Saturday, May 1, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Melissa Del Rosario, a Filipino Spanish American woman, couldn’t identify with movie stars growing up because actresses who looked like her typically weren’t featured on the big screen.
That has been part of her inspiration in launching a career in film production, where the 24-year-old UNLV student produced and recently sold a movie with a diverse cast, including a Chinese-American woman lead.
Del Rosario, who graduates in two weeks, is believed to be the first UNLV film student to sell a feature film.
“When I saw the first cut of the movie, I cried. I was like, it’s so good, it’s so compelling,” Del Rosario said.
In 2018, Del Rosario and her team began producing “Take Out Girl,” a film about a Chinese-American woman who delivers drugs in takeout bags from her family’s struggling restaurant with hopes of saving the business and giving the family a better life. The film has been screened in more than 40 festivals and has won 20 awards, including best director, actress and film at the Las Vegas Black Film Festival.
The film was acquired by 1091 Pictures, a studio based in New York and Los Angeles, after the distribution company saw it at The American Black Film Festival.
“It’s really good to have people like that who believe in you and stand by you and are pushing your product. It’s definitely a wonderful thing because if not, we’d be on Facebook every day trying to get people to watch our movie,” said Alberto Triana, executive producer and director of photography for the film.
Del Rosario, Triana and the rest of their team — Hisonni Mustafa Johnson, co-writer and director, and Hedy Wong, co-writer and lead actress — made the film on a limited budget. It was a diverse group — Triana is Latino, Mustafa Johnson is Black and Wong is Asian. The film is based on Wong’s life.
“We were making sure we had all these different perspectives so every step of the way the film was as universal as it could be,” Triana said.
Del Rosario initially met Mustafa Johnson at a film screening she organized at Eclipse Theaters in downtown Las Vegas. She put together the screening starting in 2017 to promote films produced by women, students and diverse filmmakers.
“She was bringing the city together in a really big way,” Mustafa Johnson said.
That relationship led Mustafa Johnson to send Del Rosario the script for “Take Out Girl,” right around the time “Crazy Rich Asians” was released in 2018.
“We finally had this Asian American movie, but it’s really not what us Asian Americans are like. I’m not crazy rich, no one in my family is crazy,” Del Rosario said. “But, I feel like you might know someone in (“Take Out Girl”). I know someone who is like our lead actress, I know someone like her mom, it could be any of my friends’ moms. The brother in the movie is like my brother. They’re based on real people.”
That’s especially true of Wong, whom Del Rosario — the oldest of nine children — felt she could relate to. After all, Del Rosario would also go to extremes for the betterment of her family.
“This woman is smart, and she’s driven and she’s going to figure out a way to help her family, and I feel like that a lot of the time. I would do anything for my family,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario was on set for every shot of filming, handling the schedule and scouting locations. She networked to get the movie seen, which was a challenge in 2020 when theaters closed because of the global pandemic.
“If not for the pandemic, it would have been in theaters around the country,” Mustafa Johnson said
Most of the scenes were filmed in Las Vegas, although the story is set in Los Angeles. The movie opens in a classroom on UNLV campus, thanks to Warren Cobb, associate chair of UNLV’s film department, who allowed the team to film there.
Some scenes were filmed in a rented restaurant space in the Sahara Shopping Center. Some were filmed at Eclipse Theaters. The team also shot a few scenes in Riverside, Calif., where Del Rosario was born and lived until she moved to Las Vegas to attend UNLV.
Del Rosario is considering graduate school, but is more interested in continuing on the film production path she already started as an undergraduate student.
“I just want to keep making movies,” she said.
“Take Out Girl” will be available for streaming May 18 and can be pre-ordered at geni.us/TakeOutGirl.