• INTERVIEW: Film producer Frank Aragon (Down For Life)

    By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on August 31, 2009

    LOS ANGELES (Herald de Paris) – Produced by Boyle Heights native Frank Aragon, the Alan Jacobs’ gang drama DOWN FOR LIFE is up for a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival – one of eleven titles added to its category Contemporary World Cinema. The film was shot on location in South-Central Los Angeles and stars local youths in the lead roles. It is based on a true story starring Danny Glover, Snoop Dogg, Kate Del Castillo, Elizabeth Pena and introducing sixteen year old Jessica Romero from the streets of Wilmington, California.

    Frank Aragon’s past films include MY FATHER’S LOVE, BOYLE HEIGHTS, HOLLYWOOD FAMILIA and AND SO THEY DIE. All are part of 1211 Entertainment. Aragon’s company has been concentrating on the American-Latino audience for the last ten years. Frank is a Mexican-American (Chicano) whose passion is telling positive Latino stories. In 2001 Aragon was the recipient of the Golden Eagle Award as an outstanding independent filmmaker from Nosotros. This is Aragon’s first major film festival debut.

    Frank tells us:

    I was born and raised in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, eventually moving to the San Gabriel Valley so we could live a little better life away from gangs and drugs. I was raised in a single parent household; my mother and father split up when I was six.  My mother was always supportive of me, she just didn’t have time to nurture me the way she wanted to. It was always just me and my sister because Mom worked a lot.

    Mom always told me that I was a good storyteller. I believed her. If you tell a two year old kid that they’re good at something, they believe it and things start to happen. I wanted more grown-up things early on, like a career in the movie business. When my family found out about my dreams, and knew that I was serious, they encouraged me. They patted me on the back and said, “You can do it mijo!” My friends knew that vision was what was driving me. They fully supported me and are still expecting to have leads in future movies I make.
    My sister and I grew up with television, especially FANTASY ISLAND. One film changed my life and that film was ROCKY. I knew then that an underdog could win or, at least, in the effort he was a winner.

    I consider myself an actor who is also a producer/director. That is my love, my passion. I’m told I’m a gifted director.  After I wrote, produced, directed and starred in my first film MY FATHER’S LOVE, I realized that I have an unshakable confidence which cannot be broken by anyone.  My ultimate goal is to someday win an Oscar.

    The reason I got into acting was that in the eighth grade I had a crush on my drama teacher. I was student body president and discovered that I loved the drama class so much! Reading plays aloud and then doing them on stage was the best escape for me. I owe Miss Enloe; she started it all.

    My first success came from an audition. I took a bus to Hollywood and walked into a dark theater to audition for a play. I was eighteen and they cast me. We took that play to New York City and performed Off-Broadway at Harold Clurman Theatre. I had been auditioning for two years already for things in Hollywood. I even got cast as a dead body in a morgue scene in DEATH WISH IV with Charles Bronson. When I came back from New York at the age of ninteen I got cast in my first film ANGELTOWN with Teresa Saldana. Bob Morones cast me; I used to drop pictures and resumes off at his door at least once every week.

    My biggest supporters have always been my daughter and certainly my family, who celebrate every success and encourage me to keep going. The biggest challenge in starting out was being able to keep pursuing my dream and still eat and live like any normal human being, I was a young man with responsibilities. My high school sweetheart and I had a daughter from all of our love for each other. I was only seventeen when she was born so I was a very young dad. My son was born four years later. Destiny and Frankie are my two children.

    My first professional gig was the play I did in New York City Off-Broadway, performing next to a theater in which Melissa Gilbert and Phoebe Cates acted. I knew I was a real actor like them. I eventually ran into them at the deli on the corner and invited them to my play. They came and it was encouraging, (I loved Phoebe Cates, but I didn’t get to make out with her.) Working with young professionals on that level, I knew I could make it then.

    Originally I started out as an actor but had an accident after returning from Minnesota where I had worked on a film.  I asked the director and producer if I could learn to be a PA, a production assistant, as well. They asked me, “Why? You are an actor.”  I told them that one day I want to direct and produce so I want to learn everything I can. I wanted to be by the camera at all times.That film was Severo Perez’s PBS film And The Earth Did Not Swallow Him by Tomás Rivera. I traveled with the film to Minnesota and there I eventually worked in every department. I was a grip, an electrician, in the prop department, the wardrobe department and production assistant. That was my first film school.

    When I returned from Minnesota. I worked construction as a property supervisor. Then  tragedy struck. I had freak accident and was blinded by a bungee cord that broke, hitting me in my right eye. I lost my vision in that eye and for four years I didn’t act anymore, having to undergo surgery after surgery.Eventually I went to UCLA and studied the technical aspects of filmmaking. Five years later I wrote, produced, and directed MY FATHER’S LOVE. Since then I’ve made it a point to learn it all. I do what I need to survive, to keep going until I get to the prize.

