Tell It To a Marine
DLI Russian-language student hosts his own TV show on bare-bones filmmaking.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Some people talk about producing an indie film on a used car budget. David Vargas, a local filmmaker and active duty Marine, talks about making movies on a lunch money budget.
The former theater major, bartender and Russian linguist can now add TV producer to his résumé. Vargas, who’s stationed at the Defense Language Institute until June, is the producer and host of “Guerilla Filmmaking,” a community television program that highlights little-known directors from the Monterey and San Francisco bay areas. The show is broadcast via Access Monterey Peninsula (AMP) at 8pm the first and third Tuesday of the month.
The format goes like this: Vargas, sitting on a director’s chair in his studio, introduces a short three- to five-minute film shot by a local filmmaker. Then Vargas interviews the director about the film, asking about his or her ideas and more practical aspects of shooting on a shoestring budget (i.e., how to recruit actors and musicians for free). Then Vargas talks to people on the streets of Monterey, asking them a question that somehow relates back to the movie’s theme.
Here’s an example: One episode of “Guerilla Filmmaking” features a film about a man and woman on a date who ask a jogger to take a picture of them with the woman’s camera. The jogger takes off with the camera, and a kick-ass martial arts scene ensues. Following this movie, Vargas asks random pedestrians: What would you do if you asked someone to take your picture, but they stole your camera instead?
Some of the answers are as entertaining as the short itself. One guy says he’d chase the robber down, “and then I’d sit on him.”
This Tuesday’s featured work is a short film by local producer Chris Roy called A Turn of the Hand. It starts off like this: A man lies on the floor, dead, with a bullet hole in his forehead. Then everything moves backwards—the bullet flies out of the man’s head and back into the gun, the blood splattered on the wall comes clean, the fight ensues.
Viewers can catch the rest on Jan. 20; it’s quite good.
Vargas, a Miami native who joined the Marine Corps five years ago, says he started making short films while stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, near Wilmington. The base is also near Screen Gems Studio, the largest working movie production facility east of California, billed as “Hollywood East.”
Vargas’ background in theater, combined with his occasional stand-up comedy performances as well as his location at Camp Lejeune—which included the added perk of having a huge studio practically in his backyard—drove him to it. “I got the bug,” he says, so he started a film company, No Vacancy Productions.
Vargas had a digital camera and a passion for filmmaking, and with the help of how-to books and instructional Web sites and online posting boards, he taught himself to make movies.
A year ago, Vargas moved to Monterey for a second language instruction course at DLI. He previously learned Basic Russian at the school in ‘98. (Vargas is a bilingual Spanish speaker who is also fluent in French and Croatian.) This time around at DLI, he’s studying treaty-level Russian, and his list of vocabulary words includes “embryonic stem cell,” “therapeutic cloning,” and “hereinafter referred to as.”
Eighteen linguists started in his class last February. Now there are three. “They bill it as the most difficult course at DLI,” Vargas says.
In between studying Russian, serving as a platoon commander with 45 young Marines under his charge, and being a good husband to his wife and co-producer, Samlee Grissom, Vargas directs, hosts and produces “Guerilla Filmmaking.”
“There’s a saying, if you need something done you give it to a busy person,” he says. “But if I get to three people out there, who see this show and say, ‘I want to get started,’ then my mission is complete.”
Vargas says he’s currently looking for other local directors to highlight on his show.
“When I started making short films, I had no resources. So I made a show of what I would have wanted to see when I was starting out. It’s for people who have a camera, $200 and a story to tell.”
The next episode of “Guerilla Filmmaking” airs Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 8pm on Access Monterey Peninsula, channel 24 for cable subscribers in Carmel and Monterey, and channel 51 in Ft. Ord and CSUMB. To submit a short film for consideration, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.