By Davy V.
It's not often that I get to write about local talent from my hometown of Rochester, NY.
Not because Rochester lacks talent. On the contrary, Rochester has some very strong connections to music, performing arts, television, film, sports, and more.
It's just that with my work as a filmmaker, writer and activist exposing police misconduct and other injustices affecting Latinos and African-Americans in my hometown, finding the time to write about other subjects becomes a challenge.
There is one young man however, who has been on my radar, and whom although I have never met him personally, I am very proud of him and his accomplishments.
His name is David Bianchi.
Bianchi is a classically trained actor, and founder of Exertion Films.
Originally from Rochester, NY and now living in Hollywood, California, Bianchi first hit the stage when he was in third grade.
Despite Bianchi being from Rochester, that's not why I admire him and respect his work.
You see, what I really admire about David Bianchi is the fact that he didn't just talk the talk.
He walked the walk.
I remember growing up on Rochester's westside, me and my friends had alot of dreams of what we wanted to be when we grew up.
After a game of kickball, once the street lights came on, we'd sit in the church parking lot next to my home on Child Street and talk about what we wanted to be.
My friend Junior wanted to be a basketball player. He actually went on to become an All Star player for a local College in Rochester, then became an elementary school teacher.
I myself, wanted to be a rapper and an actor. Neither of those two panned out. I was however a member of a small local Spanish Hip Hop group called "Call Us What U Want", years before Latin Hip Hop or "Reggaeton" was even thought of.
Come to think of it, I think I was only on one song.
That's not to say I don't love what I do. Because I do. I have a passion for exposing injustices which I got from my dad, Mario Vara.
And I love it.
My point however is that not many people stick with something from a very early age, then actually get to realize their dreams.
David Bianchi did.
I was able to catch up with David Bianchi and despite his busy schedule, he was nice enough to take time out for an interview, and for that I thank him.
Tell me about growing up in Rochester, NY.
I was born in Rochester, then moved to Mexico City when I was 8 years old until I was 13, then moved back to Rochester.
In Rochester I attended schools in Spencerport, as well as Aquinas, Bishop Kearney and Gates Chili High School.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor?
I first figured out I enjoyed acting in third grade when I did my first play but I didn't realize I wanted to do it for a living until I was in my twenties.
I was a rave club promoter, and ecstacy and drugs really, really got a hold of me. I was outgrowing the club scene as a promoter in the ROC and I knew that I had to reinvent myself so I got involved with a very small Improv Theatre group in Rochester called Life Works Theatre, on a volunteer level with no pay and doing skits that focused on self betterment and positivity. That's when I realized just how much I really enjoyed performing in front of an audience doing improv skits, and doing positive work. It was a huge contrast to my real life to be surrounded by actors who did it out of a passion. In all my years I felt like this is what I'm supposed to do.
I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, but I knew that TV and film was done in Los Angeles. Rather than going to L.A. and just showing up and being a pretty boy with a headshot, my parents always had dreams of me graduating from College, so that's when I got up and went to Phoenix and I got a BFA in Theatre from Arizona State University. This coming from a guy who never graduated High School, yet I graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State.
I learned theatre history and the science of movement, posture, mannerism, etc.
I had worked on an Oscar nominated movie called "Transamerica" as an assistant location manager, after graduating from Arizona State. I worked 14 hour days for three weeks in 115 degree weather earning 2000 dollars. I then threw whatever I could fit into the back of my car and drove to L.A.
Ok, so you get to L.A., what was that like?
When I got to L.A. I was 26 and I was already out of what Hollywood considers the "young and up and coming" age. I thought this is the hand that I got. I worked as a waiter and I couch surfed, sleeping on people's couches for a month. All I had to my name was whatever I had packed in my car and an air mattress. I couldn't afford a blanket in February in L.A., I slept on the air mattress on a bare wooden floor in Silver Lake L.A.
You know this is something that young people really gotta know, the average time that people stay in L.A. is two years because it's the sleeping on floors, freezing at night, having to be a waiter, having to cheat and steal, in order to do whatever you have to do to survive. It's those things that are so demeaning that makes people say "I give up."
