jerome leyba and henry valdez
Making a scene— for $80
“We’re Jerome Leyba and Henry Valdez. We made a movie for $80.”
And with that, filmmakers Leyba, 24, and Valdez, 22, introduced themselves to Pasatiempo at a Santa Fe Film Festival event. Their ultra-low-budget drama, But Jenny, You’re From Vegas, actually played at the rival Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, where it picked up a couple of awards.
The native Santa Feans have been longtime friends. Both attended New Mexico State University — Leyba for business marketing and advertising; Valdez for government and criminal justice. Three years into their education there, they began to make short films for the marketing program. They became hooked on film. “It was too late to turn around [and study film], so we figured, let’s teach ourselves,” Valdez explained. “We’ve never taken a class on film editing, directing, producing, acting.”
They’re making it happen, and they’re intent on staying here to make movies, as they related in a joint interview with Pasatiempo. Pasatiempo: So how do you make a feature film for $80? Jerome Leyba: We directed; we wrote; we edited; we did all the production aspects. Where we spent the $80 was in renting a room at the Golden Nugget [Casino] for $50 and buying high-definition tape and printing the script out at Kinko’s. We were super self-sufficient; we kept everything in-house. Henry Valdez: After we graduated from school, we moved to Las Vegas, so when I wrote the script, I wrote it using locations I knew we could jump out of our car and start shooting. The stuff that happens in the house was shot in a friend’s house; the stuff in the desert was shot in the desert. And then it was all timing. Vegas isn’t like New Mexico in the sense that people are up in the morning. They don’t get up early there, so if you shoot around 8 o’clock, it’s pretty dead. Leyba: And our cast was awesome, they donated their time. We found a lot of actors who were doing [stage] shows or working as print models, but as far as movie acting, there weren’t a lot of opportunities. So when we started auditions, we were surprised at how great a turnout we got. We got really good people who were willing to donate their time, who showed up and did what needed to be done. Pasa: The acting is actually pretty good. Valdez: None of us had done that much acting except Roberto Codato, so we held random acting classes in our living room, and rehearsals were conducted with Sanford Meisner techniques of acting, and we tried to make things as real as we could. Leyba: That was our key thing, because our elements of production aren’t of the greatest quality. There was only so much we could do with just a boom mike and a camera. We know if we could portray the story through the quality of the acting, people might look past some of the production flaws. Pasa: New Mexico is known as a film state, but is Santa Fe a young-artists’ town in general? Valdez: It is known as kind of an older-crowd town. As we grew up, we heard everyone say they wanted to leave. Santa Fe has created its own little bubble in terms of available artistic venues. That was clearly evident in this year’s Santa Fe Film Festival. Not a lot of young Santa Fe filmmakers were included, and that’s why Jacques Paisner and his buddies created the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival: to showcase young New Mexico filmmakers. But no, there’s not a lot of avenues to display your art in Santa Fe. Leyba: I agree. Santa Fe has a lot of art, but there’s not a lot of outlets for young people to get involved. A lot of times what happens, especially with younger artists, is that they feel they are not a part of the scene, they feel no one is including them, so instead of getting involved or making a scene, they leave and look for other outlets. The problem is the communication is not there with the youth. I think the artists are here, the art is here, but nobody knows about it. Even locals aren’t aware of it, because nobody’s promoting it and nobody’s looking for it. If you want people to see your art, you have to promote it. Valdez: A few of our musician friends have left Santa Fe and pursued careers in Seattle or Portland or Las Vegas. Leyba: Lenny Lujan, who did almost 90 percent of the score for our movie, left here for Las Vegas to pursue a music career because he could get promotion there, he could join a working band. Pasa: What can be done to encourage young artists to stay here? Valdez: It’s not a short-term fix. You have to tell kids early on, It’s OK to paint; it’s OK to write; it’s OK to act; all these artistic avenues are there for you. The sad thing is, schools are cutting back on art every day. It seems to be taking the artistic vision away and trying to apply art to teaching science or math or English so they can pass a test so the school can get more funding for science or math or English. Leyba: It goes back to communication. The state could set up a program where professionals go to high schools, to colleges, and say, Hey, here’s an outlet. We’re going to put on a directing class, an acting class, a filmmaking class. If any adults had pushed me toward these things, I would have jumped on it. Pasa: So if things don’t work out for you here in two or three years, could you see yourself leaving Santa Fe to pursue this career elsewhere? Valdez: I wouldn’t say we see that. Our goal is to make films. Whatever outlet opens up and allows us to do this is the one we will take, but our vision includes New Mexico. We just want to keep making films that people want to see.
— Robert Nott
Henry Valdez, left, and Jerome Leyba; top, Valdez and Crystal Starlight in But Jenny, You’re From Vegas