First published in the Sept. 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Natalie Miranda
An active imagination took hold of Miles Lopez at an early age.
Every night for as long as he could remember as a child, his parents would read to him and his siblings. Cover-to-cover, one page at a time, these storybooks came to life in his mind — often leaving Lopez lying in bed, immersed in different worlds and imagining what life could be like far beyond the four walls of his childhood bedroom.
Reading ignited his love for stories and watching movies fueled his desire to become a storyteller of his own, propelling him on the path he has taken today as a writer, producer and director.
Lopez, who founded the independent production company Madne$$ Productions, recently directed his first short film titled “Cartas Para Axél” which translates to “Letters to Axél.” The 24-minute film delves into the life of Julián, a young Latino writer, who falls in love with a man who visits him in his dreams, setting the writer on a quest to find him, while struggling to differentiate his dreams from reality.
“The greatest part of storytelling as a director is being able to create the entire world the audience experiences,” said Lopez, who is a 2017 John Burroughs High School graduate. “I have control over what viewers see and take away from each creation and, in some ways, the role allows me to play God by bringing to life something that wasn’t there at all beforehand.”
The script for “Cartas Para Axél” originated from lead actor Jonathan De La Torre. When Lopez read the script, the biggest draw for the director to get on board was the emotional connection that came through.
“I really loved that this story pulls on heartstrings in a way that is very human and touches the core of our very being,” Lopez said.
One of the major challenges of this project was time and money. Lopez said he shot this film on a shoestring budget and with a skeleton crew of eight people.
“Movies are usually shot on hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, and we had way, way less than that,” Lopez said. “Me and a few friends were basically trying to put this thing together.
“Luckily, we’re all very passionate and so given our passion and drive, we were able to make something that looked like it was shot on a budget that exceeded what we had with a bunch of luck and a lot of hard work,” he added.
GoFundMe contributions from friends and family were the source of the short film’s budget. Lopez said he was grateful to all who pitched in to help raise about $8,000.
“It is an amazing thing to be able to show the final product to everyone who gave money and supported us,” Lopez said. “To them it might not have been a big deal, but to us it was everything. It’s always beautiful to know, no matter what happens, there’s people behind us that want to see us succeed. We try to give back as much as we can and make them proud.”
Although there was excitement surrounding the film’s completion, moments of disappointment were not far behind — though those low feelings were short-lived.
“It was a rollercoaster ride the entire way,” Lopez said. “We were all on top of the moon from shooting the film to seeing what we all created when we were done. But it definitely got very difficult when we began submitting to festivals and receiving rejections — that was the hardest part, keeping our heads up and believing our time would come. So, when acceptance letters came and then we began winning awards, we didn’t really expect it after getting so down on ourselves.”
“Cartas Para Axél” was recently chosen as the official selection for 2022 OutFest, an LGBTQ+ arts, media and entertainment nonprofit organization, along with film festivals in New York, Spain and Mexico. The film was received with praise, winning various awards, including Best First Time Director, Best LatinX Short, Best LGBTQ and Best Cinematography. Additionally, the Directors Guild of America held a showing of Lopez’s film this summer.
Next for Lopez and Madne$$ Productions is another short film, which is funded by an Outfest grant, and a feature-length film — a first for the director. To learn more about upcoming projects, visit madnessproductions.net.