You’ve heard, of course, that it’s near impossible to get a film made outside the studio system. Maybe a few can squeak by every now and then, thanks to Clerks and the advent of miniDV and digital filmmaking, but you’d sure as heck better live in L.A. and have two attached stars with name recognition and an impressive web of connections. Or maybe you can do it if you’re based in New York, but be prepared to rack up some industrial-strength frequent-flyer miles. And for crying out loud, if — sigh — if it should happen that God disdains both you and your dreams to the point that you have the utter misfortune of living in Texas … well, just forget it — but forget it double-time if you don’t live in Austin or Dallas.
Thing is, there’s talking, and there’s doing. And on the doing side, perhaps you’ve missed it, but San Antonio’s been picking up lately. The best example: Within this past month of November, three separate SA independent filmmakers screened three new films — all locally made, all shot in and around the city, all primarily featuring San Antonio talent. And they’re not done yet.
In 2005, Kevin L. Williams, a 41-year-old sociology instructor at Northwest Vista College (not to mention ex-Air Force firefighter, ex-Secret Service agent, and double-black-belt martial artist) had for a while been eyeing a debut feature — a project he describes as a “martial-arts drama” — that seemed to fall neatly in line with his action-hero résumé. Then, his plans abruptly changed.
“I was close to getting financing and then it fell through,” Williams says, “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.”
Quite fortunately, he had just such a project waiting in the wings, and soon, Williams had transitioned smoothly from “martial-arts drama” to “small, character-driven dramedy about a woman and her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother.” (Naturally.)
“I wrote the script, probably, I think, in late 2002, maybe finished up in 2003, and then I put it away,” he says. “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.”
Williams’s Sandwich, which screened twice to sold-out houses at the Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes on November 12, concerns single mom and aspiring painter Molly Dengler (SA actress Anne Gerber), whose (last?) shot at a dream is compromised by her feelings of obligation to her overbearing but ailing mother (played ably by Martha Prentiss). The film met with overwhelmingly emotional responses and several tearful, après-screening testimonials — a resounding victory for Williams, who “really just wanted people to like it and to be entertained and to be moved by it.”
“This is one of those labors of love where everybody gave of their time and my wife and I gave of our money,” he says of Sandwich, which next screens at 7 p.m. at the Drafthouse this Thursday, November 30 (see the sidebar at Drafthouse.com/westlakes). “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 … 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.”
The sentiment is echoed by Kerry Valderrama, 26, a recent San Antonio re-transplant (and former Army paratrooper and Camp Bullis platoon sergeant) whose impressive military thriller Garrison is one of the most riveting truly indie efforts you’re likely to see for a while.
“It’s just really amazing what you can do, and to say that you can’t do it is just nonsense,” says Valderrama, who stretched his every available resource in making the film — including prevailing upon former colleagues to provide location access and military dress (not to mention weaponry and live ammunition).
“Oh, yeah. All the weapons are real,” he recalls. He laughs a bit, almost incredulously. “The gun range is all real, those are real bullets flying … We had truckloads full of gear and packs and M-16s and M-4s and AKs and shotguns — oh, goodness.”
The technically adept, well-paced Garrison deals heavily in handheld to tell its story, which Valderrama, who wrote, directed, and stars, says was inspired by true events.
“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,” Valderrama says. “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 … once they got back is when the drama really happened in their lives.”
If you’re any sort of SA cine-scenester, you’ve heard the name Pablo Véliz bandied about, and for good reason: La Tragedia de Macario, Véliz’s tale of immigration horror, gave the local film community its best news in a while with its acceptance to last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The 24-year-old filmmaker’s second heartfelt offering, Clemente, premiered to a packed house in October `for a review, see “Immigrant song,” October 11-17, 2006` and screened twice more in November, coinciding with Sandwich and Garrison’s maiden voyages. Much has changed for the ever-busy — but ever-gracious-and-effervescent — Véliz since Macario (which, amazingly, he says he wrote in one night and shot in four-and-a-half days); the artist who once had trouble securing locations now flies off to Hollywood to network and fields offers for multi-picture deals. But he remembers the initial struggle and
“Oh, it was all my money,” Véliz says. “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.”
All three writer-directors have potential next projects lined up; all three projects will reportedly shoot, at least in part, in the River City.
See the filmmakers’ blogs/websites at Sandwichthemovie.blogspot.com, Garrisonthemovie.com, and Cineveliz.com. For general and up-to-date SA filmstuffs, make a healthy habit of the SA Film Commission’s site: Sanantoniocvb.com/film. See extended filmmaker interviews at Sacurrent.com.