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LRM Interview With El Contratista Executive Producer Alejandro De Hoyos

The Contractor, or El Contratista is a more serious take on The Expendables or The A-Team, but interestingly enough, it didn’t start out that way. In our conversations with executive producer and star Alejandro de Hoyos, it is revealed that this original version of the film was actually a mix between drama and comedy. It was only when test audiences walked away confused that they opted to focus on the more serious aspects of the film.

Throughout our interview we cover other topics like the potential effect video games have on kids and the recent film Glass from M. Night Shyamalan.

Below is the official synopsis for El Contratista:

EL CONTRATISTA is an action feature film featuring a group of young international military fighters and their tough veteran leader determined to protect a young boy, whose family was murdered. Now they must figure out who are the good guys and bad guys before they all end up dead!”


Nancy Tapia: Alejandro De Hoyos for The Contractor or El Contratista. First of all, congratulations! I understand this is your first production.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Thank you. Yes, it’s a first film. I used to do production when I was younger when I was in my early twenties in Mexico. But it was a different type of production. I used to produce shows for singers like; Jose Jose, Lupita D’Alessio, Laura Branigan. Those guys were popular when I was younger. And I also did a lot of martial arts tournaments, ‘cos I love martial arts.

So, this was my first production for a film. I opened the company about two and a half years ago and decided to do this movie.

Nancy Tapia: Alta California?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Alta California Pictures. Yeah. I love the idea of Alta California Pictures because a lot of people don’t know that California used to be Alta, California in Baja, California.

Nancy Tapia: That’s where Baja California comes from?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, it was Alta which was the upper part and Baja is the lower part. It’s very simple. So, when, Mexico lost that piece of the land to United States in the 1800s, then it became just California.

Nancy Tapia: A little good history there. That’s awesome!

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah. So, I love that name. When I see Alta California I’m like, yes … You know. There’s some info.

Nancy Tapia: In this film you’re the producer.

de Hoyos: Yeah. I was the executive producer. A friend of mine who has directed me in other projects, JoJo Henrickson he approached me. He had a script that he had written a few years ago, and he and another friend, Pedro Pano. And they asked me for … I told him I was interested in doing a movie. And they said, “I have this script. Do you want to read it?”. I read it. I liked it a lot. It had a lot more explosions and it was like a big production … you know … like a big, big budget. So, he said “I’ll make it work so it’s a lower budget film, still with a lot of content, but less explosions.” You know … less things like that. And within three months we were shooting in Mexico.

I hired True Form Films, which is Yennifer and Mauricio and Dewayne. They’re a team. And they also hire somebody in Rosarito … you know … Baja Films … Nelly and her husband that helped us with the production there. It’s a whole team. So, even though I’m the executive producer I ended up producing- Like you were asking me who hired all the actors? Yeah, it was my decision … My final decision that would bring people to me. We held all those meetings and I would ask, “Do you have so and so from Mexico?”. We wanted some celebrities from Mexico. Some were not available. One of them was doing Narcos. So, we were not able to get Damian Alcazar. We wanted him.

Nancy Tapia: Okay.

Alejandro de Hoyos: We offered him something, and he said, “No, I’m going to Colombia to shoot Narcos.” And then once we were done with the shooting, then JoJo and I took over everything … you know … post production and finished the film.

The film used to be two hours and 20 minutes and we had to cut a lot of scenes. Because it had a lot of comedy and drama. So, people were a little confused, “Is this a drama? Is it a comedy?” So, we needed to also make it shorter. So, now it’s an hour and a half. And it’s a drama with action. And like a friend of mine says, “It’s an action movie with a conscience.” I love that concept … action movie with a conscience.

Nancy Tapia: From the beginning while narrating, you cover  politics and using people toget what they want indirectly, directly as a cover.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, he’s an ex-military, he’s a contractor now. He’s supporting … you know … some people in Iraq from the government and he sees that they’re torturing this Iraqi person and he believes that he’s not guilty. You know … They’re just torturing him for nothing and that’s when everything starts in Iraq. Something happens, then he decides to move to Mexico and open up his own security company and we find him in Ensenada where he’s protecting this little boy.

Nancy Tapia: So, he’s bringing up the little boy?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah.

Nancy Tapia: So, this movie covers politics in the way they manipulate people to get what they want. Also on kids, the violence they see on TV or video gaming

Alejandro de Hoyos: It’s very interesting that you caught that, because that’s part of the message. The little boy is always playing video games.

