After School is a Must See Film
Married couple dare to discuss child sexual abuse and the dangers of family secrets in award-winning movie
"After School" is a riveting independent film about child sexual abuse, human trafficking and the perseverance of the human spirit. The main actors/producers Mauricio Mendoza and Yeniffer Behrens-Mendoza happen to be married and their teenage son Adrian Moreira-Behrens is the star of the film.
Published on LatinoLA: May 26, 2015
"After School" is a powerful film that dares to discuss child sexual abuse and the dangers of family secrets; awful subject matter that evoke strong emotions. The film is currently touring in selected cities across the United States.
Written by Ruben Padilla specifically for Mauricio, Yeniffer, and Adrian, the topic of sexual child abuse and human trafficking was something the family's production company True Form Films was prepared to champion. This proved to be a smart business decision as the film has collected a record number of wins at film festivals both nationally and internationally. Capturing two Best Actor awards for young Adrian Moreira-Behrens, three Best Director awards and two Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress awards as well as several more national and international awards. It is currently being shopped around at the Cannes Film Festival.
Everyone knows that Hollywood is a fickle friend but it's also a place where dreams can come true. Loving husband and wife, Mauricio Mendoza and Yeniffer Behrens-Mendoza, are two hard-working actors who met on set some 6 years ago. For them, their merger of talent and family was a no-brainer. They understood the entertainment industry pitfalls and decided to find projects they could collaborate on. A real family affair. Here is a candid interview with two professional actors who dared to dream.
Belinda Quesada (BQ): How did you start True Form Films?
Yeniffer Behrens-Mendoza (YB-M): I started the business back in 2006 with DeWayne Cox. Our goal has always remained the same, to produce quality movies that motivate and inspire. The name came one day when I was meditating. I was looking for a name and thought, the truest form is making something pure. And True Form Films was the name that came to mind. As a working actress, I wanted more control of my projects and wanted more creative diverse roles. When I met my husband, he was also in the same place. Together, we have been lucky to be surrounded by loving, supportive talented friends and family.
BQ: How did you cast for this film?
Mauricio Mendoza (MM): We did an Open Casting call. But, because this is not a Latino film, we believe it's a universal story in the script, we gave ourselves Caucasian names. When we did casting, we wanted to make sure every ethnicity was in this film. We have a deaf mute, Caucasian, Latino, African American, and animals, etc. It was a very difficult shoot, long days. Once we got on this train there was no looking back. There was no producing fee, we basically gave it back.
BQ: What was it like working with your family?
MM: It was a treat. Honestly, we were excited to be work together. The beauty is that we challenged each other. We wanted the best performance and we were always striving to improve ourselves. In this business there is no control over your destiny unless you are creating your own project. This is a subject that many people don't want to talk about. Many of our friends have dealt with or know someone who has been sexually abused. We understood very early on our responsibility to this subject and knew we could deliver the sensibility needed. It was the hardest thing we've ever done and turned out to be the most rewarding, too.
BQ: This is unusual to have a script written for you, let alone your family. What was the motivation?
MM: I love to learn. One day my best friend, Ruben Padilla and I decided to take an entrepreneurial business course. I've known Ruben for 23 years. He's a Writer. I'm an actor but my passion was to produce. We were just two dreamers who always wanted to work together. When this opportunity came up, we knew instantly that this was the perfect vehicle for our family.
I usually play the professional. I have always displayed very strong characters, smart drug dealers, etc. But I wanted to play against type. My wife, Yennifer, always played attractive beautiful women. I wanted her to also play against type. She is a tough but compassionate Police Sergeant. My wife agreed. For our son, Adrian, it was important for us to never show him being physically abused on film. My wife and I are very spiritual and want to produce Spiritual cinema that moves the audience. As parents, having experience with children, we know how important it is to empower children to speak up. We learned that it's not just about the work, it's bigger than us. Because of the film, we discovered other organizations that thank us for helping them continue the conversation. Create a safe environment to have a serious conversation.
BQ: How did your son Adrian do?
Y B-M: He loved it. He was always very clear that he wanted to do this. Adrian, has been acting since age three. However, this was his longest very dramatic role.
At the Table reading, we kept checking in with him and even offered to cast another young boy. Adrian said no, he was determined to do it. Once on set, we started with his most dramatic scenes of inside the classroom first. It was tense and there were moments where he had to go deeper to deliver his lines. He allowed me to coach him. We practiced and I had to get tough with him; but, he knew that he had to deliver the scene and he did. We made a great team.
