By Hugo Perez
The year is 2022. After a decade of world famine and food riots, the Mendelian Corporation now bioengineers the world’s entire commercial supply of genetically modified seeds. This comes at the expense of outlawed natural “heirloom” seeds, with their susceptibility to disease viewed as a threat to a stable food supply. The Mendelian Corporation’s control of the food supply gives it great political clout, and it has used it to consolidate great power. Rural areas and farm country are now under a corporate marshal law, and the ban on “heirloom” seed has resulted in a black market, with “seed-runners” emerging to satisfy the underground market.
Young boys seeking to serve their country are encouraged to join the Mendelian Corporation’s Sprouts youth program. The Sprouts motto “Duty First” indicates that the security of the food supply comes above all else, and that a Sprout must remain vigilant at all times. At 12 years old, Juan (Sebastian Villada) is completely devoted to the Sprouts, and to Sprouts leader and local security chief Dick Phillips (Yul Vazquez). Under his tutelage, Juan — whose mother died in a food riot a decade earlier — routinely uses his electronic “seed-sniffer” to secretly inspect the crops on neighboring farms in search of “bad seeds.” On one otherwise average day, Juan is inspecting a cornfield on the Ballard Farm when he discovers a contaminated patch. The field is burned down and the farmer is arrested.
But young Juan is torn when he finds his father Mateo (Julian Acosta) in the family barn, meeting with a man he doesn’t recognize. Juan suspects the two men are collaborating as underground seed-runners. Mateo is disappointed in his son’s blind loyalty to the corporation, and Juan is conflicted about his suspicions regarding his father, but needs help making moral sense of this new world order. The young man struggles to juggle his alliances, and in the end, his choices may change his life forever.
I came to the idea for Seed by reading about the way in which seed companies today are able to copyright their genetically modified seeds and then require farmers to license their seeds to grow their crops. It seemed to me like a classic protection racket of the kind that became famous in 1920s Chicago. The license requires that farmers buy their seeds from the company every year, instead of the way farmers have obtained seeds in the past: from their own crops. Instead of “buy our liquor or we’ll burn your place down,” it’s “buy our seed or we’ll find a way to discover one of our plants in your field, and then we’ll sue you. Then, since you don’t have the money to fight us, we’ll shut your farm down.” This is thuggish behavior barely disguised under a thin, corporate veneer.
I thought about the kind of power one company could have if it were to control the entire seed supply one day. It would have enough power to make ‘heirloom’ or natural seed illegal. The justification they could use is the same one that is used every day to justify limitations on our individual rights — safety, security, and stability.
Natural seeds are subject to disease. Genetically modified seeds can be engineered so that they are resistant. All it would take is one severe (and for the company, convenient) food crisis and it wouldn’t take much to persuade governments and people to take drastic measures. And voila: We would have a world where heirloom seed is illegal, and one company controls the world’s food supply.
Imagine a world where one company controls every seed. It controls the food supply. Through the food supply, it controls the people. And through the people, it controls the law.
But you can never quite stamp out individuality, and there would still be people who for profit or philosophical reasons would still want to deal in heirloom seed. So like the bootleggers of the Prohibition, you would have “seed-runners” trafficking in heirloom seed. In the interest of law and order, authorities would hunt them down.
So if you start from here and add a father-son story, you get the beginnings of Seed.
— Hugo Perez, Director
Two months before we go into production for Seed, I am wondering how I will build a seed-sniffer that looks cool enough for the film. A seed-sniffer is a device used the by the Sprouts in Seed to inspect crops, kind of like a 21st century tricorder. One bright Saturday afternoon, I happen upon a stoop sale in Brooklyn where an older woman is selling a variety of 1950s-era electronic equipment. And there it is: a 1950s voltmeter in a Bakelite case with a leather hand-strap. For $5, I buy it. Later I will strip out its internal mechanisms and put a bluescreen in the faceplate area. A little compositing of simulated analysis into the bluescreen in post and voila I present to you the seed-sniffer.
The night before we begin production, I am at an old Catskill resort where the cast and crew and I are staying. A polystyrene FedEx container was waiting for me upon our arrival. At dinner that night, I open the box and pull out a paper sleeve. I open the paper sleeve, and like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, a live butterfly magically appears in my hand. Everyone oohs and aahs. Thanks to Berkshire Butterflies, I have a dozen monarch butterflies on ice to use for a scene in which Phillips shows Juan the future. Who knew you could mail order live butterflies?
