A Director, Drag Racer
In car racing, who you are, what you are, where you come from, your physical make-up, nothing matters. All that matters is who is the quickest.
Founder and Executive Producer of Roann Films, Nick Martinez, understands the ins and the outs of the drag race scene. Ignited by his father’s thrilling stories of the sport, he chose to get behind the wheel himself during his high school and college years. Recently, after noticing that not many current films successfully capture the raw, edgy underground community he experienced firsthand, Martinez set about rectifying this by directing short film American Muscle.
The resulting action drama of “an overlooked driver [who] exploits her brother’s reputation in the underground world of drag racing to finally get a shot at proving herself in the street,” taps into Martinez’ electrifying, intense personal memories.
The film’s protagonist, Clare, also shares his identity as a bit of a dark horse. “I always gravitate to the underdog story and standing up to the bully,” Martinez identifies as one of the constant staples in his films—also mentioning it was among his defining traits as a teen.
Clare’s strong and spirited character attracted the applications of roughly 5000 actresses. But it would be Ashley Platz (a star with guest appearances in Grey’s Anatomy and GLOW) who would land the role. “In casting, they say you will know it when you see it. And when Ashely auditioned, I knew it,” Martinez says. Her style, her edge, her authentic acting—all of it fit.
Martinez also found Ashley matched his directing style. “I spoke in feelings, what I wanted to feel in this scene, and she would take that and deliver,” he says.
Besides a strong lead, the film promises gripping action scenes. When building intense cinematic moments, Martinez makes sure to put plot first. “If the stakes are not high (no matter how good your action scene is), no one will care,” he notes. “So making sure the action is a part of the story is key.” He also checks to see that every shot propels the scene forward (it can’t just look cool) and storyboards ahead of time (to counteract the overwhelming number of factors all happening simultaneously during a shoot).
Martinez is one of the few local directors selected for inclusion among Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival’s offerings this year. He says that though Silicon Valley hasn’t influenced him stylistically, it has impacted a special kind of variety in his characters. “Growing up in the Bay Area, you are exposed to so many diverse people and classes that it is just natural to express that through my films,” he explains.
Martinez and the rest of the crew at Roann Films rose from humble beginnings—and they pride themselves in the hard work that’s gained them headway. “We started our careers as grips, camera, production, and writing assistants, and we haven’t forgotten where we came from,” their website notes. “We’ve learned how to be inventive and crafty, and our love for all aspects of filmmaking is evident in the caliber of our work.”
Martinez mentions drivers share that mentality. “In car racing, who you are, what you are, where you come from, your physical make-up, nothing matters,” he says. “All that matters is who is the quickest.”
It means moviegoers attending American Muscle are investing in the tale of an underdog—as told by a crew of underdogs. It’s got a poetic ring to it.
Cinequest screenings alongside feature-length thriller Apartment 413 on March 10th, 13th, and 16th.
Written by Johanna Hickle
Portrait by Daniel Garcia
Set images by Jessica Perez