Looking Beyond the Lens With Bobby Herrera
Bobby Herrera has no comfort zone. As one of St. Louis’ unique visual storytellers, he has established himself as a local filmmaker who is willing to experiment with his craft and embrace new challenges across several mediums.
Directing both features and documentaries, Herrera has made a name for himself as a director who makes films about characters, people and situations that interested him. His documentary work includes “How’s Your Cart?” and “The Gray Seasons,” which debuted in 2011 to success on the festival circuit before being distributed by All Channel Films and screened digitally via Epix and Amazon Prime.
Herrera’s first feature film, “Palacios,” was released in 2017 and picked up a year later for a wider release by Freestyle Digital Media. Herrera’s big break came with his initial foray into reality TV, with “Hangin’ with Los Henrys,” a program that quickly developed a loyal fame base and caught the attention of national critics. Directed and produced for YouTube, the show followed the lives of a wealthy blended Mexican-American family as they worked, played and partied in splendor.
Building on his success as an indie auteur on the rise, he established his own production company, Gray Picture. Serving both local businesses and Fortune 500 clients, Gray Picture is a creative hub for commercials, branding and visual productions. In addition to his film, TV and commercial work, Herrera has also solidified his reputation as one of the city’s most heralded film innovators by lensing music videos for CaveofswordS and, most recently, Golden Curls, with a possible third collaboration imminent. He currently is working on the narrative short “Lost in Place” and developing other projects.
Herrera speaks at the opening session of the In Motion filmmaking conference on Nov. 2 at COVO. The gathering is presented by Continuity, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to the expansion of diversity in media production through training, mentoring and networking.
Herrera spoke with Guided: St. Louis about his methodology, his projects and the burgeoning local filmmaking scene.
Guided: Having worked in several types of film media, which do you feel more energized about?
Bobby Herrera: I’ve made several films, feature documentaries and a feature narrative that have done pretty well. They are kind of extra indie in that not many people have seen them. Neither of them has been what I would refer to as a breakout film, but they have done well. So that is what I am going to continue to keep doing.
I have two other films in development. One is a documentary and one is a feature. I am at a point in my career where there is a lot of interest in those films, so I am hoping that these next two films could be done on a level that I am yet to work in terms of independent film. But then, day to day, I get to do branded content and commercials, and I really enjoy that. I know that a lot of people who want to be filmmakers, especially when they are younger, kind of scoff at the idea of ever doing a commercial or having a video company, but it has kept me alive and it has brought me a lot of opportunities commercially.
Guided: How did working on a reality show help you with other projects?
The reality show even raised my profile to where I was meeting people in Los Angeles and New York who knew of the show and its success and that I did these kinds of obscure independent films. They took interest in me, so I have been able to leverage the show, my commercial work and everything I do and apply it to how I am going to do my next thing.
Guided: With regard to commercial work and features, how do you take the visuals in your head and get them onto a screen?
In some ways they work the same way. At the very base, you are trying to take a concept that is either written or verbally expressed and take that concept and turn it into a visual. Whether it is in commercial space or something that I wrote, or whether it is a documentary project where I am interviewing and developing a story, it all comes together visually the same way, at least for me. I don’t make a distinction between commercial work, film and documentaries. At the end of the day, I am trying to do service to the story, commercial or what my story idea is.
Guided: How does the filmmaking culture here compare to other filmmaking communities?
St. Louis is an interesting place. I spend a lot of time in other markets, like L.A., New York and Austin. Places where the idea of making films is on the forefront of people’s minds because it is a more accessible thing. But obviously as equipment, camera gear and lenses are more affordable and more accessible, along with editing tools, postproduction, software and the ability to throw your work up online, St. Louis is kind of like every other small to medium market in the country right now in developing a film community. There’s a lot happening in these places, and a lot of what is happening elsewhere is capable of happening in St. Louis. But I think what is missing in a place like St. Louis is the networking, the connection from person to person and the willingness to help people make films from scratch.
Guided: Do you think the In Motion conference will change some of that?
As I was coming up, I made my first two documentaries in St. Louis alone, basically in a bubble. I didn’t know of anybody or any existing network of filmmakers. I just kind of did it on my own. If there had been something like this conference when I was younger, I would have scratched together the money and gone. It is a big undertaking to have a conference like this. It is hard enough to finance an indie film; I would only imagine that it is harder to finance a conference where you are just talking about it. I think it is about stepping up and growing this community, but not just in this regional way. Our community needs to create ties to this larger dialogue about film across the country and determine where we fit in that.
Featured image courtesy of Drew Anthony Smith.