“It’s my first and it’s really lovely,” reflects producer David Hinojosa on receiving the first Oscar nomination of his career for “Past Lives,” which is one of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture. He was on a film set in New York on the morning of the nominations and requested a free trailer to watch the announcement live. The producer shares the recognition with Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler, who he says “essentially taught me how to produce movies.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Hinojosa had read some of writer-director Celine Song’s stage plays prior to meeting her in 2021 and even had tickets to see one of her dramas live before it was canceled due to the start of covid in early 2020. The producer praises her screenplay, for which she also earned her first Oscar nomination, stating, “I don’t say this to be hyperbolic, it really is a perfect screenplay, one of only a handful I’ve ever read professionally.” He felt immediately “married” to the material and was “nervous” going into his first meeting with Song but admits that they “connected very profoundly as soon as we met and we’re still that way.”
Throughout his career, Hinojosa has worked on many notable films, whether as producer on “Beatriz at Dinner,” “First Reformed,” “Shirley” and others, or as part of the executive team on “Carol,” “Still Alice” and more. “Past Lives” is a unique entry amongst them, for him, because he says it “felt more like a last film, it felt like a film an old master does at the end of their career because it’s so restrained, it’s not afraid of the quiet, literally, it’s just completely confident and elegant in what it is.”
The process of bringing “Past Lives” to life was not without its challenges, of course. The film was shot as the industry was emerging from covid closures, and Hinojosa notes that “movies are so fragile on a good day,” even without the heightened stress of having to shoot during those uncertain times. Some of the film is set in and was shot in Korea, too, which he observes “was on the conservative end of its approach and lockdowns.” Even when shooting on a set stateside, the producer had to overcome the obstacle of carefully observing scenes that only feature Korean, a language he does not speak.
“Past Lives” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023. Hinojosa was in attendance at the screening and shares that he “knew the movie was working because there’s so much silence in it and you can hear a pin drop in that room,” plus all the “sniffles” from the crowd during the film’s extended, final farewell scene between Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). The producer adds that while he loves the ending of the movie, he has “a lot of affection for the Skype session,” referring to the period in the two characters’ lives when they reconnect via long video calls because Nora had left Korea for New York with her family at a young age. Not only is he proud of the accurate period technology in those scenes, but he also thinks it speaks to a larger themes of the movie, sharing, “We are all either fortunate or a little imprisoned by the timing of things, so even the technology forces a distance between them. The video skips a little bit, the audio gets a little wonky.”
Hinojosa has joined forces with Song once again for her upcoming second feature, “The Materialists.” Though specific details of the project are under wraps, the producer reveals, “I’m just so proud of Celine. She’s the consummate writer and she just wrote herself out of any corner she might have been in,” referring to the pressure she may have felt trying to follow the success of “Past Lives.” He says about the new film, “It’s a really sterling script, it’s so smart, it’s so interesting and I think people who love ‘Past Lives’ are gonna be really excited about it because there’s real philosophical and emotional overlap but very different treatment in genre and style, so I think people are gonna be really excited about it.”
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