And that's what separates the people who want this from the people who get it.
Because you really, really have to want to be an actor to survive eating Ramen noodles, having to beg mom and dad and neighbors for money, beg people to survive, just to get to a point where I could get an agent.
My first 2-3 years in L.A. was survival mode, working as an extra trying to get a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, because you can't work in TV or film unless you are in a union.
Extras on TV get treated like shit, this is the kind of thing that makes people want to pack up and leave.
One of my favorite shorts you did is called "Soldier." Can you tell me how that came together?
Soldier was a great success but it had a great lesson. The reason that I produced Soldier, was because I was not going to wait for Hollywood to give me an opportunity. And that's when my eyes really opened and I said this is the move because of my age and more importantly being an Italian Latino from African descent, I'm already fucked, and so the important thing that I needed to do was not wait for the phone to ring. I needed to pick up the phone and start now.
So instead of waiting I said fuck this I'm going to go out and create my own content so that I can show people what I actually have to offer, which is being an artist period.
The very first moment where I got the idea for "Soldier" was during the American occupation of Iraq. I was watching CNN and they had breaking news that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had broken up, and across the bottom of the television screen, in ten point type read: "14 more Americans die in Fallujah."
As soon as I saw that I lost my mind. I thought has this war become so Pop Culture and normal that it's popular to be talked about during a news report of Brad and Jennifer's break up? Where a small scrolling message announces more Americans dying in anti aircraft fire?
I felt that the media had oversaturated the war so much that people forgot that people were actually dying, so I decided to write a story in a way that basically focused on what another person might go through when someone dies in their arms. And I used the Iraq war as a backdrop.
The big message with Soldier was I just wanted to remind people that as we live comfortable lives, men and women are still dying and we can't forget.
I wrote, produced and starred in Soldier. And that was a great experience. Soldier was actually screened at the Rochester International Film Festival and won several film festivals, receiving critical acclaim.
I saw you in an episode of America's Most Wanted, tell me how that came about.
America's Most Wanted came together when I got called in for an audition for a small role and ended up getting cast for the lead of the show, which to me was a double edge sword.
It was very rewarding because of what AMW stands for but at the same time it was also perpetuating a stereotype because most actors of color are being cast as thugs, gangsters and criminals.
It's interesting you say that, because for years there have been concerns that Hollywood continues to stereotype and typecast Latinos and African-Americans in certain roles, often times even discriminating against them. Last year after the Oscars ended, Samuel L. Jackson sent an e-mail to a Los Angeles Times reporter wondering why no black men had been chosen to present awards on the film world's biggest stage. The e-mail read "It's obvious there's not ONE Black male actor in Hollywood that's able to read a teleprompter, or that's 'hip enuf,' for the new academy demographic!" Jackson wrote. "In the Hollywood I saw tonite, I don't exist nor does Denzel, Eddie, Will, Jamie, or even a young comer like Anthony Mackie!" What are your thoughts on this?
African-Americans only fill 9 percent of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) talent pool, 82 percent is Caucasian. Those figures are staggering.
The truth is that there is a difference between reality and perception. Ethnic folks are doctors, scientists, lawyers etc., but the perception is created by the system that minorities for the most parts are crooks, criminals and thieves. So, because the system creates those roles for people of color it becomes difficult to manipulate the perception into the reality. The system creates this perception and it becomes hard to manipulate that perception back into reality because American audiences have been trained to perceive us in a certain light.
We need a new generation of minority actors to continue the work force. Although the industry is very slighted towards Caucasians, in general we have made tremendous progress as minority actors, and it is up to the new generation of minority actors to continue reaping the benefits that we paved for the new generation. The more minorities that show up, the more opportunities that minorities will have.
You have worked alongside some top Hollywood actors including Edward James Olmos, and Lou Diamond Phillips, what was that like?
To me it was literally a blessing and an opportunity. I have to every day be in a place of gratitude and thankfulness because I have been given the opportunity to collaborate with such great talent.
