Borregois a 2022 thriller film that follows a young botanist named Elly, who relocates to a small town to study an invasive plant species. One night, Elly witnesses a plane crash and is taken hostage by an inexperienced drug mule and must use her wits to fight for survival.
Borrego stars Lucy Hale, Jorge A. Jimenez, Nicholas Gonzalez, and Olivia Trujillo. We had the chance to interview Jesse Harris — the writer and director of Borrego, which is now available to watch via On Demand and Digital [ Amazon | Apple TV ]
What was the inspiration for Borrego — can you tell us about the screenwriting process?
The inspiration came from my dad, an amateur volunteer botanist who was studying plants out in the Anza-Borrego desert and found an invasive plant growing in the wild. It gave me this sudden idea around what it would be like if a botanist moved to this remote town to study this plant, what could she be running from, why would she go there. And from there, built it into a thriller with the border connection, but didn’t want to make a cartel or drug movie, really just a story of survival and the choices people are forced into.
Lucy Hale was excellent in her role, as is the rest of the cast. What was the casting process for the film?
So, with the help of producer Terry Leonard and casting director Eve Battaglia, I got the script to the agencies and Lucy’s name came up. Lucy was the first I was able to get on board I met with her probably three years ago because she liked the script and liked the short film I had done as a proof of concept, and she was really looking for something that was going to challenge her and be a role unlike anything she had ever done before. And so, she was really excited and I was excited about that. It was great because her value to the project allowed me to cast the rest of the roles in a very authentic way which was incredibly important to me so for a lot of the actors I've just found them by watching Films and TV shows. Leynar Gomez who's in the film playing Tomas, this was his first American film and I just hit him up on Instagram.
What was it like working with Cinematographer Octavio Arias?
It was incredible to work with Octavio — this was actually his first feature, and so it's not like he was some old experienced cinematographer — I mean he's been shooting commercials and other things for a long time, but he has an amazing eye and understands light really well. But more than anything, we were just on the same page and really got along well. And so, we could work quickly and without any sort of ego or drama, and we both just wanted to make beautiful compelling images.
The Newton brothers composed the score (Midnight Mass). Can you tell us what it was like working with them?
The Newton brothers were incredible they worked so hard and gave so much to make the best score possible for me. Music is so important to me for both the emotion and the pacing of the film and the vibe and I had some really strong opinions on music, and they were so collaborative and brought so many fresh ideas themselves and together we made this really beautiful score.
Borrego was edited by Luis Carballar (Iñárritu's 'Amores perros'). How did you find the post-production process?
Yes, we were so lucky to get Luis — he's way too big for our small movie, but he really liked the script and liked me and it was a really cool process with him. It was almost like going back to his indie roots because he had no assistant editor, and it was edited very quickly — it was just him and I in a room during the middle of the pandemic and so we became very close. He's just a wonderful person and a great collaborator.
What are your favorite scenes in Borrego — while on the set filming and in the final cut?
My least favorite scene to film became one of my favorite scenes in the movie it was the scene where Elly and Tomas are walking and Tomas falls, they're both exhausted and she convinces him to change plans and head towards the Canyon. It was this incredibly windy day, it was so hard to film we had to do it very quickly, we were under so much pressure but that added I think to the tension on screen and it's just a great scene because it's when Lucy's character really takes charge and the roles reverse in the movie.
The vast desert landscapes were just stunning. Where was the movie filmed, and how long did the production last?
Spain, Almeria, 5-week shooting.
The start and end title sequence include information regarding prescription drugs, trafficking, and how it impacts people from both sides of the border — what do you hope for audiences to take away from your film?
I’d prefer not to talk about that, that was not something I personally added to the film. But I do think there is a lot of opportunity for people to find their own meanings in the film on a range of topics, I know for me, Elly’s story is super personal and meaningful, I think everyone can find something to relate [to] and think about.
Which films/directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, including Borrego?
Well growing up Spielberg, I love his camera blocking and visual storytelling. Hitchcock. Someone like Chloé Zhao for her use of naturalistic scenery and lighting. Deakins the DP for his lighting and camera movement.
What are some of your favorite movies from the past decade?