If you don’t know, find someone who does — we don’t know everything and we can’t possible learn all. So, find people who know what you don’t know when venturing into a project. Create that team and support each other.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Juan Escobedo.
Juan Escobedo is an actor, filmmaker and photographer. His film Marisol was OSCARS qualified and screen play is part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library core collection. Juan’s photo El Sombrero de Miguel López exhibits in ILLUMINATE LA’S COLLECTIVE MEMORY installation at Grand Park LA in collaboration with The Music Center and Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Most of the time we were in the care of my grandparents Miguel Lopéz and Refugio Meza Padilla. They lived in a small pueblo called Huejuquilla el Alto, Jalisco. It was the best time of my life. The pueblo had very limited electricity and people still used gas lamps. In the afternoons my grandfather would sit us in front of the house at the door step and peel oranges, apples or prickly pears with his very shiny and impressionable knife. He’d take off his sombrero and sit us all around. At night we’d chase fireflies; go to the outdoor cinema. I remember loving the sound of the projector. We’d stare at the stars and my grandfather would tell us scary stories of La Llorona. It was a beautiful time. I miss my grandparents so much. I remember their sombreros for every occasion. One for riding horses, for milking cows and the Sunday Sombrero.
In Mexico, I could wear huaraches for all seasons. The smell of the leather when it rained is something I’ve never forgotten. We would watch my grandmother milk cows and she’d give us fresh unpasteurized milk. My sister and I would ride horses, chase chickens and climb trees to get berries are some of the things I missed in the US. The US was very different. I felt the class system — who had what and how much of it. In my pueblo we were all same and we didn’t have the sense of keeping up, but we did have the best horses! My family would live in Huejuquilla el Alto, Jalisco and part of the year we lived in Zacatecas historic center. That was beautiful because we lived behind the cathedral in an area called Mono Prieto. I remember hearing the church bells every Sunday. We’d walk to the mercado to buy fresh meats, vegetables and the tortilleria where a fresh made tortilla with salt was the treat.
Later on, I found out that supposedly we had a witch for a neighbor. Her legend still lives on and has become part of the tourist attraction.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve never been a good student but my mother always said make sure you get your college degree and I’ll be happy. So, I tried business school and was horrible at it. Eventually I tried the arts, film and photo at Cal State LA and East LA college before declaring my major in Theater Art with an emphasis in Directing. All through school I was in plays. Because I was fluent in Spanish and English, the theater department always sought me out for the leads. They had a collaboration with the Spanish department where they needed to produce all the Spanish classics like Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderon de la Barca and my favorite Federico Garcia Lorca. Also, Shakespeare. I loved all the classics and loved acting in both languages. It was a lot more to memorize but it was fun. Once I played Don Juan Tenorio de Trickster of Sevilla. They brought in a fencing expert from Spain that happened to be in LA. They trained me in fencing for the character of Don Juan. That was one of the moments when I thought, how cool it was to learn a character’s life. To take on a character and give it a historical reference with a skill such as fencing. I did plays by Chekhov and Gogol. And of course the American plays. I loved all the classics and improvisation theater too. Jackie Planeix and Tom Crocker of Blue Palm, a French/American dance company who I had the chance to trained with and influenced my career path. They were invited to Cal State LA for a semester and I was selected to be part of Blue Palm. Along with my theater professors and Blue Palm, I learned to improvise and take on challenges that were scary. They taught me how inform and shape characters through movement and improve. Theater and Dance at Cal State LA was a specific time in my life that shaped me as a person and all I do in life. It was the specific time in my life that led to this career path.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Definitely the acquisition of my screen play MARISOL by the Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for film students and writers to research. My short film Marisol was Oscar qualified and in 2018 the OSCARS library requested the screen play to be part of their permanent Core Collection. When I got the email, I was in disbelief. I responded back with a message asking if they had the right person. As a director and writer, it was definitely an interesting time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My projects often deal with social issues or my travels. Currently, I have two in pre-production with several in the writing stages. Los Puppy Chulos is an animation project I am a doing with a really good friend who is an animator. During the pandemic I started painting on cardboard and came up with Los Puppy Chulos which translate into The Cute Dogs. The title is a play on the Latin word PAPI which is often used as a general term of affection for any man, whether it’s a relative, friend, or lover. And the word CHULO is CUTE.
