Kevin L. Williams, 41, writer/director, Sandwich:
First of all, is Alzheimer’s something that you personally have had some experience with, or how did the idea come about?
Well, yes and yes. The idea came about because we had a friend who was in this particular situation several years ago, and she actually she was a single mother and her mother had — well, still has Alzheimer’s, actually, and was living with her for like nine years and kind of disrupted her life. And she would tell us these really sad stories, and she would tell us funny stories. And sometimes she could laugh at her own situation, and my wife said, “You know, you ought to write a story about that.” And so I started writing it. And I even asked the friend, I said, “Is this okay?” She said, “Yeah,” ’cause it wasn’t really about her, but I kind of based some of the ideas off of stories that she told me about dealing with her illness and her mother and not having her own life. You know, she wasn’t a painter or anything like that, but it kinda started from there. And I tell you what, it, as a writer, it’s the only time — I’ve written a bunch of screenplays, Brian, but I’ll tell you what, this is the only time I felt like the muse was talking to me, because I felt like I wasn’t just writing a character, I actually felt like Molly was talking to me, because it was so effortless writing this story. I mean, really incredible. Yeah. And, to date, I do have, one of my family members — and I don’t really want to say, in case they read it — but one of my close family members actually does indeed have the early stages of Alzheimer’s, so it affects us right now.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
No, it’s okay. Just got to deal with it.
This is your first film, right?
Yes, this is my first feature.
Have you made any shorts or anything before that?
I made one investment sort of trailer. I was trying to get a feature film off the ground about three years ago and I gathered up some actors and I started a relationship with `local talent agency` Condra Artista. That didn’t really go anywhere. And then last summer I made a short film with my friend Manny Garcia. We made a short film about terrorism called Martyr, which was shown at one of the Short Ends programs.
Was that kind of an action movie?
It was a, uh, I would say an action drama about an American suicide bomber. And I actually saw Ann Gerber `who plays Molly in Sandwich` in one of the short films at a previous Short Ends film festival. I tracked her down, chased her out into the hallway, said, “Hey, I’ve got this short film, would you please be in it?” Because, like, I don’t know, I just saw something in her that I figured, even though she’s doing comedy, you know, I bet you she can do drama. And I had her play the suicide bomber. And then when she did that, I went, oh man, she would be perfect for Molly, because I know she can do comedy, and I know she can do drama, and that’s kind of, my piece kind of straddles those two.
Do you have like a film or theater background or anything, or is this just something you’ve been interested in?
I’m totally self-taught. I mean, I’ve always watched movies, I’ve been a movie buff, obsessed with movies — and not only movies, but the history of movies — my whole life, but about seven years ago … Uh, quick background: I was in the military from about age 21, and I was in the first Desert Storm, and I was a firefighter in the Air Force. And then, after that I came back to San Antonio and had the `good` fortune `of getting hired at` what used to be Kelly Air Force Base. And I was a civilian firefighter out there, and I worked there for about seven-and-a-half years, as a G.S, civilian. And while I was out there I finished my criminal-justice degree, and then a year later I applied for and got hired with the Secret Service, and I was a special agent investigator for almost three years. And I was single when I went in, and then I really wanted to have a family, and after 9/11 — actually, I was supposed to be in Tower II the week after, for the UN — I said, you know what? I just wanna be a family guy. I was in one dangerous profession, now I’m in another, and I just wanted to get out of that.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wow.
This whole time … And while I was in the Secret Service, though, that’s when I started writing as like a creative outlet, because my job was so left-brained. I really wanted to do something, so I said, well, let me just try to write screenplays. So, it started as a creative exercise, and then after a while I started to get good feedback, and I thought, well, man, maybe I can actually do this.
That’s amazing. I mean, I don’t know, you seem like such a “nice guy” — I mean, uh, Secret Service and military — it’s surprising.
Yeah, it is a little weird. I told my wife, I said, maybe I should write a character `based on` myself, but nobody’s gonna believe it. You know, I’ve got like two black belts in martial arts, and things like that, and nobody gonna believe that stuff. It’s like yeah, right, and he’s changing diapers.
You say you’ve got two black belts in martial arts?
Yeah, that’s been a big passion in my life, is martial arts, as well. I dabbled in a lot of different styles, I dabbled in some Jiu Jitsu, but my first black belt I got in a style called Kung Jung Mu Sool. It’s just like Kuk Sool Won. It’s Korean martial arts; it has similar kicks to Taekwondo, but it’s very defensive, there’s a lot of joint-locks, pressure points, joint manipulation, things like that, and they do a lot of weapons. And so I got a first-degree black belt in that and then trained in some other styles for a little while, and then, most recently, I got a black belt in Taekwondo a couple years ago. But the last couple years, I really haven’t done anything, I just kind of practiced on my own.
