The Making of Bella
About the Guest
Lights, Sound, ACTION! Today on the broadcast, learn about the making of the award-winning movie, Bella, a true love story about how a day in New York City changed three people forever. Here to talk about the film is Bella's producer, Leo Severino, and Latin star Eduardo Verastegui.
Lights, Sound, ACTION!
Leo: Originally, Eduardo came to me and said, "Would you like to be my manager?" Because I was the only one he knew in Hollywood who had any real faith, you know? And, really, all that meant was turning down projects one after another after another and firing his staff of 15 people, managers and agents, publicists and attorneys and everything else because they were continually a source of temptation, and we really wanted to be serious. Could we be faithful to God and still be in Hollywood and try to make great films?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 25th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How can a soap opera star from Latin America who comes to Hollywood and becomes a Christian find a way to honor God in making movies? We'll find out today, stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, sometimes when you hear the title of a movie, you pretty much know what the movie is going to be about, right?
Bob: You hear about, like, the "Babe Ruth Story," you know what the movie is going to be about, right? A movie called "Spiderman," you know what the movie is going to be about, right?
Dennis: And you were there at midnight, I might add, with your teenagers.
Bob: Okay, I – yeah, I like Spidey.
Dennis: Well, is this three years in a row you've done this at midnight?
Bob: Three films in a row, yeah.
Dennis: Technically, that's right.
Bob: It's been every year at the same time.
Dennis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just want our listeners to know that Bob "Spideyman" Lepine, is indeed a film nut.
Bob: Certain films, I like certain films.
Dennis: There you go.
Leo: I heard you were dressed in the full Spiderman outfit.
Bob: Oh, now, let's not go that far, right?
Dennis: I'm not touching that. I'm not saying a word.
Bob: Now, when you hear about a movie that's coming out, and the name of the movie is "Bella," you wouldn't have any clue what that's about, would you?
Dennis: No, and I didn't.
Bob: So if you wanted to know what it was about, you'd have to sit down with the producer and the star just to figure it out, right?
Dennis: That's right.
Bob: So that's what we thought we'd do today.
Dennis: I thought we would. In fact, just to let our listeners know, back almost a year ago, we actually invited these gentlemen to come into a staff meeting we had, and we don't do this very often, maybe once or twice a year, we will have a premiere showing of a Hollywood-produced movie for our staff to be able to preview. And we were not disappointed. "Bella" was a great movie, and so we decided to invite the star of that movie, Eduardo Verastegui.
Dennis: And the producer, Leo Severino, to join us on the broadcast and just let our listeners in on a little sneak preview of the movie. Leo, tell us how this whole thing got started, where you go the vision for it.
Leo: We had this crazy concept. We thought what if a guy gets bitten by a radioactive spider …
Bob: I think there's a plot here.
Dennis: Leo …
Bob: I'm hearing the show pitched right now.
Dennis: You played right into Bob's hands. This show is going nowhere.
Bob: I think if you called it "Bella" it's not going to work for you.
Leo: What are you talking about, guys. You've heard that one before?
Dennis: You were actually an attorney at the time, right?
Leo: That's right. I am an attorney still, licensed in California but please don't hold that against me.
Dennis: A graduate of USC, we're not going to hold that against you, either.
Leo: We won't, especially if you went to UCLA. But you went to Arkansas, right?
Dennis: I did.
Leo: How is that game this year?
Dennis: And we do not play football. We didn't, at least, two years in a row. We played you guys.
Leo: There's three of us, we're known as the three amigos, Alejandro, Eduardo, and myself, Leo, and they call us …
Dennis: Now, say that again – there are three amigos?
Leo: Three amigos – Leonardo, which is me, Leo; Alejandro, which is the director; and Eduardo, who is the lead actor and producer along with me.
Bob: It sounds a little like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Leo: You should see Alejandro supervise.
Dennis: Just the way you said Eduardo's name doesn't make – it makes him sound like he's not here, though.
Leo: There he is. By the way, his last name is – I always tell the gringos in the audience, it's like "veracity" but with a "g." Verastegui.
Leo: There you go.
