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Faculty Blog: George LaVoo

Last week, Entertainment Weekly published an interview with SVA faculty member George LaVoo on the 15 year anniversary of his film Real Women Have Curves. Here, George speaks about the struggles of finding an audience for a latino driven feature in 2002, and auditioning a 17-year old America Ferrera.

 

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George LaVoo with his students and Moonlight star André Holland

A little more than 15 years ago I heard about a play being produced in a storefront in East Los Angeles called Real Women Have Curves. I loved exploring these kinds of theater experiences around L.A. — personal plays with new actors performed in small spaces. What I discovered was fresh and wonderful. The playwright, Josefina Lopez, has written about her own life and family working in small sweatshops in L.A. where clothes were made. What made this special was that this shop was run by a Latino woman and she employed her fellow Latinas to give them work. The play was alive with honest characters and bursts of hilarious humor. The mostly Latino audience I watched the play with was literally on their feet clapping and laughing as they related to the characters on stage.

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REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, America Ferrera, 2002, (c) HBO

You might be surprised to know that about 15 years ago there were NO Latino shows on network tv in the U.S.. Remember, this was before the internet and series boom. So when I approached Josefina Lopez about wanting to make her play into a movie Josefina said, “Good luck, I’ve been trying to get a movie made for many years and no one is interested.”

I felt I was up to the challenge. Josefina generously granted me a low-cost option and I wrote a script. I then put on my producer hat and started knocking on all the production company doors. The development executives said they loved the script… ah but there was a catch. In order to get a movie financed you need stars. And at that time there were no “bankable” young Latino star women in the industry. No stars means no company was willing to take a risk on making a movie with unknowns. Luckily, I knocked on HBO’s door and they had just started an initiative to grow their Latino market. HBO was very smart and forward thinking that way. They saw the value in making a movie that Latino audiences couldn’t see anywhere else — no one else was making movies for Latino audiences at that time.

HBO gave me a “flashing green light” to go out and find the best actresses and director to satisfy their desire to make a fully Latino project that could be embraced by the community. It is rare that a company says “go find us some new stars.” But that’s what HBO did. I spent five months in casting sessions all around the United States (New York, Texas, New Mexico, California) and also Mexico. At the same time I started an intensive search for a young director to carry out the vision I had of bringing the play truthfully to film.

Finally I presented my “package” … it included a director who had only made two short films and not yet a feature, Patricia Cardosa; an L.A. radio personality I discovered who had never made a movie, George Lopez; and a 17-year-old high school student who had only had one small walk-on part in a Disney tv-movie, America Ferrera. If you read the attached Entertainment Weekly article you can see how things turned out!

You can read George’s interview with EW here.

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Filed Under: Faculty Blog