The most persistent people who are adamant in their determined pursuit to save their loved ones are often the ones who carelessly put their own lives in danger, without any regard for the consequences. That’s definitely the case with the strong-willed protagonist, Michael, in the newly released action film, ‘Crossing Point,’ which follows the lead character as he purposefully risks himself in order to protect his girlfriend. The adventure film, which was directed and produced by Daniel Zirilli, is now available on VOD, including Amazon, and iTunes, from distributor XLrator Media.

‘Crossing Point,’ which was written by Paul Dominic and actor Shawn Lock, follows the latter’s character, Michael, and Olivia (María Gabriela de Faría), who are a young American couple that’s vacationing in Baja. Their romantic trip takes a harrowing and unexpected turn for the worst, however, when Olivia is kidnapped by a drug dealer. The criminal demands that Michael smuggle a backpack full of cocaine, which was stolen from a rival cartel, over the border into the U.S. within 12 hours, or else Olivia will be killed. As Michael navigates the treacherous Mexican underworld, he becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Michael’s initially determined to follow the drug dealer’s exact instructions and save his girlfriend on his own. However, the American eventually realizes that he needs the aid of local detective, Jesus (Jacob Vargas), and resident Lucille (Paulina Gaitan), who’s the niece of influential community leader Andres (Burton Perez), in order to help free Olivia. The further Michael delves into Baja’s criminal underworld, the more he realizes that he may not have targeted by chance, and most do whatever he can to protect himself.

Zirilli generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Crossing Point‘ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he was drawn to direct Dominic and Lock’s script in part because after he grew up visiting Baja and other parts of Mexico, he wanted to make an emotionally-driven and equally street credible action film that’s set in the country. The filmmaker also thrived on shooting the thriller on location in Mexico, with the help of the local film commission and crew, which also helped infuse the story with a legitimacy that showcases how life really is in the country.

The filmmaker began the conversation by explaining why he was interested in directing Dominic and Lock’s script for ‘Crossing Point.’ “I grew up in San Diego, which is near Baja, so I went to Mexico many times when I was younger. So when the script was presented to me, I thought it was fantastic,” the helmer explained.

One of the aspects of filmmaking that the director was interested in doing for the thriller was to be able to “polish the script. I wanted to make sure the story was very legitimate and street credible. I have so much experience visiting, and working in, Mexico, that I wanted to get the story right.” Zirilli added that once he “went through the script and cleaned it up, I was very excited to film it.”

Since the helmer wanted to make the action movie as authentically as possible, he decided to film it in Mexico. “We had offers to shoot it in Atlanta and other places on a bigger budget,” the director revealed. “But I wanted to make it in Mexico. I thought there was no way that this story could be made anywhere else, as I wanted to make it as authentically as possible. So we ended up shooting in in gritty Tijuana.”

With ‘Crossing Point’ taking place, and being shot, in Tijuana and San Diego, Zirilli then discussed the process of securing, and filming at, the locations that are featured in the movie. “Luckily, I had previously visited about 80 percent of the locations before we even began making the movie,” the filmmaker explained. “So I brought the financial producers with me to show them a bunch of locations, and we spent some time in the Tijuana locations… We also went to Baja to check out some of the beaches there.” The director then noted that he showed the producers some of the local fishing villages “that weren’t too touristy.”

The director added that he “thought the whole process was fantastic. I’d definitely shoot in Mexico again. You can’t cheat or replicate the grit you get in Mexico. I enjoyed the process, and we didn’t experience any problems while we were in Mexico. The film commission there helped us find great locations.” Zirilli also noted that about “70 percent of the crew was from Mexico, and we brought a handful of people down with us from the United States. That experience was exactly what we needed for the movie.”

Besides helming the action movie, Zirilli also served as one of the producers, and discussed how his producing background helped him make the movie. The filmmaker launched Pop Art Film Factory, which served as one of ‘Crossing Point’s production companies, in 1990. In conjunction with the company, he has “directed and produced hundreds of music videos. I then switched it up and began producing for other directors, as well.”

