Friday, April 15, 2011

Leoni Navigates Web With Los Americans

Award-winning writer/producer/director Dennis Leoni is set to launch his new web series, Los Americans on May 26, 2011 on Read more details on Los Americans in Latin Heat Online ( and search for “Dennis Leoni Takes on the Web with Los Americans.”

Those of you familiar with Leoni know that his hit series Resurrection Blvd. which premiered on Showtime in 2000, went on to become become the longest running Latino themed dramatic series in the history of American television. Now he brings us the dramatic web series, Los Americans.
Esai Morales

Los Americans has a cast of exceptional actors who have worked for years in television and film. Los Americans is about the Valenzuela family and it stars: Esai Morales (Caprica, Jerico), Raymond Cruz (The Closer, Breaking Bad), Lupe Ontiveros (Southland, Family Guy), and Yvonne de la Rosa (How I Met Your Mother, CSI: Miami).
Raymond Cruz

Lupe Ontiveros

We caught up with the ├╝ber producer recently and asked him about the future of Internet program and how this new venture came to fruition.

Q:  How different is it to develop a web series versus a TV/cable show?
Dennis Leoni:  The difference is financial. Because the budgets on a web series are so much smaller, it reduces the scope—locations, props, and of course, there can be limitations in attracting high-priced talent, unless the writer/director/producer has personal connections to the actors and the script is very attractive. Production values can suffer, so you have to be more creative. It’s also difficult to condense and tell an entire story in 5-10-15 minutes…particularly for a one-hour drama writer like me.

Robert Townsend
Q:  You’re collaborating with Robert Townsend, how did this partnership happen?
DL:  I’ve known Robert for years from our association with The Summit, which is a conference for people of color in the entertainment business that was created by The Black Filmmakers Foundation.  Robert has always been a big fan of Resurrection Blvd. and when One Economy decided they wanted a Latino web series, Robert thought that I would be the best person to create one for them.

Q:  What is the difference between the Los Americans Valenzuela family from that of the Santiago’s on Resurrection Blvd.?
DL:  The Los Americans family and the Resurrection Blvd. family are both modern and fairly well assimilated into U.S. culture, but the family on Los Americans is much more affluent and separated from the Spanish language and the Latino culture than the Resurrection Blvd. family.

Q:  How would you like to see Los Americans marketed to mainstream audiences?
DL:  As a family dealing with problems, the way any family would here in the U.S. they just happen to have a few other unique problems that have been created because of cultural issues.  I do know that the marketing plan includes the mainstream media with television ads; promotion through various organizations, Latino and otherwise; the internet; word of mouth; any and every which way we can grab attention.

Q: Web series are still new to the broadcasting scene, what’s the plan on monetizing? Media sponsors?
DL:  I’m not absolutely certain of the entire marketing and monetizing strategy, but I know that sale to a network is an option that is being explored as well as DVD sales.  Media sponsors would definitely be welcome.

Q.  Who’s handling distribution?
DL: One Economy Corporation and Townsend Entertainment are in charge of distribution with being the Internet channel outlet.

Q: Is there a life for programming on the Internet? If yes, why?
DL: Of course there is life for programming on the Internet.  In fact, it is the future.  Some day your television and computer will be the same device, and people will download and watch TV and films.

Q:  On the best case scenario, what is it you wish for Los Americans?
DL: That a network sees the value of having a Latino family drama on the air and picks us up for broadcast so that millions of people everywhere, Latino and otherwise, can see a show about what real life is like for assimilated Latinos here in the U.S.

Los Americans premieres on (Public Internet Channel), a division of One Economy, May 26, 2011.

Latinowood/Los Americans © 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Making of Firehouse

Pedro Antonio Garcia’s new play, Firehouse, tells a story based on a real-life incident about the honor and loyalty clash with ‘doing the right thing’ in a South Bronx firehouse. I urge you to read the article I wrote for Latin Heat Online (, titled: Garcia’s Firehouse at Whitefire Theatre Ignites Vitriolic Debate. Firehouse is playing on Fridays only at 8:00 P.M. through the end of May 2011 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, CA. Contact info listed below.

