USA, 2006, Color, 13 minutes
All rights available

Leila is my first screenwriting collaboration with my sister. It came about because we wanted to explore a relationship between a younger woman and an older man that was metaphysical and poetic rather than romantic. We first developed Robbie’s quirks and his obsession with time. Then we had to answer the question — why is Robbie entering Leila’s life at this moment? It all congealed with the idea of Leila shutting down after a traumatic experience and Robbie’s need to open her heart before it’s too late.

Visually, I experimented with two contrasting looks for Leila. The salsa club is where Leila enjoys her passion and where she is most alive. It’s a warm place, with fully saturated reds. Leila’s coffee shop, however, represents the empty state of Leila’s heart. It’s literally empty; she has no customers. For colors, it’s very desaturated and cool.

For these two different looks, I turned to Edward Hopper. I am continuously inspired by the colors and framing of his artwork. His simple paintings well capture the human condition and speak volumes; women stare wistfully into the distance—women who are obviously so utterly alone. Their souls squelched, the subjects’ yearning is palpable. Yet there’s always a small flame of hope in their eyes… a constant look into the distance searching for that thing or person that would bring them an escape.

This is the place where Leila is in her element. Sexy and talented, Leila flourishes when she is on the dance floor. I wanted the look of the salsa club to reflect her passion as well as that heart-throbbing feeling one gets when s/he steps inside a salsa club. Highly saturated warm colors, like reds and yellows, evoke the smoldering atmosphere and the sensual nature of the dance. When salsa dancers move, it’s almost as if they are of one body. Therefore, I wanted the colors of the set to blend with the colors of wardrobe so that it feels as if it’s one unit. The lighting is low and red to create a mysterious air to the club. It’s a place where anything can happen, exciting… or bad.

As the metaphor for Leila’s heart after her painful experience on the dance floor, the look of the coffee shop differs starkly with the look of the salsa club. The coffee shop is lifeless and is the place where Leila is trapped by her own unwillingness to confront the past and move forward. It’s a place with cool colors, but monochromatic and barren, like paintings of the fall and winter seasons.

If you look carefully at the production design, you’ll notice Leila’s obsession with numbers all over – the canisters behind the counter, her shirts. And a really observant eye will notice that in the opening pan of the coffee shop, before her attack, the canisters behind the counter are orderly and logically numbered. But in the rest of the movie, the cans are relabeled with random numbers… numbers that turn up in Robbie’s dialogue…