Elaine Del Valle’s passion for her work is a thing to behold. The multi-talented director, actor, and writer is blazing a path for herself and other Latinas in the arts. Latin Biz Today asked her questions about her work and process. Read her inspiring answers below.
What is your background? Where were you born and raised?
I am a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY.
What were the significant experiences and events that shaped your young life?
I have had many significant experiences in my young life, so much so that I actually wrote an autobiographical young adult novel that recounts them. The book, titled Brownsville Bred, was adapted from my critically acclaimed Off-Broadway stage play of the same name. Both are a Latina’s coming-of-age story as she works through the trials of generational poverty.
Were you bookish? Introverted or extroverted?
From as early as I can remember, I have enjoyed learning. I have always been an overachiever in school. I was also an extrovert. I still enjoy learning and while others may refer to me as an extrovert, I like to think of myself as a confident person who listens as intently as I communicate.
What was your education trajectory? What did you study?
I was a young mom and went to college on and off as I raised my daughter. My college acting professor suggested that I leave community college and study acting professionally in Manhattan. I was fortunate enough to make it into the scene studies class at Carnegie Hall taught by Wynn Handman. I studied there for three years. I also studied improvisation at New York City’s UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and The PIT (People’s Improv Theater). As a filmmaker I continue my writing and directing studies through the Sundance Institute with perhaps the best teacher of all: experience.
What has your career path been?
I began my career as an actress. I enjoyed great success in the commercial and voice-over markets but felt that my potential was never met. I longed for experience in the TV/Film space. There simply weren’t enough good parts for Latina actresses. I began writing to fill that need in me. I wrote a one-woman stage play that depicted my true coming-of-age experience as a Latina who grew up in the welfare projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn. The success of the play taught me the value of the stories I had to share. Moreover, I learned that my audiences were just as hungry for the content. Suddenly, the work was bigger than my personal needs. I felt a responsibility to my community to make content that was authentic to our experience. I was offered a casting director job in commercials and it was my way of maintaining an income while growing my storytelling career. I own and operate Del Valle Productions and Casting, where I develop my own content and help others to achieve their goals in the entertainment space.
What challenges have you faced as a Latina in the arts?
My biggest challenges stem from growing up in generational poverty. I did not have an early foundation and faith to discover and pursue my passions sooner. I was never told I could be a director, producer, writer, actor, artist—I needed the seed and water to grow. I began my journey as a filmmaker later than most. I encourage all females from underserved communities to realize early on that they can pursue careers in entertainment. I encourage them to stay in school and make as many films as they can. You learn from doing. There are so many film programs available now. The challenges continue to present themselves. Speaking specifically as a Latina filmmaker, I guess a big challenge is getting put into a box as “The Latina Filmmaker.” Once people have one “Latina Filmmaker” they feel that they don’t need another…as if we are a box that is checked. Equal pay is also an issue. And, last but not least, is people now dividing us by our skin color and region of origin.
What is your favorite creative activity (writing, acting, producing) and why?
My favorite creative activity is directing, and acting, followed by writing. There is no greater sense of satisfaction than having directed actors to their best performances and bringing everything together to tell an impactful story. It is my greatest joy! Acting will always be a love for me, but it wasn’t until I began directing that I truly understood the depth of responsibility that an actor has to every work. So now, when I step in front of the camera, I come with an intense purpose to serve the story, the vision of its writer and director, and the needs of its protagonist. I am currently a recurring guest star in the new ABC series, QUEENS. It is a terrifically well-written role…and watching a well-oiled network TV series machine was a fascinating experience for me. Indie film directors don’t have the luxury of big teams. I loved and thrived in that pacing and learned so much from each director I got to work with. I even got to shadow the producing director on my off day.
What inspires you in general?
Stories that provoke thought. Hard working individuals that keep grinding even in the face of “No.” Female leaders.
What is a favorite author or creative person whose work brings you joy?
I am absolutely inspired by Ava DuVernay who continues to blaze a path and open doors for other female filmmakers. She has impacted so many lives with the stories she chooses to tell and the work she creates and offers to others. Her films pierce your mind and stay in your heart. Her generosity is inspiring! I also love the story of Charles King of Macro. He is self-made and was at the top of his game as a talent agent before taking a leap of faith to create Macro. He is passionate about the work and that is truly a joy to watch. Last, I am inspired by Ryan Murphy, who I recently learned blazed a path for writers and creators of episodic television to also direct the work. When I was negotiating my contract with CBS for my original one-hour drama series, The System, I’d asked my attorney if we could guarantee that I would direct one of the later episodes. It broke my heart to hear of the clearly defined lanes that writers and creators are forced to stay in…so hearing about Ryan Murphy and especially his Half Initiative program which helps women and minorities break into directing for episodic television is truly inspiring, much needed and appreciated.
Do you have a favorite quote that you use for inspiration or motivation?
My work is my passion and so I never need a break from it. It fuels me. There is no greater satisfaction than working hard and realizing the fruits of your labor. For two decades my mantra has come from Margaret Thatcher who said: “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”
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