It sounds like a fairy tale.
Small-town boy from Harlingen, Texas, moves to Austin to study film at UT. He graduates and becomes one of the city’s top cinematographers thanks in part to a serendipitous tweet from Lance Armstrong. Meanwhile, he saves money over many years to put toward his first feature film, Tejano, which he sells to HBO.
For David Blue Garcia, this is his life. We spoke to the talented filmmaker about his career and upbringing, the business of film production, and what it felt like to gain distribution on HBO. Garcia also explains why he thinks Austin is no longer a great city for artists.
Listen to the podcast episode below. Subscribers can check out the full transcript of our conversation.
Cover Charge: Episode 6 Transcript
Nick Schenck: [00:03:11] What’s up everyone? Thanks a lot for joining the latest episode of the “Cover Charge” podcast. This week’s guest is David Blue Garcia. David, what’s up?
David Blue Garcia: [00:03:21] Thanks for using all three names. I appreciate that.
Nick Schenck: [00:03:24] I was going to ask you about that.
[restrict]David Blue Garcia: [00:03:26] Too many David Garcia’s in the world. It’s like the two most common names. The most common surname, you know, in Spanish, and then the most common other name. So I have to distinguish myself with the Blue.
Nick Schenck: [00:03:39] Is that your real middle name or did you just throw that in there?
David Blue Garcia: [00:03:42] It’s my real middle name. It’s from – it’s my mom’s maiden name.
Nick Schenck: [00:03:45] Okay. That’s cool. Do you ever just sign like DBG?
David Blue Garcia: [00:03:50] Yes. DBG is something I use as well.
Nick Schenck: [00:03:53] Nice.
David Blue Garcia: [00:03:54] A lot of people call me DBG.
Nick Schenck: [00:03:56] Oh, they do. Can I call you DBG?
David Blue Garcia: [00:03:57] Yeah, call me DBG, or DIBBAGE, which was popular back in film school.
Nick Schenck: [00:04:03] So DIBBAGE, the reason why I brought you on is because you are a filmmaker here in Austin.
Your first feature length film, Tejano, I watched it last night. It’s distributed on HBO and other places. It’s a really interesting film that was actually filmed here in Texas. South Texas specifically. And I’m just really curious about the process of creating that film, the business side of creating that film, and then also the business of video production, film production in Texas, and your experience with that.
So we’re going to touch upon quite a few of those topics. You look excited. So we’ll just dive in here. First of all, did you grow up here in Austin?
David Blue Garcia: [00:04:47] So I actually grew up in South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, where we filmed Tejano, and that’s kind of why I made the movie down there. I wanted to use the resources that I had. My parents lived there for a long time. They’ve recently moved up closer to Austin in to Buda about a year ago. But when we made the film, they were living down there. So I had a place to stay. I had a lot of family friends down there. People I went to high school with. So I had, you know, a 17-year history with the Valley. And I wanted to put that on film.
Nick Schenck: [00:05:20] Got it. And you wrote the script, right? I saw the screenplay was by Kyle Bogart, a guy who I used to work with. But it said the story was by you. Explain the difference there.
David Blue Garcia: [00:05:32] Well, so I basically had this idea, and I had a lot of iterations of how to tell that story, but the central idea was that a guy gets his arm broken. [He’s] put in a cast made of cocaine and is forced to smuggle drugs. And my original iteration of the script that no one has ever read, including Kyle, it started actually in South America and it was based on some of my travels in Ecuador in 2007. And then the story continued and, you know, came back to Texas.
But then one of my friends – one of my filmmaking friends – that kind of heard about my idea and said, “Well, why don’t you just set the movie in South Texas and just have it about a guy smuggling drugs across the border.” And that really opened my eyes because that was going to be a lot easier to produce. Something that was more achievable for me.
In 2011, I sat down and tried to write a version of the screenplay, and I’m a trained cinematographer. That’s what I do for a living. I was also directing a lot of small commercials and web content and stuff like that. So I think my principle skills have always been on set and telling stories visually and knowing how to take a script and make it good. But I had never tackled script writing on its own. And it’s a lot harder than it looks. And so I basically failed. I failed to write a screenplay in a month, and I kind of gave up for a minute.
And then I remembered Kyle. Kyle Bogart, a good friend of mine from film school, somebody who I had shot a feature film for. I had been the cinematographer on his first feature film, Artois The Goat, that we shot, I believe in 2008, and it premiered in South by Southwest in 2009. So I had a history with Kyle. I knew he was a great writer. I knew he was already trained. So I told him about my idea. I remember we were at a karaoke bar and maybe a little drunk, and I told him about my idea for this story, and he thought it was good, and I propositioned him. And I said, “Hey, why don’t we work together on this? And why don’t we work out a deal where you write the draft.”
And a couple of months later, we had a first draft.
Nick Schenck: [00:08:14] Okay. Let’s dial it back just a little bit. You grew up in South Texas. Did you go to UT film school?
David Blue Garcia: [00:08:21] Yeah, I grew up in South Texas and then went to University of Texas Film School.
Nick Schenck: [00:08:25] Okay. And describe your upbringing there. How did you hone your craft as a filmmaker, or did that not really happen until you went to film school?
David Blue Garcia: [00:08:35] I became interested in filmmaking from a young age. I was one of those kids that every time I went to the movies, I had a new career path, something that I wanted to do. When I saw The Abyss, I wanted to be an oceanographer and a marine biologist. And when I saw Jurassic Park, I wanted to be a paleontologist, all the typical stuff. And I thought, what is really going on here? Oh, I just love movies. And I discovered my dad’s VHS camera and I started pulling it out and making skateboarding films with my friends.
And then eventually we dropped the skateboards and just started telling stories and making short films, and I just kind of became obsessed with it in high school.
Nick Schenck: [00:09:22] What did your parents do for work?
David Blue Garcia: [00:09:25] My dad taught. He was a professor at a community college, and he taught electronics. And my mother worked at a hospital as an EEG technician.
Nick Schenck: [00:09:35] Okay. Were they really encouraging of you pursuing film and were they cultivating that passion within you, or were they like trying to push you in a different direction?
David Blue Garcia: [00:09:44] You know, my parents are, they’re more traditional in the sense that they would have probably preferred me to go to a more traditional career path with a known end, you know, like getting hired by a company and having a good job. But they weren’t discouraging at all.
I think they did encourage me and they supported me, and when I chose to go to film school, they supported me and helped me do that.
Nick Schenck: [00:10:09] Got it. Was it always UT in your mind for film school, or did you have other ideas in mind? Or was part of you like, “Maybe I should just go start making films instead of going to film school?”
David Blue Garcia: [00:10:21] Well, I mean, this was, you know, 2002, 2003, you know, I graduated high school in 2003. I was in South Texas, you know, in Harlingen. I didn’t know anything about filmmaking. I couldn’t go to the library and even find a book on it. I just knew I wanted to do it. And I couldn’t go on the Internet and really find any information on it, either.
But I talked to some high school counselors and they told me about the film school thing, and it didn’t look like I could afford to go to film school out of state. And so for my research, the University of Texas had the best film school in the state of Texas, and that just became where I wanted to go.
