The local film scene has been relatively quiet for most of 2015—some in production working on projects yet to see the light of day, others running quietly with a lack of local film festivals and other annual shenanigans to keep filmmakers busy. But there are those still producing material in various other projects to keep their company running, and helping out those who need some kind of professional work for their material. One of the local names constantly working on stuff is Salty Block Pictures, who chatted with us about their individual careers and forming the company, all the way to their current films and what lies ahead for them in 2016. (All pictures courtesy of Salty Block Pictures.
Moises Lemus, Josh Rowley, and Ryan Piccolo
Gavin: Hey everyone, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
I grew up moving from a few different towns in Utah. Born in Fillmore, lived in Layton, and after that lived all over the Salt Lake valley. I have always lived in Utah and I believe I always will. I’ve done traveling and nothing feels like home like Salt Lake.
I grew up in the small town of Price in Southeastern Utah. I got into film when I was 13 years old, taking our family video recorder and making videos with my friends.
I come from a migrant family, the seventh child of nine kids, so I learned how to share pretty quickly. I originally came from a small town in Central California called Porterville, I moved from there to the “big city” Salt Lake, of course. When I arrived, I didn’t like it (too cold), but as I got older I realized how lucky I was to have this as my home. I love everything about SLC, from the culture to the scenery. There is no place like our state.
Gavin: What first got each of you interested in filmmaking, and what were the earliest influences on you?
I was first interested in filmmaking at an early age. I did everything I could to get my hands on any type of camera. But, I dove into editing music to cartoons as my first "music videos," then I decided to go to film school to learn how to do that. I loved watching movies, and then started buying at the time it was the two-disc DVD sets with the special features. I would watch those over and over, learning how they made these films and just finally something clicked, and that is what I needed to do with my life.
My friends and I went to movies a lot as children, It was every weekend we went to see a film and then afterward we would be in the parking lot until the early morning talking about what we saw and how they did it. This was before CGI was used. One weekend, when there was nothing playing that we wanted to see, we decided to try and make our own video. One of my friends made a monster costume and we decided to make a horror story. It turned out really crappy, but we had a lot of fun doing it, so we started making a video every week. One of my all time favorite movies is Patton
starring George C. Scott. Every time I watch it, I think to myself, I want to make something just as elaborate as this and know me and my team could get it done.
As a child, every Saturday morning Fox used to show a lot of their movies over the air TV. My siblings and I would gather around the TV set and watch the movies for hours because of commercials it would always peak my interest and just be in love with the stories of what they would show. Some of the earliest movies I remember watching were movies like IT
(the clown movie), Chucky
, and Poltergeist
because my older brother loved horror movies. I was so afraid of those movies as a child that I still am afraid of clowns, and it caused me to not really like horror movies, but I was able to watch Forrest Gump
and the visual story of that movie is what really made me love movies.
Gavin: Prior to college, had any of you experimented with video or making home movies?
I tried to make some videos that turned out terrible. But, it was fun making them. My friend and I would go run around all over the place filming him as a superhero, but he really sucked at it. We made a human doll out of milk jugs and clothes then ran it over with a car. It was just a fun thing to do.
Before college I owned and operated my own business in Price; I had a paintball store located on Main Street. I sponsored two local teams which traveled all around the state to play, as well as Chicago where they placed 7th out of 74 teams. When the economy fell, no one was spending money on hobbies so I decided to follow my other passion: film.
Of course I was always playing with cameras when I was able to get my hands on them but never truly did anything. My friends were into music so I would go with them and shoot the scene type stuff and would turn them into highlight videos.
Gavin: All of you studied film at The Art Institute Of Salt Lake. What made you choose their program and what was it like learning film there?
AI for me was all about hands-on learning. The other colleges in the valley that I was looking at were all theory-based; that helps to a certain extent, but I learn by doing. That's what I found with AI was my final assignments for my film classes were to go out and make films, and come back and get them criticized and torn apart only to make you better.
