Former Film Studies student, Danniel Rodriguez talks about winning the MFDP grant, his work on the Oscar-buzz-generating Moonlight, and how FIU students can break into the biz.
Danniel Rodriguez graduated from FIU in 2015. He has recently won a Miami Film Development Project grant for his second narrative short, Habana Boxing Club, currently in pre-production. Only 24, Danniel has a growing relevance in the local film scene, evidenced by his work on HBO’s Ballers and the Miami-based film Moonlight, which premiered to rave reviews and Oscar whispers at the Toronto Film Festival. He shared his experience with us and offered his advice on career development.
As a student, Danniel did everything he could to surround himself with filmmakers, from attending events at the Coral Gables Art Cinema to volunteering at local film festivals. “It is a all about networking”, he says, “If you want to make it in this business, you have to put yourself forward”. That is exactly what Danniel has done. It has taken two-and-a-half years for him to get paid in this industry, but he’s built quite the resume. Keeping up with the Coral Gables Art Cinema really benefitted Danniel. There is a strong sense of community between the movigoers, benefactors, and program directors. When word got out about the film Moonlight which was made and set in Miami, Danniel volunteered as a production intern. One of his contacts from the Cinema helped him get a more lucrative position as a production assistant.
“Filmmaking is hectic”, says Danniel. “Working on a movie set is very hectic”, he repeats for emphasis. He learned this right away on the set of Moonlight as everyone rushed to get things done on time. Some of his responsibilities included managing the “base camp” where the crew and cast would get food and transportation, as well as, keeping in constant communication with the different departments. Everyone on set had to fulfill their own responsibilities and cooperate with those of others. He called it a “wonderful experience”. Although he had made amateur films in the past, this has been one of his first professional opportunities.
Most people that start off as interns or assistants, like Danniel, hope to move forward onto bigger responsibilities. They would like to write the script or direct the movie someday. The way he sees it, a filmmaker examines aspects of the world and decides what will make a good story. With the MFDP grant, Danniel gets to write, direct, and produce these stories. The project is sponsored by the Coral Gables Cinemateque. They posted an open call for applicants and then selected five filmmakers. Backed by the program, Habana Boxing Club will be his professional debut. “It’s not that glamorous”, he said modestly. He is now in the process of casting and determining locations.
The Story Teller
Danniel is exploring projects that mean something; he is attracted to stories that are not often told. As an up and coming filmmaker, he is still figuring out where his interests lie thematically. He admits that he goes through “phases” and that these usually guide his passion as an artist. Right now, the narratives that inspire him are centered on our city and its cultural diversity. The son of Cuban and Ecuadorian immigrants, Danniel mentions that heritage also influences his work. His film, Habana Boxing Club, is about the relationship between a closeted, homosexual Cuban boxer and his closest friend and rival when they are given the opportunity to train at the most renowned gym in Cuba.
Advice for Students
Those of you aspiring writers and directors looking to break into the business should volunteer and be mindful of opportunities. Danniel urges students to work hard and put in the long hours. A career in film requires patience and commitment. “Find people that are as passionate as you are”, suggests Danniel. Through networking you will get feedback and support, both of which are invaluable in this industry.
Article by: Dayami Padron
Dayami is interning for the FIU Film Studies, Fall 2016 semester. She majors in History and English and is also pursuing the FIU Film Certificate.