Nick Schenck: [00:11:04] When you arrived in Austin, was it immediately like, “This feels like home, I love this place,” or was it a culture shock?
David Blue Garcia: [00:11:14] It was a huge culture shock. I was a small town kid kind of with a small town outlook, and I had never seen buildings so big as here in Austin, downtown Austin. I had never been around so many other talented, smart people. I mean, no offense to my high school, but it’s just a smaller pool of people. And then when you come to the University of Texas and you’re in the dorm, like literally everyone across the hall got like a 1500 on their SATs and was like valedictorian of their class and super talented in whatever they’re doing.
And so I had never been surrounded by so many ambitious people and ambitious minds. But I think that’s the great thing about college is that you get to meet a lot of people with varying interests and learn from them.
Nick Schenck: [00:12:04] Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And I think about that a lot now because certain colleges are like, “Hey, we’re only going to go remote-only right now because of the Coronavirus.” And there’s a lot of college students who are going to pay the same tuition, but they’re going to be taking all their classes online, and they’re going to miss out on exactly what you just said. And I wonder how that’s going to impact people. Hopefully, it’s only for like a semester, but if this happens for like a year, maybe some people will be like – it could totally crush the educational system, right?
David Blue Garcia: [00:12:40] Yeah. It could. I mean, the crazy thing about college is the things that you can’t predict. I remember standing in line to get my photo ID and becoming really good friends with two of the people who were in line next to me, and they were like my good friends for like eight years after that, you know? Crazy.
Nick Schenck: [00:12:58] Describe how you met Kyle Bogart. And this is for all the people that know Kyle and I know him, so that’s why I’m curious about it. But he’s a unique character.
David Blue Garcia: [00:13:08] Kyle is definitely a unique character. I can’t remember the first time I laid eyes on him, but I have the idea that we were in a film class together, probably the intro film class, intro to image and sound, RTF 318, and I think he was one of the guys that just was very vocal in the class. It’s a huge class, maybe a hundred people in there.
And he was the guy in the back who would raise his hand and have a very lengthy retort where he was almost teaching the professor about something. And I remember just like thinking, “Oh, is this guy going to keep talking?” And just craning my neck around and looking and seeing who it was. You know, I think that was Kyle.
But then later on, we were in a few film classes together, so we would work together in labs. And I remember being impressed with his ability to describe what he wanted. One of the assignments was to describe a short film that you were going to direct. And I really loved his kind of visual style and his humor. And then later I was approached by a producer who was producing one of Kyle’s short films, Room 314, to do storyboards for him. So I drew some storyboards for Kyle.
Nick Schenck: [00:14:30] Got it. And Kyle, from my perspective, he like pushed all his chips into the middle and left Austin recently to go to L.A. To pursue film, which I thought was a bold move and I sent him an email and Kyle, please respond to that email. You haven’t responded yet, if you’re listening. But anyways.
David Blue Garcia: [00:14:49] He’s big time. He doesn’t have time over there.
Nick Schenck: [00:14:51] Exactly. What was your impression of that when he told you he was heading out to L.A.?
David Blue Garcia: [00:14:56] I don’t want to say that I’m influencing him at all, but I mean, I told him to do that 10 years ago.
Nick Schenck: [00:15:03] Really?
David Blue Garcia: [00:15:04] Yeah.
Nick Schenck: [00:15:04] Why did you tell him to do that but you haven’t done it yourself?
David Blue Garcia: [00:15:07] Well, that’s because when I told him to do it, he didn’t have a job. He wasn’t working at FloSports. He didn’t really have a lot going on in Austin at the time. And he’s been very successful since, but yeah, I was encouraging like, he was a talented writer even then. I think that his path would have been great if he had gone to L.A. And pursued that immediately. And maybe he’d be in writer’s rooms and writing and directing films, bigger films now, which was my thought.
The reason I haven’t gone is because I was comfortable here in Austin and I had a little bit of a career going in corporate video and commercials and wanted to use that to make my own films. It’s a different path.
Nick Schenck: [00:15:55] Yeah. OK, let’s get into Tejano, the creative side of it. I watched it last night. Really enjoyed the film. For anyone listening to this podcast right now, if you have not seen the film, pause the podcast and watch it and then come back to it, because there’s going to be some spoiler alerts. And if you have seen it, hopefully I’m asking the questions that you’re curious about as well.
Describe the genre of the film and also like a brief summary.
David Blue Garcia: [00:16:24] It’s been so long. I used to answer this question all the time. Tejano is an action thriller set in South Texas about a young man named Javi who lives with his grandfather, Arturo, and they’re both farm hands on a small farm.
And Arturo gets sick and Javi feels like the only thing he can do is some desperate move, some terrible drug deal that ends up going bad. Now he feels like he’s even in more hot water. So he decides to go across the border into Mexico to ask the cartel if he can smuggle drugs for them, and they break his arm and make him wear a cast made of cocaine and send him back across the border only to double cross him.
So the end of the film becomes sort of a chase sequence for him to get home to his grandfather in order to save his life and fend off the cartel.
Nick Schenck: [00:17:20] I would describe it as film noir. It’s a little bit of a psychological thriller too, because Javi’s going through a lot of different emotions. He’s in love. He’s got compassion for his grandfather. But he’s also like tiptoeing around this cartel that he needs their help from. And his best friend screwed him over, too, so there’s a lot going on there.
What strikes me about the film is it’s a really polished film. It’s your first feature length film. What gave you the confidence that you could pull that off?
David Blue Garcia: [00:18:00] What gave me the confidence to pull it off? First of all, before I forget, I’d like to mention that one of the critics, I think maybe the Austin Chronicle, called it a Tex-Mex Noir, which I thought was a pretty cool description of the film.
What made me think I could pull it off? I guess, in order to be a filmmaker, a director, you have to have some sense of confidence or belief in yourself, even in order to try it. In order to do it, you have to have maybe an inflated sense of ego, or at least a healthy ego. So I think a lot of us feel like we can be filmmakers and we watch movies and we think we can do that. And some of us try, but I didn’t do this at a very young age. In my early twenties, right after film school when I graduated, I really didn’t feel like I could make a film, which is why I started working as a cinematographer. I didn’t feel like I had the voice or the perspective to direct a film of meaning.
And then only later at the end of my twenties did I start to feel like maybe I could do this and realize my childhood dream of directing a film. So that’s it.
Nick Schenck: [00:19:07] Did it feel natural to you on set? Were you like, “This is what I was meant to do.”
David Blue Garcia: [00:19:13] Yeah. It does feel natural. I mean, to be honest, it felt natural when I did it in high school. The things I lacked in high school were not vision. I’ve always been able to see the film in my head and see what I want. The things that I had to learn were how to communicate, which was the most important. How to communicate to people, who all have different communication styles.
You’re going to have a bunch of crew members, but they all think differently and they all need to be communicated to differently. And actors. There’s no one way to direct actors. I think every actor is different depending on who they are as a person and maybe their training or their background.
So you have to direct actors in different ways. And these are things I’ve learned over the years, working in corporate videos and commercials and also being a cinematographer on other filmmakers’ feature films and short films I’ve been the DP on. I had been the DP on four indy features before I did Tejano.
