The scene in Long Beach this past weekend resembled a Minuteman's wet dream: hundreds of brown faces surrounded by tall fences and concrete barriers.
Those 800 or so Latinos navigated their way through the city's pre-Grand Prix maze for the seventh annual National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) conference. Inside the city's Hyatt Regency, however, the idea of borders was a joke. The NALIP conference, which took place in Huntington Beach last year, delivered on the organization's mission to empower the Latino indie film community through professional development and creating opportunities. More than 100 speakers ranging from grassroots media activists to heads of corporate juggernauts raced participants through a massive assemblage of panels, pitch sessions, workshops, schmoozefests and member screenings. Novice filmmakers chatted up big-name producers and directors while hotshot studio executives talked to even the freshest kid in the hopes said kid might have the next Motorcycle Diaries bouncing around his brain.
The conference was such a lovefest (probably the most discouraging comment I heard this weekend was that the Hyatt had bad feng shui) because studio execs smelled money to be made. According to the March 9 issue of Variety, disposable income for Latinos in the U.S. is approximately $736 billion a year, with the amount expected to swell to a tongue-rolling $1.1 trillion by 2010. In its special "Latino Impact Report," Varietyprofiled 50 top players and made it clear that the brown box-office potential is muy boffo and that Hollywood is heady for the sweet smell of that Latino B.O.
That same glowing report, however, noted that the film industry isn't capitalizing on this market; a separate study commissioned by Telemundo's new English-language Latino cable channel, mun2, reported not only that Latinos in the desired 18-34 demographic are aware they're the next big thing, but they also know the industry is failing them.
Flavio Morales, 33 and vice president of programming at mun2, is working hard to attract this audience with relevant programming. He was one of the most sought-after talking heads at NALIP.
"It comes down to dollars and numbers, and we [Latinos] have the numbers, and we have the money," he said. "Second- and third-generation Latinos adapt easier to technology. We like spending money. We go to the movies. We buy DVDs. So who wouldn't want to have us be a consumer base?"
Morales began his broadcasting career in high school as the talent behind the cult public access show Illegal Interns. Later he helped launch LATV, which airs locally on Channel 57.
"I'm really excited," he continued. "It's only going to get better. It's only going to get stronger. And I think for the first time, too, people aren't afraid of saying, 'Yeah, I'm Latino, but soy puertoriqueño, soy de Guatemalaor soy Chicanoor soy Tejano o pocho.' All those things are valid as anything else."
The other main issue at NALIP was the Internet. As Hollywood aims to put an Eva Longoria in every living room, the threat of online distribution mechanisms has the majors scrambling for their own webcasting presence.
Peter Broderick, an indie distribution pioneer and founder of the website filmstoseebeforeyouvote.org, says webcasting allows even high school students to have access to global distribution.
"Domain names now cost $2.95 a year, and you can get your server access for 60 bucks," said Broderick. "Money is no longer the barrier. It's creativity. It's passion. It's determination. It's being flexible. To be a young filmmaker now or be a new filmmaker of whatever age, the time's never been better."
Mun2's Morales agrees about the potential of web-based distribution and netcasting for the independent producer.
"It's the new public access," said Morales. "Someone was asking me if I was 17, would I be doing public access? No, I'd probably have a website called illegalinterns.com."
"In many ways, we are in power, and the motion picture lockdown is shaken," another producer said. "In a digital world, the gates can't be locked. The genie is out of the bottle."
And that's not just good for Latino filmmakers—that's good for everybody.
Next year's NALIP conference will be held in Newport Beach. That gives local filmmakers 12 months to get ready for the show. For more information, contact www.nalip.org.