So you can totally kill a dude.
Oh, no, I mean, I’m — I’m okay, I guess. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Good to know. And you also teach, uh, philosophy, right? No, sociology, I’m sorry …
… at Northwest Vista. What does your schedule like? How do you balance making a living, and making films? Do you just come home and go right to work?
Yeah, you know what? I’m so passionate, and I’m a very goal-oriented, very proactive individual. So, I’ve been writing seriously since 2000, and kind of what was happening was, I was writing screenplays, `but` I didn’t have any way to sell them or get them to someone in Hollywood. I started getting frustrated and I said, you know what? I’m just going to make my own movie. Once I said that, I just didn’t stop. And so, basically — I have a super-supportive wife. The only way I’m able to really do this is because my wife is so understanding; she’s just so, so wonderful. But basically, I work at researching or some aspect of my craft every single day. For seven years, there’s not been one single day that I haven’t tried to learn something. And I mean every single day, Brian. I don’t ever take a break. I mean, ever. Even if that’s just watching a movie and I’m watching the editing style, or thinking about how to work with actors or reading an article, because all of that kinda goes in the hopper, you know? And usually when I write, I write, like, you know, after hours when my kids are asleep, or I get up in the morning, or usually I work late. I’m a night owl. And then again, when we were doing the filming, there was a lot of time where I just had to, you know, kinda tell my wife, “Look, I won’t be here for like these two days,” but she was understanding.
Do you mind if I ask how old you are?
I just turned 41.
I wanted to ask how long it took, from the point where you got the idea to where you started putting it down on the page, to the finished product.
I wrote the script, probably, I think, in late 2002, maybe finished up in 2003, and then I put it away. I let my wife read it and my mother-in-law read it, and I let the lady read it who I kind of based it on, and then I put it away, and I never thought I would ever even make it into a movie or anything. It was just kind of like I just wrote it for me. Flash forward — well, okay, I was trying to get another film off the ground, I was trying to get a martial-arts film, a martial-arts drama. I was trying to raise like a million dollars or so, and I was close to getting financing and then it fell through, and then, when I realized that I still wanted to make a movie but I needed to make something on a `smaller` scale, especially since all I’d done is a little short film and an investment trailer, I `said`, I need to tackle something that has fewer locations, fewer characters, and that can be more personal. So, last September, I started thinking about it and thinking about it, and I talked to my friend Javier, and we went into preproduction in October — we did a month of preproduction — and basically we cast it early November, and then we, our first day of actual filming was on the 12th, the same day as the screening `but a year previous to it`. So, we finished up the beginning of January this year; we shot on weekends, every weekend with the exception of, I think we didn’t shoot on Thanksgiving, and we didn’t shoot on Christmas and we didn’t shoot on New Year’s Eve. But every other weekend, Saturday and Sunday, we were always shooting, and a couple — sometimes we’d shoot maybe like a few hours on a Wednesday, something like that. And then, after that, it kind of sat for a while, because I needed to buy a hard drive. It was right after Christmas; I couldn’t afford a hard drive. So we didn’t start editing until about late March. And then, editing kind of went slow, but then it picked back up in the middle of summer. So, basically, from March until … well, you know, just right before we finished the screening `laughs`.
Can you talk about the struggle to obtain financing? There are these videotapes about making low-budget films, and they talk about like, yeah, you know, a low-budget film is like a million dollars, and you’re like, what are you talking about? I can’t raise a million dollars. How did you pay for the film? Did you get investors, or did you max out your credut cards or what?
Yeah, you know, this is one of those labors of love where everybody gave of their time and my wife and I gave of our money. Well, I mean, I was going to have an investor, and I was going to try to raise like about ten or fifteen thousand dollars, but then that fell through in the 11th hour. And what Javier and I did, we set a start date, we said, “No matter if we have money or not, we’re going to shot this thing.” Turns out that we didn’t have any money, but I knew, I knew that I had access to professional actors, and I knew that I had access to some people that had equipment, and I just felt the story was strong enough and I said, you know what? We’re going to be able to get this thing made. So my wife was cooking food for the cast and crew every weekend, the house that you see in there was my house, the car that Molly drives is the car I’m actually sitting in right now as I talk to you, uh, the little kid you might’ve seen running in the scene where she says, “Robbie don’t put that in your … !” — my son, my other son … was the skater kid you just saw go by the camera. Yeah, I mean, so … We shot some at my father’s house, and we shot at the college. But as a first-time filmmaker, you know, it’s difficult, definitely, trying to find financing, but I think that if you have a small project that you can do, and that’s strong enough, you can still make it. And I was inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s book. And that book, I’d never read it before, but I bought it right before we started shooting and I read it, I said you know what? He had seven grand — of course, he shot on film, too, but I guarantee if that’d been now, he even says that he would have shot it on digital video.
