Latino Cinema
Get to know a young Latino filmmaker who proves that if you can dream it, you can achieve it.
by Miguel Luévano

Dan AeberhardYour best friend is straight. You are QV. Needless to say, your friend has never slept with a guy. You haven't done it with a girl. But in an indecent proposal kind of way, what if? That's the premise of Dan Aeberhard's latest film "Anything Once," which premiered in July at Outfest '98. But more than a title, "Anything Once," is also this young filmmaker's philosophy on life, to try anything at least once. "Like the Nike Logo says, the only way to do it is to just do it," says Aeberhard.

"There are sayers and there are doers, I'm a doer," says the 20-year-old Aeberhard, who's young, Latino and QV. He's a triple threat that has burst on to the filmmaking scene in the past three years and already has two films under his belt. "There's a lot of people in this industry that talk a lot and say a lot and give the image that they are creative people getting stuff done, but when it comes down to it, they're not doing anything," says the Mar Vista, California resident. "I've made it a point in my life to always do something."

This way of thinking has brought Aeberhard much success in his short life. But for this Rio Cuarto, Argentina native, and now U.S. citizen, success has not come without its stumbling blocks. He says it has, at times, been hard to be taken seriously by industry insiders because of his young age and lack of experience. However, he credits his parents, who instilled in him a "you can't quit" attitude, with the fact that he never gave up when the going got tough. To truly understand his zest for success we have to look back at how his love for film began.

It wasn't until his last two years of high school that Aeberhard found his calling. It was all thanks to a friend, who awoke Aeberhard's curiosity about directing, and an old yearbook. "I was looking through an old yearbook and I noticed this picture of this club that had been around [in the '80s] called the Culver City High School Young Filmmakers, and the name intrigued me," Aeberhard says. It was then that he knew a career in filmmaking was for him. It just so happened that the former club advisor was his English teacher. She directed him to another teacher who helped Dan restart the club. At first, the sole purpose of the club was to produce a video yearbook, but before long they had managed to get the film industry behind it. Companies such as Sony Pictures and Kodak provided Aeberhard and the handful of other club members the resources, including training and equipment to take the club to the next level. But the growth of the club's popularity was too much for the club to handle. So Aeberhard, with a proposed class curriculum in hand, went before the school board in February of 1995 to seek their approval for a film class. Not only was it unanimously approved but also Aeberhard got a standing ovation after his presentation. That year, Aeberhard won the Student of the Year award and the Sony Pictures college scholarship. "One year I was a nerd and the next year I was the most popular person in my high school," he recalls.

Aeberhard graduated the following June but his legacy continues to this day. The success and popularity of the class has been so great that students must now apply and be screened before they are allowed in. And the club continues to excel as well. The successive presidents of the club have gone on to win full-ride scholarships to top-notch film schools around the country. But Aeberhard is humble about resurrecting the defunct film program at his Alma Mater. First of all, he says it's ridiculous that Culver City, with its rich film history, didn't have a film class at its high school to begin with. He adds that he not only did it for others but for himself as well. "I realized that I could make a difference in other people's lives as well as my own, through doing this sort of thing," he says. Looking back, he's still amazed at what he was able to accomplish, especially due to the fact that he was a shy kid with no direction in life when he started high school. Aeberhard, an avid reader, credits Dale Carnegieís book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" for changing that fact by boosting his self-confidence and helping him accept criticism. "Some people read it and don't get it," he says. "I read it and it changed my life."

Shortly before graduation, he became involved as a co-producer in what would end up being his first feature, "Common Bonds" about a young girl coming of age. However, because of creative differences, his producer partner left the project and Aeberhard was left to finish the film on his own. He did and the result was impressive. The film found its way to the Sundance Film Festival in 1997 and soon, thereafter, was sold. Not bad for a 19-year-old that had only received very little formal training in the art of filmmaking.

It was thanks to this film that Aeberhard gained the respect and support of film-industry insiders like Bryan Singer, director of "The Usual Suspects" and Arnie Shupak, President of Sony Pictures Studios. They continue to help him to this day. It was Singer that talked him into making a short film as a sort of resume to help Aeberhard get a feature film produced in the future. And so in the summer of 1997 he went to work. The end result, "Anything Once" is, as he lovingly calls it, his baby. He not only wrote the script, with mentoring from "Courage Under Fire" writer Patrick Duncan, but also directed and produced the short. Aeberhard also credits James Lecesne, who wrote 1997's Oscar-winning short "Trevor," for mentoring him through the entire production of his film.

