Maddoggin’ is a short film about two teens in East L.A. being pressured to join the local gang. The choices they make over a single day will alter their lives forever.
WINNER: Special Jury Prize San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
WINNER: Best Narrative Short, San Diego Latino Film Festival
If you believe, as I do, that all people desire emotional and ﬁnancial security, then why is it in a kidʼs emotional and/or ﬁnancial self-interest to join a gang? Maddogginʼ started with that simple question. What followed was eighteen months of work.
“It Takes a Village”
I spent two months researching everything from memoirs of former gang members to massive sociological studies on street gangs. Then I attempted to write a compelling story incorporating all that I had learned. Following multiple drafts, with essential input from my closest collaborators, I ﬁnally felt it was ready to show to Eddie Ruiz. Eddie is not only a gifted, working actor, but a natural born producer who was raised in Boyle Heights, the neighborhood in which the script is based. Thankfully, Eddie loved the script, contributed insightful notes, and signed on to shepherd Maddogginʼ from script to screen. From that ﬁrst meeting, Eddie and I both shared a common vision: We would not tell the communityʼs story for them, but enlist the entire community to tell their own story.
The ﬁrst person Eddie contacted was his former high school classmate, Dario Debora, who uses music to mentor at-risk youth in East L.A. In turn, Dario connected us with his brother Fabian, one of the most prominent Latino artists in Los Angeles and a former gang member. Fabian also counsels at-risk youth at Homeboy Industries, a non-proﬁt organization that provides jobs, training, and social services to former gang members. When Fabian reviewed the script with me at the Homegirl Café, he remarked, “This is my story.”
Having Fabian on our team was more than I could have hoped. Not only is he responsible for all of the incredible artwork in the ﬁlm, including a huge two hundred square foot mural he created speciﬁcally for the project, he also gave us vital script notes and introduced us to many of the kids in the ﬁlm. Dario, besides acting as Music Supervisor, overseeing a brilliant hip-hop soundtrack consisting entirely of local up and coming artists from East L.A., also introduced us to the multi-talented hip-hop artist, Leonard “Y.O.” Davenport.
Leonard, as he puts it, is a “hood rat” raised in the projects between the L.A. River and the 101 freeway. His cousin, musical collaborator, and best friend was shot and killed at the age of eighteen by a rival gang member. When Eddie and I met Leonard, we both had the same thought, could he read for one of our two lead roles? There was only one catch: Leonard had never acted before, not even in a school play. With the help of our intrepid casting director, Paige Orr, we prepped Leonard for a few days before giving him an ofﬁcial audition. During his read, I turned on my camera and put it in his face to see if he could handle the pressure, and thatʼs when Leonardʼs performance came alive. All Leonard needed was a camera on him.
Following some hard math, Eddie and I realized that including pre-production, production, and post, the absolute cheapest we could produce the ﬁlm for would be $25,000 – approximately one thousand dollars per minute of screen time. As a side note, Eddie brought the ﬁlm in $1500 under budget. Thankfully, the Latino Film Fund accepted our application for ﬁscal sponsorship, which allowed us to raise funds as a non-proﬁt project. Their support and mentorship gave instant credibility to our nascent ﬁlm and opened up a lot of doors for us. Unfortunately, Eddie and I were so consumed with pre-production we were unable to spend much time raising funds. Tim Hart and Janice and Ronald Fox gave us generous contributions. I supplemented the rest of the budget from my savings.
The casting process continued. We combined non-traditional methods, such as visiting Drama departments at local high schools and community centers with the established method of sending out “Breakdowns” and auditioning actors. Paige did a phenomenal job ﬁnding our other lead actor, L.A. native David Castaneda. Once we saw David read for the role of Pedro, no other actor had a chance. He is one of the most talented, hardest working, young actors I have ever met.
Justin Huen was another great discovery by Paige. Justin, also born and raised on the eastside, has played lead roles at most of the major theatres in Los Angeles. Justinʼs audition for the role of the gang leader, AK, was one of the ten best auditions I have ever seen for any project. I have seen tens of thousands of auditions.
