Joe Camareno’s New Project is a Labor of Love
Joe Camareno is best known as a multi-award-winning producer, writer, director, and producing partner/co-owner of Celtino Entertainment Group (CEG). As an actor his role in the film Tin Holiday garnered him an Imagen Award nomination as Best Actor alongside Antonio Banderas, Andy Garcia, and Anthony Ramos. Most recently, he was the series director for the web series Sister President, as well as the educational web series Fixing Paco, starring Paul Rodriguez which lead to Best Director honors at the 2012 Reel Rasquache Film and Art Festival, and the series went on to receive a 2013 People’s Telly Silver Award for Best Program or Webisode, in addition to several 2013 and 2014 Imagen Award nominations. Joe was also the series director and producer for the 2010 Imagen Award-winning web series Ylse.
With a career spanning over 25 years in front of the camera, Joe has been in more than 400 TV commercials and over 600 radio spots including campaigns for Farmers Insurance and AT&T, as well as the campaign voice for Homeland Security, White Castle, Burger King, Taco Bell, Citre Shine Shampoo, and NutriBullet Rx. He has also guest-starred on many hit television shows, including memorable recurring roles on The Shield and Unfabulous. His recent projects Linked by Love and the accompanying docuseries Linked by Love: All Kidneys Are Pink are both eligible for Emmy FYC. Never one to rest on his laurels, Joe has launched a new production company, Brodiaea Pictures, with producing partner and director Michael Bonomo and already has twofilms on its slate, Rewritten and Don’t Look
HI, WELCOME TO ABOUT INSIDER! THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CHAT WITH US! CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, WHO IS JOE CAMARENO IN YOUR OWN WORDS?
To me, Joe Camareno is a self-starter, get the job done, type of person. I’ve never really been one to wait for things to happen but to make things happen. It’s daunting in that sometimes it upsets the status quo and well, people don’t like that, but it pushes energy out, positive energy that, in my mind, activates something unexplainable (to me) that starts the wheels of fortune, for lack of a better word, to turn. I have pretty much always been like this and when I consciously realized it, is when it became something that I was able to thoughtfully use in my career.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY? WHAT DREW YOU TO BECOME A PRODUCER, WRITER, AND DIRECTOR?
What drew me to become a producer, writer, and director, was the need to be utilized. In my 20’s, which was in the 90’s, there was literally no work for someone who looked like me. I am an American of Latino and Native American descent. I speak perfect American English, but could not book work in English outside of industrials or print work. There were very few roles that I deemed legitimate, meaning, they weren’t gangbangers, or the gardener, or anything demeaning to Latinos or someone who looked like me. My Spanish wasn’t great, so I had to really work on it so that I could find work as an actor and voice over artist. I first came to writing when a friend approached me about working with a PR firm that was handling a contract for the LACDPW. It was a recycling show and they needed actors, and as it turned out, they also needed writers to write a semi-bilingual kids show that would tour LA County K-6 schools. Writing was a huge awakening for me. It showed me the power one has to create worlds and in turn, opportunities for someone like me. There’s a saying, “Write what you know,” so I did. We ended up writing three versions of the show before I left the program in 2000, to produce theater. That kids show was a bit like a theater show so I had an understanding from that perspective. My first actual theatrical theater production was an eye opening experience, talk about self-empowerment!. It gave me the confidence to want to do more and to help bring to the stage original works, mine and the work of those in my circle. I ended up successfully producing 25 theater productions in Los Angeles, mostly original works with some previously produced plays. All of this work naturally led me to produce and direct for the camera.
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, YOU HAVE WORKED ON A DIVERSE RANGE OF PROJECTS. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE STORIES YOU WANT TO TELL, AND WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?
The way I choose projects is that something in the story has to speak to a part of me, something that resonates and excites my senses. I will be living with this project for a while so it has to keep my focus. I’m not one of those directors or producers who only sticks to one type of story, my producer/director CV is all over the place, from comedies, to dramas, to the supernatural, and to children’s theater. I like projects that can be told from a place of truth whether a comedy or drama, and with a diverse cast. Hollywood talks the big talk about diversity but you rarely ever see it. It took a Black woman to create, arguably, the most successful television show in history, Grey’s Anatomy. She grabbed that bit of something in the zeitgeist that told her a show with a female lead and a hugely diverse cast will be a hit, and history shows it worked. The most successful television projects have been those that are diverse, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Bridgerton… So to answer the question, projects with diverse casts, and in turn, a diverse crew. My last series, Linked by Love, featured a Black family, Black and Latino and women in leading roles, and White women of a certain age, mostly female producing team, and the crew, it was one of the most diverse crews I have ever worked with including gay and trans folx. Every one stepped up to the plate and hit home runs for their various departments. I could not be prouder of what we accomplished in those 5 weeks of production.
CAN YOU SHARE THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR LATEST PROJECT, “LINKED BY LOVE,” AND THE ACCOMPANYING DOCUSERIES, “LINKED BY LOVE: ALL KIDNEYS ARE PINK”?
