My day-to-day duties working on the film were done, as I was only contracted to officially be on the payroll for 6 weeks. Of course, there was no loss of contact, as I was updated regularly on developments. One of the biggest came about a month or so later, when my producer Larry Rattner invited me over to the office to watch the trailer. I was extremely eager to see it, anticipating it like I was opening a huge Christmas gift. It didn't disappoint. Take a look if you haven't seen it yourself:
Watching the scenes play out before me, having seen most of them being filmed, was such an intense rush. Soon as it was over he asked if I'd like to see it again, which of course I did. This was really the beginning of the promotional push for the film, as we soon booked a booth and a panel at the San Diego Comic Con. This was back in early 2005, when you could actually contact the convention this close to the event and secure such arrangements!
In May, an early cut of the film was actually shown at the Cannes Film Festival, which totally blew my mind. Sure, it wasn't an official screening held in one of the palatial theaters (it was shown to gain interest from distributors) but we can say it played at Cannes. Here's how it was covered by the pop culture news site JoBlo.Com:
That summer, after having spent the previous 8 years in Artist Alley, I found myself on the main floor of the convention with a full booth (paid for by the producers, naturally!). On our panel (moderated by my friend and fellow comics creator Mort Todd) we had stars Tony Plana, Joel David Moore and Wilmer Valderrama , as well as myself and producer Larry Rattner. It was cool to be up on the stage, having sat in the audience myself over the years listening to similar panels. But here the audience was gathered to see our preview, and definitely see our star Wilmer (but I spotted a lot of my friends sprinkled throughout the crowd!).
I spent the whole weekend at the booth, greeting fans and hyping up the movie. Wilmer and the other stars even came down for a bit after the panel, adding to the excitement. At one time, actor Seth Green walked by, and saw the poster with Wilmer on it, his eyes fixated on it as he kept walking by. I yelled out "Hey, Seth, that's your buddy Wilmer on there!". He raised a hand and smiled as he continued on. That was a funny moment.
The film still needed post-production work on it, mainly digital effects, scoring and such. So I used the rest of 2005 to return to the drawing board, and work on the next chapter of the El Muerto comic. It was interesting to sit there at my desk, all by myself, armed with my pencil, and once more be the sole voice in the telling of the story of my character. Having seen a whole team of creative people gather together to create the film, even being part of that team myself, it was satisfying to once again, quitely and at my own pace, create the latest chapter.
In November of 2005 I was asked to do a specific job for the film... My director, Brain Cox, asked if I could provide artwork for the opening titles. He wanted to incorporate my art into the film, and also needed some images to complete the opening narrative of the film. The credits would be place into the drawings. There were a couple of scenes he didn't film that could be shown with an illustration. I loved the idea, and told him 'Yes'. Then I immediately contacted my lawyer and told him we'd need to ask Larry for a contract, so I would get paid for this work. Hey, I may be the Associate Producer but I'm also a working artist! Anyway, I did a total of about 24 images. For the opening of the film, Brian requested a particular image of El Muerto. Originally it was a pencil drawing for the cover of a preview comic I published earlier, so I redrew it in ink and we cropped it to fit the widescreen format:
By September of 2006, the film was completed and ready to screen. The first time I saw the film was in a screening theater they had rented on the Warner Bros. lot. We arrived at the theater but then they told us it was moved to another one a few doors down. Evidently, Clint Eastwood was showing the WB executives an early print of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. I figured if I'm going to get bumped out of a theater, better be someone of Clint's stature! Seeing EL MUERTO, complete from beginning to end, was a most memorable experience. I was invested in the movie as a viewer as much as possible, trying not to see it through the eyes of a creator or filmmaker. The fact that the bulk of the movie was original material from Brian's script (with my characters and origin story being the spring board) allowed me take it in as a fan. Seeing my cameo was particularly surreal, in that I'll forever be immortalized on screen with my character at those cemetery gates on East Los Angeles. It's a nice little atmospheric film, letting it's cast of characters wind through the story as it unfolds before them. I still enjoy watching it every so often, letting myself be taken along for another journey by the characters. Sure, I could always sit there and wish we had lots more money for more elaborate set pieces and explosions or whatever, but getting that movie made is an experience I don't take for granted and I'm very satisfied with our final product.
2007 came around and it was time to hit the film festival circuit. Here on the west coast I was able to attend all the screenings: Los Angeles, Oxnard, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and also one in Texas. And while I didn't travel with it, it did screen in New York and Toronto, Canada. Not too bad for a small little independent movie. The festival screenings were as fun as you can imagine. There really is an undeniable attraction to all the hype and excitement of movie screenings and the whole festival circuit. There's Q&A with fans and press, and after-parties of one sort or the other. A whole different level of engagement than we normally find in the comics biz.
Me and actor Tony Plana (Aparicio) at the San Diego Latino Film Festival 2006:
With Maria Conchita Alonso (Sister Rosa) at a screening at Cal State LA:
In San Francisco:
Working the crowds in Oxnard, CA:
Me and Tony Plana even returned to San Diego Comic Con in 2007 with an actual screening:
We also prepared for a DVD release and that was another thing I was heavily involved with. I suggested some of the special features, such as an art gallery with guest artists that I handpicked, a how-to-draw El Muerto tutorial, and the El Muerto mini-comic made exclusively to be included in the DVD package. I also got to record the commentary on the DVD with our director, Brian.
For purposes of marketing, the distributor strongly suggested that the DVD be released under the title THE DEAD ONE. So that's how it was first released initially. 6 months later I was glad to see it re-issued as EL MUERTO. Interesting to have two versions out there. I guess the DEAD ONE is our rarer variant, for all you collectors out there...
Eventually I got copies of the both the Polish and Australian versions as well:
In September of 2007, we even had one more final victory run for the film, a one-week exclusive engagement at the Laemmle's Grande 4-plex in Downtown Los Angeles. On the Opening Night our director, Brian Cox, Larry our producer and myself held a Q&A after the screening. I went at least twice during the week it played there, and lots of my friends reported going throughout the week. One friend even told she and her family ran into one of our actors, Billy Drago, who was in the audience checking out the film himself! Here's me and Brian by the poster, and my and Martin Espino (a friend and accomplished musician who worked with our film composer to provide authentic pre-Columbian music to the soundtrack) outside by the marquee.
With the DVD on the market, and multiple runs on cable tv and streaming services, the film continued to make it's rounds, and I periodically hear from someone who's seen it. Usually at a convention or other appearance I may hear from someone "Oh, I saw that movie!", to which I always say "Well, here's the comic it's based on!". The movie was a big part of my career, and it continues to be a welcome presence in my life.
Tomorrow, we wrap up this series with the 12th day of THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO. See you then!
El Muerto and all related characters are ™ & © Javier Hernandez 1998-2015