What’s the book called?
Uh, Rebel Without a Cause. No, Rebel Without a Crew.
Do you mind if I ask what your budget was?
Um, my budget was — and I have trouble estimating — if I had to estimate, it was definitely under $7,000, for sure. For sure.
One of my questions was about the cast and crew — friends and family, or did you audition?
I had two people in mind for their roles specifically. It was Anne, when I met her, and I never offered the role to anyone else, and also, John Caballero, because I worked with John Caballero on that little investment trailer, a great actor from Dallas. At first I approached Manny Garcia, but my friend Manny, he just had other time commitments and he just couldn’t do it. But in the back of my mind I always had John, because I knew that John was a great actor, I just didn’t know how much time John had either, because he works a lot in Dallas. But then I called John, and I said hey, I sent him the script, and he said sure. After that, I did hold auditions. I held auditions for everybody else. I had actors and then I had an audition process, where we definitely had rehearsals, because my one goal that Javier and I always talked about was that even if we have a low budget, we’re gonna try to make this as professional as possible, take the approach of having professional actors, and having professional production values and, you know, as much as we can get on the screen and be as professional as possible, that’s what we wanted to do, because we did not want to make an amateurish film, ’cause unfortunately there’s too many out there. And also, looking forward to, in order for a film like this to actually compete in the marketplace out there, without any name stars, then it has to have at least great acting and a great story and good sound and all that, because otherwise it’s not going to go anywhere.
Obviously, the two main characters are female, but did you consider acting yourself? Or, since you have martial-arts training, were you supposed to be an actor in the other film? Are you interested in acting at all?
No. No no no. Not at all. Not at all. I’m not even interested in being a stunt person. No, I totally am in love with creating the characters and writing them and then seeing them come to life. No, I had no idea to pull a Hitchcock and come out from behind the shadows, “Ooh hoo hoo!”
Well, sort of on the same kind of tangent, can you talk about directing actors? Is it kind of scary? Is it a little intimidating at first?
I have to say, you know, just like anything else, before shooting, I read and researched a lot about working with actors. I got a great book by Judith Weston, who’s a premier acting coach out in L.A.; it’s called Directing Actors. But more than that, I realize that acting is about communication, and I think I’m that a great communicator, I think I’m a very empathetic person. And also, since I teach, I’m used to talking with people and conveying ideas to them. And also, I consider myself a leader, and I think that a director has to be a leader, and I have to also be the audience for the actors, so I found that it was a wonderful, wonderful process, and I was never nervous because I knew that my intention was always to take care of my actors, to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel welcome, to make them feel like they’re doing the best job, and that I really want them, that they can bring what they need to bring and give them the room to create the character. I worked with Anne from the very beginning. We had a lot with Anne and Martha, and I said, “This is your character. Yeah, I wrote it, blah, blah, blah, but I’m not married to my words. I took off my writer hat, I’m the director now, but it’s your character. I want us to go on that journey together.”
Was there a lot of improvising?
We stuck to the script, but I did give them room to bring things, if they would say, hey, look, can we change this line, can we try this, can we try that, I was always open to that, always open to that. There were some lines that we improvised, but other lines that the actors would come up with and I would change my lines, because I would say, “You know what? My line sucks, your line is much better. Let’s use yours.” Actually, the whole idea — I’m going to give props to Anne — the whole idea of talking to the screen, breaking the fourth wall, that was Anne’s idea, because I originally wrote it all in voiceover, all in Molly’s head. And then she said, “Well, can we say it to the camera?” And I went, “Huh.” And then I went back and watched High Fidelity, and I said, you know what? It could work. So I said, let’s just do it. So we decided, I think we did about 50 and 50. I think 50 perent was to the camera, 50 percent was voiceover.
Who ended up editing the film?
Initially, a post-production house was going to edit the film for us totally, and because they have, you know, we were a non-paying gig, and there were some other paying products which, of course, had to take priority, but I was kind of behind my timeline and I thought, you know, I really would like to go ahead and get this thing edited. So actually, `SA Film Commission Director` Drew Mayer-Oaks lent me his Mac computer, and I bought a Final Cut Pro book, but basically I edited the rough cut having never edited anything before. Basically, for the summer I was working on the editing, and then I got with `Rodolfo Fernandez`, who is my production-sound person and also my wonderful composer and sound designer, and he was there through the whole process, he helped me really refine all the stuff at the end. And I will say this: I think one reason I was able to at least put together a pretty decent rough cut was because I watched the dailies of my tapes, every day I took notes and I watched, I knew those dailies `intimately`, man, I knew every inch of my footage, and I would sit at night and close my eyes and visualize the entire movie in my head. Rodolfo was so instrumental — there would be no film if it wasn’t for Rodolfo helping me edit. I wanted to give him front edit credit, but he said, “No, no, no. You put your name there.”
