A few years ago, Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles launched an initiative to foster gender parity for women behind the camera. Their first step was to understand the root cause behind the scarcity of American women filmmakers so they could design effective ways to improve on the status quo. When they analyzed the systemic obstacles and opportunities facing women in American independent film, the most frequent barrier cited was lack of knowledge of film financing and skills related to raising capital from investors. We spoke to actor, producer and director Yeniffer Behrens about her life and what is it like to be a woman in post-Harvey Weinstein Hollywood.
How was your experience as an actor and filmmaker this year at Sundance?
My experience as an actor and filmmaker at Sundance 2018 was fantastic. I was great to share it with my son Adrian Moreira-Behrens who has been a child actor since 2003, my husband, actor/producer Mauricio Mendoza, and my aspiring actress/singer cousins Sonia & Shantal. This was their first time at Sundance Film Festival.
This time around my visit to Sundance was very special because my manager Jacob Gallagher from E85Artist Management invited us. We all got to stay with other fantastic actors at walking distance from Main Street where all the action happens. Our manager has hosted a Sundance E85Artist Management party for the past five years and this year, the party had a great turn out. Because of this we had the opportunity to meet some cool people.
We also had a great night at the APA party. They commercially represent my husband and me. We enjoyed some incredibly inspiring panels with actress, producer, director Ashley Judd, the Gamechanger Films executives, and with Disney/ Pixar’s COCO’s Adrian Molina talking about diversity and inclusion. While there, we had the opportunity to meet other Latin filmmakers whom had films showcased at this year’s festival such as Science Fair’s director Christina Costantini, and the filmmakers from Life Sentence.
It had been 11 years since I had been to Sundance and I must say the Latino presence in the festival has grown tremendously! I’m very happy to have seen the panels created by LatinoReel.com. I felt very inspired by the moderator Robyn Moreno from Latina Media Ventures, Latina Magazine, and writer Josefina López, to name a few.
We enjoyed some great films like Yardie, directed by one of my favorite actors, Idris Elba, as well as some funny short films. I also had fun walking in the snow and doing the waitlist with my son at 6:30 am. Still, the biggest highlight for me as a Latina Filmmaker, actor, and CEO of TRUE FORM FILMS INC. was when I was invited by the title sponsor representative and AT&T’s director of Federal Public Affairs, Celeste Carrasco to share my point of view on diversity and inclusion at the SUNDANCE TV Studios. That in particular was the most magical moment for me as an actor and filmmaker this year at Sundance and getting to share it with my family was the icing on the cake.
What projects do you have in the pipeline to be released this year?
This year we have several co-productions that will be starting the festival route. These projects include two feature films El Contratista and Intolerance, and two short films, One and From Now On. We also have two
features in development Her Choices and DAWGS, and another short film titled Mi Amor. I am very excited about Mi Amor because this short film would mark my directorial debut! I will be hitting the film festival circuit this spring. The teaser for Mi Amor launched on Valentine’s Day 2018.
As a Latina female producer, what are some of the challenges you still encounter in post-Harvey Weinstein Hollywood?
I would say that the challenge I occasionally encounter as a female producer is that if I’m the only female in the room, somehow the eye contact between the men present becomes more constant. I feel the urge to speak louder and more passionately in order to be heard and as a result I have been called a “hot head” or a “Woman”. But, all joking aside, it has been more challenging for me as an actress in Hollywood, especially after having my own #metoo story, which I have only shared with my family.
After 25 years as a working actress, it’s very refreshing to see this sexual harassment era in our industry collapse. I’m especially happy for the young girls starting out in this business because now they know they don’t need to “play the game” in order to have a chance at this career.
Dreams do come true with a healthy, empowering team around you! I believe my level of success was thwarted because of my own fear of losing control of my life up at the top. I have worked very hard to overcome these fears and to stay true to myself, and my craft and am grateful to have found Mauricio Mendoza, who is a wonderful partner in life and the business. He is my bodyguard, an amazing husband, dad and my best friend.
Diversity means a lot of different things to different people. Do you think the word has lost its relevance? What is Diversity from your own point of view?
Diversity is a word I learned when I moved to Los Angeles from Miami. Growing up in Miami, I never felt I had to fight for my place anywhere just because I was of Latin decent. I went to a bilingual school while growing up, so for me it was normal to speak two languages. I grew up very loud and proud about being Venezolana! I do vaguely remember my experience in Washington D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia. My family lived there from the time I was 4 to 9 years old and I recall some memories of being called a foreigner. When I was in in 1st grade some kids made fun of me because I spoke English with an accent. I would make common diction mistakes such as saying “shair” instead of “chair” or “choose” instead “shoes”. I was so young at the time that I didn’t really get why they would tease me. It was not until later in life that I finally understood the reason why they did.
When I moved to Los Angeles, those childhood memories made me put two and two together. I now understood that La Raza, Diversity, Affirmative Action meant we are not to be ridiculed, harassed, or left out because we are of a different culture, because we sound different, or even less because of the color of our skin. We all have the same birthright simply because we were all born.
