NMFO: You are a multi-hyphenated individual with writing, directing, and acting. So why don't you take some time to tell us a little bit about yourself?
RB: I'm from the Navajo Nation. I grew up out there in Arizona, Flagstaff, and all over the Navajo Nation. I'm an Air Force veteran, and that's where I got my start when I was stationed in Colorado. I started my film journey at the Colorado Film School. I did my first film and got into a film festival here in Santa Fe, where I met a bunch of people from New Mexico working in the film industry, so I said, “That's where I got to go. I have to go down to New Mexico.”
NMFO: How is it that you really got into film, starting out in the Air Force and then making the decision to go to film school?
RB: I was outside cutting my lawn. I was living the suburban lifestyle. My neighbor came across the street in his bathrobe and asked if I could check out his short film. Needing a second pair of eyes. So, I go and check it out down in his basement, and I was like, “Whoa, man, where'd you do this at?” And he said at that Colorado Film School. I had some electives open for the upcoming semester. So, I took a production one, production two, and post-production class.
It blew my mind to be able to create stories visually. Taking a cinematography class and everything shifted my life toward that. Then, meeting people in New Mexico after that film festival, I moved right away, just met people, and jumped on films wherever I could get in and learn something.
NMFO: You have worked on a ton of notable productions in New Mexico, including “Dark Winds,” “Sicario,” and “Breaking Bad,” and most recently, you were involved in “Rez Ball.” What have been some of your favorite productions that you've been involved in?
RB: “Get Shorty” was one of my favorites. I always tell people to check it out because it's also about the film industry. That's a fun one. And it's one that not a whole lot of people got to watch.
NMFO: In your opinion, how do you see the industry growing in New Mexico, especially for the Native community?
RB: I see it growing wonderfully. It's been steady. One of my big things when I started was where are all the crew people. Why aren't we doing the construction, electrical, etc.? It's been steady and growing. Now, there are grips out there and hair and makeup. Now you have a props department, and everyone is starting to find their space, including in front of the camera, as actors, writers, and directors are coming up. There's a lot more need for people's talent in front of the camera. So that's awesome.
A lot of people who have been acting are still here. So, we know their faces, so that's cool. But it's also providing space for new talent, which is great. It's been watching those kids come in and do their thing and learn about it, learn about the whole process. Asking questions, how do you get there? This is so great. Then, spending time together as a little group, too, was cool.
NMFO: New Mexico is a space that's so diverse with our culture. It allows for a different space for these stories to be told. So, we did have “Rez Ball” with a native director, writer, and full cast. “Dark Winds” has also been a big innovator in bringing more of these diverse stories to the masses.
RB: It’s a beginning point. There are still steps to go and ways to go as far as for us to create more. There's always room to create more. It's nice that these productions are here. And these stories are being told. But I encourage indie folks to write and produce stuff on their own, providing more work for new talent. It provides new stories. So, I think that's great. I think it's motivating if we can keep that going, too.
NMFO: Here in New Mexico, it's specific and available for that to happen as opposed to other production hubs like Georgia, LA, or New York. This is a great area to be able to make those stories and tell those stories and have people with the same background be able to be included.
RB: Definitely. That’s what's great about the crew from here. They know a lot about the culture. We need to make our own stuff. In New Mexico, we know the cultural aspects of things, you know, so it's respected and it's adhered to. That's a good thing. For writers and directors, you can count on New Mexico to be that. It’s really cool to have that crew that knows these things, too.
NMFO: As you've progressed in your career, what advice or encouragement do you have for people to get more involved?
RB: Go to the events and network. That's one thing that I didn't do right away. I didn't meet a whole lot of people right away. I was excited, but I didn't know where to go or where to start but go to these events and meet people. You’ll start figuring out who's who and how to navigate this stuff. It's just all knowledge. You're just building your knowledge.
People offer up their knowledge so freely because we're all part of this industry, and we all want to grow. We all want to see it get bigger and better and support one another.
Don't be afraid to go to these things. Even as far as Native Americans or people from the tribes out here, it can be intimidating because it's, you feel, outside of your grasp, the film industry. But in all reality, it's right here in our backyard. It's right down the street.
Talk to a crew person. Even as a writer, get on set to see how it goes. If you're just interested in filmmaking, become a PA, and see how the set works. That's how I went about my education as well. I only did two years in Colorado, and then I came here.
Also, watching, watching everybody do your job. I was also watching what everybody else was doing. Trying to see how others are working. That's a great thing because you become a PA, and you're not sure where you want to land. You can see that sound looks cool, and you can go talk to the sound guys and start down there with them. But you must have that confidence, a little bit of confidence just to say hello and speak with them.
NMFO: A lot of feedback that we've gotten from people is knowing where you are within your craft and then seeing others and how you can grow. You really hit the nail on the head with that as well.
You're also very involved with other things in the Navajo Nation. What other projects and initiatives are you involved in aside from the film and production side?
RB: Well, I'm really trying to promote just the film industry in general. I'm always telling people if you do carpentry work, you do painting, you do electrical. One of the big things in the Navajo Nation that affects me is people not working. They have a skill or trade that can apply to the film industry. But because they can't act, they think the industry doesn’t apply to them. You don't have to be an actor. If you do carpentry work, apply it to set building.
I really try to encourage people to come on board and check out the unions and look at it from a different perspective. It’s growing, so I really try to promote that. And the performing arts, too, in front of the camera. I try to tell people we do perform. It's not necessarily in the sense of TV and movies, but we have our dances, and we have the way we sing. We're able to get up and perform in front of our relatives and our community. It's something that we can do as a job. It's that same mentality.
It does take some confidence. You must learn the songs and learn the performances. It's a valid form of work. It's just a new form of work.
NMFO: What other projects do you have down the road that people can see you in later?
RB: “Fry Bread Facing Me.” That was a good one and so fun. It was like during monsoon season, so we worked around that and worked the movie magic. It came out great, and then I had a little small part as the ice cream truck driver. I usually do that with a lot of independent shows. I'll work as a second AC, and then I'll jump in front of the camera for a day or two. So that's always fun.
NMFO: That's awesome, and I believe it just premiered at SXSW, didn't it?
RB: Yeah. It's a fun film, especially for younger audiences, but I had a blast watching too.
NMFO: Is there anything we didn't touch on today that you would like to share?
RB: One thing I've been wanting to do for a long time, but I didn't feel it was quite right yet. The Navajo Nation puts on a fair, and it's a big fair. We all come out to Winrock.
It starts off with a parade, a huge parade down Main Street. It would be great to have a Navajo film or TV theme with actors and filmmakers or film technicians who are working in the industry. They can come out and show that we are all in the film industry, and it's available to everyone. These are the people on TV they recognize, and it’ll get them excited. Someone the kids can look up to.
I also want to go work on a film set and provide that avenue to open a discussion about the industry, whether it's acting or working as a crew member and just breaking that wall down. I want people to be excited. Be excited to be presented to the Navajo Nation, to your people, because we're representing this nation too.
So come, let's all have a good time at the big parade. Actors can come and hand out your headshots, take selfies, and pass out candy to the kids in popcorn balls. That was the fun part I really enjoyed when I was a kid, just going to the parade and seeing everybody, seeing all the different types of floats.
NMFO: When will the fair be?
RB: The fair is September 2nd - 10th.
NMFO: If people want to get more involved, put together a float, or get something together for you, what would be the best way to get ahold of you, or how can people find you to learn more?