Nancy Tapia: Right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Well, not always, but … you know … when he has a chance, he’s playing video games. And they’re not regular video games; they’re shooting, they’re … you know … a lot of those war video games. And we don’t know how much that affects our children in our society. Do they become desensitized where they feel like, “Okay, it’s normal to shoot people.” Or they’re smart enough to say, “No, this is a video game.” We don’t know. I have four boys and fortunately they’re all very well adjusted and never had any violence problems and they love their video games … you know … They love playing them.

There’s a situation where … And we know this from the movie right away … the little boy, his family dies in an explosion. We don’t know who wants to kill whole family. He just happened to not be there in the car when this explosion happens. And after that, he gets even more and more involved with the video games with the explosions.

So, as the movie develops there some action scenes or some killings or some confrontations between the bad guys and us (we’re the good guys, of course).

Nancy Tapia: Right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Then you see how the little boy starts losing a sense of reality. He gets excited. He goes from depression to getting excited every time something happens in the real world.

Nancy Tapia: Sadly.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, so, that’s very interesting to see how it does affect him.

Nancy Tapia: But, at the end, I see that he becomes more conscious 

Alejandro de Hoyos: Well, I can’t tell you the end.

Nancy Tapia: But, the kid becomes more conscious on that reality.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Well, we don’t know. A lot of things happen towards the end that you don’t know that he actually … Is he still in the dream of the … not knowing what reality is? Or is he back? Or is he not?

Nancy Tapia: I’d like to think he is.

Alejandro de Hoyos: A lot of people have a lot of questions. Again, we don’t want to talk about the end. But, a lot of people, they tell me, “I believe that this is what it is. This is what happens.” And I said, “Good.” That’s what you got out of that? That’s perfect.

Nancy Tapia: Right. Now your character Cano seems to be very reserved; not open at all, doesn’t seem to have a close connection with anybody. But yet, there is one character that you have most of your more serious scenes with, which was played by Ana Layevska (Rusa, her character).

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah.

Nancy Tapia: How was it working with her?

Alejandro de Hoyos: It was great. It was great. They’re professionals … you know … All these people have been working in TV and stuff in Mexico.

Nancy Tapia: I was impressed to see her in a role like this. I’m used to seeing her in telenovelas.

Alejandro de Hoyos: You know … It’s real interesting because she said, “The reason I like the movie (the script) is because I wanna play a kick ass girl. I’m tired of always playing the novela girl and I wanna be a bad ass.” And she was! And it’s kind of unfortunate, but that’s just the way it works. She had some really nice scenes before that had to be cut for the sake of the movie. But, she did really, really well. She kicked butt.

Nancy Tapia: She did.

Alejandro de Hoyos: And, I don’t know if you noticed, but she’s second in command. She’s another-

Nancy Tapia: Yeah, I noticed when referred to as, She’s the boss. You can ask her.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah. And you can see there’s even a scene where she kinda scolds me … you know … It’s like, “Oops,”

Nancy Tapia: Yes. She points out something she didn’t like. There is a scene where it goes back to a book, War Is a Racket.

de Hoyos: Right.

Nancy Tapia: So, can you tell us more?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, this is the director … His father was in Vietnam. His father was killed in Vietnam (JoJo’s Dad). So, there’s a little bit of bitterness because he’s a patriot, but at the same time he believes that certain wars are not for a good reason (they’re for money reasons). So, this guy … I forget his name. But, the guy who wrote War Is A Racket … The book is in the 30s, 1930s.

Nancy Tapia: 35.

Alejandro de Hoyos: 35? Good research.

Nancy Tapia: Thank you.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Have you read the book?

Nancy Tapia: No.

Alejandro de Hoyos: It’s very short. You can read it in twenty minutes.

Nancy Tapia: It’s 53 pages. No, I did not get a chance, unfortunately.

Alejandro de Hoyos: He basically is talking about Mussolini before World War II. He’s talking about how they’re training. And he’s talking about Hitler before anything happened in World War Two. So, he basically predicted World War II. He knew about it. And he knew about it because he knew that it was not for patriotism. He knew it was for monetary reasons. And he was right. So, that’s why JoJo the director likes this little book. And the book plays … like … another character in the movie-

Nancy Tapia: It does.

