By Isabella Vaccaro
What began as an independent film project in Greece headed by a group of UM students, alumni and faculty quickly spiraled into an internationally-recognized LGBTQ love story. With a Kiss I Die — the story of the reincarnated vampire Juliet Capulet who finds love all over again with a young woman — is now available to buy through most streaming services, cable networks and select stores.
Ed Talavera, associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media, initially brought on Barbara Leibell, assistant professor of professional practice, and alumnus James Orie, B.S.C. '15, who scripted a romantic comedy about an undead Juliet Capulet. However it was not until UM alumnus Ronnie Khalil, M.F.A. '17, M.B.A. '00, B.B.A. '94, came into the picture that a more contemporary version of the story started to emerge.
“They had presented the outline to me and I really gravitated toward the whole Juliet being brought back to life after her soulmate had died thing, partially because of her, and how she would deal with it. But for me the concept was a lot darker,” said Khalil of the original idea.
The story morphed into a statement about representation when the casting director had Juliet read with a female love interest — Khalil said the chemistry couldn’t be matched. In the end, Khalil said, they simply went with the two actors or actresses who were the best, “regardless of gender and regardless of race.”
Khalil, a former comedian, said the difficult nature of producing a comedic film, as well as the unpredictable filming conditions he expected to find in Greece led him towards a more dramatic theme for the story. The radical change from ‘boy-girl love story to LGBTQ dark tragedy,’ Khalil said, ultimately worked in the team’s favor — the film was eventually picked up by Gravitas Ventures, one of the largest international distributors.
“I’ll be honest, we’ve achieved and surpassed every goal that we had. Our goal originally was to complete a good feature film, and to try to get some form of distribution out there and to festivals. We’re now in over 100 million homes and have a worldwide distribution channel with an incredible distributor,” said Khalil.
Shooting the movie was a heroic feat in itself. Khalil said the team shot most scenes during sunrises and sunsets because of their lack of lighting equipment. The time pressure was so great that when the crew returned to LA, they still had one scene left to shoot and did so on a Hollywood set using a slew of actors and even some students from the UM LA program.
Many of the undergraduate students took their first steps on a movie set during With a Kiss I Die, but were quickly expected to jump in and help, becoming filmmakers in the process. The generations of ‘Canes involved in the film, including producer and UM graduate student Paola Cétares, made for a tight-knit community.
“It was such an ambitious project to shoot a feature with a young crew abroad without seeing locations,” said Khalil, who acknowledged the connections he made during his time at UM who made the film possible. “I mean Jorge Valdés-Iga, who’s our cinematographer and one of the producers — I was friends with because of a UM connection years ago and so he came just to help and just to be a part of this because of that bond.”
With a Kiss I Die has been covered by various LGBTQ news sources, including The Advocate, Curve, AfterEllen and more. It is available worldwide on Vimeo, as well as on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon depending on your location. The film will also be on cable providers like Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, and more in the U.S. and Canada, as well as on shelves at Target, Walmart, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy.