Making “Zora in Desire” by Mike Cuenca

Zora in Desire” is my latest production. My third feature. It’s about an obsessive photographer named Zephora who is haunted by childhood memories and is involved in a passionate, sexual affair with her muse named Guy. There’s some time travel involved. But not in ways you expect. It’s a fairy tale. It’s a tragedy. It’s surreal. It’s deadpan. A love letter to comic books, the French New Wave films of the ’60s, and Federico Fellini.

The Zora in Desire trailer that we have submitted to the International Movie Trailer Festival was made with a budget of $0.00. You got that right. Zilch. Nothing.

Lacking a budget wasn’t fully an obstacle when creating this trailer (I’m responsible for 12 half-hour episodes of the Oblivion web series which were also made without any funds…hence, no big deal). What truly was a challenge was offering a teaser that captures just a hint of what the movie will become without a) giving the plot away and b) without casting one of three leads. This particular lead is the muse mentioned above. Almost every scene he shares with Zephora the two become whole…completing engulfing one another fervently. So the sexual aspects that the film will contain had to take a backseat.

The eventual feature will have the look of a silent film. A lot of fake backdrops will be used in flashback sequences. Character make-up and lighting will be influenced by German Expressionism. The story itself plays a small homage to The Double Life of Veronique and fantasy films in general. I want the audience to consider the characters as fish out of water. The story does take place in modern times but I want a timeless quality in there as well. A lot of the wardrobe harkens back to a late-1920s look. Since we’re missing a budget, we thankfully had wardrobe leftover from past productions that my good friend, and Oblivion stylist, Yvonne Trinh provided.

Cinematographer Amberlie Bankoff and I shot the teaser in two days. Aside from Yvonne on the first day of shooting, we had no other crew. In Zephora’s only speaking bit at the end of the trailer, I sat in for her eye-line and boomed as well. One day was dedicated to exterior scenes, shot within a few hours, and the following day to all interior shots (which took a bit longer since Amberlie and I had to set design). I took cues from the final draft of the script, I made my shot list, presented it to Amberlie, rounded up our props (alright, alright, okay, so I lied…a bought a set of candles from the local .98 cent store), set our eyes on Downtown Pasadena and certain areas of Burbank, hung up a giant black curtain in our living room, and began to improvise. One broken mirror and melted wax all over the floor later…we got what you see before you.

About a week before planning the trailer, I caught Black Flamingo performing at the Echoplex here in Los Angeles. They’re friends of mine. I mean, not only does Amberlie play bass and sing in the band, but she’s also my girlfriend (and we all used to live together at one point). They announced they had a new batch of songs the audience hadn’t heard before (and miraculously, neither had I). The first one was introduced, titled “Heavy Life”. 15 seconds into the song I knew I was going to feature it in the trailer. After they wrapped their set I went up to Kimi Recor (Black Flamingo singer/songwriter/guitarist) and asked her who wrote the song. She responded with, “We all did.” I told her that I wanted to use it in the Zora in Desire trailer. She gave me the approval. Kimi will now be composing the film’s soundtrack.

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