Mark Landsman is the creator and director of the six episode docu-series currently airing on Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. ET, Los Jets, on NUVOtv. The Co-Executive Producers of Los Jets are Jennifer and Lynda Lopez. Los Jets is based on a 2006 book, A Home on the Field, which was about the amazing 2004 season that the Los Jets soccer team of Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, North Carolina had, when they made it all the way to the North Carolina State Championships and won. They were coached by the founder of the team and author of the book, Coach Paul Cuadros, who is still the coach to this day.
However, the six episode docu-series Los Jets is about the 2013 Los Jets soccer team. It was filmed during the fall of 2013 and follows them as the team tries to once again make it to the North Carolina State Championships and win. Mark Landsman has kindly agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian Liberty Voice and talk about his involvement with the Los Jets docu-series and some of the other film projects he has worked on in the past.
Douglas Cobb: Mark, Los Jets is a very enjoyable show with many messages on social issues, immigration and integration. How did you get your start in directing and what drew you to want to create and direct the docu-series, Los Jets?
Mark Landsman: I first got a sense that I wanted to be a filmmaker after taking a class at the University of Michigan called the “American Documentary Tradition,” where we would watch and talk about some of the best and most provocative documentaries ever made. That course really opened my eyes to how powerful film can be in terms of moving people, provoking conversation, helping to humanize issues or themes often ignored or sensationalized.
My first break was getting a chance to produce and direct a feature-length doc called Peace of Mind with a courageous group of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers who met at a U.S. summer camp. We gave them video cameras to take back to the Middle East for a year and then reunited them the following summer to edit. It was a very challenging/inspiring project on many levels – it convinced me to continue pursuing filmmaking.
Douglas Cobb: Los Jets follows the Jordan-Matthews High School soccer team for the entire 2013 season. Of course, though, being heavily involved in the project as you were, there must have been a lot of time that you spent in working on the Los Jets docu-series both prior to ever traveling to North Carolina and in post-production.
How much time would you say you spent on the Los Jets docu-series altogether?
Mark Landsman: Technically I’ve been working on the story since 2008 when I first heard Jets’ coach Paul Cuadros talk about his book, A Home on the Field, on NPR. I immediately thought this would make a great movie, so I called Paul up and we began a conversation that’s lasted a while now. But the real work began last April when myself and producer Diane Becker first traveled to Siler City, met with Paul and some of the players and did some initial filming with them. With that material we created a trailer that we then showed to Lynda Lopez, Benny Medina and the folks at Nuyorican Productions in LA. Thankfully they loved it and got the project green lit with NUVOtv.
Douglas Cobb: Mark, while you and the rest of the production crew were working on Los Jets, did you get to know the teens and Coach Paul Cuadros very well, or were you too busy with getting all of the scenes just right to get to bond with them?
Mark Landsman: Really with any documentary production a trust between the filmmakers and the subjects of the film is essential. I don’t think you can do it well otherwise. There has to be a basic trust for people to say “Okay, you can come into my life and turn on a camera for however long and capture my story.” So we got to know everyone very well, we spent a lot of time on the ground even before filming. But the process of having cameras around is awkward for most people, especially teenagers. That naturally took a little time for the guys on the team to get used to it and then they forgot we were there. That’s the ideal situation for documentarians, that we can be flies on the wall and the people being filmed can simply be themselves without inhibition.
Douglas Cobb: One of the aspects that can be tricky about filming a docu-series is choosing just the right music for each episode. However, I really like the music that has been in the first two episodes that have aired.
Were you behind the music selection? If not, who choose the background music for Los Jets?
Mark Landsman: Our two series editors, Claire Didier and John Balcom, and myself are all real music heads–it definitely informs and inspires the choices we made in the editing. We had an amazing composer named Gil Talmi, who brought a real depth and emotional landscape to the project. Additionally, we got to license some fantastic tracks from several international artists, from Bonobo, Ana Tijoux, Morenito del Fuego–which was really cool.
Douglas Cobb: The flow of Los Jets, accomplished masterfully by the amazing camera work, is done really seamlessly. How many cameras were used in filming Los Jets?
Mark Landsman: We normally had two cameras operating at all times and an additional added for the games. We were very fortunate to have worked with a great documentary DP, Guy Mossman (he shot Buck, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Mariachi High)–as well as a very talented team of NC-based shooters–Jason Arthurs, Chris Carmichael and Ted Richardson.
Douglas Cobb: Whether you are watching Los Jets or some other film you’ve worked on, Mark, are you able to enjoy them as works of art, or do you get hypercritical, noticing things you wish you had done differently or better?
Mark Landsman: Ha, well I’m kind of hyper-critical by nature (working on that one). That said, I can honestly say I’m very proud of Los Jets–proud of the production team who worked so intensely and continuously on this–always with a lot of passion and commitment. I’m very proud of Paul and the boys on the team and their families for having the courage to share their stories on a broad stage. That takes guts. And we feel super privileged to have been granted their trust.
Douglas Cobb: I have heard that you produced and directed two films, Postcard from Peje, on ethnic Albanian teenagers returning to their homes in post-war Kosova; and Books Not Bars, on minority youth and the U.S. prison system.
You made the two movies for Peter Gabriel’s human rights media organization, WITNESS. Peter Gabriel is great, both as a solo artist and when he was the lead singer of Genesis. What did you think of him? Did he have any input when it came to you making the two movies?
Mark Landsman: I never had the privilege to meet Peter in person, though I did work with his organization, WITNESS, where I met some highly dedicated people working to use media as tool for international human rights advocacy.
Douglas Cobb: Also, Mark, would you please tell our readers how you got involved with the Los Jets project and something about your experiences working with the input of Jennifer Lopez and her sister, Lynda?
Mark Landsman: We worked very closely with Lynda Lopez, our Executive Producer. She herself is a journalist and was very involved in the creative shaping of the series, which was insightful and very helpful.
Douglas Cobb: Mark, great answers — there are only a couple more questions to go! When viewers across America watch Los Jets, what would you like them to get out of watching the series?
Mark Landsman: I would love for people watching to say they’ve just watched an awesome story of an underdog team that brought everything they had to that soccer pitch. I watched as much World Cup soccer as possible and every time I felt like a great drama was unfolding. I couldn’t wait for the next game. That’s how I feel about the stories that unfold in this series–they’re real, incredibly compelling and you want to know what’s going to happen next to this team and to these players.
Douglas Cobb: Mark, are you working on or have you finished any project since Los Jets in 2013 that you would like to let the readers of the Guardian Liberty Voice know about?
Mark Landsman: I am currently working with a screenwriter on a scripted version of Los Jets that focuses on Coach Cuadros’ formation of the team back in 2000 against tremendous adversity and the run they make to get to States.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks again, Mark, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions about Los Jets and other movies you’ve created and directed! For readers who have not yet seen Los Jets, check the series out on NUVOtv at 10:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday nights!
Written By Douglas Cobb
(Photos Courtesy of NUVOtv)