On a whim a couple of months ago, the 29-year-old Fort Worth native took a short break from his full-time job as a mechanical engineer for Apple Computers and wrote and directed a 19-minute short on the North Side. Had Beltran ever studied film? No. Had he ever written a screenplay before? No. Hell, had he ever even put together a crummy 30-second commercial? Uh-uh.
No matter. The Grass Grows Greener will be screened in January at the Sundance Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious festival of its kind in the world. “It’s bizarre that it actually happened,” Beltran said. “I still can’t believe it.” An incurable cinephile, he said his training regimen consisted of reading a lot about film and watching hundreds of movies. One of 80 shorts selected from about 4,500 entries, The Grass Grows Greener isn’t visually edgy, but its story is timely and poignant: A Marine recruiter broods over the news that one of his recruits died in Iraq. Most of the film takes place in the recruiter’s office, a space Beltran found in White Settlement.
Beltran always wanted to tell a story through the medium of film but could never find the time. After graduating from North Side High School in 1996, he relocated to California and earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, then went to work for Apple. To film The Grass Grows Greener, Beltran took the summer off and returned home to Fort Worth, where he filmed over a period of six days with a small cast and camera crew in tow. “I had some vacation time built up, so I asked for a leave of absence and wrote the entire script before I left,” he said. “With a full-time job, it’s difficult to pull together a cast and crew. [But] the more I wanted to do it, the more I realized I needed to do it right.”
Beltran won’t disclose how much it cost him to make the film but said his budget was under $25,000, all of which came from his pocket. His mission was clear: to get the film accepted by Sundance. “Sundance is the festival of the United States, the one that’s got the most clout,” he said. “I’ve attended for years as a spectator, and it’s inspiring to see these guys [onstage after their screenings] talking about their films. I always thought it’d be great to be up there.” So when Beltran finished editing the movie a couple of months ago, he immediately mailed it to festival headquarters, in Utah. He doesn’t have any other screenings for the film lined up yet, but he said that after its world premiere at Sundance, The Grass Grows Greener will be available as streaming video on www.sundance.org.
For more on Beltran, visit www.zumpangofilms.com.