Based loosely on a real-life experience with a close straight friend, it's a story about two roommates, one QV and one straight, who bet one another that they can seduce and sleep with a woman and a QV guy, respectively. It stars William Gregory Lee, who this fall will star in the NBC series "Wind on Water" and Michael Arenz. Their on-screen chemistry as friends and roommates is very believable. It's precisely what Aeberhard wanted-characters and a story that everyone could identify with regardless of their sexual orientation. "That's the whole point," he says. "When I first started writing the film I realized that if I wrote something that was sort of down the middle, I'd get the widest audience possible and be able to make something that was still true to myself and yet accessible to everybody." Anyone who's ever had a roommate or friend who's dared you to try something new or helped you cross the line you never thought you would, will identify with this comedy/drama about exploring one's sexual identity. The film humorously deals with the subject without being perverse or pornographic. Its portrayal of young men, QV and straight, is realistic and not stereotypical.

Aeberhard's influences in his filmmaking include Pedro Almodovar and Martin Scorcese. "I continue to be mystified by their work," he says. "I aspire to someday be able to create the edgy comedy drama that they seem to continually put out." "Anything Once" is his first attempt in rising to that level.

However, getting the film off the ground wasn't easy, mostly due to lack of money. His parents, Ernesto, a research scientist at UCLA, and Maria, a school administrator, took out loans to help their only son realize his dream. Dan helped by spending all his savings, maxing out his credit cards and seeking the financial help of everyone he knew including his three sisters. When all was said and done, his "very expensive resume" cost him well above $30,000. But despite the fact that he's now in debt, he couldn't be happier with the end result. "I'm pretty proud to say that at the age of 20, within one year, I've gone from concept to final finished product," says Aeberhard. "It's very rare to be able to do something in that time frame even for a film-school graduate."

It's more impressive given the fact that Aeberhard is not a film-school graduate. He dropped out of Santa Monica City College after only two semesters. He says his parents were, at first, disappointed with his decision but adds that it's the only way he could have finished his film. He says going to school, working a full-time job, and working on the film all at the same time was draining. Like most aspiring artists, Aeberhard works a full-time job not related to show biz to help defray the cost of his real passion, filmmaking. This passion has led the determined Aeberhard to apply to as many film festivals as he can afford to. It's paid off. Outfest '98, the nation's premiere QV & lesbian film festival, sponsored in part by qvMagazine, took notice of this 23-minute film. It premiered in mid-July in Los Angeles, a month before Aeberhard's 21st birthday.

Aeberhard hopes Outfest '98 marks only the beginning of his success. "Hopefully, people will see the film and believe that I'm a talented kid," he says. His goal, a birthday wish really, is to get the film sold and use the money to fund a debut feature film to direct. "I've produced a feature, written, directed and produced a short film in record time and I think I'm totally ready and capable to direct a feature film," he says with confidence. He will get another chance to exhibit and sell his film at the Adam Baran Honolulu QV and Lesbian Film Festival where his short has just been accepted. It will have two screening dates later this month. He hopes Sundance will also come calling once again. In the meantime, Aeberhard is already hard at work on the script for what he hopes will be his first feature film.

This young QV filmmaker realizes there are many frustrated artists out there who perhaps perceive that being QV is a roadblock. But he says forget the myths that being QV or a minority in Hollywood is detrimental to a successful career. "Being young and being QV has been one of the most beneficial factors in this whole thing," he says. "Being Latino has not been a detriment either." His advice is to be true to yourself just as he is. "Telling your family and friends that you're QV will show you who really cares about you and who really believes in you," he says. "Then, you can finally move on with your life and start making your dreams come true." Although coming out is not for everyone, Aeberhard says it is what allowed him to bust out and be himself in every way. "Being young and being QV has really helped," he says. "I've been able to meet a lot of other young QV creative people that are in favor of young QV artists and getting [our] work produced and seen by an audience." But Aeberhard admits that it wasn't easy coming out, especially to his parents, two years ago. "It was an initial shock [to them]," he recalls. "But a month and a half later, when they turned it all around 180 degrees and unwaveringly supported me, more than they ever had before, I realized that I honestly had the greatest parents that anybody could ever wish to have," he says. He adds that their support and confidence in him has made a world of difference.

His advice to other budding Latino artists weary of their futures is simple. Seek out the people who are already doing what you want to do and ask them for advice. He adds, forget excuses. "You can do a lot with very little money, very little time, and very little experience," he says. "With very little resources, you can actually get things done, you can impress people, and you can move on to bigger and better things."

The great philosopher Seneca once said, "Admire those who attempt great things, even if they fail." Obviously Seneca wasn't talking about Aeberhard. After all, you have to admire this young, QV, Latino filmmaker to whom failing is not an option.

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