Hollywood actor directs a student film at UTPA
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern 956-665-7192
Posted: 07/09/2010
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Room 107 in The Communication Arts and Science building at The University of Texas-Pan American has become the set for the Pan American Summer Television (PAST) production of "Big Dreams, Little Balls," and is unlike any other.

Actor and UTPA graduate student Valente Rodriguez, center, directs students from the Summer Television and Film Workshop course during their production of "Big Dreams, Little Balls."

"Big Dreams, Little Balls," is the 18th full-length film for PAST, University Theater Productions, and theater, television and film classes in the Department of Communication. Previous films have been written and directed by faculty, but for the first time, this summer's production is directed and written by a UTPA graduate student: Valente Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, better known as Ernie from the now syndicated hit TV sitcom, The George Lopez Show, is working toward his master's degree in theater and film. "Big Dreams, Little Balls" is his thesis project and includes undergraduate and graduate students from Summer Television and Film Workshop COMM 4616 and COMM 5616, serving as production crew.

"When they asked me if I wanted to direct a summer film workshop I already had a script in mind, so I went for it," Rodriguez said. "Plus, it serves as a learning experience for students, so I hope they learn a lot."

More than 50 students make up the crew of this production. A reflection of an actual Hollywood set, the crew is composed of camera operators, make-up artists, costume designers, producers, set designers, editors and the like. Rodriguez said it has been great working on this production at UTPA.

"I have students who are working really hard and faculty who are very supportive," Rodriguez said. "So I think we're going to get really good stuff on film...and produce something everyone can be proud of."

Graduate student, Veronica Navarro, is pursuing a master's degree in theater and is the assistant director for the film. She said a lot has been accomplished thanks to the advice they have received from Rodriguez.

"We're going to take away a lot of positive reinforcement from this opportunity," Navarro said. "Valente has given us great advice and because of it we have a great crew and I know we'll go far."

Alfredo Garza, a theater, television and film major, is part of the documentary team who is capturing the action behind the scenes. He said the film is a collaborative effort where everyone depends on one another.

"There are a lot of people involved in the process of a film," Garza said. "We're working on a documentary to catch everyone in action. People don't realize that there are a lot of crew members who work hard, so we're trying to capture that."

"Big Dreams, Little Balls," was conceived from Rodriguez' intrigue in scripts about language and culture identity. The film follows four Latino college students who struggle with Spanish and regularly study together for their Spanish class. After a Spanish-speaking friend, who is a janitor at their college passes away, the students come to find that he had purchased a lottery ticket before his death, making him a winner of $60 million. It goes on to track the Spanish students' adventure through Mexico as they attempt to find the janitor's family.

Rodriguez was raised in Edcouch, Texas. He said growing up his family was poor, motivating him to get a college education at UTPA, where he first discovered he enjoyed acting. He earned a bachelor's degree in communication.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do as a job growing up, but I did know I didn't want to be poor," Rodriguez said. "But UTPA has been the base of my success. My education is so valuable I don't know if I could have achieved anything without it."

Rodriguez has appeared in numerous film productions ranging from the movies "It's Complicated," and "Erin Brockovich" to the TV series, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "X-Files."

Rodriguez said he hopes his fellow students will gain valuable experience from working on this summer's production and when entering the field, will benefit by being able to say, "Yes, I've worked on a film."

Upon completion of the production, Rodriguez hopes it is something they will be proud to put their names on and submit to film festivals.

"I hope to form a conduit for students of the Rio Grande Valley with emphasis on UTPA students," said Rodriguez. "I want a place where students can showcase their work, and, more so, to provide an example that will allow them to realize it does not matter where they come from, what matters is their hard work and dedication."

For more information on PAST and University Theater Productions contact 956/665-3581.