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Manuel Velásquez talks new film ‘Un Regalo Esencial’ and shooting in Costa Rica

As an in-demand cinematographer, Manuel Velásquez collaborates with teams of talented filmmakers every day to achieve stunning imagery on every project he takes on. He is extremely versatile, working on narrative films, commercials, music videos, and more, with the singular goal of entertaining the masses. He is an artist and a storyteller, with tremendous passion for what he does.

“People have many problems in life and often film and television help them to think of solutions or at least put their minds somewhere else for a moment,” he said.

Hailing from Medellin, Colombia, Velásquez is known in his country and abroad for his extraordinary talent as a cinematographer. His work on commercials for the digital marketing brand Honey and Jeep Cherokee have been enjoyed by millions around the world, as has his contributions to music videos “Siempre Diva Nunca Indiva” by Ami Rodriguez and “Parrapa” by El Feeling, and an endless array of impactful films.

“Cinematography is a very complex craft. I love that every day is different. One day you are shooting in a desert and the next you are at a soundstage with air-conditioning. You travel and get to know a lot of different cultures. No two jobs are alike, so there are no formulas, there’s a unique way to approach every situation and this requires me to keep updated. Technology changes very often so the learning process is endless. I love learning new things, so this job is perfect for me,” he said.

The highlight of Velásquez’s esteemed career came just last year when he took on the feature film Un Regalo Esencial. Written by Elizabeth Soto-Lara and Jose Mario Salas, Velásquez was immediately intrigued by the story of the movie, which takes place in the year 2025, when Alejandro tells his grandson Josue a story he is reading in a book about a singer and a dancer who fell in love in 1985, but love represents much more than ambition.

“I thought it was a lovely story with a good lesson about relationships. The story shows how sometimes men are very dominant in their relationships and make huge mistakes with women. When sexism finds a place, how important is it for women to speak up and empower themselves against this. And how sometimes we confuse true love with other kinds of feelings, or we get obsessed with people that maybe are not for us. All these ingredients left a very good message in the audience and it relates with their own romantic experiences,” said Velásquez.

Velásquez travelled to Costa Rica to shoot this musical. He read the script many times before starting work on the film, knowing the story inside and out when it came time to design the shots with the director. One of the challenges was creating a visual difference between the two time frames of the film, the 80’s and 2025. They decided to go with the color palette, making the future towards the greens and cold tones and the past with a vivid warmer style. During the principal photography, everything was about achieving what they designed and being efficient with time. He spent long hours every night checking the dailies and making sure the color from the camera was already close to what they wanted. This helped with the color grading and sped up the process. Critics were vastly impressed with the results, saying that very few movies from Costa Rica had such a look.

“I loved having the chance to visit Costa Rica and know its beautiful people. They are amazing and will give you the warmest welcome anytime. They have spectacular scenery and very talented actors. We were mostly shooting every day or two in a different location so I got to know a lot of new places and dig deep into the culture. It was set in the 80’s and the near future like 2025 so this was a further chance to create unique imagery,” said Velásquez.

Un Regalo Esencial premiered at an Imax theater in San Jose, Costa Rica, and made history by being the first movie made in Central America to be premiered at an Imax theater. It was released on October 18th, 2018 in all theaters in Costa Rica and was distributed by Romaly S.A. and JSB Productions. Right now, the film is being distributed by a US company for home theaters and network tv and it has achieved a 7.3 rating on IMDB, an honor that is difficult to get.

“My dream of working as an international cinematographer is becoming a reality and this movie was the start of this entire journey. I feel very proud of the people who worked in Un Regalo Esencial as we made a magical film,” he concluded.

Keep an eye out for Un Regalo Esencial when it hits theatres in the United States.

1st Photo by Sergio Mantilla

2nd Photo by Emanuell Sarriera

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