UI grad steps into film

BY CASSIDY RILEY | MAY 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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In an industry characterized by attention-seeking stars and brand-name directors, Jesse Heisel says he wants to work his way into Hollywood by letting his films speak for him.

Heisel leans against braces as he walks to hold himself up on legs that aren't able to work quite right — a lifelong side effect of a breech birth resulting in brain damage that hinders his leg mobility. In a clean-cut blue collar polo, Heisel has an unassuming presence, but after only a few minutes speaking with him, it becomes clear how articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate he is about film.

"I don't have to be a household name. I'm fine with that," he said. "I care more that my movies go out and are remembered in history."

Heisel's first full-length independent feature film, Mello, will première at 8 p.m. May 12 at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. Admission is $12.

Mello is a boy-meets-girl story that takes a turn away from the traditional romantic comedy by addressing serious issues. Heisel said he tries to avoid clichés and put messages in his films that address important social concerns, such as domestic violence and drug abuse.

"It deals with real issues [such as] bullying, getting over issues of your past, your own violence in the past," said Sarah Tate who edited Heisel's film. "That's not something you see in a traditional teen romantic comedy."

Mello is the beginning of a group of three to four independent films Heisel plans to build for himself before moving to Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Iowa last semester with a degree in cinema and a minor in theater. He hopes to one day write and direct horror films for Lions Gate Entertainment.

While at the UI, Heisel directed a TV horror series for UI Student Video Productions called "Dark Wings."Mello, being a romantic comedy, was outside of his comfort zone, but he said his budget of about $3,400 was better suited for that genre.

His next film will be a horror movie marketed toward women, a demographic he said is generally not targeted in the horror industry.

"I don't like how [horror movies] just belittle women when it comes to the unnecessary sexuality and nudity," he said.

Heisel said his films never include sex scenes because he feels they have become a new kind of cliché. The killers in his next movie will be strong women because he wants to show both sexes can be terrifying.

Jessica Murillo, who plays the lead female role in Mello, has also worked with Heisel on an Iowa City Shorts film and an episode of "Dark Wings." She said she really enjoys the family atmosphere he creates on set, even when the cast and crew run into problems.

"He never gets mad. He doesn't raise his voice," she said. "I think he doesn't find any benefit as to why he should. He would rather spend his time and energy in trying to troubleshoot something rather than just getting mad." 

Heisel said his only hope will always be to make an audience feel something because of his movies, whether that be the romance of a movie such as Mello or terror from the "Dark Wings" series.

"I actually saw someone cringing under their jacket [when watching one of my episodes], and that made me feel good," he said. "I've always enjoyed scaring people. It's just funny. "

When: 8 p.m. May 12
Where: Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $12

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