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By Dena Giselle, Xperience Magazine founder

Tell us a little bit about yourself, about your medium, Leo’s Love Letter and your current (art) project.


My name is Gabriel Rhenals. I’m an award-winning filmmaker based in Miami, Florida, USA and founder of Hard Edge Films. My 15th and latest short film, Leo's Love Letter, was recently screened at the 5th Annual Aruba International Film Festival. Leo's Love Letter is about a young man whose relationship is in serious trouble and who attempts to reclaim the love of his partner. The short film stars Emmanuel Franco and Stephanie Maltez with an original score by award-winning composer, Ben Morris.


Who is Leo?


Leo is the titular protagonist of Leo's Love Letter and played by a very talented young actor named Emmanuel Franco. Leo is a calm yet determined character guided, perhaps overly so, by an unimpeachable belief in the power of the right words. He wants to compose a love letter capable of repairing the troubled relationship between himself and Rachel, played by a very talented young actress named Stephanie Maltez.


Why Leo?


Because I think there are many people who identify with Leo's basic optimism about communication and the heavenly hellish process of getting a message just right for that special someone. And for me, Leo's desperate struggle to prove his love through the delicate and somewhat lost art of letter writing is, to put it simply, quite romantic. 


When and where did you first experience anything movies, and what was it about this form of art/medium that remains in your memory?


My earliest experience of anything movies happened in the early '90s in the family room of my childhood home in Reading, Massachusetts, USA. In this time and place, I was exposed to a great variety of movies through my family's cable television subscription.


Those earliest experiences are characterized by a fascination with the fantastic. As a child, I was totally enraptured by all kinds of horror, sci-fi and animated films. Popular, mainstream fare like the quintessential ‘80s Amblin movies as well as strange, low-budget curiosities like movies from Troma. Some appropriate for my age, others not so much. I can thank my two older brothers and the warped minds behind local station programming for that.


What remains in my memory about these early experiences is that they were pure imagination fuel. They filled my dreams, for better or worse, and showed up in my earliest artistic creations; I had a knack for visual arts at a very young age.


When and how did you decide to become a filmmaker?


That early knack for visual arts, with an eye for sequential art like comic books and animation, set me on a collision course with filmmaking. But my interest in filmmaking as a craft to personally take up and develop did not occur to me until much later in my adolescence. This calling rapped on my door as I matured and my fascination grew about the talent behind movies, past and present.


Who do you look up to in the industry and why?


In the North American film industry, I have great respect and admiration for Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, for her astonishing business acumen and enabling of visionary filmmakers. I also look up to a multitude of immensely talented filmmakers in that industry, from Darren Aronofsky to Robert Zemeckis, who captivate and inspire me with each of their new films.


How would you define your role as a director (and/or other roles) in this film project?


As the writer-producer-director, I was the hardest-working person on the project. The one who put in the most physical exertion, mental effort and, most importantly, time to get things right for the highly discerning and deserving audience out there.


How did you finance this film project? What type of camera did you use? Was it yours?


This film project, as with past projects, is proudly micro-budgeted. I spent just under $1,000 out of my own pocket. That included the cost of the camera I used, my trusty Canon Rebel T5i.


What is harder: getting started or being able to keep going, and why?


For me, starting the fire is harder than fanning the flames. My commitment rarely wavers through the thick and thin of the ensuing filmmaking process when the right story is conjured.


How do you stay fresh to come up with new original stories (we haven’t seen before like your current film) especially when your inspiration is waning?


I stay fresh by remembering to live, read and contemplate. I rarely suffer from any type of inspiration deficit. I’m constantly inspired by the great, wide world around me and its seemingly infinite activity. I could easily imagine staying active creatively for a thousand years.


How do you know when your story is finished (when to walk away)?


I know my story is finished when I catch myself making changes and alterations that only I will ever notice. It’s finished when I find myself confronted by the frightening but tempting maw of what is suggested by the following quote: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”


I really could toy with my past work forever if the urgency to move forward and evolve as a filmmaker didn’t regularly stay my hand.


How does your reality shape your art and vice versa, how do your works shape your reality?


In attempting to tell stories for a mass audience, I am compelled to consider and represent an objective, accessible sense of reality than an overly subjective, idiosyncratic one; the latter of which is a preference among many artists. My contrary impulse toward objectivity and accessibility finds its expression through the archetypical nature of the characters I write and the visual style I employ. I want a bridge between myself and others, not a chasm.


My works make my reality eminently enjoyable and satisfying. They bring me closer to fellow creative people and allow me to channel life’s unending supply of ecstasy and misery in a productive and constructive way.


Can you define your visual, directorial and storytelling style and how those styles have changed over the years or how you see them transforming?


My visual style always favors absolute clarity and directness in service of the story. But if I’ve taken to any particular flourishes in my most recent work, it’s perhaps not moving my camera around too much.


My directorial style is governed by clear communication, transparency and collaboration.


My storytelling style reflects a love of highly segmented narratives that don’t dwell in one place for too long. I also tend to favor simple stories with great visual potential.


Over the course of my 13 years involved in filmmaking, my preferences in these three areas have remained surprisingly consistent. I suspect, however, that as I move onto more complex projects, I may pick up some new ways of thinking about the medium and further refine or completely change course with regard to my style.


What are the most challenging and what are the best parts about your work?


Developing that initial germ of a story idea into a fully-fledged script is typically the most challenging part about my work. But once that is accomplished, the best parts follow in quick succession. They include designing the visuals, planning out the entire production, working closely with actors and, after production is wrapped, the simple pleasure of seeing all of my imported footage neatly organized and ready for joining in holy cinematic matrimony.


What is one mistake you make as a filmmaker (over and over), regardless of your experience?


Misplacing my camera’s lens cap.


What do you have planned for the future? And will we be seeing you again at AIFF?


I am currently writing my 16th short film, which will be my last short film before I begin my foray in the feature-length film realm. I’d love to submit these future projects to AIFF and take in the paradisiacal Caribbean once again!

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