Meet Carmen Marron, Hollywood's Most Improbable Auteur

The story behind the making of Go For It! -- a decade-long DIY saga encompassing three cities, two career changes, at least one extra job, untold failed locations, one broken mirror, and one of Madonna's choreographers, among other distinguishing qualities -- is not necessarily so different than that of scores of other hand-to-mouth independent-film productions you've heard or read before. But it's one worth telling, if only because Carmen Marron, the woman responsible for it, is living a dream she didn't even know she had.

Indeed, Marron never intended to write, produce and direct this film about a Latina college student (Aimee Garcia) struggling to reconcile her modest family life, her education and her passion for hip-hop dance. Working as a guidance counselor for high-risk teens, Marron would have been just fine just handing her script and its inspirational message off to a professional (and, as you'll read, she has fine taste in professionals). That didn't happen, which is probably a good thing: Go For It! has since enjoyed a Cinderella run at numerous regional film festivals, eventually landing back in Hollywood, where Lionsgate caught on. This Friday, the studio will make Go For It! the first release under its new Pantelion label targeting Latino audiences.

Ultimately, it's a gamble born of Marron's even bigger gamble, one about which the filmmaker recently spoke to Movieline.

So what's your background?

Actually, I have a bachelor's degree in business, and a master's degree in educational psychology. I used to be a guidance counselor in Phoenix.

How did you wind up in filmmaking?

I guess it was by chance. I was guidance counselor in south Phoenix, and I was working with inner-city kids. I chose to work in that community because it reminded me of the community I grew up in in Chicago -- in Logan Square, which is a rough neighborhood. But as I was working as a guidance counselor, I was working with a lot of these awesome kids who reminded me of my friends growing up who just kept making the same, awful, clichéd, choices that were ruining their lives. So I wanted to find a way to reach them, and I saw that what was really influencing them more than anything, unfortunately, was television and film. And so that's when I decided to write a script -- a script about characters that mirrored their lives and would hopefully inspire them to make better choices.

Had you made any short films or anything before jumping right into a feature?

I didn't realize how bizarre it is until I tell people and they look at me really weird, but no. I had no desire to ever become a filmmaker, honestly.

So how did you get to a point where you felt like you could pull this off?

I didn't know! I just knew that I had something I felt so strongly about that I had to give it my all. But my first process was that I took books out of the library. I had met screenwriters with degrees from top film schools, and they said, "Honestly, you don't need a degree; you need to have a story that you're passionate about, and you have to be very visual." So I started reading those books, and I started writing.

When I moved to L.A., I would go to a lot of filmmaking seminars, and I would tell people on the panel what I was trying to do, and I would ask them to read my script and give me feedback. That helped get it to the place where I was ready to go into production. But honestly, I had no plans whatsoever to make the film. I really wanted to give the script to somebody who would take it and make it into a film.

How long ago are we talking about?

This was 2003 or 2004. Anyone I told, "I want to make this inspirational hip-hop dance film; it's going to be a multi-cultural, all-minority cast," everybody would just shy away from it or tell me films with minority leads don't make money. Especially Latinos. They just have a track record of not making money. So nobody was interested. Then I would say after about two years of people closing the door on me and telling me to give it up. I saw Bread and Roses [Ken Loach's film about two Latina sisters' struggles to unionize a janitorial staff in Los Angeles]. Have you seen it?

It's been a while.

Well, I saw Bread and Roses, and I was inspired to no end. I wrote a letter to Ken Loach. He's in England. I found him and I told him I wanted to make this film about these issues of social responsibility, this is what I see, this is what I'd like, can you please, please direct it? If he'd direct it, I thought I could get funding. So I sent him the letter, and about two weeks later, his assistant calls me from London. It was like a turning point in my life. He wakes me up at, like, 7 in the morning and he says, "Ken and I read your letter, and we were very moved. And we really wanted to reach out to you and tell you that you must direct your film yourself." And I just was like, "Say whaaaa?" And he said, "Honestly. You have it all already in your head, and you're so passionate about it. Nobody can tell this story the way you can. The hardest part is finding the money, but once you get the money, it'll all fall into place. Just figure out how to make it low-budget."

I got off the phone with him and was in kind of a state of shock. I remember I called my husband at work, and I said, "I'm going to direct this film. I'm going to make it." And I was going to direct it Robert Rodriguez-style, for like a dollar, and I'm going to get it out there even if I have to take it to one theater at a time across the country. Then my neighbor said, "If you really want to earn money for your film, you should do what I do: I'm a pharmaceutical rep. You can produce your film, and you can create your own hours." And that's what I did. I fudged my résumé -- I don't really know a thing about science -- but I applied and started doing that. My husband took a second job, God bless him -- he's an IT consultant. And we spent five years saving.

So in that five years we were saving, I just started watching tons of films -- a lot of director's commentaries. I went to seminars. I took snapshots of films through this program my husband taught me, so I could put together files of how I wanted a scene to look in my film. I started driving around L.A. and Chicago, which is where I knew I was going to film, and I started knocking on doors and asking people, "One day I'm going to make a movie; can I use your location?" Some places went out of business in those years, but the other ones that were around were really supportive.

This is incredible.

It was amazing. And my movie cost more than I thought, because it's a dance film, and I had 17 dancers and four choreographers. I really wanted to do it well, because I wanted people to take it seriously. I shot on the RED, which had just come out. I spent a year casting; I was really fortunate to have all these actors and choreographers. The dancers agreed to work for $100 a day; they just really connected to the script and what the purpose was, I guess.

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