Short Film Sundae: El Camaléon

A lot is said about the feature films, but what about the little crews out there trying to make it big with something small? Movienomics realizes that there’s an economical impact on a filmmaker at all stages of their career and we hope you can take something from these posts and apply them to your own films.

So get ready as we serve you the inside scoop of the short & sweet in cinema from some of most talented filmmakers emerging in the industry.

Welcome to the Movienomics.com Short Film Sundae!


El Camaleón

Produced as part of Chapman University Dodge College of Film & Media Arts Master of Fine Arts degree requirements, ‘El Camaleón‘ has served up some sweet success.

This short film will be screening in the heart of two metropolitan areas on the same weekend come October – at the New York City Independent Film Festival and the Orlando Film Festival, noted as a contender for one of Moviemaker Magazine’s “Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals”.  Directed by Israel Gutierrez, the film also landed a deal with Shorts International to play on their ShortsHD network this fall.

So how did this production hit the sweet spot? Grab a spoon.Here’s how:


The screenplay, forged by Chapman University MFA Screenwriting Alumnus Coletta Preacely-Garcia, delves into the life of a young Latino couple trying to make a new life in an urban neighborhood.  While it isn’t necessarily based on any real person, the story centers on the relationship between Jaime, played by up and coming actor JeanPaul San Pedro, and his pregnant wife Alejandra, played by April Seba.

The catch is the story takes some wild turns for a Latino film.  In Latino culture, the machismo that is so ever present can destroy families with a swift blow.  For this story, the filmmakers took a risk to show another side to the culture that could feasibly exist.

Initially, the film was going to be centered around Alejandra’s character to demonstrate the post trauma that one could get from child molestation.  And while, it’s a heavy subject, the filmmakers eventually turned it around so that this trauma would be experienced by the male lead and posing some interesting questions of forgiveness and revenge in the process.


The film was produced for about $5,000 and was mostly self funded. Chapman University unlike some other film schools prides itself on allowing their directors retain the rights on their films.

There’s also a plus to film schools like Chapman University because they’ll cover your insurance costs for production and subsidize a about $900 for films advance projects like this short.  That money goes a long way especially when you need to feed your crews.

For this film, the crews usually ranged about 30 heads and was shot in a span of 4 days. And without the film school consideration, costs for crafting a well-crafted short film could easily be hundreds of thousands… (student discounts, free locations, community support, and favors go a long way.) Take a look at the top-sheet to the right.

One of the biggest achievements of this is also the Production Design of Square Meng-Chen Jao as captured on the Canon C-300 by Director of Photography Zhuofei “Travis” Song.  Square manages to turn an entirely empty for market house and make it look as if Jaime and Alex had been living in it forever.  Check out her portfolio site to see how this small two-bedroom house was transformed.

The Canon C-300 turned out to be quite practical for this film without incurring an overload of costs while still bringing to life Israel Gutierrez’s vision for Jaime’s dilemma.

That said, a lot of detail and deciding which department requires more attention budget-wise can completely change how your film is received, so never exclude the details in Production Design.


After several casting sessions at CAZT Studios in Los Angeles and at Chapman University in Orange County, for the lead role of Jaime, the crew tapped actor JeanPaul San-Pedro.

Jaime was particularly difficult to cast because the character is very niche: not only did they need to have the ability to speak Spanish, but also have the ability to conceal rampage within the heart of the character with a blanket of tenderness.

There was even one moment in casting where the filmmakers where put into the smallest casting room available and no one walked in for several hours.  Then JeanPaul walked in.  He paused for a couple seconds and took control of Jaime immediately.

There was no doubt to the filmmakers JeanPaul San Pedro was Jaime and would be the perfect counterpart to April Seba as Alejandra (aka ‘Alex’), who anchors the film with compassion – and the cool thing is that she shows different nuances of it on several levels.

Of course none of this would work without the catalyst in the film of veteran actor Louie Olivos Jr as Ronaldo.  Louie’s soft-spoken nature needed to shroud a sense of darkness and doubt while at the same time instilling a friendly neighborly tone.

The essence of the casting is that these three characters play with human emotions at their core and juxtapose each other to allow the film’s premise of revenge and forgiveness to rise to the top.


‘El Camaleón’ premiered as part of the Latino programming at the Greenville International Film Festival in Greenville, SC this past June 2013.  And as we mentioned earlier now has some decent prospects at the NYC Independent Film Festival and Orlando Film Festival.

Sometimes these  festivals can get your short film in front of the right audience, even in two major metropolitan hubs.  In fact, some of these smaller festivals are actually finding some fresh talent as a result and allowing filmmakers to expand their network.  The coolest thing about NYC Independent and the Orlando Film Festival is that they are launching careers and growing with their filmmakers.

With a ton of digital and social media it’s important to note that when you can say that your film has played in the heart of Times Square, for example, it adds street cred to your emerging career.  So don’t just dismiss those local festivals.  You might have some hidden gems near you that can add that cherry on top to your short film.

For ‘El Camaleón’, it’s helped several of the crew forward with their careers.  Calvin Herrmann served as Key Grip on the film and was accepted to USC’s Directing program.  Same for Alan Manzo, who served as Best Boy on the project.  And no matter what the role on this small team you can tell they had fun doing it together – just see the pics.

Actor Jean Paul SanPedro went on to guest star on CBS’s The Mentalist right after wrapping on El Camaleón and even his brother in the film James Garcia can be seen on Modelo Especial’s promos on TV.

For the crew, the upcoming release on ShortsHD will mean tons of exposure as well. And to get there, the filmmakers added some musical talent to flesh out the film after it needed to be completed for their class.  Composers Matt Morgan and Johanna Prettel were brought on to add the finishing touches of the film’s original soundtrack.  You can check out a sample of Johanna Prettel’s music to the right.

An original soundtrack is key because all too often filmmakers just use recycled music from whatever’s available even at this early in their careers, even though there are some important legalities to consider from the onset.  Original music simply should not be forgotten and much like casting, requires you to go out and sample talent… it can actually be quite fun.  The best thing is because everything is digital you can try different things.

So as you can see El Camaleón takes some original turns within the classic medium, adds a sprinkle of Latin flavors within the story, cast, and filmmaking that make for a delicious short film sundae.

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