Over the last few years, Rene Guerrero has done work in podcasting, filmmaking, film photography, and news. At the time of this conversation, he spoke over a vinyl playing harp jazz instrumentalist Dorothy Ashby, while he sketched concept art for his newest passion: animation.
How's that going?
My drawings? They're coming along honestly. I'm not working on characters as much as scenes that I can see working into a cartoon, more like concept art. Right now I'm drawing something pretty hard.
What are you drawing?
A highway from an angle where you can see houses and trees and stuff like that. I want the two characters that I've been drawing for the past month to be crashing off the barrier in an 18-wheeler. I think it would be hilarious to see one freaking out then one of the characters to not be freaking out like "Oh, this is normal."
Have you found names for your two characters?
No I haven't actually. All I have is Carrot and Pigeon, a carrot and a pigeon. Where I'm going with this, I don't know. Right now I'm in that stage where I'm just going with it. It's fun. It's kinda filling my time because during this quarantine I have been incredibly bored.
If your drawings became animation, what do you think the purpose would be?
I want it to be funny, dark humor but then I look at Regular Show and that's just the way the creator talks. He's not changing his voice. Just him and a couple of friends made this great show. Then I look at Zach Hadel and Chris O'Neill and their dark humor on YouTube is fresh. Maybe I just want to do something fresh. Maybe I want to do shock value.
Regular Show creator J. G. Quintel and good friend Sam Martin. Zach Hadel and Chris O'Neill's characters from the flash animation Hellbenders.
Do you think shock value is cheap?
It could be. If you're doing shock value and you just throw around constant jokes and giggles it's not gonna be funny. It's gonna be awkward and cringey like you're trying really hard.
What all are you passionate about?
Writing. Making a story from scratch. Editing. I really like editing but can easily get burnt out because it's so long. People dread editing, but once you're editing you want to get the project out. Directing. I haven't been wanting to direct my own thing in a while. For the last couple of years I've been assistant directing. Assistant directing, for anyone who doesn't know, is talking to actors, scheduling, and along the lines of producing. You talk to people of location, making sure the ship's on the right course. Animation. Which right now is drawing, sketching. Hopefully one day I'll learn how to animate. I've been wanting to do animation for a very long time honestly.
Why do you think it took so long to get started?
I always thought, "I can't draw." My drawings before were just so horrendously ugly that I felt like I could never do this. I didn't understand that you have to pay attention to detail, the way characters move, and the way architecture is. I think that's something I never took the time to learn until recently. I watched a YouTube video on how to draw a character. Now I have a whole sketchbook where I practiced characters and shadings. I was like, "I can draw a face. Can I draw a body? Yeah I can draw a body. Can I draw a character? I can draw a character!" And I kept building and building. I feel like if I build a strong enough foundation -even if it's of something I don't necessarily like- of people's faces or buildings then I can take that and do something I want to do. Having that strong foundation is essential to building something I would enjoy. The first couple of faces were good but their faces were like Disney characters and I could never see myself using a face like that. I think you have to figure out your own way, which is what I'm trying to do now. I understand putting in the time and work -which is something I can be better at- but I'm still figuring it out, discovering what I like and don't like. I've had a couple friends say "You know what you should do?" And I said, "No no no, hold on, wait wait wait." I'm not gonna do that because that's gonna completely change the story and it's not gonna have the same meaning that I want it to have. Yeah, it might be cool, but then it's not gonna be what I want it to be.
But don't you feel like feedback is important?
Absolutely. But feedback like, "You know what would be good? If you paced this out a little bit longer" or maybe, "We need more emotion, more reaction." Even just saying, "This story doesn't make sense. What's the conflict? The resolution?" That's how it's been at the program at TAMUCC. I go in there like I know what I'm doing, I got this. And they're like, "This is good, but where's the meat? What's the point of this?" I think, maybe I need to rethink this story. That's the type of feedback I like.
Do you think things need a point?
