Cedric Thomas Smith directs his film crew doing his latest shoot. Photo Courtesy of Daylin Van Zandt.

When most people think of filmmaking in Texas, they think of Austin but San Antonio is quietly becoming one of the best places for creatives to live and work. Texas Nation, a local media company, will launch the San Antonio Filmmaker’s Workshop downtown on Saturday, April 23 at the Geekdom Event Centre on Soledad Street. The workshop will be a monthly meet-up for filmmakers, actors, musicians, animators and anyone interested in supporting filmmaking in San Antonio. The workshop will develop campaigns to further filmmaking support in San Antonio, present “best practice” tutorials to educate peers, offer constructive critiques of current projects, as well as opportunities to network, collaborate and develop life long friendships.

We caught up with a few local filmmakers: Cedric Thomas Smith, Jesse Salazar, Johnny Luna, and local actor Mike Ettnie who are making things happen in San Antonio’s film scene.

Cedric Thomas Smith

Day Van: As a filmmaker what are some if the advantages of working in San Antonio?

Cedric Smith, writer/director of "Symphony of Silence."
Cedric Smith, writer/director of “Symphony of Silence.”

Cedric: San Antonio is a beautiful city with a multitude of locations to choose from. Another advantage is that the city is full of talent that has not been tapped into yet. It’ll happen soon and I will be one of those proudly saying, “I knew him or her when…”

Day Van: I love to hear about what moves people can you describe the moment that you knew that you wanted to make films?

Cedric: I always wanted to be in entertainment. Initially, I wanted to be an actor. Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep were my heroes. I had The Color Purple memorized. And then I went to the movies and saw The Prince of Tides. That was the first time in which I was mesmerized by cinematography and musical scores, etc. I was the person driving down I-35 blasting “The Prince of Tides” score while driving my sister’s Ford Tempo. That was when I knew I wanted to do something in film other than act.

Day Van: Where do you get your inspiration for your films?

Cedric: As corny as it may seem, life and music inspire me. I can see a news article or hear a song and a story will spring to life. Although, I am overdue for a comedy, I love creating tearjerkers. People bawling in a film reminds me that we still are emotionally connected.

Johnny Luna

Day Van: Where are some of the coolest places that you have filmed at in the city?

Filmmaker Johnny Luna
Filmmaker Johnny Luna. Photo via Facebook.

Johnny: In television, I’ve been lucky enough to film in some really great spots in San Antonio…the St. Anthony, La Villita, the Alamo, and many others. If I had to pick one spot that stands out, it would have to be Floresville, Texas. I befriended the town’s mayor, Daniel Tejada, several years ago, and he allowed my crew to film a feature there, even in hard to reach spots like their city hall and sheriff’s department. Even after I finished my feature, they allowed in several production companies at my request. They were one of the most film-friendly places I’ve ever worked, even closing down streets for us. I highly recommend my friends to shoot here, it’s a beautiful spot.

Day Van: What advice do you have for people wanting to become filmmakers in San Antonio?

Johnny: One thing I’ve learned is to know your place. There are a lot of “directors” in San Antonio who try to take over every aspect of the shoot. Trust in your Director of Photography (DP) and the rest of the crew, don’t try to micromanage. With Love, Charlotte I focused on the actors and let my DP Scott Langford run with his own ideas, and I couldn’t be happier with his work. I had a great art dept and camera crew, and by letting them do their work without my input, they killed it. Best advice I can give is hire crew that you can believe in, and don’t second guess their work.

Day Van: What is something that you think the City of San Antonio could do to help support filmmaking in our city?

Johnny: Just stay tight-knit guys…Kerry Valderama, Bryan Ramirez, the Nations…they are all working towards building a better tomorrow with Alamo City Studios, and bringing in top-tier work. I’ve gotten to know these guys and I promise you, they are sharp, talented and people I’m glad to call my friends. Support our industry, I assure you it has a bright future.

Jesse Salazar

Jesse Caption Photograph of Director Jesse Salazar photograph by Chris Proutt
Director Jesse Salazar. Photo by Chris Proutt.

Day Van: What are some of the challenges of being a filmmaker in San Antonio?

