Knowing that the Latino community is a pivotal element for its success today, Hollywood has finally adapted open spaces for content and talent that speak directly to an underrepresented sector of the population. However, despite the current outpouring of interest, this was not always the case. Only a few decades ago the Latino market consisted of a few individuals trying to bring attention to projects, actors, and filmmakers that could connect with people that rarely saw their stories on the screen. One of those pioneers was Isabel Echeverry who, through her unceasing efforts, has managed to make a success out of meeting the developing need for Latino talent in both film and advertising.
Together with her business partner Erika Olmos, who is known for her work in different facets of the film industry, Echeverry merged her company, Kontakto Rep with the Olmos Talent Management, forming what is now Olmos Kontakto. This unique new venture aims to provide support and representation to Latino talent working in all aspects of the business. Both powerhouse women saw the potential of the Latino market long before it became a consistent part of the entertainment industry. They share a particular perspective on the ins-and-out of how to create a successful career out of one’s passion.
Echeverry believes dreams are still attainable in Hollywood today when the dreamer is provided with the adequate tools. That’s what Olmos Kontakto wants to do, to offer that support and expose hidden Latino talent to an industry and audiences eager for new and innovative works.
Here is what Isabel Echeverry told us about her journey and this new fantastic project:
Aguilar: How did you get started in the entertainment industry, and how did Olmos Kontakto come about?
Isabel Echeverry: I started out about thirteen years ago working at ICM for Jeff Berg, as an agent trainee, and while I was there I offered the idea of starting the Latin American department. At the time Jennifer Lopez had just done Selena, and it was a big hit of course. They were kind of interested, but really it was too early. Thirteen years ago the Latin market was just starting in terms of people being interested in the power of the Latinos, etc. I remember bringing Sofía Vergara and they passed on her, so funny [Laughs]. After three years at ICM, I left to work with Reber Covington who represents directors in the general market for advertising and production company editors among others. While I was there they said, “Look we have one director who is Colombian, Simon Brand. Since you speak Spanish, why don’t you see if you can start him at Dieste? Dieste was the only company back then that was big in terms of productions for advertising. It was the only company that general production companies also would go after. So I started selling him, and that’s how I started with the Latin market as it grew.
In my six years at Reber Covington I created the successful Hispanic division. Everybody wanted me to represent them, all the general market companies and the Latino companies alike. It was amazing! Then, five years ago I went on my own and created Kontakto Reps., which had been a huge success. I moved back to Miami where I had my three babies, then came back here in June of last year because I have a script, a personal story, that I want to get off the ground. So I thought “I have to be in L.A for this. This is were the whole market for film is” The advertising part of my job I could do from anywhere, but for film you have to be in L.A. My script is actually at CAA right now, I’m very happy.
I always wanted to expand the focus on getting Latinos into film, like I originally did at ICM. So I started asking people in the industry that are Latinos, “Who do you think that I could partner with? I want to expand and invest into a company that is Latino focused and has talent.” Therefore, it was perfect to meet Erika Olmos because she had a wealth of around 25 great actors and actresses; she was also starting with Asher - a project in pre-production right now - so it was a great fit. We get along great and it has been a great success ever since we merged. We named our company Olmos Kontakto. She focuses more on the day-to-day management aspect for the actors, and I continue focusing on the advertising side: directors, editors, etc. We are fully immersed in everything that is Latino, both in Hollywood and in advertising in the U.S.
We have these two great companies and we benefit from each other with our projects. For example, recently one of my clients was shooting a commercial and he said, “I need a Latin actress”. We sent him an actress for casting and he booked her. That works as a vice-versa situation with anything anybody might need. Our main focus is to get people to think of Olmos Kontakto whenever they think about anything Latino.
Aguilar: What do you think has allowed the Latino market to evolve into the highly profitable industry it is today?
Isabel Echeverry: The population has grown, so it is really about the numbers. There are over 50 million Latinos in the U.S. and the number is growing. It has also changed creatively because of the power of the Latino audience who access content in different platforms and have the discretionary spending money to buy tickets and products. All these demographics have affected the investment in brands for this market. Everybody wants to invest in this market right now. There is more money, and both the quality and the demand have increased. There is an awareness of the power of Latinos and what they can offer the general market creatively. It is really powerful!
Aguilar: I understand your focus is on Latino talent here in the U.S. Are there any plans to expand into representing talent from their native countries?
Isabel Echeverry: It is very important that our talent speaks English, like you and I; we are bilingual. That’s who we are. If they do speak English, and we meet them on a trip or someone recommends them, and of course, if they have what it takes, of course we are open. For example, I was in Miami and one of our Venezuelan editors introduced me to an actor. I met him and spoke to him in English, and he is perfect, so we are going to represent him out of L.A. but will find him work in Miami as well. We are going to send him to auditions; we’ll get him an agent and get him working. It is possible to do this anywhere in the U.S. with any Latin talent. There is another actress who lives in Uruguay right now; she wants to move to L.A, and we really believe in her so we are sponsoring her. This is something we will consider case by case, but we are committed. If we see the talent and we believe we can get them a job, we will do anything to help them establish themselves. We really want to help people fulfill their dreams.
Since we started our company we’ve booked three series regulars, that’s very big. The last one was Octavio Pisano, who has a Mexican background. He just booked a series regular job on Tyler Perry’s new TV show. Then two other Mexican-American actors have just booked roles for several seasons in HULU’s East Los High.
Aguilar: Can you tell us about the current projects being developed through Olmos Kontakto?
Isabel Echeverry: We have a TV project slate and we have a feature slate. On the feature site we have about eight projects that are in the creative development
stage. One of them is Asher, directed by Francisco Ordonez, which is getting ready to shoot in New York. We have the funding in place, Danny Glover, Mekhi Phifer, and others are attached to the project.
Then we have Allegro, my personal story. I hired Michael Gottlieb, the director of Mannequin and he has been mentoring me. He sat down with me for five months and showed me how to write the script. It’s about “brujeria” (witchcraft),which is a very Latino subject. It’s now at CAA and they loved it. They sent me a list of writers that they are considering to polish the script, and then they will attach an actress and a director. Lastly, we have Chasing Rubi, which is about Porfirio Rubiosa, a diplomat from the Dominican Republic who was also known for being a playboy. We have a file from the FBI and information on his case, so it’s going to be a really interesting story. That will be a bigger budgeted film.
In terms of TV we have a few unscripted reality shows. One of them is I Am Genie. We have attached Richard Devinki, a producer who worked on The Apprentice. We're moving a lot, there is so much happening. We are overwhelmed with how our company has become a big success so quickly because of the buzz. People are reaching out to us, which is amazing!
Aguilar: Is there anything else about this new venture you would like to share?
Isabel Echeverry: Here is what I want to share. We want to be a bridge or pathway to anyone in the Latino community who has a project and who is talented. It’s a very a hard business to get into. We have the contacts; we know what it takes for anyone to be a director in commercials, in features, an editor, effects, color correction, a writer, actors who want to get their careers to where they need to be, and also anyone needing help with creative development. We have a lot of talent and projects that come to us, but my main focus is offering people an amazing opportunity. That’s really what I love to do; I love making people’s dreams come true. Since I was sixteen when I got into this business to pursue my own acting career (and it was very hard), I have done everything. I have worked at agencies, I have worked as an assistant, I was acting, and I learned the hard way. I’m here to offer people my knowledge. This is my way of giving back.
For more information on Olmos Kontakto you can visit HERE