Alejandro de Hoyos: … even though a lot of people have never heard of it … That would say 99% of the people have never heard of this book. I had not heard of this book. But, it’s a very important part of the film.

Nancy Tapia: So, it does link to the narrating?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah. Cano is a patriot. He’s doing things for his country or in this case, he’s international. It’s funny. The movie used to be called Internationals, because they’re all international.

Nancy Tapia: Oh, okay.

Alejandro de Hoyos: That’s why you have the Cuban and the Russian, even though everybody speaks Spanish.

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: But, he’s an international guy. But, at the end of the day, he’s a patriot too, to what he’s working towards right now (which is helping the Americans). That’s when he realizes that, “What am I doing this for? I mean, these guys are killing and torturing all these innocent people just because they wanna get some truth that doesn’t exist.”

You were asking me about the Russian … you know … Sergei. He’s the one who introduces him to the book. So, once Cona starts reading the book he’s like, “Everything I have been doing is for nothing. It’s all about the money.” That’s his realization. I mean, he’s still gonna go out and protect the little boy, but he doesn’t wanna be part of that big government … you know … Where he’s gonna be doing things he doesn’t want to.

Nancy Tapia: And although Sergei’s not in the film, but obviously has a part in the film (through the book). And then there’s Rusa, who happens to see the book and reads the note that’s on the book.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Right.

Nancy Tapia: There’s a connection?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, of course there’s a connection. It’s funny that you’re asking, ‘cos some people … It’s like half and half … Some people get it. Some people don’t. People tell me right away, “So, Sergei was her Dad, right?” And other people don’t know. It’s like, “Who’s Sergei?” Again, some people capture different things and that’s what I love about this movie that … particularly at the end, people say, “Oh, this is what happened. This what happened.” I’ve heard like, 10, 12 different versions of how things happened. And I’m like, “Okay. Awesome!” That’s what you get from the movie. Yeah?

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: You said that you left the movie intrigued.

Nancy Tapia: I was like, “Wait, what did I miss? Did I miss something?” Then I’m like, “Ugh.”

Alejandro de Hoyos: No, you didn’t miss anything. There could be a sequel right after where we left it. But, then the way we left it, you have your own answers … What happened here? What happened there?

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: It was very interesting, ‘cos the movie was a lot lighter. In the beginning it was the A-Team, where I was the leader of the young pack, but at the same time they were joking, fooling around, messing around. It just felt like it took away from the meatiness of the movie, because it has a lot of really nice moments … you know.

Nancy Tapia: Well, I wish you had kept the scenes and shows a little vulnerability, maybe a little?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Well, you see-

Nancy Tapia: ‘Cos you see it a little bit with Rusa, but not to the fullest.

Alejandro de Hoyos: I don’t want to spoil it at the end, but what I have been told a lot, is that they are surprised how Cano is like that. And then … you maybe need to watch it again? … At the end something happens. And you definitely see Cano’s vulnerability, ‘cos the camera is on Cano for like, 30 seconds. I don’t know if you remember? There were some flashbacks.

Nancy Tapia: Yes.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, and you can definitely see that this guy has been touched by whatever happened. That’s what people tell me.

My Mom has watched the movie 10, 15, 20 times and she always cries. She’s like, “I don’t know, every time I see that I know what’s gonna happen and I always cry there.”

So, you wanna make the character multi-dimensional, obviously … If you remember with the El Gato scene, when we’re in the desert … Gato is very light. So, Cano is trying to play his game by being light with him also. It’s the first time you see Cano laughing or smiling-

Nancy Tapia: Kinda laid back a little, like not too on guard?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, he’s depending on his soldiers that are behind them and he’s a lot more relaxed with El Gato. He actually like El Gato even though he’s a criminal. El Gato is likable … you know-

Nancy Tapia: Personality.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, personality … not what he does … but that’s how he gets away with things.

Nancy Tapia: Smoothtalker.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, and there’s some scenes later on that he does something to escape from a place … you know-

Nancy Tapia: Yeah, but also the female police charge plays her cards well with him.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah.

Nancy Tapia: He’s trying to get info.

Alejandro de Hoyos:That’s Ivonne Montero. I don’t know if you know Ivonne? She’s also done a lot of work in Mexico.

We got like, six celebrities from Mexico City … Juan Ignacio Aranda. His Dad is Ignacio Lopez Tarso … You’re too young, but I don’t know if you know Ignacio Lopez Tarso? And he’s an excellent actor. He’s in his 90s and he’s still touring all over the country-

Nancy Tapia: Oh, wow!