For me it’s so important to talk about animal cruelty and neglect. Intentional animal abuse is correlated with other crimes, including violence to people. The Puppy Chulos or Los Puppy Chulos deals with my 3 rescue dog’s personalities and where I found them — how they came to be with me and how they live now. As I got to know my dogs, I found it amazing how smart, funny and caring they are. I always knew dogs where loving because I grew up with dogs. But during my college years and after I didn’t have dogs. One day I happened to come across a poodle mix while having tacos at a taco truck. This beautiful dog came towards me with flowing white hair. It was a scene out of Bay Watch. She was the cutest thing. I named her Pamela or Pammy after Pamela Anderson
The other project is BLAXICAN (working title). The film deals with generational trauma going back to slavery. It’s the story of Jesse, an Afro Latino foster youth transitioning out the foster care dealing with mental health issues. This project came to be after meeting with a California historian. He explained how common words we use today had racist tones. At the same time I happened to come across Tony Gleaton’s photos. He traveled to Mexico to photograph a small community of Afro Latinos. I was intrigued by Gleaton’s photos and what the historian said that intrigued me. In researching it, I came across books and topics that deal with generational trauma that still affects us.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I highly recommend you to get to know your parents. My mother, Piedad Escobedo, documented every day of our lives with a camera. Some photos she took with a polaroid. Recently she had knee surgery and spent a few days with her. I had pulled a photo out from her photo box photos and was amazed by the composition and complimented her on her photography. Then she said to me, “you got photography from me.” My aunt who was also visiting said that my mother always carried a camera with her. My father, Juan Escobedo Sr., he was also someone very interesting. He was an intellectual but we didn’t realize it until later on. He was well versed in philosophy and politics. He loved interacting with people and getting to know them. He could have conversations about life every day over coffee. He would get lost in time reading and having deep conversations.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
Depending on the projects. Los Puppy Chulos inspiration came from my rescue dogs and their wacky personalities. My inspiration for photography comes from travel, my family history and living in LA. Sometimes just talking to people or walking will spark inspiration. It doesn’t come from one particular place.
The past few years trash has inspired me. There is trash everywhere and people don’t care. I see people just throw trash out of their cars.
I decided to explore trash. Not in the sense of where it comes from or where it goes. I wanted to explore it from a person’s perspective and what it means to them. I take friends out for a drive looking for trash and have conversations with them about trash as it relates to their lives. Some talk about being homeless, food insecurity, cancer, mental health and hoarding.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My work deals with issues that affect us all in one way or another. I like to present these issues in my work so that we can have healthy conversations and take away stigmas. I produce the East LA Film Festival at East LA College and the Civic Center. This is where we have those community conversations. Where we talk about it and provide resources.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Give into it — If you love art, give into it and follow your dream. For a long time, I thought I had to follow what other people were doing in college. Once I accepted it, I jumped into it and been happier since.
- Stick to a budget — often times I get so excited for a project that I am consumed by it and I’ll spend every cent to see it go to where it needs to be.
- If you don’t know, find someone who does — we don’t know everything and we can’t possible learn all. So, find people who know what you don’t know when venturing into a project. Create that team and support each other.
- Eat well because it’ll help you when you get older. Eating well and exercising will help you stay healthy and it might prevent most common health issues.
- Make sure you have epic failures — in order to succeed and learn, you must fail. Failure is not a bad thing. You learn from it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Kindness and empathy. We never know what people are going through. So always be present and respect each other.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
The Obamas. Because they were the first African American President and First Lady. Because representation matters. I remember watching President Obama winning the presidency. I was filled with pride.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Juan Escobedo: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.