L to R: Luis Candelario, Krystal “Honey” Pizarro, Nicholas Ortiz, Christopher Montague, Grace Rivera, Hector Soria
Deep in the deluge of all the online action shortfilms you can find, there’s a ample number of beginners who are either just starting or have quite a ways to go. At the end of the day though, its desired effect upon delivery rests on a handful of key factors – most prolifically being a director who knows and understands the genre, as well as the mechanics that entail.
Nicholas Ortiz, born and raised in the Bronx in New York City, comes from that very comprehensive DNA, instilled long before Blockbuster outlets became a thing, and engrained with an inherent interest in household movie favorites – bookended by an action horror comedy classic.
“My cousin Jeppy walked into her living room with a tape in her hand and said ‘You guys need to see this!’.” says Ortiz.who revealed the title was Sam Raimi’s directorial debut, The Evil Dead. “I watched that whole film completely terrified but because it was so cheaply made, I could see all the seams and yet I didn’t care! Something about that film, the way it took hold and never let go is what inspired me to be a filmmaker.”
Filial insistences and the see-saw prospects of balancing workforce obligations and hampered creative sustenance didn’t stop Ortiz from moving forward with his agenda in film around 2009. The subsequent launch of Deviant Children Productions further emboldened his creative stride, a progression witnessed in opportune fashion by longtime friend and fellow boogie-down Bronx native, dancer, entrepreneur and rising film talent Krystal “Honey” Pizzaro who stars in Ortiz’s latest small-scale DCP entry, Black Betty.
Photo: Peter Lawton
“We met through mutual friends when I was looking for a videographer for my visual dance project.” says Pizzaro who delves further into her history with the burgeoning filmmaker. “Working with him NOW, is just naturally fun. We’re movie buffs, huge goofs, and most importantly we love to work. So it was pretty second nature to get into the groove of this project. We’d done so many before Black Betty, but we wanted this particular one to be different. Nick is definitely an awesome person and most of all an artist in his own right. He knows his stuff. Period.”
Black Betty released on April 23 as the fourth of a committed one film-per-month rollout over at the Deviant Children Productions channel. The title instantly struck me upon Ortiz’s own mention of it on this site and I don’t have an explicit reason why. All I knew is that Ortiz, long since pivoting from horror projects, was in the middle of creating something I had a feeling would be worthwhile and purely fun. As for Ortiz, as he so states, he was already in the market for something much more edgier in narrative and character for a female-driven thriller since his 2014 short, Red Fury. Having remained in-communicado with Pizzaro for as long as he has and given her own interest in a more physically demanding role, along with a little motivation from a classic American rock band, the idea ultimately took on a life of it’s own.
“It reminded me of those tales of the West, the outlaw who comes into town to save the townspeople, and I wanted to take that and bring into 2018,” says Ortiz who saw, in Pizarro, an air of unilateral skill in carrying choreography in both dance and screenfighting apart from a plethora of other candidates, citing the likes of Zöe Saldana, Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella as prime examples. “Krystal’s own dance background meant she was incredibly light on her feet and could repeat a move repeatedly over time. And fast, this girl is frighteningly quick both physically and mentally. But her work ethic was the biggest selling point, Krystal puts in sweat equity in everything she does and that is, for me, far more valuable than any level of skill.”
“Honey” is a hat that Pizarro has, and fondly continues to wear now courtesy friends with a shared affinity for the 2003 hip-hop dance drama about a record store clerk in pursuit of her dance and choreography dreams in the face of career adversity and timely vultures as she struggles to keep her community center afloat.
“It happened to be one of my biggest goals as well so I related to it instantly.” says Pizzaro, whose family never put her in dance classes when she was younger, and all the while took to a staple diet of Michael Jackson concert performances and music videos to to start. “Though I’m no Jessica Alba [laughs], people insisted I did resemble her. After that, every single creative acquaintance I met, and even my dance students until this day STILL call me Honey. I’ve been called Honey for the last 15 years, and I love it STILL. 😎”
In somewhat equal vein, she also took aptly to the characterization of Black Betty as well in exhibiting her dramatic caliber, adding: “Black Betty is someone else entirely. We’re actually good good girlfriends by now. She helped me channel alot of aggression into her role. I was going through some personal things while training for this film. So it wasn’t difficult at all to find something therapeutic in being Black Betty.”