Alejandro de Hoyos:… doing theater. And Juan Ignacio Aranda (his son), he plays the butler. Great actor. That’s him.

We have Mario Zaragoza, who’s done a lot of movies. He was with Denzel Washington in Man On Fire. There’s a torture scene with Denzel and Mario. And that’s Mario right there in the car.

Nancy Tapia: Oh, okay.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, I don’t wanna … well, it doesn’t matter if I tell you he died in the car and he tapes his hands to the wheel and then starts cutting.

Nancy Tapia: Okay, sorry. Focusing on the fingers.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, that’s right. Then you have Ana and the priest also … Luis … what’s his name?

Nancy Tapia: I’ve seen him in several telenovelas.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, they all have worked a lot. Who am I forgetting? Anyway, we had a lot of Mexicans from Mexico City. And then we had the Latinos from here. We had Patalano (she plays Maria, the maid). A lot of really talented people from here as well.

Nancy Tapia: Right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Even though it was a low budget film, the movie doesn’t look like low budget film. We had this amazing Director of Photography in Rosarito and Ensenada. I wanted to do it in Ensenada because I’m from Ensenada, right? I’m from Mexico. But I didn’t know … They told us that there was a team, there was a crew over there that would help us with the production and the shooting and everything. And I was a little concerned because I’ve done 200 commercials here in The States and then movies, TV, whatever. I have never worked as an actor in Mexico.

I started when I was 30, here in The States. So, I was concerned about going over there and shooting. I didn’t know how they were gonna be? And they were great! Very disciplined. They would work late hours. A couple of times we worked until dawn. As a matter of fact, the last scene … there’s a dramatic scene at the end … we had to improvise because it was the last day, everything was ready, and the sun was coming up. We were like, “Hurry up! Hurry up!” So, we were able to get the final shot.

So, in other words, they were great. Jorge Roman was the Director of Photography and you can see the quality. Do you watch it at The Egyptian or at a festival?

Nancy Tapia: No, they sent me a link. That’s how I watched it.

Alejandro de Hoyos: If you watch it on nice TV with that nice sound you can appreciate everything. We showed it at The Egyptian and it looked awesome.

Yes, we had 700 people thanks to these ladies; Camille and Jasmine. We had over 700 people. There’s a big difference when you’re watching it at home, then when you see it with 700 people … and I’m just turning around to see reactions and I see ’em going like that or I see ’em laughing. All that is very satisfying. It’s very nice.

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Because at the end of the day that’s why you do a film. You wanna entertain people. You don’t do it for you. You do it to-

Nancy Tapia: But, also in this film, you leave a message.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, of course. There’s a difference. You can entertain-

Nancy Tapia: Not all movies have that; entertain and leave a message.

Alejandro de Hoyos:  Well, that was the idea. To have something with some meat in it.

Nancy Tapia: What would be the message that you hope that the viewers take away?

de Hoyos: Well, there’s the two messages. One is with the kid and the video games and the violence. How does it affect our families? And it’s a question that everybody will continue asking, because I think it varies from family to family … How you raise your children? And how you explain to them what’s right and what’s not right. Because people say automatically, “Oh, he plays a lot of violent video games. He’s gonna end up being a serial killer.” No, that’s not true. I don’t believe in that. But I feel like if there’s violence in the house and Dad beats the wife and things and then the kid is playing video games, I feel like everything will be easier for the kid to become violent. So, you see how there’s so many-

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: And the other thing is that it’s awesome to become a patriot. You wanna be a patriot? But also don’t get fooled that everything is for patriotism … for the benefit of the country. There are a lot of things that are for the benefit of the money for a few individuals-

Nancy Tapia: In power.

Alejandro de Hoyos: So, as you can see there’s good and bad in all the sights. There’s good and bad in the Mexican government. They always talk about corruption in Mexico. There are good people too … And same here with United States.

Nancy Tapia: You actually cover in the film something about how a lot of them get absorbed into this because it’s just part of survival too.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, that’s what El Gato talks about … you know … He’s a criminal and he’s saying, “I wanted to be an architect. Just like so and so, like so and so, do you think I wanted to do this? No.” He says, “The environment pulls you in.”

