Allow me to fangirl here for just a bit.
From an inappropriately early age, I’ve been obsessed with all things horror – novels, short stories, movies, television shows. When I learned that I would have the opportunity to interview some of San Antonio’s young horror filmmakers who are introducing their films at the Lone Star Horror Showcase this month, I might have stifled a squeal.
I met with the group at the Pigstand on Broadway. The iconic classic diner was a setting for part of one of the films – The Unholy Living Dead – so the atmosphere was appropriate.
There to discuss the films were the producer of the showcase, Leonard Ruiz, and five out of the six film directors: Steve Garza, Elijahwan Butler, David Carbajal, Alex Ramirez, and Kellen List.
Over coffee and plates of diner breakfast, we enthusiastically talked movies, art, horror, and filmmaking… and finally got around to an actual interview.
Can each of you talk a little about your film, and what inspired it?
Alex Ramirez: My film is called ‘The Photographer.’
[The film is the shortest in the showcase, at 1 minute and 40 seconds. It also won Best Film and Best Director at the Creeper Film Fest 2017. Alex humbly forgets to mention this.]
How do you make it scary in a minute and forty seconds?
Alex: You base it on experiences that scare you, I think. My film is based on a nightmare that I used to have when I was younger. So it’s really about taking that visceral experience and just telling it honestly. The film touches on this idea of being watched. I’ve always felt creeped out by that idea, so it’s really just taking that idea and spreading it out a little bit.
Kellen: My film is titled ‘Everlasting Smiles.’ I had this idea for a few months, and when I met these guys, I was finally able to put it all into place… [What it] really comes down to is the psychological element. When you insert that, it’s what really messes with your mind and causes a horror movie to have an ongoing terror.
Steve: Mine is called ‘The Agony of Ana Decay.’ I really think it’s about the combination of the images and the sound that make it scary. Since I have just a limited amount of time, I just decided to run with it and have fun with it.
Elijahwan: [I directed] ‘The Devil’s Lullaby.’ It’s about a father who is home with his daughter, and the devil comes to steal her soul… and the dad has to try to save her.
David: My film is ‘The Unholy Living Dead.’ I’m kind of a fish out of water [when it comes to horror]. It’s not really my genre, but I thought it would be fun working with these guys and they’re perfect for it. So I went for a vampire flick, but I tried to give mine more of a classic feel, it’s kinda like if ‘Grease’ met ‘The Lost Boys’ and they had a baby, and it was the ugly version of ‘Pulp Fiction’ (laughs).
What led you all to want to do film? Was it the writing aspect, a love of movies, something else?
Elijahwan: That’s the toughest question ever, I think. I could never pinpoint what lead me to it… Since I was a little kid, I’d pick up a camera and shoot home videos of my family… Even now, in film, it’s really about the storytelling.
Alex: There’s this really great picture that I think could kind of sum up for people who feel really strongly about filmmaking and movies. It’s from 1947, ‘The Red Shoes.’ It’s about ballet. A dancer in that movie is asked “Why do you want to dance?” and she replies “Why do you want to live?” And the guy who asks her says “I don’t know… I must.” And she says “That’s my answer, too.” It’s like that fire that won’t go out.
David: I think with this group of guys, we all have that fire. That passion.
Do you think that it would be safe to say of any writer who is just starting out, that their first projects might be autobiographical in a way?
David: Oh yeah, definitely. My film has a lot of Elvis, 50’s diners, classic rock and roll, Pulp Fiction… that’s what I engulf myself in, so it’s like getting that out of your system and into your film.
So here’s the big question. You’re independent filmmakers. Where does the money come from?
[Everyone laughs at once. Alex tosses his wallet onto the table between a half-drunk cup of coffee and one of several empty glasses that had contained chocolate milk. He gestures to the admittedly slim wallet with a grin.]
Alex: That, right there. That’s the funding.
David: We’re all out of pocket. We try to find whatever we can save money on… Thankfully for the locations I used, I didn’t have to pay a dime. I was kinda cool with the owners… That’s one thing I love about San Antonio, everyone is really supportive of the arts.