I consider that all of this segregation and judgment is a big waste of time. That’s why #Inclusion is so important for us Latinos in the industry. We need to stand together as one Latinx Brothers and Sisters. To me, DIVERSITY means Delicious Cultural Differences Embracing One Another As Global Citizens.
Who gave you your first break as an actress and as a producer?
I feel that I have had many first breaks as an actress in all different platforms. Each one is a different category:
My first break on stage was on my 2nd year in college. I finally booked a lead in the play Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon. After two years of auditioning and only getting small parts or ensemble roles in the college plays, they finally embraced diversity and cast two Latina leads and one Caucasian. My confidence hit the roof after I booked this role. I sent headshots and resumes out to talent agencies in Miami. Since Florida is a right to work state, I was signed by ten different agencies. These were exciting times for me! Shortly after I started auditioning.
My first national spot was with Pizza Hut. It was only my third audition ever.
My fist film audition booking was for a movie called Seven Sundays by Jean-Charles Tachella. This was a French Indie film that shot in Sarasota, Florida.
My first series regular role in a pilot was for Sobe Inn directed by Hal Porcelain.
My first studio film was THE SPECIALIST by Lucho Llosa opposite Sylvester Stallone.
My first big break was given to me by Steven Kovacs when I booked the lead a Latin Lolita role in a feature film called Angel Blue. The movie ended up in Lifetime as My Neighbor’s Daughter and I got a great note in Variety in response to it. I booked this all through self-VHS-tapes. It was a six-month process. I was flown to San Francisco for six weeks to shoot my first lead in a film.
My first break on TV as a guest star was in Pointman with Jack Scalia thanks to Len Hunt.
My first experience as a producer was back in 2005 when writer/filmmaker Deborah Franco asked me to help her with post in her short in which I had starred in opposite Ricardo Chavira. Deborah saw my potential as a producer and kept saying: “Your leadership skills would make you a great producer”, so I jumped on board as an EP and producer of Late Bloomer. I liked it, and realized I could create my own content and help others get their projects off the ground.
My first time attending Sundance Film Festival was in 2006 and I was so inspired that I created TRUE FORM FILMS Inc.
The rest is history. Since 2008 www.trueformfilms.com has been producing and I am blessed to have two amazing producing partners. These are my husband Mauricio Mendoza, and my long-time friend, DeWayne Cox.
Who would you like to work or collaborate with?
There is a long list of amazing actors, directors, and show runners that I would love to work with. At the top of my head I would name my all time favorites...Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Glenn Close, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Meryl Streep. I would also have to include John Travolta, Will Smith, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Oprah, and Salma Hayek to that list. If you were to ask me about the younger generation of actors and producers in Hollywood, then my list would include Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lawrence, Gina Rodriguez, America Ferrera, Oscar Issac, Edgar Ramírez, Justina Machado. As for writers, directors and producers I would love to collaborate with Gloria Calderon Kellet, Jennie Urman, J.J. Abrams, Marc Cherry, Peter Murietta, Eugenio Derbez, Patricia Riggen, Ava DuVernay, Ligiah Villalobos, Shonda Rhimes, and Tyler Perry.
Name top five items in your bucket list
My top five bucket list items would be:
- To move my mom, grandma, and aunt out of Venezuela.
- To create a TV series based on Her Choices, the coming-of-age feature we are producing.
- To travel to Greece and have wedding pictures taken in the isle of Santorini with my hubby Mauricio Mendoza.
- To ride in a hot air balloon.
- To be able to organize and host a family reunion with all of my cousins on my father’s side of the family. We have all met on Facebook, but now I would love to have a weekend in Miami or Panama where we can all meet in person and celebrate #familyunite with our children.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
If I could go back in time, I would go back to the 1950’s. I love the style and the fashion of the time, especially the dresses...and I Love Lucy! I always wished as a kid that I could have lived in the movie Grease or the TV show Happy Days.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement in life has been to become a mother. I am so proud of my children. My son Adrian is 16 years old. He is sweet, kind, and a straight-A student who has amassed many best actor awards for his performance in our feature film After School. Adrian garnered best actor awards and best actor nominations in several Film Festivals as well as at the Imagen Awards. I also have Julianna Mia, who is is my 5 year old princess. She has the personality of a Star. She always wants to be in a dress and to be dancing and singing with her daddy.
As for my professional life, I would say that my greatest achievement was becoming Miss Teen Miami 1989. And in in the midst of all my personal family drama my greatest achievement is that I never gave up on pursuing my dreams of becoming a working actress and producer.
If someone were to make your life into a movie... who would play you as a character?
Funny you should ask this. The coming-of-age film we are currently producing is actually based on my life. I think A-Lister actress/singer Selena Gomez would be perfect to play me from the ages of 18-25 years old. If you could, let her know that I have an Oscar winning script for her then that would be amazing! I would give you a producing credit!