"Roosters," her best-known work, centers on Juana (played in the film by Braga), Chata (Alonso) and Juana's children, Hector (Danny Nucci) and Angela. The catalyst for the action is Gallo--Juana's husband, Chata's brother, Hector's and Angela's father--who returns home after doing time for manslaughter. Gallo and Hector go head-to-head over a prized fighting rooster, with tragic consequences.
The idiom that Sanchez-Scott employs is magical realism--a cross-cutting between the mundane and the miraculous most often associated with the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The play made a splash in its 1987 premiere at New York's INTAR. Around that time, Block-Reiner, who had just gone to work for KCET, was looking for projects to bring to American Playhouse. Although she didn't see the INTAR production, she became interested in the property. ("Roosters" was also staged at the late Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1988.)
"Roosters" was initially optioned as a TV project. But, says Block-Reiner, "it deserved to be a film because the environment is almost another character."
Co-star Braga says the setting may be the key element to the production. "This is about this land and the people that belong to this place," she says. "Fellini does things about Rome. He doesn't go anywhere else but Rome. And this is like those Italian realist films in that way."
In 1988, Block-Reiner and Sanchez-Scott started working on a film script. "It was a difficult process," says Block-Reiner. "It was two years before we had a draft that we felt good about."
Like many projects in the new Hollywood, "Roosters" is being produced by an ad-hoc alliance of experienced, sort-of experienced and first-time producers. The film is KCET's first foray into production on a theatrical project; co-executive producers are Ricki Franklin, director of cultural programming at KCET and Phylis Geller, the station's former senior vice-president of national programming. The producing entities are American Playhouse Theatrical Films and WMG, in association with Olmos Productions. Only two of the producing entities, WMG (a 4-year-old German company with offices in Los Angeles) and American Playhouse, put up the bulk of the initial $1.7 million, although costs have since increased substantially.
Marcus De Leon was first approached to work on "Roosters" by Block-Reiner and KCET's Franklin in July, 1991. A UCLA film school graduate, he had then just released his "Kiss Me a Killer," which The Times' Kevin Thomas called a "darkly amusing . . . contemporary film noir with a salsa beat."
Block-Reiner and De Leon worked together on the "Roosters" script for a year and a half, during which time the script went through one more draft. Yet despite this process, the producer and director found themselves at loggerheads once they set up shop for pre-production in Tucson.
Block-Reiner says De Leon shut her out. "I was forbidden to talk to the actors," she says. "I was not allowed in rehearsals. I was not allowed to talk to any of the key creative crew about anything in the script. When I had concerns and I told Marcus, I felt that I wasn't being listened to."
De Leon's version differs. "I didn't exclude anyone," he says. "I went to lengths to include (Block-Reiner) in the development of what was happening visually and performance-wise.
"I felt it was imperative that we establish the characters and the interactions on our own, and then present what we had," says De Leon. "After rehearsals, I invited the producers in and they watched almost every scene. Anybody could have any kind of input they wanted."
De Leon also claims he requested that one of the key members of the creative crew be fired prior to the start of shooting. "I asked the producers for changes and my request was denied," he says. (Block-Reiner refuses to comment on this point.)
The failure to resolve this situation made things worse. "Once problems became evident, there were other parties ready to exert their influence," says De Leon. "I felt there was more than one director, more than three directors, on the film."
The producers weren't happy either. "We weren't getting the movie that we wanted: Dailies provide the proof of it," says American Playhouse's Lindsay Law, one of the picture's executive producers.
On March 1, line producer Lorenzo O'Brien was fired. On March 2, De Leon and cinematographer Yuri Neyman got the axe. Eventually, at least 15 people left or were fired from the project. Law made the ultimate decision on the three initial firings.
On March 3, the producers announced the hiring of director Robert M. Young and cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos. The set was shut down for two days, after which shooting resumed. All the footage that De Leon had shot, eight days' worth, was scrapped.