So I learned from a lot of other directors, either I learned what they did right, or I learned what they did wrong. And so I was able to take years of experience and have the confidence that I can put all that experience together and direct this film, and I felt very good about it.
Nick Schenck: [00:20:39] How do you manage egos on set?
David Blue Garcia: [00:20:43] Well, it can be difficult to manage egos on set. My own is probably the most difficult to manage. Sometimes it can get in the way. I think Tejano was made with a very small cast and crew, and there wasn’t a lot of ego, to be honest. We were all in it together. We had all agreed to do it for, you know, I was obviously not making any money, but my crew and cast were doing it for way less money than they’re worth, even though everybody got paid a little bit of money. But no, there was not a lot of great ego problems on our set. Yeah, I think it was pretty good.
Nick Schenck: [00:21:25] Yeah. What was the budget for the film, and explain the fundraising process?
David Blue Garcia: [00:21:32] The budget on the film was $55,000 production, and then with post-production, it probably reached – my accounting is not great – about $100,000. That includes marketing fees, traveling to film festivals, submitting it to film festivals, and some paid advertising on Facebook, promoting it.
So a very low budget, extremely low, and we got it in the can for $55,000. The fundraising is sort of a long story, but you know, to be brief, I ended up paying for quite a bit of the film myself. My mom gave me $10,000. And I raised $10,000 on an Indiegogo campaign just before the film was made. So I ended up paying for the rest out of pocket.
Nick Schenck: [00:22:17] Savings?
David Blue Garcia: [00:22:17] Savings. So what I used, I started out in this business with a Canon 70 that I bought with all my money in – I don’t know – 2009, 2010 or whenever it came out.
And I took that Canon 70 and I turned it into a red and I turned it into a light kid. I built a small business out of it, and I’ve used corporate video here in Austin and commercials here in Austin as sort of a patron. And I’ve taken a lot of the money that I’ve made doing corporate videos for companies, and I’ve saved it, and I invested it in my film. So that’s how I made the film.
Nick Schenck: [00:22:59] Okay. It’s interesting you said your mom gave you $10,000. When my brother was fundraising for his film, 7E, a bunch of family members gave him some money and we told him on, I think it was a Christmas present. And I remember calling him. He was in Upstate New York on Christmas.
And he had just found out that I had given him some money, along with other family members, for the film. And you know, he got choked up and it was really emotional for him, because there’s this huge labor of love, you know, behind the scenes. No one even realized how much he put into it. And for him to get the support from family, he got super emotional.
And then I had a similar feeling, and I haven’t told anyone this. When we launched 3rd & Lamar two weeks ago, the first person to subscribe was my dad. And I saw the email come through – new subscriber – and I saw the name, and you know, I got choked up, had to go upstairs.
My wife, Celeste, didn’t even see me. And I don’t even know if my dad knows how much it meant to me, but describe getting that $10,000 from your mom and what that moment was like.
David Blue Garcia: [00:24:18] Well, I don’t think it, I don’t think the moment itself weighed on me very heavily. I was about to make the film. Everything was moving so fast, but definitely years later, when the movie was finally finished, finally come out. We took a few years in post-production to make the film because I was paying for it right out of pocket. So I was working and paying for it, and it was a slow process before we released it.
And there was a moment, you know, my parents made it to every screening, pretty much, of the film. They came to every screening in different cities, and they were always there. They’ve seen the movie probably more times than I have, and they always enjoy it. It means a lot because my dad is notorious. He falls asleep in any movie. He’ll go to the theater and it could be the loudest Michael Bay movie, and he’ll be asleep, but he has never fallen asleep in Tejano. And that means a lot.
Nick Schenck: [00:25:15] That’s so cool. Even the scenes, you know, the gory scenes, the shootout scenes – I don’t know what type of genres of films your parents enjoy – but were they like, “Oh, that’s a little too bloody for me,” or did they actually like that, too?
David Blue Garcia: [00:25:30] No, they really don’t like gory movies, and they don’t like cursing. I think they prefer Christian films, to be honest, but they love Tejano. You put it right. I mean, it’s about the people. Okay. I didn’t make Tejano. My family made Tejano. My friends made Tejano. The cast and crew, everyone else made Tejano. This movie could not have been made without all of the help that I got. I mean, I stayed at my parents’ house for two months in the Valley to make the film. They let actors stay there. It was a center of operations. Another family friend from growing up – one of my best friends growing up – Calvin Ballenger, his parents opened up their house and they housed the entire crew. Every crew member had a room or shared a room in the house, and that was another home base, and that was all free. I couldn’t have paid for that. It just was going to be out of the budget.
Most of the locations were free, including the international bridge to Mexico. We had a scene, a sequence shot on a real working bridge, and every producer I talked to about producing the film said it was going to be impossible. I was going to have to build a bridge. I was going to have to use another bridge somewhere, and we just asked around, and it turns out that I went to middle school and elementary school with a girl whose family owns and operates that bridge privately.
And so just a few phone calls, and we were given permission by U.S. Customs to go film on the working bridge. For free.
Nick Schenck: [00:27:10] That’s incredible. And they detoured traffic and stuff so you guys could…
David Blue Garcia: [00:27:15] No, it was open. So we had to kind of shoot around the people. We were shooting on the place where people walk across. We weren’t doing anything in cars. And so we were shooting on the American side, walking to Mexico on the sidewalk. And I would have these kind of narrow windows to film when there were no people. And we also had like some assistance. We didn’t have any assistance on the film. We had some crew members like sort of holding up traffic, just kind of like maybe tying their shoe or getting in the way so waves of people wouldn’t come through, so I could have enough time to film little sequences here and there.
Nick Schenck: [00:27:52] That’s cool. What about the back office where Javi’s taken in the film? Was that an actual like Border Patrol office, or is that totally separate?
David Blue Garcia: [00:28:01] So one of the challenges was, okay, well we had all these scenes in a U.S. Customs Agent office, and there was no way we could actually like shut down a customs agent office and film in there. I didn’t even try asking, to be honest. And I just brainstormed like what looks like just a border checkpoint. And then I remembered my high school. And I called up the principal and I said, “Hey, listen, my name is David Blue Garcia, I went their, graduated, alumni 2003, Harlington Cardinal, I want to make a movie. Can I use your locations in your high school?” And they were like, “Yeah, come on over.” So they invited me over .When we walked through, they showed us all the rooms that were available to us, and I just, there was like a hallway outside of the gymnasium. And it was just a cinderblock hallway with white paint and it had some like bulletin boards and some vending machines.
And I thought, this looks exactly like a customs cross checkpoint. We’ve just got to remove the vending machines, put up some American flags here and there, and put up some stanchions. And I think we had a picture of Obama or something on the wall, some really subtle art design, and it passed.
I mean, I had border agents, border patrol agents, asking me what facility I shot in. That’s how realistic it looked to them.
Nick Schenck: [00:29:26] That’s great. So I’m going to ask you about a few specific scenes that I really liked. There’s a scene where Javi tells Duke that his grandfather taught him to shoot, and then he shoots a beer can off of Duke’s car. And the beer can blows up and Duke gets all pissed. How did you set that scene up? Because I know how he didn’t actually shoot the beer can, but like explain that sequence.