As a first-timer, did you study up on filmmaking, or did you just sort of have confidence that you could put your ideas across?
It’s just like anything else. It’s just like as a writer, you gather up all this research, and then at a certain point you’ve got to throw it all away and then just plunge in yourself. And the same thing with this, is that you know, after reading books — and I didn’t really read that many books on editing, but I watched a lot of movies. One movie that I watched which has no bearing on this is Traffic, which got an Academy Award for editing. And it’s one of the films that I show in my class, but I watched it over and over and over, and I watched other films where I liked the pace of the editing and the style of the cuts. For a while, I watched, oh God, I don’t know how many films and T.V. shows, dramatic T.V. shows are things that I would watch, which would kind of give me an idea of editing and pacing and cutting shot to shot. And then the rest of that is that, again, I was so confident in my footage, I said, you know, I know I’ve got a good story and I know how I want it to look, so I’m just gonna plunge in. But I just have to say this, Brian, I believe in being prepared. I think that if anybody’s going to take on a project, I don’t care if it’s a short film or a feature, they have to do their homework. That’s sometimes where filmmakers fall short. They don’t take the time to research everything and try to get as much information as they can and watch as many things as they can and try to really learn and really put in the time. I think if you do that, you’re only going to benefit yourself, I think.
Was it hard to get locations?
We were going to film at a Starbucks, and my wife works for Strabucks, but at the last minute she couldn’t get permission because they were going to be too busy at the time that I wanted to film — it just wasn’t going to work out timewise. So she walked in`to Cold Stone Creamery` and she said, “Hey, my husband’s filming a movie. Can we film here?” They were like, “Sure.” You know, just that easy. You know, and I’m a true believer; if you don’t ask, you’re not gonna know. And there were some other places that we asked which were like, “Well … we don’t really wanna …” But you know, that’s okay. It just wasn’t meant to be at those other places.
What is it like at the screening? I mean, the lights go down, everyone kind of shifting in their seats, getting ready to watch the movie. I mean, it’s not like theater, it’s not like theater, you can’t deliver a line differently based on someone else reaction on opening night — but at the same time, it’s not like you’re going to forget all your lines. For better or worse, you can’t do anything more, it’s out your hands. Does that make you more relaxed, or does that make you less relaxed?
`Laughs` I was … I really just wanted people to like it and to be entertained and to be moved by it. And the whole time through this process, I really, I would watch the dailies and I would find myself choked up and emotional, and I said, you know what? If I’m getting emotional, somebody else has to be moved. I have to be moving one person. By the time we got everything finished, Rodolfo and I looked at each other, we said, we know we’ve got a good film, and we think that people will respond to it and be moved by it, so, really, it’s in God’s hands, it’s out of our hands, and nothing to do but sit there. Now, when the lights did go down, I sat there … I’m sitting in there for a while, 10 minutes in, and nobody’s saying anything, I told my wife, “God, do they hate it? Is a tomato gonna fly and hit me in the head?” But then I heard the lady next me, at one of the emotional points, she was crying, and I went, “Aw, OK. Yes.” Not like I wanted her to be upset, but she was involved in the movie, and I thought, OK, that’s good.
Is there a next movie, and what are the steps for that? And how long, as an indie filmmaker, before you do a zombie movie?
Aw, it’s so funny, because my producer — I don’t have a zombie movie, but Javier `laughs` actually has a zombie movie. It’s really cool — I’ll probably just help him produce that at some point in time. Actually, next, I’m actually trying to get my martial-arts drama made. Yeah, and this is where I’m hoping to find some potential investors off the strength of this, to help me get that financed. I want to try to finance it privately, so this way I can actually, one, so I can pay everybody up front, because this will be the last non-paying production that I’ve ever done, where people have to come and give of their time. Because there’s so much great talent here in town, Brian, and so many wonderful people and so many talented craftpersons and crew and cast and everything else, and in the surrounding areas, that they deserve to be paid for their work. And so, I as a filmmaker said, now it’s my responsibility to get said budget and make sure that I can pay everybody up front, and also to craft a great film. For my next film I am going to shoot here in San Antonio and I want to, part of it takes place in Seoul, Korea, so I am going to try to hopefully shoot there, but we’ll see. Big canvas on this one.
