got into talking about some similarities of the film with real life and about how certain aspects were reflective of the O.J. alleged-murder of Nicole Simpson.)
TH: That's why I did the whole blond wig and in the end when the dogs are barking. I was there that night when she was killed and I remember that all these dogs were barking. I wanted it to feel, when she walked out, what it felt like in the neighborhood that night.
(Tamara ponders for a minute) Man, I wish that he would confess but I don't think he's going to.
(Back to the film) I kind of wanted to tie in that moment and what it felt like. But she got away. It was too late. Sometimes it's too late when you get involved with really crazy people. I just wanted to show the big picture of how somebody gets involved and really how it insidiously progresses.
K2K: But the abuser got away.
TH: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. I think that most of the time they do.
K2K: What about the end scene with the neighbors complaining that they never liked him [Billy] anyway. Calling him a fairy. No angry comments from people?
TH: I just feel like people stand by and watch. They're as much responsible as the people who are involved with the relationship. If they're in the neighborhood and they hear somebody being beaten up and some woman is screaming or whatever, they need to get on the phone and call the police. They are as much responsible. You see a kid who's got problems and looks like he may be being abused, you have to do something about it, it's your duty. I think that a lot of people don't, they don't care. I've seen it happen where they turn away. That's what that point is. It's how a lot of people in society just stand by.
K2K: In summing up the basis of the film of victims in relationships, you reversed the roles.
TH: Yeah, I did. I wanted to sort of somehow connect with boys so that they would feel what it's like to be a girl. Actually, only a few men picked up on that and said, "Wow, now I know what it's like for a woman to see a rape scene in a movie. I'll never be able to look at that again."
K2K: But you almost root for Billy to "get some". I'm not trying to be insensitive.
TH: Well, a lot of people are like that. The thing that happened is that I was trying to connect to guys what it feels like to be a girl but a lot of young guys came up to me and said, "I went through that." It was very traumatizing for them when they were victimized by women, they had been raped by women.
K2K: But in a way, the "rape" scene appears more like a frightened virgin who may eventually get into it but is afraid of losing his virginity - or may be homosexual.
TH: I think that the thing about a lot of rape is that you are attracted to the person and you DO like them and they push on you and that's date rape. I tried to make that scene realistic. He wanted to kiss her. He did. He was attracted to her.
K2K: So what about the characters in the nightclub? What's their story?
TH: They are always their act in the club. Each act represents a sort of stage of where Billy is at. In the beginning he is a baby. He's acting like a baby, very juvenile and young and innocent and scared. He's in the dressing room with Bootser the Baby. That was my brother's name when he was a baby. It was his nickname.
K2K: The guy who lifts things with his nipples, is he with the Jim Rose Circus.
TH: No, he's just a guy. He loved it. It was so funny. He was supposed to act like he was in pain but he loved it. [Billy's] walking out, dressed as Gloria, and in the background is this guy lifting watermelons with his nipples. It's kind of like, he [Billy] wants to be a woman, but at the same time there's this burden of being a woman. That's why I have the watermelon thing with the nipples, like he's holding these massive breasts and what a burden it is. You have these huge things on your chest that you have to deal with.
K2K: I was missing whether he wanted to be a cross-dresser or to be a singer like his mother?
TH: He's like 18 years old. He wanted to just go onstage dressed as his mom and perform like her. That's about it. If I could have continued his life, six months or a year later he would be doing something else. He's just a young kid and that's just what he's doing right there and that's when he meets this woman.
K2K: Are his parents dead?
TH: The mom is. I don't really reveal it until the very last scene. It's very quick. He [the dad] does kill her, but it's an accident. Which can happen quite easily but people don't realize it.
K2K: The paper boy? What's his thing?
TH: He's just there for comic relief.
K2K: Honey Lauren? She used to be with [San Francisco band] the Tubes?
TH: She was a dancer.
K2K: How did you get Jerri Ryan in this film?
TH: I just cast her. She wasn't in Star Trek [then]. She joined it a little bit after the film was done being shot. She's in The Last Man. We made two films back to back. It's going to France. That's about the last three people on Earth and their relationship problems. It's kind of like early Albert Brooks.
K2K: I think that Harry Ralston [Freddie Fishnets] is pretty funny and will be a big actor.
TH: Hopefully. Actually he doesn't really like acting that much but a bunch of people always want to cast him. It's not that he doesn't like it, but he wants to direct. I think that he does have screen presence.
K2K: So, what was it like working with Jerri Ryan?
TH: She's very professional. She takes direction well.
K2K: Is she nice to work with?
TH: Yeah.
K2K: Any gossip or rumors?
TH: As a director, I don't really get to know the actors that well until after the movie, I'm done making it. She went off into Star Trek, so I never got to hang out with her. I think she's very serious. She did her homework.
