An Interview with Barbara Martinez Jitner
Its a dream come true.
Ms. Martinez Jitner on making American Family.
|Barbara Martinez Jitner|
Tell us how American Family came to be.
American Family originated about a year and a half ago when Greg and myself were approached by CBS, NBC, ABC. All the networks were really interested in doing a Latino show. Theres a growing Latino demographic that the networks are losing viewership to. People are going to cable, and they wanted to bring this youthful audience to their networks. So these three networks approached Greg and me, to bring a Latino family drama to the air. We chose to work with CBS.
We developed American Family, which was loosely based on the adventures of my own family in East LA. We put it together and had a wonderful time. We had a great cast: Sonia Braga, Raquel Welch, Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, Constance Marie an all-star cast.
Everybody loved the pilot. It was the highest-rated pilot that CBS had that season. It was beautifully reviewed by Howard Rosenberg for the LA Times, but unfortunately, CBS decided not to do it. I dont know why.
So I said, well, weve done this incredible thing, weve brought this great cast together, with Gregory Nava writing and directing the pilot, and it just seemed unbelievable to me that this Latino family could not be on television. I didnt understand that. Why is everybody elses family on TV, but not ours? It didnt make sense. I got upset about it, and thought Im not going to rest until my familys on TV, and we become part of the whole landscape of America. Because if you dont see yourself reflected by television, which is the storyteller of America right now, you dont exist, and thats a very painful thing. I didnt like that, so I said lets some how find a way that American Family can hit the airwaves.
What was the biggest challenge in making this series?
When youre working this fast in television and youre telling stories from the heart and this is a very heartfelt series you want to make sure that youre hitting every note just right, and that youre trying to be all things for all peopleIts very difficult, because were the only Latino family drama on broadcast television. Its something that our community has so long awaited You want to be everything for everybody, but thats very difficult. You want to have everyone represented and everybodys story told, and to celebrate the whole community.
Are you happy with the program?
Ah, its a dream come true. You know, the first time I walked onto the sound stage and I saw the house...I started to cry, because, for so long, I didnt know that this was even going to happen. Its like my grandmothers house, its loosely based on that and it was very emotional for me. One of the things Ive always wanted to do was to open peoples minds about our community and who we are, and to fight the stereotypes that you see so often on television. The best way to do it, is to have a show like this that portrays characters with depth and emotion. To know that Ive somehow contributed to that and opened peoples mind to the Latino, means a tremendous amount to me.
Youve worn a lot of hats on this show.
I am doing a lot of stuff. Im a DP, a director, a writer and a producer and often all at the same time.
Talk a little about the program.
The story is loosely narrated by Cisco, whos the youngest member of the family. He is trying to define himself as a young Latino today in the new millennium with America changing so radically as we speak with the world at war. Hes trying to define himself and where he fits in, and his way of doing it is sort of documenting everything that goes around him. I am the eyes of Cisco, so I do all the Cisco camera, the videotape, the Super 8, going through the family archives and journaling everything. We have a dual screen web site, which is really very exciting, where Cisco - because hes a cutting edge artist - puts all of his home movies, all his secret videotaping. He posts them on his web site so everyone can see. And its sort of his journal, his way of saying, Hey world, hey America, look at me, this is who I am. And so were creating that, were creating a Gonzalezfamily.tv web site so that everybody can get Ciscos point of view.
How is the show unique?
Conceptually, its really interesting, because the show is supposed to be a show thats being videotaped by the youngest member of the family. The Gonzalez family is coming to you via Cisco through his web site. Hes posting it. And theres even an episode later where all these Gonzalezfamily.tv fans get together and inform the family that their whole life has been on the web site, and that all their family secrets are revealed.
So it made sense then to use tape rather than film. Thats the medium that hes using. And we are using HDTV (high definition television. Its a beautiful medium. Its different than film, it has a different look, but its equally as arresting and beautiful. It gives you so much freedom, so much mobility. It also helps us work very fast. We can create very spontaneous moments, because we can roll three cameras. We can do something totally different. We can have the master and several close-ups going at the same time so you can synchronize everything. And also, because we dont have to change our roles of film, we can have these really long takes. We are doing one show which we called the one-shot-show, where were actually doing it all on one piece of tape. So its like in real-time, you start, you rehearse something and you shoot it all in one shot.
Whats your typical day like?
Usually, my day starts extremely early. When Im writing, Im also distributing all my new pages for my script and dealing with all the writers and getting the scripts together. Thats about three or four hours, and begins around 5:00AM. It depends when the shoot is, too. And it depends whether Im directing. If its a show that I wrote, Id like to be present and work with the director. As a producer, I come onto the set and want to make sure that were running on time and that were getting our day and that everybodys needs are being met.
A lot of its about communication. Often Im the center point of communication. You know what color the living room should be, or somebodys dress a lot of these things are being coordinated through me, which is really wonderful, because so much of it is intuitive. Its about my own personal experiences and my family and memories and things that Id love to share with people.
Its wonderful to think that all these people are focusing on my personal memories, recollections and cherished thoughts about my own family, and that theyre re-creating it for everybody to watch.
What does family mean to you?
Family to me is really America right now. Its about community, and its about us forming an identity through things that we believe in and who we are. I think the show is about a group of people who are dealing with a lot of different issues. There are crises, but the most important thing is that you work together and you find a way of finding love and comfort.
What are your hopes for the series?
Lots of things.I hope that it helps redefine Latinos to a lot of people who have never had the opportunity spend time with the Latino community. I would love for it to open peoples minds about America today, and about who is America, and who makes up America, and all the different voices and people. I hope that viewers really enjoy it, that they find that its funny and heartwarming, and that they can have a beautiful evening with their own family watching it.