The life of Sebastián Ortega (46) is different from that of any man or woman of his age. Not only for his prolific career in show business but for his childhood and adolescence. Away from the picadito in the neighborhood street with friends or the afternoon drinking milk with Treble clef on television, the first years of his life were spent in the United States. Between Miami and seasons in Los Angeles – where he “bartered” home with his sister Julieta when he came from California to Miami to visit the family – the third of the Ortega clan was steeped in street culture on the West Coast. Thus began a path that he would never abandon: contact with the world of the suburbs, what is below the surface and survives in a world “Underground”.
Thus, he combined his devotion to the cinema and his passion for the hours on his skate, surfing in the Californian waves, and the mystique with the graffiti on the walls of the less glamorous areas of Los Angeles. Despite being the cradle of cinema and glamor, the city of stars also houses a whole culture and urban art that was born in the most neglected social classes, with a lot of Latino presence. Hip hop and rap was another of Ortega’s devotions, who spent hours listening to Cypress Hill, 50 cent, Eminem and Snoop Dog among others. “I was listening to hip hop, which was not a popular music that was playing on the radios. I am talking about the 80s. At school, I caught my friends with the hip hop theme, graffiti. I began to be interested in all this, which had a very strong mark on my training as a person while I was a teenager, ”he tells us in an interview with Teleshow from his home in Buenos Aires.
The projects of this man so creative and leisurely when speaking led him to link himself with this passion that marked his teen years in the United States. It is for this reason that he decided to produce LA Originals on Netflix, a documentary that brings together hours and material from two of his idols: the tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon and the photographer Estevan Oriol.
In the world of tattoos, Cartoon is Messi, wearing the 10 shirt as the best in his field. Born as Mark Marchado in Los Angeles, this 50-year-old man is a celebrity in “Chicano” street art. If you do not have a Cartoon tatoo on your skin, you are incomplete. This is how all these representatives of the most emblematic music of recent years understood it, who adopted this tattoo artist as one more member of his tours in order to make him mark their skin for life.
Sebastián, an admirer since day one of this man’s work, decided to tell his story, which is also a review of his own experience during his years in the northern country.
– How did you decide to make this documentary that can be quite niche for those who are not lovers of tattoos?
—It is a niche for people from outside the United States because inside the USA, Los Angeles is a very emblematic city, like New York. So there is an interest that has spread across the country several decades ago. They are the two cities that set trends in cultural matters, especially everything that has to do with music, cinema and various other things. So in the United States it is a less niche topic because we all grew up, I actually lived from 1985 to 2000 living there. I left at 10 and returned at 25, so I spent my adolescence there, like many of my friends who are my age, we have grown consuming this massively. So I say that there is not something so niche, it is more popular. Likewise, neither we nor the people of Netflix expected that the series would have the repercussion it is having in the United States, which came out among the 10 most watched programs on Netflix and two days ago is in the top 5. First because it is a documentary. and fictions are generally chosen. Still the subject hit very hard. We were also very lucky to have super famous interviewees who promoted the documentary through the networks. So nothing … happy because in Europe and Asia it is also having a lot of repercussion.
The celebrities mentioned by the producer are nothing more and nothing less than Eminem, Snoop Dog, Ryan Phillippe, the late basketball player Kobe Bryant which conclude in the documentary that all members of a group feel for having Cartoon tattoos.
—From Underground we have consumed very local stories, very Argentine like El Marginal, Tumberos or the same GraduatesHow did this decision to expand into the culture of another country come about?
—I have been looking outside for many years, without neglecting what we do in Argentina. We had it from Clan Story or The Marginal. This documentary also came about because I have been a fan of Cartoon and Oriol’s work since I was young -94 and 95- and I have been following both of them since they started working together. And at that time there were two people who were artists of the under but I was always interested in precisely that art that comes from under. Both in the cinema and in music, and when I came to Argentina I brought a little those concepts and tried to adapt them to our reality. From there, it is born Tumberos, programs that show what is happening in a much more real and stark way than what has been happening. So I took a different form, that’s why my producer is called Underground, because I think the origins and the search come from there and the most genuine thing too. My career over the years gave me the chance to meet Estevan and Cartoon at a meeting at the production company of Sofía Vergara in Los Angeles. And well there we became friends. Estevan was filming material from the early 90’s until 2001, he always read that he wanted to make the film that tells the story of him and Cartoon, but they had never had the possibility to do it. So when I met Estevan we started talking about the issues that we both liked in a business meeting that had nothing to do with it. On the way out he invited me to eat at a Mexican restaurant located on Skid Row, in the area where his studio was, we had some tapas there and I said: “I want to produce the documentary.”
