Interview with Producer Don Franken
Marco Antonio Barrera & Don Franken
The sweet science remains one of the most popular subjects for filmmakers worldwide. From the early black-and-white portrayals to the current resurgent of boxing movies gracing the silver screen, everyone loves the story of an underdog boxer. This underdog angle, forever cemented by the original “Rocky” (arguably the most popular boxing movie ever) is one also told in “The Kid: Chamaco,” the latest entry in the film industry.
Who doesn’t love a good boxing movie?
From the 1947 classic “Body and Soul” to the 1980 Academy Award-winning “Raging Bull” to the mainstream hit “Million Dollar Baby,” pugilism continues to have knockout success at the box office. Meg Ryan, Will Smith and Russell Crowe are just some of the actors who have laced up for star turns in their respective films, “Against the Ropes,” “Ali” and “Cinderella Man.”
And while I certainly have an appreciation for these blockbuster films, I also enjoy these smaller-scale projects of independent films made on a shoestring budget. The 2000 “Girlfight” with Michelle Rodriguez is still one of my favorites in the boxing drama genre, alongside “The Hammer,” Adam Carolla’s comedic take on boxing.
And now viewers have a NEW fight film to check out in “The Kid: Chamaco” with the added bonus of gym scenes filmed at Marco Antonio Barrera’s own gymnasium in Mexico City.
I recently had the chance to screen this celluloid boxing tale and also conduct a Q&A with “The Kid: Chamaco” producer Don Franken as he tells me all about the making of the film and also his longtime affiliation with boxing.
Directed by Miguel Necochea, this new addition in cinema features Martin Sheen, Kirk Harris, Alex Perea, Danny Perea, Sofia Espinosa, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Raul Mendez and Michael Madsen. Marco Antonio Barrera, himself, also makes a special appearance. Co-produced by Rogue Arts and Ivania Films, this film released by Maya Independent has been getting a lot of attention in and out of the boxing networks.
The character-driven story (with Spanish subtitles) tells the story of a poor Mexico City youth, played by Abner Torres (Alex Perea) while weaving together a lesson in overcoming tragedies–and finding love, hope and redemption along the way. When Abner crosses paths with Dr. Frank Irwin (Martin Sheen) and later with his son, pro boxer Jimmy Irwin (Kirk Harris), life lessons are learned by the trio as they connect through the sport of boxing. The young amateur boxer finds his way–and maybe a way out of his hardscrabble existence through pugilism. And while the distant father and son duo help the boy in their own ways, the adolescent, in turn, also helps forge a closer bond and understanding between the tense Irwins. As the trouble-plagued teen struggles to survive amidst his turbulent home life with his father, Dr. Irwin stands in as a father figure, while the younger Irwin fills in as an unlikely role model in the gym.
For you hardcore boxing fans, there are plenty of gym scenes, training sequences and fight footage showcased in the film! During the hour and a half, a couple of intriguing love interests (for both Abner and Jimmy) are also introduced in the mix.
“The Kid: Chamaco” has a lot of real-life connections to boxing too. Franken told me, “Kirk Harris, the writer and a star of the film is a former Golden Gloves boxing champion and still boxes and spars at Boxing Works in Hermosa Beach. He grew up in San Bernandino and amongst the gyms he worked out in was that of “Sugar” Shane Mosley’s father (Jack Mosley). Kirk loves boxing and follows it very closely!”
Just last week, the boxer/writer/actor held a special screening for amateur boxers at the Eddie Heredia Boxing Club in Los Angeles, in hoping to inspire the young kids to stay in the gym–and stay off the streets. WBC Hall of Fame Inductee and well-regarded boxing trainer Tony Rivera was in attendance at the event. He worked with Marco Antonio Barrera for many years and watched the film with the children. “The kids got to meet all the heavyweights from the film,” Tony tells me. “Kirk and Don are nice guys who are very passionate about this movie.”
For Harris, the love of the bloodsport has transferred to his “reel life” too through his new film, just released on DVD.
And producer Franken also made a cameo on the big screen, playing a boxing announcer in the film. He also had the opportunity to work alongside Mexican legend Barrera. “Much of the film was filmed at the Barrera Family Gym in Mexico City; most of the boxers in the film are top young boxers in Mexico and are trained by the Barreras,” Franken relays.
As “The Kid: Chamaco” keeps gaining new fans as the word spreads, I caught up with the busy producer as their wide-scale DVD release just got underway on September earlier this week.
Michele Chong: What has been the reaction from both the boxing community and the non-boxing world in regards to your new film?
