Less Vanilla, More Risks, Says LA Screenings Independents Panel on Latino Production in U.S.

LA Screenings Independents hosted a panel of leading U.S.-based Latino producers who held forth on the challenges of creating Latino projects from the heart of Hollywood.

Organized by C21 Media, the panel kicked off with Axel Kuschevatzky, director-owner of Infinity Hill, a producer of the Oscar-shortlisted “Argentina 1985,” who pointed out the asymmetry of the Latino experience in the U.S. entertainment biz, a persistent conundrum where 19% of the U.S. population is Latino, contributing an estimated $3.2 trillion to the economy, but where its representation on TV, streaming and theatrical hovers between 3%.and 5%.

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“We’re earning a lot of money for a lot of people but we’re not reclaiming the business that comes along with it,” Kuschevatzky asserted.

They all acknowledged that Hollywood was undergoing a significant transition, given the writers’ strike and the reset among the streaming services, among other factors.

“The business is undergoing a kind of existential crisis,” said Nando Vila, executive producer, Exile Content Studio, adding: “This makes many nervous and it is understandable, but it also opens up opportunities for us to search and find new models of content, financing, production and revenue.”

Augusto Rovegno, SVP of content at new Spanish-language streamer ViX, concurred: “I think that if it is a moment of transition, it is very clear. From the start, our mission has been to offer the greatest amount of content in Spanish and we continue to push that mission.” Rovegno went on to say that ViX had produced more than 70 original shows and acquired thousands of dollars’ worth of content, and plans to continue in that vein.

Ostensibly, having launched less than year ago, it’s still playing catch-up with its more established rivals.

“We are working with established content creators but we are also looking for new talent and giving them the opportunity to tell their stories,” he added.

And therein lies the challenge, how to rise above the fray with new original content that is fresh, relevant and not cut from the same cookie cutter mold.

“We have to be much clearer about the audience we want. If we are going to do something different, we have to first define who we are talking to. It is a very common mistake made by producers, who often do not know who their audience is,” said Ben Odell, co-founding partner, along with Eugenio Derbez, of 3Pas Studios, the producers behind the top-grossing Spanish-language film of all time in the U.S., “Instructions not included,” and whose series “Acapulco” has been renewed at Apple TV+ for a third season.

Carla González Vargas, CEO of Gato Grande, an MGM company, pointed out that budget limitations and the pressure to produce a voluminous amount of content leads to vanilla content. She added that in Latin America, the streaming services are so keen to capture audiences that their executives are scared to do things differently. “They want to play safe so they go as vanilla as possible,” she stressed.

“In the U.S. we are finding another scenario. We are finding opportunities to tell riskier stories, different roles, with Latino protagonists, but in English,” she added, citing the example of Netflix’s “Wednesday,” featuring a Latina actress that rose to the number one spot.

Vila added that Exile Content’s project with ViX, “Amen,” was a risky project but if done right, could be spectacular. “If we mess it up, that’s another problem. The stake is huge and it is risky. It is the opposite of vanilla. What flavor would we call it? Pistachio?” he mused.

“There’s so much we haven’t explored yet…we’re just scratching the surface. I think a great job has been done in recent years but there is still a long way to go,” said Rovegno.

The LA Screenings run May 17 to 24. LA Screenings Independents was held May 17-19. From May 20-24, the studios host screenings of their latest shows.

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