Q&A with new video faculty Miguel Tarango

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What college(s) did you go to?

I went to the University of Texas at El Paso. I majored in psychology, but a minor in film, anthropology, and art history. Then I got a master’s degree, and it was called interdisciplinary studies. Then I went to the University of Denver and did my MFA there, and my degree was called Electronic Media Art and Design. It is now called Emerging Digital Platforms, so I don’t know, I’ve always said, “What’s my degree? My degree doesn’t exist!”

Q: Why did you choose to go into filmmaking?

I think it was because of availability. I’ve always loved movies, but when I was at UT (The University of Texas) El Paso, the production person there was an experimental filmmaker, and I must say though I’ve always loved documentaries. I kind of always leaned that way. I think the reason why was initially inspired by watching the making of documentaries on DVDs and Blu-Rays.

So that’s really where it all started, and then I realized that documentary is actually a bigger genre that can be even kind of experimental and plays with this idea of truth, which to me was so much more interesting than sort of basic narrative storytelling. Where in documentary, there’s an element of truth. There’s an element of playing with reality and playing with the truth of reality, which I just thought was just more interesting. I love that, and the experimental nature of what it can be. It is still about perspective. I think you can get your vision across more that way as well.

Q: What was your previous job?

Previously, I have been a small business owner since 2009. My first major business was called the Mac Spa — it was in Denver, Colorado. Then I’ve taught on and off in higher ed since 2006 at Rocky Mountain College and the University of Denver. Then in California, in 2015, I started my next business called Gato Feliz Media, where I focused on production. We help people on their computers, and we also focused on videography mostly, but I would do different shoots all around different award shows. And then I started teaching in 2015. I started teaching at the Art Institute for almost four years, and then San Bernardino Valley Community College. So very similar to DMACC actually.

Why did we do Iowa? Originally our plan was to go to León or Mexico City— that was before COVID.

COVID changed our plans as it did to many people, so that was my proposal. My wife is behind it and she’s like, “Well, we can’t do that. You want to go to Iowa, like, why not?” I thought why not. My wife’s from Belle Plaine, so we came out here and we did a couple of things.

We took advantage of the more inexpensive cost of living, so we can save money. We got an inexpensive rental, which was about half the cost of our mortgage, and took advantage of my wife’s family for childcare. I have a two-year-old, so my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law could help take care of the child while we were out here.

We made a documentary too, so there were a couple of little things that were wrapped up in that. We ended up staying due to finding a job at DMACC. DMACC had an opening, and I applied and I got a job, and my wife also got a job at DMU (Des Moines University), so it just worked out that we both got jobs.

Q: What is your favorite or least favorite part of your job?

I think a lot of teachers will say the same thing. The teaching is the favorite; the administrative parts the least favorite. You know, I think it’s pretty easy. Working with students, being in the classroom, talking about making movies, I mean, that’s my job. The worst part though is the paperwork, you know, like anything in it and the only reason is that it just requires a level of organization that I’ve had to sort of force upon myself.

Q: What’s the most challenging thing in your field?

A difficult thing would be [finding employment]. You know, it’s very competitive with a lot of jobs depending on where you want to work. Hollywood is its own thing, and it’s where in California we were teaching [the students] specific strategies that we’re using to try to get the students into different shows out there. In the Midwest, it’s different, because we’re not pushing, pushing, pushing, or there are no shows that keep pushing to get students to fill the slots that are necessary. So out here, you kind of focus more on the videography kind of elements because those are the jobs we can get.

The hard part is, you know, getting paid for what we do so that we can have a livelihood. It’s hard for many people to do that for sure, so I kind of look at it as if I’ve done some entrepreneurship. I’m going to take some of my Production III students and give them some advice on the things you want to think about if you want to build your own business or branch out on your own, which can include things like branding, you know, but now how do you represent a brand? What’s the paperwork that we need to think about? To do that, how do we make a business in Iowa?

I mean those are the kinds of things that, you know, we research and we find out that are out there. And those are some of the things that I can help out with. But then again, the tricky thing is getting those jobs and making them fulfilling.

Q: The final question is, what message do you have for people signing up for your class?

I did say the difficult thing could be the jobs, but at the same time, our industry is growing. So that’s another reason why I like doing this because what we can do is be at the forefront of these new emerging makers, changing the way we think about video even or how we can have a livelihood.

I’m really excited to see where we grow the program. We’re getting a new soundstage put in, so we’re getting a bunch of cool positive things happening, and we grow as the students grow. The more you guys get excited means we have to offer more, so I think there’s also a kind of give-and-take in a lot of ways as students can help dictate. Before, it was more of a production-oriented kind of program that we had, but since my background has been more experimental, we can actually think in different ways.

The way that this industry is, it is more of a design-oriented industry and we think like designers. There’s a design problem, and we have to find the design solution and storytelling. That’s kind of what that is, but we also have the opportunity to be like studio artists: use this medium to express whatever ideas you might have as a maker like a painter would or a photographer would.

I think some of you would be excited to take that plunge as well because I think being able to express yourself experimentally but also engage in sort of that design problem together.

That’s extremely powerful to me because this is where you innovate and have ideas. To push the design part. You’ll be able to come up with ideas, and maybe someone who hasn’t had the strategies for experimentation down. Hopefully, you guys will.


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