Students film in Mexico with actor from Nacho Libre

PLNU media communication students took off Thursday last week to Mexico to shoot their short film project, tentatively titled, “Pathos” with actor Héctor Jiménez and about $4,000. The short, which was a project for COM 443 Studio Television Production, was shot in one location – an abandoned warehouse in Mexico – in 20 hours straight.

The core team of students consisted of writer/director Caleb Daniels, producer Ricky Zollinger, cinematographer Juan Iniguez and co-producer Brenna Ross. In COM443, students are split into groups two weeks into class to begin planning their short films which debut at the end of the year. Each project receives a $100 budget for food, transportation, props, etc. This project in particular, however, gained a lot of momentum.

The team secured Héctor Jiménez (“Nacho Libre,” “Epic Movie”) for the role of “The Antagonist” due to the fact that Iniguez, the cinematographer, attends La Roca Community Church with Jiminez.

“Working with Hector was amazing. He was such a professional and I think we all had a lot to learn from him,” said Zollinger. “At one point, he had us all on the verge of tears with his acting and David Duarte [the protagonist] killed it too.”

Iniguez’s father contributed to their project, in addition to the members putting in their own money, which brought their budget to around $4,000.

Ten PLNU students from various majors agreed to travel to Mexico for two full days to help shoot. The team shot on location in Santa Fe, Mexico, but stayed in a house Iniguez’s parents recently bought in Rosarito, 20 miles south of the border.

“We tried to find places in San Diego, and even Orange County and Los Angeles, to shoot the film,” said Daniels. “But we could never find anything that worked as well for what the script called for or was nearly as affordable as the place Juan found in Santa Fe.”

The team left early Thursday morning but had some setbacks with equipment at the border. The rest of the day was spent location scouting, rehearsing and setting up. Then, Friday morning they started back up at 6:30 a.m., filmed all day and packed everything back up at 2:00 a.m. to go back to San Diego.

Alan Hueth, professor of communication at PLNU and the COM443 class, said the money this group raised for the short is a reflection of their seriousness and professionalism about making a great film.

“They are doing what all serious independent filmmakers do: They share their idea and raise the money needed to get the job done,” Hueth said.

The short film is a snapshot in the production of a film in the future. An actor wakes up in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse, drugged and confused. As the scene unfolds, he is forced into a literal life and death – all for the enjoyment of audiences everywhere.

Daniels said he was inspired by the idea of what modern gladiators would look like, which then morphed into a warped and slightly futuristic piece.

“This story is by far the darkest things I’ve written or directed,” said Daniels. “It wrestles with an important topic – audiences being desensitized to violence – albeit to an extreme.”

The group now starts five weeks of post-production that includes editing, sound design, music and visual effects, before the short will be done. They plan on submitting the short film to multiple festivals and contests that they qualify for including Sundance, the Broadcast Education Association and the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

The short film will debut on April 30 at PLNU’s annual TV and Film festival, put on by the Department of Communication and Theatre, along with the other short films being made in COM443.

Disclosure: Jonathan Pickett assisted in the production of this short film.