A labor of love. Student exposes creative film process


 Gerardo Morales Jr. adjusts the camera on his tripod with anchor belts, making sure it’s in place. He directs his actor to stand in place and reminds him of the cues they practiced. Morales returns to the camera and readjusts the angle to assure it has a close up of the actor. The scene has to be perfect. Everything must be in order before anything can be shot. Morales makes any final altercations needed to his camera before recording. Finally, he raises his arm and holds out his hand so the actor can see it. Morales lowers each finger on his hand as he counts in his head: 5…4…3…2…1

 He points at the actor, cueing him that the scene has begun.

Through the view of the audience, everything is pitch black. The only sounds heard can be the slow creaking of a door opening. The actor raises his hand, tightly grasping a pistol.

Several shots are fired as the perspective switches from facing the front of the gun to the side of it.

Shots stop firing from the gun. There’s a brief moment of silence before a child meekly cries for their mother. The next scene cuts to a man abruptly waking up in bed from the nightmare.

The short film “Me,” which was created, directed and edited by Morales, focuses on the story of a man whose family was killed by a gunman with the main character recalling the horrible event.

The film was entered in the TJC Student Film Contest in the spring 2018 and won first place. “Me” also won first place in video production for the Texas Community College Journalism Association competition in 2018.

Although acclaimed awards can be an outstanding achievement for a film, the true amazement is the process of how a film is produced.

Morales went into great detail about the process of making the film. The first part he developed was the tone and emotions the film would convey.

“I wanted to make something sad and emotional, that was my primary goal,” Morales said.

He then explained the details of the writing process, which involved outlining the story, creating the dialogue for the actor and deciding the camera placements for each scene. 

Next, Morales put the script into action by guiding the actors on how to emote and using various camera angles and movements for each scene. Lastly, came the post-production process, which involved editing, implementing computer generated images, finding appropriate background music for certain settings and deciding which scenes needed to be cut.

Morales said he only had three days to compress the film to its necessary length and submit it before the deadline.

“I spent almost all night for three days straight with a very small amount of sleep,” Morales said. “But after editing everything together, finding the right music and all that, I export[ed] the video out and submit[ed] it to the film festival. I’m glad it came out great.”

Morales describes that working on the short film was the first time he ever tackled a project like this. Any previous creative projects Morales did all the work himself and was used to being a one-man-team. However, this short film introduced him to a skill most directors face in the film industry: collaboration.

“This is really my idea that I wanted to bring to life, and I’m the type of person that can only trust himself,” Morales said. “I’m not the best at delegating tasks, so I tend to do everything

 In the beginning, one of Morales’ greatest struggles with the short film was guiding the actor how to emote through each scene. It was a new task he had never encountered before. He desired to talk with the actor and be familiar with his background before shooting the film to have a better relationship. Morales believes a film can’t have “an authentic performance without knowing the actor first.” Morales considers this connection to improve the relationship between the director and the actor. If the director is willing to know the performer and be interested in their background, the more determined the actor will be to give their best performance. This relationship made it easier for Morales to get his actor in the mindset of his character.

“After talking to him and after having that connection with him I directed him like, ‘Hey can you stand here?’ [or] like ‘Hey, this is the mindset of a father who feels sad after what happened. Could you say these words in that mindset?’”

Another conflict Morales faced was the writing process. Morales explains how he lacks experience in creative writing and that it’s one of his greatest weaknesses when it comes to filmmaking.

 “I’ve noticed in the past two or three years that I haven’t felt as creative as I once was,” Morales said. “I felt drained really, like I don’t want to spend time thinking about this, I’d rather just do. When it comes to editing a video or you know setting up a production, it’s more doing everything in real time.”

Morales feels great pressure when it comes to creating a story. He questions if the story will work with the audience and if they’ll appreciate it.

“It’s really just hard on me personally because I’m not a creative person,” Morales said. “They say there’s type As and the Bs, and I am a type A. I like everything organized [and] structured. I like having a path.”

Morales is frustrated having to combat his structural side with his creative side. He feels it prevents him form reaching his true creative potential and brings more stress than necessary.

