Last Words

Los Angeles, California | Film Short

Drama, Comedy

Nez Franco

1 Campaigns | California, United States

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This campaign raised $8,912 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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The end of his life nearing, a man on his deathbed once said, as a final declaration of his time here on earth; "Aw, shit." That man was my grandpa. His last words were the first thing my family and I laughed about between sobs, in the wee hours after his death, and the inspiration for this film.

About The Project

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Mission Statement

How is it possible to love, and sometimes hate, be proud of, and sometimes be ashamed of, the people we love? This film seeks to explore that question with humor and visceral, character-driven drama. Last Words is an honest look at loss and the complex dynamics of love, acceptance and denial.

The Story


Last Words follows the emotional journey of Melanie and her family as they navigate the final day of her grandfather Fredo's life. Set in a cramped home filled with family photos and the weight of unspoken truths, the story unfolds as Fredo's deteriorating health brings forth a mix of tension, reflection, and bittersweet moments.


While Melanie really wants to spend the day with her grandfather, she must help her mother grapple with the logistics surrounding his impending death. From the challenges of moving him through narrow hallways and cleaning soiled sheets, to the tender moments shared at his bedside, amidst the chaos and sorrow, buried tensions rise to the surface. Melanie confronts her mother about their family's refusal to openly acknowledge Fredo's battle with HIV, highlighting the complex dynamics of love, acceptance, and denial within the family.


The story captures moments of reflection, humor, and vulnerability as the family gathers to say their goodbyes. As the day unfolds and Fredo passes, the family finds solace in each other's presence, sharing stories, memories, and ultimately, finding moments of closure and acceptance in the face of loss. 


In the end, Melanie and her mother sit together, hand in hand, as the sun rises on their first morning without Fredo.




Last Words is a character-driven film, focused on Melanie’s internal struggle to figure out her place amongst her family, to accept an impending death, and to reconcile the cultural and generational differences between her modern-American values and her family’s conservative-Catholic & Latino urge to avoid talking about their dying patriarch’s HIV status, sexuality and depression. In this way the tone of the film follows after family dramas like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, where familial obligations present a moral dilemma for the main character.



However, Melanie’s family dynamic is one that more closely resembles the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums, or Napoleon Dynamite—dysfunctional families who are the beating heart of the film’s world, and its endless source of humor. 




Another major source of inspiration for this film, its world, and the family dynamic is Reservation Dogs.



Last Words takes place in 24 hours, within the family’s 800-square-ft family home, where Grandpa Fredo lives and where Melanie has grown up along with the rest of the family. The cramped environment and decaying walls of the home add yet another layer to the film—with everything to lose and nothing to gain from Fredo’s passing, all this family has is each other. From Melanie’s single-mother, to Fredo’s living with HIV, life has handed this family their fair share of hard knocks.




Because we are building a world and family set in La Puente, California, it is important to cast an authentic and Latino cast. The Barrientos family will look and feel like real people, who could really be from Bassett neighborhood of this city. We hope to raise enough money to bring in a casting director to widen our network here at USC and reach actors interested in the story.


MELANIE (19) is at the age where she isn’t sure if she should start bringing a plate of food to Thanksgiving or not. With one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, she is filled with care, patience and respect for her grandfather but reserves none of it for anyone else in the family, who she sees as bizarre and irritating. Holding onto hope that something might change in the progression of Grandpa Fredo’s illness, Melanie must learn to manage her emotions, accept his death, and think of more than just herself. 


ISA (37) is Melanie’s, young, overworked single-mother, is becoming the matriarch of her family despite her young age and her own emotional immaturity at times. She leans on her daughter, Melanie, more than her son, Isaac. This is a source of endless debate between Isa and Melanie, who thinks the emotional and physical labor in the family unfairly falls on the women, including Isa. As a nurse, Isa is used to doing what must be done to help the people around her at all times, without complaining. 


GRANDPA FREDO (64) is a gentle soul who is expressing irritation and a bit of cruelty towards the end of his life. He has always been his family’s constant source of love and support. Living quietly as a gay man, keeping his private life to himself while raising his kids and kids’ kids, however, some time before the start of this film Fredo decides to stop taking the retrovirals that help him live with HIV. Throwing himself into the folds of full-blown autoimmune disease, his unprepared family is experiencing shock, denial and disorder. Today is the last day they have with him but he just wants the pain to go away.


These are just a few of the characters that make up the Barrientos family, each with their own unique (and sometimes hilarious) quirks and flaws.



In order the make this film, we will at least need to provide hot meals for the cast and crew over 7 days of shooting, which will cost about $3k. (That's more than the total price of my first car.) And that's just a small piece of our overall fundraising goal.


So, what that budget do?





