By Mark Saldana
CLAIFF Programmer Jean Lauer, Composer Michael Ramos, Valente Rodriguez
In the New Visions/Work in Progress category, Cine Las Americas presented a rough cut of the film Los Scavengers by director Valente Rodriguez. If the name sounds familiar, one might remember Rodriguez from the George Lopez sitcom where he portrayed George’s buddy Ernie. Born and raised mostly in the Rio Grande Valley, Valente Rodriguez spent much of his life traveling with his migrant worker family. Valente would eventually enroll at the University Texas—Pan American in Brownsville. There he studied acting and would work on his craft before departing to pursue a career in Hollywood.
After nearly fifty acting gigs in television and film, including his regular stint on the George Lopez show, Rodriguez has made his foray into directing with Los Scavengers. Prior to the screening of his film, I had a most enjoyable interview with Rodriguez. The man clearly has a passion for acting, directing and for telling stories from the heart. As someone who has achieved success in entertainment, he also feels responsible for mentoring and advising young, aspiring actors and filmmakers. What made this interview especially great was Valente’s intelligence and excitement for his work. I must say that this conversation has to be one of the best ones I have ever had with an actor or filmmaker.
Mark Saldana: You have been acting for a while now. What inspired you to try directing?
Valente Rodriguez: When you’re an actor, you are pretty much tied to your role. You’re tied to your type, regardless of what that is, and all of us are typed, no matter what your skin color is and who you are. I felt that I had more energy inside me to be able contribute more than just act. I also felt there were stories that weren’t being told, specifically because there weren’t enough filmmakers of that sort to tell generally, the Latino story of those of us who have been here (the U.S.) forever.
M.S.: What kind of advice can you offer to young, aspiring filmmakers, particularly from the Hispanic or Latino communities?
V.R.: Young filmmakers get caught up in watching films that are already out there and they don’t realize that the stories they have in their own personal history might be more vibrant than the zombie story or the vampire story, whatever it is they are caught up in. I would advise them to work on their technical expertise so that when they want to tell that personal story, that script will be better.
M.S.: You moved from the Rio GrandeValley to L.A. Was that a frightening experience at first?
V.R.: It was a little scary and exciting. I traveled all over the United States with my family. That was always with my family. It (the move to L.A.) was the first time on my own, 1500 to 2000 miles away, with very little money, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make very many trips back and forth to visit family. But I am one of those people ready for something new. I was embracing this life that was coming at me. I was fortunate enough to be at U.T.P.A and I did a ton of plays. I did a lot of acting, a lot of acting. I knew I had this skill, but whether I would be able to adjust to this new television, film, agent professional world; I didn’t know. I knew if someone handed me a script, I would be able to plot it out, diagram it, and figure out the characters and choices. That gave me a bit of security. The going out into a new world and place was very exciting. I would advise anyone who wants to do it: 1) Get training so that you are confident. 2) Go! Go if you don’t have any responsibilities. Don’t be afraid of the world. You want to be one of those peoples who act upon the world, instead of the world acting upon you.
M.S. What can you tell me about Los Scavengers?
V.R.: It’s a work in progress and it certainly is not finished yet, but I’m the director so I don’t think it’ll ever be finished. We started thinking about the script in 2007 and David Rice, the writer, sent me something and I didn’t like it. Then, he sent me something else and I started liking it some more and we started trying to get some funding. Our Executive Producer David Haines went and found the money in Louisiana and brought it back to the Valley. I am extremely proud of the film and what we managed to accomplish with the amount of money we had and the crew we had. That’s what I want to do. Once this one’s in the bag, we’re talking about the next script. I want to do films in the Rio Grande Valley about the Rio Grande Valley.
Valente not only directed Los Scavengers, but also stars as Coach Albrown. The film tells the story about a club of boys who seek out the help of a curandera or mystical healer to lift a legendary curse from the high school football team. Because the movie is still a work in progress, there are several rough edges that need polishing and touching up, but the film does have the voice of the Rio Grande Valley. Anyone who has grown up there, or know people from the Valley well, will appreciate the language, the jokes and the references. The film should definitely appeal to that audience, especially kids ages 11 and up.