Oklahoma-Made Holiday Movie 'Finding Carlos' Showcases Local Talent
“Finding Carlos,” a new hip-hop holiday movie made in Oklahoma City, tells the story of a teenager who learns the importance of family, friends and dance in addressing difficulties in his life. KGOU’s Katelyn Howard sat down with the film’s director and co-writer Lance McDaniel to discuss the movie.
Katelyn Howard: “Finding Carlos” is based on “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” a production by the RACE Dance Collective in Oklahoma City, which puts a modern twist on Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from going on the stage this year. What led you to adapt this story for the screen?
Lance McDaniel: So the founder of RACE Dance is Hui Cha Poos, and she created the “Hip Hop Nutcracker.” Every year, they would go into Oklahoma City Public Schools and teach free dance classes, and then the performance at the end of the semester was the “Hip Hop Nutcracker.” So it's a little different every year because they would learn different dances at the different schools, but the main story was instead of Clara, it's a boy Carlos meeting his father for the first time and going on the adventure. She came to me and said, “Lance, we cannot do our ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker.’ Will you do a movie”? And I'm like, “100%, I'm in no matter what.”
And then separately, I got approached by a guy from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services who said that through COVID funding, they had opened up some funding for people trying to decrease the stigma around mental health and addiction. And he thought that I should apply to see if one of those could be used toward a film about that. And so I applied for the grant. We got the grant, and then we started filming in September, finished it Oct. 16 and were in theaters by Dec. 3.
Howard: So the movie follows a teenager named Carlos as he reconnects with his father, Dross. You use their relationship to explore issues related to mental health and substance abuse, which typically aren’t topics you’d expect to be addressed in a holiday film. You just touched on this a bit, but what made you and your co-writer Melissa Scaramucci decide to tackle these issues?
McDaniel: It was very important to Melissa and me that we create something that we both believed in substantively. I mean, there are so many things that were coming together to make this work that we really felt strongly that it can't just be a, “Hey, let's dance and sing.” It needs to be about what's actually going on with people. And what was going on with me personally, and what was going on with her and everyone we knew, was we all felt weird. We all felt alone. And so that really led to us… well, then let's address anxiety and mental health and depression because everyone we know is dealing with it right now.
Howard: And dancing is a way for Carlos to deal with adversity, but dance is also used in the movie to explore different cultures in Oklahoma. Will you tell me more about that?
McDaniel: It was important to us to figure out a way to get different cultures involved, and what we thought we could do with "The Nutcracker," because I love "The Nutcracker." There's not a one of us that made it that is anti or mad at" The Nutcracker," but we thought, well, it was made by imperial Russia a few centuries ago. And the idea was these wealthy Russian people go and look around the world for their amusement. So it's really kind of an imperialist's look at traveling around the world for tourism. And we're like, “Well, what if those cultures got to tell their own story, and how can we translate that idea here”?
So what we did is we selected the songs that we're going to go in the movie, and we decided that we wanted to do the coffee, the tea and the chocolate. And so the chocolate one was initially the Spanish chocolate. And so we sent that to a Mexican Folkloric group, and then they came up with basically their interpretation of it. And it was about how chocolate and cocoa were there with the Indigenous Mayan culture prior to being invaded by Spain. So when they're doing a stomp dance, that's what that represents. That basically the Mayan culture was low to the ground and basically of the earth and really embraced that, whereas the Spanish culture wasn't. So our goal was to allow other cultures to speak for themselves.
Howard: The film features contemporary versions of Nutcracker songs from Tchaikovsky’s original score. What Oklahoma musicians are part of the movie?
McDaniel: So 99% of the music is done by Bobby Moffett Jr, and he is a Tulsa based musician. He is a keyboardist that plays in the band with a woman named Branjae Jackson. Branjae plays the Sugar Plum Fairy in our movie. And so Bobby Moffett Jr. and I met, and he at first created the 11 songs that are really Nutcracker based that we would then use for the dance scenes. And then we went and filmed for four weeks, and then came back, and then he wrote the other 38 pieces of music. And so he was absolutely amazing. And then so we've got a rapper throughout it, and that is Jabee. And I don't if you know Jabee Williams, but he's an Oklahoma City based rapper. And then he and Bobby and I produced the album together.
Howard: What’s the one message you want people to take away from this film?
McDaniel: It is that you are not alone. As long as I've been alive, there's never been a year this weird. And it has forced all of us to be alone or alone with one person or a group of people much longer than we're used to. And I think that we lose sight of the fact because we're kind of stuck in our own misery. You lose sight of the fact that hey, other people are dealing with this too. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s fine if you feel anxiety, if you feel bad, yes, a lot of us do. And so talk to people about it. Don't bottle it up. Don't don't drink it away. Don't smoke it away. Talk about it. Get it out there and allow other people to be a part of that conversation because I think every one of us is feeling that to a certain extent. Around you are people that will understand you more than you think.
Howard: “Finding Carlos” is playing at select theaters in Oklahoma and is available to stream for free online at deadcenterfilm.org. Thanks for joining me today, Lance.
McDaniel: Thank you, Katelyn. I really appreciate it.
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