Born in Argentina but raised and educated in the United States, Alex Garcia Lopez is one of the most recognized directors in television today, having worked on series such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2011), Misfits (2011), and Utopia (2013).
But his passion was not always the camera.
“I studied music in college,” he told me in a phone interview. “Originally my passion was music. I liked a bit of everything — heavy metal, punk, rock — but I also played classical music and jazz.”
Garcia studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he trained in musical composition, but it was his passion for the British music scene that would lead him to London to finish his career.
“For all my 20s I worked in the music industry more than anything else, in recording studios. Then I had many years composing music for commercials, in the advertising industry.”
The frustration of not having unlimited creative freedom would lead him, in his thirties, to experiment with a camera.
“Through that frustration, of not knowing what to do on the weekends, I grabbed a camera and together with a group of friends of mine, who were all going through more or less the same creative crisis, we helped each other a little,” he recalls. “That’s when I started making short films.”
After a year of doing visual exercises with the camera, Garcia finally recorded the work that would open the doors to a whole new life.
“It was called Diego’s Story, and it was based on a true story that happened to my older brother Diego living in Buenos Aires, where he was kidnapped in his apartment,” he tells me.
In just over 14 minutes, the short film already showed the director’s way of telling his stories, always close to the faces and with a unique ability to immerse us in the story almost immediately.
It was thanks to the UK Film Council (UKFC) — a non-departmental public body — that Diego’s Story managed to reach several festivals and make its director known.
After being selected along with a dozen other short films, García visited several countries and got an agent to represent his work, eventually managing to get to a workshop sponsored by Channel Four, where he directed the short film Coming Up.
Thanks to the screening of that work, Garcia joined the Secret Diary of a Call Girl team, with Billie Piper, Iddo Goldberg, and Cherie Lunghi, which ran for four seasons.
“From there, suddenly, an unexpected window opened up,” he recalls, “to start working in the world of television. That was about nine years ago when television was starting to change a lot. That was before Netflix.”
Between 2011 and 2018 Garcia, worked on major projects such as Misfits, Utopia, Residue, Fear The Walking Dead, The Exorcist, Luke Cage, Cloak & Dagger, Daredevil, and The Punisher, becoming one of the most recognized directors in television.
“It was kind of a crazy adventure because everything happened so fast since I started making a short film,” he says. “It’s been a combination of being in the right place at the right time. In recent years, since Netflix has taken off with streaming, the amount of content has increased, not only in Europe but globally.”
A New Format Brings New Opportunities
Since Netflix was born in the late 90s as a DVD rental service, the design of its platform under the subscription model changed the tradition of film rental forever.
As Business of Apps recalls, the company’s idea that you could rent “as many DVDs as you could watch, without incurring any extra cost or delay charges,” was the basis for a format that, together with the incorporation of the first algorithm, gave rise to the transformation of the television catalogue.
From 300,000 users in 2000, Netflix today has 137.1 million users.
“On average, a person watches a full season of a show per week,” explains Garcia. “So, if you do the math, that’s 52 shows a year. That is a huge amount of content. In recent years, production has multiplied as audiences have demanded to see bigger, heavier shows, and budgets have gone up enormously.”
Thanks to this demand, directors like Garcia have been able to focus on directing shows and bringing stories to life that they are passionate about.
Over the course of 2019, the director was in charge of chapters such as “Doctor Cerberus’s House of Horror” in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials” in The Witcher.
A Latino in the Mix
Garcia joins other Latinos like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who bring their own baggage and way of doing things to the streaming industry.
While he confesses that, as a director, he does not bring “a super Latino angle” to his work, what he in fact does is express a different angle..
“It’s always a little hard to analyze yourself,” he confesses. “And I don’t want to generalize either, but I personally — and I think I share this with other Latinos — is that I’m a very warm person, with a lot of energy. I’m very direct. Unlike what you can find in European cultures, for example, where they tend to be very subtle in saying exactly what they think. I think that you, being Latino, are much more direct; there are no filters, you say what you think.”
It is precisely this form of connection, he says, that makes the difference in his work.
“I really like it when you feel in the stories that you’re there with the character,” he explains. “For example, in The Witcher, I liked to be very close to the actors, close to the camera. I don’t tend to sit, as sometimes happens, far away from what’s really going on in the set; I’m always two steps away, two meters from the camera, close to the actors, close to the crew.”
Amid laughter, he tells me how he has managed to bring his two passions — music and television — together on one stage.
“I love music, obviously, and I think it helps a lot,” he says. “All day long on the set I have big speakers who are playing music that favors the scene, that favors the style of the show, that favors emotionally what’s going on… and it’s loud.”
“When we were filming The Witcher in Hungary, the crew was half Hungarian, half English, and they’d never heard music on set in their lives,” he says with a laugh.
“I think it’s that warmth that we Latinos have from being there, from being much more physical. I think that when I film, when I direct, I act like this,” he concludes. “So sometimes that’s an ingredient I bring to the shoot and to my storytelling. And I’ve always done that.”
Currently, while reading scripts at home in Los Angeles, Garcia is looking for a new story to tell, and hopes we can all enjoy his latest work in Cowboy Bebop, a science fiction series where a crew of bounty hunters travel the galaxy in search of the worst criminals.