I guess I didn’t really let it sink in until today, I said, man, wait — we actually made a feature film. With very few resources. I’ll keep you informed on this next project if we get it going. No, no — when we get it going.
Kerry Valderrama, 26, writer/director/actor, Garrison:
How long have you lived in San Antonio?
My family was stationed in San Antonio in eighty … , I would say, ’89-’91, for about two years, my father was stationed down, bought a house, the Gulf War broke out, and then he went overseas, and we ended up moving to South America. Afterward, my family moved back after they retired from the State department, in, I want to say it was 2001, while I was stil stationed in the military in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And after I got out, I moved back here to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, which was last summer. And so, I’ve been living in San Antonio ever since.
Well, then, can we claim you? Are you technically a San Antonio filmmaker?
Oh, absolutely. I was really inspired by seeing all the work that was being done in San Antonio. I met San Antonio filmmakers, which inspired me to say I can, you know, it can be done. You know, a lot of people’ll say “Oh, no, it can’t be done. Whatnot, you gotta get to L.A. … ” No, no. Absolutely not. You can see people in San Antonio who are able to do that. I do claim that.
Do you have a film or theater background?
I started acting when I was 12 years old, and that’s all I ever wanted to do. I used to do forensics competitions until I was younger. And I would compete every year, both internationally and when I was here in the States, until I was 18. And so after that I ended up joining the military, and it kind of went on a back burner for about four years. It was after I got out and I was finishing my undergrad in North Carolina that I started getting back into plays.
Do you keep a day job?
This is what I’m doing right now. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of people just really back the film and allowing me to just work full-time on the film and marketing and getting it into festivals and doing screenings and promotions and whatnot. And then, also talking about what would be a future project to do. And I’m also starring in another independent film that’s being filmed right now in San Antonio, The Judgment of Weeping Mary. It’s another interesting, very, very controversial, religious film. And so we’re doing that, so we’re really, so just very, very excited.
You said this is your first feature a writer-director; did you do any shorts or anything?
I did a short that got picked up for distribution, a religious film titled Judas. I was a film I started up here in Dallas, and actually, I came up here and I met Aaron Marquette, my producer, and J. Lamar, my director of photography, when I came up here. And they were hired through Sermon Spice, which was the distribution company that distributes these short religious films. And so I was talking with them, we just really got along, we just really hit it off, and just started getting into topics of scripts and screenplays and whatnot and so, and I went ahead and told them my script for Garrison. And they both, you know, just really loved the script, and they, you know, “Let’s do this.” And I don’t know what I’m doing. And they said, “Well that’s what you need a producer and an A.D. for. So let’s do this.” So they came down to San Antonio, and they really made it happen. I mean, I had the vision, I had the script, and I knew I wanted to star in it. And I wanted Aaron Marquette to actually direct it, but he was like “No, because you know the story better than anybody, so, you just tell me what you want, and we can really set up the shots and really make that happen for you.” And so it was just a fantastic group, and I was with both of them last night, and I talked to them about what we’re going to do next, so that’s kind of how it happened. So I was really fortunate with being able to get a great team together.
From the time that you actually got the idea until the finished product, how long did that take, and how did that come about?
When I was in Afghanistan, my father sent me an article about one of the murders that had taken place in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where a guy came home and went AWOL, tracked down his wife, killed her, killed the lover, burned down the whole house, and killed himself. And the newspapers were, what they were saying was, is that there was questioning that they were taking malaria pills while we were up in Afghanistan, we were taking anthrax shots while we were up there.
They’re called “Malaria Mondays.” Just to keep us safe, and so, you know, just in case of any diseases or whatnot. Water, contamination of any of the sources that you use for food or whatnot, and so we’d take different kind of pills and so they were afraid that maybe one of the side effects was that it was driving people crazy. I personally, I saw a lot of things that were very `hard on` a lot of the young soldiers. You know, like they’d get home, and everybody was supporting them while they were overseas, and it’s kind of like when they got back, they kind of got forgotten about. And what sucked is, is that a lot of people didn’t want to come home, because they knew what was gonna, you know, once they got back is when the drama really happened in their lives. And not having the proper support groups, the proper places … and so I got back and I started writing about this back in 2003, I started writing just thoughts and whatnot, and one of my main outlets on it were these murders, which I thought was the perfect example of showing how, you know, just troops coming back, not having any support, not feeling they have any other alternative but to take matters into their own hands. … So I started writing different stories and doing background work on the murders and how they took place. And then, in 2004, kind of really got it developed into a solid screenplay, and then, in 2005, really started sending it out to scriptwriters and having them look at it and then saying, you know, we’re trying to get some focus, I wrote this screenplay, could you tell me, look at it, whether or not it’s trash, and give me some feedback. I moved to San Antonio in June. I started grad school at UTSA, I was going there full-time while I was also acting at Steven Stoli’s playhouse, Cameo Theater, doing plays and then also doing shorts and some independent films and some commercials and whatnot with Condra Artista, the talent agency I’m signed on with.