When I was looking into film school, I checked the University of Utah program and found that they were more theory-based. Meaning more paperwork, less filming. I then checked the community college and found that they only had an associates program which is good, but I was looking for a bachelor's program. I saw an ad on television about the Art Institute and their program, I looked into it and saw the closest one was in Las Vegas. When I called the office I was told they had one in Salt Lake, so I then called and set up an appointment to check out the school. After touring the school, I knew this was the place I wanted to go, and 2 weeks later I was in class.
When I was in high school, the AI came and talked to our media class about the school, and right away I knew that I wanted to go to it. Unfortunately, the program was in Seattle, and being so family oriented, I wasn’t ready to leave the nest yet, so I decided to just stay home. When it was announced, I decided to check it out, and loved it and enrolled in the program.
Gavin: How did each of you eventually become friends and work on projects together?
I became friends with Moises mostly because his work ethic. He showed up and took himself and film seriously like I do, and we meshed because of how dedicated we are to making ourselves better with every single project we do. With Ryan, it was the same way, only later in school. It all started in school: We stuck together to create amazing things when most people just gave up and went different directions. So we all met at school, through different circumstances.
I met Josh around my third semester in school. Two of my roommates in the dorms has just failed out and I was getting two new ones for the following term. Josh and another guy moved into one of the rooms. I did not have any classes with him, and we were usually not at the dorm because we were out filming and the times we did see each other it was just in passing as one of us were coming or going. Josh was not in the dorms for long, but the following semester I had a few classes with him and we got along well due to our passion for filmmaking. On our projects is where I met Moises, and just like Josh, we got along very well.
I met Josh in one of our classes. We were in the film club together and the club decided that they wanted to make a short so we set a date got equipment got actors and then next thing we know, Josh and I are the only ones there ready to shoot. No one else arrived so I figured he was a trustworthy guy. I started filming some friends of mine and asked Josh to come help it and from that experienced we learned a lot from one another and realized we shared a lot of the same goals and became really good friends. Ryan came along as well after shooting a few projects and he was always around. I loved his energy and we eventually became friends as well.
Gavin: Moises and Josh, what made you decide to start up your own production company?
We figured, why not? After being able to shoot our pilot reality show, we figured we worked really well together, had similar interests, and figured, shoot, why not do it? This is what we want to do with our lives, so why not start at school? Josh had made up his mind before starting school that he was going to be some sort of success before he graduated, and I wanted to be successful and just wanted to be the best production company and have a great team; Josh was the first teammate to be able to create things.
Gavin: What were some of your early projects like, and what was it like for you both building a resume and a company at the same time?
Our early projects were school assignments. They were rough, but had a good starting point and good learning lessons. One of the big reasons we started a company, though, was that we were also on all of our free time, were getting outside work done. We started filming all these hooligans running around with all of their shenanigans, and then ended up just making a reality series pilot. We ended up working with the producers of the TLC show Sister Wives
. They were really interested and even signed contracts with us for them to take the show and shop to networks. The networks did not end up signing it, but we looked at that as a huge success. Being sophomores in college and already talking with television producers, we were really excited about that. Then we met up with the writer/director of Chick Magnets
and we were able to carry the film since we had a legit LLC.
Gavin: What was it like filming your first feature film, Chick Magnets, back in 2012?
Oh man, It was rough. We had a lot of obstacles, and it became a huge learning experience. Everything from the pre-production to the production itself, we had two weeks to film. So it was a very ambitious two weeks of working from before sunrise to well after the sun went down to finish the film. We worked anywhere in between 14-22 hour days and literally took a timeout in life to learn our craft. But, it was fun and we had a great time making the film. It was also one of the hardest moments we've done to that point in our career.
Gavin: What did you think of the local reception to it, and what were the biggest lessons you learned coming out of it?
Moises: Chick Magnets
had a very good response, we had roughly 500 people come to the premiere and had to turn some away because there were so many people. But it only had an "okay" theatrical run. The biggest lessons from the film were learning how to make an actual film and the right way to do it. It is a hard road that usually takes people a lot longer to go through and learn from mistakes that they make over the course of months to years; we learned those hard lessons in two weeks. Learning hard, rough lessons and many, many mistakes that have since been corrected. It made us better, honestly. Not only as people, but as filmmakers. Learning from those lessons made us better prepared for American Nobody
, the feature we just finished filming a couple months ago, and we are producing two more features right now.