Elijahwan: That’s best thing, and I think like, the pinnacle of San Antonio. I’ve worked out of here and Austin both, and I think San Antonio is by far the best place to make or to start any type of content. It’s about the community… In other cities there’s this dog-eat-dog mentality, everyone is just out for themselves. There’s no sense of collaboration like there is here.
What is it like making films in San Antonio? Do you think it’s a good place to start out if you’re wanting to get serious about making films?
Alex: I know everyone talks about Austin being the arts capital of Texas, but I really love San Antonio and I think it’s a mecca for arts, in a way.
David: I think San Antonio is a really good spot to get established, to build a foundation for what you want to do. Start building your resume here, learn the fundamentals… working with these guys has helped me a lot. They’re very knowledgeable. So when you get out of San Antonio, you will have traits from these other filmmakers that will help you stand out a lot more. I’m just leeching off of them, essentially (laughs).
Kellen: San Antonio has such a great networking opportunity. Networking is how I met up with all of these guys. And now I’m part of this showcase, and I couldn’t have asked for a better route for this to have happened.
In what other ways would you say you’re able to collaborate with other artists and members of the community, when it comes to filmmaking?
Alex: Well, when I’m choosing music for a project, I like to use local artists. I’m a fan of a lot of the music here, or even music in the Valley. I try to become friends with the band, listen to their music and get a feel for what might work for different scenes.
David: Yeah, it’s exposure for them, too. This guy here (gestures to Alex) has been taking me to a lot of local music shows, and we have met some cool bands.
So is that the trick to keeping the music free or affordable? Using local music with the artists’ permission?
David: Well, I’m going to use music that I want to use for this showcase. It’s free admission, so technically we’re allowed to use copyrighted music. But when we start sending the films to film festivals, we will definitely need to change that.
Is this showcase something you will all want to do every year? Is this the beginning of an annual thing that San Antonio can continue to look forward to?
[There are a couple of chuckles, and a good-natured groan. This showcase has been a ten-month long process for these guys. Their excitement about their work is palpable, but as is the case with any of us, it’s clear that they’re looking forward to its completion.]
Steve: Oh, I’d be down for another year.
David: I think now that we’ve done it once, we will be that much better at it next year
Alex: Yeah, this was kinda like the test run year.
Leonard: That was my idea, to do this every year with different people. I wanted this year to be people that we know and trust first.
Alex: I think [we should] find new filmmakers for next year to kind of pass it down to.
Leonard: A mix of experienced and new.
David: This won’t be the last big screening we will do. It might not be the “Lone Star Horror Showcase” but this is like our band. We may not be together in the band itself…
Alex: Every time we do a film together, it’s like getting the band back together.
David: Yeah, it’s really cool. It feels like we’re in the beginning stages of a really long career.
Elijahwan: If we do [the showcase again], I definitely want to be a part of it. I feel like I kinda crashed the party… I joined in really late. I was helping David with his film and then there was an opening and I was like “hell yeah, I want to do this.”
Besides the probable Lone Star Horror Showcase 2018, what’s next?
Alex: I have a short film coming up, it’ll probably be my last for a while. I’m going to try to put together kind of like the ‘A-Team’ of San Antonio filmmakers, a lot of great filmmakers that I revere… and after that I’m going to finally start my feature film that’s been swimming in my mind for a couple of years.
Kellen: I have a couple of other ideas for horror, but I’d really like to do a drama that’s sort of relatable to people.
David: I’ll always continue to work with these guys, but I think I just want to act. I don’t think I’ll direct another film.
Meeting with this talented group gave me just a glimpse into the world that is independent filmmaking. As is true of all forms of art, it takes a person and a team with vision, drive, and passion to truly give their creation life. Getting their footing in the budding and thriving San Antonio arts community, these young filmmakers are sure to do great things both near and far.
The films will all be premiered on Sunday, October 22, 7:30 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Park North.