Dennis: I'm getting the roll down. So, anyway, tell us about how you got together.
Leo: Divine providence, because we all were kind of off doing our own thing in different occasions, the Lord touched our hearts and found us where we were, and I was working Twentieth Century Fox at the time, and I felt that there was something bigger and better for me. Maybe not bigger by way of societal standards, but bigger by way of mission, and when I came to the Lord in 1999, I knew that I didn't know if it was possible to be an attorney in Hollywood and try to love and serve God. But He found a path for us, and he brought us together.
Alejandro, who has got to be one of the most talented director on the planet was at the University of Texas film school, and there's an amazing story about him getting in without speaking the language, and it really started with Alejandro and Eduardo because they met and decided they had the same vision and dream, and so they were going to make this company and try to change the world and do films that are good. They look like Hollywood films but – you know, they look like cheeseburgers but they have the substance of broccoli, you know, they have the vitamins of a salad or …
Dennis: No, no, no, "Bella" is better than broccoli.
Leo: Well, God bless it – spinach in [inaudible].
Dennis: No, no, no, it's better than spinach.
Leo: But it's so funny because, to them, you know, they figured, all right, a month of conversations about having this company, and they come back, "Yeah, we're going to change the world," "Yeah, we're going to do good films." Okay, okay. And then they'd come a week later, "Yeah, we're going to change the world, yeah, we're going to do good films," and Eduardo and I met, not coincidentally, at a church parking lot, and he said, "You know, we have this company. We want to do something positive. Do you want to come do this with us?"
And it's part of a longer story, but I saw a bunch of things that showed me that Eduardo really was a man of his faith that was willing to turn down role after role after role to try to do something good and positive for the world. And when I went to this company that they had started, it really was just the two of them talking. So I thought, "Well, maybe the first thing we can do is form an actual company, you know, and maybe get a cell phone with an assistant" and so on and so forth and that's how [inaudible] Films started. It was on Eduardo's couch with a cell phone, a friend of mine who was doing youth ministry with me at the time, her name is Anna, as our assistant, and our coordinator and our manager, and the next thing you know, we thought, "We're in business."
Bob: Well, okay, so you've got three guys sitting on a couch with a cell phone – it's a long way from there to making a movie that wins the People's Choice Award in Toronto.
Leo: Yeah, that happened a year later.
Bob: A year later? Where did the idea – tell our listeners the story of "Bella" and then tell us where the story came from.
Leo: Fantastic. The story of "Bella" was really – it was providential, because what we were trying to do originally, Eduardo came to me and said, "Would you like to be my manager?" Because I was the only one he knew in Hollywood who had any real faith, you know – sadly? And, really, all that meant was turning down projects one after another after another and firing his staff of 15 people, managers and agents, publicists and attorneys and everything else because they were continually a source of temptation, and we really wanted to be serious. Could we be faithful to God and still be in Hollywood and try to make great films?
So we tried looking for projects here and there, and we just kept coming across these walls of – this project has this in it that we don't want, or this project has this, or this project is more family-targeted project, meaning more like a kids' project. We wanted to do something that could be mature, even adult film, but that had, you know, that our Lord could be proud of.
And then Alejandro had told Eduardo previously and then shared with me this story that he got when he was driving from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles, on his way to make this other film, that he then pulled away from because the script wasn't exactly what he was pitched. And as he was driving, the story of "Bella" kind of came to him – the arc of the different things that were going to happen, and he recalls pulling over to the side of the road and crying and then driving some more and wiping the tears and then getting another vision and crying and pulling alongside the road and so on and so forth.
So I can really boast about this film because I believe it didn't come from us, it came through us. And he came up with the original story arc, which is a lot of what we have in "Bella" if you were to see it today, and when he came back, and he pitched us the story, we just fell in love with it. We thought, "Oh, my goodness."
Dennis: Did he write it down as he was driving?
Leo: No, he just had it in his had. Alejandro is that sort of guy. And when he came back, at that time, I had left Fox, and Eduardo had not been working for about two years, turning down projects, and Alejandro had just come out of film school and, again, he'd been sleeping on the couch because he sold his car to try to make this film in film school, so, really, I was the rich guy, because I had about a year's worth of savings.
