FIU Students Part of New Paranormal Thriller Based in Miami

Guido Gonzalez/Staff Writer

Two FIU students worked in front of and behind the camera for a paranormal mystery film shot in Miami and now available on Amazon Prime.

“Death of a Fool” was directed by Cuban American filmmaker Ismael Gomez III and funded by Kickstarter with a total budget of $6,463.

The poster of “Death of a Fool.”

The film follows a teenager and his dying grandfather as they conduct afterlife investigations across Miami, until a fateful encounter with a mysterious employer who hires them to find the secrets to immortality.

Pablo, the main character, is played by Benjamin Leon, an FIU business major. 

“Most people, in my experience, find out they want to be an actor when they’re really little,” said Leon. “I was a little late to the game- I figured it out during my sophomore year of high school.”

While in high school, Leon acted in plays and musicals in the drama department.

“Death of a Fool” is Leon’s debut film role, and as a lead role as well.

“It was the second audition I’d ever gone to that my agent sent me to,” he said. “I was not expecting anything to come from it, but then one thing led to another and they ended up casting me.”

Another FIU student involved heavily in production was Ines Montero, a liberal studies major, who worked as second assistant camera.

“Second assistant camera basically builds the camera equipment every single morning,” Montero said. “So depending on the set up, let’s say sometimes we have tripod setups, I build the camera and the equipment for that.”

Montero got into film production after an internship in the local film service, thanks to FIU’s Career and Talent Development Office. A few film courses in between helped.

“By the time I did ‘Death of a Fool,’ I had about a year and a half of experience,” said Montero, “I started off as a camera production assistant when I first got in the industry.”

Montero managed to become involved with filming thanks to working with the film’s focus puller, someone who controls the focus of a camera lens.

Filming took place in November 2018. Shooting days took place from Monday to Saturday, with Sundays being a day off for the cast and crew. Filming would begin anytime between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Leon and the rest of the actors would then rehearse their lines and spend the day working on a scene, which often required numerous takes and experimenting with camera angles.

Another part of Montero’s job is helping the cinematographer and first assistant camera during filming. 

“While we’re shooting production, I also slate every single shot,” she said. “I’m in charge of keeping track of the media inside the camera and if we run out of media or out of battery.”

Montero also keeps a list of all the scenes that needed shooting as the crew sets up the camera.

While filming can prove to be a challenge, such as having to do numerous takes very late at night or struggling to remain stoic during filming so as to not ruin the shot, a sense of community was nevertheless formed between the cast and crew, according to Montero.

“This was a very low-budget production with a very small and intimate crew,” she said. “It was a lot more gratifying at the end when we did get everything we wanted for our day shoot.”

Despite Leon and Montero both being FIU students, they initially met during filming. 

“We quickly became really, really close because we were the youngest people on set,” Montero said. “We found out that we had a lot in common: we both loved musicals, theater and film.”

About a year was spent on post-production, which included editing, sound design, music and reshooting particular scenes. 

Montero, who by that point was quite experienced, did not feel as nervous thanks to the behind the scenes nature of her job. Her more pressing concern was during post-production. 

“I remember the entire time hoping that it would make it through post-production and get released,” she said. 

After filming wrapped up, cast members were left with a bittersweet feeling. 

“We were happy that it was done, but we were also unhappy because we had also built this family bond,” Leon said. 

A private screening for the film was held at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and it sold out. Until that point, neither Leon nor Montero had seen the completed film. 

Leon initially felt nervous seeing himself on the big screen—a surreal experience, he said. 

“I was pleasantly surprised the film was good. I really enjoyed it,” Leon said. “The audience loved it, they applauded and some even stood up.”

For Montero, watching the film made her feel reminiscent. 

“Seeing it come out just brought back so many memories,” she said. 

Leon is currently producing and acting in a production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s, “In the Heights,” at the Adrienne Arts Center, while working on getting his Master’s degree at FIU. 

One of the films Montero worked on, “The Last Rafter,” a film focusing on Cuban immigrants, debuted at the Miami Film Festival on Mar. 12. 

“Death of a Fool, is now available for rent and/or purchase at Amazon Prime Videos. 

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