Filmmaker's current success isn't a matter of degrees

Margie Boulé, The Oregonian
March 31, 2004

You want to grow up to be a feature-film director? Everybody knows how to go about it. You study hard in high school, go to a good film school for college, move to Hollywood and spend years working your way up.

Rebecca Rodriguez never read the instructions.

At 36, Rebecca's first full-length feature, "Coming up Easy," will premiere Friday night at the Longbaugh II Film Festival in Portland. She wrote it. She directed it.
She lived it.

Most people keep secret the life experiences Rebecca says she has survived. Rebecca not only talks about violence and abuse that she endured as a child, she made a movie about it. "Based on a true story," it says in the opening credits. "I'm pretty open about certain things," Rebecca says, "because when you own the painful parts of your life, it can be really powerful."

Rebecca is 36 today, and lives in Vancouver. It seems like a long time ago when her mother and father used to battle. After their divorce, her mother married a convicted murderer, just six months out of San Quentin. "For most people, that would be a little red flag," Rebecca says, laughing.

In the years before her stepfather died during a robbery, "We were moving, moving all over the place, so my stepfather could elude authorities." When she was 15, Rebecca was told the family was moving again. "I was tired, and my grades had gone down the tubes. . . . I said, 'I'm not going.'"

She dropped out of high school and got three jobs to support herself. "That was when my life became my own. It was difficult." But she stayed away from drugs and out of trouble. "I think I had an absolute army of guardian angels watching over me."
Unlike most future film directors, Rebecca had no clue she'd end up making movies. She knew she was uneducated. She doubted she'd ever do anything important. It was a dark time when friends left for college.

She married a Navy man at 20 and moved to Guam. The marriage didn't last, but Rebecca moved her first mountain on Guam. Distressed by the number of abandoned animals she saw, she founded a humane society that still thrives there. "It was the most empowering experience," she says. Suddenly she felt she could do anything. In the next few years she moved to Portland, created and patented a parenting system, and became an inventor, manufacturing and selling useful household devices. She created the parenting system, which uses tokens for positive reinforcement, when her sister and three nephews moved into her house, seeking refuge from domestic abuse.
"The creative juices were just crazy-flowing," Rebecca says. "While doing this inventing, I started to itch to act in a film."

She'd had success as an actress, landing the first nine roles she auditioned for. Now she set about writing a script for a film she wanted to act in. It was her story and her sister's, about their childhood and her sister's escape from domestic violence as an adult. She called it "Coming up Easy."

"By the time I finished writing, all my passion had shifted from acting to writing and directing." The first script led to a second. More followed. She went to Sundance Film Festival and saw that aspiring directors began with short films. So she came home to Portland and wrote two short films.

A friend agreed to finance them, and the two films were shot during a single weekend. "Talk about a grind," Rebecca says. "I might as well have taken everyone, dumped us all into a meat grinder and shot us out the other side."

The exhausting effort was worth it. "Soul Collectors" premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. "Talk about ecstatic," she says. "This huge theater was packed, and people laughed when they were supposed to. I almost passed out, sitting there." Both shorts were picked up by Universal Studios and have been shown all over the world.

It was time to direct a feature film. Rebecca picked her own story, "Coming up Easy." "I agonized over it, because it's a very personal story. I had to sit down with my sister and talk about opening up this can of hurt." Her sister urged her to do the movie. "She feels strongly it's going to help people," especially other victims of domestic violence.

Rebecca and a crew of Portland professionals shot the film in 18 days last year, funded mostly by local investors. They came in on schedule and on budget.
Rebecca is excited about the premiere at 9 p.m. Friday at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland. But she's already working on several potential films, some by other writers. "Whenever money comes for one, that's what I'll do first," she says.
She didn't go to a fancy film school -- she never even finished high school. She doesn't have a big-name mentor or a Southern California address.

But Rebecca Rodriguez absolutely knows her future is in directing films. "In a way, I was really blessed that I didn't have the guidance most people got," she says. "Because for me, there are no boundaries, no limitations. The way I look at it, other people have done it, so I can do it. Let's go do it. It'll be fun."

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