David Blue Garcia: [00:29:52] Yeah. So what I really wanted to happen in that shot, I think the best cinematography and filmmaking is when things happen in the same shot.
You know, [Steven] Spielberg does it a lot where you start on one thing and you end on another thing, but there’s no cut. It’s all happening in one shot. It makes it feel a little bit more real. So I wanted to see our main character, Javi, in the foreground, aiming at the beer can on the car and shooting it. And I wanted to see the can explode in the same frame. And there’s a way to do it with visual effects. You can like motion track a green-screened can on top of the car and then have it explode off whatever. There’s a lot of different ways to do it.
But we’re in South Texas. Okay. So we’re going to do it the South Texas way. So we put a beer can on the car, and we had our actor with a blank. Okay. He got a revolver that shoots blanks, and we had our gun safety guy off to the side of the car with a 22 rifle shooting at an off-angle – we’re in the country, so there’s nobody out there.
So he actually shot the can at the same time that our actor shot the blank.
Nick Schenck: [00:31:08] Did he have like a infrared tracker? Cause like even with a 22 rifle, I don’t know how far he was away, but that’s hard. He’s just a good shot?
David Blue Garcia: [00:31:17] He was about as far as me and you on this table.
Nick Schenck: [00:31:23] Okay. So that wasn’t that difficult, because it looked like nobody was around.
David Blue Garcia: [00:31:27] It was probably about 10 feet. And if you look at the shot, he’s in the shot. So I kind of hid him behind the actor, but my actor moved a little bit and revealed him. So you can see him through the smoke of the fire. You can see him very briefly.
Nick Schenck: [00:31:43] Nice little Easter egg for people to look for.
David Blue Garcia: [00:31:45] Just a man shooting a gun. I don’t think this is what you normally do in a movie, but that’s the way we did it.
Nick Schenck: [00:31:54] Speaking of guns, the shootout scene at the end was pretty epic. Explain all the choreography that went into that scene.
David Blue Garcia: [00:32:04] Yeah, so the final action sequences were all pre-visualized, all the choreography was done in my head years before. You know, I’d been sitting on the script for a couple of years trying to get someone to fund the movie, couldn’t find anyone, wasn’t really trying that hard, to be honest.
But throughout all that time, I was storyboarding the film and that was part of my process because I didn’t want to show up on set and not know what to do. So by storyboarding, it forces you to at least think through what’s going to be happening on screen. Even if you don’t use it, you still have some kind of plan, rather than getting to the location and just trying to figure it out on a whim.
So, yeah, all of that was completely storyboarded – pretty much frame-by-frame with very little improvisation beyond what I had envisioned before.
Nick Schenck: [00:32:58] Yeah. I thought the coolest part was Javi on top of the roof, sort of straddling the roof and angling in a way where people couldn’t necessarily get him if they’re right under the house.
So that was really well executed.
David Blue Garcia: [00:33:13] I mean, Kyle, I think came up with that concept, but it’s funny that he did because I also used to play like guns with my neighbors, you know, when I was a kid, and something we’d love to do was get on the roof and other guys would be attacking from below.
And so it was really like, you know, choreographing that scene was just like playing guns as a kid, you know?
Nick Schenck: [00:33:34] Yeah. Cool. The ending. I think I halfway expected Javi to drive off into the sunset with his girlfriend to San Antonio, the place where they had envisioned going together. The movie doesn’t end that way.
Earlier you said initially it was going to end that way, but when you were filming, you were depressed and you decided to change that. So talk to me about your decision to change the ending and then how long were you depressed for? What was that all about, too?
David Blue Garcia: [00:34:10] Yeah, I mean, I’ve struggled with depression at times, but beyond that, I think I just wanted to subvert the typical Hollywood ending, and that’s what we had originally written.
And that’s kind of how the film followed that sort of arc. But I just wanted to do something a little bit different, especially since this wasn’t a Hollywood film and no one was telling me what to do. I was the final say. So I thought, why don’t I do something a little different? And that’s the ending I chose.
The character doesn’t really resolve that many of his issues in the film, and it’s sort of open-ended. And he loses people who are very close to him, and it’s all his fault. It’s a very dark, cynical ending. In a way, he becomes closer to his grandfather and becomes his grandfather, at least visually, in that final shot.
Nick Schenck: [00:35:06] Yeah. And the song that plays at the end, I think that’s the first Spanish song I learned when I took Spanish classes in like elementary school. But it’s sung in a very different way. It’s almost like the song “Hurt,” when it’s sung by Johnny Cash. It kind of reminded me of that.
Did you select that song or did somebody suggest that you use that song in the film?
David Blue Garcia: [00:35:31] So, I mean, like I said, this movie was made by everybody who helped with the film. I mean, there are the cast and crew. Everyone has an idea in this movie. And we had a great script to start off with. Really entertaining.
But everyone else added all these little ideas, and that’s what makes the movie feel more lived in. And that idea came from our actor Hector Uribe, who played Arturo, the grandfather. And he thought that maybe he should be singing a song in one of the scenes. So we were at this like cattle ranch and we had him watching the cows and he chose to sing Cielito Lindo, which is a classic Mexican song, which is also in the public domain. So we knew it would be safe. And then my sound recordist, Paul Toohey, had the idea to actually go in a car with the actor and get a really clean recording of it on set, thinking that, you know, I’m not going to have time to do this later in post [production]. So they went and did that. I said, “Yeah, go for it. Go record, whatever. Yeah, I don’t care.” And I’m filming cows or whatever. And we’re in the edit and we have this beautiful rendition of the song by our actor, Cielito Lindo. And then, so I incorporated that into the edit and made it sort of a theme and a motif. It wasn’t there before.
And then when I was working with the sound designer, he had a couple of ideas and he tied the song more into the film at various places and made it even more of a motif. And then he wrote music to go with it. So it all came together.
Nick Schenck: [00:37:13] What’s your biggest regret from the film?
David Blue Garcia: [00:37:18] I think my biggest regret from the film is not finishing it faster.
I had a little bit of postpartum depression or PTSD when I finished the movie, when I finished directing the movie. It was so stressful to be both like the producer, the director, and the cinematographer, and having everything come through me. It was just so much work for like three or four months leading up to the film and then shooting it that when I came out of it, I just didn’t want anything to do with the movie.
And I had an editor lined up who was my co-producer, Shiraz Jafri, and I didn’t even give him the hard drives. I just kept delaying it, delaying and delaying it. Three or four months. I didn’t even want to see the footage. I finally gave it to him. I was like, “Alright, we should start editing this movie.”
And I just gave him the footage and kind of forgot about it. But that kind of mentality I don’t think was healthy.
Nick Schenck: [00:38:17] Was it like anxiety from like, “Man, I put so much work into this for three months. If I find something wrong”
David Blue Garcia: [00:38:23] I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of seeing the footage and it just not being a movie, you know?
And even though I could see it in my head, and I knew we had it, I just doubted myself and I didn’t want to finish it. We finished shooting in December of 2015, just before Christmas, and we didn’t release the film until 2018 at the Dallas International Film Festival. So it took short of three years to finish the film.
