Vamos Talks with Santiago Marcos
Vamos Foods sat down with producer Santiago Marcos. Santiago is currently the Manager of the International Department at Stampede Ventures. Born in Mexico and currently living in Los Angeles, Santiago utilizes his own identity and perspective for his work. He reflects on how he first began to pursue filmmaking and describes what it was like leaving Mexico to pursue his goals in the United States.
Growing up in Mexico City
I was born and raised in Mexico City and lived there until I graduated from high school. For college, I went to the University of North Carolina, School of the Arts to study filmmaking with a major in film production. After I graduated, and thanks to the one-year work visa I was granted, I came to Los Angeles to be in the entertainment capital of the world.
My upbringing in Mexico was honestly incredible. I was born in a very fortunate household. I had older parents, they were in their 40's when they had me and my sister. They had already had my two older brothers, so that allowed me to have a more 'relaxed' version of them. I grew up to be very independent and my parents encouraged that.
It was a big change coming to the United States after living in Mexico City my whole life. I had known that city, and I had known the same people all my life. I was a very shy kid and I always worried about what other people might say about me because I was living in a pretty close-knit society where people talk. Going to North Carolina was very liberating as I didn't have to pretend to be someone, although I lived in a small town and everybody in school knew each other.
From MX to NC
North Carolina allowed me to develop as a person because I didn’t know anyone there. There were no other Mexicans in my school so I just had to be myself because there was nothing else to hold on to.
The school was in Winston Salem and North Carolina is known for being a pretty Republican state. However, Winston Salem is a very liberal or moderate town with people really caring about the arts. It was great to be in a school where people from town would come see our short films and all sorts of performances. It honestly felt like I was in a bubble inside of North Carolina. I didn’t feel like I was living in the 'South', we were a bunch of ‘weird artsy kids’ and people seemed to be okay with that.
The one thing that was hard was the fact that there were not a lot of Latinos in my school. I obviously connected with the few Latinos that were in the school. We bonded in a really cool way, and I made amazing friends.
Breaking the mold to pursue film
In my family, my siblings and my father are all engineers, economists or work in finance, and that's what I thought I was going to end up studying. We're all very pretty good with numbers and things like that. Pretty early on- I don't know why- I was very curious about making videos, I dreamed about using iMovie. After much persuasion and some negotiating, I got a Mac as a birthday gift. When I was around 15, I started to play around with making movies. I always enjoyed editing little videos for the family. That's how I started getting curious about the idea of making videos.
A silent room that said it all
I started making videos for high school projects, and everybody wanted to work with me for school projects. Then during my senior year, I was chosen to make a couple of videos for the yearly Model United Nations ceremony. I worked with a professor to create a video that showed some of the the challenges that the world was facing at the time. This video was also about expressing a sentiment of hope and encouragement to solve those problems. It was shown during the opening ceremony, and at the end of the ceremony, all the students left the auditorium and went back to class.
The teacher pulled me aside when we were walking out and asked me if I noticed what happened. I was like, “No, what are you talking about?”, and she said, "Everybody walked out of that auditorium in silence." Usually, high schoolers never walk out of an auditorium in silence. She said that my video made really touched the student and made them think hard about the issues showed. That was a big takeaway for me, because it made me realize the power of storytelling through video form.
When that happened and I realized I could have power over people and share emotions with a mass audience, I was hooked. That moment was what made me apply to film school. My parents were supportive but still hesitant. My older brother said, “Santiago is either going to make us poor or rich.” That was their perspective. Yes, there is a big risk, but there is also a lot of opportunity in the industry. I am pursuing a career doing what I love.
Right now, I'm a Manager in the International Department at Stampede Ventures. We are developing TV shows for the international market that are generally shot outside of the US. I'm very happy doing this because I'm learning so much about other people and other cultures, while also helping people bring stories to the screen that have never been told before. That's something that really excites me to be working on every day.
Using his identity as a bridge across division
There is an immediate connection between immigrants in the US, regardless of where you come from. It’s just one of those things in which you know you’ve shared similar experiences even though you’ve never met before. There's so many good things about America, and one of them is the way we make stories, movies and TV shows. I'm able to translate language and be that link between international audiences and international filmmakers. I help people figure out how to collaborate with American companies. That's what I think is the biggest benefit of using my identity in my job.
Focusing on the beauty
Even though immigrants share similar experiences, there are different perspectives and experiences among us. When you ask me if I've faced any challenges, in a way it's easier for me to think about the many people that have embraced me, instead of thinking about the people that haven't. I feel so accepted that I don’t think about the instances where I've been rejected. I feel like rejection is a personal thing that has to do with them.
I do remember one time in North Carolina, we were watching The Bicycle Thief, an Italian film form the 60's. There was a scene in which the police were trying to break up a big fight. It was two policemen and 30 men. These two policemen were trying to break up the fight despite being outnumbered. While it seemed like it was a very agitated and aggressive environment, the police never shot anyone or scared anyone with their guns or batons. They were really trying to break up the fight and try to solve it in a more humane way. At the end of the movie I told my professor, who was a white woman, that I liked seeing how the police were just trying to help and that the people that were fighting were not afraid of pushing the police away. I told the her how surprised I was that they weren't scared of the police and that the police was just another person trying to figure out how to get everybody to get along.
She responded by saying, “Okay, but why would people be afraid of the police?” This was in 2012. I turned to the side and a black friend that was sitting next to me said, “I'm also very afraid of the police,” and I told him, “Yeah I'm very afraid of the police, too.” My professor had never had to think about why there would be a reason to be afraid of the police, but every time I see a policeman, it's terrifying. Anything can happen... I know that.
Nothing has happened- the police have never been aggressive with me- but I know the power they have and the power they hold over me. That is something that, you know unconsciously, is in the back of my head.
What does it mean to be a Latino?
Being Latino means that family is very important, it probably is the most important thing. Being Latino means that the doors to my house are always open for friends and family and even strangers. Our home is a very welcoming place.
I feel that being Latino also means having a strong attachment and relation to food. Food always reminds me of home, and eating outside of Mexico is one of the hardest things for me. It has been so hard for me to find Mexican food that is genuinely authentic. I have lived outside of Mexico for almost 10 years now, but eating is always my favorite thing to do when I go back home. I would say the best tacos I've had are definitely street tacos, for some reason they're the most authentic.
Whenever I go to Mexican restaurants, there's always something that I think is not perfect. In US restaurants, there's always some ingredients or interpretations of authentic dishes that remind me that I'm not in Mexico. For that reason, no restaurant gets a 10 out of 10 in my mind.
Creating a network
The biggest thing that has helped me in my career living in LA is having my Latino community within the entertainment industry. I know I have a group of people that I can reach out for help. Because we're Latino, there is this connection that is formed before you even meet. And so, when we do meet, it's like you're meeting a longtime friend. There's a lot of trust and support between us.
I would say if you're a Latino and you don't have a group of Latinos, go find your Latino community because they're out there and in every industry. And you should at least hear each other out. A lot of Latinos are happy to go and grab a beer and some tacos and talk about work and life. If you are a Latino filmmaker, you can start by emailing me or by contacting another Latino as a resource.