When Bryan Lorenzo graduated from the University of Miami film program, he already had his next project in mind. As a transplant from Maryland, Lorenzo, though half-Dominican, had initially felt like a gringo fish out of water in Miami's multi-culti seas. That was a feeling only amplified when he stared dating a through-and-through Miami Cuban-American -- and, of course, dealing with all the extended-family expectations that go along with that.
So for his first post-school project, he eventually decided to tackle
all those feelings through a short film set around the most epic
Cuban-American celebration of all: nochebuena, which was also to serve
as the film's title. And he turned to the Miami World Cinema Center's Jose Luis Martinez for help.
The center is meant to serve as a resource center for aspiring indie filmmakers in Miami, and, inspired by the project, Martinez decided to take on the role as its executive producer, pro bono. Together, he and Lorenzo developed the Nochebuena script to its current, shoot-ready form. The plot centers around an 18-year-old Cuban-American, Margarita, bringing home her 26-year-old boyfriend, Andrew, to nochebuena for the first time.
Not only is the boyfriend Anglo, but -- horror of horrors -- they're going to be moving in together. So how will the family's patriarch, Ruben, and the assorted abuelitas, tias, and primos y primas react? Good old Caribbean-style Catholic guilt, cross-cultural mix-ups, and other hijinks ensue, naturally.
To get the film off the ground, Martinez and Lorenzo also decided to turn to the Internet for a very 2011 solution to producing, and the two mounted a fundraising campaign on the web site Indiegogo. They quickly met their modest fundraising goal of $2,500, but estimate they will need a total of $10,000 to finish the project, which will begin shooting in August. As such, they're continuing with the online fundraising campaign through its intended original end date, July 25. Production begins just a week and a half later, on August 4.
Cultist reached both Martinez and Lorenzo by phone recently to chat about the Miami World Cinema Center, the fundraising campaign, and of course, the idea behind the film itself. Read what they had to say below, and if it inspires you to support the film, visit the Nochebuena campaign on Indiegogo.
New Times: What exactly is the Miami World Cinema Center?
Martinez: I lived and worked in L.A. for about four years, and then moved back permanently to Miami, and now I'm the creative director of the center, which is the city's first nonprofit film studio. We're basically a support system for local independent cinema, for filmmakers who want to tell stories about our community. That can take on many forms -- we have everything from educational programs to workshops to lectures, and we can also come on board as producers on film projects we feel passionately about supporting.
How did you and Bryan meet?
Martinez: I believe Bryan found out about us through the motion pictures program at the University of Miami, from which he graduated last year. He gave me a call and shot me an e-mail, and from the outset I really responded to the project, because I thought it really fit our mission of telling a story very local and specific to Miami.
So we met to talk about the script, which, at the time, was really good, but was missing that authentic Cuban flavor. The script is now going to be bilingual, so it's almost like a throwback to Que Pasa, U.S.A.?, with a modern twist.
The original draft was mainly in English, and the main story is this sort of Anglo-American who's thrown into this situation of experiencing this Cuban celebration for the first time. It's sort of the point of view that Bryan was bringing to the story, and he nailed that part of the story. But then when it came to the ensemble cast, these are real spit-fire characters where half the time they're going back and forth in English, and the other half in Spanish.
Bryan Lorenzo: If I were to describe it myself I'd say it's a very universal story, but in a very specific setting. I came in with the universal story, which is a parent learning how to trust their child's choices in life, and then again, like Jose was saying, he came in afterwards and layered it. We've been layering it ever since.
Martinez: One of the things the center believes in very strongly is script development. Before we begin anything else like pre-production and casting locations, if the script isn't well-developed, there's no point going to those next stages. So with Bryan's script and every other script we bring in, we work so it's ready for pre-production.
Lorenzo: To add to that, I came in to the center as just a guy with a script. Now we've come so far from that, and the Miami World Cinema Center's been the guiding force along the way.
Bryan, what gave you the idea to center the script around this holiday, specifically?
Well, I'm from Maryland, and I'm half Dominican and half American, so being biracial gave me this experience already of culture clashes. My mom and my dad are so different, and they're separated, so I'd grow up with these very different experiences. But when I wrote this script, I did have the idea in mind to make it around this holiday, because my girlfriend's Cuban, and through her, I discovered this holiday and the setting.
Had you celebrated nochebuena with a big Cuban family?
Lorenzo: Yes I did. In fact, I did the world tour of nochebuenas, doing three in one night to get different perspectives. I took Jose's advice to go in there to do research, and I went to a pig farm myself and picked out the pig, which is something my main character goes through. The stakes are raised around nochebuena, because you've got the entire family gathering for this holiday. So for me as a filmmaker, it seemed like the best time to set it.
Beyond Indiegogo, have you also been trying to raise funds in a more traditional way as well?
Martinez: Yeah, we have. We have been going after some sponsors who have signed off. We met with the owner of the company that makes La Caja China, and he decided to become an executive producer. Not only is he giving us money, but he's also giving us two free Caja Chinas to use for the shoot. It's almost like a sponsorship product placement deal with him, where the scripting works with the placement.
Then we have Oliva Cigars, which is owned by Jose Oliva, who just got elected as a state representative for District 110. His company decided to sponsor the film, so we're going to give him some product placement benefits as well.
Obviously these are all local business owners. They grew up in the area so they really responded to a comedy like this that really is about their community and their upbringing, and also marries perfectly with their products.
Do you think product placement is an important idea for indie filmmakers to consider?
Martinez: When it comes to raising money for independent films, there are no set boundaries or rules. You've really got to get the money wherever it comes from. You don't want to put yourself in a predicament where you're taking money and you're forced to alter your creative so that you're fitting a square peg into a round hole. But if your film is round and a business is round, it just makes sense. But you need to do that, as well as crowdsourcing, going to family and friends, and everything else.
Lorenzo: And fundraising, we did do some fundraising. We had one event where we had bands play, and did door sales and raffles and things like that.
What's the next step? Have you hired cast and crew?
Martinez: Yes. We have some amazing actors, including Mario Ernesto Sanchez, who is the artistic director of Teatro Avante, and who runs the International Hispanic Film Festival of Miami. He's one of the better-known Cuban actors in Miami, and he's going to play the dad. The rest of the cast is amazing as well.
Jose Luis, you mentioned you came back to Miami from L.A., and Bryan, you stayed here after graduating from the University of Miami's film program. What appeals to both of you about trying to make movies here?
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Lorenzo: Coming from up north, I feel like here you have a great mixing of culture, and you have a great vibe, a great art scene. You've got all kinds of people here, and this is the kind of thing that fuels artists and creative people, being in an environment with so much diversity.
Martinez: I was in the corporate agency world in L.A., and there's a certain way of making movies in Hollywood which is great, because it is a business and you have to manufacture huge products. But if you want to work in the independent arena, you have to tell stories that are personal, and that you're passionate about. To do that, you have to get the community behind you.
So when I came back, first through the Miami International Film Festival and now the Miami World Cinema Center, I was able to see that it is possible. As long as you have a hub, like the cinema center, to bring these communities together and start to make a movement, you can make films that tell a very personal story. Then you can get them out to the world through film festivals and distributors to not only touch locals, but show the world a side of Miami they've never seen.