Jalmer Caceres needed to come up with a 10-page script exploring the importance of work for his application to Indeed’s Rising Voices program — time was running out.
Then he thought back to a day in the summer of 1990 when the city of Los Angeles was held spellbound by a baseball game that, inning-by-inning, crept toward a no-hitter. The story for his short film “Empty Bases” just poured out of him.
The film opens with live-in caretaker Blanca on the phone, remotely sharing the experience of watching the historic game on TV with her children. Blanca is the full-time live-in caretaker for a woman with dementia; when she’s at work, she connects with her children by talking baseball over the phone.
When Blanca is called away to perform a series of tasks for her elderly employer, it’s unclear whether she’ll be able to return to the phone to share the game’s climactic ending with her kids.
“The stakes are incredibly high because there’s a sacrifice being made on both ends — not only by the mom but also by the kids,” says Caceres.
Caceres was five years old when he moved from El Salvador to Los Angeles, where, like Blanca, his mother took a job as a live-in caretaker for an elderly white woman. He vividly remembers the feelings of longing and loss created by his mother’s absence, which was exacerbated by the family’s frequent moves.
“My childhood was very difficult because I felt like I never had any direction,” says Caceres, who attended 10 different schools before entering high school.
Unsupervised, he watched television — his electronic caretaker — for hours on end. “I would sit in front of the TV, and I would just watch everything under the sun,” says Caceres. “For me it was always the movies. They became my companions.”
But there was a ray of light that didn’t come from the tube: When Caceres was 12 or 13, he started writing stories. “I knew once I wanted to be a storyteller, that would be a key thing — putting stories up on the screen and showing how there’s a universal thread based on our human experience,” says Caceres.
Once his script for “Empty Bases” earned him a spot in the Rising Voices program, Caceres had a few growing pains to work though. He had to learn the dynamics of working with a larger crew than he was used to, and with executive and creative producers. He also had to get used to working with people he wasn’t already comfortable with. But he came to appreciate his collaborators because they brought new experiences and ideas to the table.
One of those collaborators was his Rising Voices mentor Justin Chon, an actor/director best known for his role as Eric Yorkie in the “Twilight” saga, who’s helmed such features as 2019’s “Mr. Purple” and 2021’s “Blue Bayou.”
Because Chon knew what it was like to make small independent films with many limitations, Caceres felt he could talk to him about anything — and the younger filmmaker appreciated having someone who had been in his place before.
For example, the imposing house where the mother Blanca works in “Empty Bases” is practically a character in the film, and Caceres knew that if he didn’t use just the right one, the humans who inhabited it would be out of place. So, Chon encouraged Caceres to hold on to his vision and insist on finding the right space to tell his story.
“That allowed me to feel supported in that moment,” says Caceres. “And then a few days later we had the house that I wanted, my number one choice.”
Caceres was also mentored by producers Constanza and Doménica Castro of 271 Films.
“Jalmer was making a film for his team to be proud of, and for the audience to have an emotional experience with,” says Doménica Castro. “He made a really special movie.”
Reflecting on his Rising Voices experience, Caceres applauds Indeed not only for its funding and support, but also for allowing the filmmakers to tell their stories without any real restriction.
“It’s very hard to find a community that not only embraces you, but then says, ‘I’m gonna lift you up,’” says Caceres. “I feel like that’s what Rising Voices is doing. And that’s the most important thing. I feel like finally people are listening.”
Now that “Empty Bases” is finished and ready to be shown to the world, he’s eager to make the transition from independent filmmaker to Hollywood director.
“I’m just dying to tell these stories and I know the audiences are dying to hear them, because they’re fresh, they’re new, they’re universal and they’re from a perspective that hasn’t been seen before,” Caceres says.