    MY FATHER’S LOVE was my first serious effort, having produced, financed, written, directed, and starred in that film. It was a major undertaking and it helped me learn so many things in so many ways. Hollywood really doesn’t care about young or old. It cares about hotness. If you’re hot it doesn’t matter if you are one hundred years old. If you’re thirteen and hot then you’re welcome as well. Hollywood is driven by money and who can bring in the next big payday. In this town, if you are already successful then you are wanted. If you are smart and can deliver in today’s age, you can dictate your terms better than back in the day. Especially when you are not dependent upon them for your successes.

    I have to say that there is discrimination against Latinos in the entertainment industry. I’m a Chicano and I’m brown to most Hollywood people I’m just a Mexican and sometimes I am viewed as an immigrant. They judge people based on a perception about us that is false. That being said, most people in the business are also smart, so they cannot deny our worth any longer. They are fighting tooth and nail to try to get their hands on our audiences.

    What about your latest project? How did it come about? What events led up to its showing in Canada?

    I got a call from producer Scott Alvarez who had seen my work as the location manger on REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES. They knew about me from Effie Brown who knew me from my film MY FATHER’S LOVE. Scott wanted to meet me and talk about a picture.

    I read the script and liked it a lot. It wasn’t stereotypical and I thought I could make a difference working on the picture. I met with Scott Alvarez at an office in Studio City.  Scott and I talked while Alan Jacobs, who was in an office adjacent to ours, could hear our conversation regarding a certain property. POR VIDA is the story about a young gangster girl from South Central who happens to be Latina. Even though he’d heard the conversation, I still didn’t meet Jacobs.

    We talked about the film and he offered me the job of location manager, I told him I’d like to read the script again but I would like to help produce the movie, Based on my body of work I was certainly more than just a location manger. He listened. I went to La Vegas for a weekend and came back. I was offered the job.

    When I returned they hired Dwight Williams who is John Singleton’s line producer and executive producer in HUSTLE AND FLOW. I met with Williams but the meeting turned into my being interviewed to be somebody’s assistant, not a location manager or even a producer. I very politely wished them the best of luck with the project and walked away. There comes a point when you have to say, “No, thank you,” because you’ve earned more than they are offering. I still hadn’t met Alan Jacobs either while he was in the adjacent office.

    They went out and tried to produce the film without me. They shot for ten days out of a twenty-eight day schedule and then went dark. That means the film shut down due to lack of money, being over produced, spending too much money, you name it.

    I knew that this project was an urban story and could be done cheaply if the right people were involved. People who knew the hoods of Los Angeles and knew what they were doing as independent producers, not studio producers. There is a big difference and the difference is money. Independents are accustomed to working without money and studio producers are used to having it. I learned how to work without it. To make a long story short, I got a call from Scott again. He explained everything to me saying that everyone working the film was now gone. No more money means they were no longer around. We set up a meeting at the Four And Twenty in Studio City.

    This time the meeting was with Alan Jacobs and Scott Alvarez. They asked me to help them produce the rest of the film, keep a log on the days left, keep continuity, handle cast issues, handle union issues, you name it. Problems, problems. I asked them, “Okay so how much money do I have now to finish this movie?” They said only about ten percent of the original budget. I accepted the challenge and went to work.

    We shot an additional nineteen days using weekends, making sure we matched continuity, actors, and new locations. No more line producers, executive producers, unit production mangers, or location managers, These jobs are usually filled by multiple people on films with money. We didn’t have any money so I did them all by myself.

    I realized that this is what I’ve been grooming myself for all these years and I was so ready. The film is simply good. It is excellent. We submitted the film to Toronto and they accepted us. It is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. I am so excited. It is an honor in itself.

    How has the film festival invite affected you? What do you hope happens there?

    Being selected is my own personal confirmation that I am ready. It has shored up my confidence, giving me new birth and a passion for the next level of projects. I hope I meet some great people who don’t mind working on projects with a young Chicano like myself in the future. People who can see through the color of my skin and be okay with me,hopefully through my successes.  I can help enable more talented brown people on the set who need a break too.

    What is your next project? How can people support your work?

    I wish I could say. It’s big. It is a comedy written by a big name writer and produced by a young Chicano on his way to making a huge name for himself. Me!!!!  Oh yeah it has a strong female Latina as the lead who has yet to be cast. Someone’s going to get a big break! Especially if they are a Chicana!  People can support me, and the people like me who are trying to break down some Hollywood barriers, by writing letters (emails) to the networks about me and my work. Let them know we are coming and please go see my movies the first week when they come out.

