It takes guts to have a great idea for a script or a story or a podcast and push it further. Not everyone does this. There’s a temptation to stop at “good enough,” and move on. But Jorge Molina isn’t the kind of person who gives in to this temptation.
Jorge Molina has been writing (and winning awards for his writing) since he was a child. He’s never stopped crafting stories that feel personal and meaningful, often speaking to social issues and human identity in the process.
Let’s run down some of his major credits.
Molina was the Writer and Executive Producer of the 2020 short film “Muy Gay Too Mexicano”, which was accepted to numerous film festivals and was acquired by HBO Max.
Molina was the Creator, Writer, and Director of the scripted podcast “Just to Be Nominated”, performed by multiple award-winning actors over the course of ten episodes. (You’ll find more info on this one in the interview proper.)
He was a programming director for the Los Angeles International Film Festival (LAIFF) as well, judging submissions, scouting films at other festivals, and generally filling out LAIFF with top-tier work from a diverse pool of skilled filmmakers.
But really this is just scratching the surface of all the work that Molina has done in and around filmmaking and entertainment.
To learn more about Molina’s artistic motivations, his thoughts on filmmaking in the wake of the pandemic, and his key influences, all you need to do is keep reading.
You’ve definitely been very prolific in your career. How do you stay motivated to work on so many different projects?
Molina: Being an artist working in entertainment is funny. It’s very rare that you get to only focus on one project at a time. You have to juggle several jobs and projects and artistic endeavors at the same time and wait and hope that at least one of them works out. And it’s not easy. Sometimes it does really feel like an endurance test, especially while starting out.
I remember having just graduated college and working a day job that was just tangentially related to what I wanted to do, and spending my lunch breaks and weekends working on spec scripts or pilots or developing short films with friends. Because you never know when that other thing that you are working on may take off. And you have to be ready for when that moment comes. And even when it does take off, you still have to have other things waiting in the wings, because there’s this big sense of “what’s next”?
So even when a project of yours is being produced or is airing somewhere, a part of your mind is already on the next one. You train yourself to be good at multitasking and jumping back and forth from one imaginary world to another. It’s a bit harder to answer the question “Why”? What keeps me, and others like me, motivated to keep doing this? Because it can get grueling, demotivating, and tedious.
But making art, being part of the movies, or translating ideas into reality: that’s a very powerful motivator that can fuel many sleepless nights and mediocre jobs. And that becomes even more powerful once you get a taste of it. After you sell a script, showcase a short film, or achieve whatever that artistic completion looks like for you, you are now working to replicate it. Artistic satisfaction is a very powerful drug. It doesn’t necessarily look like financial success or fame. It can be a very personal and intimate thing. But once you get to experience it, I think it becomes the big motivator from then on that keeps you in the grind.
What were some of your biggest filmmaking influences when you were growing up?
Molina: I had a lot of them. Looking back now as an adult, I really underestimated the power that the entertainment I consumed while I was growing up had on me. The movies I watched, the books I read, and the TV series I stayed up at night for. I always gravitated toward people that embellished reality. Whether it was through language or through visuals. Filmmakers like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson were huge influences on me. It was through them that I realized how a director could have a distinct style and the way it carried over from film to film. They created their own versions of reality, and their use of color, sets, and costumes to enhance the story really stuck with me. But as a writer, I would have to say my two biggest influences were Lemony Snicket and Agatha Christie.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” introduced so much vocabulary and literary concepts to me, which were often explained and exemplified in the narrative. It also had such a confident and succinct voice and style, and I knew that was the kind of writing I wanted to be doing. And Agatha Christie was who made me fall in love with storytelling and narrative. Ever since I found one of her novels in the dusty library of a vacation home, I devoured every story from hers I could. There was something so comforting about reading stories in which no matter how gruesome a murder or horrible a crime, everything would end up making sense at the end. It helped me cope with the world around me, while at the same time imprinting a deep love for the whodunit genre that I still carry with me. It’s the type of story I love the most, the one I’ve written most projects on, and the one I’d love to make a career out of exploring.
Would you say that you’ve always been skilled at networking and collaboration?
