Changing careers is always a gamble, but if that decision entails moving cross country there are not many people that would take that kind of leap. Today, we at MyQulture.com are pleased to present to you Victor De Jesus, a former New Yorker- turned- Los Angelino who is making a name for himself as a Latino television writer in Hollywood. Victor left a career working on independent films and also as Spike Lee’s Production Manager in New York to pursue a newfound passion for writing. He currently resides in L.A.’s historic Echo Park neighborhood and has multiple entertainment projects on his plate, including writing for the television show Criminal Minds on CBS.
QULTURE: How did you start off as a writer in the entertainment industry?
VICTOR DE JESUS: I started off as a producer of Indie films. I worked for Spike Lee where I was his production manager on his music videos and commercials. I was also a production assistant on Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. I then left ‘40 Acres’ (Spike Lee’s company) and started working on independent films with Rosie Perez, and a few others. I gotta say, though, it was never my love. I was bringing home a pay check and it was fine but I remember reading some scripts and saying to myself, “I could write this shit. Why can’t I write this stuff?” I then heard the Writers Guild out here in L.A. was having a writing contest to see who could write a script for a half-hour sitcom. I submitted an entry called El Beauty Parlor which was based on a true story about a beauty parlor owned by my mom and my aunt in the south Bronx. I didn’t win the contest but I was a finalist out of thousands of submissions. My mom then told me, “Well if you got that far and you never took an official writing class why don’t you move your ass to L.A. and give it a try.” That kinda catapulted me to where I am today. I moved out here in 2001 and after about a couple years I got invited to join a writer’s program that was sponsored by the National Hispanic Media Coalition. I then came in contact with Ed Bernero, a producer of NBC’s “Third Watch.” His secretary called me in for a meeting and after meeting with him for about 10 minutes he hired me as a writer for the show. It turned out he was also a producer for “Criminal Minds” and invited me to write an episode. Obviously, he knew I’m a good fuckin’ writer (laughs). That’s so cocky!
VDJ: Well I wouldn’t say it’s a natural talent but I learned a lot from reading a multitude of scripts, especially Spike Lee’s scripts. That kinda gave me direction on how to begin as a writer. I did go to St. John’s University in New York and I majored in TV and Film but never took a script or screen writing class.
Q: Is there a suggestion or tip you would give to a writer who is trying to make it in the entertainment business?
VDJ: Network! Make connections! Try to join whatever writing programs are available to you and when you make connections stay on top of them! Send them emails and let them know you have ideas, etc. Let them know you are interested! You see, there aren’t many Latino writers, let alone Gay Latino writers, but I don’t consider myself a Gay Latino writer. I can write whatever. I’ve written Latino characters, Gay characters, and other characters from various backgrounds.
Q: When you have an opportunity to write a minority character, whether it be from a community of color or an LGBT character, do you make an attempt to squash stereotypes that are usually associated with those communities?
VDJ: Oh most definitely! Absolutely! I think it’s a responsibility. Being a Gay Latino I refuse to push those stereotypes that were placed on us by others. For example, I’m going to write true, genuine stories of interesting characters that just happen to be Latino, African-American, or Gay. I can’t reinforce stereotypes that have been shoved down everyone’s throats for so many years.
Q: Have you ever encountered any difficulties breaking into this field because of your status as a minority?
VDJ: Not really but you have to break it down in another context. The majority of writers and producers are Caucasian and they tend to hire their friends who, for the most part, are also Caucasian. That’s just the way it works. Latinos, African-Americans, writers of color are not in there like that. We got Shonda Rhimes who’s the creator and Executive Producer of Grey’s Anatomy and that’s awesome because she’s a female, African-American show runner but Latino’s do not have someone of that capacity in the business. That is why it is important for us to meet and greet everybody. Network and push that door open.
Q: What is a goal you hope to attain in your career as an entertainment writer?
VDJ: My goal is to have my own TV show on the air… and it’s going to happen. It’s not impossible. It’s not impossible for me, anyway. I am also aiming to write a musical for Broadway, and I have a few ideas that are in the works.
Q: How supportive has your family been in regards to your career and sexuality and how has that support shaped the person you are today?
VDJ: (Laughs) I always find it interesting when someone asks me that question. My sexuality is a non-issue with them. They love and support me regardless of me being Gay, or if I was missing a leg, arm, or half a face. My mom has been a rock in my life and their support and love means everything to me. I even included my mom in an episode called “Welcome Home” I wrote for Third Watch. It was a scene that required a lot of extras and it revolved around the religion Santeria which is big with us Boriqua’s in New York. I called my mom and family members and had them take part in the episode. That is definitely my favorite episode I have written to date. She thought she was a celebrity, it was great! (Laughs)
Q: In the last 8 years that you have written for shows in Hollywood has the climate changed for the better or worse when it comes to characters from minority communities?
VDJ: It’s disappointing but it hasn’t changed much. Not too many minority writers have permanent jobs on the major networks, and by major networks I mean ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. Personally, I refuse to watch any programs that do not have a diverse cast. The way I look at it, it’s 2011 and Hollywood should showcase more diverse characters. For example, if you’re going to do a show based in L.A. then there better be Mexicans in it, or Puerto Ricans in New York. And they better not be cast in stereotypical roles. When I create my show will there be a non-stereotypical, genuine, Latino character? Fuck yea!
Q: What advice would you give to an LGBT teenager who is struggling with their sexual orientation because of bullying and may be considering suicide as a way out?
VDJ: You know, when I was a teenager I was never bullied but I did bully someone in high school. It’s something I’m not proud of but luckily I was able to make amends with that person. I recently came into contact with them on Facebook and apologized for the things I did to him. We’re both grown up now and we kinda laughed about it but it felt great being able to let him know I was truly sorry for the things I did. We were kids and kids can be cruel. I’m speaking from experience. But what I would tell someone who is going through that is to talk to somebody. Nowadays there all kinds of resources available to people online, The Trevor Project, counselors just to name a few, but the worst thing you could do is remain quiet and attempt to deal with this on your own. What you gotta realize is you are not alone. People out there care about you and suicide is not the answer. It’s the worst possible solution, if you can call it that. Also think of others who will go through intense pain like your mom and family and friends. When you do go out and find that support then ultimately you will begin to realize that things do get better. And believe me, they will.
UPDATE: Victor is currently co-writing his first independent film with Nancy De Los Santos, who served as Associate Producer on the feature film Selena. He also is continuing his work as a writer for Criminal Minds on CBS.