South Texas isn’t merely desert and the Rio Grande, or the daily cat-and-mouse game between Border Patrol agents and Latin American migrants. It’s home to families and communities, many of them generations old.
Latino Rebels spoke with Jeremiah Joe Ocañas, the co-founder and chief operations officers of Lone Stars Entertainment who plays Bobby Rios, about the themes the movie deals with and the challenges in making it.
Before anything else, what does B.O.O.S.T. stand for?
B.O.O.S.T. stands for Bobby, Oscar, Octavian, Santos and Tino: five men from a working-class family in South Texas caught up in a dysfunctional cycle of seedy traditions, and one’s search for a way out.
How did you get into acting? What were your early influences?
When I was 17, my mother made my grandma drive me to a short film audition. I wasn’t to happy to go to. Once I was on set I was hooked! I loved being part of a group of people who were focused on completing a project. When I was 23, I drove off to Los Angeles with $2,000 I had saved up and started studying with professionals. In college I read a lot of books about actors and the craft — everything from Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Dean, Al Pacino, to Actors on Acting, Respect for Acting, Meisner. I was and am still always reading about the process.
Why did you choose to tell this story? Is it drawn from stories you know personally or something you’ve read?
B.O.O.S.T. is based on a family member. But I’m telling this story through my eyes and my experience. I grew up in a home that struggled with these issues. Drugs, alcohol and abuse, be it physical or verbal, were battles under my roof. Once I saw this dysfunctional cycle showing up in my life in a real way, I knew I had to get help. I was in a lot of pain from my past, and I used all that energy to put into my craft. I was very blessed to create a business partnership with Gabriela Dennis de Lopez.
While in counseling I wrote a long, confusing first draft of about 130 pages for the feature. I had never written more than seven pages in 10 years, but Gabby was able to read through the chaos and we both were able to find something deep in the story. It took months of rewrites and bouncing ideas back and forth. The goal is to give you something very real but entertain you at the same time.
What were some of the obstacles to making the film?
Everything seemed like an obstacle to me! I look back and laugh at it all now. The initial goal was to shoot the feature, but it was hard getting real funds for the picture. Blocking out the naysayers who didn’t think the project was worth telling was a huge obstacle. The greatest one, which I feel turned out the best, was choosing a date and sticking to it no matter what. I was ready to shoot B.O.O.S.T. on a cell phone because I was over making up excuses as to why it wasn’t time. I feel that with passion projects there is never going to be the right time. The right time is when you make a decision that it’s getting done and use all your resources to make it happen.
Which do you prefer most: acting, writing or directing?
Producing! I love being involved in all the aspects of creating a movie. I really enjoy collaborating on the script, putting together the team, finding the cast and finding the locations. Acting is my passion, but I never liked sitting around waiting for my agent to call or being on set and being told to Go sit in the chair over there and we’ll call you when we need you. I like to work; I like to be busy.
I admire guys like Sean Penn, Jon Favreau, Ben Affleck and Warren Beatty who do it all. Directing in this magnitude is new territory for me. The few times I directed a music video or short web piece, it was with friends and I let them work their magic. My secret is that I studied with Judith Weston who has taught some really talented directors, and I was in those classes when she did. So for years I had been listening and developing as and actor and director.
Is what we see on screen different than the original script?
Yes. The key thing I miss the most that’s in the feature script is how the money Bobby and the crew make helps the family and their community. That’s the scary part, and that’s where morals and religion blur. The guys I know in this underworld would help you if you needed it. Say your family can’t afford a tombstone, or you kids need new shoes, or somebody has a medical bill they can’t pay — the guys in B.O.O.S.T. are the ones who would help you when you needed it. I’m sure a lot of people reading this know what I’m talking about.
The film seems to imply that, as Latinos, we shouldn’t always put familia over everything, which is a controversial statement to make. What were you trying to say about family bonds in the Latino community?
I think family bonds, whether Latino, white or Black, can all be dangerous when you’re in that dysfunctional cycle. Even for me their was that point in my life I had to ask myself whether I was going to break these chains or hold onto them. My stepfather died at 49, his father died at 50, my grandfather died at 61, and my dad just had his second heart attack and says he doesn’t plan on being an old man. Let me tell you all these men are represented in B.O.O.S.T.; even the women you see on camera are part of this world. Sometimes the bonds we hold on to as a family can be dangerous, especially when we have no outside influences to tell us this is not the way to live. My goal from day one was for people to watch this piece and ask themselves what kind of cycle they are in, if any, and what can I do to change it.
Why did you choose to show Bobby reverting back to his old ways? Are you saying that people never fully change?
Where I come from, change is hard because there are not a lot of options. But all over America, when young men and women get out of jail or rehab, usually they are put right back into the same community, around the same people, who are all doing the same thing. For me the only way I saw my life changing was to be far away from the chaos I knew. I had an uncle who moved to New York, and that to me was amazing. I had another travel to Europe and another live in Washington, D.C. I was aware that I could leave, too.
My mother did not want me to stay home. Once I graduated from high school, she had money and bags ready for me to leave. What really helped me focus on the change I wanted was seeking counseling and creating goals. I’m not saying people never fully change, but I am saying it’s not easy. You have to gut it out and dig in deep if you want lasting change.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Tejano community?
Don’t touch my gun or my BBQ! But seriously, the biggest misconception is that we are not connected to our Mexican culture. Historically Tejanos have been mistreated. As children my family members would be hit in class if they spoke Spanish, and they had to adapt to survive. My family has been in Texas for generations, and you really wouldn’t believe how diverse we all are. I grew up in a town with less than 10,000 people, and all the Tejanos I know are all so different. My people were field hands that followed the crops from Texas to Wisconsin, so they picked up many different spirits along the way.
Do you have another project in the pipeline, or is there something you would like to work on?
Right now we have our documentary Overcomers that’s in post and should air on PBS in October. We are in pre-production for the short film Hoop Girls written by Gabby. In the future, I’d really like to help produce the story of Roy P. Benavidez, also from my hometown, and William C. Velasquez. But next I want to do a comedy called Homie at Law about a lawyer who falls in love with an undocumented woman with three kids from North East LA. I need some laughs with my next project.
What’s your definition of a Latino Rebel?
A Latino Rebel is not afraid to be a producer. A Latino Rebel is not afraid to stop being just a consumer!
When can or how people see B.O.O.S.T.?
We’ll be releasing the project for a limited time on our website Oct 12th and hopefully get a chance to take it to major cities like New York, Houston, Chicago and Miami to meet other passionate people in our business. Our motto is “CROSS COUNTRY. WORLD WIDE.” So we have a lot of work ahead of us.
For more information on B.O.O.S.T., please visit TheMovieBOOST.com.