I often share the story about my grandpa's last words with people who are grieving, as a way to connect with them when the condolences have been said, and the days without their deceased roll by and begin to outnumber the you're-in-our-thought-and-prayers cards. This little anecdote about my own grandfather saying a graceless thing in the end never failed to make someone smile. It wasn't sentimental or flowery, but real, and raw, and a bit funny.


That is the tone I am striving for in this short film. I want to share an honest but humorous story about love and loss, and told from an angle often overlooked (the perspective of people losing their loved ones to HIV/AIDs, and yes, it still happens) and set in a neighborhood the film industry has never appreciated--La Puente, one of the many nameless towns in LA overshadowed by Hollywood.


If this story can make a grieving young person smile, I hope it has some value for a wider audience.


Wishlist

Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Meals/Snacks

Costs $1

Without food, there is no energy. With no energy... No film.

Production Design

Costs $750

The living space is one of the most important aspects of this film, and it's Production Design that will make that come alive.

Camera Equipment

Costs $1,750

Camera equipment is expensive... Like, really expensive...

Post-Production

Costs $50

While the majority of expenses come during the production phase, some equipment is needed for post too!

SFX Makeup

Costs $1,400

SPOILER ALERT: Some SFX makeup will be required to accurately portray the illnesses effecting characters in Last Words.

Animal Wranglers

Costs $750

The delightful critters that make up the world of Last Words are NOT willing to work for free.

Transportation

Costs $500

Getting people and equipment to and from locations is a necessity. And for that, we need big vehicles.

Casting

Costs $2,000

To make this film as great as it can be, we'll be seeking the assistance of a casting director to put together our family.

Wardrobe

Costs $200

We want our characters clothing to be just as special and impactful as every other aspect of the film!

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

NEZ, DIRECTOR

Nez is a Xicana filmmaker based in Long Beach, California. She started off working in news and documentaries, but was disenchanted with the industry. Before USC, she worked a producer for clients such as Tecate, Spotify, M.I.T., Remezcla and BESE. In this photo she's feeding a 22 year-old tortoise that lives in her family's backyard in La Puente.




TYLER COON, PRODUCER

Tyler is a USC Film Production student who comes from the great state of Massachusetts. He attended undergrad at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he majored in communication. Since then, Tyler has worked both behind and in-front of the camera, writing, directing, shooting, editing and producing over a 100 hours of corporate video and social media content. He loves sports, cooking and home-improvement projects. His favorite food is donuts!



MIKE WERNER, PRODUCER

Mike Werner is a filmmaker originally from northeast Ohio. After spending years in front of a computer screen as a software developer, he decided to switch career paths and pursue his MFA at the University of Southern California, focusing on producing and directing. He also loves all sports, trivia competitions, Carly Rae Jepsen, and buying more books than he will possibly read.



THOM KRISTENSEN, CINEMATOGRAPHER

Thom Kristensen is a filmmaker and cinematographer currently completing his MFA in Film Production at USC. He graduated from the University of Chicago with Honors from the School of Cinema and Media Studies in 2021. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Thom is a painter, wannabe DJ, and avid horror fanatic.



KEVIN MCAULIFFE, SOUND MIXER

Kevin has been handling microphones since the age of 14. He has lived many lives, including being an actor, an improvisor, a jazz bass player, a bartender and water slide operator, before embracing sound after arriving at USC Cinema. At USC, he is a student mixer and was currently one of the sound people for the 546 production of ‘Deadly Duels XII’. He is the former reigning champion of movie trivia at The Music Box Theater in Chicago, IL and is a proud member of The Osage Nation. 



OCÉANE BOUHIER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

Océane was born in Guadeloupe and raised in St. Barths. At age 15, she left the Caribbean beaches for the concrete jungle of New York City to attend high school. She later obtained a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Anthropology from Concordia University in Montreal. After returning to NYC, Océane pursued a career in the film industry, initially working for a director of photography and later assisting a director at Nickelodeon.



ARIC LOPEZ, EDITOR

Aric Lopez is an MFA in Film and Television Production student at USC. He‘s a lifelong So-Cal native whose interests lie in exploring the complex relationships people have with their environments, finding threads between history, culture, and memory to make connections with the world around us.



DEREK MANANSALA, EDITOR

Derek Manansala is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He studied Civil Engineering at Rutgers University and was a Walt Disney Imagineer before pursuing an MFA in Film & TV Production at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, focusing on writing and post-production. A comedy writer and performer at heart, he completed the improv and sketch programs at the Upright Citizens Brigade NY, and also trained at the Magnet Theater, Annoyance Brooklyn, and The Groundlings. He recently wrote on The Pack Theater’s weekend sketch team, “Speakeasy," and has performed live at the Del Close Marathon, UCB, the PIT, and various New York basements. As of last week, he enjoys eating butter lettuce for its high vitamin K content.

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