Photos and Text by Francesco Caprio
On January 10th, Salvador received the Impact Award at the Santa Monica Film Festival. The award is given for the cultural impact that Santa Monica College (SMC) has had nationwide and internationally in terms of offering one of the top film programs at a high level of quality, and at a fraction of the normal cost.
“Usually film students incur a large amount of debt,” Salvador commented. “We wanted to create an alternative for that. I strongly believe that education should be free or virtually free, but at the same time, it should have a very high standard.”
Salvador has been teaching film for 13 years. He taught at USC, Pomona College, Los Angeles Film School, and now he is a full-time tenured professor at Santa Monica College.
FRANCESCO: “There are so many people here in Los Angeles that have a strong passion for making a film, but they have no idea how to go about it. What are your secrets of success for making a film?”
SALVADOR: “I have four tips. First: Be aware that it is your hard work, passion, consistency, and talent that will get you places. Notice that none of these traits has anything to do with socio-economic background! These are qualities that anyone can have. Often students feel that if they don’t have connections or are not born into a rich family, the door of access will be closed to them. What we want to cultivate at SMC (Santa Monica College) is this – your hard work and creativity can open doors to your success in film.
FRANCESCO: What’s your second tip?
SALVADOR: Second: It’s wise not to focus exclusively on film. Life experience is just as important. The more you experience and learn, the more you’ll have interesting things to talk about, and that will make you a better filmmaker. It’s important to expand your horizons, which is why I like having a film program within a college. My students are taking their filmmaking classes in conjunction with liberal arts, science, foreign languages, and so on.
FRANCESCO: What is your third tip for aspiring filmmakers?
SALVADOR: Find you own voice in film, and avoid being derivative. It’s much better to show what you are trying to say as an individual, rather than make a third-rate film that imitates the work of an established filmmaker. Honest self-expression is powerful.
FRANCESCO: And what is your fourth and final secret of successful filmmaking?
SALVATOR: Pursue a story that you truly believe in, and don’t let anything stop you! When I made The Other Conquest, a historical drama about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, it took us seven years to make the film. We had to raise the money ourselves. But the upside was that we were able to maintain creative control. Creative control is extremely important to me because that way I can maintain the film’s artistic integrity. With The Other Conquest, so many people told me that the film was not commercial…that it would never succeed. Yet, when 20th Century Fox released it, it became the highest grossing film in Mexican cinema at the time.”
FRANCESCO: “Wow. Let’s stop the interview for a minute, so I can shake your hand. Congratulations!”
SALVADOR (laughs): “Thanks for that. Often no one knows what will be commercial and what will not. But one thing is for sure – people connect with honesty, good storytelling, and believable acting.
FRANCESCO: “Any final thoughts?”
SALVADOR: “Yes. There is a cliché – ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’ I look at that as a cultural problem in this country. I think it’s time for people who can, to realize the importance of sharing what they know with others. Art, to me, is about selflessness, and what better way to do that than to mentor new talent regardless of things like race, gender, or socio-economic background. As far as I know, we only live once. So it makes sense that we give 110% to everything we do. Then, hopefully, the seeds we sow will help others to live their