Enjoy the interview and I hope it inspires you to go see this amazing play. Find out why Robert “Bobby” Moresco, Oscar-winning co-writer of the movie Crash, is also a Consulting Producer of Firehouse.

The acclaimed playwright and criminal defense attorney opens up about the making of Firehouse
See clip on interview:

Q: Firehouse is an intense story about controversial social issues that continue to plague society. What was the pivotal motivation that inspired you to write a story about a South Bronx firehouse?
A:  The inspiration always was the Amadou Diallo shooting, where an African street salesman was shot 41 times by four New York City Police Officers on February 4¸1999 in the South Bronx. I am a criminal defense attorney in NYC, and at that time I was representing – among others - African streets salesmen accused of selling without a license.
Q: What obstacle did you find difficult to overcome in telling this story?
 A:  As all writers, we struggle with exploring the deeper issues lying in the recesses of our minds. This started as an exploration of the Amadou Diallo issue and racism, but at its core, it became an excavation of my childhood growing up in the South Bronx and the effects of poverty and abandonment in the ghettos.

Q:  Have you gotten any negative reaction to Firehouse?
 A: No.  In fact, we have had audience members who have come to see the show four times already, and others who recommend the show.

Q: Obviously, the seed for Firehouse was on your mind for a long time, seeing your finished product, has it been a cathartic release for you?
 A: Yes. The story still affects me, to my core, and it affects the audience and the cast. I am still tweaking the play, digging deeper, wondering why it affects me so. Every Friday night is a cathartic release for me.

Q:  How do you think your South Bronx community will react to Firehouse? Are you hopeful it will provide some type of healing or closure to the unjust Amadou Diallo tragedy?
A:  The community will respond enthusiastically to it, as they are familiar with the tragedy they experience daily. I hope the play will expose their lives to others, so they are never neglected. 

Q: Prior to the Diallo incident, did you have a particular interest in the happenings of your community or were you as involved as you are now? OR how did the Diallo incident change you?
 A: I’ve been a civil rights activist attorney in the South Bronx for 25 years, representing the indigent in every type of case.  The Diallo incident is a typical scenario I’ve witnessed all my life.  

Q:  Do you think the message will educate police personnel who find themselves for what ever reason turning to a new career that you don’t just train to be a firefighter on a whim because it is a job with health benefits?
 A:  No. Firefighters generally become firefighters because someone in their family was one, usually the father. In NYC, 94 percent of the firefighters are Anglo-Americans.

Q:  Do you think there is a subtle message for rogue police personnel wanting to seek out a career with the fire department, that they don’t just pass training, they also have to be willing to become a respected and trusted member of the community? Is there a community vigilance message here?
 A: No. My message is to not discriminate, to help, to save, to do your duty, and to truly love.

Q:  How have police personnel who have seen the play responded?
 A: Police personnel have loved the play. It’s more about fear, and the unknown, sometimes embodied in racism.

Q: You mentioned that a couple of firefighters who recently lost one of their brothers in a Los Angeles fire had come to see the show. What was their reaction and comments?
 A: Firefighters from Los Angeles Fire Station 61 were the second response unit at the fire that killed firefighter Greg Allen. These firefighters were so moved by the play that they came a second time, brought more firefighters to see the show, and gave the cast and crew T-shirts.
Q: As far as audience understanding, what is your hope they get out of it?
 A:  I want the audience to be moved, to ask questions about their lives and what’s important, to search for the truth.
Jossara Jinaro
Kamar de los Reyes

This outstanding actress opens up about working in with the boys and her role as an idealistic attorney defending the underserved and indigents

Q: As the only female in an otherwise all-male production, what was the hardest challenge you had to overcome to hold your own among them?
 A:  The minute the cast read the script, I knew I was in good company. Surrounded by a group of crazy-talented artists, I had to step it up. So I held my own, became one of the boys and earned their respect. 