If I say yes I would be a hypocrite. Man, that's a hard one. Do things need a point for the sake of art? I have to say there definitely has to be some sort of conflict. I feel like that's the driving force of a story. If there's no conflict, then what are we doing here? (And then maybe you can put some deeper meaning behind it.)
I think a good example of that is Midsommar. I haaaated Midsommar. I'm sorry whoever loves that one. It's just like, "What are we doing here? What's the point of this? What are we watching?"
That's where I ride this fine line of hypocrisy because with some of the things I make you would say, "There is no point there. What's the point here?"
There isa point, but some people might not get it, and that's the beauty of it.
I'd be annoyed if I couldn't figure out the point... Maybe it's just the director thinking, "Yeah, this is gonna be so great."
Do you think anyone's ever gonna think that of you?
My thing is I'm always trying to make things relatable. Yeah, it's coming from my heart and experiences but it's not only for me. I think that's what some filmmakers miss. They want to make likable characters, not relatable characters. Maybe people will say that about me but at least at you can find relation to the scenario, whether that's being broke or confronting a friend, whatever. Like in My Friend Marcus. Feedback for My Friend Marcus was pretty good. My friend said it was a Wes Anderson type feel- a Bottle Rocket cringe humor feel. I felt like, cool, he gets it so other people might get it.
My Friend Marcus
At the end of the day if I can't laugh at or have a good time with my story then nobody else will. But that's the thing too, if I get it maybe that's enough. I'm not saying I'm this grand filmmaker. I'm still trying. I've told a lot of stories and have more to tell.
What do you think a failure is?
If the thing never got made. I'm sitting on a film that has never been released. How can you know if it's good or bad if no one saw it? So that film failed. Did I fail? No. Even though the film didn't get seen, I didn't stop. It failed, we regrouped, we learned. Oh well. You can't say woe is me on this one project even if it was pretty close to our hearts. You learn to accept that kinda happens.
How do you think that film has changed you?
Oh it's toughened me up. One day we were in the middle of Texas summer heat in Bishop, which is just fields and dirt. We were dirty, sweating. Poor actors. They had to do a fight scene and they were wrestling in the dirt. It was supposed to be winter so they were wearing sweaters and hoodies. The next day a cold front came in literally the night before. It went from 80-90 degrees to 24 degrees where the wind chill was so bad. We shot until 2 AM and it had gotten colder at night. In some of the clips I have, you can hear the director sniffing. And the audio engineer like, "Check" whatever, *sniff sniff*. We were miserable.
Shots from unreleased film.
There's a lot of moving parts and parts that can go wrong. Like unsecured locations, handshake agreements that aren't set in stone, actors that aren't really committed and bail out at the last second, having to find a new actor the day of shooting.
Would you say you have to be passionate about film making to do it?
This is all passion. You're running on hopes and dreams. I've been doing this for 4 years and I've made maybe $1000? I mean we all have jobs and most of us are going to school but we don't give up. And I say we because you need people to make it efficient.
What would you consider success?
I guess the most I've gotten was a nomination. I mean, I'm not gonna let it get to my head because I'm not done yet. All the films I've made have been directionless. Like, where is it going? Is it going to a festival or something like that? I've never entered a film festival other than CC 7 Day and I guess you can call that a festival but it's more like a contest -not really like a showcase of film.
How do you keep the momentum?
That's the hardest part. I guess by finding inspiration watching other films. I've also been listening to a lot of podcasts and hearing comedians share their stories which are pretty uplifting. They get so fired up when someone asks them, "How did you do this?" They're just so passionate. Most of the times they say, "I don't care about what anyone else says. When I stopped caring is when I found the most success." I take that into consideration, being more myself and not caring what other people might think.
Comedians like Joey Diaz and Patton Oswalt who just don't care.
I'm my own worst critic. I appreciate when people give me their honest opinion without trying to change the story. Tell me what you think. You're not going to hurt my feelings. That's another thing. You're most likely going to get your feelings hurt. You have to get over it and say maybe I could have done things better. Not that they're right, but that maybe I could have done things better.
