Frankie Latina's Modus Operandi
The Milwaukee filmmaker finally completes his years-in-the-making thriller
Milwaukee indie filmmaker Frankie Latina has finally finished his zero-budget spy thriller Modus Operandi, and plans to screen the film locally later this year. It’s a long time coming for the 30-year-old filmmaker, who wrote, shot, and directed MO over the course of four years, relying on help from the local film scene and a whole lot of grit. Latina enlisted “actors” off the streets, built his own sets, and shot on donated reels of Super 8 stock. He scored a sales agent for the film after showing it at the CineVegas Film Festival earlier this year, and is now pitching scripts to Hollywood studios in hopes of landing seven-figure budgets. The A.V. Club caught up with Latina and to talk about the film and why it has so much nudity.
The A.V. Club: Can you give a no-spoiler rundown of the plot of Modus Operandi?
Frankie Latina: So these people come to kill this CIA agent but he’s not home, so they kill his wife. He quits the agency and gets washed up, living above a bar in Milwaukee, totally depressed and in the gutter. The CIA tracks him down and cleans him up, and tells him if he can track down some briefcases, they’ll give him the name of the man who killed his wife.
AVC: Sounds like a classic setup for a spy movie. What films would you cite as influences?
FL: When I was 16, I watched Female Trouble by John Waters and for the first time realized that I could be making movies. Everything about what it is to make a film sort of came together in my mind after seeing that. Blue Velvet by David Lynch was the inspiration for the detective-agency theme, the whole small-town guy trying to solve a crime in a super-weird underground world. Le Samourai by Jean-Pierre Melville is where I got all my style and aesthetic from.
AVC: The film took four years to shoot. What took so long?
FL: I would always run out of money.
AVC: How much did it cost to make?
FL: The company I signed with doesn’t really want me to say. But it cost me my life, man. I had to put everything aside for four years. Even though I had producers, I had to pay for props, I had to build sets, drive people around, pick people up, this, that, and the other thing. I had to put all my money from working these different shitty jobs into the film.
AVC: Mark Borchardt has a lead role in the film. What’s it like working with Mark?
FL: I’ve known Mark forever, and we have a lot of respect for each other; if there’s anything either of us would ever need, we’d be the first to help each other out. Plus, I would always put him in a hot tub with naked chicks. Every time I called him, I’d be like, “Mark, I need to you to be in the movie,” and he’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” So I’d say, “Did I tell you there’s gonna be four naked girls in a hot tub with you?” and he’d be like, “What time do I need to be there at?” [Laughs.]
AVC: There’s nudity in about every third scene. What’s up with that?
FL: I’m huge fan of the Emmanuelle movies. I don’t try to make nudity grotesque or violate women or anything; I like the beauty of a naked body. I think it’s more art than commerce in my film. I had three rules: no new cars, no cell phones, and no downtime. So any time in the script someone would have to do something boring, I’d have someone naked walk past in the background or something.
AVC: You hooked up with a sales agent after your screening at CineVegas. How did that happen?
FL: After the screening, Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment came up to me and said he really liked the film. This was my first big festival, so I was just like, really happy nobody’s telling me I’m a misogynist or anything like that. It wasn’t so much that he came to me and said "I want to represent your film"—it’s that he understood the aesthetic and all the references that I was making. I felt a connection with him in an artistic way. We’re both film geeks, and that’s better than anything.
AVC: What’s life after Modus Operandi looking like?
FL: I’m finishing up a script for an ’80s action movie that’s kinda like Beverly Hills Cop meets A View To Kill. It’s all speculative now, but there’s a movie company talking about giving me a $2 million dollar budget to make the film. I can’t say who it is, just that it’s the biggest company in the world.