Q: How does it make you feel, as a Latina, portraying a character that represents an entire community?  How did you research your character?
 A:  I found Aida's plight to be very personal to me. I feel it is extremely important to support other people in any way I can. I've always been very passionate about giving my time and effort to causes and of course to my Latino community. Emotionally, I understood the journey very well.  

Then of course there was her occupation of being a lawyer who serves her own community. Our playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia is an attorney and he created Aida with a specific fellow-attorney in mind. I vigorously watched video of her and read everything I could on the Internet. I also shadowed a community lawyer here in Los Angeles who had turned her life around after being a gang member in her youth. I didn't just want to play an idea of a lawyer, I wanted to embody the reason she became a lawyer.

Q: What was the hardest challenge you’ve had to overcome in portraying your character?
 A: Aida is not only the sole representative of an entire outraged community, but also a woman deeply in love with a man she thinks is a devoted compatriot. The circumstance of this story put this man on the fence and shakes her world. I had to find a way to walk a very thin line between passionate righteous strength and the vulnerability of being betrayed by the person I love the most.

Gerald Downey, Elvis Nolasco, Kamar de los Reyes
Jon Southwell, Jossara Jinaro, Bryan Rasmussen, Ed Morrone

 Actor shares insight on his poignant portrayal as a crack-addict with a moral conscience and code of ethics. He’s also the half-brother to one of the firemen caught in drama

Q: How did you prepare for your difficult role?
 A: I go through a very intense preparation for every character I play. I do a series of character exercises, like a private moment with the character, finding the unfulfilled need of a character, adapt an animal and use it as a sensory for mannerisms and personality. I've learned throughout this process to find something that puts a motor in my soul before stepping out into the stage. And, lastly, HAVE FUN and give the audience what they came for.
Elvis Nolasco & Kamar de los Reyes

Q: What in your background helped you with this character?
 A:  I try to utilize any real experiences I might have had with loss. In this case “Pito,” he has lost a lot…his person to his addiction, or he has never recovered from the tragic death of his father. And, there is his love and support from his brother “Roberto ‘Perry’ Miranda. Having lost family and friends as a result of natural causes, sickness or addition, tapping into the grief factor is not hard for me. I draw from my own losses.  
See clip on actors:

Actor talks about his characterization of the fearful and polarized former cop turned rookie firefighter

Q: How did you prepare for your difficult role?
 A:  Most of the preparation was in learning the thought process that this character goes through throughout the play. I am normally cast as ‘the nice guy’ or ‘dad,’ or in more comedic roles. In the beginning I worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull off the role of a cop.  A cop who has been through the stress, the anxiety, the trial, and the daily horrors that he must’ve seen.  So, much of the preparation was researching the stresses of a police officer.  At one time, not too long ago, I wanted to stop acting and apply for the police academy.  After spending some time with this idea and doing some research, I remember reading a quote from an officer. He said, (paraphrasing), “after years on the job, I’ve learn to really distrust people. The things I see people do to each other have made me made dislike humans.”   That really stuck with me.  

Anyway, I’ve also been reading Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, and, to be honest, started watching the show Southland on TNT. Most of the characters are not that likeable, but I still feel for them. That was the biggest hurdle for me. I had to really like my character.  I had to go back and recreate in my mind what led him to do what he did. And, to where he feels justified. I really had to make it to where I really 100%, believe my character is justified and correct in what he did, what he does, and how he reacts throughout the play.  It’s kind of scary that I’m now to a point where I can actually argue and believe my characters actions and reactions.

Q: What in your background helped you with this character?
 A: NOTHING!  Thank goodness! Ha! I come from a very “live and let live” family.
 However, I was brought up in the Mid-west and there were a few small-minded passionate people who were racist. I could tell, even then, that it was based on fear and their ignorance.

Q: Because of the intensity of the subject matter, did you, the Anglo actor, ever start to feel the sting of being thought of as racist? At any point, did the character get to you personally?
 A: I believe everyone is a little bit racist or has been at one time or another. If they truly are honest with themselves, I believe we have all made some racist reactions or assumptions…sad but true.  To answer your question, no, throughout the rehearsing the play and performing I haven’t felt a sting of being thought of as a racist. Most of the reactions have been, “I really enjoyed hating you.” I take that as a compliment.  I feel flattered the audiences so far have understood my character’s struggle, and enjoyed my performance. They hate the character but loved my performance. I’ve done my job and told the story.

