Seven Years of Business Cards, a 22-Day Shoot, and a Penilican: How David Vargas Made His First Feature Film

Perhaps you’ve never heard of a penilican before. That’s okay, says 2006 Film grad David Vargas, most people haven’t.

“Pen-ill-i-can. It’s a word I made up in high school,” explains David. “An invented term for the metal piece that connects a pencil to the eraser.

“You begin any movie by writing a script,” he continues. “You put the pencil to the paper, and you write it. Then, you have to revise and edit it. That’s where the eraser comes in. And what connects the process? The penilican.”

It’s also the namesake of David’s production company, Penilican Pictures. Last year, he and his filmmaking partner Javier Mayol released their first movie, an independent romantic comedy called Love and Hostages. It’s a huge deal for David, who has always dreamed of directing a feature-length film.

“After graduating from Full Sail, I had a choice. I could have gone to Los Angeles, where I probably would have been living out of my car while I was looking for work. Or I could go back to Miami, where I’m from,” he says.

David chose to return to Miami, where he cut his teeth filming weddings, local commercials, and music videos. He also scored an internship with HBO Latin America. He spent the first few months shelving beta tapes in the archives department.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” he says. “Eventually, though, I transitioned to the editorial department where I was able to shadow the editors. One of them had to take a leave of absence, and I was there and ready to fill in.”

David became the editor for an interstitial show called VIP Pass, which recaps red carpet events in between feature presentations. He made such an impression on his supervisors that he was eventually tasked with filming in addition to editing.

“The first time I went to LA, I showed up with a good camera to cover the premiere of Entourage. So definitely not living out of my car. It was surreal. Now, I’m in LA and New York about twenty times a year covering everything from the Golden Globes to the premier of shows like Westworld.

“It’s a cool gig,” he says. “But I’m ready to transition to the other side of the rope.”

Enter Javier. He and David were both living and working in Miami, and had many mutual friends. Incredibly, they’d even worked for some of the same companies without ever crossing paths. A mutual friend put them in contact, and together they came up with a plan to make a film. Javier wrote the screenplay, a story about a one-night stand that takes an unexpected turn after a security threat forces the couple into mandatory lockdown. David signed on to direct, since his contract work allowed him more flexibility when it came to being on set.

Once the production details were worked out, David and Javier just needed to figure out how to finance the film. They decided to crowd fund it through Kickstarter. The goal was not inconsiderable: the duo needed exactly $38,5000 to make the kind of movie they envisioned.

“I had six or seven years’ worth of business cards laying around,” laughs David. “I started reaching out to people I’d met through the industry, thinking maybe if they remembered me they might throw us ten bucks. I always try to keep in touch with clients, because you never know who might be in a position to help you down the road.”

After what David describes as 35 days of stress and no sleep, the Love and Hostages Kickstarter campaign closed out at over $42,000. Production took 22 days, and David and Javier were able to get through the editing process in less than a year. Currently, the film is making waves along the festival circuit. David says he’s especially grateful to the South Florida film community for their support.

“People know us here, and they know that we weren’t going to take our production elsewhere. We want to play our part in keeping the film industry in Florida alive. Over 250 people recognized our potential, and it’s because of them that this film got made.”

The movie also carries an endorsement from rom-com royalty.

“Our lead actress, Natalie Strovola, was friends with Gary Marshall. She passed the film on to him, and he liked it. I was able to meet with him a few months before his passing, and he was gracious enough to give us a quote for the poster,” says David.

In the end though, David says it’s not about who you know.

“We wanted this movie to feel like a studio film, even though we made it on an indie budget. We achieved that through good storytelling.”

“We’re not slowing down,” he adds. “We have so much to offer, and this film is our stepping stone to the future.”