We started casting in March `2006`, started making final decisions in April, then we started pre-production in May and June. Jason and Aaron ended up coming down during the month of July and we shot the entire month of July. The actual shooting days was 21 days. My wife Carla knew, she graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, and her professor … who is just a fantastic editor, he’s been editing probably for 20 years, so, just a real pro. And so, as a personal favor … I was able to work with him for the next three months.
So he actually edited the film?
Right. Yeah, everything just really came together.
It’s just really amazing what you can do, and to say that you can’t do it is just nonsense.
Can you talk a little about obtaining financing as a first-time filmmaker, and can I ask what your budget was?
Our budget was extremely, extremely low. I started this film with, I think, $1000. I didn’t know how I was going to get any investors on it, `or` how I was going to bring people in. What I was confident about was if I could get one or two days of footage, that I could cut together something … And so that’s pretty much what I did. I had Aaron and Jason come down, we shot for about two days, I went to my daily editor, Robin Nations, and had her cut together two little scenes. So we cut that together and we cut together another scene and went to get financing, and we were able to get a couple more thousand dollars and a couple more thousand dollars and a couple more thousand dollars, and really just guerrilla-indie pushed our way through the process. The more and more money we were able to obtain, the more days we were able to shoot … So that’s how we did it, got it together, finally were finally able to muster up just enough money to be able to finish the film.
Financing is obviously one of the huge, huge obstacles. Some people go to like a rich uncle and some people open the phonebook and find dentists, I mean, who did you go to?
That’s actually really funny that you say that — my dentist is one of my investors. I just kind of passed around the hat and, whether it was friends of friends that we knew, lawyers that we knew, um, any, a rich uncle that you knew, you know, talking to my producer Aaron Marquette and with my co-producers and figuring out … and we just made copies of the dailies and we would just go by and say “OK we’re doing this film, Garrison, this is what it’s about, take a look at the footage, if you like it, we are looking for investors, give me a call back.” And luckily, every time we would do that we would get a call back, or just people saying, “OK, how much are we talking about?” And so it was just really fortunate that everybody really liked what they saw and just really believed in it, so … yeah, just passin’ around the hat.
Was it hard directing actors? Had you done it before?
`I’d directed plays.` I had never directed anyone on film … One of the things with writing, writing the dialogue and actually directing the performances, I found just to be very easy, because I always look at it through the standpoint of an actor: I’d write something and I’d read it, and just reading it as if I walked into an audition and read this. And I always look at it through that perspective, through an actor’s viewpoint. If it wasn’t believable to me, then I knew it wasn’t a good line, and so I’d take it out and I’d rewrite it until I could read it properly as an actor going to an audition. Same thing with directing, you know, during the casting process, we went to a lot of people in trying to cast the perfect people who I knew would do what I would do and that is take the character and really develop the character, so when they came on set, they really were these people … With the military background, I was really able to facilitate that, and of course them having the confidence and trusting me and believing in what I was saying, and so I think that’s very, very important, that the actors trust the director and that he’s not going to lead you astray, and that when he tells you I need you to do this, it feels a little weird or whatnot, but just trust me, I know what I’m talking about. They really did, I never, never had an actor once question me or whatnot, and then of course they just delivered just outstanding performances every time they came on set.
Plus, you know, you carried a gun on set, so …
`Laughs.` We had a buddy of mine, Glenn, he was our technical advisor, he provided probably 80 percent of the weapons. We had an arsenal. And luckily, being military, I just finished my eight-year commitment, I finished it up at Camp Bullis, I was the acting platoon sergeant there … and so a lot of my soldiers came out and brought up all of their gear, their military gear and whatnot, uniforms, equipment … We had truckloads of full of gear and packs and M-16s and M-4s and AKs and shotguns, oh goodness.
So the weapons are real.
Oh, yeah. All the weapons are real. The gun range is all real, those are real bullets flying, live rounds flying down, we had a hot range, safeties on either side, we went through a whole day of classes on explaining how to fire these weapons and how to get into positions and whatnot. And Jason Cox, who played Machine, had never fired a weapon before.
As a first-time director, there are kind of two things you did that they say are really, really challenging if you’ve never done it before, especially for a first-time director: One is directing yourself in a major, major role, and the second is doing a sex scene.
Can you talk a little bit about directing yourself?
