A local 'Powder' keg



The man with the bullhorn standing in the middle of the downtown intersection doesn’t have permission to be there. Not according to the City of San Antonio, anyway. What he does have, however, is a rented police officer who has stopped traffic in all four directions. A stuntman is driving one car and his father is driving another. He has a hand-held radio, on which he just told the drivers to crash into each other when he says “Action.” He has a professional photographer in place. He has that bullhorn. And he has a vision.

That’s all Buddy Calvo needed to shut down the intersection of St. Mary’s and Pecan to film a pivotal scene for his new movie, The Powderkids, which opens Thursday night at the Santikos Palladium theater. It’s his first full-length feature, but spend five minutes with him, and you’ll know that it won’t be his last.

Together with his girlfriend and producing partner, Perla Rivera, Calvo founded the independent film company Machina Cinema in 2006. They started with nothing but a little bit of money in Rivera’s savings account, which she used to buy Calvo his first camera and a Mac for editing. They made several short films with the help of their producing partner, Joe Gallegos III, casting mostly their friends and shooting scenes locally. But Calvo wasn’t happy with the results. He felt confident in the strength of his writing and stories, but when he watched his footage at the end of the day, the image quality looked cheap and the cinematography, amateur at best.

It was amateur, after all. Calvo had dropped out of UTSA, where he was studying international business and theater. He credits (or curses, depending on the day) filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without A Crew as his inspiration.

Enter Darren Abate, a local professional photographer who shoots for the San Antonio Rampage, the Spurs, and Getty Images. Abate had worked with young filmmakers before, only to be disappointed when the principals lost interest and the projects fizzled. He accepted Calvo’s job on one condition: a promise that, no matter what, the film would get finished. Calvo’s confidence — bordering on cockiness, by his own admission — convinced Abate he wouldn’t be wasting his time. 

And Abate’s technical ingenuity convinced Calvo he’d made the right choice. Abate started playing around with a new still camera he had just bought, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which also captures video. Utilizing his wide array of professional camera lenses, he found a combination that allows the fairly inexpensive Mark II (in the $3,000 neighborhood) to mimic video cameras of much higher quality. The result is a sharp, deep-focus effect that gives Powderkids a look that’s far more professional than its newbie filmmakers.

Calvo and crew turned their new lens on the story of Lucas, a struggling college student who decides to return to his hometown in search of the inspiration he needs to finish his writing thesis and finds that his high-school friends have fallen in with the local drug scene.

Calvo gets annoyed when people tell him that great movies can only be made in places that already have an established film industry. Although he continues to be inspired by the knowledge that a great director like Robert Rodriguez could come out of San Antonio, he’s also aggravated that Rodriguez left San Antonio, taking his talent and resources to Austin’s more vibrant filmmaking scene.

Calvo’s dream is to do what Rodriguez didn’t — stay in San Antonio and help to build a movie industry that rivals any in America. Although his stories aren’t “about” San Antonio, he sees no reason why they can’t be filmed here. He describes a vision in which, several movies down the road, Machina Cinema has enough capital to buy the Crossroads Mall and turn it into a studio, where every shop space is a soundstage, each with a different set. The food court will stay, of course, to be used for craft services. And at the heart of it all, the Bijou theater — already a home for independent, foreign, and art-house films — which could be used for screenings and premieres. Calvo can’t figure out why somebody hasn’t already done it. But he’s glad they haven’t, because he plans to. •

The Powderkids
7pm Aug 19 & 26
Santikos Palladium Theatre

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