Independent filmmaker Nicholas Ortiz has begun pre-production this week on Black Betty, a female-fronted action thriller webseries now in production via his NYC-based Deviant Children Productions banner. The project will be spun from his original Spring 2018 proof pilot which snagged three awards in two categories at the sixth Urban Action Showcase Film Festival.
“Nick is on his bullshit!” jokes dancer/choreographer and actress Krystal Pizarro who led the narrative in the title role, earing Best Actor in the Angels Of Action category at the UASE. “There’s a reason why his company is called Deviant Children Productions – that man always has something up his sleeve and he knows what the hell he’s doing.”
In the proof pilot, Betty is a black leather-clad vigilante heading through a gauntlet of henchmen as she fights her way from captivity out of a nightclub. The webseries, which will be tethered as a workable feature film, will focus on the myriad of violent events that encompass her origins, birthing her into the title vigilante with a mission to turn the city’s criminal underworld belly-up.
“This is the year of Black Betty.” says Pizarro, co-founder of The Harxx Company and originally a career dancer who has proliferated her craft for more than fifteen years. Pizarro is also a loyal, long time friend and cohort to Ortiz who launched his Deviant Children banner in 2009.
For the previously-released proof pilot, Pizarro underwent a period of training and conditioning with local fight choreographers and stunt performers Hector Soria and Luis Orlando Candelario, gathering once a week for four hours. She tells us this time, Betty is going to be on a whole ‘nother level going forward which is expected to reflect greatly in her training back under Candelario’s stewardship.
“I’m going to go through a whole different transition.” says Pizarro who co-signs with Candelario on the likelihood that she’ll be sticking to her more transformative diet to come, both physically and spiritually, as well as creatively for the character’s more amped-up series/feature debut to come. “I don’t know, I feel like I’m about to have my whole life changed. It’s just so crazy.”
On Friday last week, Pizarro, Ortiz (who is also one of several creative minds behind the highly-receptive indie fan series, Power Rangers: Unworthy) and Candelario got together with a small group at NYU to lay out some of the groundwork for a hopeful summer start.
“The meeting we had just so fun and so good.” she tells us. “I love the vibes from getting together with my team and to be creative – it’s the best. Nick is going up, above and beyond with this script. Black Betty is meaner, she’s nastier, she’s more vicious, she’s definitely a hundred percent a frickin…machine killer. Like, she’s a problem. She’s gonna be a problem this time! [laughs]”
As a matter of disclosure, Ortiz has contributed a few of his own opinion editorials to our website since early 2017. Ortiz and I met for the first time last month along with his wife Natassia on the evening of my birthday while in attendance for the screening of our mutual friend Joey Min’s feature debut of Yes, Auntie! at the Museum Of The Moving Image. I actually had a chance to get a taste of Black Betty with a small script that Ortiz handed me that evening to get an idea of the direction he plans on going.
The following is Ortiz’s official statement on the Black Betty project:
In late 2018, my team and I had discussed what was going to be our next move for 2019. For 2017 and 2018, we had committed ourselves to making as much new and original content as we could on a regular schedule. It was an exercise in both productivity and ingenuity. Could we make a new project every month, from the ground up? And we certainly did. Now we pondered what could be the new challenge, the new hurdle to clear and it become very clear very early on that challenge was creating serialized content, with an overarching story.
When I had written the first BLACK BETTY short, it was really at the request of my leading lady, Krystal. We have known each other for years and she was so inspired by the new direction in American Action Films coming out that she asked if this is something we could do, so I purposely created the project just for her. At the same time, I shared a lot of her passion in not just the slew of action films coming out, but also in wanting to change the portrayal of women in film in general as of late. There was a great time that happened in the mid to late 90s where female led actions films were becoming the norm. Tomb Raider, Kill Bill, The Matrix, all had female leads or supporting leads that were both powerful and beautiful. We could very easily celebrate the fact that these women were both strong and yet still women in the heat of conflict. That shifted away shortly afterwards, but now with the pendulum swinging back and having massive box office successes like Atomic Blonde, the new Star Wars trilogy and Wonder Woman, its now the perfect time to really bring the female led action film back to the forefront.
We officially had our first PreProduction meeting to turn our BLACK BETTY short film into a six episode show. We originally were gonna do a completely different idea, a completely different type of show, but the great reception of the BLACK BETTY short film aka “The Pilot Episode” was just too obvious to ignore. People not only loved the short but they really loved the character and wanted to see more of her and this world that she existed in. And for us, we wanted to revisit that world because it became so fascinating and fun to imagine the types of scenarios that Betty could find herself getting into and out of.
I’ve been writing for about three months, in-between working with Unworthy Productions on Power Rangers Unworthy: Episode 2, so we are only three of the six scripts in. I have a full season breakdown as well was individual breakdowns of each episode, so the story is pretty much mapped out. Krystal has just started up her training and we warned her that if she thought getting into shape for the original short was tough, then this is gonna seem impossible. She has been training nearly everyday, on a specific diet and will remain so will into production. It’s a huge first for the both of us, my team and I making our own series and Krystal really being a lead and being the face a very big project like this. Right now, we are focused on getting the scripts complete and beginning the planning process of locations, additional cast and crew. So if anyone wants to work for sandwiches, feel free to contact us!?
Representation is something is very much near and dear to my own heart. I am Puerto Rican, my team are all People of color, my casts have largely been Actors and Stunt Performers of color as well a good portion of them women on top of that. I can tell you that having that kind of representation is really important both in front of and behind the camera. Are large reason why a film like BLACK PANTHER was so successful was because it marked the first time a major studio release was compromised almost exclusively of extremely talented people of color as well as women. And to see people’s faces light up because they are seeing something that reflects what they had always hoped to be, strong, heroic, regal, that I wanted to keep that thread going for my projects. I don’t seek it out as a means of jumping on a bandwagon but as my responsibility as a filmmaker and storyteller to keep that inspiration going in my own small way.
Further casting details and behind-the-scenes developments remain pending. Catch the original proof-of-concept pilot in the player below.