The Tough Task Of Putting Together A Documentary Of The Life Of Machete, Danny Trejo [LRM EXCLUSIVE]

The limits of what you think you are capable of maybe mentally set by where you grow up. As years pass by if you see others around you one by one growing up and going to college. Chances are you probably believe that you’re supposed to take the same path. On the flip side of that, if your friends and family are growing doing drugs and committing crimes to get ahead, chances are you might what to emulate that lifestyle. It becomes a vicious cycle that a lot of people around the world are unable to escape.

If you do manage to have that life-altering moment, then what? What do you do to reform yourself and become a better individual? These are difficult questions that can be answered. One way is by taking an in-depth look at the life one of Hollywood’s biggest Hispanic stars, Danny Trejo.

Tomorrow, July 7th, Universal Pictures will be releasing the documentary titled, Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo. This tells the extraordinary story of a man that faced three counts of the death penalty and was infamous in prisons all over California. But through hard work and dedication, he was able to turn his life around and that same guy is now one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood.

I had the privilege of talking with the director for the documentary, Brett Harvey. We spoke about the challenges that come putting together such an incredible story decades in the making. Harvey went into this project not knowing much about Trejo and his life.

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“I had just remembered, probably like most people at the time, this was four years ago, that he was just a scary looking guy that I had seen in a bunch of films. And I thought he was cool and I liked seeing him in those, but I didn’t know the depth that his story went to. So when I looked at it, I was kind of like, ‘holy crap.’ I had never come across somebody who had such a crazy transformation of human character ever, in any of the docs I’ve done, in any of the docs I’ve seen.”

I think that the lack of information on Trejo’s life benefited Harvey. He had a great outsider’s perspective that then allowed him to make a better film. The responsibility of getting his story right was always going to push him in the right direction. This shows in the quality of the documentary. But putting this together wasn’t as easy as sitting down in front of a camera and asking questions. There were many challenges in obtaining images from his past.

“Number one, a good chunk of his stories take place 60 to 50 years ago. You know, if we’re talking about his youth when he was basically spending his teen years robbing places at gunpoint to… That was 60 years ago. And then 50 years ago was the prison time he did where he was nearly in every penitentiary across California. And in those times there wasn’t a lot of technology capturing these moments. Definitely wasn’t video cameras and of what photos there were, they were very, very limited. So I had to get creative in how to kind of illustrate this story or present this story without having all of that material.”

They solved those gaps, especially from his youth by cruising in Trejo’s classic Bel Air and driving around his old (and current) stomping grounds. Harvey talks about the good times that he had driving around with Trejo as he began to open up with each memory that came up.

“One of the ways was, and by the way, this is what’s the most fun I had doing the documentary was getting Danny to jump into his old Bel Air and driving around his old neighborhood to recount some of these memories. And that experience was just insane. Right off the bat, it was a little bit difficult because every 20 seconds somebody would be yelling, ‘Machete’ or ‘Trejo’. You’d have to be cutting his answers around that. But aside from that, Danny started opening up because Danny was in his wheelhouse. Danny loves to cruise, Danny loves old cars, and Danny loves to cruise his old neighborhood.”

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“And when he was doing that, every 50 meters his hand would go up and he would point out the window and he’d be like, ‘I robbed that place.’ Or be like, ‘Over there, that’s where I fought two sailors with a broken beer bottle.’ Or, ‘That’s my old high school and Ritchie Valens also went there, but he was three years ahead of me. So, you know, we never really hung out.'”

Danny Trejo

Brett Harvey had a rare and in-depth look at the life of an extraordinary man. Who proved that there is no ceiling on what anyone can accomplish, even with a tarnished past. Tomorrow we will also have that privilege in the documentary, Inmate #1: The Rises of Danny Trejo. The full interview with Brett Harvey will be up on our site later this week.

Universal Pictures’ Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo will be available on VOD July 7th, 2020.

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