But what I should have done is I should have had a plan in place to start. Honestly, I would have started editing on set. I would have had the editor there. Putting together the dailies and putting together the assembly so that by the end of the shooting, we had an assembled cut of the film and then I should have gone straight into editing.
I should have just done it all, but I was afraid. I was also afraid to be out of work for that long. I thought that if I took six months off to make my film, I wouldn’t have any clients left when I got back to Austin. So that’s why I started working right away.
Nick Schenck: [00:39:34] When you got done with the film?
David Blue Garcia: [00:39:35] When I got done with the film, I was on set and doing corporate videos and commercials immediately.
Nick Schenck: [00:39:39] Let’s get into the business side of the film. When you finished the actual film, you went on the festival circuit. I imagine the end goal of submitting your film to festivals is big distributors will see it and then pay for it to distribute it, and then you can make some money that way. But you can also hire an agent to shop it around. Did you do both approaches in parallel, or did you just do the festival circuit?
David Blue Garcia: [00:40:13] I wanted to do the festival circuit to experience it. I haven’t done a lot of film festivals. I know a lot of filmmakers go to festivals constantly. They see new films. They have that experience. I don’t really do that. And so I wanted to go and I wanted to see what it’s like. I wanted to talk about the film. I just wanted to have that experience.
But none of the festivals that we were accepted into are really known for having any film business at them. I don’t think there were any distributors at any of the festivals. It’s just more about sharing the movie and seeing what happens. And to be honest, I already had a distributor before we premiered the film at the Dallas International Film Festival.
I had a friend of mine, who just called me a moment ago, had seen my movie and suggested I talked to a guy in L.A. who specializes in Latino films and he’s also from South Texas. So I sent him an email, showed him the trailer, and sent him the link to the film. He watched it, he liked it, and he got on a call with me and a Latino film distributor specializing in Spanish language content. And he offered to take the film at that point.
Nick Schenck: [00:41:34] What does that mean? Take the film?
David Blue Garcia: [00:41:37] Well, I didn’t say buy the film, because there was no money exchanged. You sell the rights to a distributor to represent the film in film sales, and then there’s a percentage of profit share based on whether you sell the TV, VOD, etc.
And that’s all in the contract.
Nick Schenck: [00:41:55] So it was like an agent who is shopping the film for you as a distributor?
David Blue Garcia: [00:42:00] So a sales agent would get you a distributor. A sales agent would take a fee, but this was just a distributor. So cut out the middleman, and he has his own fee based on the sale.
Nick Schenck: [00:42:12] Okay. And you obviously felt comfortable with the fee?
David Blue Garcia: [00:42:16] Well, there’s no fee.
Nick Schenck: [00:42:18] Well, the rev share when he does [sell it].
David Blue Garcia: [00:42:21] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I felt like I had no other choice anyway. I tried to negotiate and I had no grounds to negotiate at all. He was like, “No, this is my fee here.” But I actually didn’t sign with him until a few months later, not because I didn’t want to. I was just dragging my feet on it, you know, in the same way that I drug the feet on finishing the movie. I wanted to take it to film festivals and I wanted to have that experience. And then I was like, “Oh, I have to sell this movie, too.” So I called him up and luckily he still wanted to do it.
Nick Schenck: [00:42:55] Do you mind sharing: What was the rev share?
David Blue Garcia: [00:42:59] I don’t remember off the top of my head, but for the TV deal, it’s 70-30. For me. So I get 70% of the profits from the sale to TV and streaming, which was HBO. We did make a sale to HBO earlier this year. And so he’s already paid me for that.
Nick Schenck: [00:43:19] Where are all the places people can watch the movie right now besides HBO?
David Blue Garcia: [00:43:25] Yeah, we released it on all digital platforms, kind of a standard sort of deal. So it’s available on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes. All of those kind of standard films sites, and then HBO as well. If you’re a member, you can stream it right now on HBO. And it was also playing on HBO channels, HBO Latino channels on TV for quite a few weeks.
Nick Schenck: [00:43:52] Okay. When this agent was bringing the film around to HBO, or Amazon or whoever, Netflix. Was he bringing every deal to you to be like, “Hey, here are the terms. I think this is good.” And were you providing feedback, or were you totally hands off in that process?
David Blue Garcia: [00:44:11] He did a really good job of kind of keeping me abreast of everything he was doing. I don’t think it was really up to me. I think he could sell it to whoever he wanted because that’s the terms of the contract. He represented the film. But he would tell me, “Hey, I got Sony looking at it. They’re looking at paying $100,000 for it. Oh, sorry. Nope. They’re not going to do it.” So there was a couple of, you know, get my hopes up and then, oh, it didn’t work. Got my hopes up. Oh, it didn’t work.
But finally, HBO, you know, made the deal. So that was really exciting. But the thing is, the contract wasn’t signed for six months. He said, “I made the deal with HBO,” and then I kept asking, “Have they signed the contract? Have they signed the contract? Because I didn’t want to tell anyone until it was inked.
I think I told Kyle. I was like, “Kyle, I want to tell you something. We sold the movie to HBO, but you can’t say anything for four months because I don’t want to mess it up. So that was a little bit nerve-wracking.
Nick Schenck: [00:45:13] Explain the feeling when you found out it was signed.
David Blue Garcia: [00:45:19] I mean, I think I just shouted for joy very briefly, but then completely went back to normal. I mean, it took too long. You know what I mean? It just killed the joy. It wasn’t like, “Hey, you sold the movie. Yeah. Woohoo, let’s celebrate.” It was just, I had to hold it in as a secret for so long, but it felt really good to finally tell the actors. We made this film in 2015. Some of them aren’t even acting anymore.
And they’re out of the business. But I wanted to say, look at all the hard work. Look at the good work you did, and now it’s recognized, and they were so happy.
Nick Schenck: [00:45:56] Are they getting a piece of those proceeds, too? Was that like a separate thing?
David Blue Garcia: [00:46:01] Well, some of the actors, I gave them a very, very small percentage of proceeds, but it’s determinant on me collecting my initial funds back, which I have not, unfortunately. I’m still underwater on the movie.
Nick Schenck: [00:46:21] Yeah. That was my next question.
David Blue Garcia: [00:46:24] I’ve made a significant portion of probably production back. I probably maybe matched what I produced the film for, what I shot the movie for, but with all the post [production] costs, I’m still not there.
Nick Schenck: [00:46:35] Yeah. There’s still time. I mean, there’s royalties, right?
David Blue Garcia: [00:46:40] Well, after the HBO deal, we can make more deals. So yeah, HBO probably would not renew it, but we could sell it to Starz, Showtime, El Rey, for modest sums of money. I have never sold the foreign rights of the film, either.
Nick Schenck: [00:46:55] That’s something definitely that can still be sold. What doors have opened for you because of this film? Have other people approached you like, “Hey, direct this script or screenplay,” or like, has any big investor been like, “We want to back you on your next project?”
David Blue Garcia: [00:47:12] Yeah. Unfortunately, none of that happened. I mean, we all have dreams of making something, and then Hollywood calls and they ask what’s next? And then you’re off. You’re off to the races having a career, but that didn’t really happen. Not to say it’s a bad thing. But it has opened the doors in the sense that, I’ve had a lot of people in Hollywood see it.