An opportunity to earn a mentorship and also take my lifelong heroes and become their peer.
I grew up watching "Quantum Leap", I wanted to time travel like Scott Bakula and now I get the opportunity to be his co-worker in the film "Snap."
Another thing that really made an impression on me is that working with these people adds authenticity to what I do.
Take the readers through a typical day for you.
I wake up and pray. I ask God for humility, for patience and for speed. I ask God to grant me the ability to live the best day that I can live that day.
My schedule changes day to day, but overall my days usually consist of driving to auditions, I work out 1 to 2 hours a day, and I spend 4 to 6 hours in front of my laptop networking, and sending e-mails. I also spend time on the phone connecting projects. I divide my time between developing business for myself as an actor, while also developing business for my company, Exertion Films, and the projects I'm producing.
If I leave my house, 9 times out of 10 it's to go to an industry mixer, which is like a networking party. Otherwise, I stay home and educate myself. I go to the movies at least 2 times a week, usually by myself. As an actor I have to stay in tune with what's going on. I dedicate all my free time to the industry, to being a part of the industry, for example just like this interview.
One of my biggest struggles is not defeating myself, meaning as an actor and producer I'm an entrepreneur. I work for myself on behalf of myself. At the end of the day I have to wake myself up, not go to the club, make sure I show up to do my headshots, etc. Everything I do is on myself. If we allow ourselves to be defeated by having a bad business sense about ourselves then we lose.
What are some current projects you are working on?
A film called "Snap" which was directed by Youssef Delara and co-directed by the writer Victor Teran. It's a psychological thriller set in the world of underground dubstep music. My character is a cop. Snap stars Jason Priestly and Nikki Reed from the "Twilight Saga" films. Snap is scheduled for theatrical release in 2013.
Also, a film called "Filly Brown", also directed by Youssef Delara along with Michael D. Olmos, the writer. Michael D. Olmos is the son of Edward James Olmos. Filly Brown is the story of a tough Chicana rapper trying to make ends meet in the rap game to support her family and her imprisoned mother. My character is a delivery driver. Filly Brown will release in theatres in September of 2012.
I just got back from Philly where I finished shooting for a film called "1982." The film stars Hill Harper, Bokeem Woodbine, Wayne Brady and Ruby Dee. 1982 was directed by 2011 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award Winner Tommy Oliver and is a period film based in 1982 about a father trying to keep his family together in the rough streets of Philly while his wife becomes crack cocaine addicted. In 1982 my character is a cop. 1982 is setting it's sights on a Sundance 2013 premiere and a release in theatres by the middle of 2013.
What advise would you give to young people interested in pursuing an acting career?
If you are acting in Rochester it's very easy to get comfortable if you have success. You're a big fish in a small pond then you have to leave that small pond and be a tadpole in a big pond.
Anybody that has aspirations to work in the film industry, whether as an actor, writer, director or producer, don't try it. Do it. And make the decision to make it your life. Don't try it full stop. Do it full stop.
I see people all the time saying "I'm going to L.A. and I'm going to try the acting thing. The second you say you are going to try it, you've already failed. Don't try it. Just do it.
It don't matter how pretty, talented or good you are. The studio system and network television is not producing content for minority actors.
So, because of that it is so vital that minority actors take their career into their own hands while they play the Hollywood game. It's very easy to let the distraction and the Hollywood shuffle stray you from achieving your personal greatness. Hollywood is like a casino, it is designed to make you fail. As artists we have to do everything within our own power to make sure that when we get dealt the right hand we know when to walk away from the table and know when to cash in our chips. If you don't have self-control in this business, this business will fuck you up.
Everybody wants to be on the red carpet, but not everybody wants to struggle. Overnight success takes 10 years, and I believe that.
Photo Credit: Darrin Van Gorder
For more info. on David Bianchi, visit his website http:://www.davebianchi.com/
Watch David Bianchi's short film "Soldier" http://www.soldierthefilm.com/movie.html
Follow David Bianchi on Twitter http:://www.twitter.com/davidbianchi/