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Up From the Underground

Alex "Pr!mo" Luster got himself a documentary from the street art life.

Reyes took what in Luster's hands had been merely a topic and turned it into a story. "He took it to that next level, made it sing," says Luster. "If it was just me, it would just be a bunch of profiles of artists where they say, 'My name is so-and-so and blah-blah-blah,' and then I would have the anti-street art people come on and say, 'My name is so-and-so, and I don't like it.'"

As the final product started coming into focus, Luster started showing rough cuts to experts. One such screening took place at a documentary filmmaking conference in San Antonio. The expert told Luster that while he loved what he saw, Luster needed to make it more national. "I don't care about Houston," the man said. "Nobody gives a shit about Houston. You need to be talking to people in New York and L.A. and Chicago."

"That's already been done," Luster replied. "That's not my own personal story. I would never get the time I got with Houston people as I would get those people."

A Fairey-created image you might have seen around.
A Fairey-created image you might have seen around.
Wheat-pasters are a suspicious lot, but they soon saw in Luster a kindred spirit. Here the director gets up close and personal with Dual.
Marco Torres
Wheat-pasters are a suspicious lot, but they soon saw in Luster a kindred spirit. Here the director gets up close and personal with Dual.

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Still, Luster went away wondering if this advice had been on the mark. He consulted with Reyes. "Do we go that way?" he asked. He even started budgeting out plane tickets, and sent a few e-mails via GONZO247 to contacts in the street scenes coast to coast. And then one day he brought the whole idea to a screeching halt.

"I just didn't care. This is about Houston and I don't really care. If it does well here and it doesn't do anything anywhere else, screw it, I don't care."
_____________________

Luster's bicultural childhood prepared him well for a career spent working both sides of the language divide. He was raised in both Westbury and Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, his mother's once-small, now-bustling northern Mexican hometown. Most holidays and summers, Luster's parents would send the soon-to-be-director across the river.

"There was no daycare, it was just freedom," Luster recalls. "My blind grandmother was looking after two kids — and we were like badasses, plus we were like kings because we were from out of town, from the rich land, little kings of Sabinas. That forced me to learn Spanish. There's just no way to get by there without knowing Spanish."

Back in Houston, Luster attended HISD schools on the Southwest side. TV and movies saved his life, he says. Literally kept him alive. One day he got off a Metro bus on his way home from Johnston Middle School and was walking down a busy street near his house. Just as he was walking past a car wash, a car screeched around the corner and slammed on the brakes right in front of him. From seeing many a cop show and gangster flick, Luster knew just what to do. He kissed the concrete just as the car's occupants opened fire on the car wash. "I could feel one of the bullets go right past my head, like fwwwissshh," he says.

The earliest seeds of his future career were planted around the same time, Luster's father Ron says. When Alex was 11 or 12, the elder Luster found a screenplay hidden in the bedroom his oddly restless son was constantly rearranging. "It was pretty good for a kid," Ron Luster remembers. "It was sad and dark, but it was also interesting and fairly well-written." Around the same time, Luster shot some claymation films with a camera borrowed from some family friends. "Looking back you could tell, but we didn't know it would go this far then," Ron remembers.

Meanwhile, things weren't going all that well in school. Alex remembers feeling unchallenged and says he was falling in with a bad crowd. Ron says his son was an indifferent student. He was sent to an alternative high school. And right around that time, he and his mother both signed on as interns at Noticiero 48, a Spanish-language news station owned by Telemundo and broadcast on Channel 48. Within months, he'd risen from unpaid intern to paid chief news editor.

"I didn't have a driver's license, but they put me out there anyway," he laughs.

Former Channel 13 reporter Carlos Aguilar was an early mentor. Just let go from KTRK, Aguilar was starting over at Channel 48, despite not having much in the way of Spanish-language skills. "It was his name that got him hired," Luster says of the San Antonio native. "He would give these reports in this really horrible Spanish."

Aguilar taught the teenager how to drive a stick, read a key map and how to navigate Houston, and stressed the importance of the Inner Loop. "He said, 'Most of your news stories are gonna be in the Inner Loop.' I asked why and he told me it was easier for a TV station to get [those stories], and also the ones in Southwest Houston. Most of the stations didn't want to waste the gas or time to cover things outside the loop," Luster remembers. "And he taught me how not to get lost without reading a map or pulling over to get your bearings — to just head for the buildings. He said to learn downtown and then everything else I could figure out from there. That's another reason I've come to love the Inner Loop — the buildings signified home and safety."

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2 comments
Tieuel Legacy
Tieuel Legacy

Very big piece. A lot of information, secretos y mas. Several funny parts also. He'll have to go back into the underground at some point. Hopefully I'll catch a cut of the film before he does. Tieuel Legacy! Motion

 
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