You know, I never wanted to direct Garrison, and I begged Aaron, I begged Aaron, I said, “Please, please, you have to direct this.” Because I trusted Aarons’s work. And Aaron’s like, “I can’t feel it,” you know. “You’re the guy. You’re the guy, Kerry.” And as much as I hated it, I was, “Yeah, I’m the guy. Bastard.” “But I’m gonna help you. You have all the facts down. You have the experience.” And so, it was, once again, it was really fortunate in knowing that when I was on camera — which was a lot — I was able to have the confidence in my assistant director.
The other really good thing about starring in it was that I was able to make scenes happen really fast, because we were on very limited locations, very limited time, we could only stay at some locations for five hours. And so, that was the lucky thing, in that no one knew the characters better than myself or the person that I was playing, and so it was very fortunate that we were able just to shoot shoot shoot shoot and move on.
Very challenging, though. I talked to Aaron last night about it, he said, “Man, do you want to do it again?” I said, “Oh, hell no.” I would love to direct again, I would love to star again, but I don’t know about this starring-directing. It’s a lot. It really takes a lot out of you.
And of course, every night going back home and then looking at the dailies and just praying that there’s at least one shot, one take that we knew was going to be solid when we put it through the editing room.
Did you study up on filmmaking? Read books? Watch movies?
I went and rented all your classic indies, you know, El Mariachi, and, you know, Open Water, Blair Witch Project, And just went and just looked and seeing on their no budget what they were able to accomplish, and being able to really get the creative juices flowing and thinking “OK, so you have no money, but does that mean you have to have a horrible film? Absolutely not — you just really gotta wrack your brain.”
Were you nervous at the screening?
I was completely nervous. I was actually walking in and out of the screening the whole night, kind of going outside. I had a couple drinks. I guess the most satisfying thing, I was pacing back and forth outside and I walked in and there were people laughing, and I was like, “Wow.” Because after spending so much time with the film, I‘m probably sick of my film, I’ve seen it so many times, and it’s always the question of: Is that really funny? It was funny when I wrote it, it was funny when we were shooting, but, like, I don’t know if it’s funny anymore. I lost all the jokes, and I lost all the scenes. I’m like, is that intense? Is that real?
But to be brought back to, back to what I felt like when I was in the writing, having everybody really lughing at the jokes, getting freaked out by the flashback sequences, I was, like, okay, this is good. I’m still going to go have another drink.
Pablo Véliz, 24, writer/director, La Tragedia de Macario, Clemente
I wanted to ask you about making La Tragedia de Macario, your first film. How long did it take?
December 31st `2004`, on New Year’s Eve, I got the concept, I got the idea for La Tragedia de Macario. And so I wrote it New Year’s Day, and then we had casting January the 16th, so, 15 days later, and then, we shot in in four-and-a-half days after that, on Sundays … We shot it on Sundays, you know, ’cause at that time I had a job, and I was also a full-time student. So we could only shoot on Sundays, so we shot on four Sundays, and then half of a Friday, so four-and-a-half days.
What was your job?
I used to work at Say Sí.
Oh, yeah, sure, sure. Before Macario, had you made any short films or anything?
Before that, I had worked at Say Sí, right, and I was part of the visual arts program, but I was never really part of the media arts program, but I had helped out, or made little things, but nothing big, you know, just, you know, grab the camera and let’s go shoot something and have fun, but never anything serious, or like I consider a film. This is what we consider our first film, this is what I consider my first film.
Was there a big difference this time around making Clemente? Was it easier, or were there challenges you didn’t anticipate?
No. it was different, it was different, Brian, and one of the things … the formula for Clemente was different in both economics and the workers, and who I had there. There were good things and bad things. The good things was, I no longer had to struggle for credibility. Making La Tragedia de Macario was difficult because no one would believe me, no would care to help someone who has no, nothing.
Are you talking about actors, crew, or … ?
Right, actors and crew, and locations. I would approach places ... and they were like, “Who are you?” After La Tragedia, it was really easy. Step into a restaurant, “Hi! Can we shoot here?” “Yeahh! Go for it!” You know, so those were good things, and then, there was more money, so we had better machines, so we had better video, better audio, but I had some trouble with the size of the crew that I had. I think the size of the crew was too big, because this time we could — and sometimes, when you get a new toy, you get too excited. So, I had too many cooks in the kitchen, and the threat of compromise was always present. And I had to stand my ground and make sure that the story didn’t get thwarted. And it would, sometimes, and it would get hit, because there were so many people that were there … So whereas La Tragedia was just a dedicated few, you know? It was like the Three Musketeers. And we could kick butt, you know? But I’ve learned a lot, so the next project, with this one that’s coming up, Brian, it’s comprised of a group of around seven peoople. Like the Magnificent Seven. And so, now, as the Magnificent Seven, we’re gonna shoot the picture, but with taking into consideration the design of economy, or the economy of design. And that’s one of the elements that really made La Tragedia such a successful picture — it didn’t cost anything. It was really good. This one `cost` much more.
