Below are excerpts of a full-length interview with Katie Elmore Mota, executive producer East Los High and former Vice President of Communications and Programs for Population Media Center. The interview was conducted by Jeff Rivera, author and inspirational media personality who has appeared on national television, radio and print, and was published in The Examiner.
East Los High | Finally, a Latino-Themed Show We Can Be Proud Of
How did this story concept begin and when did you become involved in it?
I actually led this project from the day 1 – designed the overall strategy, recruited talent and led the project from beginning to end. Of course it was our incredible team that I relied on through and through that really made this project what it is. Our Co-Creator’s Carlos Portugal and Kathleen Bedoya are true visionaries and the amazing talents that created the story. Portugal was also the Head Writer, Producer and Director. And Bedoya was a Story Consultant, Producer, and Transmedia Producer. And then the Alchemists, the transmedia storytelling company were also amazing production partners right from the beginning as well and helped us to design the overall strategy for the show. And the writing itself, that is all Carlos and our incredible team of writers including: Evangeline Ordaz, Cristobal Franco, Sasha Stroman Malaret, Mary Feuer, Zoila A. Galeano, Shelley Acosta Smith, and Joaquin F. Palm.
The concept began when I was working at Population Media Center, an international NGO specializing in the development and production of long-running dramas for social change. PMC has developed radio drama series that have had a positive impact on social and health goals in more than 25 countries around the world. The focus of PMC‘s work has been in the developing world in countries like Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea where media markets are still developing and radio is still the dominant form of media.
PMC had received a small grant to develop a TV series focused on improving sexual and reproduction for the US market, in particular reducing teen pregnancy rates. Given the vastness of the US market, we said ‘where are the rates the highest? And let’s focus there first.’ What we discovered was that at the time 53% of Latina teens had experienced at least one pregnancy by the age of 20. That is more than 1 in 2 girls, an alarming rate – one that has fallen in recent years to 44% according to one of our partners The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. So we decided to focus on reaching this audience first as it seemed the most critical. We worked with a research firm in LA to provide us with a more detailed analysis of sexual and reproductive health among Latino teens in LA. The findings of this study point to the need to provide Latino/a youth with positive role models and accurate information about reproductive health and sexual relationships. Given this research and other extensive research from our Advisory Committee, which includes leading sexual and reproductive health organizations such as Advocates for Youth, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, California Family Health Council, Planned Parenthood, National Latina Institute, Voto Latino, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the concept for ‘East Los High’ was developed.
So on a conceptual level we knew what we wanted to do, however on the practical side it was much more difficult. How do we go about creating a hit television series in the US? I can’t tell you the number of times people laughed or said ‘good luck, that’s never going to happen.’ Getting used to hearing no or that’s impossible was normal, but I had designed a strategy while working at PMC and completing my Master’s degree in Media Studies at the New School that I thought might work and I even wrote my Master’s thesis on the changing media landscape, the future of entertainment, entertainment-education and the role of transmedia storytelling, so I had given a lot of thought about this development process and what it took to create a successful property in today’s world.
I was then very fortunate to be introduced to Nely Galan, former president of Telemundo and a leader in Latino entertainment in the US. Nely loved the idea and said I will introduce you to an amazing Latino writer that I know that is perfect for this project and so she introduced me to Carlos Portugal, who went on to co-create, write, and direct ‘East Los High.’ Carlos and I hit it off immediately and I knew he was the right person for the job. He then introduced me to Kathleen Bedoya, the other co-creator, producer, and transmedia producer for ‘East Los High.’ The three of us worked hand in hand throughout the development, production, and postproduction of the series. It was during this same time we met Mark Warshaw from the Alchemists, a transmedia storytelling company, who came on as the transmedia producers and worked with our team to develop the transmedia from the very beginning. We all brought something unique to the table and our skill sets complemented one another and we learned from each other every step of the way. It is an amazing team that will hopefully go on to do many more projects together.
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