Sepulveda Boulevard is, as many Angelenos know, a major thoroughfare in California. But in the film Sepulveda, from directing duo Jena English and Brandon Wilson, the longest street in Los Angeles is not merely a route but a destination. Making a road trip out of driving down the entirety of Sepulveda Boulevard, English and Wilson’s trio of characters – Kristina, Karla, and Leslie – set out on a journey that shows us a version of LA that seldom gets to be seen on screen.
The idea was in Wilson’s mind as a follow-up to his directorial debut, 2005’s The Man Who Couldn’t. He originally envisioned it as a sequel to that film, with many of its characters returning. But, as often happens with working filmmakers, his day job teaching at Marshall High School in Los Angeles got in the way. It wasn’t until one of his former students suggested he shoot a film about her and her friends that Kristina, Karla, and Leslie ended up playing versions of themselves on screen. After a successful crowdfunding effort, husband and wife Wilson and English set about making Sepulveda happen, using all the help they could muster from their large network of friends and acquaintances. Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s soundtrack.
“This film is for those people you don’t usually see. The music you don’t usually hear.”
In film as in real life, a good road trip really rests on a good playlist. And English, who spearheaded the search for the film’s soundtrack using her contacts in LA’s music scene, doesn’t disappoint. Not only does the music add to the film’s overall vibe, but it ends up working as a companion to the very spirit of the film in its attempt to portray underrepresented voices and stories.
“I wanted females. And I wanted minorities,” English told Remezcla. “I wanted them doing genres that were mostly not the typical things. I have hip hop, but it’s women. I have country, but it’s a Mexican-American. The idea was to really represent. Because the girls are not the usual stereotype. They’re not at all what you see when you see Latinos on screen.” This stems from English’s own experience as a minority within a minority: “I am the black girl who looks Mexican, who grew up with Latinas who listen to punk music. I was in this weird place and this film is for all of those people who feel underrepresented. For the people you don’t usually see. The music you don’t usually hear.”
To help match the girls’ more earthy feel, English sought out a sound that could match them. One of the people she knew she wanted to include was Medusa, a hip hop act that dates back to 90s and The Good Life scene. The other group she wanted in the film was Mahi Gato, a young LA-based African-American woman from New Orleans who has a rock band with her Japanese partner. She wanted that Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound they had.
But that was only the beginning. With the help of friends, English began tracking down these artists and pitching the project. She even went as far as posting a mass call for musicians on Facebook. That actually paid off as a music producer in Detroit put her in touch with soul/R&B singer Malinda LeBeau who is the sole act featured in the film that is not from Los Angeles. She ended up recruiting Inoe Oner, one of the members of Name Science to assist her with the music in the film, becoming a supervisor in the process. It’s Oner who got her in contact with online retailer CD Baby, where they’ll be selling the soundtrack. He was also instrumental in setting up the meeting where English and Wilson sold Medusa the idea of being involved in this homegrown project.
Even one of their leads, Leslie, ended up connecting English and Oner with other acts that made it into the final cut of Sepulveda. She introduced them to LA-based rapper Reverie and to Gilbert Louie Ray Montoya, whose folky, ukelele-strummed songs added to the overall sound of the project. And while the featured artists were gracious enough to lend their music to the film, English was sure to add that any profits made from the soundtrack will go directly to the artists. The solidarity between struggling artists was clearly something that added to this chemistry.
“Some people were just really happy that somebody noticed them and told them that I loved their music and wanted to feature it in the film, and that I had no intention on making a profit off of what they were giving me,” English noted. “I really want all these artists to get exposure because I think they all deserve it.” At the festival, for example, they’ll be handing out flyers with information about the soundtrack and to make sure that all of the artists are being plugged alongside the film.
It’s that sort of passion that helps make the soundtrack feel so intricately connected to the film, and it speaks to the filmmaking team’s core vision. “I even had someone come up to me,” English admitted while laughing, “asking me which songs were written specifically for the film. None of them! They just fit.”
‘Sepulveda’ screens on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. as part of Urbanworld Film Festival, which runs from September 21-October 5, 2016 in New York.