While Juan Carlos is the founding editor of the successful and incredibly entertaining website, PopTen, which ranks all the Top Tens one can think of, it would be foolish to try and narrow down this BR!NKer’s activities to just ten things. All you need to know is that this 29-year-old is a brilliant filmmaker and web developer who cares: his second feature film is a documentary about The Possibly Project, a nonprofit where foster kids are provided with a safe environment and get to create their own musical based on personal experiences. If that weren’t enough, Juan Carlos’ White Roof Project seeks to cool down buildings (and subsequently reduce energy waste) by painting NYC roofs with energy-saving white reflective paint.
First off, I absolutely love your online magazine, PopTen. What do you think it is about people’s obsession with lists?
I’ve asked myself the same question for years before I started PopTen too. Why do people make so many lists? My brother and I used to make games out of it on long trips from Florida. Some of them were hilarious, others were embarrassing, and all of them were ten items long. I think it’s the brevity and parsed knowledge that a list gives away de facto that makes them so engaging. Someone else took the time to figure out what they liked and ranked it. Is it interesting? Funny? Do I agree? If I don’t agree what would I have written instead? The conversation begins there and never ends. That’s why I first wanted to make the site.
Which Top Ten has gotten the most buzz on your site?
It depends on what you consider “most buzz.” There is most popularity overall, and then there is the virality of the content over a period of time. The most consistently popular one, not surprisingly, is “Top Ten Porn Stars of the Decade.” A guy named “Chivo,” which translated from Spanish means, “the Goat,” wrote the post. That’s the name we use when the person who wrote it doesn’t want to take credit for it on the internet. However, the biggest spike we’ve had on one post in a month goes to “Top Ten Geek Anthems” – that one rocked our servers for a few days.
Let’s dive into your career as a filmmaker. The person who recommended you for the site mentioned that you had taught yourself how to use a camera, right?
My very first video camera was a rejected Christmas gift that my father received from my mother. Instead of taking it back to the stores she gave it to my brother and me to play around with.
You are a filmmaker currently working on your second feature film — a musical with The Possibility Project, right?
It’s a really unique and fascinating project that I accidentally fell into with open arms. Every year, this non-profit casts 25 foster care youths in a musical in which they write and perform about their own very difficult lives. I was hired to adapt the award-winning play into a feature. It’s basically like The Wire meets Glee, but not really. The process of adapting the play for film has been at once challenging and elucidating. The show is built out of the lives of the cast, but to create some anonymity the cast pairs one person’s story with another. Conceptually they fuse together their emotional arcs as humans inhabiting the same space, and on top of that another cast member plays the part. When writing out the scenes the actor/cast member imbues his or her own personality onto the part, and what comes out of the process is a level of emotional truth that I truly believe to be unique.
Why is this project so important to you?
It’s important to make the movie because of the gravity of the situation with foster care, and how under-served this subsection of our populace has been. Consider this: There are 513,000 children living in foster care in the United States. 50% will not complete high school, 60% will be convicted of a crime, 75% will receive public assistance, and only 6% will even graduate from a community college. The goal is to get the finished film into the hands of as many foster care youths as we can, and empower them to get involved and make change in their own lives. Above and beyond that, we want to make a lasting impact on foster care youth by developing an action-oriented site to get others involved as well. Suffice to say I’m incredibly excited about it, and as far as I can tell it could be one of the first narrative films to be specifically made to spark a social movement, as documentary films many times do.
In the age of Michael Bay, you seem to be one of the rare filmmakers out there trying to make a difference. Why is that, and what do you get from it?
Over the last few months, it has ousted all my other filmmaking experiences. It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something really important with my life. I’m big on volunteering and mentorship as part of a recipe for success in life. I get to work with some brilliant foster care kids who have inspired me in unimaginable ways. So on one level I’ve already won because I get to hang out with awesome people, and we get to impact each others’ lives; on a second level we get to make a film together, which hits on my life goals, and finally if the movie is good we can hopefully make positive change nationwide. So does Michael Bay feel like he lives a purpose-driven life that impacts other people’s lives for the better? And Pearl Harbor doesn’t count because we all know he failed and still made a bazillion dollars.
Who are the filmmakers that you worship?
Worship is such a strong and true word for these guys: John Huston, Paul Verhoeven, David Fincher, Milos Forman, Rob Reiner (the early stuff), Christopher Nolan, Irvin Kershner, and Sergio Leone.
Best movie of 2010 according to you?
I’m with the grain on this one – I loved The Social Network, and it had me thinking all the way home. When I found out the twins were the same person I just shook my head at the audacity of that decision. Only David Fincher.
Finally, how can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
What I need most right now is to set the seeds for a social movement with this film, starting with a crack team of amazing grassroots activists. I want to get people involved who really get transmedia storytelling. Second best thing you can do is sign up for our newsletter, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. We’re just starting to get our online presence going, and we could use all the help we can get. So please tell a few hundred friends.