I have a lot of managers and agents who know me now, and it’s sort of opened the door. I have my foot in the door, you know. This one very cynical manager in L.A. watched the film, or maybe he didn’t watch the whole thing, but he called it “Tay Jonno,” by the way. It was this Jewish guy saying, “Ah, Tay Jonno, you know, I don’t know if it’s really your calling card film. Maybe it’s a stepping stone to a stepping stone.” That’s what he told me.
Nick Schenck: [00:48:07] I’m sure you felt great.
David Blue Garcia: [00:48:10] I felt great about that, but like it’s fine. It’s fine hearing the realistic perspectives, but it’s one of those small movies that gets you to a bigger movie, right.
And by a bigger movie, I mean, like a $1 million budget or something like that, which is still tiny in the grand scheme of things. Right now, I’m working with a manager in Los Angeles who represents talent from diverse backgrounds. And they’re confident that they can get me another project. So in that way, it’s helped me a lot.
Nick Schenck: [00:48:41] Got it. Do you ever feel pressure to move to L.A.? Do you feel like that would accelerate your career? I mean, you gave Kyle the advice, he’s there. Is that the first step? Like, “Kyle, how’s it going for you?” If he’s doing well, you’re like, “I’m joining you.”
David Blue Garcia: [00:48:58] Well, I mean, I think I’m a bit conservative, and that’s why I’ve stayed in Austin. I’m closer to family and closer to the business relations that I’ve made here. I haven’t felt pressured to move to L.A. I think what that will end up looking like for me is still doing the same thing I’m doing and spending more money. And so I think I’m able to make those connections to L.A. from here. And I think I’ve been doing that. And now I have representation in L.A. to represent me there. As far as the pandemic goes, people are more open to doing Zoom calls and talking on the phone rather than doing in-person meetings. So that’ll help me as well.
But I would like to move to L.A. one day. I would like to just have a reason to be there, though. I don’t want to go there and make corporate video like I do here. I just want to go there and make movies if they’re calling me to.
Nick Schenck: [00:49:53] Sure. Gave you read the reviews to Tejano? I spent some time last night looking at like Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and I’m curious as the director, if you look at that, and if you do, do you put any weight on that?
David Blue Garcia: [00:50:07] I’m always interested in…I’m very collaborative, you know, so I kind of made the film with a lot of people, and I heard a lot of people’s opinions about things, and I incorporated some of them and I did a lot of test screenings for the film. So when I was editing the movie, I did about 10 test screenings at my house where I would invite friends and people who weren’t even filmmakers to come and watch the movie and just, I did these feedback sessions and then I just kind of figured out what was not working for them. And then I would just keep re-editing and re-editing until finally, no one really had anything to say anymore. And that was kind of my way of thinking, “Okay, well if I’ve made it the best it can be, and I need to finish.”
And so, I do appreciate people’s opinions. And I’ve probably read all of the reviews, even the audience reviews. There aren’t that many. And I could see when people are just being supportive, and then I can see people when people don’t know who I am. And those are the most raw, you know. And so there’s definitely some negative reviews out there, which is fine. I know the movie is not for everyone, and I don’t expect everyone to respond to it like it’s the greatest thing ever.
Nick Schenck: [00:51:17] Yeah. I think, you know, Tony Stolfa, the other co-founder of 3rd & Lamar and Heather – Tony’s right here – but when we debuted the ORIGINALS episode of The National Bureau – ORIGINALS is our documentary series, I showed it to my mother-in-law and, you know, I had to keep in mind that she’s not necessarily the audience that we’re going for. And to keep that in mind and just, yeah, you have to have thick skin about things. And if you go in knowing that what you’re doing isn’t for everyone, then I think you can brush things off easier.
David Blue Garcia: [00:51:57] Yeah. I mean, but I get a lot of reviews that aren’t written online. They’re just people like random people on Instagram who I don’t know that just message me and say, “Tight movie, bro. You know, just like really dug it.” And that really means a lot. I mean, I get phone calls from people. I got a phone call from some octogenarian, you know, in Florida who wants me to make a film about his life story as a Puerto Rican cop in New York City in the 70s and he knew like Frank Serpico and stuff like that.
And I’m just like listening to these people and talking to these people on the phone, because they saw my movie on HBO or whatever, and it’s kind of crazy. I mean, I have one guy message me on Facebook that he was working with the Wu Tang Clan last summer and he watched the movie with them and Old Dirty Bastard like watched most of it and dug it.
Nick Schenck: [00:52:47] ODB loves it.
David Blue Garcia: [00:52:48] Yeah. ODB loves it. So it’s like, I mean, it’s crazy how many people are able to see something once it’s online.
Nick Schenck: [00:52:54] Yeah. By the way, I’m that guy. I was watching this branded film that a director put together for Square, like the payment processor. And it was about this guy, I think the movie or the little short film is called Yassin Falafel, and it’s about a guy who immigrated, I think, from Syria and launched his own falafel food truck in Tennessee. And you know, it’s not directly about Square, but he used Square and Square funded it. But I loved the film and I sent a message to Mo Gorjestani, I think is the director’s name. And he responded pretty quickly and he was like, “How did you hear about this film?” It had been out for a couple of years. I don’t even know how I found it. I think Vimeo had like posted it or something. But I told them how I found it and I was like, “Yeah, you know, if you’re ever in Austin, it’d be cool to catch up and grab a coffee.”
And that’s where the conversation ended. I think he’d probably gotten hit up by so many people who liked it, and then they wanted to like form a relationship that he was probably like, “Nah, can’t do that anymore.”
But it didn’t hurt my feelings. I thought it was kind of funny, but so I understand people hitting you up on Instagram and you being like, “Oh, hey.”
David Blue Garcia: [00:54:10] I mean, it’s really cool. And yeah, sometimes it is a little bit like too much, you know, I’ve had also people send me their scripts, and I just don’t, I’m not a producer, you know. I can’t read your script just because you’re sending it to me, and I don’t know you, you know?
So there’s been some stuff like that where I’ve had to kind of ghost on people or say thank you very much and just leave. But I mean, that’s something that I always think about, you know. As filmmakers, we talk about supporting other filmmakers all the time supporting artists, and honestly, we don’t all have the ability to financially do that all the time.
We can’t all donate to everybody’s Indiegogo and Kickstarter, but one of the best things you can do is just leave a supportive comment on their YouTube page, send them a personal message, send them an email. I just got an email today from a local filmmaker, Dan Brown, saying he watched Tejano and really enjoyed it and appreciated what I did. And that means a lot.
Nick Schenck: [00:55:13] Yeah, definitely. Let’s talk about the film business. There are so many subscription video-on-demand services right now. There’s, excuse me, obviously Netflix, Amazon, Quibi. I think NBC is launching Peacock. There’s Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+. You’d think from the outside looking in, you’d think this is the greatest time to be a content creator in the history of the world. There’s so many places that are funding content, buying content that the opportunity has to be plentiful. Is that the reality? Is that how you feel?
David Blue Garcia: [00:55:54] I mean, I haven’t personally experienced the opportunity yet. So from my limited experience, I don’t see any more opportunity than there was before. But from what I hear, yeah, there is. There’s a lot more creative and narrative content being made in Hollywood for all these platforms. And I’m always shocked when I log on and I see all these like high-quality TV shows that are just released in one big lump on Netflix, and it’s 10 episodes that are so much money, you know, going into it.