Long before establishing her new home with friends and fellow dancers in The Harxx Company, it wasn’t until high school that her interests in dance, body movement and choreography began taking shape, joining the school’s Pom Pom Dance Team and eventually partaking with dance company Hypnotized in 2005. She eventually expanded her repetoire learning a wide range of styles from contemporary to African dance, and her current favorite, Heels choreography, and her resumé has only since grown from there, working with a number of independent artists and creatives alike, and teaching dance across all five boroughs of New York City. That experience is now something both star and director draw from with Black Betty, with Pizarro, fresh into the craft with no prior applications in martial arts or screenfighting.
L to R: Hector Soria, Krystal “Honey” Pizarro, Luis Candelario
“None whatsoever!” she says. “I was so terrified. I was like ‘No way. I can’t do what these guys do. But you know what? I’m not backing down.’ I’ve always wanted to do a project like this, and I held onto that thought the whole way through. Hector and Team One Take, are absolutely hands down a kick ass team! I was afraid of being too girly to hang with them. Every time they’d show me a move, I’d have the look on my face like, ‘I gotta do that?’ They’d simply say, ‘Yup. Let’s go!’. I surprised myself. For the life of me, I couldn’t stop saying sorry every time I messed up. And they’d say ‘Stop saying sorry!’ [laughs] But they are so cool and very patient with me. I owe them alot. The aches and pains were well worth it.”
Pizarro underwent a two-month regime of training and conditioning with New York City-based Team One Take’s own Hector Soria and Luis Orlando Candelario prior to production. They gathered once a week for four hours each time to asses and condition their actress for the sorts of repetitive ins-and-outs of being on set with an action role in-hand. Ortiz shared details on how he approached coordinating each fight scene with his performers.
“We broke up the action style in the script as the story progresses to create a sense of escalation, something I find to be lacking in most indie action cinema.” he says. “For the opening part, it was meant to be more surprise, a sneak attack on Sergei and the club guards. We wanted more of a John Wick/87eleven style where she uses her wits, skill and speed to just barely make it.”
Ortiz’s nod to the high profile Inglewood-based Hollywood stunt training facility isn’t something to overlook either when paired with Pizarro’s acclimation to the role and her influences therein. Household names, 90s filmlore and female fighting game character affinity aside, it was David Leitch’s summer 2017 solo directorial debut, Atomic Blonde, that sealed the deal.
“I said, ‘I’m GOING to SOMETHING LIKE THAT if it’s the last thing I do!'” shes says. “And boom! The director, my awesome friend Nicholas, came to me with a rough script months later, and it’s definitely Charlize’s fault that the IDEA of Black Betty happened too! I just admired her foul mouth, her sassiness, and her narrow, no room for BS-having, ass kicking attitude. She trained hard and did her own stunts, dealt with an injury and everything. The fact that she wasn’t just playing a pretty face role, and even with her BEAUTIFUL face she got bloodied and bruised up, it made me look at her and go…’She’s such a sexy badass. I WANT to be a sexy badass.’”
Photo: Peter Lawton
Ortiz gave further accreditation to competitive bodybuilding champion Grace Rivera who plays opposite Pizarro in the film’s final fight scene which plays up from the escalation of the action. He describe the necessity of the finale’s action as more tethered to pro-wrestling between two women in a straight-up brawl with lots of power and reversals.
“…She brought a completely different type of physicality to the role.” says Ortiz of Rivera. “I can say Grace and Krystal definitely put in the sweat equity for that scene and it shows; Every grunt you hear and vein you see is very real.”
Krystal herself was also reportedly a huge help in the logistics seeing as Ortiz’s biggest hurdle was finding the appropriate location to use as the neon-lit Russian Nightclub to serve as the backdrop for the titular Betty’s emergence. While filming promptly in Manhattan was an appealing start, a location shoot in the city’s most bustling borough would’ve been more costly than preferred, among other obstructions.