K2K: That scene with the pig was a little upsetting.
TH: Now, that scene upset you but the rape didn't?
K2K: It wasn't so much upsetting for the pig being killed, but seeing Jerri Ryan - this sex goddess - come out, lay down the ax and see the blood splattering all over her was a little shocking. More so being it's Jerri Ryan.
TH: Well, you never know how people are going to turn out. I sort of wanted to make that point and, at the same time, foreshadow what's going to happen to Billy.
K2K: Was she trying to be malicious?
TH: I think that she was not.
K2K: What was it like working with Steve Nelson [Billy]?
TH: He adds a lot to the role. He's got a lot of depth. I think he could be very famous. I haven't heard from him for a while but he's just starting to get a lot of work. The thing about making it as an actor is that you can't just be talented, you have to really work hard and push to get out there and make your name. I hope he gets it. He has such a face and such potential. That was the first movie that he had ever done.
K2K: It would be interesting to see him in a role of less of a victim.
TH: He's always playing a bad guy. He's done features after my movie. He's done like four or five. His real personality is the "bad boy". It's kind of funny because in real life Honey Lauren is like Billy and Steven Nelson is like Gloria. Their personalities are completely opposite. He's not like, abusive or anything, but he's very confident. Women are all over him. But, they're good actors because you believed them.
K2K: What are you hoping to do within the next two to five years?
TH: I just turned in my script to this company and hopefully they will like this last draft and will make it. I'm starting to write my next script and hopefully will have one or two scripts finished by the time they get the financing together for this other one. I could just keep moving forward. I'm also trying to get my own TV show. On Fox.
K2K: What's that about?
TH: It hasn't been sold. It has to get the OK. I think I have to wait until next June. It's a comedy.
K2K: Any working title?
TH: It's called "The Bizarre Mind Of Helen Jones". I would love to have my own TV show.
K2K: When you sell a pilot and it doesn't work, do you have the option to buy it back?
TH: If you negotiate that in your contract ahead of time. Sometimes they give it to you and sometimes they don't. You probably have to wait two years to get it back.
K2K: Have you ever done acting yourself?
TH: I did a few plays. I don't really like acting.
K2K: How did you come to do directing?
TH: I was forced to do my first short film by this producer. He wanted me to direct my own script because I was having difficulty accommodating the other director. He kept wanting to change things that went against my whole soul. I knew why he was doing it, to put his imprint on the work, not because he needed it. My scripts were so personal. It was hard. [The producer] said, "You have to direct yourself or nothing's going to happen." I made that short film and my whole life changed after that. I was a different person.
K2K: Describe this mystery - what exactly is a producer? In layman's terms.
TH: A foundation of a film. They raise the money and make sure everyone's doing their job. If they don't do their job, they fire them and replace them with someone who can. They take the heat for anything that goes wrong. They have to fix every single problem that there is.
K2K: So they're like the supervisor?
TH: They are like the parent. Whatever the director needs, they have to be there for them and make sure that they can get it. If the director is overfunding, they have to pull them aside and pull them back. If there's a problem with the actor and the director, they have to work it out. They're like a therapist. They're like everything. A good producer is THE most important thing to a film. All the glory goes to the director and the stars but I think that the producer is a huge part. The writer and the producers always get skipped over.
K2K: Who are some of your favorite directors?
TH: I really Stephen Soderberg's career. I would love to have a career like his. It just seems like he has a lot of freedom. I liked early Mike Nichols (The Graduate). Roman Polanski. Stanley Kubrick, of course. He was so perfect. I like Bertolucci. He has a good eye.
(We then got onto some musings of old films before getting back to her film.)
TH: Everything that I do from now on is going to be much lighter than Men Cry Bullets. I'm definitely going to go more for comedy. It's too hard to go that deep.
K2K: What about the quirkiness?
TH: Well, I don't think that I could take that out. I can't be normal. I've tried.
(In reference to Tamara's height)
K2K: You're not going to tell me that you're too small to be normal, are you?
TH: Too tiny? I'm a midget. I can't open a peanut butter jar. No, I'm kidding. I love peanut butter. It's really good for a mood-balancing food. If you're sad, you just eat some peanut butter and you're happy.
K2K: Well, outside of peanut butter, any last reminders or comments?
TH: Men Cry Bullets will be playing in Santa Cruz, CA in March [2000] and it will be going to Chicago and another place.
K2K: What about Last Man Standing? When is that coming out?
TH: Hopefully it will be coming around. We don't have anyone to distribute it yet but it has a strong possibility.
And with that we went on with some other personal musings about the film industry and Southern California. Watch for Men Cry Bullets if it comes to your city or later this summer when it will be available for rent or purchase. Keep an eye out for Tamara Hernandez, one of the spunky writers that pushes on through.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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