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Gabriel Theis with cinematographer, Noah Goodman

Gabriel Theis Spotlight (‘20)

Gabriel (Gabe) Theis stays busy. A film enthusiast from an early age, he already has two short films under his belt: Nitelife and The Dilemma of Winston Kirp. This summer, Nitelife was nominated for Best Horror Film at the Oregon Scream Week Film Festival in Portland. Not missing a beat, Gabe and his team are currently fundraising for his first feature film, The Curse of Professor Zardonicus

This spring break, Gabe was among a group of Valenti students – led by Dr. Temple Northup – who toured the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. His ultimate goal is to lend his talents to Houston’s own vibrant film industry.   

Communication Manager LaRahia Smith recently interviewed Theis to discuss his passion for film, current projects and much more. 

You can follow Gabe on Instagram at @gabriel.theis.16.

Q&A

You’ve had a busy year. On top of being a student, you’ve cranked out two films and are currently fundraising for your third. How do you find time for all of these projects? 

Well, it’s just what I do. I don’t have much else to balance it with. Filmmaking is my social life – for better or for worse. I’m working on these projects with all of my friends. 

With each of the films I’ve done, there’s been a different set of people that I met at different points of my life. For Nitelife , I worked with a wide array of people I’ve known for many years. Our cinematographer, Noah Goodman, was a friend I met through a youth program for SWAMP. He’s now a student at UT Austin. The assistant director was a highschool friend, and the producer is someone I met acting in someone else’s short film.

Film was always an important thing to me as a kid. I come from a household of film buffs. My dad was a film critic for the Houston Press so I grew up watching great movies. There’s something inspiring about seeing these great stories get told in a way that feels very immediate to you as a child.

What were you doing when you learned that Nitelife had been nominated for Best Horror Film at the Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival?

It’s kind of a funny story how I even learned about that nomination. I had been getting pretty anxious because we hadn’t heard back from the festivals, which is pretty unusual. I was at work, and it was a slow day. So I decided to go on Oregon Scream Week website and saw they had posted some announcements. I scrolled down saw my name under nominees. I did a double-take! 

So why film? What made you want to pursue a career in this industry?

Film was always an important thing to me as a kid. I come from a household of film buffs. My dad was a film critic for the Houston Press so I grew up watching great movies. There’s something inspiring about seeing these great stories get told in a way that feels very immediate to you as a child. I connected to it pretty instantly, and when I was old enough to realize how films are made, that there’s a director… I realized that whoever makes these, I want to do that. 

Ultimately, what is your dream job? 

To be a director. I’m also pretty passionate about writing, so I can see myself as a potential writer/director. But if I had to pick one, it’d be the director. Because they’re the maestro of the whole thing. 

Do you think the Valenti School of Communication is helping you get closer to that dream? 

It’s definitely helped me with networking and meeting the right people. For my last film, my two crew members were from the Valenti School, and they’re some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Valenti has also given me access to resources. The staff is very helpful. I’ve always felt a sense of support and community.

Is there any particular professor you’d like to give a shout out to?  

There’s Professor Houk, who teaches digital cinematography, single camera, and the history of film classes. He is such a hardworking guy. His passion in film is really infectious, and he really holds his students to a high standard. 

I would work on projects and think “that was pretty good,” and he’d say what could’ve been done better. 

I met Professor Houk when I was 15 through Wonderworks . He really made an impression on me then. And, I guess, I did too because he remembered me as “the student who didn’t like Young Frankenstein.” We had a nice talk about that when I started school here. 

What’s been your favorite class at Valenti?

Well, there are different types of favorite classes. My favorite one to go to and enjoy was The History of Cinema. But the most educational has been Digital Cinematography, for sure. 

The students were really trusted to their own devices. Professor Houk wasn’t micromanaging. He gave us projects and assignments, and we’d go and do that. He’d give us feedback (sometimes harsh feedback), but we knew he was coming from a place of being constructive. 

I made a couple of things for that class. The thing I’m most proud of is a music video for the Eminem song “Stan.” I’m very proud of how that one came out. 

Houston has great potential as an industry, if we don't have this exodus over to Austin, Los Angeles or Atlanta. It’s incredibly tempting, but as someone who wants to tell his own stories, I think it’s important that artists stay in Houston.

What are your plans after graduation? 

A lot of that depends on what happens senior year. We’re shooting this upcoming feature film, and sending our films off to festivals. 

I’d love to keep making films, even as an independent filmmaker. I try to do as much work in the Houston film industry as I can, so anything that can keep me in Houston and making film. I don’t want to be another artist who moves to Austin. 

Houston has great potential as an industry, if we don't have this exodus over to Austin, Los Angeles or Atlanta. It’s incredibly tempting, but as someone who wants to tell his own stories, I think it’s important that artists stay in Houston. It’s a city that has so much personality and character that has been unexplored. 

Anything else? 

I want to give a shout out to my two fellow Valenti students who I worked with on The Curse of Professor Zardonicus.  Lucio Vasquez is the cinematographer and editor, and Alec White is the lead actor. 

I would also like to mention that we’re nearing the end of our kick starter for The Curse of Professor Zardonicus . We appreciate any support we can get!
Posters for films that Gabriel Theis has directed.

Posters of films that Gabriel Theis has directed (from left to right): The Curse of Professor Zardonicus, Nitelife and The Dilemma of Winston Kirp.