What mistakes have you made?
Too much trust into people who haven't proven themselves.
-Do you think trust has to be proven?
I don't nec- I don't... Yeah. Yeah I do. Because if I'm going to spend my own time and money into creating this project, I shouldn't help this person if they're not willing to help themselves. We spend money for something that may not make money. I need more assurance that it's going to work. This project that I worked on for 6 months never got completed. It's been 2 years now. And we've already created projects that have been made in 2 days. I understand this person didn't get what he wanted, he only compromised in dire situations.
Have you compromised?
Yeah, actors haven't showed up or have had to leave. You gotta be creative in situations like that. If that's rewriting the entire ending, whatever it takes. For the actor to say, "Sorry I gotta go," it's like We have an entire ending to do with you. What are we gonna do? Let's rethink things. It was really interesting seeing the actors and crew say, "What if this happens? What about this?" We all stayed up til 2 in the morning the night before and some of that morning writing.
Everyone came to set, read the ending, and were like let's do it. I haven't seen myself in that situation since. I think that's proper preparation and proper judgement.
How do you judge someone properly?
Who knows? *laughs*
-So you just say, "You there! Hopefully you don't suck!"?
That't the way it is!
Honestly, there's this guy we found the day of. We were like, "Can you be here for 6 hours?" He said yes and nailed it out of the park.
Man. My Friend Marcus? The guy with the backwards hat? Yeah we called him an hour before like, "Hey can you come do this?" His name's Kevin and he's not an actor.
-What? He's not an actor?! Not an actor, been in at least 2 of your projects.
He's a photographer. I said, "It's better than nothing, call him!" That's just film making.
What's been your favorite part in everything?
Creating a story and building a world. Some of my favorite films like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter feel like an escape. That's what I enjoy the most. Building a world I can completely escape in.
What's your least favorite part?
Building that world. *laughs* It's so hard to do that. Unbelievably hard. It has to make sense in my book. I can't say it's open to interpretation. It's gotta make sense.
-That's crazy because your photos are open to interpretation but when it comes to you building stories you must understand the point.
I've always thought of photos like... like that photo of the house, the vagueness? I see, "This can be used in a film." I see someone entering the house, a car pulling up, kids playing around. Maybe something gruesome happened in there. I can always see something being built around these pictures.
-Your photos are concept art.
There you go.
If you could say anything to naysayers what would you say?
Thank you. Thank you for not believing in me because I'm going to prove you wrong. You may not like it, but I like it. I feel like if I like it other people will like it. I'll use that as fuel and I'll prove you wrong.
Was there anything that held you back that doesn't hold you back now?
Confidence. I mean, networking. I had a hard time going up to someone. I got confidence by talking to them. Sometimes we'd exchange info, sometimes they'd never reach back out but I feel like everyone should at least try. The worst they can say is no. Or they could say, "You are the worst person I have ever known." Like, "Alright, word. I'll see you later man." *laughs*
Were you ever afraid?
In the back of my head as I'm filming I'm always thinking, "It might not happen." In drawing, everything is at my disposal. I have more confidence in myself with animation than with film and I haven't even started animating. Film was nerve-wracking.
What is your dream?
*loud exhale* I'm gonna hang up.
-We can skip it.
I'm just kidding. There's a lot. I want to have my own cartoon show, make my own films. I do want to continue photography. I want to do a lot and I want to do everything my way. I don't want to be told, "You can't do this" or "Can you do this?" I want to be able to create the things I want to create without a producer or executive telling me, "You have to do it this way because it's not going to sell if it's not this way." I don't care about selling it. I just want to do it.
-You just want it to be yours because you're not going to be proud of it if it's someone else's.
Exactly. If I'm not proud of it, what's the point of doing it? Another thing, I want to do a video game. I've been playing video games, watching cartoons all my life. I've filled my head with so much film, animation, video games. Why not make something with it?
You can support these dreams and other local dreams by purchasing from our store. To read more about Rene's featured photography, read The First Interview.