The internal doubts of a young woman coming to understand her roots and her place in the world inspired the external drama in a short film being shot in Lakeland today and Saturday.
Pamela Rodriguez, 22, was born in Puerto Rico but moved to Lakeland when she was very young, she said, but it didn’t take long to realize she was a little different than the majority of her peers.
These differences were represented especially in the homemade dishes she brought for holiday potlucks — they weren’t like the dishes brought by most of the other children.
“I wanted to be more ‘American’ or eat more ‘normal’ food,” Rodriguez said. Though the movie is dramatic fiction, and heightened as such, “It has a lot of sentiments I felt growing up.”
Those feelings, and a one-semester film elective in her last semester at Florida Southern, were combined into the screenplay for “¡Come!,” which is Spanish for “eat!”
“I thought it was one of the best student scripts I have read as a professor” of six years, Assistant Professor of Film Matthew Herbertz said. “I knew I had to help get it made.”
Herbertz, who is leading a new film program at the school, is serving as the executive producer and director of photography for the film.
To direct the film, the production enlisted Dallas-based director Lizette Barrera.
“We really wanted — obviously because this is a Hispanic story — we wanted to make sure we were telling it as authentically as possible and from a female perspective,” Herbertz said, adding, “She’s incredible.”
The lead character, Isabella, will be performed by Chicago-based actor Noa Garcia, but much of the rest of the cast was found locally, Herbertz said. And much of the crew is from Florida Southern.
The genesis of the screenplay was a little dodgy. Whether nerves or writer’s block or her upcoming graduation, the first draft she turned in was four pages with an apology and a promise appended, Rodriguez said.
“The screenplay kind of kicked my butt as far as writing it,” she said, and that she realized “I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
Now, there are all these moving parts and people flying from across the country to turn her written work into a collaborative piece of visual art.
“I genuinely did not imagine my little screenplay that at one point in my life was a class assignment — that we would be going through the process,” Rodriguez said.
“¡Come!” is a first for not only its young screenwriter but a major milestone for the film program that will host its first class of 10 to 12 freshmen this fall. Herbertz said the selective program is looking for students who have stories to tell, not just the ones who “like film.”
More films will likely follow, Herbertz said, and before too long he hopes “Edward Scissorhands” won’t be the top movie people think of when they think about films made in Lakeland.
(With apologies to 2018’s “At the End of the Day,” written and directed by Lakeland-based Kevin O’Brien, Adam Sandler’s “Waterboy,” and Disney’s “The One and Only Ivan” which is set for a 2020 release.)
But in just the last two years, Herbertz said he can recognize the blooming of a film industry in Lakeland — commercial work, mostly now — but real talent.
“I think there’s a growing groundwell now,” he said. When he arrived he said it was “very rich” but also a bit “siloed.” Now, filmmakers are starting to work together and collaborate.
“I don’t think it’s just you noticing,” he said. “It’s definitely booming.”
And, “with the new film program at Florida Southern, it will only grow,” he added.
But before the world, this film.
The “¡Come!” production has received help not only from an FSC grant, but from two area film businesses, NFocus Studios and Indie Atlantic Films, led by Jesse Larson and Andy McEntire, respectively. McEntire is also working as one of the executive producers.
Herbertz said he expects 12- to 14-hour days shooting. Then comes the lengthy process that forms raw footage into a film.
Rodriguez said she has full faith in the pros — she’s happy to see it made, she’s happy to learn all she is learning about making movies, and it’s all still a bit surprising.
“I think surreal is definitely the best way to put that,” she said. “I’m very humbled by this experience and in shock honestly.”
And if you’re worried, Rodriguez said she eventually found inner peace.
“I may not follow the same traditions or eat the same thing as my classmates,” she said she came to realize, “but that makes me unique and it’s something i can find pride in sharing with others.”
CAST AND CREW
|Executive Producer||Andy McEntire|
|Executive Producer||Matthew Herbertz|
|Producer/Assistant Editor||Matt Wiatt|
|Associate Producer||Ashley Buckley|
|Assistant Director||Ross Morin|
|2nd AD||Bianca Vargas|
|Script Supervisor||Wil Fisackerly|
|Director of Photography||Matthew Herbertz|
|1st AC||Nicole Lehrman|
|2nd AC||W James|
|Assistant DIT||John Roquemore|
|Assistant Editor/DIT||Matt Wiatt|
|Production Designer/Art Director||M. Burger (Maggie Burger)|
|Art PA||Diane Baires|
|Art PA/Costume||Caroline Bedenbaugh|
|Art PA||Sera Milavetz|
|Art PA||Monica Krajewski|
|Hair/Makeup Assistant||Mary Galleta|
|Sound Mixer||Sydney Rivera|
|Sound Assistant/Boom Op||Joanna Murphy|
|PA/Grip/BTS photographer||Buse Ene|