Mystic filmmaker's short running on HBO Max
Filmmaker Ross Morin of Mystic, a professor at Connecticut College, is perhaps best known for edgy psychological thrillers, but it was a short 10-minute film about a girl who feels rejected because of cultural differences that landed his independent production company its biggest honor yet: a spot in the lineup of offerings by Home Box Office.
HBO Films bought the Kiltered Productions short "¡Comé! (Eat!)" after a sales representative from Premium Films in Paris saw it at a Midwest film festival. Morin served as first assistant director of the bilingual film, produced by the independent company that Morin and business partner Matt Herbertz formed several years ago.
Herbertz served as director of photography for the film, and Morin and he secured the services of a Mexican-American director, Lizette Barrera, to bring the story to life. The screenplay was written by Pamela Rodriguez, a young woman of Puerto Rican descent.
"It was the first time Kiltered Productions had sought out a writer or director," Morin said in a phone interview. "Kiltered Productions is committed to giving a voice to underrepresented people both in front of and behind the camera."
The film was shot in 2019 over a two-day period in Lakeland, Fla., before the pandemic. Pre-production planning, Morin said, took about a half year, which included casting, fundraising and identifying major crew members.
The movie featured a wide range of Latinx actors and crew from across the country who brought their own personal experiences onto the set and to the film.
"It was important for us to have a crew who could tell a story about a young Puerto Rican woman," Morin said. "It was a beautiful collaboration."
The autobiographical story revolves around a 12-year-old Puerto Rican girl whose perspective changes when she brings a popular dessert dish, Arroz con Leche, to a Thanksgiving event at her school and no one eats it. The girl's teacher comes to her aid, helping her understand that being different isn't necessarily bad; sometimes differences can be special.
The film did well as a short at more than 20 festivals around the country that agreed to show it, setting in motion negotiations that led to Kiltered Productions and HBO signing a three-year deal to air the film on HBO and HBO Max. The short started streaming in July.
"It's a really small company," Morin said of Kiltered Productions. "We've just been doing these projects out of love. It wasn't in our dreams or imagination that our film would be on HBO. We're not doing this for the money. There's no money in shorts."
As first assistant director, Morin planned and scheduled every shot, managing the cast and crew and keeping everyone on schedule.
"Working at Connecticut College affords me the opportunity of working summers on projects," Morin said. "I start a project every summer and cut (edit) during the winter. I was doing a film a year for a time until COVID. COVID has thrown that off."
He says having a production company puts him at the nexus of being a business person and an artist.
"You can't just be one or the other," he said. "You can't just have an idea and make a movie. You have to know how to budget time and be meticulously organized."