—That was really your dream, to make a documentary about the culture that marked your exit from childhood…?
-Without a doubt LA Originals It is a pleasure that I wanted to give myself to work with those who were my mentors. With those who showed me and put in front of me those elements that are part of my personality today: tattoos, music, clothing.
—How long did it take them to produce LA Originals?
-Since I decided to produce the project, Estevan tells me that he has more than 60 hours of material but he had been stranded in a production company that had advanced a money and the idea had not prospered. I told him “in the next 48 hours I will turn the money over to you, take out all the material and come to Buenos Aires”. And well it was like that, he took out boxes and boxes that had all kinds of formats, covers, super 8 … he took out all the photographic material. This was in May 2016 and he came to Buenos Aires, home, for two weeks. It took us 8 months just to download the material, select it by year, material from cars, from recitals, from the streets. Two friends came to work in Underground, two islands were put together to work on this and it was almost two and a half years of editing only. It was a polishing job until we got it done, and every celebrity that popped up needed a permission for their image.
Sebastián Ortega belongs to that group of people who seem to always be able to do whatever he wants. But that, even so, does not imply a rebellion without cause adrift. Behind the image of this man who does not wear a suit or portfolio, and tattoos are part of his skin, there is an intense and passionate worker. “There are times when I say ‘I got away with it,’ I avoided what I always wanted to do was not have to meet a schedule from 8 to 17, have to wear a suit, not respond to anyone. I do what I want and what I like. I can go to work as I sing, surround myself with the people I choose and indulge in a lot of tastes that generally does not happen. Not everyone has the luck and the possibility. I was lucky that the doors were opened for me to do what I am truly passionate about and to do it with a lot of passion and admiration ”, he comments as a balance of what he has done so far in his career.
As a result of the quarantine, many of the projects planned to be recorded this year are halted, including the Latin American version of 100 days to fall in love, in which Carla Peterson had a stake.
—At the rate of production they were carrying out, this quarantine must be affecting their work. What specific projects are holding back?
“It’s all slowing down, unfortunately.” I work the same or more hours than before and we are working on everything that has to do with books, the authorial processes. Right now we are working on 8 different projects, so it is to cut with a group of authors and, after half an hour, be back talking to others. The chip needs to be changed quickly. There are several projects, Underground was sold last year and is part of NBC, Telemundo and Universal and we have global agreements with Netflix among other platforms. Our company is launching Peacock which is another new platform from NBC and Universal. So we are doing projects for various platforms and also for Telemundo. In addition to 100 days .. we are with two more strips, which are on the grid. What happens is that all this is putting in check the dates that we had planned.
—And the fourth season of The marginal 4, when will it arrive?
—We were about to start recording in June. New jail, all new, the books are incredible, the truth is that I am super excited about this season because it is a breath of fresh air after having gone backwards, and having reached what was the end of the first season, characters appear new and the dynamics of the prison is totally different, so I’m like a boy with a new chiche. Juan Minujín returns, the Borges return, there will be a sub 21 in this jail too. It gets great and we are going to have new characters and actors.
—What he accomplished The Marginal was that beyond the central stories, he gave us incredible secondary characters ..
—It is that the stories that work best are the stories of the characters. The fictions that were great successes like Graduates, Tumberos, El Marginal, Los Roldán, The successful Pells or La Lola they had very complex characters.
—And in the midst of this look into the past, if you had to choose your fiction, your son within your work, what would it be?