How did you get financing?
This time, I could go up to somebody and say, “Hi, Mr. Investor. This is who I am, and this is what I’ve done, I’ve made a picture and I’ve sold it, and this was the turnaround, and this was the `return`, and I told them, “This is what I can do, this is what I’d like to interest you in.” And they saw that there was results, so they were okay with investing some money. So, I got three investors, and then I used some of my money that I got from La Tragedia de Macario as the other chunk to fund the film.
But for Macario, how did you find people?
Oh, I had just saved up money, and — oh, it was all my money. It was all my $7,281. Yeah, and I used to drive this really ugly Ford Explorer, so I just said, “Well, just don’t buy a car, and make a movie.” And that’s what I did. And now I drive a Jetta, and I wish I had my Ford Explorer … In my Explorer, man, I used to put all my equipment on it, my junk, I could pull trailers … Now I’ve got a Jetta, it looks nice, it’s real pretty, it’s midnight blue, good color, but it doesn’t do much but just go.
What was the audition process like?
At that time `for Macario` we got like 50 people to show up, this time we had 600 people show up. It was a little nicer. That’s one of the things that it’s a plus and a minus, ’cause now everybody’s like, “Yeah, Pablo’s movies, it must be something serious.” And so some people all over from Texas come and audition, but sometimes it’s too many; I’m like, “Aahh, I don’t wanna do this,” so my casting coordinator takes care of most of that. He screens them, and then I, I’ll, it’s like American Idol. It’s, they get through the first producers and then they go through, so I’ll be, I’m like Paula — what’s her name? Abdul? Yeah. So I’m like Paula Abdul. Or that Simon guy.
Pablo on technique:
For the most part, I’m very strict, but I do allow actors to take their liberties.
There’s techniques for writing, and I think I’m lucky that I don’t have those techniques. A lot of times, I see a movie done by a student, and I can see, “Oh, look, that looks like that’s what they learned in Chapter Two.”
Most people storyboard; I don’t storyboard. I shoot the way I would paint. You don’t draw what you’re going to paint. You just paint.
Do you still get nervous?
I don’t experience nervous`ness` anymore. I used to experience nervous`ness`. But nervous`ness` is because you’re resisting something. I was resisting critique, or I was resisting unacceptance, or I was resisting looking back, right? So things that you’re resisting, and then the automatic body response is: be nervous. But I don’t, that didn’t work for me, ’cause being nervous doesn’t work for me, so I just choose to sit and I choose to accept that I will get critiqued, and everybody’s going to give me their opinion. And you know, some people will praise you, some people will hate you, some people, et cetera. And where I stand, I ought to be so fortunate as to be the one that gets critiqued and that gets bad comments and good comments. Because there’s a difference. You’re nervous when you’re resisting getting into the court. But I’m the one that’s playing in the court, and everybody else is on the bleachers, talking about how I ought to do it right. Think about it that way. Everybody who went to the Spurs game last night, the experts were sitting in the bleachers. They’re the ones who know exactly how the game ought to go. Right? And the players were players, you know? It’s really the players that really are there and get to participate. So I’m not nervous anymore … I have to be honest with myself and say, “Hey, you chose it; you suck it up.”
Pablo goes to Hollywood:
I also went to pitch an idea to a producer up there, and he said, “You don’t have anything horror?” I said, “Um, no, not right now.” “Well, that’s kind of what we want. You don’t have anything T&A either, do you?” And I said, “Um, no, I don’t have anything like that either.” “So, all you have is this, like inspirational art film.” And I said, “Yeah.” And he says, “Yeah, we don’t do those.” I said, “Okay, well, cool. Thanks.” … So then I went to Voy Pictures … and I spoke to Dino, who’s a friend of mine from Sundance, and I said, “Hey, Dino, I’ve got this movie, I’m gettting a couple of reviews, and what do you think?” And he said, “Wow, I really liked it.” And so basically, it’s just a game of finding the right context and finding the right relationships to have with people.
So… how long, as an indie filmmaker, before you make a zombie flick?
You can quote me on this: Pablo Veliz will never do a zombie movie. And if I do, you shoot me, Brian. Unless, Brian, of course, they’re illegal-alien zombies that are crossing the border … no, no. I’m not going to do that.
So, no migrant-worker zombies.
No mojado zombies. And I’m not always going to do immigrant tragedies. And I’m not always going to do film. Maybe I’ll change next year. I do intend on growing, and I do intend on adapting and evolving in this universe, and I think I’m on the right track.