    As an artist I want to changes lives. I want to affect people’s lives by the stories I’m telling, stories that make a difference in our society. I want to influence the great change that is already taking shape in our country.

    My life is one story that can be anyone’s story. I know I am blessed and I will live up to all the expectations people have for me by doing the best job I can. Making a difference in others people’s lives through the stories I will tell and the films I produce, I will continue to be blessed by the very nature of the work and that process.


    Comments
    Cynthia Melchor August 31, 2009

    Truly a talented and gifted filmmaker. Frank Aragon….you are one of a kind! Keep putting the positive message out there for the young latino generations to come.

    Melissa Garcia Snow August 31, 2009

    I am so inspired by Frank Aragon’s story of living in the “Hood” and having the support of his mother and friends to push him to pursue his dreams. I look forward to watching his movie DOWN FOR LIFE, and look forward to seeing future films that are based on more positive views of Hispanics in America!

    Melissa Garcia Snow

    Carlos Morales August 31, 2009

    Frank contact us at 323/221.7400

    Irene Saucedo August 31, 2009

    From one Latino to another, I’m very proud of you Frank because it’s really hard for us to get a foot through that “BIG” door. There’s alot of stories to be told, and your film is just one of so many to finally show a positive side. Good Luck, with everything that you do now and in the future. Very proud of you!

    ellita August 31, 2009

    The movie DOWN FOR LIFE is a great story to help gang members turn their life around. Hispanics or any gang members world wide can benefit from this film as gangs r on the rise world wide.

    Manuel Covarrubias September 1, 2009

    I’m glad there is someone who is determined to show Hollywood that there is more out there than what they show us. Latinos are a huge market and yet we are barely recognized in film. I think your doing your part to change that and if there is anything I can do to help let me know. Keep up the good work Frank!

    AMPARO CORDERO-VARGAS September 1, 2009

    IT’S A GREAT STORY, CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THE MOVIE IT’S ALWAYS SOOO GREAT TO HEAR ABOUT SINGLE MOMS WHO HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR THEIR CHILDREN SO ONE DAY THEY CAN BECOME A SOMEBODY JUST LIKE YOU, AND EVEN BETTER TO BE ABLE TO THANK HER AS A GROWN MAN. WISH U THE BEST

    Rubin Lopez September 1, 2009

    I want to say that as a Latino in south Texas, hearing about this story thru a friend is truly inspirational!!! I am a 3rd generation Mexican-American whose family was in Texas when it was still Mexico. The border crossed us we didnt cross the border. Its time we take this young mans can do attitude and run with it! Congradulations Mr. Frank Aragon, keeping making the movies and dont take no shit from no one. You know who you are!

    Rubin Lopez
    McAllen, Tx

    Belinda Aragon-Mercado September 1, 2009

    Great article. Well put and honest. Keep making a difference/sharing positive stories and pursuing your dreams.

    SO very proud of you. Congratulations on making the festival – you deserve it brother!! You’re extremely smart & talented. God has blessed you.
    Your biggest fan, Belinda. Love you bro!

    “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
    Eleanor Roosevelt – all you!

    Augusto Polo September 3, 2009

    Great article. So, good rto read the “real” Frank story from the man himself. You’ve come a long way since my Father’s Love and wish you continued success hermano!

    Julie Jimenez September 3, 2009

    Frank continue to break down those barriers !! You are a talented man and the world will soon know it !!
    Good luck in Toronto !!

    Brynn Alvales September 13, 2009

    It’s hard to imagine that films get made without Frank’s brilliance.
    Get a load of this guy!

    Joel A September 18, 2009

    Frank
    You should tell the whole story. Down for Life (Por Vida) was shot for 3 weeks before it went down. The producers still owe most of the crew two weeks pay as well as numerous vendors… You just slimed your way through this project and are now taking credit. This film could have been so much better if it was finished the way it was supposed to. You are no hero to me as you knew many people were owed money. Your statement about no one being left because their was no money is a joke.. The crew were hired for a certain rate and then lied to.
    I do agree with your statement about the first part being overproduced but then again they did not hire you because you did not have big enough credits.
    So to wrap it up , because you are such a hero you will only do low budget films

    Frank Aragon September 20, 2009

    To Brynn and Joel, you didnt work for me, and 10 days of shooting is not 21 days of shooting without all the fluff and deadweight.
    and as I said before I didnt lie to anyone, remember I wasnt the first producer on first ten days.

    Hector Solis October 15, 2009

    I just read this article and it really inspired me to continue with my writing. My background is very similar to yours and I hope to one day be in your shoes. Keep doing what your doing and make way for future chicanos like myself to break into the biz! GOD BLESS!

