How did a retired Navy man with a nuclear specialty end up as producer to a major motion picture?
Sounds crazy, huh? The man of the hour, Fred De La Garza, would agree. In actuality, all it took was a few friends bouncing around the idea of making a backyard film for Fred to begin his almost surreal journey into major motion picture production. While Fred decided to set his sights on production, his friend’s interest was as director. This led his friend to Raleigh’s Director’s Convention where he would meet someone that would change the course of their professional careers. William Kaufman would be the director that would prove to be Fred’s greatest mentor and dear friend.
While at the convention, Kaufman heard about their backyard film and would make them a most gracious offer. He volunteered to come down to Charlotte to show Fred and his buddies the ropes. This offer coming from the man who directed the Sony Pictures thriller, “The Hit List,” starring Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Cole Hauser, was certainly not one they were going to refuse. As promised, Kaufman arrived in Charlotte with two of his cameramen in toe, and spent over a month helping them put together their film. Unfortunately, half way through filming, the project ran out of money. Funding, or lack thereof, is often what delays or temporarily halts the production of a film. While Fred was disappointed, the bonds he made on set would prove to be priceless. At Will’s request, Fred would call him as soon as he got more investors on board to complete the film.
The funds were raised and Fred reached out to Will. However, another fortunate stroke of serendipity would befall Fred, as Will would offer him yet another amazing opportunity. The chance to earn production company credits, work with major actors, and essentially ride the coat tails of an amazing group of talent. Without hesitation, Fred and his friends shelved their backyard project, took their money and invested it in William Kaufman’s action thriller, Sinners & Saints. As the movie would take place in post-Katrina New Orleans, Fred packed his bags with blind faith and an immense trust in Will, and embarked on a journey that would change his life. Carolina Filmworks would be the vessel by which Fred would make this all happen. Carolina Filmworks is one of the leading production companies of North Carolina. Their vision is to create a portfolio of high-quality, box office hits, created, developed, filmed and financed in the southeast. It is comprised of a team of extraordinary talent, which includes, of course, Fred De La Garza (Producer), and his buddies, William Kaufman (Writer/Director), Rodney Blair (Independent Movie Producer), and Leon Dunn (Producer).
In 2009, if you would have asked Fred de la Garza if he imagined he would be producing his first major motion picture a few years down the road, starring the likes of Johnny Strong, Tom Berenger, Costas Mandylor, Sean Patrick Flanery, Kevin Phillips, Bas Rutten, Clifford “Method Man” Smith, and Kim Coates, he would have said you were crazy. In only 4 years, Fred and his team have reached a level that people with over 20+ year’s experience in film can only hope for and oftentimes never attain. Only twenty percent of films ever make it to the level of major distribution. “If we never make another movie at this level again, we have exceeded our expectations,” Fred said. Spoken like a man that has lived the dream that has truly played out. One can’t help but notice his sense of contentment and accomplishment.
While, it may be over 5 years before he ventures out to make another film, he is very content with this prospect. For Fred it is not about the quantity, but the quality of the production. He would rather produce one film of great quality than a multitude of mediocre films that have no potential. On a regular day, you’ll find Fred reading all sorts of scripts, paying special attention to action thrillers. Belief in a script and one’s commitment to it is fundamental to the success of a film. Fred recalls when he and his wife, Terrie, read the script for Sinners & Saints, “What we envisioned as we read it is exactly how it was filmed and produced.” Everyone’s interpretation of the script is crucial to the success of a film. Everyone needs to be on the same page and have the same vision. “The script and its interpretation is the glue that holds the project together,” he said.
The selection and interpretation of the script is only a small facet of his job as producer. In most cases, the producer is in charge of bringing the production together, bringing in the creative elements and taking care of the numerous and frequent problems that may occur with film development and production. This can mean any number of activities including, but not limited to: casting the film, handling the budget, hiring the crew, ensuring the set gets made on time, and getting the motion picture developed, mounted and sold. Oftentimes it takes several really good producers to get this arduous task done; however, finding investors to fund the project is paramount. A large part of film production is the recruitment of investors. Without investors, even the best script will never get off the ground. While Fred makes it clear that investing in a film definitely has its risks, the returns could also be great if the film reaches high levels in the industry.
Although Fred has achieved what many in the business only dream of, his greatest passion lies in making Charlotte, Fort Mill and the surrounding areas, the film mecca of the East. He wants to see more major productions here utilizing local talent, as well as, any and all resources available. He hopes to achieve this by educating the public and the surrounding businesses on the importance of film as not only an artistic venue, but also as a means of spurring local economic growth. While our area is growing in many respects, we have barely touched on it as it relates to the film industry. Outside of studios in Wilmington, NC, the majority of filmmaking takes place on the west coast. The public needs to be educated as to the impact even one film can have on our local economy. In addition to adding jobs, one film has the potential to bring in millions.
“With all the natural beauty, gracious people and willing businesses it would be a shame not to use Fort Mill and the surrounding areas for film,” Fred said. Just recently, Fred recalls working with Dave Tally of Motion Pixel Post of Rock Hill, on the filming of a short film titled Automat. He expressed his great appreciation for the local community of Fort Mill, Rock Hill, and Pineville to name a few, as the businesses would open their doors to his production crew freely and graciously without hesitation. He was able to take over store fronts, as well as, interiors for the sake of producing this film. Sayago’s Café & Creamery of Baxter Village, Two on Earth Bakery, and the York Museum were just a few of the local businesses that would welcome them with open arms, all in the name of art. The Anne Springs Close Greenway is another beautiful backdrop he would love to see in film. He plans on visiting with his wife, Terrie and their grandchildren in the spring in search of inspiration.
Today Fred finds himself a far cry from Walla Walla, Washington where he was born and yes, there really is a place called Walla Walla. While Fred didn’t know what he was getting into when he decided to take a leap of faith with his friend, Will Kaufman, it is clear he is very glad he did. Fred said, “it was a snowball that just kept getting bigger and bigger and became a full blown avalanche.” One thing is for sure, for Fred it’s all gravy from here because professionally he has accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible. Personally, his mission to make our area the film mecca of the East is what will drive him to continue taking on quality projects and educating our community on the importance of supporting the film industry. Kudos to Fred, as frankly, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Funny how his journey started with a backyard film and it’s in that very backyard that Fred would like to see the major motion picture film industry flourish. So, here’s to supporting all things local: business, actors, producers, directors and the development of local film that will take on global appeal, while stimulating our local economy.
Sinners & Saints is available at Walmart and at other participating stores. The sequel to Sinners & Saints is already in the works. In addition, Fred is working on a film about the racing scene that will be shot in Charlotte and the surrounding area. For more information please check out: carolinafilmworks.com and sinnersandsaintsthemovie.com.