Between scenes and breaks, Adrian had his best friend and his dad there. And at the end of the film when we wrapped, we surprised him with tickets to Comic-Con in San Diego. He was so happy. We were so very proud of him. On screen you can see he tapped into his emotions and gave a perfect performance. He was happy and feels honored to know that he could help a child(ren). He tells them, if they speak up the can get help. The film is very empowering that way.
BQ: Films are expensive, how did you secure financing?
MM: Through PayPal, our film campaign raised $30,000. In addition, Plus Entertainment and other good friends helped us finance this film. A lot of favors went into it.
BQ: How long was the shoot to make After School?
MM: 14 days with a one-day pick up. Most of the film happens in one location and that made things a lot easier. Every day we left the school, we were responsible for cleaning up. We made sure we left the building immaculate. Our days were long and we felt grateful that we were able to make this film. Yeniffer was nursing our then one-year old daughter who was also on the set. It was a real family affair.
BQ: This subject of Child Sexual Abuse and Human Trafficking is very serious to talk about. Was there any relevant feedback from the community?
MM and Y B-M: Yes, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback. The first time we showed this we were very nervous. We spent so long editing that we lost perspective along the way; but we did several screenings and everyone gave us the thumbs-up. It's always been positive. We were looking for criticism, it never came. We also purposely changed our names Anglo sounding names because we believe the story is universal. We don't want it to be considered a "Latino" film. It's a film for everyone. It is a important story for us to discuss in our families and with others, especially if you are being abused or know of someone who is being abused. We are committed to each other and to our projects. Friends and family are your most constant with their approval and blessing, we felt very good about the project.
BQ: You acted, produced and co-directed on this film. What was it feel like being on the other side of the camera?
MM: I love it. Although I still love acting, producing is where I want to be. The co-directing really happened by accident. Our Co-Director Carlos Melendez was in Mexico and running over his production schedule and that meant that we had to do our own pre-production work. We agreed to follow his vision. I hired him because I loved his reel; his work was beautiful, very creative. It's all about trust. In this business, you never know what could happen and when it did, I agreed to step up and fill in. It's not easy to do but with Yeniffer's help, we did it. She coached our son and in her role stretched herself playing a serious and compassionate police Sergeant. The movie speaks for itself and we are very proud of our film.
Y B-M: I loved it. I loved working with my family. Our film production company True Form Films wants to close the gap and produce things that our relevant to all people. We are a culturally diverse company and make it a point to be inclusive. Hollywood doesn't care what name you may have attached to your project, it's all about making money -- that's where we're different.
BQ: What future projects are you working on?
MM We are working on "Meche's Choices". A project that is very dear to Yennifer, it's a coming of age story of a young woman who is left alone with age 17, with her younger sister and younger brother lt's about believing in yourself, and never giving up. It's in English and Spanish.
BQ: What else should we know about you two?
Y B-M: True Form Film has created and will continue to create amazing work with heart. Impressive films like "Create Option C, My Journey with Cancer", an impactful story of bravery and change through holistic healing. We're also associated with "Homebound" a family film. They are amazing stories, not based on color. Both of these stories are about the human connection, about being a warrior, shining light on serious subjects. As producers, we work for hire. Were honored to be together, doing what we love. We are looking forward to getting the word out. We are the public support our films, we don't have the Publicity & Advertising budget. This is all a grassroots effort, so we appreciate the support. Also we hope the film will bring more awareness to outstanding organizations like Youth For Human Rights International, http://www.youthforhumanrights.org and National Center For Missing & Exploited
Children. Youth for Human Rights, http://www.missingkids.com/home
Mauricio confirms that their unique distribution model is much like how producer, actor, director, Tyler Perry got started. Tyler Perry produced local theater productions that he eventually took to a variety of cities. Eventually, he produced, directed, created and starred in his films. Having his own production company was key to his success. By building his brand over time, he gained loyal customers and fans. He's our role model in this business.
We appreciate everyone's support. We have learned so much from our film screenings and talking to others about stopping human rights and sexual abuse. We believe our film will help empower children to speak up, find someone they can trust to talk to. It is something we will always champion.
After School Trailer:
Youth for Human Rights: 1 (323) 663-5799 , here. http://www.youthforhumanrights.org
National Center For Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE LOST (1-800 843-5678), here. http://www.missingkids.com/home
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