Brining a love story to life

By Trevor Ballanger

Imagine waking up on a beach, wet, covered in sand and hearing the sweeping waves of the ocean crash ashore. In a daze, you realize you are lost. Then a face comes into focus in the glittering sun. It’s a stranger, a beautiful woman, saving you from the wreckage in which you arrived. Then a film director yells, “Cut!” and it’s a wrap for the day.

That’s the magic of the movies—the ability to transport viewers into a world unlike their own. For a group of Chicago filmmakers, this is their life—no editing necessary. For some, however, making “Luzia,” the story of a man who wakes up on a mysterious island and meets a woman with a secret, has been the most challenging project of their careers.

“Luzia,” starring Jordan Jansen and Velizar Ionikov, was recently entered into the International Movie Trailer Film Festival.Viewers watch competing trailers online, then vote for their first choice. “Luzia” is currently in first place for the $5,000 prize out of 240 films. Getting the film to a point of such recognition has been an arduous process that began one year ago.

The film’s director, Gustavo Bernal-Mancheno, approached producer Sofy Gomez Garcia with a script he had written because they had worked together before and he wanted someone who would understand his vision. Production began in May 2011 by further developing the script and finding a crew capable of handling the task.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” said Matthew Rivera, the film’s cinematographer. “One thing that I found challenging was getting myself in the mindset because you can always learn the technical side of things to achieve what you want creatively and [be] ready to delegate.”

Rivera was asked to be the director of photography after a chance encounter with Bernal-Mancheno in June 2011. Having taken classes with Rivera at Columbia in 2009, Bernal-Mancheno allowed him to read a draft of his script. The film already had a cinematographer at the time, but Rivera said Bernal-Mancheno took a chance and hired him instead because of his insights.

Bernal-Mancheno said he makes his choices based on instinct, and bringing Rivera into the film was simple because he spoke eloquently about the script. The crew became what he described as a family, despite how attentive he was to his work behind the camera. According to him, he was surprised by the way he was able to connect with the crew in such a short time.

Gomez Garcia said learning to be creative with technique is part of being able to film a movie with as little money as possible. She added that much of what the crew was able to accomplish was because they cut corners and used innovative ideas to make certain shots possible. According to her, the heavy camera needed to be rigged for safety and security while shooting scenes in the water, which Rivera and the crew were ultimately able to achieve.

Rivera said “Luzia” didn’t have a budget, so everything was “done from scratch.” The movie was supposed to be shot digitally, but Rivera wanted to honor tradition and use film. He reached out to Kodak for assistance, and eventually the company donated 7,800 feet of film, launching it into production.

Bernal-Mancheno created a Kickstarter page in April 2011 to help raise $5,000 in 45 days. This goal was surpassed, reaching $5,136. Rivera even made a private donation of $3,000 out of his own 401(k) to ensure the filming was done with impeccable quality. He said several people gave private donations because they saw potential in the project and wanted to be a part of it.

By July, enough funding came through for the cast and crew of 30 to film on location for five days at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mich. Eighty percent of the film was completed, save for some interior shots. Creating a quality film comes with its fair share of risks, Gomez Garcia said. As the producer, she said it was part of her job to be in the action. On the last day, an underwater shot was scheduled to be filmed. Gomez Garcia said it wasn’t until the crew was in the water that they realized a storm the night before had caused choppy waters, making

filming dangerous.

“[I was] ever so present,” Gomez Garcia said. “I still have scars from the experience. It was rough. I mean, especially being on top of it, managing it. I probably didn’t sleep throughout [filming], but it was fun.”

Despite the setbacks, Bernal-Mancheno said his vision for the film translated well onto the screen. However, he added that there is always a different way to do something because what’s imagined based on the script is the primary goal for film and is always hard to achieve. He said sacrificing the initial vision of the story is the hardest thing to do.

“I think that’s what was the most challenging part,” Rivera said. “For the first time, I was working with a director who knew exactly what he wanted on every level.”

The filming of “Luzia” was expected to wrap late summer 2011, but production eventually slowed and will resume this summer. Bernal-Mancheno said he expects to begin filming the last few scenes next month and have a finished product by June, if a new budget goal

is reached.