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Programs Wed 5.15.2024

‘Mountains’ Producing Lab Fellow Robert Colom Brings Miami to the Main Stage

In Mountains–director Monica Sorelle’s feature debut–the Afro-Caribbean working class communities of Miami are under threat from the encroaching forces of neighborhood gentrification, reluctantly aided in part by conflicted blue collar laborer Xavier (Atibon Nazaire, a 2024 Film Independent Spirit Award nominee for the role), a Haitian immigrant whose demolition assignments are growing ever closer to home, literally and figuratively. For the film, Sorelle won the 2024 Someone To Watch Emerging Filmmaker Award. What’s more? A rough cut of Mountains was workshopped at the 2022 Film Independent Producing Lab. (Also: Producing Lab applications are currently open.)

One of the many Miami-based filmmakers whose careers were kicked into high gear by the pollinating effect of Spirit Award Best Feature winner Moonlight’s 2015 shoot in the area, Cuban-American producer Robert Colom co-wrote the Mountains screenplay alongside Sorelle and brought the film to life finding strength in community–as well as a newfound ability to better pitch his material!–through the Fi Artist Development Labs.

We spoke to Colom about coming to the producer’s chair without the benefit of a film school education, community building (film-oriented and otherwise) in Miami and why you should consider applying to Film Independent Producing Lab.. Before this Monday.



Can you describe the journey from first sort of realizing that “filmmaker” was a job that a person could actually have in this world to the point of actually becoming a working producer in the business?

Colom: I’m trying to pinpoint the time that I realized people made movies. I don’t think I can remember the exact time, but I loved movies since I was a kid. My very first job was at a Best Buy, because it was the only way I knew that I could be around movies, just organizing DVDs or whatever [laughs]. There, I met some coworkers who were writers and aspiring directors. I went to a school that didn’t have a film program, so I couldn’t really explore film at a university level. But I started the film society there, and started to meet folks through that club who were like-minded. We started making bad things, and then the work started to get a little better, and a little better.

Moonlight was a big moment for the local Miami indie film scene, correct?

Colom: Yeah! I don’t know how this happened, but I worked in the [Moonlight] production office for a few weeks and then on set for a few weeks, in Miami. That kind of raised us into a different caliber, because we were all working with folks that really knew what they were doing. A lot of us local tadpole filmmakers, we all met each other there and became collaborators.

I think it’s great when people develop their own local film scenes. Especially now, when it’s possible for things to be more decentralized from New York and Los Angeles. That’s the future of independent film, I think.

Colom: I think so too, yeah. Definitely.

And Moonlight, that’s an impressive thing to have on your CV.

Colom: It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to us. When it left town we were all like: “Wait, what did we just go through?” We were just shocked. It opened up so many doors for us.

Were you always interested in being a producer?

Colom: I didn’t know what a director did, or what a producer did. I only knew about editing, from high school TV production. But the very first film I ever made – with a friend who went to the University of Miami – he was working on his thesis film, and told me: “I need an assistant director.” I had no idea what an AD was, so I looked it up and taught myself how to do it. I figured it out and ran the set. I’m very organized, and I threw myself totally into it. And when we finished, [my friend] said to me: “You just produced the movie, you know. You went so far beyond the job of the AD, you’re actually one of the producers now.” And I thought: “Okay, I’m good at this, and I like it.” So that’s how I started producing–before I even learned what it was.

Was Mountains the project you brought to the Film Independent Producing Lab?

Colom: It was.

And at what point do you meet Monica and start to develop the idea for that movie?

Colom: Monica is one of the people that I met on Moonlight–she did all of the background casting for that movie. We were friendly and understood each others’ sense of humor, but it wasn’t until probably a year after Moonlight wrapped that we became friends. We were both running operations for Third Horizon Film Festival (which just now wrapped its seventh edition in Miami), out of a cinema in the Puerto Rican suburb-turned-arts district of Wynwood. There was so much demolition going on around us. Incidentally, the cinema has also since been demolished. The neighborhood was in the late stages of gentrification at that point. Being in that environment really provided the perfect breeding ground for Mountains. Monica had the little mustard seed of the idea, and from there we developed it into our first feature.

When did the Film Independent Producing Lab come onto your radar?

Colom: A friend mentioned to me that the Film Independent Artist Development labs were open. I didn’t think I would get it, because of how regional our filmmaking had always felt.  But I was shocked and thrilled that I got the call for an interview with Dea and Ashley a few months later. They were great. They asked me some questions and I was really candid with them. I was thrilled to be welcomed into the family. All my colleagues at the Lab, I still talk to them all the time. We’re sounding boards for each other, it’s been really beautiful.

Was your experience with the Lab pretty much what you expected going in?

Colom: I didn’t realize that a big component of it was a pitch lab, to hone a pitch for the film. I’ve always been very nervous about pitching. I have a pretty good grasp on why I make things and what the story is, but before the Producing Lab I was much more scatterbrained in the way I spoke about my work. I was surprised that the Lab–and nervous actually–that the Lab would challenge me on that skillset. But I was very grateful for the result.

What was your favorite part of the Lab?

Colom: Just connecting with the Fellows and really having a community of colleagues that I can go to for advice. Even now, as we’re making deals or we’re developing new things or we have questions about money… Those kinds of things are so taboo, you don’t know who to trust and who to ask. But I feel like our fellowship was so strong that we really trust each other and we can ask each other those kinds of candid questions and trust that we’re gonna get thoughtful, honest answers.

What piece of advice would you give to another filmmaker apply

Colom: Just to lead with authenticity and to show up fully, that’s the way the Lab is really going to work the best. I would definitely encourage folks to apply that are at the same stage I was, feeling like they’re working on a bigger thing than themselves now and looking for guidance. What really suited me the best was to just go in completely open. I think that kind of candor really opens you up to deeper relationships, and allows you to connect with folks and learn the things that you really need. I was hungry to learn.

The final extended deadline for Film Independent Members to apply to our Producing Lab is coming up: Monday May 20. Learn more about the program and how to apply by visiting our main applications page.

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