There’s like these period pieces and things and they’re really good. And I always think, “Who has time to watch all this stuff? Where’s all this coming from?” You know. So there must be opportunity. That’s a great thing.
Nick Schenck: [00:56:39] But when you speak to friends who are other filmmakers, they feel the same way? From my perspective, my brother is in film in New York. It’s obviously a different time now because most productions are shut down.
David Blue Garcia: [00:56:55] Yeah, when we’re talking about it, I don’t think we’re talking about current pandemic times. I think we’re just talking about in general. Normal times.
Nick Schenck: [00:57:02] Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff being filmed there, but I don’t know if it’s any different than five, 10 years ago, maybe 15 years ago. I could be wrong. But yeah, I think there’s time now because people are stuck at home to watch all that new content, but it’ll be interesting what it looks like 12 months from now. How many of those platforms still exist? And then what are they filling their time with? Because there’s no production happening right now.
David Blue Garcia: [00:57:27] I mean, there’s still a lot of films, a glut of films, I’m sure, that are in post-production being finished up and about to be released on the market. And we won’t see the real, the true gap until later.
Nick Schenck: [00:57:41] Yeah. One thing I was reading about in the film industry is that, I guess, Universal released Trolls World Tour direct to VOD and pissed off AMC. AMC is not going to distribute any universal films anymore. Do you think that exclusive theatrical runs are gonna cease to exist or how do you see that changing in the future?
David Blue Garcia: [00:58:09] I mean, this is getting into speculation that I’m not even really that educated on, but I have read a little bit about it and a couple of authors have predicted certain things that are the future of the industry, one of which that stuck with me was that we might start seeing some of these theatrical chains being purchased by the bigger powers, like Disney or Amazon, or Apple. And then they’re going to make these theaters into more of an experiential thing. So you might go to a Disney-owned theater and watch Disney movies, but there’s way more to it than that. Maybe there’s a mini-theme park ride in it. There’s a Disney store, there’s like a cafeteria place to hang out. The whole thing is going to be an experience, kind of like the Alamo Drafthouse has here in Austin, has the high ball, they have bowling and dancing and all these other things. You know, maybe the theaters will start to go in that direction because that’s something that you can offer – the social aspect is what you offer at a theater rather than, you know, watching a movie at home.
Nick Schenck: [00:59:16] Yup. Yeah, that could be interesting. And I think Alamo has kind of proven out that if you have a premium experience, people will pay more for it, too.
David Blue Garcia: [00:59:24] Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I love going to the Alamo more so than just going to a normal movie theater. The only reason I would go to a normal movie theater is if I couldn’t get into the Alamo, and honestly, you can go see like a movie middle of the week and just be the only one in the theater at an AMC sometimes.
Nick Schenck: [00:59:41] Yeah. Good point. For people who don’t know, what’s the film business like in Austin? I mean, there’s obviously – [Richard] Linklater and Robert Rodriguez are here, South by Southwest film has given the city a bunch of publicity. Is this a great place to be a filmmaker, or do you still think it’s like a second-tier place compared to bigger markets, especially on the East and West Coast.
David Blue Garcia: [01:00:08] Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s a great place to be a filmmaker. I’ll just say that. I think it’s a place to be a filmmaker. Um, I think, let’s see, what am I trying to say? I think the film business is still in Los Angeles, and it’s not here. And the stuff that’s being produced here or funded here is very small stuff, and very, very little of it makes a big impact.
We have a lot of really talented filmmakers in Austin, and we’ve seen them be successful in Sundance and Tribeca and all sorts of film festivals, and some of them have made a big name for themselves. But then they’ve also moved to Los Angeles. I mean, we had Kat Candler here for a while. And then after the success of one of her first features, she moved to Los Angeles and has had a great career directing television out there.
So a lot of people just move away. It’s almost like if you reach a certain point, you Kyle Bogart and move off to L.A., you know, so we can’t, we can’t all be Kyle Bogart.
But Austin as an incubator. You know what I mean? So I think it’s a good place to be. It used to be a good place to be to practice your skills and to maybe save up a little money before you move somewhere else to make films.
But I think it’s very expensive now. I don’t think Austin is a good city anymore for artists. I think in order to be here, you have to be super competitive and you have to be a business person more so than an artist. And I spend more of my time making corporate films than films.
Nick Schenck: [01:01:48] And you’re talking about the cost of living here?
David Blue Garcia: [01:01:50] Cost of living. The cost of living went up.
Nick Schenck: [01:01:52] Yeah. And do you feel like that’s correlating with like the character of Austin, too?
David Blue Garcia: [01:01:58] Yeah, I think the character has changed. I’ve been here 17 years now, since college, and I mean, even 17 years ago, you talked to somebody who was here in the 90s or the 80s or the 70s, I mean, it’s changed immensely. But even in 17 years, it’s become more and more and more corporate than it was. And it’s like, you know, some people describe it as a mini-Silicon Valley. I mean, you can see it in the real estate prices. The cost of living has really gone up, so it’s not a good incubator for artists anymore. If you want to be an artist, maybe you should live in a small town outside of Austin or a small town outside of a big city and work on your art.
Live cheap, cheap rent because you don’t need to be in the middle of the business to become an artist. You do all that work before. And then you’d go to the business and say, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I have to offer,” and then you can move to Los Angeles. Yeah, that’s been my theory. Right. Because if I had gone to L.A. and in my early twenties, maybe I would have been successful, but maybe I wouldn’t have been. Maybe I would be like some of the people I know who went there and didn’t do anything, you know?
Nick Schenck: [01:03:08] So, yeah. Are you thinking about leaving Austin? Not to go to L.A. Right now, but like to live in that small town.
David Blue Garcia: [01:03:18] I mean, that would be smart. I would save a lot more money. But I mean, Austin has treated me well and I feel comfortable living here. I don’t pay too much, and my mortgage is not too high. I don’t think it’s beyond my means. I live in a small, small apartment centrally, and so I feel comfortable about it.
I get to travel for my job quite often. Like Tony Stolfa. I’m sure he probably travels way more than me, but we get to go to really cool places. We get to shoot really cool things. So, I mean, I get that experience of being elsewhere often, so I don’t really miss it, you know?
Nick Schenck: [01:04:01] So let’s talk about that. Your commercial film business, which has paid the bills for you. The production you work you do for big companies, corporations, things like that. You went straight from filming Tejano to getting right back into work. My question was going to be, you know, was it hard to go back to that type of work after doing something that you had 100% creative control over?
David Blue Garcia: [01:04:28] I mean, that’s a really astute question because yes, it was. Well, it was hard getting into Tejano because I’m so used to working for clients and collaborating with agencies, clients, you know, companies that have ideas, and as a director, DP, you’re often executing other people’s ideas and just trying to do your best to do it.
But on Tejano there was nobody telling me what to do, and it was my word was the final say. So it was all on me. And that was a little bit nerve-wracking. I mean, I think the first couple of days shooting, I would operate the camera. And so I’d be filming and I’m used to like looking over my shoulder to see someone’s reaction, whether they liked it or not.