Paige also introduced us to two up and coming actresses: Victoria Moroles and Damaris Diaz. Victoria was only thirteen when we ﬁlmed, but performed like a pro twice her age. Since working on Maddogginʼ as her ﬁrst professional job, Damaris has already booked a FOX TV pilot, Family Album, as a series regular. Another great actress in the cast, Kikey Castillo, is the child of migrant farm workers who grew up picking vegetables in the ﬁelds, before becoming the ﬁrst in her family to graduate from college. Stewart Flores, who lived on the streets prior to being adopted by a family at the age of sixteen, gave us a perfect performance. He is also training for the Olympic trials in boxing.
Due to their generosity and passion for the project, we were able to add some of the most successful working actors in L.A. in minor roles that would have usually been far too insigniﬁcant for their talents: Ingrid Oliu (Stand and Deliver), Alejandro Patino (Iron Man 2), Lex Medlin (Southland), Rawle Lewis (Cool Runnings), Nicole Ghastin (Coyote Ugly), and John Serge (Veronica Mars). The rest of the cast is made up almost entirely of former gang members and at-risk youth from East L.A. I loved working with every single one of them. They were all unfailingly polite and hard working. I would unequivocally recommend them for any future job in or out of the ﬁlm industry.
I could write dozens of paragraphs about the production team, designers, and crew, but in a feeble attempt at brevity, I will just say that they are people at the top of their profession, who volunteered to work for a fraction of their usual rates, on all-night shoots and twelve-hour location days in the L.A. heat. In truth, our skeleton crew, that often numbered no more than six, was doing the work of scores of crew on a regular ﬁlm shoot. Check out their credits on I.M.D.B. you will see how blessed we were to have them.
The entire ﬁlm was shot on the streets of East L.A. and Boyle Heights and at the homes of Eddieʼs friends. The only exception was Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance. Eddie cold-called all the Honda dealerships in L.A. and Eric Bolstad, the General Manager, gave us carte-blanch to shoot in their dealership once he learned we were telling a story about at-risk youth. His generosity added thousands of dollars of production value and he asked us for nothing in return. So, if youʼre in the market for a Honda…
As the shoot approached, we rehearsed the lead actors for many weeks in rooms donated to us by the Boyle Heights Tech Center. Joe and Ozzie, who run the Tech Center, have created a place where kids are safe from life on the streets. Built on the site of a former crack house, it is an alternative school for at-risk youth and community center. I encourage you to visit the Tech Center and support the wonderful work theyʼre doing.
We shot over eight days in June of 2010. Eddieʼs family cooked all the meals and set up and struck base camp every day and night. Fabian brought a van full of kids from Homeboy Industries to play background artists and acted as a tattooed “den mother” to them on set. Our friends and family pitched in with props, allowed dozens of strangers into their homes through the night, lent us vehicles, provided transportation, played extras at four in the morning, and much, much more. I will always be grateful for the tremendous effort our entire team put into creating Maddogginʼ.
Six weeks after ﬁlming I received a text from Fabian that one of our kids in the ﬁlm, Irvin Panameno, had been shot and killed. He was nineteen years old. Irvin was walking to the bus at 7:30AM on his way to work at Homeboy Industries when he was shot in the face, neck, and back. The LA Times spelled his name wrong and included the following information, “Investigators believe the shooting was gang related”.
All of us are guilty of glossing over similar stories while reading the paper. If we are honest with ourselves, we may have even thought deep down, that the kid probably had it coming. My hope is that after seeing this ﬁlm, you will never pass by a similar story in the paper again without remembering that that kid had hopes and dreams and a family. I also hope that you will no longer see these kids as a frightening “other”, but recognize that if you were in their shoes, you would very likely make some of the same mistakes. Perhaps, you might even be motivated to help create economic opportunities for at-risk youth. In the words of Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”