Local filmmaker A.J. Garcés says if you want to see filmmaking at its purest, look to an independent short.
“There is no product placement,” Garcés, 47, said. “This is the director and his vision with a shoestring budget. He’s not trying to sell you something; he’s trying to tell a story, which is what it’s supposed to be about.”
With his newest short independent film Death Rattle (currently in post-production), Garcés tells the story of a young assistant mortician who meets his true love at the annual Rattlesnake Roundup in Freer, Texas. Garcés was first introduced to the piece, adapted from a short story by Amparo Garcia-Crow, in 1993 when it won first-place in a short-story competition sponsored by the Austin Chronicle. At the time, Garcés was a freelance graphic artist for the newspaper and assigned to illustrate an image to run with the story.
“I thought it was one great story that had to be shot on film,” Garcés said, “but at that time I wasn’t doing film.”
Originally from Santiago de Cali, Colombia, Garcés’s background is in commercial art. He grew up watching his father work as a TV commercial director and actor in short bilingual films. Garcés moved between Colombia and the U.S. through the years, and in 1981 joined the Marines, where he served as a multimedia specialist producing training videos for the
He finally made his way to San Antonio, and began freelancing as a graphic artist for a number of established publications across the nation including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Playboy, National Geographic, and Entertainment Weekly. Still an active retro-style illustrator for magazines, newspapers, and publishing companies — a career he considers his “bread and butter” — Garcés says his flexible lifestyle as a freelancer makes it possible for him to pick and choose the projects he wants to work on and make time for the short stories he wants to film.
“I do shorts because that’s what time allows,” Garcés said. “I make them because I love doing it, but it doesn’t pay. Sometimes you may make your money back, but by no means is it a full career. I’m fortunate enough to be in a business where I can call the shots.”
Though he considers filmmaking more of an extracurricular activity, Garcés has been fairly successful in the past few years behind the camera. Last year, he won first place at the San Antonio Local Film Festival for his five-minute film Crush. The movie also earned the Silver Pecan Award and Best Drama at the Seguin Film Festival. Before that he received first prize at the now-defunct Short Ends Project for Gato, a film about a vengeful cat.
Sometime in the future Garcés says he might want to work on a full-length feature film. But until he has the time and full financial support, he is comfortable with the work he is creating now.
“People make shorts and consider them calling cards because that’s what they basically are,” Garcés said. “You give them to producers and say, ‘Hey, look, this is what I’ve got.’ The hope is someone will one day take a chance on it.” •