‘High & Mighty’ finds its strength in its script and cast
“High & Mighty,” an entry in the Sundance Film Festival Indie Episodic program, is set to screen at the following locations and times:
•Wednesday, Jan. 24, 6 p.m. Park Avenue Theatre
•Thursday, Jan. 25, 9:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City
Riddle me this: How would you describe a superhero whose powers only manifest when he’s drunk or stoned?
The answer: “High & Mighty.”
And that just happens to be the title of a new comedy series produced by Stage 13, Warner Bros. Digital Network’s new digital content brand, which made its Sundance Film Festival premiere in the new Episodic category on Tuesday at the Ray.
The story follows a misfit stoner named Marcelo “Chelo” Chavez (Jorge Diaz) and his spirited little sister Luz (Chelsea Rendon) who tries to keep him in line.
The script was written by newcomer Cesar Mazariegos, and the series’ director is Carlos Lpiez Estrada.
The “High & Mighty” cast is mostly Latino, and they took care not to make the characters come off as stereotypes.
“We did that in part by making the characters three-dimensional,” Diaz said. “We had to make sure we brought in some humanity.”
Mazariegos gave props to Stage 13 for taking on a project with Latino representation.
“They were looking specifically for minority content creators, and when I came on the project, they wanted me to be the executive producer because the script was in my voice,” he said. “They told me they didn’t want to buy the script and have somebody else direct, but I didn’t want to have a Latino director just to have a Latino director. I wanted a director that would work out the best. But I also knew a Latino person would get the nuances of the things I wrote about.”
“High & Mighty’s” origin story begins with Mazariegos, who wanted to get notice in the Los Angeles filmmaking circles by writing about and unconventional superhero.
“In L.A. you are told if you want to get an agent to notice your script you have to make it a little crazy, a little out there,” Mazariegos said during an interview with Diaz and Rendon at the Wasatch Brew Pub. “While the script would probably never get produced, people wouldn’t forget it.”
The writer decided to write about the craziest pilot for a TV series he could think about, but do it in a way that he could shoot it if he felt inclined to do so, he said.
“I had thought about the story for month before I started writing the script, and I knew someone who did special effects, and I thought about what I could do with special effects that isn’t outer space?” Mazariegos said. “I limited myself in that sandbox, and had to figure out when to color outside the lines.”
The script caught the eye of Christopher Mack, senior vice president of Warner Brothers Television and head of scripted content for Stage 13.
“Chris always said if a show was turned down somewhere else because it was too crazy, it’s the kind of show he would want to put on Stage 13,” Mazariegos said.
Diaz, who is known for his work on Latino-centric projects such as the PBS web series “Noah Comprende,” as well as Christopher Landon’s 2014 supernatural thriller “Paranormal Activity: The Chosen Ones.” also enjoyed the script.
“I got an audition from my agent, and I read the script and laughed out loud,” he said. “When I went in to the callback, I Skyped with the director who was in New York, and I met Cesar and felt great vibes from each person. They all seemed like smart and witty guys who knew what they were doing.”
“High & Mighty” was Rendon’s first foray into comedy.
“I have never done a comedy before,” said the actress, who has been seen in various TV series including “Criminal Minds,” “Code Black,” “Bright” and the upcoming “Vida.”
“In everything I’ve done, I’m always crying or there are people dying,” Rendon said.
Rendon originally auditioned for the part of Chelo’s sister Luz, but returned to audition for Angie, Chelo’s girlfriend.
“They were trying to decide what I should do when I was called back again for Luz,” she said.
“I originally saw Luz as a child who was 11, 12 or 13, and would cuss and give her brother a lot of grief,” Mazariegos said. “When we saw Chelsea, she was so good that we made her a junior in high school with a uniform and pony tails.”
The chemistry between Rendon and Diaz mixed well because they were friends.
“I’ve known Jorge for years,” Rendon said. “But it went beyond that, the whole case and crew were like family.”
“Honestly, it turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had on the set,” he said. “We’re all about the same age and it felt like I was working on a badass student project that came out really great.”
Mazariegos said the cast — which also includes Shakira Barrera as Angie and Frank Merino as the villain Rudy — brought depth to the characters.
“It’s totally different to write and hear the voices and see the scenes in your head, because it will never become what you think it will be, but if you have really talented actors, it will be for the better,” he said.
Mazariegos said Chelo is a complicated character.
“The actor had to be able to play a drunk, stoned, coked out, likable and lovable character who can go too far and become a little unlikable,” he said. “When [Jorge} auditioned he nailed it.”
The secret to the audition was to play the character as innocently as possible, Diaz said.
“Chelo is a sweet guy and he’s genuinely trying to get his life together,” he explained. “He’s got a genuine love for his best friend, his family, his girlfriend and booze, but he’s at the point in life where he needs to become more responsible, even though his party phase is still going on.”
In order to play Chelo on the screen, Diaz had to trust what Mazariegos wrote.
“I actually based Chelo on my brother Oscar,” Diaz said. “And when he first saw what we were doing, he said, ‘That’s like — me.’ I think it helped provoke some sort of self-reflection in his life, which is beautiful.”
Rendon also turned to her family for cues of how to portray Luz.
“Everybody has that family member who gets drunk at Christmas and makes a scene,” she giggled. “In my real family, I’m the baby. I have an older brother and older sister. And all my life it was like I was the responsible one, and that’s the same situation as Luz and Chelo.
Rendon is proud of the production because it finds the humor in Latino culture.
“As minorities, we do have to write and tell our own stories, so these things can come across right and makes sense,” she said. “You look at Chelo and he’s not a gangbanger or a cholo. He’s just an idiot.”
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