    Crew Wife January 22, 2010

    Wow. Where to begin? Although a very inspiring story of Frank’s life, he should be aware that when you get into business with slimy, disreputable people, their past filth sticks to you too. I am the wife of one of those original “fluff” crew members who worked for 3 WEEKS (not ten days) on DOWN FOR LIFE for lower pay than they normally earn because they believed in the project. . . and because they were LIED to! The Producers of Por Vida Productions and the Director Alan Jacobs lied to everyone (including the SAG and IATSE unions) that they had the money to pay their cast and crew. After three weeks, they were all told at the end of the last day that their was no money to pay them. People should know that this is something that does not happen in union productions. The cast and crew gets paid before the production wraps. . . period. Por Vida still owes these people after 2 1/2 years of promises and lies. These men and women are seasoned professionals in film in television who work very hard and have families to support. In some cases they turned down other work to work on this project because of the high level talent of the CREW, and not the director or producers. If this movie ever makes any money, do the right thing, Frank, make sure these people are compensated for their time and effort.

    Emily February 24, 2010

    Frank Aragon is the biggest user. He tells lies and takes advantage of people. Best of luck in the future loser.

    Frank Aragon March 2, 2010

    Dear Crew Wife and former crew on “Por Vida” currently “Down for Life”,
    As far as I was made aware there was only ten days of shooting for the first union days. I am a small independent producer that is not union. I completely agree that everyone should be paid former crew and all. I believe in my crews and wish I had the opportunity to work with you all. I am not responsible for the financing on the first part of the film. I have been assured thru Alan Jacobs and Scott Alvarez that all former crew would be getting paid. I acknowledge all your hard work and appreciate your contributions. Please contact me directly so I can help resolve this ugly issue.

    Frank Aragon March 2, 2010

    Dear Crew wife and former crew on “Por Vida” curently titled “Down for Life”.

    I ‘m a small non-union producer. I was brought on to help complete the project after it went “dark” after 10 days of shooting. Former producers retained the liability to pay all past debt, including crew.

    I completely agree that every crew member should be paid. If you worked on the film, I acknowledge your hard work and undoubtedly agree you need to be paid. I believe in all my crews and wish I had the opportunity to have worked with you.

    I am not responsible for the financing of any part of the film. I worked with the budget I was given and paid ALL debt that incured after I became involved. However, your issue concerns me and have inquired about it. I have been assured thru Alan Jacobs and Scott Alvarez that all former crew would be getting paid. I acknowledge all your hard work and appreciate your contributions. Please contact me directly if you’d like me to help you resolve this ugly issue; I’ll do my best.

    Down For Life March 3, 2010

    Regarding the above postings concerning “Down For Life” and Frank Aragon: Anyone disgruntled about the project should contact Scott William Alvarez at 818-389-0330 or swa@cinemarevival.com. He is the main producer of the project who has been with it since the beginning in 2007. He brought Frank in as a line producer to finish the film, which was shut down in August 2007 due to non-performance by a financier which put the half-finished production with a number of obligations to cast, crew, and vendors that could not be met.

    Frank came in and went above and beyond the call of duty in helping complete the film so that it could be sold/released to pay our prior obligations. Because of his efforts, Frank received a full producer and company credit. Without Frank’s contribution to the project, which premiered to rave reviews at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and is being touted as a 2010 Oscar contender, the film would never have been able to finish. Because the film is now finished, it can be sold/released in order to be able to repay the obligations to the cast, crew, and vendors.

    Keep in mind that all cast and crew are covered by union contracts and settlements with those unions that require the film to pay them out of a sale/release of the film. Again, the entire effort to complete the film has been in order to make good on the outstanding obligations. Scott has been in touch with all cast, crew, and vendors since the outset of the film and is happy to discuss the status. He can be reached at 818-389-0330 or swa@cinemarevival.com

    Sonia Aragon June 4, 2010

    U are very talented, I wish u all the success, keep up the good work.

    Sandra July 23, 2010

    Where and when can i purchase this movie???

    Lydia Guerrero January 13, 2011

    Wow Frank,
    I really enjoyed your story…
    I’m touched & extremely inspired…
    I would love to meet you & someday have the opportunity to work with you..

    I will definarly locate & view your work.

    Lydia

    Angelica Blanco Cantu April 11, 2011

    I am so proud of you. I am also a chicana, born and raised in Donna, TX. Yes, your story can be anothers story simply because us single parents try so hard to upbring our children with love and good morals. We just pray to God that our children grow up to be successful and give to society. I have 3 great children I raise by myself–now grown up and doing great. Again I am honored to have met you the day of the casting April 9, 2011 at Donna, TX. I will never forget this day. I called my son in Austin,TX all accided that I shook your hand.. I command your mother for a successful son.

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