LOS ANGELES — Mexicali native Marco Vera, best known locally as the founder of the Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center, had a hand in bringing the latest chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to life through his work on the new Disney Plus series, “WandaVision.”
“WandaVision” follows two characters from Marvel’s Avengers films, Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff and her android partner Vision, as they find themselves trapped in a bizarre alternate reality that mirrors the tropes of TV sitcoms through the ages. Vera’s role in the production involved editing together an animated sequence inspired by the intro to the 1960s TV series “Bewitched,” for the second episode in the series.
Vera was already a seasoned content creator, having directed several music videos and working on several documentaries and on documentary-style promotional content for big brands including the guitar manufacturer Fender and guitar string maker Ernie Ball, but he didn’t have much experience working with animation. He was laid off from his job at Fender last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but recently went to work for the animation company Titmouse after being recommended by a friend.
“They actually hired me for a video for (pop singer) Dua Lipa called ‘Hallucinate,’” he said. “The work experience was really good and after that they needed somebody for ‘WandaVision.’ I just hit the ground running, and it’s been really interesting and a learning experience.”
Vera said that working with animation as an editor is much different than working with live-action footage but that some of his experience working in stop-motion animation and other types of frame-by-frame projects translated to his new job.
“To just kind of jump into this world, it was really interesting,” he said. “One of the big things is the lip sync. You just have to keep playing with that, adding a frame here or there and different things like that. They try to do a lot of that in the animation department, but sometimes clients want a minute change and you just kind of have to dive in and solve it in editorial.”
Although he wasn’t a Marvel fan before and hasn’t seen many of the MCU films, Vera said that since working on the show, he’s become a big fan of “WandaVision” and can’t wait for each episode to come out.
“I really like this project,” he said. “I really like ‘WandaVision’ because it’s got so many different interpretations and even the people who are Marvel geeks, they’re baffled by what’s going on and why they’re there.”
Vera said that all the work he does for Marvel is very secretive and that he was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents him from talking about what he’s working on until after the episode has been released.
“Some of the stuff people are working on, you don’t exactly know what it’s for and the context of it,” he said. “And I think that’s super cool in the era of social media to still have some secrecy.”
Vera was able to share that he has also worked as an editor on a stop-motion sequence in an upcoming episode of “WandaVision.” The sequence will be included in one of the fake advertisements that run as part of each episode of “WandaVision” featuring made-up products along with tons of “Easter eggs” referencing Marvel lore.
“The ad that’s coming up in the future episode, we were all wondering honestly how it features into the story,” he said. “We could go on for hours with hypotheses, because I think all of the ads do have some sort of allusion to other Marvel characters or something that might happen in the future.”
Vera said that before working in the MCU he had “this misinterpretation that it’s just all superheroes and capes and dudes in costumes.”
“That’s definitely not it,” he said. “It’s a different world that I’ve entered and it’s really interesting just because of the level of detail and everything. They call it the MCU and it truly is its own universe. There’s so much going on. This is their first series for a streaming platform and to start with such a different format … this is perfect because it drives somebody like me who wasn’t too aware of the universe into it, and now I can’t wait for the next episode.”
Vera studied film at San Diego State University and graduated in 2002 before going to Mexico City and then to Los Angeles to work various assistant positions on film productions. While working in Los Angeles, he was inspired by the Echo Park Film Center, a nonprofit organization that taught experimental filmmaking techniques to the youth of the community. Vera thought the concept could fill a need in Mexicali, which at the time didn’t have a fully developed film school.
In 2007, with assistance from the Echo Park Film Center, Vera founded the Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center, offering workshops and access to equipment, free of charge to students. He had offered workshops at various places in Mexicali in the past but was frustrated that talented students were not able to continue their studies when the workshops ended.
“We wanted a place where we have continuity and where we can be a community space where kids can keep coming here,” he said. “The workshops started expanding and people taught people how to make shirts, how to cut hair, whatever your craft was, you were sharing it with kids for free and it was freakin’ amazing.”
Eventually, the center evolved into a popular gallery, community library, film screening space, and even an online radio station. Vera said he was initially hesitant to turn the space into a gallery because he didn’t want it to become a “party space,” but he eventually relented because he saw a need for more places to showcase youth arts in the city.
“I thought, ‘let’s just do it and keep it low-key,’” he said. “But it didn’t stay low-key for long. By the second art show, you could tell — it was like a multi-generational thing with people showing up with their kids.”
Vera said that after 12 years in operation, Mexicali Rose “just kind of ran out of money” and closed its doors despite the efforts of the community to keep it open.
“We actually started a Kickstarter campaign and people did not want the place to shut down and they just donated, and that kept us going for like two years,” he said.
After he moved back to LA in 2015, a collective of people who had formed around the center took over Mexicali Rose with Vera’s blessing. They received a grant to host a few more workshops, but eventually collective members moved on to other things, including successfully fighting the proposed construction of a $1.5 billion brewing operation in Mexicali. Activists had vocally opposed the project because it would use an estimated 1.8 billion gallons of local well water every year. Constellation Brands officially abandoned the project in May 2020.
“I think everybody just got busy,” Vera said. “Things changed quite a bit in Mexicali with a lot of stuff that happened with the brewery and the peak of the opposition to the brewery. I think a lot of people’s focus was on like, ‘OK, this isn’t the time for art, it’s time for social change. I just couldn’t keep it open anymore.”
Vera said that his parents, who lived next door to Mexicali Rose in Mexicali’s oldest neighborhood next to the border, recently decided to move to El Centro and to sell both buildings.
“If I wasn’t going to use it, they wanted to sell it,” he said. “So, they’re in the process of selling the space right now. It’s just a thing that ran its course and it was beautiful. I still talk to so many of those students, and it’s freakin’ amazing, just the legacy that it has.”
As a filmmaker, Vera understands the power of legacy and the medium as a tool to preserving history. Not only has be done that for others, but it’s been done for his own passion project.
In 2014, LA-based Public Broadcasting Service affiliate KCET produced and aired a 15-minute documentary on Mexicali Rose that remains on the station’s site today (see embed below).
What’s more, there have been numerous videos produced by Mexicali Rose students about and relating to various performances, art shows, and happenings at the little blue house in what Vera said has often been considered among Mexicali’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. The students’ efforts have been collected on a landing page on video streaming site, Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/mexicalirose).
“They are definitely a time capsule, something we wanted to give to our neighborhood,” Vera said. “It’s a lot of preserving your history, of writing your own history, writing your own future.”
Many of the students who came out of Mexicali Rose are in some sort of media today, Vera said, and they cut their teeth communicating what was going on around them, which was the point of the center in the first place:
“To tell our stories from the neighborhood and keep them intact,” he said.
The same can be said for Vera, who now helps capture the art and history of others, including long-time friend and veteran punk rock musician, Zander Schloss, whose has been widely known for his work as an early member of seminal LA punk rockers, the Circle Jerks, and for work with late Clash founder Joe Strummer.
Vera said his favorite project of 2020 wasn’t “WandaVision,” but directing and editing a video for Schloss’ 2019 single, “My Dear Blue” (see embed below). He also directed and edited a lyric video for Schloss’ single, “The Road.”
To bring that connection closer to home, Vera’s relationship with Schloss goes several years’ back, when Schloss and his sometimes-musical partner Sean Wheeler, originally of the Salton Sea-area punk band, Throw Rag, performed at Mexicali Rose in 2013. The next year, Vera directed and edited their video, “Calexico and Mexicali,” shot largely in the sister cities (see embed below).
And again, Mexicali Rose looms large there, as well.