Jesse: A challenge most people may face being a filmmaker in San Antonio is finding the opportunities to secure consistent, paid work in the industry. While the community and attention to San Antonio is definitely growing, our city is still not at the level of a “LA” or “New York”, where you could throw a rock and find a job in film or video production. This problem is two-fold: 1) There aren’t many large, national productions that come our way and 2) local people have talent, needs and ideas that sometimes outpace their wallet. While there are plenty of opportunities for young and new filmmakers to get experience and credit for working on a production, a question that’s often asked of me is “how do you get paid for doing this?”

The answer to that is to be resourceful and by doing so, you can counter the two issues listed above. While not much national production work comes to our city, it still definitely visits us and those opportunities are out there and there are websites that allow you to find those jobs.

Additionally, there are local production companies and filmmakers that will pay for your time –I am blessed and fortunate enough to be one of those individuals– but you have to be willing to put yourself out there, network, and most importantly, keep in touch with the right contacts.

Of course, the biggest step you can take is to put yourself out there. I always suggest for people to start working on various projects around town and building a reputation as someone that’s willing to work hard and is dedicated to learning as much as they can about film and video production. When I am looking for new people to work with, that’s usually the most important factor when deciding who I want on my team.

Day Van: Most people don’t realize there is a filmmaking community here in San Antonio. What is it like?

Jesse: The local film community is like a family, for better or worse, and a group you can come to for support. I think the community is constantly evolving, and through that evolution, there may be some growing pains. However, what has remained consistent is that the people producing quality work continue to do so. I believe that if our community remains open and welcoming to positive, proactive, hardworking filmmakers, regardless of the types of movie they make or field they want in the industry, we can foster a great environment.

Day Van: What is your proudest accomplishment as a filmmaker?

Jesse: As a filmmaker, my proudest accomplishment has to be the impact I’ve been able to make on our community in San Antonio. I’ve been able to assist filmmakers that are both well-established in the industry and those that are just starting it, and each production has been very rewarding. I am proud that I have been able to make a living off my passion for not only filmmaking, but assisting others accomplish their dreams. I want to be a good example for not only what someone can accomplish in digital video and cinema production in San Antonio, but what someone can give back to their community. I invite all filmmakers to reach out to me if they ever have any needs for their production. While I am focused on directing, writing and camera operation, and I always look forward to seeing what needs a production has and my network of support is so varied that even if I personally can’t be there to assist, I am confident I would be able to find the right person to help you see your project come to fruition.

Mike Ettnie

Day Van: So, you’re from California, why would you choose San Antonio to be an actor?

Mike: San Antonio for one, is a very affordable city especially in comparison to the larger cities in

Actor Mike Etnie photographed by Robert Gonzalez
Actor Mike Etnie. Photo By Robert Gonzalez

Cali like Los Angeles and San Francisco. I kinda feel like San Antonio is a sleeping giant that is just waiting to erupt almost like the way Atlanta and New Orleans have recently. You’ve got great climate, awesome food and everyone is willing to give you a chance without you having to be part of some major acting troupe, clique or the Union.

Day Van: In addition to acting, you  also work for a local talent agency. What’s that like?

Mike: Working with an agency, being an actor myself, kinda brings a different perspective into what I do. It helps me understand what clients are looking for and why. In addition I’ve managed to get in contact with many casting directors/producers and others crew members of production. Now if you want to ask me if I can pick apart a casting director’s mind on what they are looking for in the audition room…well you might just have to ask them why they cast who they do.

Day Van: What kind of opportunities are out there for actors in San Antonio?

Mike: There is a lot of talent here in San Antonio. The San Antonio Film Commission has a new commissioner and is poised to do some really exciting things for the city. There is a tight-knit community of film professionals here that don’t mind collaborating and you always can learn without feeling intimated by someone who has thousands of IMDB credits or has been in several Oscar-considered films. As I mentioned, folks here are willing to give you a chance. Of course that doesn’t mean you as an actor shouldn’t hone your craft, keep your head shots current, have a nice reel. Oh, and don’t be that person that shows up to set unprepared or misses (the set) altogether. Because you might not be working in this town anymore. Oh, and you gotta network, network and network.

Top Image: Cedric Thomas Smith directs his film crew doing his latest shoot. Photo courtesy of Daylin Van Zandt. 

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Daylin Van Zandt

Daylin Van Zandt

Daylin Van Zandt is a writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur from San Antonio, Texas. He is also the creator of the San Antonio Filmmaker's Workshop and founder of Texas Nation San Antonio, a collaborative...