Last year at LALIFF, Chris Carmona, a young Latinx filmmaker from the city of Bell, experienced a powerful moment of validation and fulfillment when his debut feature, “Bad Labor” premiered at the festival in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The film made for just $700 with a group of friends showcases the people and places familiar to the Latino community in Southeast Los Angeles, which are rarely seen on screen. “It’s really humbling how moved people are by the fact that ‘Bad Labor’ got to play last year as part of LALIFF at the Chinese Theater,” said Carmona.
Representing people of color from places often ignored by the entertainment industry is a key part of what motivates him and fuels his storytelling decisions. Following the success of “Bad Labor,” Carmona embarked on an episodic project titled “Instant Crush” for Latino media company MiTú.
Though his idea was originally for another feature-length movie, Carmona adapted the story to MiTú’s preferred format: a web series to debut on their platforms that reach countless millennials. Centered on Cindy (Nisalda Gonzalez) and Andy (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez), the show emanated from the director’s own brushes with complicated romantic love.
The entire series was shot in seven days all over Southeast LA, and the cities of Torrance and Long Beach, remaining true to his philosophy of highlighting unseen places in the Los Angeles County. Originally, the series was supposed to be released as three long episodes, but then these were turned into 6 mini-episodes to facilitate its release.
This was the first time Carmona worked with a sizeable budget and a professional crew, a different experience than the scrappy project he’d made before. Still, while the task was undoubtedly overwhelming, it was equally empowering to know he didn’t have to be in charge of every aspect of the production.
Carmona admits that making “Bad Labor” wasn’t particularly enjoyable because of the level of ambition and limited resources. “The goal this time was to have fun,” he said. Whenever they encountered an issue his approach was to rationalize the problem as an opportunity. His mantra would be: “It’s great that this didn’t work because now we can find a new way to do it.” The prolific artist attributes this new professional outlook to his decision to meditate every morning.
For “Instant Crush,” Carmona brought along his two closest collaborators on “Bad Labor.” Tony Remigio returned as cinematographer, while Jose Martinez, who did sound in the feature, served as first assistant director on the series.
None of them had any formal filmmaking education, but Carmona believes that’s exactly what allows them to be less fearful of approaching the medium freely. They have built a community of likeminded people, just like many aspiring filmmakers do in film school, but don’t have adhere to any dogma. “I’ve become very comfortable with not having the film school limitations on my brain and just doing it,” he said.
Now that his career is starting to take shape in a more significant and professional manner, Carmona understands that his purpose should be to encourage other Latino creators and create spaces for them to be nurtured, just like many others have done for him. It’s not only about entering preexisting circles of power and opportunities, but also about creating their own.
“I don’t see white creators as any different than me, but it shouldn’t be my goal to try to be part of their circle. I got to form my own circle and start bringing people that are brown, that come from my hood, and that want to attain this thing so that they can know it’s real,” he emphatically explained.
Inspired by multi-hyphenates such as Donald Glover, Carmona is making his first professional foray into music this year with the upcoming release of an EP in the summer and a music video over the next few weeks.
Currently, he also co-hosts a podcast called “The Us Podcast” and is writing a lose remake of the troubled and virtually unseen production “Don’s Plum” that originally starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. His version will recast all roles with Latinx teenagers and is expected to begin shooting before the end of the year.
“Instant Crush” is currently available on MiTú’s YouTube Channel.