Molina: Oh, not at all. I actually always thought of myself as too shy or too much of a loner growing up. My first artistic endeavors were always one-man jobs. Drawing comic book strips in the back of my notebooks, filming stop motion shorts with my parent’s camera, and writing pretentious short stories in high school. It wasn’t until I moved from Mexico to Los Angeles for college that I learned not only the value but the necessity that collaboration has in filmmaking. So I wasn’t naturally skilled at it. On top of that, the weight and importance of “networking” are ingrained so much in the industry, that it seems like an even bigger and more daunting chore that one has to do in order to succeed. And it felt fake to me. Like people could read through me that I was only talking or connecting with them because of what they could do for me, and vice versa.
Once I dropped the concept of “networking” and took up instead the concept of “connection and collaboration”, things became much easier. It’s much more honest and easier to talk up with someone if you wanna work together on something, if you are connecting over things that you both love, and are looking for ways to elevate one another. Or if you simply want to form a friendship where no one gets anything out of it. Those are usually the people that will help you down the line in your career; not the assistants that you met up with for drinks six months ago.
Do you think that LA is still a significant hub for creatives?
Molina: I think that was still the case up until the pandemic happened. Before then, if you wanted to be a successful filmmaker or writer, you had to be physically present in LA. That’s where Hollywood is after all. It’s the mecca for artists everywhere trying to make their dreams come true. But all that changed when we were forced to stay in our own houses, and yet keep the industry running. Although things stopped for a while, scripts still needed to be written, actors had to send auditions, and executives had to plan their next productions. People kept making art from their living rooms. And not everyone was in the same city anymore. It changed the dynamic completely. Now it’s much easier to feasibly have a career where you are only partially in LA. Meetings can take place remotely. Calls and auditions and pre-production meetings don’t have to be in person.
We found so many new technologies that have made things easier. And it’s not even just people that were already living there. Aspiring artists can also connect to the industry much easier and rapidly while not living in the city. I think the entry point became just a tad more accessible. LA is still very much an industry town. You throw a rock and will find an actor or a director or an aspiring writer. But its borders expanded just a little further, which would have been incredibly helpful for someone who came in from abroad a few years ago.
Which of your films feels the most personal to you?
Molina: While I’ve written many scripts, only one of them has so far ever made it to production in a significant way. And I was lucky that it was perhaps my most personal story to date. In the short film “Muy Gay Too Mexicano”, which you can currently watch on HBO Max if you live in the States, I try to examine the dichotomy between my two “identities”, my gay side and my Mexican side. After being forced to move back home to suburban Mexico for a couple of months, and being an out gay man with my Latino family for the first time, I often felt divided by these two parts of myself and had to work hard to integrate them.
The result was a story about a young man who is about to go on a date, and his two “roommates” helping him out, as he faces his insecurities. It was done on a shoestring budget with my closest friends, and the result is hopefully a heartwarming reflection of intersectionality. Of my unproduced work, I’m most proud of a screenplay I wrote called “Detective James Mortensen and the Case of the Golden Candelabra”, a mixture of a coming-of-age story and a whodunnit about a young boy who copes with the unexpected death of his brother by imagining the funeral as a classic murder mystery. I wanted to write something about the way we use entertainment to cope with trauma growing up and as a love letter to classic Agatha Christie. It made its way to some competitions, landed me my first representation, and I still hope it will one day get made.
Do you feel that your work is also inspiring the next wave of young filmmakers and storytellers?
Molina: Well, I feel like I am part of the next wave of young filmmakers and storytellers. I am very early in my career, and even though I’ve been lucky to have some success, I feel there is still much more to come. There’s a lot of inspiration I find among my peers. Colleagues from college, or people I met in production sets, or in other jobs I’ve had. And seeing them rise among their respective ranks, put out their creative vision forward, and gain momentum and success from that is incredibly motivating for me. So I hope they are finding the same inspiration from my work. I really believe that if the tide rises, all boats float.
What’s next for you? Do you have any films currently in the works?
Molina: Yeah, there are a couple of exciting projects in the works. I am developing a scripted podcast series that I, unfortunately, cannot reveal much about yet, but it’s thematically similar to things I’ve done in the past. During the pandemic, I wrote and directed a scripted podcast called “Just to be Nominated” about an actress that gets killed the night she wins the Oscar, and this new project is not unlike that.
I am also looking to develop my first feature screenplay with the same team I did “Muy Gay Too Mexicano” with. It’s very different in tone; it’s a horror comedy inspired by the great Psycho-biddy films of the 60s and 70s, like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, with a modern twist that I hope sees the light of day very soon.