And I would look over and nobody would give me a thumbs up. I was just there alone. And then I’d just say, “Okay, I got it.” But I like working on commercials and corporate stuff, and I like collaborating with people, especially when they’re passionate about what they want.
And so, I don’t need to be the final say at all times.
Nick Schenck: [01:05:34] Yeah. Does the work come to you? How have you built that business for yourself? Is it all reputation, word-of-mouth based, or have you been like knocking on doors for years?
David Blue Garcia: [01:05:45] I was lucky and it’s been 90% word of mouth for my entire career. I mean, it just kind of starts off small. At the beginning, you’re kind of like reaching out to a few people here and there. Getting turned down a lot, but then you just do one good job on something, someone thinks of you, and they give you a little job. Maybe you get $500 and you’re working for a week or something like that, making a video, and you do a good job. And they’re like, “Oh, this person’s good. Let’s put them on something else. Let’s put them on something else.” And then 10 years later, you’ve done all these things.
I’ll tell you a story. I can point my finger at specific things that happened in my career that kind of elevated me. One of them was, I was an editor for a while and, I don’t know, 2009, I was doing a lot of editing work and I was editing for a local production company and they had me cut something with Lance Armstrong in it. I think it’s before he was, you know, ostracized from the industry. He was still pretty famous. Not that he’s not famous. And I uploaded the rough cut to my personal website, and I sent it to the client to approve, and then they sent it to Lance Armstrong to approve, and he he liked it. So he just tweeted the thing on his Twitter and it went to my personal website where the video was hosted.
I mean, he had hundreds of thousands of followers back then, maybe a million, I don’t know. And so it crashed my website. I got so many hits that day, and what that did was it put my website at the top of Google search in Austin for cinematographers for years. And I was like the top dude for a long time. Since then, I think I’m on page two now because I haven’t put much work into my SEO. But basically that made me so visible and that brought me a lot of work. And that’s just such a random thing, you know.
Nick Schenck: [01:07:46] Was it ever more than just you? Or did you ever hire full-time people to join David Blue Garcia Productions? Or was it always like, “On this project, I need to hire these people,” and it’s just like a contract thing?
David Blue Garcia: [01:07:58] Yeah, I mean, in the last couple of years, I used to work mostly as a cinematographer and a director and I would just get hired as a contractor and get a day rate. And then I’ve produced a handful of videos over the years. And more so in the last two or three years, I’ve had clients come to me directly with the budget and I run the whole thing through my company. But I’ve never thought it wise to try and hire somebody full-time, because I just see this business is so up and down, so up and down, and I haven’t wanted to risk being responsible for somebody, and for their livelihood, too. You know, I just would rather be flexible and pay people, pay contractors as the job requires.
Nick Schenck: [01:11:30] Are you worried about your livelihood with Coronavirus and production, or do you not get too anxious about that?
David Blue Garcia: [01:11:40] No, I’m not worried about it. I’m not anxious. I mean, I’ve worried in the past about losing work and not being able to work again, but there’s always something, and our culture is more and more tied to video and photo content. You know, we don’t read as much anymore. We want to see everything through a video.
I can see it changing, and I just need to be open to the change of what’s happening. And I need to be open to the idea that maybe people won’t pay as much eventually. There are like kind of industry standard rates. And I’ve noticed just in my 10 years as a professional, that they haven’t changed that much, even though there’s inflation and things cost more now, but the rates are kind of stagnant, you know. And that might actually continue.
People can make video really high quality now for very cheap. So maybe those old rates that were based on older technologies that were extremely expensive. Maybe there’s a reason they’re not changing. And there’s so many people, so many talented people who are able to make high-quality content now.
Kind of a standard gaffer rate for a long time has been about $550 a day, maybe $650 on a big commercial. And that’s been sort of the same for 10 years.
And also when I was a camera operator like in 2008-2009, I would often get $500 a day to do basic things, and I get called for that all the time still. Even by some of these companies that should’ve kind of grown beyond that, it seems like they feel they can only afford to pay sometimes $500 for a camera operator on something. And that seems surprising to me since it’s such a technical job and it takes some knowing.
I think the thing that’s more confusing now is the day rate for a camera person with their gear. You know that I mean? So maybe the rate is the same as it was 10 years ago, but they expect you to have way more gear. Now you have to throw in a $20,000 camera package, all your lenses, a tripod, they want you to have a Gimbal, they want you to have a Movi Gimbal, or a Ronin, they want you to have a drone of some sort, an easy rig, they ask you if you have all these things. And the rate is the same. You’re just expected to have these things now.
Whereas before – and I’ve worked with a lot of older people in the business who were working in the 90s, and they’re talking about how they used to get $2,000 – $3,000 a day back in the 90s because they were coming with these $100,000 camera packages. And now people want to pay for an Arri Alexa camera package $500 a day with super speeds. It doesn’t make any sense. But you can rent it. You can go to L.A. and rent an Arri Alexa camera package with super speed lenses for $500. And it doesn’t seem right, because it costs $100,000.
So I just don’t understand this idea that everything has to be way cheaper now. And it’s something that as freelancers, something we need to be conscious of to make sure that our rates are fair for everyone else, too. Because what we work for contributes to that.
So how to be competitive in that is what I’m thinking about, you know? And part of it is my experience and being able to do things – what I think is pretty efficiently.
Nick Schenck: [01:13:05] Are you pretty discerning with the projects you do, or have you ever turned down work even though it was a good paycheck because you weren’t feeling it?
David Blue Garcia: [01:13:13] Yeah. I’ve turned down work a lot. I’ve turned a lot of work down. Sometimes I turn down work just because I feel like I’m not mentally there for it. Like either I’m burned out. You’ve probably burned out before, right? We’ve all burned out, and I don’t want to burn out out on a project. So I’ll turn down some things sometimes to give myself a break, even though I know I’m losing out on money.
But I want to do the best work that I can for a client. So I try not to burn out.
Nick Schenck: [01:13:47] Yeah. You’re working on another script now. Where are you at in that script? And when you feel burned out, or you go through a spell of depression, how do you get back into it?
Even with Tejano, you said you didn’t want to see it for awhile, and then there was a period where you did like 10 screenings and you obviously didn’t mind looking at it then. How did you get back to that place?
David Blue Garcia: [01:14:15] I mean, I think it’s, for me, it’s just stubbornness and you know, having to finish something that I started and not wanting to give up on it.
I mean, I just have to finish things and I have to do the things I say I’m going to do, which is part of how Tejano got made, is I told people I’m going to shoot it next year, and I kept telling them for a year that I was going to shoot it, and then I had to shoot it, because I’m not a liar.
Nick Schenck: [01:14:43] Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? Are you still doing some commercial projects to support the stuff you do on the feature film side, or do you want – have you set a goal for yourself: “five years from now, all I want to be doing is feature films”?
David Blue Garcia: [01:15:05] Yeah. In five or 10 years, I would love to be in a position where I can just do feature films or television. Or – I like telling stories, you know, and I don’t mind working for brands. I mean, I quite like it often, but I would tell stories for brands, too. The creative ones. But I would like to not have to do corporate videos anymore.
I think I could get there, you know?