Tessa Alvarado The Queen of Swords Anthony De Longis

Behind The Scenes And on The Set With Anthony De Longis


It's a waste of energy to dream up action that you don't have the time, budget, personnel or equipment to get on film. So my partner, Ricardo Cruz and I put our years of combined experience together to come up with do-able ideas before marching into production meetings with each new director and all the department heads with their own ideas for what we could and couldn't accomplish in the schedule allotted. In this journal I'm going to describe in more detail, the process from conception to execution. I hope you enjoy the journey.


Tessie Santiago - Tessa Alvarado / The Queen of Swords
Paulina Galvez - Marta
Valentine Pelka - Colonel Luis Montoya
Anthony Lemke - Captain Marcus Grisham
Elsa Pataky - Senora Vera Hidalgo
Tacho Gonzales- Don Gaspar Hidalgo
Ramon Camin - Raul
Gael Garcia- Churi

Looting the Dead

The Native Burial Ground photo at left - The burial site for Churi's father was set in a rare location - one that had trees. This set had been dressed in just an afternoon; before that, it has been used by a German crew for a Native American encampment - teepees and all.

Our opening scene called for a sacred Indian burial ground ripe for looting and violation. Our Art Director Fernando Gonzalez, his daughter Beatrice and their crew transformed an obscure mound of dirt with perhaps the only trees for miles around, into a sacred native cemetery complete with skulls, death masks and animal-skin shrouds to house skeletal cadavers & their earthly treasures.

The scene originally contained a heated dialogue between the Sargent and his soldiers as he directs the desecration and mocks their superstitious dreads. Director Brian Grant made a command decision during our pre-production breakdown that the dialogue was unnecessary. Since English was a second language for most of the local talent, there were arguments for his case, but in retrospect not all of the dramatic values from the original scene were captured by the off-screen voice-over "dialogue".

Brian's opening tracking shot began in the treetops before dropping to reveal the burial platforms, skulls - both cow and human, a death mask and the looters hard at work. A huge lamp on a crane simulated the moon, its beams split by the branches of the tree and diffused by torch smoke to create an effect that was hauntingly eerie. Brian designed the shot to move from left to right to discover soldiers in the distance before featuring Cpl. Chencho stuffing loot into his sack.

Chencho on the balcony at the military garrison. Photo at right - Chencho stands on the balcony at the military garrison. This photo was taken just before the rescue of Churi and Raul, where he is hit with a knife thrown by the Queen.

You want emotion?

On the first take, Chencho followed Brian's instructions to the letter and transferred the treasure from body to sack as quickly as possible. Brian yelled "Cut" and told him to examine his discoveries briefly before "acting" his pleasure at discovering some item of particular value. That's all the permission that Chencho needed. Chencho is a natural clown in the best tradition with a joyous exuberance for whatever he's doing. Actor Roberto Benigni has nothing on Chencho.

On the next take, when the camera arrived at his position, Chencho examined his discoveries with the distain of a oenophile forced to sample screwtop wine before transferring the items to his booty sack. Then he found a necklace and surreptitiously slipped it into the belt pouch at his side. His satisfied smile conjured images of a special girl and how grateful she was going to be when he presented her with the jewels. It was a three-act opera. Spitting with laughter, Brian started to chew him out for milking the moment. But we were all laughing so hard, Brian included, that the rebuke had no teeth. Brian called for one more with instructions to Chencho to "do nothing," but the genie was out of the bottle. The take was briefer but just as detailed and eloquent. Unfortunately, all we see in the final edit is Chencho stuffing a necklace into his tunic.

Gael on the burial set Photo at left - Gael on the burial site set. Notice the size of the gold mask over the face of Churi's father.

The shot shifts to the big Sargent ripping open a shroud and discovering the huge golden death mask covering the face of the dead priest. The poor actor playing Churi's father had to lie for hours in the chill evening air in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and the limited warmth provided by too-much jewelry, the heavy mask and the thin skins shrouding his body like a sausage casing.

Brian didn't want any finesse to this opening sequence, although later the script described Churi using a "dazzling native martial art" style of fighting. We both agreed that Churi is too full of anger and outrage and that raw animal fury would be our best choice. In the script the burial ground was described as sunken graves with the Sargent beating Churi to semi-consciousness before dumping his body into the grave to lie cheek-to-cheek with his father's desecrated corpse. Very dramatic.

You make a plan, you change a plan...

When we arrived at location things were somewhat different than described on the page. The raised burial platforms, while beautiful, were a real hazard. My co-coordinator, Ricardo Cruz and I adjusted our ideas to turn adversity into advantage. I suggested bringing Domingo, our stunt double for Churi, from behind the light source to make it seem that this avenging fury had come from the night itself. I wanted him to fly over the burial platforms but we rejected using a mini-tramp, substituting the small ramp we later used to shoot fire gag that appears in the Main Title sequence each week. This provided extra height for Domingo without sacrificing momentum. I showed our Sargeant how to absorb Domingo's impact and cushion him into the ground, essentially acting as a collapsing stunt pad. Once they were safely on the ground, Domingo adjusted his position and pretended to strangle the Sgt. until the soldiers pulled him off and we could pick up our story with Gael Garcia, the young actor playing Churi. Gael reacted so well, we were able to use him to take his own brutal beating.

Another element the audience was spared was the unintended but very funny awkwardness that ended the scene. The sacred death mask was huge and heavy and ideally suited to decorate the wall of a den. The sack it was supposed to fit into was inadequate in the extreme. But they did try, repeatedly - all on camera. Finally, Brian ordered the actor to triumphantly lift the mask over his head like the heavy weight championship belt, and run offscreen.

The final moment was quite touching. Churi dragged his beaten body to his father's side and collapsed sobbing against his cheek, achieving the dramatic image we'd originally hoped for. Unfortunately, this didn't make the final cut.

Barn in town Photo at right - The building used as the town barn interior for Tessa's meeting with Raul. The building started out as an small, empty shell, but was transformed into a barn complete with a donkey who tried, when cameras rolled, to steal the scene.

After the opening credits, we cut to Tessa's stable rendezvous with the treacherous Raul, played by Ramon Camin, our dialect coach for five of the first six episodes. Now, there were no stable sets at either the pueblo or the distant hacienda locations. Again, Fernando and his Art Department magicians created something from nothing and we got our scene. It's a credit to both our Art and Camera departments that you don't realize the actors play this scene inside a shed half the size of a small living room.

On to the 2nd Page of "Honor Thy Father"

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Copyright 2000-2001 Anthony De Longis. All contents, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Anthony De Longis or used with permission of the copyright owner. All text and photos herein may not be reproduced or distributed without the express written consent of Anthony De Longis, his official representative, or the copyright owner.

The Queen of Swords is trademark of Fireworks Productions, Toronto, Canada, and is a production of Fireworks (Canada), Amy Productions (UK), Morena Films (Spain) and M6 (France), and is distributed in the United States by Paramount. The Official Queen of Swords Website can be found at


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This page last updated March 18, 2001