It’s early Saturday evening inside Club Heat and local filmmaker Mark Cantu, 29, is watching the clock. With his lead actors, extras, and camera in position, Cantu is aware of his time constraints. The club will be welcoming its first patrons in an hour and he has a few scenes to shoot before the music starts pumping.
“You can be in the movie if you want,” Cantu says, joking with the bartender, who has slid as far from the camera as he can to stay out of the shot. “I’ll make you a star!”
It’s a bit early in Cantu’s career to claim that type of influence — even at a local level — but he’s confident things could change in the near future. Cantu is shooting Echo, his third feature-length project (his first film, Crazy Thing Called Love, screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in 2006. His second, The Devil’s Project, is in post-production). Echo, a psychological thriller that will be released through Cantu’s Live Wire Films, follows a hitman and a serial killer who cross paths.
Cantu, a 1996 graduate of Harlandale High School, says the story started as a conceptual idea before he kicked it into high gear when fellow filmmaker and Echo producer Bryan Ortiz (Dr. S Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies) asked him to develop a trailer to show before one of his screenings.
“Within about a week we turned it around,” Cantu said. “It was at that point we knew we had something special.”
Although his background is in acting, Cantu’s attention was diverted to working behind the camera after he studied fine arts at Palo Alto College and Texas State University. With Echo, Cantu decided not to perform double duty and instead focus on becoming a better director.
“On this one I kind of put my ego aside and said, ‘I don’t need to be in the film. I just need to be here to support `my actors`.’ I think it’s made a huge difference in what we’ve shot. Every single day I think we are surprised at the footage we get. Sometimes we blow ourselves away. Everything seems to be falling into place.”
Since initial shooting began last July, however, filming hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Like most novice filmmakers, Cantu’s budget is next to nothing. He also holds a full-time job at local telemarketing company QVC Network, which limits film production to after-work hours and weekends.
Still, as a member of what he refers to as a “city-wide fraternity of filmmakers,” Cantu is grateful to everyone who has stepped up and pitched in to keep the project moving forward. It is this closeness in the local film community that Cantu says separates San Antonio from cutthroat towns like Los Angeles and Austin.
“In Austin, there are these pockets of filmmakers everywhere,” Cantu said. “It’s so wonderful to be part of the San Antonio film industry. We all know each other and genuinely care about each other.”
Even on his own set, Cantu promotes this “pay-it-forward” idea for anyone hoping to make their own films one day, allowing a production assistant who is also an aspiring director to help edit footage, for example.
“I let them come in so they can understand what they are doing before they go out and do their own project,” Cantu said. “If we get the opportunity to help someone else down the line, I think it’s kind of our duty to actually do it.” •