“There were talks of doing the shoot out in Philadelphia as the rates for locations were certainly cheaper, but that added the logistics of transporting a whole cast and crew 2 hours from home.” says Ortiz. “And then Krystal swooped in again – this time with her boyfriend, Franco, who ended up being our location manager. Franco knew the owner of JPs Restaurant out in City Island in the Bronx. JP himself is a filmmaker and was very gracious in letting us film at his business for nothing. The only condition was that we shoot after business hours, so that meant overnights. But other than that he gave us the run of the place, including the kitchen and pantry area for the opening scene with Sergei. Shout out to JPs for being supportive of the arts!”
Not much else is known about the future Black Betty, one now manifest and in full view of fans of action movies. To say the least though, I’m told there is definitely a future for DCP’s latest muse – something I always welcome for a project I enjoy seeing as not all independent shortfilms like these manage to obtain the same follow-up momentum, even if the first installments are VERY good.
The choice to sequelize Black Betty is definitely something that goes into a lot of what Pizzaro says she’s learned in terms of never doubting herself, enduring and multitasking, and applying one’s self outside the comfort zone to achieve important goals no matter what the odds. It also ventures into her own passion for the role in highlighting female empowerment – a caveat of the subject of diversity in today’s entertainment millieu – emphasizing an air of scope that goes beyond her on-screen persona, something she shares by way of an exemplary analysis of the short’s scene with Pizarro and the role of Sergei, played by Christopher Montague.
Photo: Peter Lawton
“What I love most is that in the film you can clearly see how underestimated Betty was: She’s small, he’s big; She’s tied up, he’s not; She’s vulnerable, and easily can be taken advantage of in the worst ways.” says Pizzaro “I’m all about the surprise factor. So when the head butt comes in, and you see Betty slip out of her restraints, to take down Sergei, it’s like ‘WHOA! Ok! This chick CAN handle herself. I wouldn’t mess with her.’ That’s what I wanted to showcase in the film.”
She continues: “There are definitely are all kinds of Sergei’s out there in REAL LIFE. The kinds that THINK we’re just little crazy women to be put to a certain use. Crazy? Yes. Little? Maybe. BUT, I’ll knock you out too if you disrespect me. And I love Betty for that. I want ALL women AND men to love her, and what she stands for.”
Ortiz actually teased a sequel on Instagram and I pestered him on it via inbox thereafter. His answer to me, mostly, is for fans to tune in to the Deviant Children Production’s YouTube channel to find out, which is fine by me. Alas, he’s sitting pretty well with sequel hopes, which is a little more than I can say for Pizarro who, after initial mention, is still taking it all in.
“What’s hilarious to me is that I never thought I’d hear ‘sequel’ so soon!” says Pizzaro. “We did just shoot this a week prior to its release, and to get such an awesome response from soooo many people, Nick and I are kids in a candy store biting our nails because we don’t know what to do with it all! But hey, if Nick says let’s do this sequel, there’ll be no hesitation from me. Our supporters, family, friends, co-workers, peers, and even strangers are going nuts about it. So why not? Who knows where it could go? We just want to do what we love. There’s nothing stopping us at this point. I think #BlackBetty will be around alot more often in the future. And I’m more than grateful that she came to existence in the first place. She got me through some tough stuff. She’s my new therapist. [laughs] 🐝😁”
Photo: Craig Moss
Apart from dance and choreography, Pizarro is now further residing her prospects with a casting agency to work her way up in entertainment. With any luck that will hopefully lead to more prominent roles with other directors and showrunners as time passes. At the end of the day however, she’s ardent about her continued support and exclusivity with Ortiz as long as he’s got his ship running at Deviant Children Productions or wherever he’s behind the lens. Being inspired to create and express herself through art is especially a plus.
“We’re movie buffs, huge goofs, and most importantly we love to work, so it was pretty second nature to get into the groove of this project.” says Pizarro. “Nick is definitely an awesome person and most of all an artist in his own right. He knows his stuff. Period.”
She adds: “I’m open to the idea of doing more film, and Deviant Children Productions will always be a company I choose to work with. In my eyes, they’re the best. Dancing and modeling is always at my leisure. I won’t stop until I’ve gotten enough. Who knows? I probably never will. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be ARTISTIC, ENTERTAINING and INFLUENTIAL. I’ve BEEN doing it. I’ll KEEP doing it. At the end of the day it’s MY PASSION. I LOVE it.”