We pooled the resources, it turned into about six months' worth of savings.
Bob: Now, wait, "pooled the resources" means they all got access to your money, right?
Leo: That's one way to put it, I guess. But …
Dennis: Well, I want to ask Eduardo at that point, you had been highly successful as a soap opera star in Mexico. Had you burned through all that money that you'd earned back there?
Eduardo: Yeah, well, before I leave to Miami, the company that I was working in Mexico, they offered me a seven-telenovellas deal for seven years. And I didn't sign the contract because …
Leo: A lot of money, though.
Eduardo: … I wanted to leave to Miami, and so then after the singing career, then after "Chasing Papi," I had savings for, like, those two years that I didn't work. But, again, one day, you know, when I went through my bank account, it was almost like in zero, and I knew very clear that by changing my path to serve our Lord, I knew maybe the price was going to be that I'm never going to work again as an actor or in this entertainment career, and I was in peace. I was okay because I knew that – it's like the eagle. You know, the eagle cannot fly if he is attached to something with a cord and so you need to cut the cord so the eagle can fly. So humans, we're the same thing. If we're attached to many things, we are not free.
And as Leo mentioned before, we're not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful to God. That is our success. But if, by being faithful to God, the other success come, then it's a blessing. Thanks be to God. But if it doesn't come, you can never compromise your faith in order to obtain what the world thinks success is, because that doesn't come from God.
So I knew maybe that you know what? This is going to be my purification, maybe I'm not going to work in this again, and I was in peace. I was, like, I cannot explain – and you know what? In that time, it was funny, because my other business partner, Alejandro, he was just moving from Texas to Los Angeles, and he said, "Okay. So what's going to happen now? How are we going to make a living here? I know that we're not going to compromise, but any idea what we're going to do?"
And it was funny, because in that time I had an Escalade, it was what an irony, because I didn't have money to pay my rent for next month, but I had a free Escalade.
Leo: Cadillac had given him part of the celebrity program, they had given him for "Chasing Papi," this Escalade. And they kept renewing him, and sent him new ones and paid for the gas and insurance and everything every six months.
Bob: So you've got a sweet car and nothing else?
Eduardo: Exactly. So I was thinking, like, you know, "What is the worst-case scenario?" I was telling Alejandro, "What is the worst-case scenario? Let's see, we don't have money to pay the rent, we don't get any job from here until the next 30 days, and what's the worst? I mean, we're doing this for God. We're doing this for Christ." You know, I wasn't born to be a movie star. I wasn't born to be rich or famous or actor or engineer or whatever, you know? Those are just means.
I knew that I was born to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ. We were born to be saints, to grow in holiness and to give our life to Him, and that's what matters. That's our success.
So then if we're doing this for our Lord, He knows what we need. You know, He's not going to give us more or less, He's going to give us just what we need. So what is the worst-case scenario? You know, they kick us out from the apartment, so we have an Escalade.
Bob: So we park and sleep in the Escalade.
Eduardo: We park in Malibu, you know, on the beach, and when people ask us, we're producers. "You guys are producers?" "Yeah." "Okay, where do you guys live?" "We live in Malibu, you know?"
Leo: And that was the mentality I was facing.
Bob: So we've got three guys sold out to the Lord, wanting to use their skills to produce entertainment that will influence and have an impact on people's lives. You've got very little money, but you've got an idea that your director came up with driving from Texas to Los Angeles. Again, I think we need to let our listeners know, "What's the story? What was the idea? What's the arc he came up with?"
Leo: Well, you've got to see the film. Actually, go to our Web page – bellathemovie.com.
Bob: Give him a little hint.
Eduardo: [inaudible] and then Leo would match the whole thing. The best way to see "Bella" is when you have no idea what "Bella" is about, because then it is very powerful. But if I can put something together without giving you too much, I will say that it's about a man who was a professional soccer player who was at the top of mountain of his career, and he had everything. And something happened in his life, one moment, and he lost it all, but in losing it all, he found everything that matters in life, which is family, faith, and many other beautiful things that you will see while you are watching the film.
