ED- The Eerie Digest is very pleased to introduce producer/writer Jeff Bonilla to all of our readers. Jeff, you originally started as a police officer. Can you tell us how you transitioned into the entertainment industry?
JB- I’d always had an interest in the entertainment industry even as a kid. I remember watching commercials and thinking that guy or girl was really good etc., and then a year later seeing the guy from the commercial on a TV show or movie and thinking “wow I was right”. This happened a couple of times. Kind of silly that a little kid would be checking out actors on commercials. Guess I should have been an agent or casting director now that I think about it.
ED – That is funny. Are any of those actors anyone we would know?
JB – Actually yeah. JoBeth Williams and Ted Danson are two that I remember. Also Kate Vernon.
ED – You co-authored a critically acclaimed book about your days as a police officer called “So You Want To Be A Cop.” Was that the impetus for your writing career in Hollywood?
JB- Well the book was really born out of necessity and frustration. Frank Pickens (co-author) and I were parked side by side in our patrol cars one night having a discussion on the craziness of police work and how it would have been great if we had prior knowledge of what were really getting ourselves into by becoming cops. That was how we hit upon the idea for the book since there really wasn’t anything like it out there. There was information on taking the tests to become a cop but nothing that really revealed the inner workings of becoming a cop, and what to expect from a career standpoint. Anyway, Frank was a closet writer and journalism major and I was somewhat of a writer. Mostly songwriting at that point, but I knew the book was something that had to be done. It really lit a fire under us creatively. It received great reviews from the law enforcement community across the country and to this day is still viable for anyone interested in entering the law enforcement field.
ED – So you had no prior writing experience before writing the book?
JB – I do remember winning a couple of writing competitions in grade school. But I never considered writing as a career nor did I do much writing afterwards. That came much later in life. I’m not that disciplined when it comes to writing. In other words I don’t write every single day just for the sake of writing or keeping my chops up. For me it’s always been from inspiration – but when I hit that zone then I’m good to go. I’ve had a couple of scripts optioned out here and I’ve had some recognizable actors attached to a couple of projects, which for me is validation on my writing.
ED- You mentioned songwriting and I noticed you also composed music for one of your films, ‘2 Hour Parking’. Tell us about this and about your music beginnings as well.
JB- ‘2 Hour Parking’ was a friends short film and I contributed a song and co-produced the short. Funny little short about the frustrations of finding parking in Los Angeles and not getting tickets or towed. As far as songwriting goes, I’ve been writing songs now for about 30 years so I have a pretty good handle on songwriting as a craft. It’s something I’ve kept personal and have not ventured too much into trying to exploit my songs commercially, but through my songwriting I have been able to meet some of my all time songwriting heroes and learn pearls of wisdom from their journey. For me, meeting an artist like Dan Fogelberg, or Kenny Loggins, and talking about songs with them is probably the equivalent to a young actor meeting Al Pacino, or Dinero, and talking acting with them. It’s a thrill and completely satisfying when you have a finished song, book, or screenplay that really works. And you always have artists that you admire to keep you inspired and striving to improve your craft.
ED- Will you be incorporating your songs into any future projects?
JB- I just finished directing a short film I wrote and I have a couple of songs I’ll be incorporating into the storyline that I think will work nicely.
ED- Tell us a little about this film.
JB- It’s called “Chakra Love” and it’s about a guy who finds out that the object of his affection only takes love advice from a psychic.. So he bribes the psychic into telling her that he is her soul mate. Of course things don’t turn out the way he expects. It’s one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ stories. It’s a lot of fun with some great performances by amazing actors.
ED- Can you tell us about the cast?
JB- Absolutely. Cole Carson plays Leo. Cole is a very talented and intuitive actor and is the perfect Leo. He’s also really technically proficient on the set and I learned a lot from working with him. He’s a great guy as well. He has a couple of indie movies out now and I predict you will be seeing a lot from Cole in the near future. It’s funny but going back to what I said earlier about discovering Ted Danson when I was a kid…(laughs). When we were casting for “Chakra” I saw Cole’s reel and I remember just having that feeling that he was the one. So I was hoping he would show up to the audition and sure enough when he came in – he just had that quality I was looking for and of course he was brilliant in the audition.
