The cast was surprised by the physical similarities between Hernandez and the actor. "I always say I was meant to be in this project," said Del Rio, who has appeared in an ad for the TV show "Jersey Shore."
Director Savoca and Del Rio worked for free last September to shoot the film on location in Brooklyn. Other cast members, all camera crews and production equipment were also donated.
Post-production was completed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as Hernandez worked for several weeks without electricity at his house.
"It was a wonderful collaboration, which Scenarios USA fosters," said Savoca. "They really respond to the voice of the young writer -- and Luis had a story in his heart."
"It was a really nurturing and warm experience," said Savoca, 53, and the mother of three adult children. "He had a story to tell and he was very articulate. My job was to listen and make sure we were doing everything in keeping with his vision."
After she read his short story and prepared to make the screenplay, Savoca said she was surprised by Hernandez's vision.
"I asked Luis what this movie was about," she said. "I was expecting him to say that a kid's got a weight problem and people don't understand him and he feels isolated with no friends. … Instead, it was about appreciation and gratitude, and I thought 'Oh, my god, this is a special kid.' He was going to go deep into the story."
The film reflects his sense of humor. "Luis was very imaginative and funny," she said. "It wasn't heavy drama."
Savoca said she continues to stay in touch with Hernandez by text and email.
"I am excited to see him step into the world," she said. "It's an incredible adventure and a challenge. He comes from a tight-knit family and is going away to school. I see much growth for him and his family."
Hernandez said making the film has, indeed, changed his life, giving him new confidence.
"Back when I was 300 pounds, I struggled to see myself as a person," he said. "My mom is quoted in the film: "You can be the most handsome man in the world, but if you don't see value in yourself, no one else will."
"We tend to beat ourselves up a lot," he said. "I learned that I deserve good things and to be loved."