Yul Vazquez as Phillips wears a new world fascist uniform which gives him a strong SS vibe as he walks through the lobby of the resort we are staying at in the Catskills. It is only after many of the older patrons of the resort stare at Yul, aghast, as he walks through the lobby that we realize that a Catskills resort is perhaps not the best place for someone in pseudo-SS garb to strut around.
We are shooting a scene where Yul and his henchman are arresting a farmer at riflepoint by the side of the road. We happen to choose a road that goes to the local church, and we happen to film this scene just as people are leaving Sunday morning Mass. We also are filming with a small crew and using a long lens so that the only thing people driving by see are fascist thugs menacing a local farmer at riflepoint. When a number of cars slowed down to see what was happening, and then hit the gas to speed away as soon as they saw this scene of fabricated violence, we realized that maybe we had unwittingly upset some local churchgoers.
— Hugo Perez, Director
Writer / Director
Hugo Perez is a filmmaker and writer whose work often focuses on his Cuban heritage. He is a recipient of the 2009 Estela Award for documentary filmmaking as well as the prestigious 2008 Rockefeller Foundation/Tribeca Film Institute Emerging Artist Fellowship in support of his feature screenplay Immaculate Conception. His short film, Betty La Flaca was the winner of the 2006 HBO/NYILFF Short Film Award and is being broadcast on the HBO networks through Fall 2008. His previous short film Juliet Y Ramon was broadcast as part of the 2005 Showtime Latino Filmmaker Showcase, and was recently re-broadcast on the PBS series Reel New York. Hugo is producer and director of the feature documentary Neither Memory Nor Magic, which is narrated by the Academy Award-nominated Patricia Clarkson and edited by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Francisco Bello and Tim Sternberg. Perez is also the producer and director of the documentary Summer Sun Winter Moon, which aired on PBS in November 2009. Hugo has studied writing with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, collaborated with Pulitzer prize-winning novelist William Kennedy, and served as a guest artist for acclaimed theater director and artist Robert Wilson. His writing has been featured in the New York Times Magazine and Salon.com, and his films have screened at venues such as MoMA and the Smithsonian.
Katharyn Bond Márquez
Katharyn Bond Márquez is a founder and principal of Converge Entertainment, LLC, a U.S.-based production company of commercial independent and American Latino films where she directs the development of Converge’s film projects, handles all business affairs and development, initiates strategic ventures, and produces film. She is a producer of Wham! Bam! Islam! a documentary about the first Middle Eastern comic book, The 99, and Tribeca All Access participant Immaculate Conception, written by Hugo Perez and other Converge films. She is a former partner in the boutique law firm of Márquez, Bond & Meisel, LLP where her private practice encompassed intellectual property, new media, securities law, employment and entertainment, and counsel to independent filmmakers and Off-Broadway staged theater productions. Prior to becoming a lawyer, she was a media planner at Saatchi and Saatchi and Young & Rubicam for the Hewlett Packard and Chevron U. S. A. accounts respectively. She is a member of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, New York Woman in Film & Television and the State Bar of California.
Jason Tyrrell is the director of film acquisitions for IndiePix, a cutting-edge New York distributor. He has worked on the acquisition, promotion, and distribution of several notable IndiePix releases, including Pras Michel's Skid Row, Bob Ray and Werner Campbell's Hell on Wheels, Kristi Jacobson's Toots, Kirsty de Garis' Dominick Dunne: After the Party, and Rikki Stern and Annie Sundberg's The End of America. Upcoming releases include It Came from Kuchar, Sita Sings the Blues, In The Hands Of The Gods, and Harrison Montgomery (starring Academy Award-winner Martin Landau). Jason's production credits include serving as technical director of the 2008 and 2009 Cinema Eye Honors, consulting on the development and production of Paola Mendoza and Gloria LaMorte's Entre Nos, acting as principle producer on John W. Yost's The Brave and the Kind, and writing and directing several of his own short films.
Suzanne Hilleary is the president and founder of WACBIZ, LLC, a New York-based music licensing company. Her multi-media experience started at RPM Music Productions, management offices to the legendary Tony Bennett. SHMGMT, Inc was formed as Suzanne went solo in 1998, managing writers and producers while signing acts to major labels. As a highlight in her career, she placed "Smooth" with Carlos Santana, garnering a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2000 for her client, writer/producer Itaal Shur. "Smooth," on the album Supernatural has sold 32 million records world wide to date. The company works closely with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and other independent like-minded companies. The focus is on pre-cleared, artist-controlled music, publishing and major label ties are never an issue with their placement. To date the company features notable faces from Duncan Sheik, Sinead O'Connor, Joe Jackson, The Dropkick Murphys, Ok GO, and Chaka Khan to Danny Aiello and more than 700 independent artists, producers, musicians, and studios contracted. Hilleary pitches to music supervisors, directors and producers at Sony Pictures Film & TV, Paramount-Dreamworks, Twentieth Century Fox, Lakeshore, and HBO, WACBIZ's one-stop formula of artist-direct music, music production, original scoring ,and licensing administrative services, benefits the growth and careers of today's most talented artists.
