Student Artist Profile: Nick Punales

Santiago Camucho and Punales working on a previous film. Photo courtesy Nick Punales.
Beliz Eryilmaz, Obvious-Lee, and Nick Punales, director, on the Obvious-Lee set. Photo courtesy Nick Punales.

Nick Punales, a senior studying cinema and interactive media, is currently working on his senior year film project, “Obvious-Lee.” The Miami-shot film is an absurdist comedy with a cast and crew of almost exclusively UM students – many of them from the professional cinema fraternity, Delta Kappa Alpha. “Obvious-Lee,” which will run about 20 minutes, was written by Punales with help from his brother Edward Punales, a senior studying journalism at UM.

For this quirky film, Punales drew on YouTube sketches that he wrote with his brother when they were younger. Together, they created a fantastical world of people with the suffix “Lee” at the end of their names. These characters completely embody their names; Obvious-Lee always points out the obvious, Loud-Lee is outspoken, and Honest-Lee always tells the truth. In this universe, the characters are stuck with these personality traits, cursed to act the way their names suggest.

However, something happens in this universe that disrupts the daily lives of these characters. The film begins when the main character, Obvious-Lee, visits a friend, Beautiful-Lee. Beautiful-Lee, who normally has flawless skin, develops a rash on her face, and Lone-Lee, who never has romantic luck, starts making matches on her dating app. The characters eventually realize that the problem is much larger than themselves: The leader of their world, Ultimate-Lee, is sick.

“Ultimate-Lee is dying,” Punales said. “And it’s tearing apart the very fabric of their world.”

The film becomes a quest, following the characters’ journey to find the cure for Ultimate-Lee’s illness.

But the film delves much deeper into the characters and their personalities. Throughout the quest, they must find identities independent of the labels their names once were. The film revolves around the characters trying to return their world to normal, but, as Nick said, “learning along the way that normal perhaps isn’t always the best way.”

Punales wasn’t always set on being a filmmaker. He started UM as a nursing major and took a film class to fulfill an elective. His professor at the time, Jim Virga, gave him the confidence to take higher-level production classes and, eventually, switch his major to pursue film as a career.

From this introductory class, Punales became consumed by the creative magic of film.

“It’s the thing I finally understood,” he said. “I have a clear and perfect way of expressing myself through the visual media.”

Santiago Camucho and Punales working on a previous film. Photo courtesy Nick Punales.

Above all else, Punales loves film’s ability to entertain people and offer them an escape from their everyday lives. He especially appreciates films that combine an important message with fantastical elements, allowing viewers to “look at things that are relevant to [them] from a new perspective.”

That’s what Nick hopes to achieve with “Obvious-Lee.”

In shooting the film, Nick certainly met obstacles. Weather is always an issue – rain delayed several of his shoots – and coordinating the schedules of 12 actors was extremely difficult. Yet by the end of the week’s shoots, Punales had all the material he needed.

Through his courses at UM and membership in Delta Kappa Alpha, Punales gained the confidence to create films. After graduation, he hopes to study film at graduate school in Los Angeles – the cinema capital of the United States.

Punales wants to continue directing and possibly pursue cinematography, as he loves the personal connections he is able to make with the actors. And he loves the element of empathy involved in directing.

“It’s about understanding people and finding a way for people to understand you,” he said.

The film stars DKA members and seniors Beliz Eryilmaz, Samantha Ferrand and Edward Punales. Don’t miss the premiere of his film at the Canes Film Festival this May at the Cosford Cinema, right here on campus.