Occasionally the most distressing situations can drive the seemingly most moral person to take matters into their own hands, in order to bring about what they view to be the best justice. That’s certainly the case for the title vigilante protagonist in the new crime drama, ‘El Chicano,’ which is being billed as the first Latino superhero movie, and Briarcliff Entertainment is distributing in theaters tomorrow.
The project was helmed by first-time feature film director, Ben Hernandez Bray. The veteran stunt coordinator and actor, who has helmed episodes of such superhero television series as ‘Arrow,’ ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’ and ‘Supergirl,’ also co-wrote the script for ‘El Chicano’ with Joe Carnahan, who also served as a producer on the feature. Bray drew on his some of his own personal experiences of loss in order to craft a gripping superhero crime movie that explores how emotional and physical pain can drive even the most upstanding citizens to chaise their own version of law and order.
‘El Chicano’ follows L.A.P.D. Detective Diego Hernandez (Raul Castillo) as he’s assigned a career-making case by Captain Gomez (George Lopez) to investigate a vicious cartel. During his probe, Diego uncovers links to his brother Pedro’s supposed suicide and a turf battle that’s about to overtake his neighborhood. Torn between playing by the book and seeking justice, the detective resurrects the masked street legend of El Chicano. As the title vigilante, Diego not only sets out to take down his childhood friend-turned-gang boss, Shotgun (David Castañeda), and defend his city, but also to avenge the death of his brother, who he believes was actually murdered.
Bray and Carnahan generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘El Chicano’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed that despite initial troubles facing financing a Latino-driven superhero film, they powerfully persevered to bring the relatable tale, which reflects real-life troubles in contemporary society, to the screen.
The conversation began with Carnahan discussing the challenges he and Bray faced with financing this type of superhero crime drama. “You would think it would be easy to finance a superhero film, especially since this is also a police procedural, and has all of these other elements that make it very easy to digest the genre side. But we realized very quickly that this is a “Latino-based film.” We heard that if we had a Caucasian influence, it would be easier to get the movie financed,” the writer admitted. “So we had to seek out private financing from our friends in Calgary. We then shot the movie there, but didn’t have the best of circumstances.
“But with Ben’s experience, as well as my knowledge, we were really able to grind this out. So this film is really about substance over size, as we didn’t go the normal route of CG-heavy superhero effects. I think ‘El Chicano’ is really an antidote to that” side of the superhero genre, Carnahan confessed. The writer also shared that since the story in the film is personal to Bray, he felt “a tremendous responsibility to my friend, especially in allowing him to completely tell his story.”
The scribe-producer added that making a Latino-driven superhero movie is essential to modern society. “Eighteen percent of this country is Latino, but less than three percent of speaking roles in Hollywood are for Latinos. With genre films like ‘El Chicano,’ the Latino audience buys almost 50 percent of the tickets. The revenues are so high, it makes sense to make a film like this.”
Bray agreed with his co-writer that it’s vital to have a Latino-driven superhero movie in today’s society. “The only thing that many families, especially in the Latino community, can afford these days is to see a movie, and that’s their vacation time.”
The director also shared that the story that’s featured in ‘El Chicano’ “has been very heartfelt. The whole premise of the story started when I lost a brother to gang violence. When I then started to developed the script, the whole metaphor of not having a father came up, which is showcased in the El Chicano theme. Then when I started working on the script with Joe, I lost my daughter. When we then started the production process, I also lost my mother, right before we started shooting. So I had these guardian angels there, guiding me and Joe, and helping guide the story.” Bray added that he hopes that with the development of ‘El Chicano,’ more Latino-inspired superhero films will be made.
Bray also called the experience of helming the drama “invigorating. The process of being able to tell my own story, and have Joe as my mentor, who’s my best friend and was able to guide me along, was amazing. This project started off as a memoir, so being able to see it finally get to the screen, has been amazing. It’s also been heartfelt and emotional, but also a blessing and a tribute to my family, as well as the overall Latino community.”
The experience of also producing the movie has been one that Carnahan has cherished. “I’ve worked on films with budgets from $5 million to $20 million and $110 million. So I learned very quickly how to move and adapt. We didn’t have the luxury of having even 30 days; we only had 24 days to shoot this movie. So as the producer, I had to be the guy pointing at my watch all of the time, because I knew we didn’t have the time or the money,” he shared. “But I think Ben and I both prefer working that way. There’s a natural creative compulsion that goes along with that process.”
Carnahan then followed up on the experience of shooting ‘El Chicano’ in Calgary. “We were able to find a lot of places that doubled for L.A. We were mindful of that, because we didn’t want to take anyone out of the film. It was tough at times, but Amy Brewster, who was our production designer, did a really great job at that. So when we did get to L.A., and began shooting in iconic places in East L.A., (the fact that some scenes were shot in Calgary) didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.”
Bray also noted that he felt very fortunate to find the cast that they had in the drama. “I grew up watching George Lopez, and he was on my wish list of actors who I wanted to work with as a director. Joe and I knew exactly who we wanted to work with, and everything fell into place. We were very fortunate. We saw performances from people like George that we’ve never seen before. It was great to see this whole Latino cast together, and all of the actors gave great performances.”