Yul Vázquez — “Phillips”
Yul Vázquez has appeared in more than 30 films including American Gangster, Music Within, War of the Worlds, Bad Boys 2, Traffic, and Runaway Bride. Vázquez was last seen in Steven Soderbergh's two-part epic Che with Benicio Del Toro and the critically acclaimed The Take with John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez. He has recently wrapped The A-Team opposite Bradley Cooper and Liam Nesson, Little Fockers opposite Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, and The Gonzo Files opposite Campbell Scott and Amy Sedaris. Television credits include Fringe, Seinfeld, Sex and the City, and The Sopranos. Seamlessly moving between film, television and stage, Vázquez is co-artistic director and a founding member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company. Theater credits include The Last Days of Judas Iscariot opposite Sam Rockwell, directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman at The Public Theater, The Stendhal Syndrome with Isabella Rossellini and Richard Thomas, and The Floating Island Plays at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, along with countless other New York productions.
Julian Acosta — “Mateo”
Acosta is a member of LAByrinth Theatre Company and recently played Roderigo in William Shakespeare's Othello in Vienna, Austria; Bochum, Germany; and at the NYU Skirball center in a co-production with LAByrinth Theater Company/Public Theater and directed by Peter Sellars. Additional stage credits include Massacre (Sing To Your Children) by Oscar-nominated playwright and screenwriter José Rivera; Lucy and the Conquest by Cusi Cram; 2003 Pulitzer prize winner Anna in The Tropics by Nilo Cruz; and Lovers and Executioners by John Strand, for which Julian was nominated for a Los Angeles Critics' Circle Award. After obtaining his Masters of Fine Arts degree in acting from Rutgers University, Julian quickly landed a role in Denis Leary’s heralded but short-lived comedy series The Job. Since then, Julian has had recurring roles on the Lifetime series Strong Medicine and the FX series Dirt, and has guest starred on many shows including The West Wing, Entourage, Scrubs, The George Lopez Show, Second Time Around, KingPin, The Mentalist, The Unit, NCIS, and Castle. Julian’s film credits include Bound By Lies with Stephen Baldwin and Kristy Swanson, as well as True Love.
Sebastian Villada — “Juan”
Sebastian Villada beat out more than 300 boys for the lead part of Gabriel in Paola Mendoza’s 2009 festival favorite, Entre Nos. He was picked out of a crowd of thousands at the Colombian Day Parade in Flushing, Queens to make his film acting debut. He received a Special Jury Award for Debut by a Child for his role, at The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF). The role of Juan in Seed represents his second performance in a film.
Jason Downs — Mendelian spokesman, new world prophet, radio announcer, security dispatcher
Jason Downs is an actor, singer and songwriter. He’s been acting since the age of nine and has appeared in the films Hairspray, Clara’s Heart, and Come Lovely, which he also produced. After spending a few years touring Europe as an artist on Jive Records, Jason again opted to spend a little time on the big screen while conceiving of, writing and recording his third album. He starred in a feature film entitled Racing Daylight alongside Academy Award nominees David Strathairn and Melissa Leo which was released in December 2008; Gospel Hill with Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, and Julia Stiles released in February 2009; Whisper Me a Lullaby; as well as two short films and The Regular, which are yet to be released. Jason has released two albums on Jive Records overseas, White Boy With A Feather (which was a top 20 hit overseas) and The Spin. He has also released “White Boy With a Feather,” “Revenue,” “Cherokee,” “Trippin’,” “Shut Up (Let’s Hook Up),” and the remake of the Harry Chapin classic “Cats in the Cradle” as CD singles. As a music artist he appeared in many British variety shows including Top of the Pops, CD:UK, MTV, and The Big Breakfast. His latest album, Dark Son, is produced by legendary Grammy winner Malcolm Burn.
Dean Hutchins — “Proudstar”
Dean Hutchins is an actor and writer of Cherokee descent. He has appeared in the films Racing Daylight, Gone to Texas: The Lives of Forrest Carter, and various television programs. He has been a novelist, poet, photographer, management consultant, software engineer, computer expert, television director, and is an active member of the East Coast indigenous community.