—Uff … look … the one I identify with the most is Graduates Because it is a program that from the moment I thought about it until I realized it, almost 10 years passed. It all started by eating a barbecue at the house of a close friend of mine, who is Andy Kusnetzoff, and who was actually going to star in it. We were on the balcony, he had a very nice terrace, and we see a guy pass by with 20 dogs who was on his way to the plaza, was smoking a joint and I said to Andy: “This kid must have it so much better than us, that we are re-stressed “, at that time I was about to start recording The RoldánI was preproducing Being urban, I had Argentine customs on the air … it was a very busy year, but all that burden generates the idea that you have to continue, you have to maintain, and I was 28 years old. Then this super relaxed kid passes by (laughs). And a little I also saw myself reflected in it, because beyond that one works and spends a lot of time doing what they do, I don’t feel like a job.
Sebastián Ortega managed to far exceed being the “son of”. It costs at this point in his career to tie him in artistic terms to his father, the beloved and mythical Ramón “Palito” Ortega. He is part (yes, undoubtedly) of a clan of popular figures in the world of Argentine show business. Most of his brothers (six in total) are dedicated to the artistic world and each one forged his way beyond the weight of the surname, which was a necessary reason but not enough in any of those lives.
—In what way did your parents influence this particular creative process?
—The fact that my parents made the decision to move to the United States in 85, made my brothers and I move to a place where the world was opened to us directly. Go to a place where the offer was huge. Going to school with people who spoke another language, who gave me cassettes that they recorded. I began to train with a non-corporate culture, which had to do with what was happening on the street. I was skateboarding for many years and spending a lot of time on the street. I used to go to Downton a lot when I was Downtown. And Julieta shortly after we moved, she went to live in Anna Strasberg’s house to study theater in Los Angeles, so in the summer I liked surfing a lot and in Miami there were not so many waves, she came to visit my parents and his apartment was free in Los Angeles and there he took advantage. That I did many summers and I was soaking up what was the culture of Los Angeles, from 88 to 93 without stopping. And there I began to discover this whole world, the culture of Western California that for me is the best. There is nothing like Californian culture. And well, the rise of my career gave me the opportunity to meet Cartoon and Oriol and fulfill this dream, which is to be part of this circle of these artists who had such an influence on my life. The idea was to offer the best tribute that could be done to the West Coast from a very small producer, with our Argentine editors, with a friend of mine who is Francisco Pugliese, who is the son of Nono Pugliese, who lives in Los Angeles. He would say “we have to work together” until this project appeared. We had to travel everywhere … to Detroit to make Eminem, to New York to make Kobe Bryant, who sadly passed away recently but is a very representative emblem of what Los Angeles is. It is a documentary that you are entering little by little, but when it ends it begins to close the circle on what we are thinking about.
—Beyond budget and investment, which are, with respect to Argentina, very different, what aspects should the industry of our country learn from Hollywood?
– Culture in general terms is the same everywhere. In the United States you will also see things that you will not like, things that look like a puppet, prong and also things that are great. And the same thing happens to me here: I see things that are very good and others that make me feel ashamed. Culturally, Argentina is a country that is far ahead of the rest of Latin America, but there is only one obstacle: bringing our language to a neutral, so that they can consume it in the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries, because the Argentine accent does not enter . It is proven that the tone does not enter. Outside they buy the formats, they love the performances but the accent doesn’t fit. The “I” and the “you” do not enter … there is the “you” and the “ió”.
—You say that we should change it…
“The ragpickers are already doing it, which is why they are having so much success around the world.” That is why I say that generations are already realizing it, they are coming better and they have an evolution in the Internet and in the evolution of the information that is making them realize that they have to start changing their pronunciation to reach another market. And today we have ragpickers who are all the rage in Mexico, Colombia, all of Latin America or Spain, but it is because they are already modifying their language to a more universal one. Another issue is also trying to always look for the truth, more than anything in the miniseries, and look for our characters to talk about the truth. In the documentary of LA Originals There is a lot of talk about that, talk about Oriol’s photos “being true”, you see the gangsters, you see the girls getting on those cars and you say, “This is for real, this is real shit”, as Cartoon says. We have to get closer to reality, if we are going to talk about football let’s play it thoroughly, if we are going to talk about marginality let’s play it thoroughly too. Beyond that we add additives and create our own universe, but that people feel that the danger is there. That is why we mix the actors with ex-convicts who end up having roles with names, surnames and dialogues. They are people who have been there, who have lived. I would like that to be seen a little more, to be less a pamphleteer. Something I also admire about Americans is their training.