Taylor Treadwell plays April. Taylor is an amazing actress full of charisma and amazing acting chops. She’s also pretty as hell to look at. She just worked with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in “Knight and Day” so I am extremely jealous she got to meet, AND work, with those two. Kidding aside, Taylor is great. She is that gal in the office that everyone loves, just like the character of April. Keep an eye on Taylor. Plus she has a cool name.
We were having trouble finding an actor to play one of the crucial supporting roles of Debbie and I had a couple of actresses come back and read twice. I then double checked all the submissions and realized I had inadvertently missed one actress. That turned out to be the supremely talented and funny Magi Loucks. I would have cast her just from her photo cause she’s exactly what I envisioned in my mind, but then she came in and just knocked it out of the park. She read this one line that had been a tongue twister for every other actress and just nailed it like it was something she said on a daily basis. My producer Keith Bowden and I just looked at each other and smiled. The search was over. Magi needs to be on a TV series like yesterday.
I could go on talking about the rest of the cast for days because they are all fantastic, but overall it was just a great experience all around with cast and crew combined. Everyone really believed in the project and put forth their talent and time to make it happen and I am very grateful and enriched by their generosity. I think the film will be something very special when it’s all said and done.
ED- When and where can we see it?
JB- We need to shoot a couple of pickups and we are starting post this week. Don’t worry, I will Facebook it when it’s ready. Maybe have a little red carpet premiere since it seems to be the thing to do… this is Hollywood after all.
JB- Well I have a couple of things in development that I can’t really get into because of the particulars but I can say I will be collaborating with a well known director on one of her projects and I am really looking forward to that experience. I just finished up collaborating on a fun script called ‘Little Hollywood’. I wrote it with my friend James Mason who was also my first AD on Chakra Love. We just sent it to Jason “Weeman” Acuna, who really loves it, so we’ll see where that leads. I find in writing that sometimes it helps to focus on a particular actor and write with him or her in mind. They may never read it but it’s a starting point. You can always mold the character anyway you want during the writing process but if you are stuck and don’t know where to begin, sometimes that works.
ED – Have you written anything with a law enforcement theme?
JB – Well Marilyn Webber and I wrote a TV series about teen detectives which is very dear to my heart and it has been optioned a couple of times but it has yet to make it to the screen. I’m actually thinking of getting a hold of all the other former cops out here in Hollywood and together creating the ultimate TV cop show. But it would be hard to top ‘The Shield’. I loved that show.
ED- Are there more projects that you have your sights on?
JB- I’m writing a couple of more things for myself to direct and pitching a bunch of reality show concepts.
ED – Are you a fan of reality shows?
JB – I’m not a faithful fan to any particular show but I catch an episode here and there of a few different shows. I found myself watching about five episodes in a row of the Kardashians one weekend. I had never seen the show before and I was watching while doing laundry and, next thing you know, I’m sitting on the couch and totally into it with laundry scattered about. It’s really a well produced show however real it may, or may not, be. I just caught an episode of ‘Whale Wars’ and thought that was great. Their production office is right next door to ours so I was getting some inside scoop on what’s coming up this season. Great show. I love coming up with new ideas/concepts for reality shows and going out and pitching. Last year I created a really cool show with David Faustino (‘Married with Children’), and Corin Nemec (‘Stargate’), but the darn thing got stuck in development hell which was real disappointing. But we’ve got some really great material this year so I think something will end up on TV.
JB – Ha! Life on the streets of Hollywood is much more dangerous than life on the street as a cop. As a cop you have somewhat of an idea of who the bad guys are….
ED- Jeff, it has been fabulous being able to have this interview with you, and we thank you for taking your time and sharing your career with our readers. Please promise that you will keep us informed about all your up-and-coming productions so that our readers can stay informed of your progress.
JB – Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity. Keep up the good work on your great magazine.