On the set of the summer shoot for SMC's "Muñecas."
As a summertime silence descended over the Santa Monica College campus over the weekend, the first floor of the Letters & Arts building was turned into a living movie set on Saturday. Film 33, the SMC class which immerses students in the full experience of producing a professional short film, had turned the hallways of the building into one of the settings for its latest project, the Spanish-titled "Muñecas" (which translates to English as "Dolls").
After shooting under the burning Arizona sun last week, the crew was now back in Santa Monica.
Dolly tracks lay on the floor as boxes overflowing with cables, lenses and light silks fought for space in hallway corners. So efficient is this course that anyone who has ever walked through a Hollywood film or TV set would feel right at home. Even the camera being used is the Red Scarlett, which is essentially the industry standard (and most likely what was used to shoot whatever you'll see this weekend at the theater).
Every semester Professor Salvador Carrasco selects a script from a variety submitted by his students. The lucky auteur then gets the chance to direct his or her story under the full guidance of Carrasco. Past projects have made it all the way to the Cannes Film Festival in France.
This latest incantation of cinematic talent tells the story of a young boy named Pablo trapped in the world of drug smuggling while dealing with life in high school.
This time around the chosen one is SMC student Ozzy Ozuna, who based his script on personal memories.
On Saturday the scene being shot took place inside a classroom where a school teacher admonishes a student for passing notes during class.
The set was not as stuffy as other sets where the assortment of lights can produce an overwhelming heat. Instead the open doors at both ends of the LA building allowed for a fresh breeze to pass through as shooting progressed.
First Assistant Director Albert Andrade kept a hawk eye on the entire proceedings. "It's been good," said Andrade about the day's shoot. "I'm tired, I got three hours of sleep, it's a lot of work," he added.
Alexis Cervantes, the film's 14-year-old star who plays Pablo, was full of palpable excitement while taking a break from the shoot. Lounging near boxes of equipment as crew members hauled c-stands down pathways, Cervantes said "It's been a great experience. My first experience."
For Cervantes shooting the film's ending remains the most memorable moment thus far. "It really got to me. It was very emotional. After that scene I became a better actor."
"It's a great story," he continued, "Ozzy is a great writer."
Another scene, shot in a barn where his character is making heroin has also stuck in Cervantes's memory. "It was like an oven, it was so hot," he reminisced.
While in the distance Carrasco and Ozuna consulted over the next shot with intense concentration, instructor Simone Bartesaghi, who was also supervising the shoot, summed up the project in three phrases. "Good script, good commitment, phenomenal crew," he said before rushing off to check on the set's progress.
Playing the teacher on the set was actress Amy Sloan. "I am playing Ms. Sloan, total typecast," she said with a grin.
"I feel Sloan was the most white name Ozzy could come up with for a white teacher," she said in jest. "I know all of these guys and I'm really honored that they asked me to be in the Film 33 short," she added. Sloan had previously been an SMC student enrolled in the program's precursor course, Film 32.
Sloan is no stranger to the world of professional acting. In 2004 she played the mother of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator."
"I'm real big fan of this program," she said. "It's a well-kept secret in LA in terms of film education."
"This is a really interesting look not only at what it's like to be a teenager. But what it's like to be a teenager in a really difficult position," she added.
"Everyone is working really hard. I have nothing to complain about yet, check back with me in six hours," she said about the grueling pace of filmmaking.
For supporting actor Alexander Villaseñor, the experience of shooting "Muñecas" has been exciting and not without real drama. "While shooting in a river [in Arizona] it was really cold. I had to do the take and get out of the water real quick because they were worried for me," he began to recall while dining on a sandwich. Villaseñor remembered being doused in warm water from bottles that had been sitting in the sun to warm his body while Ozuna and Carrasco kept constant watch on his health.
Josof Sanchez and Julie Matsumoto, who both head the organization Operation Street Kidz, which has helped produced every Film 33 project by providing locations and actors, were also present on set.
"I'm excited to be a part of this project," said Sanchez with classic Chicano swag. "As I've traveled through out the country the past 30 years I've found that there's a dire need for projects that will impact the youth of this country," he continued.
"The filming here has been phenomenal," he added.
As Sanchez and others lounged, Carrasco, Ozuna and cinematography supervisor Vishal Solanki continued to craft the day's shots with the rest of the class now turned film crew.
Another day of shooting was still left on "Muñecas" and Sunday would see the crew move over to Palmdale. And even then, the process of gestation is still ongoing as editing and sound mixing will follow before SMC audiences and festivals get a look at the final, gritty product.