—Of course, you see for example Hugh Jackman doing Wolverine and preparing hours training and then singing and dancing to The Miserables or The Great Showman …
“They are always forming.” You never finish training and that is something that is lacking in Argentina. It is like doctors, who are trained throughout life. Acting advances like science.
—If you had to make a ranking of series that are not from your producer, where would you go?
—I am a fan of The Sopranos. I was actually lucky and when we won with The Marginal in Paris the Cinemania award, the president of the jury was David Chase – great creator of The soprano– I do not usually travel to festivals, Pablo (Culell) usually travels, but at that moment a Frenchman starts to call who had been fascinated by the series that had not yet been released. For the Cinemanía award, it was necessary to present series that had not been released and we saved The Marginal at the request of Dori Media and we were asked to send chapters. They started calling us and told us that we had been among the 800 chosen … among the 200 … and one day they called us and told us ‘they have to travel’ because there was a lot of chance of winning. And if they tell you to travel it is because, clearly, you won. They wanted me to travel and this French boy tells me: “Look, David Chase is the president of the jury, you can’t not come.” And I say “Who? David Chase chose The Marginal!! ?? ” We competed with series that had cost seven million dollars and even more with David Chase, who was responsible for my decision to dedicate myself to this. It was an incredible experience. I’m also a fan of Mad Men. Those are my favorites.
Seba’s life – as everyone calls him – is also divided into his hours as a father. From his relationship with Guillermina Valdés, his sons Dante, Paloma and Helena were born, who seemed to continue with the almost family mandate of dedicating themselves to some branch of the artistic world. “Paloma finishes this year 5th and wants to study filmmaking, everyone has an artistic bent, Dante is full of music, he is the greatest. Helena we still don’t know. She is 14 years old and she would have liked to be a soccer player, she went to try River but she realized that she has little chance of being a figure. He still likes it full-fledged but who tells you that he faces it from sports journalism to be close to sport? The only thing I aspire to is that they do what they like, that they do not do something that they do not feel that they are not passionate about, ”says Ortega.
—Now that they are older, do your children usually join your productions?
—With some projects they are added more than others, more than anything that is discussed at school. For example, to recordings of The Marginal They all wanted to come and bring friends. Something curious happened when my oldest son’s graduation party, which I went with my old men, made as a video that the teachers acting as prisoners of San Onofre acted. It is a nice way to communicate with children. For me, that my children can see with pride what I do, beyond the age and generational differences, it is a very good channel of communication and understanding. And that your friends also like and enjoy what we do in the production company, for me it is great. But it has a little to do with what we were talking about, that spirit that formed me as a teenager and continue enjoying and tanning it.
—The international impact of your fictional products is beginning to generate significant interest. Did you have any situation outside of Argentina in which you felt this recognition?
—Look, last year my friend Gastón Gaudio was going to the US Open and on top of an Uber the driver asked him where he was from, he told him he was from Argentina. “Argentina, The Marginal“He starts asking him questions about the characters, then he called me and says” I want to take you here with a friend who has to ask you about The Marginal “It was just the end of the first season. I was very funny when someone on top of an Uber asked that. Martina Gusman also … when she went with her husband Pablo Trapero to France they stopped her on the street for the series. And well, those are the things that television has … now that you have to take advantage of. Thanks to these platforms we are all on equal terms, beyond budgets, which are smaller here … But I say that to see talent there always have to be good ideas and novel situations, then someone with more budget will come and in a language in which we all understand equally. Now we have seven years ahead with Telemundo and NBC in which we hope we can continue expanding.
Sebastián Ortega’s career seems to have no ceiling, globalization and the arrival of platforms and internationally thought-out content seem to be the key to the expansion of his career that has to do with the effort, discipline and love that generates each new work adventure.