East Los High
Last week, 'East Los High' (ELH), a project we've been tracking since last year announced that they had signed a deal to exclusively premiere the show on Hulu.com, making it the first English language show with an all Latino cast on the site. In a reality where the market has become saturated with projects that lack originality and heart, writer/director Carlos Portugal set out to create a show that realistically reflected the lives of teenagers from East L.A. that was to be told from an American Latino perspective. Portugal and his team of writers engaged organizations such as Advocates for Youth, Voto Latino and the California Family Health Council in developing this 26 episode series. Now that it's ready to premiere on June 3rd, with new episodes dropping weeknights, LatinoBuzz caught up with Carlos and actors Alicia Sixtos, Janine Larina and Jorge Diaz and invited them to share their experiences in the making of ELH.

LatinoBuzz: How did you develop these characters and story lines?

Carlos Portugal: The number one rule that I give starting writers is: "Write about what you know."  I certainly took this to heart when creating ELH. Personally, I love writing women characters. Especially Latinas. Every major character (Maya, Jessie, Vanessa, Ceci, Soli, Reina, Paulina, Lupe) is either loosely based or a composite of girlfriends and/or relatives. As far as the male characters, I based Hernan (the "veterano" who owns the local taqueria) on my father: A respectful, kind-hearted man that nobody messes with.

LatinoBuzz: Tell me about your decision to use the backdrop of East LA as one of the characters.

Carlos Portugal: You have no idea (or maybe you do) of how so many people, including highly educated Angelenos, are scared of traveling to East LA. I even had a few crew members drop out when they found out that the show was shooting in East LA. There is this preconceived notion that East LA is a dangerous area populated by taggers and gang members. Of course, this is as far from the truth as you can get! It's one of the warmest places full of good restaurants and hard-working families. I try to shatter the stereotypes of ELA that people are used to seeing in movies and TV. (I made a decision early on that there would be no gang members in the show). My hope is that people from East LA get to see themselves in the show portrayed as diverse human beings and not the typical Latino stereotypes we see in TV and films.

LatinoBuzz: How important was having an all Latino cast and also primarily a Latino crew?

Carlos Portugal: I don't think I would have been able to shoot this show in such a record time (67 production days) if it hadn't been for the hard work and dedication of the Latino cast and crew. We shattered the "Latinos are always late" myth once and for all. During the 67 days of shooting not one of the eighty plus actors was ever late to work! I'm truly humbled by their love, passion and dedication to this project. As far as inspiring young Latino filmmakers, seeing a show like this will hopefully excite them so that they would want to create/write/produce/direct and edit their own take on their communities

LatinoBuzz: How did you get all these organizations involved in the development of the series?

Carlos Portugal: We had a product that spoke to all of them. They saw that our hearts were in the right place. Every single person who helped us out was amazing.

Trailer: http://www.hulu.com/watch/483909

LatinoBuzz: The show centers around your character Jessie and Maya, your cousin -What is the dynamic between your characters?

Janine Larina: The dynamic between Maya and Jessie is definitely a roller coaster. A love triangle between two cousins doesn't make for anything less. It changes throughout the season as things happen and certain events come to light. They are both strong Latina young women finding themselves and going through high school. Yes, I used Latina, women and high school in one sentence. So you know there will definitely be some drama.

LatinoBuzz: What do you want people to take away from your character?

Janine Larina: This one is tough because I feel like there is so much that can be learned from Jessie and her journey. I hope that people can relate to her in some way or another and take from her a sense of encouragement to always do what is right regardless of the consequences that may come with it. To be true to who you are and stand up for your beliefs whether they are what is popular or not. Be yourself and the right people will always be there.

LatinoBuzz: It's pretty ground breaking, what do you hope the series achieves?

Janine Larina: I believe this series can achieve a lot in terms of bringing situations to light that aren't so often talked about in certain communities. Sex, drugs and relationships to name a few. Yet, in such an entertaining way. I can only hope that viewers learn from the experiences that the students of East Los High go through and are better equipped with the information they need to perhaps not follow some of the mistakes when put in similar situations.

LatinoBuzz: Tell us a little bit about your character, Jorge.

Jorge Diaz: I play "Paulie", the best friend, the goof ball, the horn-ball....he's a lot more 'talk' than he is 'walk' though. There is, however, a sincerity behind all of his jokes, inappropriate comments, and constant tail-chasing because he truly does care about his best friend Jacob, and his lady friend Soli. There's a good heart behind there somewhere. He was ALOT of fun to play to say the least, and I hope that shows on screen.

LatinoBuzz: Do you feel the characters in ELH are a refreshing break from some of the stereotypes that are often perpetrated in film and television when these characters are in fact fully realized teenagers dealing with teenage problems?

Jorge Diaz: Besides adding to the authenticity of an actual East Los Angeles high school, having East Los High consist of an entire Latino cast gives a group of Latinos a chance to tell their stories! It's a chance to show that stories of young people from East LA are just as important, interesting and relatable as those from teens in Beverly Hills, Orange County, or any other American story for that matter; because that's exactly what they are: American stories. I was actually surprised to find out that a show like this had never done before, considering Latinos make up about 35 percent of the population. We've somehow subconsciously been taught through television that young, rich Caucasian kids represent what it means to be a teenager in the United States. Being an adolescent is a HUMAN experience and anyone can relate to it, you just might see a few more brown faces in this particular one :)

LatinoBuzz:As an actor how was being part of an ensemble?

Jorge Diaz: Being a part of an ensemble with such a loving group of actors is something I'll never forget. I personally connected to this project because I have always wanted to be a teacher at heart and this project allowed us the unique opportunity to combine our love for the craft of acting and be able to bring up certain issues in a fun, non-preachy way. No kid ever wants to be preached to, or ANY person for that matter, but if we are somehow able to see ourselves in another person and be able to fully relate to him/her in a certain circumstance, that right there is what allows a space to grow and be entertained all at the same time. I dig that.

LatinoBuzz: What attracted you to the character of Maya?

Alicia Sixtos:

Maya's a really strong girl. A thinker. Listens more than she speaks and cries more than she'd like. People say I'm a bit like her. I think we attracted each other.

LatinoBuzz: How important do you think a project like this is to a community like East Los Angeles?

Alicia Sixtos: I think that if it gets out to cities like East LA, the SF Bay Area (where I'm from), Texas, New Mexico, New York, Central and South America, it could be really different and useful. The underlying story is how to deal with a lot of the issues that teens and young adults find themselves face to face with but the issue is that a lot of adults don't talk about these major issues with teen because its uncomfortable and made taboo.

LatinoBuzz: When you read the whole series did you get a sense that this could be something different?

Alicia Sixtos: Not initially. When I read the series all I could think was; “did I really just read 540 script pages in one sitting?” I have a lot of trouble reading a lot of these 95 page scripts. Point is the story is really compelling. Thinking on it after the fact, I see the potential it has in being very influential for a lot of people. I can't think of a show like this one with its picture and story quality and featuring so many Latino actors. Latinos in America in particular have telenovelas and Disney shows. That's what kids and parents watch now a days, apart or together. ELH could possibly be the bridge in the gap for a lot of families and young people who don't have a path to follow. I'm hoping that it will be. The only way to really make that happen is by word of mouth. So anyone who's reading this make sure you check out East Los High on Hulu.com on June 3rd and check us on Facebook and Twitter: @eastloshighshow. Thank you for the support Juan, Latinobuzz & IndieWire. 

Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.