Thursday, July 12, 2012

Exclusive: Director Ben DeJesus on "John Leguizamo's Tales From a Ghetto Klown."

John Leguizamo prepares for his show Tales From a Ghetto Klown.
Photo courtesy of Ben DeJesus

           “It was one of the most rewarding experience of my life,” said Ben DeJesus on working with John Leguizamo on the documentary, “John Leguizamo’s Tales From a Ghetto Klown,” which chronicles the actor’s return to Broadway with his one-man show.
            Premiering in March 2011, Tales From a Ghetto Klown marked Leguizamo’s first show on Broadway since 2002. The documentary shows the rehearsal and preparation for Leguizamo’s show, from Broadway to Colombia.
            A fan of Leguizamo’s since a student at Rutgers University, DeJesus’ opportunity to work with him was a bit of a chance encounter.
            “David Chipel brought me in to do viral videos and that’s when I met John. We hit it off right away. A few months later, John began writing and rehearsing his show.
“I would come in and bring my camera and start shooting to get some B-roll. Then I asked, ‘Hey, can I come back tomorrow?’ and then the next day, ‘Can I come back tomorrow?’” Eventually, it turned into a full-blown project.
            Production on the documentary occurred off and on for two years starting in 2010, and was slated to end on the show’s last night on Broadway.
            “We had over 100 hours of footage, and the doc was going to go until closing night. We took it another eight months when going to Colombia.”
            Funding for the project came from a grant through Latino Public Broadcasting, beating out hundreds of other projects for the prize.  The project was then brought to Donald Thoms’ attention, director of arts programming at PBS.  In January, Thoms’ decided to speed up the production process to have the documentary play as part of their summer arts festival.
            “John Leguizamo’s Tales From a Ghetto Klown” marks the first full-length documentary for DeJesus, whose previous credits include music videos for notable Latino acts Chino y Nacho and Don Omar.
            DeJesus got his start in TV production with an internship at MTV. Starting out as a production assistant, DeJesus worked his way up to writer on the show “Cribs.” With TV and music videos being short productions, the transition to documentary features is more of a labor of love.
            “I came from television. That style has a quicker gratification, then you’re on to the next one. With documentaries, you’re really sculpting something much bigger. I wanted to take my time and to make it as best as possible. You can’t rush that in documentary.”
            The final product shows how much DeJesus really cared about the project. From buying tickets to his Broadway shows and then waiting by the back door of the theater to shake his hand, it’s safe to say that his first documentary was a dream come true.
            For now, DeJesus is continuing to work in television, and is looking for his next documentary.
            “It’s a labor of love and I have room for more.”
            “John Leguizamo’s Tales From a Ghetto Klown” premieres on PBS July 13 at 9 p.m. A DVD of the film is available for purchase on PBS’s website.

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