Riggin’ with Peter Atencio
Colorado local breaks through to Hollywood
Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Updated: Thursday, October 14, 2010 04:10
Peter Atencio has battled his way through the extremely competitive film industry. He started out right here in Colorado at Denver School of the Arts, made a pit stop in Boulder, and headed straight for Los Angeles.
Atencio directs videos for the popular LA-based comedy troupe The Midnight Show and for the website funnyordie.com. His first full-length feature film, The Rig, is now out on DVD. The film centers on an offshore oilrig crew that must survive the rampage of a sea creature during a tropical storm. Peter was kind enough to talk with the Advocate about The Rig, as well as how he was able to break into the film industry.
Advocate: When and how did you first get into film?
Peter Atencio: I started going to Denver School of the Arts when I was young and they had a filmmaking program there, so for my senior year I decided to transfer into that. As soon I started doing it with other people who were interested in film it was an instant realization that "Oh, this is what I have to be doing." I was 16 at the time and graduated high school at 17. As soon as I started doing filmmaking there I knew that that was what I needed to be doing.
A: Where did you go to film school?
PA: I went to University of Colorado and I wasn't really disappointed by the film program, but rather disappointed by the patience I was going to have to have. I don't have very much patience. And the fact that you couldn't even rent equipment as a freshman; they didn't even have any freshman production classes. I had been used to shooting films and for me the best way to learn things was by trying things out and making my own mistakes. CU Boulder was a film studies program and it was very much focused on film theory.
One class I had my freshman year was film business. I talked to that professor and asked him for advice and showed him some of my shorts. He watched them and said, "I'm going be very honest with you kid. If you want to be a director I don't think a degree from University of Colorado is going to necessarily open the doors that you think it will open, and you may be better off taking your tuition money and going out to LA and trying to work your way up that way." I had never had a teacher say that to me before, so I dropped out after that first year and moved to LA.
A: Would you say your advice for young film students is similar to your professor's advice?
PA: I think it's different for everyone. I've had people asking me, "Do you think I should drop out of film school?" There is no universal advice. There is no set path to breaking into the industry, and if you're getting a good experience out of film school then you should stick with it, and if you're hungry for something else or you feel like it's wasting your time then don't be afraid to try something else. I think the most important thing is to just be making films as often as you can. You can sit in a classroom all you want, but at the end of the day if you're making films, you're learning.
A: How did you first get in to comedy?
PA: I've always been interested in it and a lot of my shorts in high school and college were comedic, so when I moved to L.A. I just gravitated toward funny people. I got a job in L.A. at a movie theater called The Arclight Cinema. I met a lot of great people working there who were just poor kids that just loved movies and making movies. And our group of friends and I just formed a group of filmmakers and called ourselves "The Six".
We made a feature where five of us directors each made a segment, and it's an interweaving tale called Night of the Dog. We sent that out to a bunch of festivals and it started doing well and we won some audience awards. There was a comedian named Jonah Ray who worked at the Arclight and had seen some of my work and we hit it off and became friends. In 2006 he got a deal to do a series for a website, and he approached me and said, "I'd like you to direct this idea that I have for these shows." We ended up writing them together and then I directed and edited. It did pretty well on the website and after that I started getting offers from comedians to work on stuff with them. Then I just started doing web based comedy ever since.
A: Who's the most interesting person you've ever gotten to work with?
PA: I don't know it's always an interesting experience, because there's always a question of "are they going be cool?" We are very guerilla. When I shoot stuff for The Midnight Show, it's like me and a camera and one guy running sound and maybe someone to help out with lights. We're pretty down and dirty. I have a very particular way that I like to work, so I think that for some people they're expecting a real production and that's just not how I do things on those shorts because there's no money and we just got to get it done.
The person I'd say was the coolest and the most willing to do whatever the fuck we asked him to do was Andy Richter. This was right before The Tonight Show was about to get started and we did three shorts with him in one day. In one of them James Adomian is sucking a fake dick that Cale Hartman has and they were just really raunchy ideas, and he didn't bat an eyelash and was a really great sport. And that's more than I can say for other people that I did stuff with.
A: For those who haven't seen or heard about The Rig, what do you think audiences can expect when they are going to rent or buy the film?
PA: [Laughs] Ultimately it's a fun movie. I think that was our biggest concern was we just wanted to make something entertaining and even if you're not a fan of the genre, which is a sci-fi thriller, we tried to put something in there for everybody.