Isaac Garza, ’17

Playing a man-child character in a Texas State University intermediate acting class gave Isaac Garza a glimpse of a future deeply personal pursuit.

Garza (B.A. ‘17) is the writer behind “Pepito,” an award-winning short film that HBO designated for distribution on multiple platforms, including HBO Latino. The story focuses on a mother-son relationship through a Latino lens. When Pepito is forced to go to a church confession, Garza and director Eman Esfandi chronicle the events surrounding the trip to the church and the confession itself.

The origin of Pepito partly came in university class. “I played the character Stuart from “Mad TV” (portrayed by Michael McDonald),” Garza said. “I enjoyed playing him. The script evolved from a scene in that class.”

Going from class to script to character development and film distribution was a lengthy process for the journalism graduate. Garza drew upon his experiences growing, to help tell Pepito’s story. Garza was born and raised in Laredo, the youngest child in the family. Both his brother and sister attended Texas State before Garza took the trek to San Marcos. “As a writer, I always have ideas,” Garza said. “But I am very picky about which ideas I choose to pursue. The give and take on feedback … if you want to get great feedback, you have to be open and secure in knowing what your vision is. You have to find that balance in doing your own story.”

Once Esfandi and Garza had the rough film finished, another mission awaited – cutting the material down to fit the time constraints for a short film. “We had to cut from 20 minutes to 15,” Garza said. The editing process was almost two years before we started sending it off to festivals.”

still from short film

Pepito debuted at the 2018 Austin Film Festival. That gave Garza a chance to gauge reactions from both his family members and the general audience. Then it was on to Waco and eventually the Official Latino Arts and Film Festival. That brought HBO into play through the Latinx Short Film Competition. “HBO is one of the few networks that does license short films,” Garza said. “They treat it as the same process as feature-length films. They knew we were short film makers. It was trial and error. I thought I knew everything. I am still learning.”

Seeing “Pepito” on HBO platforms has led to a more feedback for Garza. “I am still digesting that,” Garza said. “I am blown away by the support the film has gathered. People stumble on the film on the HBO platforms.”

Garza credits his Texas State roommate, Justin Beets (B.F.A., ‘16), as being a lighting wizard within the Theatre Department during their time at the university. Wisdom also came from other places. “I took two classes with Jon Zmikly that had nothing to do with film,” Garza said. “He and Dale Blasingame started a program with South by Southwest. I am happy they are fostering things like that. It causes a lot of inspiration to happen. Being at Texas State allowed me to have the resources to focus on and discover my true passions and act on them.”

That included Garza getting a start in Los Angeles through an internship with Conan O’Brien. “Texas State was very supportive of that venture,” Garza said. “I almost pressured myself not to go to L.A., (to focus on other degree requirements), but I am super glad I did it. It was so valuable.”

Garza has been doing improv comedy for more than four years, but that pursuit has been put on hold by the pandemic. Other inspirations have led Garza to branch out to a new interest outside of short films. “The writing and filmmaking process is living life and letting yourself be inspired,” Garza said. “Letting ideas come in the most natural way, you can’t force it. I had two projects lined up in April that didn’t happen because of the pandemic. I got into 3-D modeling and animation. It’s kicking my butt, but I love it.”

Story written by Brian Hudgins and originally published in Texas State University Newsroom on June 16, 2020

Isaac Garaz at Austin Film Festival