Gavin: I understand there was a period of time you were working with some people on reality television projects. What made you decide to check that out and how was it working with them?
We always wanted to better ourselves and to soak up and learn everything we possibly can. The biggest thing that we personally learned was that we don't want to work in television. HBO or Showtime would be great, but not regular network television. Moises and I also spent a summer interning at a news channel, and from that experience we both were on the same page that we don't wanna end up there because the form of story telling is different, and we felt like it was the same all the time when storytelling shouldn’t be. But mostly we want to make films. Make cinema. Make magic. We just couldn't do that with going in those routes.
Gavin: Ryan, prior to joining Salty Block, what had you been working on in your own career?
Before joining Salty Block, I was interning for Real Salt Lake, where I did all their pre-game interviews and their weekly game recaps as well as little promotional videos that went on the jumbo torn during the games. I did that for 2 1/2 seasons before leaving to finish school and join Salty Block.
Gavin: How did the opportunity to join in as a business partner come about?
We were always working together, and it seemed like it was just us three because nobody wanted to come,so I would. After many projects like this, Josh and Moises asked me to be in the business as a business partner, and to me it was a no-brainer. To join a team with two skilled people and very fun people, I had to take the opportunity.
Gavin: What was it like for all of you to work on and produce American Nobody, and when will that project see the light of day?
We had a great time being a part of the production. We got to meet a lot of different people and work with actors we had not had the opportunity to work with before. Being able to lead in our departments was a great learning experience, as we each had many challenges but were always able to overcome them. We really did have an amazing cast and crew, and being able to work with Salsa Media was great. Currently, the film was submitted to Sundance Film Festival and will be entered in many more. I’d expect a late 2016 release date.
Gavin: What would you say is your film style or theory?
How we look at a film is that we believe we have an added curve that other production companies don’t have. I believe we take ourselves more seriously than other companies in town. It’s not just about making a commercial, but about making a cinematic commercial, does it have story, etc. We really hold ourselves to a higher standard that sometimes it’s hard for us to even keep. We set goals as a company that we really hold ourselves too. We do a project and always evaluate what could've been done better, what did we do well, and how can we improve on the next shoot. Our style is a little edgier than other companies, and it’s something we pride ourselves on. Our style is not only for local but also national and eventually global.
Gavin: What sparked your interest in doing documentary film and what projects do you have in the works?
That aspect of story telling is a great medium, and now with viewing options like Netflix they are more acceptable now than they were before. We have in the works a documentary for a local pro boxer, Jose “Pepito” Haro. It's not done yet, and we've been working on it for a couple years. It's an interesting doc, because he's self-training and was headed for the number one spot in his division until a recent accident, so now we will get to see his fight to return to elite status again. We are producing another feature film called Exchange Students
by Todd Maetani, an award-winning screenwriter, to be shot next summer. We are still in the pre-production stages, and we also do cinematic advertising for really any company on any scope. However, large or small the project is, we will make it the best they have ever seen.
Gavin: As a company you also create music videos and commercials. Who are some people you've worked with, and how can others get in touch with you about creating something?
We have shot many music videos for many artists, such as Doc 9, Chino FoReal, Artwork, Kara Nosack, Bud LIB, and a new up-and-coming artist Santos Guzman and Pelon Music, and many others locally and from California. We are always looking to collaborate with artists, and really teach them a little about how video is supposed to work for them. A lot of times, artists don’t see why it is important to create a great video. Once they work with us they understand that in order to have the complete package, it’s also about having great visuals to go along. We can be contacted just through our website
in our contact section, and there is also Instagram
, and Twitter
Gavin: What can we expect from all three of you and Salty Block going into 2016?
Big things! Everything from the feature American Nobody
to filming another feature in April to cool music videos and, of course, our cinematic commercials. But best of all we will continue to just become better friends and continue to have fun doing what we love together.