Zirilli added that he produces the films that he directs because “I really want to maximize the production value. I have a lot of experience of making movies that have a lower budget the best that they can be. I work really hard to put the movies together during pre-production. That way, my producing duties are finished once we start shooting, and I can concentrate on directing. But I do stay conscious of what’s going on, from the production standpoint.”

The filmmaker added that he didn’t want to make the process of making ‘Crossing Point’ easier by “shooting on a soundstage. Some filmmakers may say, ‘I want to make this movie, but only use two locations,’ but I knew that this movie had to move at all times. That was difficult as a producer, though, because as a director, I wanted to change locations two or three times a day.”

Since the thriller’s protagonist is traveling all over Baja, Zirilli wanted the film to emphasize that movement. “Once Olivia is kidnapped, Michael is always on the run, so I didn’t want the movie to feel as though we were shooting on a small space. So as a producer, I didn’t make that aspect of the film easy on myself, but as a director, I got all of the shots and locations that I wanted. I think that worked out well.”

The director then delved into his process of casting the main actors for ‘Crossing Point,’ noting that “The good news was that I’m friends with Tom Sizemore, Rudy Youngblood and Jacob Vargas. I know these three actors personally, so I knew they would be perfect for their roles. Along with Damon Whitaker, I didn’t have to go through their agents, and was able to ask them personally, since they’re close friends of mine.” Zirilli added that when he received the thriller’s script, he knew that “the characters were really rich and interesting, so it was easy to get my friends to come on board.”

In terms of casting Michael, the filmmaker noted that Lock co-wrote the screenplay and also served as one of the producers on the action movie. “People may think that Shawn insisted on playing the lead, but it was the other way around. We started the casting process for the lead, and then we realized that he looked so right for the part,” Zirilli explained.

“But when I started thinking about the locations we were going to shoot in, as well as how the character fits into those places, I realized that he would be perfect for the role,” the director noted, before revealing that Lock “was initially apprehensive about taking the role. “You usually don’t want to go with an actor who’s new and doesn’t have a lot of experience. But I knew from our relationship that Shawn would be able to take direction from me, and convinced him to take the role.”

As for the actresses, the helmer revealed that he didn’t “previously know Paulina Gaitan and María Gabriela de Faría, so we went through their agents. We auditioned them, and I think we picked the right female leads, as well.” Zirilli added that he’s proud of the entire cast’s acting, and enjoyed having the mix of up-and-coming actors with veteran performers in the thriller.

After the actors were cast in ‘Crossing Point,’ the director said he was able to have some rehearsal time with them, in order to build the characters’ relationships and backstories. “But a lot of those discussions happened between takes, as we were setting up the next shots. We also read through the lines in the hotel, and I spent a lot of time with the actors individually,” Zirilli divulged. “We didn’t spend a lot of time rehearsing as a group, but I would run lines with the actors individually.”

Once the cast and crew began filming each scene, “We’d do a take, and I would then give them notes and feedback. If I felt that something wasn’t right, we’d do several takes,” the filmmaker added. For example, “Tom, who I’ve known for years and have worked with before, likes to try different things. When you film with him, each take contains something different, and he’s such a great actor.”

Zirilli then ended the conversation by discussing the process of working with the actors to create their characters’ physicality, as well as the stunts and action sequences. “I come from an action background, and have directed about 10 action movies. I like to shoot fast and movie the camera a lot,” the filmmaker explained.

“There’s some kick-ass action in the movie, but the story is really driven by the high-stakes emotions and life-or-death situations. So I felt like a lot of the movie’s elements were organic,” Zirilli revealed. “When you put someone in a situation where they’re running for their life in Tijuana, which has a little bit of an edge of danger to it, the action becomes plausible and believable.”

The director concluded by saying that he loves Mexico, so he “wanted to make some of the film’s heroes Mexican. Jacob Vargas’ character, the Tijuana cop, is a good officer, and is one of the story’s heroes. I think that was a positive aspect to add to the film, as I didn’t want to make this a typical story about Mexico.”

Watch the official trailer for ‘Crossing Point’ below.

Interview: Daniel Zirilli Talks Crossing Point (Exclusive)
Photo courtesy of XLrator Media.

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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