And it's about two broken souls helping each other to come to life again. It's one day in New York City, and these two people, Jose, which is the soccer player, the professional soccer player, and Nina, another waitress that is working in New York, that something happened in her life that she is not happen, and it's this two guys are spending 24 hours together helping each other to heal their wounds that they have in their heart.
Leo: And more than that, I would say it has an element of a love story that I think you guys agree with this – that goes beyond romance.
Dennis: It transcends it.
Leo: I think so, and it also is very suspenseful and funny, and it has twists, and so on and so forth. So it's a film that audiences have reacted to in an incredible way.
Dennis: I liked the film because you didn't overstate – well, you didn't overstate the message. You let the viewer come to the conclusion of what takes place and how it concludes in a powerful way.
Leo: Well, thank you, that's what we wanted to do.
Eduardo: And the other thing, I think, for me, was very powerful as an actor, too, because as an actor you learn so much from the story and from the role. In this case, Jose, I want to be more like Jose, and something that I like in the story that Alejandro and Leo wrote is the element of pain. Pain is a universal language, you know? Who doesn't suffer in this life, and the film shows that there is a time in everyone's life when a moment will change your life forever, and life will never be the same again, and if it hasn't happened to you, it will, and it shows that the question is pain is good or bad? And the answer is it depends what pain does to you.
And me, as Eduardo, when I look back on my life, I just discovered that those moments where I was bleeding, when I was suffering, and I was in pain because of either because I lost someone that I love either because a failure in my career or whatever, and in that time, I thought it was the end of the world. I was confused, and it was like – [speaks Spanish]?
Eduardo: Clouded, and I didn't know any answer, and then when time passed, I realized at those moments were my biggest teachers that taught me everything in my life. That's how I grow spiritually, professionally, personally, particularly in those moments. So "Bella" shows a lot of those moments.
Leo: Along with that, it shows a counterbalance of the joy of life and the joy of living, and it's a film that's going to make you laugh, and it's going to make you cry.
Bob: It's not giving too much away to say that it also affirms the value of life …
Bob: From conception, and it affirms the power of adoption.
Leo: It sure does, yeah, if there's anything, yeah, we don't mind that at all. We want to make film that uplifted human dignity.
Bob: And your budget for this film, we won't divulge any numbers, but I'm just thinking of how much they spend on Spidey 3 …
Leo: Yeah, it wasn't exactly that.
Eduardo: Actually, what the uniform – costume – cost them – that was the budget for "Bella."
Bob: It is, and I think anybody who goes to see it, it stands up in the Cineplex alongside anything else that's there. Now, you don't have a whole lot of crash scenes and a whole lot of aliens coming down. There's not a big special effects budget in this, your money is in telling a story and telling it well.
Leo: It's a little film with a very big heart.
Dennis: You know, as I think about you, the three amigos, I was thinking about Daniel 11:32 – "Those who know their God will display strength and take action." And your story here of how you guys stepped out in faith without money, without seeing the end product done but living by faith and being willing to risk your careers around Eduardo, your standard, a biblical standard.
Well, there's another verse that I found in Daniel, the next chapter that is a good one to describe you guys. It says, "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever."
Leo: God bless you. Anytime you're describing us and quoting Scripture that's an incredible [inaudible].
Dennis: Well, it's just good to have a star out of Hollywood that's a star about something other than human beings, but a star of righteousness sounds to me like the right kind of star, and I just want to applaud you guys for your faith and your courage and your steps of sacrifice to be able to go do what you've done, and I just want to encourage our listeners, this movie is about to hit the theaters this month. It is a great movie. You're not going to be disappointed it. It is a sober movie, it is a funny movie, at points, but it has a powerful message, Bob, that anyone who has been complaining about Hollywood feeling like they need to have some heroes that stand for something, this is a great story about redemption of broken people.
Leo: That's what I was going to add to that was, you know, you say those quotes in Scripture and we feel so unworthy, but we felt that there was this call. Our friend, Ted Baehr, from Movie Guide was just telling us how something like – kids spend, on average, a few minutes in meaningful conversation with their parents every day, but they spend hours in front of the media. And so much that's coming out of there is really poisoning our society in so many ways, and instead of sitting back and cursing the darkness, we thought, "Let's try to light a candle. Let's try to do something positive, let's try to show values in a way that isn't even meant for the audience that's listening to this radio program."
