Today, we’d like to introduce you to Gabriel Rhenals.
Gabriel, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve been into visual arts as early as I can recall. One of my earliest memories is of completing a painting in pre-kindergarten. And my next-to-earliest memories are of the movies I watched on cable television around that age. In the comfortable suburban environment my loving and encouraging parents provided for me, my talent for visual art was nurtured and allowed to develop through enrollment in various arts programs throughout my grade, middle and high school education.
However, my interest in fine arts waned in high school and I ended up leaving a prestigious magnet art high school, New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, for a run-of-the-mill high school. Around that time, I began to be exposed to more and more films and their filmmakers via my older brother’s extensive DVD collection. So, after my educational downgrade, I doubled-down on my growing interest and fascination with film and filmmaking. I scoured my high school’s media center during every lunch period for film-related books and visited FIU’s library on weekends to continue my obsessive, autodidactic quest.
It wasn’t long before I found myself writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing my own short films; usually involving family, friends and very limited resources. But those experiences were my film school before film school. The greatest lesson I learned through these early practices was to write strategically to maximize the effect of what little I had to work with.
Then, after high school, I was accepted into the BFA film program at UCF in Orlando. Admittedly, my experience there only served as a sock for more of my own totally self-conducted projects. But I met and forged lasting relationships with some of my professors and quite a few like-minded, fellow student filmmakers.
After college, I returned home and continued to challenge myself with several new short films while trying my hand at writing feature-length scripts. Despite their increasing complexity, I felt I had reached a ceiling with my 16 short films and the confidence budding through the feature scriptwriting ultimately led me to mount an ambitious, micro-budget feature film production, For My Sister.
For My Sister is about two sisters (played by Stephanie Maltez and Cristina De Fatima) attempting to overcome the challenge of mental illness: the actual illness and the societal stigma. And I am immensely pleased to share that it is now in post-production and I am supremely happy with how it’s shaping up. It will see release later this year.
So, that’s where I am now. It’s been a long and rewarding journey.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No, extremely bumpy! I’ve crossed paths with every challenge imaginable: big and small, practical and creative, personal and impersonal. However, the most significant and reoccurring struggle is keeping the work fresh and interesting by any means. This is a prime consideration that must always be dealt with in the conceptual or writing phase of my process. I’m always trying to find a seed of an idea that I can fall and stay in love with for the duration of all the stages required to produce a finished film. Rarely an easy task.
But despite these occasional impediments, overcoming them has taught me the value of great patience, trust and resolve. It’s always worth going the extra mile.
Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I write, produce, direct, shoot and edit micro-budget, feature-length films. I specialize in both the technical and creative aspects of my work and I am known for being highly self-sufficient as a one-man crew. Most recently, I’ve been praised for my casting abilities. This first feature film of mine, For My Sister, boasts a cast of nearly 30 speaking roles! Virtually all talent was hand-picked by me and they all suited the film exceptionally well.
As a brand, I am most proud of the professional and successful execution of such a large-scale project as a feature film, especially in such a single-handed manner. As an organization, the professionalism, efficiency and congenial atmosphere I constantly strive for takes the cake. And as a creative, I greatly value the social dimension to what I do; both the breadth and depth of my creative collaborations. For instance, I enjoy working with the amazingly talented lead actress of For My Sister, Stephanie Maltez, who I’ve cast in three projects over the past five years (our previous short film collaboration, The Promotion, was distributed nationally on PBS). I also enjoy working with the award-winning composer who’ll be providing music for For My Sister, Ben Morris. I’ve worked with Ben on four projects over the past seven years. Uniting such a talented and serious group of artists and creators to help realize and even improve upon my vision for the screen is one of the great joys of what I do.
I feel what sets me apart from others in the same field is my foundational do-it-yourself philosophy which values a rugged sense of independence and vigilance against corporate interests and influence. I also try to distinguish myself by being authoritative but never authoritarian, valuing strong interpersonal relations built upon great trust, respect, and goodwill with everyone I work with.
I think I am also distinguished by being intimately involved with every stage of production where many just write, produce or direct. And this isn’t recent. I’ve always valued this jack-of-all-trades approach. It’s the same as when I was starting out in my early adolescence, sequestering myself in some corner to write and then singularly executing my secret plans with some actors and my trusty camera, tripod and non-linear editing software.
Additionally, I pay everyone who works on my productions. It’s surprising how many aspiring filmmakers don’t do this. It’s a symbolic amount more than anything but I definitely put my money where my mouth is in that regard. I spend my money on what I truly love.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I am excited and optimistic about the future direction of the industry. Or rather, its amenability to change. I feel that media literacy is growing in importance in schools and society, in general. This will, I think, compel more young, amateur filmmakers to creatively take up arms against the status quo and mobilize the increasingly cheap and easy-to-use filmmaking tools at their disposal to innovate creatively and otherwise. I also see the rise of streaming-based distribution models also helping to open the gates to more underrepresented voices and fresh ideas, in both form and content.
All of these hopeful projections are of course predicated upon a trust that filmmakers, experienced and neophyte, will keep their wits sharp and sights focused in order to advance the practice of filmmaking and the cinematic experience. That’s what we need. That’s what we deserve.