Carmen Oquendo-Villar, José Correa-Vigier and Felipe Tewes were the lucky recipients of a mentorship program run by NALIP, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, which included story sessions with me. When they called me, they had three films from three cuts. They liked bits and pieces of each but needed only one. After working their storytelling and editing magic, a single documentary emerged that premiered to great success at DOC NYC. Here’s more about how they got there:

The Needle
Co-directors: Carmen Oquendo-Villar & José Correa-Vigier, Producer: Felipe Tewes
Length: 39 min.

Film Vitals
An intimate and moving peek into José Quiñones’ improvised cosmetic clinic out of his modest home in Puerto Rico.

Select Festivals, Screenings, Broadcast & Awards

  • DOC NYC Film Festival, 2012 (premiere)
  • Puerto Rico Queer Film Festival 2012
  • L.E.S. Film Festival 2013
  • VAF Venezuelan Art Festival 2013
  • Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Habana, 2014

Shooting Locations:

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

Production Timeline:

  • 2 weeks of shooting
  • 1 week of pick-up shots
  • 1.5 years of grantwriting and fundraising
  • 4 months of editing
  • 2 months of post-production

Money Talk:

  • Total budget: $40,000
  • Most was from in-kind donations
  • 5% self-financed
  • Received NALIP support through the Latino Producers Academy, the Latino Media Market and the Latino Academy Mentorship Program

The Filmmaker
Film School:

  • Oquendo-Villar: Yes – Film Study Center, Harvard University; Tisch School of the Arts at NYU
  • Correa-Vigier: No.

Other Studies:

  • Oquendo-Villar: Literature & Media Studies, Harvard University
  • Correa-Vigier: Art History, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Survival Strategy:
Carmen keeps a tight budget. She works as a university professor, museum curator and is an avid grant applicant. José juggles curatorial work and expositions.

Previous Films:
Oquendo-Villar: Boquita (short doc, 2005), Mizery (short doc, 2006).
Correa-Vigier: Several music videos in Puerto Rico.

Smart Move
The team’s smartest move implied a sacrifice — to remove a key character because it was throwing the film off balance. Though it greatly improved the focus of the film and the structure of the story, it was a tough decision. Then Oquendo-Villar and Correa-Vigier realized they could create a new film from the excised footage. Oquendo-Villar said, “We could, in the short, explore the character’s own storyline deeper and also give her something back for having allowed us to shoot her in the first place.”

Never Again
Co-production and international agreement may add points to a film and its production value, but there are a few hoops to jump through. “Our first editor was in Spain, but we had an American contract. There was no way to enforce any terms without local representation,” said Oquendo-Villar.

Memorable Moments
“At our Puerto Rican premiere, the subject of our film, José Quiñones, gave a beautiful and emotionally charged speech about the need for the LGBT community of Puerto Rico to come together and look out for each other.” The filmmakers didn’t know what he was going to say in advance. As Quiñones created a connection with the audience, Oquendo-Villar said “it made the countless hours of work behind sharing his story through our film feel all worth it.”

Will They Relapse and Make Another Film?
Yes! Oquendo-Villar and Correa-Vigier are now developing documentary and narrative projects.

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Published by

Fernanda Rossi
Fernanda Rossi collaborates with filmmakers in all areas of storytelling, from development to fine cut. As an author, international speaker and story analyst she has doctored over 300 documentaries, fiction scripts and fundraising samples, including two nominated for an Academy Award®. Author of Trailer Mechanics: How to Make Your Documentary Fundraising Demo. More info at Follow Fernanda at