Born and raised in Fort Worth, Salas has always had an affinity for film. He developed a fascination with the works of Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg and David Fincher at a young age, and was drawn to movies like Taylor Hackford’s Blood In, Blood Out. For Salas, working with Chapa and with fellow Blood In, Blood Out actor Victor Rivers was a dream come true.
“I came across an opportunity to work with Damian Chapa,” Salas says, “and I sent him the script. A few days went by, and he called me and left a voice message saying that he read the script and he loved it.”
Salas studied at Art Institute Dallas, and during that time he was taken under the wings of rap and production duo Play-N-Skillz.
Over the course of his filmmaking career, Salas has directed music videos for Play-N-Skillz, Bun B and Rick Ross as well as documentaries and feature-length films. He recently won the Best Documentary award at the international film competition Festigious for his work on the Leroy Williams Jr.-centered documentary Mr. Lee: 20 Years of Power about the record producer's legacy.
The difference when creating feature films and music videos, Salas says, is that, “It's important to be organized, because there's definitely a huge difference between the two.” But The Devil’s Ring posed challenges unlike anything Salas has faced.
Luna underwent extreme training for his role as a boxer, under the tutelage of Paulie Ayala, a two-time world boxing champion.
“When we first started the project, we were like, ‘OK, it's a boxing movie, it shouldn't be too hard.’ But boy, we were wrong." – Filmmaker Juan Salas
“[Ayala] took us for a two week training, just to give us a glimpse of what boxing is,” Salas says. “When we first started the project, we were like, ‘OK, it's a boxing movie, it shouldn't be too hard.’ But boy, we were wrong. And those two weeks were brutal on the main actor, Alex. He had to get into the role of a boxer. [Ayala] took us out there and he showed us some stuff, and for two weeks, he gave us a peek inside of his world of boxing.”
The director and his crew were about halfway through production before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to a temporary halt. Much of the filming took place in California and Colorado, but with Salas’ directorial efforts and cinematography by Jorge Villa, who directed several of the late Mo3’s music videos, the film isn’t short of any Dallas talent.
But no matter where you’re viewing the film, Salas hopes the overall message resonates with viewers, even if the underlying themes are a bit dark.
“In each character, hopefully the audience sees something they can relate to,” Salas says. “It's a broad story, and each character goes on different journeys, and the audience goes along with them. The film is definitely a cautionary tale of ambition and the price of glory.”