We love you guys and we think you guys and FamilyLife and Dennis and everything you guys are doing here. It's fantastic. This film wasn't made for you guys. It was made for everyone out there who needs to hear what you guys are saying as well. It was made in a way that we thought to be effective for not the choir necessary, because the choir is going to appreciate it, but for the rest of the – the lead character in, the female character, epitomizes the person that we're trying to reach in our film.
So we thought let's make a film that looks like everything else out there in Hollywood but has the message that is already written in all of our hearts, and we really believe that the only way this film is going to get out to really the secular world is if the choir mobilizes. If everyone goes out on opening weekend, and we have a very strong opening weekend box office, that signals to Hollywood, to distributors, to the exhibitors, to the theaters, really, to the world, it gives us national publicity that, "Hey, here is a film that people go see," you know, and that in and of itself is going to be the momentum that carries us.
Dennis: And the reason you want to do that is not just for the success of this film but to do what?
Leo: Well, many things. You know, we've all turned down projects that were already lucrative, so you've got to believe me that it isn't about that. It's about a mission. This film we know has the potential to touch people's hearts, to do something positive directly when it comes to saving lives, as you guys know without saying too much, to affecting lives in a positive way.
There's people who right now are signed up to adopt who otherwise weren't because they saw our film. But, more than that, it's to try to bring God back to Hollywood in a big way.
Bob: In fact, let me follow up, if I can, on the point you were just making and do a little education for our listeners who may not be regular moviegoers, especially considering what's in the theaters.
Opening weekend is critical in everything related to Hollywood. When a film opens in what they call "wide release," when its first weekend in most theaters, everybody is watching to see how it does. If it does well, theater owners will say, "We want to put that on a second screen," and some theater owner who didn't add the movie the first weekend may get it for the second weekend and let some movie that's not doing so well just trail off.
So it's really critical for those in the choir to do two things. First of all, look around for non-choir members and say, "Hey, would you like to go to the movies this Friday night?" Secondly, go opening weekend. Don't sit back and think, "Oh, I want to see that while it's out," because if you say that it may only be out two weeks, and then it's gone. And don't say, "Well, I'll wait until it's out on video," because it's not just about seeing a movie, but it is about sending a message, and the more messages like that we can send, the more we can not just change entertainment for ourselves but for the culture at large.
Dennis: And I want to add a third thing they should do – tell your friends about it. Because beyond opening weekend, there is the potential here, I think, to send a message across our nation that human life does matter and that there are alternatives to abortion; that adoption is a living alternative.
Bob: Mm-hm, I can tell you the first thing I'm going to do on Monday, I'm going to go to the box office mojo website and find out how the movie did over the weekend, and I hope a lot of our listeners will go out and see it.
There is a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to the "Bella" website where you can find a listing of cities and theaters where the movie is opening this Friday night, and I think it's significant that it's opening on this particular weekend, as well, because this is one of those weekends when studios release horror movies, and this movie is going to stand out in stark contrast to what's in a lot of cineplexes this weekend.
So go to our website, FamilyLife.com. If you click the red button that you see in the center of the home page that says "Go," it will take you to the area of the site where there is a link to the "Bella" website. You can find out which cities and which theaters are hosting the movie this weekend. There is also a link to an article that appeared in our online e-magazine, which is called "The Family Room," an article and a move review of the movie, "Bella," and this gives me a good opportunity to say if you're not currently getting our online e-magazine, which is free of charge, it's a great monthly publication that we send out.
It's called "The Family Room," and you can subscribe to it at FamilyLife.com. You'll find the link when you go to the FamilyLife.com website and click that red "Go" button. That will take you to the area of the site where there is information on all that we've been talking about today, and then let me encourage you to be back with us tomorrow, when we're going to hear the story of how, Eduardo, how you grew up in Mexico and wound up in the movies. It's a great story, and I hope our listeners can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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