“I just don’t feel free; I don’t feel creative,” Morales said. “I feel like if I don’t have a path or guideline for something it’s just not going to work, and it just adds more stress and anxiety to it. It shouldn’t be, it should be fun.”

Coming up with a creative story can be a difficult task for many film directors. However, according to elementsofcinema.com, one of the best ways for directors to improve their writing is to comprehend the basics of storytelling. One of the suggested methods is to write a screenplay as often as possible. Everyone faces challenges in the beginning, but the more practice put into it, the more the person will improve. The article also claims a great screenwriter has more potential to become a director, rather than someone who has no knowledge or background for storytelling.

Although Morales has encountered many obstacles throughout the filming process, one of his favorite aspects is cinematography and editing. He explains he has “an eye for composition when it comes to filming.” However, even though video editing is Morales’ greatest strength, he also faces his ambition that goes along with it.

“After driving the idea and writing the script and shooting everything, [and] filming everything comes the post-production side, which is something I excel at, but I tend to be a little ambitious,” Morales said.

“My films and art pieces are like paintings to me.”-Morales

Morales creates extravagant concepts for how he desires the production of his film to appear. However, other life obstacles can interfere with his editing process. He also has high expectations for his post-production process and wants to achieve more than what can be done in a specific time frame.

“You have these grand [and] great ideas in your head and then you have time constraints and other constraints,” Morales said. “Just dealing with your ambition like ‘Is there a way to convey the same thing with less amount of effort?’ I have a background in editing and post-production. I like to make scenes more grand and just eye grabbing and more attractive, but that usually involves a lot more work, so just toning it down, that’s something I learned.”

Morales had various responsibilities for his short film, such as being the editor, cinematographer and director. However, he also had help from his friend and assistant director of the film Andrew Lent. Lent describes the passion Morales had for making the film.

“It’s something that he seemed to really enjoy,” Lent said. “Even after it, we would talk about other films that we could both work on and just like little things like that. He’s always been really into that stuff.”

Lent first met Morales his freshmen year at TJC when taking multimedia marketing and production courses. He said Morales appeared to be very shy and reserved when they met.

Although, when Morales opened up, Lent saw his potential for editing and filmmaking, claiming Morales’s projects “just blew everybody else’s stuff out of the water.”

Lent considers Morales to be very talented and claims him to be “the next Steven Spielberg.” Although, rather than moving to Hollywood, Lent sees Morales more invested in producing independent films, which are short films or movies produced outside of large entertainment industries.

“I know he likes doing indie stuff. I don’t think he would want to go to Hollywood,” Lent said. “I think he just likes doing small indie projects. I definitely think he’s got a lot of potential for indie stuff, and I know there’s a market for indie stuff.”

Morales encountered various difficulties while creating his film; however, he believed the whole process was worth it due to the end product. What he appreciates most from filmmaking is for him and the audience to enjoy his finished piece.

“After you have this masterpiece you spent hours and days and maybe even weeks working on and just to have it there in its full glory and to have people admire it is just something else,” Morales said.“It’s not something you can experience every day. My films and art pieces are like paintings to me. I’ve enjoyed using my own two hands to physically create what’s on my mind. After all the hard work was finished, I liked to frame my masterpiece and observe the results of my hard work.”

Morales enjoys all his hard work that he puts into his projects and admires the time and effort that goes into each one. He also enjoys how others view his projects.

“It’s even better when others walk by and become captivated and enthralled by the creation they see in front of them, wondering how is someone capable of creating such a masterpiece?” Morales said. “It makes me feel accomplished and valued as if the amount of time I spent learning the craft was worth it. It just lets me know like hey the amount of time you spent learning your craft was well worth it because you’ve made something unique that people love and admire.”

After Morales’ years and experience of producing films, one of the main things he advises other aspiring filmmakers is to never give up.

“It can be stressful. I’ve even heard that working in the industry can be rough on you, but just don’t give up,” Morales said. “People will love your work and you’ll just feel a lot more happy. You’re not in a position that many people are in. You are talented and hardworking and the work you do could change lives.”