On The Move: Mix Three Parts Bronx with a Pinch of Perseverance for one Hollywood Dream
One for all and all for one! Sound familiar? The proverbial mantra of the Three Muskateers couldn’t be more fitting for the hardest working men in Hollyhood. Allow me to introduce to you, Adel Morales, Julio Antonio Toro and Frankie Villanueva. They are the brains, hands, feet and voices behind HollyHood Productions, Inc. Out of the three of them stemmed three different dreams that meshed together as perfectly as their personalities and HollyHood was born. The trinity proves that dedication sets a foundation for success as they pursue the film industry with tenacity unmatched.
“We’re from the Bronx and you hear it in our accents and see it in our faces. We’re playful, we’re funny, we’re talented and we’re not going anywhere.”
Words: Danielle Young
How did you all get your start in film?
Adel: At 19 and 20 years old, you were supposed to make a decision on your [college] major and I chose pension and medical benefits—not the life of a starving artist. After getting a couple degrees (Bachelors and Masters in English), the artist—was there. [There was] nothing else to do to occupy my time—no other goal or pursuit to have.
I started going to Columbia and NYU film school to audition and landed some parts. I took notes on everything, like, ‘What does this light do? Why are you using this machine for audio? What plugs in here?’ Their $30,000 education was mine. Couple that with the Dov Simens Hollywood Film School class; that gave us a light at the end of the tunnel. We knew it was possible. Dov Simens pretty much laid out the ground work of what to expect.
Julio: I was always and forever creating characters and stories as a kid. I was heavily into comic books. I was a dork, but a very talented dork. As far as film [is concerned], it’s got to be when my father first managed to buy a camera and put the family on film. I liked being behind the camera more than I did in front of it.
My friends and I would tape with the camera and on the VCR we’d dub it, bring it back, cut it, slice it and dub it again on another VCR. The love of creating stories was always there. I’m very visual, even when I write. I had a lot of talents when I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The more I started finding out about film the more I realized that directing encompasses everything—writing, drawing, etc. I knew it was what I was supposed to do because I had too many interests. I didn’t need to pick one, I could do them all.
Frankie: When I first discovered that I wanted to do art in any form; I used to draw stick figures and they used to have these big shirts on and if I wanted it to be Superman, I put a big “S” on his chest. I just practiced hours and would break night, just drawing. I did a lot of graffiti, airbrushing, spray cans, sketch work and also illustrated this book for a music company called B Brokers. They put out this children’s story book that I got my first illustration published. Now I have broken into another segment of art and that is set design.
When developing HollyHood Productions, Inc., what kind of help did you have, if any?
Adel: I joined the New York Chapter of NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) and started PA’ing, gripping—on anybody’s project—just learning. Then I started hanging out with the president of NALIP, Edwin Pagan and he was busy. If you’re working, I want work, I want to learn. I pulled Frankie along with me on several projects that we did and we built up such a great repoire with Edwin, who had seen our hustle. When Eddie finally got to meet J and see us together, he let us know that he wanted to work with us.
Julio: Eddie helped bring the look of the film up to the level of the story. Also, Adel paid for me to take my first class because he wanted me to take it with him and I will never forget that because I didn’t have the money to do it. We took a writing class at Gotham Writer’s Workshop in Screenwriting. The screenwriter who taught it, Brian Edgar—really talented writer—fell in love with us and wanted to keep in touch after the class was over. It wasn’t just my friends liking my work, but people who know what they’re doing liking my work. Then I thought, let me go buy every book I can find to get better at this and that’s how I did it. That’s how we’re still going. We self educate ourselves in this whole process that’s why I feel very humble by this whole process. I don’t know at what point I became the filmmaker as opposed to the student. I don’t know when it happened. I guess it was when we completed out first film. I’ve accepted that and started to build on that.
What makes HollyHood Productions, Inc. stand out?
Adel: In Repentance, [our newest film] we handle the controversial topic of a pedophile priest from the point of view of what he’s going through as opposed to stereotyping him completely as this demon, which most films do. We take you 30 years into the past with this guy. He’s going through remorse for the sins that he did 30 years ago. He knows he’s getting close to death. He’s got to meet his maker and pay for these sins that are haunting him. He’s evil and you know he is, but we don’t paint him with that one dark brush. We give him many different layers. I think that handling of such a controversial topic; it’s going to wake some people up and make some noise, in the fact we’re doing things a little different and will continue doing so.
Julio: We’re a team. The products will falter if any of us weren’t involved. There’s an intrinsic value to what we create; every movie that we have. It’s something special. We’re doing this on a very simple level right now. We’re growing. I put my money down on a computer, Adel went and bought a camera and Frankie put money into lights—we’re very grassroots, ground level.
Frankie: One thing I noticed during Repentance is that we really took our time with the production of the film—how we wanted the booth to look, what kind of background was going to be in the booth, etc. We did all of that. Jay, Adel and I all mapped that out ourselves.
When days run long and you are ready to call it quits, what keeps you motivated?
Julio: This is a second life for us. We found this career late in life—3-4 years ago. So this is our rebirth. It’s Christmas all the time. It’s like giving a kid a crayon and a coloring book. We get to play and do this on a serious level.
What are you currently working on?
Julio: We’re in the middle of writing a feature length horror script. We’re aiming for late October/early November to start shooting. We’re in the interview stages, so we’re going to sit down with a Bronx homicide detective and get into his head on specifics because it deals with a serial murder, but not in a way it’s been done before. We’re going about it in an original way. We want to be really authentic with the procedures and jargon of a detective and what he does when he stumbles upon a serial murderer.
Adel: In the meantime, we’ll be working on webisodes. We will be breaking it up into six 30-35 minute episodes and try to find distributors on the internet. We definitely want to do this because there seems to be a market for tv shows and different stations seem to be looking for pilots and they ask for 4 minute shorts now. So that’s an avenue we want to explore. I’m coming up with a story that will allow us to play with special FX programs and further add to our knowledge as filmmakers. We are going to keep our feet wet because we feel like we haven’t been filming enough. We’re definitely writing, but we want to start documenting/filming more things.
I also have a lot of footage on the documentary that we started about a Puerto Rican nationalist who was assassinated by the FBI. We put together a half hour documentary about that, but then just by doing that, we met so many people that wanted to give more and see it done properly, so we’re going to expand on that. We’ll probably be finished editing that one by the new year maybe. From there, we’re still going to be accumulating more footage for a longer version of it. That’s what’s keeping us busy right now.