47, movie producer, Austin
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To the extent that the fabled Third Coast exists, it’s a bit of a patriarchy: of men and by men, including, most prominently, the indie visionary Rick Linklater and the boyish wonder Robert Rodriguez. But then there’s Avellán, Rodriguez’s ex, who continues to move mountains to make movies happen in partnership with him and on her own. Because she operates behind the screen, it’s easy to overlook the place she occupies in the Texas film community’s pecking order. But make no mistake: The co-founder of Los Hooligans Productions and the vice president of Troublemaker Studios is as close to a true Hollywood power player as we have in our midst. The native Venezuelan’s credits include El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, three Spy Kids movies, Sin City, and Grindhouse, as well as six energetic children, ages 2 to 22, and countless emerging filmmakers, who owe their nascent success to her maternal interest in their careers.
Most people don’t understand what you do. A producer is like a CFO.
Basically. How are we going to solve problems in a way that doesn’t cost so much money? The producer makes sure that you don’t lose what’s great about the movie but, at the same time, you don’t blow your budget out of the water.
How did you know how to do this?
Before I got into the film business, I really was blessed by working at Baylor College of Medicine and then UT-Austin. I ended up in offices that took care of budgets.
Talk about that.
UT-Austin is like a small city. Seventy-some thousand people work there, including the students, and I worked for the guy who ran the city: Gerhard Fonken, the executive vice president and provost. This was 1989 to 1993. I was one of his administrative associates. He was a professor of chemistry, and he loved to teach the people in his office—he’d keep us very informed about what was going on. It was a requirement of the job that you read every piece of correspondence. I learned so much about how to resolve things. Then I took some courses at UCLA on the language of film—the lingo. I learned the difference between budgets and how to take a script, break it down, and budget it. That helped me a lot.
What are you working on at the moment?
The next movie I’m doing is called Queen of the South. It’s about a legend from Mexico, this woman who took on the cartels down there. Instead of being like those women in movies who become men, she used her being a woman, her intuitiveness and insight, to beat them at their own game.
It sounds like it could be your own story.
Yeah. I think that’s why I responded to her. I’ve been very choosy about the scripts I’m going to be doing. Robert and I have another kids’ movie, called Shorts—it will probably start shooting in July or August. I don’t want to fill up too much, because I have a family. And I’ve been mentoring other filmmakers. As a matter of fact, Queen of the South is going to be directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, this young man I’ve been mentoring for, like, ten years.
How did you come to know him?
He’s from Venezuela. Once he graduated from college there, he worked on a couple of my movies and then got into a UT master’s program in film. I just enjoy filmmakers. Nicolás Lopéz is a young man from Chile—we’re working on a couple of things together. I produced a Flash film for him. It’s fun, because young people are really talented, and I’d love to see them grow up in this business with the right kind of attitude and virtues and honesty. You know, Hollywood is full of people who are not honest. That’s reality.