Last month, when most students were heading home for Thanksgiving break, Leila Chediak (‘17) was on her way to Madrid for an altogether different type of family celebration. The occasion? The premiere of La Reina de España (The Queen of Spain), a Fernando Trueba directed comedy which Chediak worked on as a production assistant in the spring of her junior year. “It was very special to reunite with that entire crew and see my boss again,” she shared. “It’s a very family oriented, close-knit community that developed in those three months on set. And It was the first time I that I got to watch it, which was really cool.”
For Chediak, a native of Miami, Florida, show-business runs in her blood. Her father, Nat Chediak, a Grammy winning Latin-Jazz producer and film producer, co-founded the Miami International Film Festival and serves as the director of the nonprofit Coral Gables Art Cinema; her mother, Conchita Espinosa, is a first-time producer for the The Queen of Spain. For her own part, Leila has been a student and long-time lover of film— she’s been both an intern and employee at Coral Gables Art Cinema, and cites the work of Hitchcock, Linklater, and Woody Allen among her primary influences. When Treuba, an oscar award winning director and a family friend whom Chediak regards as “sort of like an uncle” suggested that she come to Spain to work on the set of his latest project, she jumped at the opportunity. “He knew that I was interested in film, so it was kind of easy to put me in” she explained.
La Reina de España is a film within a film, a period-piece set in Franco-era Spain which chronicles the production of an American film based on the life of Queen Isabella I. It’s billed as the sequel to Trueba’s 1998 film La niña de tus ojos (released in the US as The Girl of Your Dreams), and sees Penelope Cruz reprising her role as Marcena Granada, a Spanish-born, Hollywood starlet. Chediak admits that the process of shooting - which took place on location in Madrid and Budapest - was often more tedious than it was glamorous: “It’s a huge ensemble, and I had to make sure that they’re on set, know where they are. … of course, they’re Spanish and they like to smoke, so it’s a lot of ‘Where’s so and so?’” In addition to her search crew duties, Chediak - who’s fluent in Spanish - also often served as an interpreter between the Spanish and American cast.
Granted, the job was not without some pretty cool moments. One day, when some extras failed to show up to set, she was asked to fill in on the fly: “I shaved my legs in the sink, did my hair and makeup really fast, and they pinned a dress on me,” she recalled. “All I had to do was walk with two extras down a corridor. You don’t really see my face, it’s more about the movement of the legs.”
Chediak also became friendly with Princess Bride star and SLC alum Cary Elwes, who plays a sort of spoof on Cary Grant in the film. Though she admitted, “I didn’t initially know that the had gone to Sarah Lawrence,” the two did have the chance to chat about their alma mater after another cast-mate made the connection: “He’s one of the nicest actors I’ve met,” she said. “He looks back on it fondly and remembers everything— where Westlands is, he can tell you about the Pub… He understands the inner-workings of SLC very well.”
Now back at Sarah Lawrence, Chediak is carrying her on-set experience - and her time studying under Fred Strype, Misael Sanchez, Heather Winters, and the late Gil Perez - to her own projects. She’s currently in the process of editing Constellations, a comedy which she wrote, directed, and produced, and hopes to submit it to film festivals once completed. Looking back, she credits Sanchez’ “Working with Lights and Shadows” course with preparing her for working on a set: “We recreated scenes once a week for five hours. When I went into the set I knew, on at least a basic level, what they were doing, how much time it was gonna take— if I didn’t take that class, I’d be lost.”
Post-Sarah Lawrence, Chediak hopes to pursue a career in screenwriting— a goal she’s had in mind since first watching Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. As for what advice she can offer to film students at SLC, she urged, “know how to network, know your film history, and broaden your horizons when it comes to your courses: From history, to lit, to science, you can take inspiration from wherever you go.”
La Reina de España is tentatively set for a U.S. premiere in 2017.
Frank Chlumsky ‘17