Having started as a loose collective of creators, working with colleagues from Digital NEST and the greater filmmaking community of Watsonville, they officially formed an LLC last June. They were almost immediately approached to do projects.
“We didn’t think we’d explode as much as we did. We thought we’d start off slow,” said Medina, head producer for Calavera. “But we got contracted to do stuff right away.”
Calavera’s first two videos, a miniseries about how local creatives were celebrating Día de los Muertos, were featured at last year’s Virtual Watsonville Film Festival. Soon after, they were approached to do a documentary about the La Perla Del Pacifico restaurant’s 30th anniversary.
Then they received a grant from the Community Health Trust of the Pajaro Valley for a new project titled “In These Times.” The series follows various Pajaro Valley residents and groups as they navigate the pandemic.
Medina said they really didn’t believe they would receive the grant, among all the other organizations applying.
“We were like, ‘They’re probably not going to approve us—a film grant about Covid? There’s so much other need out there,’” Medina said. “But they said it was exactly what we all needed: Our stories about this community to be shared.”
Originally, the series was going to be a full-length documentary. But Medina, Cisneros, the company’s creative director, and their team decided it would be more compelling to split them into episodes.
“It’s much more effective to have them in bite-sized pieces, covering a variety of different topics,” Cisneros said. “That way we wouldn’t drop all of the information at once. We’d keep the conversation going over a series of weeks, months.”
So far, three out of five episodes have been completed and are now available to stream on Vimeo and Calavera’s website.
“Watsonville Campesino Caravana” follows the story of community members who banded together last year to create the Farmworker Appreciation Caravan, and bring awareness to the largely ignored group of essential workers.
Episode 2, “Las Tías,” follows the story of two of Medina’s aunts, dealing with senior isolation and other struggles during the pandemic. “Revolunas” was released in February, documenting the work of a local advocacy group in Watsonville.
Medina, who along with Cisneros and others at Calavera also work at Watsonville’s Digital NEST, said they wanted to identify and feature areas of the community that not a lot of people were talking about.
“Really, the hope for these videos is to understand what is going on outside of our isolated spaces,” he said. “We want … to amplify the voices of those who might not have a microphone.”
After deciding on a subject, the Calavera team starts figuring out shooting locations, contacting people for interviews and rounding up crews. Then they sift through every clip, deciding what to keep or cut.
“We have to make sure we have the best, most refined version of a story to tell,” Cisneros said. “Giving the audience the most information possible, while keeping them engaged.”
Two more episodes of “In These Times” are in the works: One about how nonprofit organizations have come together to help the Watsonville community; the other about how a local student is getting by in her first year at Cabrillo College during Covid.
“These stories matter,” Cisneros said. “They aren’t just posts you see on social media … These are real people in the community. We want to show you these people do exist and are doing work out there. And you can go out there and have influence, too.”
Looking to the future of Calavera Media, Cisneros said he looks forward to creating not only documentaries but all sorts of genre films, such as horror, science fiction and fantasy, and action. This is important for Mexican and other minority representation, he said.
“We want to do things outside of the conventional… outside of the sob story for representation, playing victims,” he said. “Those genre films… they’re our stories, too.”
Medina said their end goal is to create a full-fledged production company, which produces narrative-based web series, television series, feature and short films.
“The point of Calavera Media is to show we could have our own businesses as artists, we could create our own content in our hometown,” he said. “At Digital NEST, we are teaching them the skills that we are implementing professionally. The hope is that one day they’ll be able to work for us. They’ll have a job here.”
Calavera Media will be running a casting call in March for a new feature film.