The inspiration for Linked by Love and its accompanying docuseries, Linked by Love: All Kidneys Are Pink, came from the need to shine a very bright light on kidney awareness and disease in the Black community. I was approached by Nicole Mendez of the MNITF.org because she wanted to do a project about Black Americans and their relationship to the medical establishment and how this affected their healthcare, specifically renal health. We came up with an outline and got the green light and then COVID happened. It was actually a blessing in disguise because we were able to really fine-tune the outline and base it on even more current data. I reached out to Nicole J. Butler to write the series. I wanted this story to be as organic and real as possible, so Nicole J. Butler, being a Black woman, was the right choice for us and this series. She did a fantastic job and we could not be any prouder of the work and her writing and all of her contributions. She took the characters from the outline and brought them to life on the script pages which was pure gold for the actors to work with and for me to step in to direct them on our shoot days. I shared directing duties with Regina Ainsworth, who directed episodes 2 & 3 of the narrative series.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS A CO-CREATOR, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, AND DIRECTOR FOR THESE PROJECTS? WHAT CREATIVE DECISIONS DID YOU MAKE TO BRING THE STORY TO LIFE EFFECTIVELY?
As Co-Creator, I was able to make sure we had a diverse cast. Telling a story that would resonate with the Black community, but also important, resonate universally with broader audiences. Kidney failure affects everyone, but the Black community has a much higher by comparison rate of renal failure leading to dialysis and needing a kidney transplant than other demographics. As the EP, one has the power to make those calls for authenticity and hire people who can effectively provide accuracy and details in those scenes where our leading lady is depicted in a hospital situation as a patient suffering with her condition. Working closely with Morgan Rudner, our casting director, also helped. She has such a wide range of access to talent and brought us the best for our series. She really did a fantastic job of finding just the right actor for each and every role called for in the script. And as the Director, stepping onto the set once all of the pieces were in place, just made it that much easier to do the work I needed to do on shoot days with my cast and DP.
AS A MULTI-AWARD-WINNING FILMMAKER, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OR PROUDEST MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
Some of the highlights in my career thus far have been being recognized for the work I have done and acknowledging that it did in fact take a village to get to that red carpet and awards stage. A writing award or a directing award comes with sometimes years of working on a project. Linked by Love took 5 years to get to our first shoot day in 2022. 5 years from concept to outline, to meetings with the backers, to getting the green light and then waiting some more and finding places in the story to tweak for more authenticity and then pre-production and finally production. But, it doesn’t end there! There’s post with editing and endless meetings with the editor and sound designer and VFX team and score and we also had an original song written for the show so it was a very intensive year of post. All of this to say that it got us three 2023 Telly Awards, one for the narrative and two for the docuseries. A true labor of love and the wins are simply the icing on that cake. Those wins and the feelings they bring do not ever get taken lightly by me. Going into a competition, the competition is fierce. There are a ton of productions and projects up for that one prize so when there is a win, it is pure joy and a virtual pat on the back and acknowledgement of the work that was put into the project by everyone involved with that production.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST FULFILLING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS, FROM CONCEPTUALIZATION TO EXECUTION?
I find that I get a thrill, an intense rush of adrenaline when I start working on something that excites me and gets those creative juices flowing. Seeing a show go from concept to an outline to a script and then to a set is just the greatest joy for me creatively speaking. That ability to take an idea and make it happen, make it a thing that someone can watch and hopefully walk away with a smile on their face because they enjoyed it, that’s the most fulfilling part. I know that not every project is going to be liked by everyone, and I don’t expect that, I don’t understand when they don’t like it, but I get it!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE A PARTICULARLY MEMORABLE OR CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE YOU ENCOUNTERED DURING A PROJECT AND HOW YOU OVERCAME IT?
One of the most challenging experiences I have had working was when I shot my second feature. We were on location in London and I was also producing, but relying heavily on the British producing team to get things going and scheduled. One day in particular, we had a very challenging thing come up, for one, there was a very late start to shooting, I questioned what was taking so long and had to put out a couple of fires. That left us with one crew member short, a couple of days later we had another incident where we lost our B-Camera operator so we were down to one camera to shoot a very complicated scene which involved a fight sequence. Needless to say, it was a very long night. While the actors did not show me any rancor, I’m sure they were not happy. Time was tight but we only had that space for that one day into night. I think our day ran 16 hours or so and I compromised on my shot list but we made it work.
WHAT’S SOMETHING WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT MIGHT SURPRISE US?
I once auditioned for a boy band for a very well-known music producer/singer at that time. I was in my very early 20’s and it was a hundred years ago. I made all but the last cut.
WHAT IS ONE MESSAGE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO GIVE TO YOUR FANS?
Keep moving forward. Have a backup plan. If a door closes in front of you, find another way in. I’m not saying stalk people, but I am saying there are always events happening where you can meet someone who just might see something in you and want to help. Find somewhere to internship or find work as a PA to learn how things work. FIlm school teaches you some basics but the fundamentals of how things work in this business, those are things you learn on the job. Seek out a mentor. I’m surprised how many young people don’t do that. I’ve offered to mentor in recent years and people don’t take it up coming to find out that they thought I was just being nice. Yeah, I’m nice, but I also could have used the help on X project!