Don Franken: Boxers such as Olympic Champion Paul Gonzales and top bantamweight contender Abner Mares have seen the film and loved it! The boxing community has embraced the film and really seems to love it. Top boxers including Hector “Macho” Camacho, Ken Norton and Mike Tyson have joined our “Chamaco Movie” Facebook friends site, so they also seem enthusiastic about the movie.
We have also had a great reaction from our screenings at film festivals and theatrically in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington D.C., San Jose, and San Diego from the non-boxing community. Many women commented that were concerned about the violence in a boxing movie before going to see it, but that they still really enjoyed the movie and liked the boxing.
MC: Did you have any boxing background before making the film?
DF: I have been around boxing much of my life. I learned to box at summer camp, and a bit in the YMCA and liked boxing. I was never a great boxer but always followed it. Remember, from my youth the great fights were between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, plus all of Ali’s other fights. I met Sugar Ray Robinson, Don King and others over the years. And once, when I was young, I met Joe Louis in Las Vegas.
I also run a sports celebrity/talent agency called World Class Sports. Boxers I have worked with over the years have included Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jake LaMotta, his daughter, Stephanie LaMotta, Ingemar Johansson, Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, Paul Gonzales, Henry Tillman, and even Eddie “The Animal” Lopez. I am also close with Carol Steindler, who ran Main Street Gym, and also knew Pat Putman (before he passed away), who was a great boxing writer for Sports Illustrated. I grew up around Doug Krikorian, Bob Keisser, and many other boxing journalists so I was always passionate about boxing. I knew Randy Shields and also worked a bit with Sean O’Grady. Also, I have met Erik Morales and other boxers through top boxing publicist Bill Caplan. And I have met top boxing promoter, Lou DiBella, who is a great promoter. I hope to work with him in the future; I look forward to screening the film for him soon.
MC: While shooting the film, did you ever try any of the boxing workouts or get in the ring yourself?
DF: I worked out daily at the gym in our hotel. They had both the speed bag and the heavy bag; and I also worked out a bit in the gym. I watched Kirk Harris and our boxers in the film and tried to copy their moves!
MC: What was the biggest challenge in making the movie?
DF: The biggest challenge was making a film that was cross-border, cross-cultural and keeping communication running smoothly. It’s never easy with a film in English and Spanish, and with the three key writers, Kirk Harris (U.S.), Carl Bessai (Canada) and Miguel Necoechea (Mexico) in different countries. Plus, with initial editing in Mexico City, subtitles done first in the U.S., then corrected in Mexico City, then post at Chambers Productions in Eugene, Oregon, final sound at Monkeyland in Burbank, film out/film print done in Seattle, more post done in Mexico City, always a challenge! Also, with the drop in the value of the peso, plus the worldwide economic crash while we were working on the film, additional money was required to finish the film. Funding an Indie film is very difficult in this economy.
MC: I know you’ve already had several red carpet events, film fest entries and special screenings. What are your future plans in regards to DVD sales, future distribution and additional theatre showings?
DF: We are now opening on DVD everywhere, including Blockbuster, Amazon, Netflix, Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and it will soon be available on Video On Demand. Fans can now purchase “The Kid: Chamaco” on DVD at these and many other top sites.
The film premiered at the Morelia International Film Festival in Morelia, Mexico (that is where I had met the director a few years back) then the film had its U.S. premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It then went on to play quality film festivals in San Diego, New York, Austin, Texas and also the L.A. Latino Film Festival run by Eddie Olson, Eugene, Oregon, and also in Mexico. It will be opening night of a new film festival in Los Angeles in November.
“The Kid: Chamaco” been sold to a distributor, Maya Entertainment, for U.S. rights and they also came aboard as the foreign sales agent. HBO OLE’ has already bought the film for screening in May 2011. The film will be presented by Maya at MIPCOM, at the end of this week (mainly for television sales), then at the American Film Market in early November in Santa Monica.
MC: Be sure to keep me updated on all the upcoming “The Kid: Chamaco” news!
DF: Thanks much! The hope is for the film to lead to more people loving and appreciating boxing. Also, to bring the two cultures and countries, U.S. and Mexico, closer together. I hope to make more sports films. I have even been working with my uncle, who owns a 10,000 square foot wherehouse in Ensenada, to convert this to a boxing gym. We are trying to now align with the right boxer, or boxing manager, in Mexico to help run this gym.
MC: Thanks again, Don! Good luck with all your future endeavors and continued success with “The Kid: Chamaco.”
Photos courtesy of Don Franken
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