And there’s another line that a lot of people like … these are lines people have mentioned to me … I’m driving in the car with Chamo, my assistant and he says, “well, you know.” … I’m asking about a person, you know … He’s like, “Well, they have a couple of people in the cartels. Just like everybody else. Everybody in Mexico is involved with the cartels.” And I take a pause and I said, “Not everybody.” … you know … I know a lot of people who are not involved with the cartels.

Nancy Tapia: Or acquaintance.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Right. But the perception is sometimes is everybody’s corrupt and all cops are corrupt in Mexico and that’s not the case.

Nancy Tapia: Right

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah.

Nancy Tapia: We should also believe in the positive.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Exactly! Exactly! But, I agree with you. We should believe in the positive without … The extremes are always bad. I mean, like everything is positive and there’s no way that the people will be corrupt … No … Yeah, be positive and there’s a possibility somebody will be corrupt and then you deal with that. Just like in any relationship. You’re gonna go into a relationship with somebody and you’re gonna trust that person at first. And then once you realize that he or she is not the right person, you’re just like, “Let ’em go.” … you know?

Nancy Tapia: Right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: But the relationship is not gonna flourish if you’re already … you know … “This guy’s gonna mess with me. He’s gonna cheat on me.” … you know … You can’t go on like that, right?

Nancy Tapia: Yeah.

Alejandro de Hoyos: You gotta be a little open.

Nancy Tapia: That’s right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: But at the same time, you’re cautious.

Nancy Tapia: You’re hiding it.

Alejandro de Hoyos:Well, you’re aware of it, but you have to stay positive like you’re saying.

Nancy Tapia: Right.

Alejandro de Hoyos: I’m supposed to … “Oh, Polly Anna. Oh, yeah, everything is great. Yay team! Let’s be positive.” Oh, let’s not be positive. This guy is doing this … you know … more with reality.

Nancy Tapia: Right. Well, thank you for discussing this new film coming out. Do you have anything you can share that you are producing?

Alejandro de Hoyos: Actually, I’m working with my son. He’s 23. He is a college graduate from St. Johns and he has a lot of great ideas. He reads books like crazy. He doesn’t walk with a phone. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a book right now. He actually walks with a book, ‘cos he’s always reading.

Nancy Tapia: Oh, that’s awesome.

Alejandro de Hoyos: So, we’re coming up with a lot of great ideas. We’re in the middle of writing a script for the next production. And I can’t wait. I’m really excited about it. Those ideas are very, very nice. And again, we want something with a meaning. It’s good to entertain people, but it has to have some meaning.

Nancy Tapia: Good content.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Good content. Yeah.

I watch movies because I love a lot of actors and then I say, “Why would they sign to do this film?” I mean, there are so many holes. And I don’t want to talk about the current films … There are a couple of current films that I watch … Should I mention? No. Well, I’ll mention one. Glass. I loved Unbreakable, the first one with Bruce Willis. I love that film. I loved the relationship with Bruce Willis and his son, different things. And I feel like Glass did not meet the expectations of all the goodness of the other film. Maybe they waited too long? But, then again that’s just … I guess what I’m trying to say is they spent so much money on the film, celebrities. And I feel like, there are a lot of holes in the film, in the script. I guess, that’s an excuse if you don’t have the money … you know … there’s a low, low budget and there are holes in the script because you couldn’t afford this or you couldn’t afford that. And yet, the movie, I think it’s very successful. It’s making a lot of money.

Nancy Tapia: Sometimes, it could be a low budget, but if it has good content-

Alejandro de Hoyos: Right.

Nancy Tapia: … then it attracts people to view it. So, I think that has a lot to do with it too. It could be a mass production and all these effects, but then if it lacks that, then it’s-

Alejandro de Hoyos: It’s kinda figure out what the formula is? Because, you’re talking about big production companies and some of these movies are very expensive. They spend a 100 million dollars and they tank.

I think Glass is doing really well, but there are other movies that are very expensive and they’re not doing very well at all. And you say, “But, they had so and so as a director, so and so as an actor, and the script writer.” Really capable people, very successful. And yet, the movie doesn’t do well. So, you never know. And you have little jewels also that do really well. And you also have jewels that nobody watches.

Nancy Tapia: A little bit of everything.

Alejandro de Hoyos: Yeah, yeah. So it’s hard to … They’re formulas, but there’s not a specific formula for 100% success. That’s my little experience in the subject.

Nancy Tapia:Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

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