The only thing that has gotten to me is that I actually feel for this bastard now.  Part of me wants more scenes and flashbacks where I get to tell my side of the story. I mean, here’s an ex-cop who’s trying to start a new life, first day on the job he’s put in a situation where he has to make a split decision. He’s face with a life or death situation.  In my opinion, it had nothing to do with race; it had nothing to do with whether or not he made a conscious decision of who to save. He’s in doubt the whole time.

Actors talk about the intensity of their roles

Q: Because of the intensity of the subject matter, did you, the Anglo actor, ever start to feel the sting of being thought of as racist? At any point, did the character get to you personally?

A: (Jon Southwell, “Breaker”) No. I've been extremely fortunate to be working with a cast, crew and writer that are not only consummate professionals who are truly gifted in their craft, but also caring, giving, deeply empathic individuals. They have each extended their hands and hearts to this project and to me as well. As much as I identify with most of my character's sensibilities (love, loyalty, and sacrifice), the portrayal of his lesser qualities (racism, homophobia, and hate) have been made possible by the support of my fellow cast members.

Q: How did you prepare for your difficult role?

A:  (Ed Morrone, “Valentino”) Preparing for the role was a matter of having Valentino approach each issue within the firehouse as if they were double-sided. No situation is just black or white, everything that Valentino heard from either side of the argument had to be questioned. This helped form this character into someone more than just a firefighter from the Bronx, but more as a modern-day thinker, who doesn’t take anything for granted.

Q: What in your background helped you with this character?

A: (Ed Morrone, “Valentino”) Being born and raised in New York, and also a witness to the tragedy of 9/11 and the after-effects it had on New York City, I tried to use those experiences to prepare for my character and do the best job I could possibly do.  But, you always feel like you need to work that much harder especially when it comes to a part of New York culture that is so important and has so much history. I hold these men in such high regard that I felt an obligation to go out there and to maintain a sense of integrity for the real people who go out and risk their lives everyday.

Veteran producer talks about giving up vacations to nurture her theatrical passion
See producer's clip:

Q: You're the executive producer, why would a person who usually produces musicals do a complete turnaround with Firehouse? How risky was this for you?
 A:  Although I have produced musicals previously, I come from a background of acting for over 25 years. Having worked in a variety of plays, I've learned to recognize and appreciate great writing and great talent. Producing gives me the ability to create in a way I could not as an actor. I may be limited as a performer, based on age, gender, etc. As a producer, I get to help put the pieces together to create something amazing.

I love when cast members get the recognition they deserve and move on to greater success. I have been blessed to work with actors who went on to Broadway, films, and television series. They keep in touch with me so I can follow their successes. I feel like a proud parent.

The only risk is monetary. I stick to small theatre. The amounts involved are similar to a really great vacation. You know you won't get your money back after a vacation, but you've had a great time, and have wonderful memories. Who knows, maybe one day people will be able to make money in theatre. 

Q: What was it that appealed to you most about the story?
A:  Sitting in on the auditions, many had stories about being touched by 9/11 personally, and spoke with such passion about firefighters. You couldn't help being moved. Firehouse story is about doing the right thing. With the world in such chaos, it's comforting to be reminded that there are those who are willing to "do the right thing" even when it's not the easy way.

A Laura Coker in association with the Whitefire Theatre presentation
Runs: Through early summer 2011
Plays: Fridays ONLY, at 8:00 P.M.
Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA
Tickets: or call (323) 822-7898

“How could I not see patterns in our history?” And one of the biggest patterns I’ve noticed is that whenever there’s chaos, there’s ambiguity, and where there’s ambiguity, there’s fear. And fear gets manipulated.”Robert Redford in an interview about his new film, The Conspirator.

Latinowood/Making of Firehouse © 2011