How Noel Calizo went from party photographer to SPCKRFT pilot

Noel Calizo at Spckrft
Photo: Steve Marcus

Noel Calizo has been an integral, though behind-the-scenes, face on Las Vegas’ indie scene for more than a decade. A founder of the now-defunct blog Indie Krush, these days Calizo is working his way up in the film industry.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii, Calizo was 18 years old when he visited family in Las Vegas and decided he wasn’t going home.

“Growing up, there’s nothing in Hawaii,” Calizo says. “It’s the beach or the mall.” Calizo says his childhood revolved around watching TV. “That was my window to the rest of the world. I was, like, ‘Oh, that’s what life is really supposed to be.’ I always felt like I needed to be in the city where everything was happening, so when I came up here to visit, instead of going back, I just decided to stay.”

Two decades later, that decision proved to be possibly the best of his life. In the early ’00s, Calizo launched Indie Krush, a Myspace-era culture blog that hosted dance parties in the style of LA’s Cobrasnake. Calizo jumped behind the camera and took party pics, and legions of 20-something hipsters glommed on to the pre-Instagram rush of finding your photos on the internet the next morning.

“I was the worst photographer ever,” Calizo laughs. “We couldn’t hire a photographer, because we had no money, so I was like, ‘I’ll take photos.’ It was a major growing experience. I had no idea what I was doing and was not formally trained … I look back at it now and I’m like, ‘These are all terrible.’ [But people] didn’t care about the quality of the photo—it was more about what was captured in that moment with their friends. People have sent me [Indie Krush] photos that they’ve framed.” Indie Krush shuttered around 2013, but the photos still live on Facebook.

Around the same time, Calizo was running sound at Downtown venues like the Bunkhouse and Beauty Bar, amassing a comprehensive audio/visual skill set. After working as a production assistant for former UNLV film student Maggie Leon, Calizo picked up more work, eventually landing a gig as a second assistant director for the National Geographic channel show Brain Games.

“Everyone goes in thinking ‘Oh, I want to be a director, I want to be a director of photography,’ but I had no idea what any of that stuff was. I just observed everything and everyone and figured out how to help as much as possible. People started hiring me more and more, and eventually someone wanted me in the art department.”

And that’s where Calizo found his stride. Now, he works as a freelance production designer, art director and prop designer, although he admits for bigger productions he’ll take on smaller roles. Flexibility has proven to be essential.

“What I’ve learned the most is, if you’re able to take direction and follow through and get to a point where people are happy, it’s like, OK, that’s good. If you just shut down and are like, ‘I can’t do it,’ you’re not going to get any work,” Calizo says. “Growing up, I used all these skills randomly. I always played with carpentry tools when I was a kid, I was always learning how to use different materials—it was a lot of tinkering. I feel like all of it applies.”

Calizo recently worked on Hell’s Kitchen, and was a prop master for the Focus Features film The Mustang, which recently premiered at Sundance. “Considering I’m just getting out of my sixth year in the industry, it feels pretty good,” Calizo says.

Last year, he launched SPCKRFT, a multi-use studio in the Arts District that has become a creative hive for a number of local, community-driven ventures. “I wanted a place where I could build sets, do photography and play music—it was kind of like my little cave. But I was working so much I never got to use it, so I just let my friends use it.”

SPCKRFT was recently awarded $1,000 from Meow Wolf’s DIY Fund, and Calizo just partnered with Mojave Studios for an expansion. “The Arts District location is kind of small, so now we have two spaces to build things. The [Mojave] facility is massive—160,000 square-feet—and there’s five sound stages built in. It was supposed to open 14 years ago, and they ran out of money. It’s just been sitting there waiting for people to use it.”

Calizo and his Mojave partners are about to reopen that building, and when they do, the possibilities, he says, are endless. “There’s got to be an energy that I feel is good,” Calizo says. “That’s what I want to find—people that take nothing and create something really cool out of it. Eventually, something amazing is going to happen.”

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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