Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist? I am originally from the Texassouthwest border. I was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Juárez, Mexico. I am a filmmaker and a musician, and my journey in the arts started at a young age. I started playing guitar and singing in rock bands in my early teens. I’ve always been obsessed with film and always had a camera in my hands, recording our band’s rehearsals, live shows, and music videos.
After graduating from college, my bandmates and I were serious about continuing our musical journey and taking it to another level. We signed with a small indie rock label and moved to Los Angeles. We had an amazing run playing at all the big rock clubs in LA and were able to create a solid local following, but the music industry was going through a big shift and while our band, THE MULBERRY PURPLE, is still together today, we decided to move on from live shows and focus on recording music and releasing it independently. Today, the band mostly records music for my film's soundtracks.
Once I was settled in Los Angeles, I landed a job at the Los Angeles Times, my degree is in Computer Science, so I originally was hired to manage the back end of their Spanish language website. At this time, I was making my own content as social media networks started to take off, I convinced my bosses to let me create more video content for the website and so my position slowly shifted to the content creator, and eventually to DigitalContent Manager.
It was in this position that I was able to expand my self-taught video production skills, creating short and longer format docu-style content for our website and social media channels and collaborating with our team of journalists covering, sports, entertainment, and local events.
What was your first job in the art field? I think my career as a filmmaker truly started when I transitioned into video content at the LA Times. It was there that I started working on my storytelling abilities, both for short and long-format content. I was shooting, producing, editing, and running audio when necessary, so my training happened on the field. As I got better, opportunities started presenting themselves. I was recruited by an Ad Agency as a Content Manager and eventually promoted to Director of Branded Content.
It was at the agency that I learned about the commercial and advertising worlds; it was a trial by fire, but I was also given a lot of freedom to create. I produced a few TV and web series for brands like Lexus, winning an Emmy for my role as a producer for ‘TE PARA TRES, a Latin music TV show, and receiving critical acclaim for my role as creator, writer, producer, and director of the Lexus web series, “RPM: REENGINEERING POPULAR MUSIC.
My time at the Ad Agency was not only instrumental in honing my skills but also allowed me to expand my network and meet extremely talented people, some of whom I still work with today.
Once I left the agency to launch my own boutique production company, VALAGARDO PRODUCTIONS, I was able to focus and expand on my work, directing, editing, producing, and scoring not only branded content but moving into commercials, series, and films.
My short films produced by VALAGARDO PRODUCTIONS have been selected to over 70 festivals combined and won multiple awards My two latest ones are now successfully navigating the festival circuit. L.U.N.A., written by Roman Arabia and Mike Bane and co-produced by GREEN EGGS Go H.A.M. and MATCHES, written by Daniel and Rudy Marquezand co-produced by DOS HERMANOSPRODUCTIONS
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work? I’ve always been enamored with films and filmmaking. My grandparents got me into movies from a very young age, sharing some of their favorites which included Hitchcock’s films. My life changed immediately when I watched Vertigo and The Birds at a very young age.
Gravitating toward darker stories, horror films, noirs, and thrillers. I started searching for that next movie that would scare me for sure but also inspired me to think about my own stories.
I love all genres, but I am extremely passionate about horror. There is something about the darkness of human nature that has always captured my attention. The genre has been looked down upon for a long time, and while there are absolute gems that challenge not only the genre but filmmaking itself, many people still see them as a way of simply glorifying violence and gore. But horror films are much more than that, at their worst, they can be a fun, campy, good time, at their best they defy genre tropes and seamlessly incorporate the social issues of the times.
I am interested in how the genre brings out our vulnerabilities, the greatest fears buried deep within our minds. These are usually very personal and specific things for most, but we all share the same fear. Fear of the unknown is the strongest and oldest emotion. This ultimately ends up being the motivation for all of us and certainly for most characters written in horror films. Exploring how we react to the great mysteries of life and death. Ultimately, there is a physical and psychological reaction we humans have to horror or images of violence. The voyeuristic impulse to watch scenes of violence is thousands of years old. Think of the roman colosseum, the public executions of the Middle Ages, etc.
I am interested in how humans react to fear, ultimately serving as a storyteller that explores those possible reactions in all of us and in the process learning about myself. Imaginingscenes of death and violence can be cathartic if visualized in terms of art and how we as humans react to the obstacles and fears within our lives. Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project. I tend to obsess with things. Be it a new song, a new book, a sports figure, and for sure films and filmmakers. I tend to gravitate to something that speaks to me, and I don’t let go. My first short film, for example. Titled BLOOD STAINS and based on my journey as a struggling musician trying to make it in LA, it was an obsession of mine for years, visualizing every detail, look, style and pace. Inspired by 70s grindhouse films, I obsessed with every detail until I was able to get the money to shoot it. I had the story in my head and knew the stylistic direction I wanted to take so I immersed myself in that world. Researching the movies and filmmakers of the style and era.
For my second short, L.U.N.A., a haunted house story with a modern technology twist, the same thing happened. I have been obsessed with the Italian horror genre GIALLO. From the moment I first saw Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso my creative life changed. As a huge fan of horror, I had not seen any new/old movies that truly blew my mind, I had obviously already explored the genre extensively, and I thought I pretty much knew it all in that world. When I discovered Argento, Bava, Fulci, and Martino, I was in awe. I knew my next project had to be somewhat inspired and pay homage to the genre. So, I studied, researched, and got my hands on as many GIALLI as possible. Deconstructing the genre, analyzing the tropes, and really understanding the use of visuals and hyper-stylized kills. L.U.N.A. has been doing amazingly in festivals and some reviewers have understood the GIALLO vibe I wanted to inject into it. I am currently working on writing the first feature which will be a full-blown American GIALLO!
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you? I love horror, so my top directors are Argento, Carpenter, Hitchcock, Del Toro, and William Friedkin of course, not only because he directed the best horror film of all time but his filmography across genres is amazing. Outside of the horror genre really admire the work of auteurs like Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, Fellini, Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn, Aronofsky, Goddard, Tarantino, and many more.
I also gravitate toward DIY filmmakers, I love Robert Rodriguez’s work and approach to filmmaking, making it work no matter the budget constraints. I really like his mentality and like him, I tend to wear many different hats in my productions. Writing, directing, producing, editing, and even scoring, as an indie filmmaker you must be able to make it work with the resources you have.
In terms of films that have influenced my career, I have to obviously start with Hitchcock whose movies were my introduction to thrillers, but Kubrick changed the way I looked at filmmaking as an art. Of course, Carpenter was a big influence in my early horror journey but 70’s and ’80s masters like Romero, CliveBarker, Wes Craven and Argento really pushed my obsession as a fan to want to become a creator myself.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation? I think we are realizing that we can do more with less, that we can collaborate across great distances and that separation is not an excuse for not being able to create as part of a larger team.
I think technology has obviously made a huge impact on our industry. We have close to professional cameras in our pocket, the new iPhone shoots ProRes. Great prosumer cameras and mirrorless cameras are coming out each year that cost less and have greater features. We can shoot and edit the content on our phones.
Social media has given all of us a channel to share our art and creations. This can be a double-edged sword, there are more channels to share your content on but there is also more and more content making it difficult to sometimes be found and or shine above creators that have more following.
Ultimately, I believe it’s all about being honest to one’s art and focusing on making sure that you are telling your story the way YOU want to tell it. I think honest content always finds its audience.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid? The one thing I will always tell any artist is to CREATE, no matter what it is, no matter the size, no matter the budget, CREATE, CREATE, CREATE! Exercise that creative muscle, not everything we create will be perfect, but you are working on your craft, becoming better, finding your lane, and finding your voice.
Always follow your heart, and NEVER COMPROMISE your vision, this medium is a collaborative one, and surrounding yourself with people you admire and can learn from is a must, but in the end, you must trust your vision. Creative input and collaboration are how the film is made, but in my case, I always go back to the original vision, if it helps push the story and the vision then I always invite collaboration and input, and after analyzing the situation I find that it is steering me away from my original concept I will not compromise. Always stay true to yourself and make sure you are telling the story YOU want to tell. Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world? I certainly think storytelling and film can be great educational tools depending on the context. I think film and really art in general if it’s great, should help us define who we are not only as individuals but as human beings. I think we can absorb compassion, love, hate, and fear and how we react to those emotions and feelings by analyzing what we would do ourselves if put in certain situations. Relating or identifying with a character is how sometimes we learn about who we are and that can translate to wanting to become better. A better human, a better world.
Violent movies are often criticized for glorying the dark side of humankind, but I believe they serve as a type of cautionary tale. The vast majority of us will never experience what the heroes and villains do on the big screen, but I think most of us would aspire to behave like heroes instead of villains if the opportunity presented itself. The best part of us as humankind has always been manifested in the arts. Art and film can be a tool for us to learn to become better humans.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's tastes? With all the over-the-top streaming services available we have more content available at any time than ever before. I remember growing up we didn’t even have cable, so we were stuck with what came through the airwaves. This made it extra special when a good movie came on TV.
There is so much content available that sometimes deciding on what to watch can be overwhelming, so we tend to watch the same things, the new shows that are trending, the new season release, and the movie being talked about on social media.
I personally like finding hidden gems, shows, or movies that I missed in the past or new independent series created by new and up-and-coming filmmakers. In the end, I think having all these options and channels is a positive thing, there is something for everyone out there. I think that with the pandemic we were forced to spend so much time indoors that we all discovered or re-discovered movies and shows that maybe we wouldn’t have otherwise.
I think audiences are smart, I think audiences know what they want and what they like. Ultimately, I believe it’s a matter of taste and mood. I sometimes want to really dive into and dissect a couple of French new wave films, and other times I am too lazy for that and just want to watch explosions or a slasher stalking a teenager at a camp for no apparent reason. I believe all art, all film, and all music have good elements. We should appreciate each piece for what it is without comparing one to the other.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
We currently have two short films in festivals, L.U.N.A., a haunted house short with a tech twist, and MATCHES, an LA crime thriller. We are working on getting the feature version of
L.U.N.A. produced and I am in the process of finishing the script for my first feature, the Giallo-inspired JAUNE. As part of the process to secure the funds to shoot JAUNE, I along with two amazing filmmakers and great friends, Daniel Gomez Bagby and Steven Moreno, are working on the ’80s-inspired thriller/horror anthology, each one of us will write and direct one segment. All three segments are connected in a very simple way. My segment will be a short version of JAUNE. I can’t wait to share with you my vision of bringing GIALLO to modern American audiences.