Eva Longoria made her feature directorial debut with the recent release of Flamin’ Hot, an inspirational, true story about Richard Montañez, a Frito-Lay janitor who drew upon his Mexican-American heritage to create the wildly popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos snack.
Jesse Garcia stars in the Searchlight Pictures feature, along with Annie Gonzalez, who plays his wife, Judy; Dennis Haysbert, who acts as Richard’s mentor, Clarence; and four-time Emmy Award-winner Tony Shalhoub, who plays PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico.
Flamin’ Hot was shot in Albuquerque, NM, back in 2021, with Federico Cantini serving as director of photography. Kayla M. Emter and Liza D. Espinas were both editors on the project. Here, Emter (pictured, right) shares her experience working on the film, which is now streaming on Hulu.
Hi Kayla! Can you give some insight into your editorial workflow?
“While my team and I were working out of Pivotal Post in Burbank, a lot of the editorial collaboration was done through Evercast and Pix. Typically, on a film like this, which has so many active layers of sound and music, I'd implement at least a three-speaker setup in the editing room to give the mix the space it deserved to highlight all aspects. However, because of our remote workflow, it made sense to lean into the stereo setup so the sound mix was more consistent between the editing room and online monitoring. Every project is different, so I've learned to adapt to the needs of the film and what makes sense to work efficiently. Work smart, not hard.”
Can you point to some of your favorite scenes, from an editing standpoint?
“So many scenes in the film are close to my heart, but I truly enjoy a lot of the montages. There are 15, give or take a few! I feel they are very successful and a smart way to speed through Richard's story, but not compromise showing his drive, his intelligence, and his moments of struggle.
“I had a lot of tools at my disposal to bring those sequences to life. Federico Cantini, our incredible DP, created so much movement within the footage that I was never put in a box on what flowed into the next. The sound design was a lot of fun to lean into as it created depth and even more movement. And to round it all out, why not throw in a high-energy iconic Latino song! I really loved exploring the best ways to tell the story of each individual sequence.”
How would you describe the pacing that was required?
“Donn Cambern, a mentor of mine at The American Film Institute, had sage advice he shared throughout his career — ‘Don't confuse and don't bore.’ It's so simple but an extremely valuable reminder to constantly assess our choices and how they impact the audience's engagement with the film as a whole.
“I used that advice as a reminder not to be precious and to keep things moving. Richard's story spans a lot of time, so naturally, there were a lot of emotional highs and lows along the way. It was important that we balance those scenes out, so the audience wouldn't emotionally invest too much in any one of those moments.
“We didn't want Richard's success in coming up with the spicy seasoning idea and cracking the recipe to feel like ‘This is it! He did it! End of story,’ when, in fact, there were many more highs and lows to come. It meant that we had to lift some beautiful moments from those scenes, but it was essential to not fatigue the audience and keep them where we wanted them.”
Were you working with music as you were cutting?
“On this film, I was able to collaborate with the sound and music departments early into the edit, which is so valuable. We had the opportunity to explore a language and creative direction for the soundscape and shape of the music as we refined the cut. Having those subjective decisions workshopped ahead of time made our efficiency and precision on the mix stage much stronger, as we could focus on exploring the balance between voiceover, music, dialogue and sound design.”
Director Eva Longora, on-set
Can you reflect on the use of voiceovers as a storytelling element?
“I loved the use of voiceover in this film. It is such a powerful tool for storytelling, and a huge responsibility to do it right. A lot of work goes into crafting that layer of storytelling, and the minute you pass the assembly stage, it's all up for grabs! As the movie shifted and evolved, so did the voiceover.
“For example, it was originally scripted that the film was nonlinear. There were a few flashback scenes of Richard's childhood and his days with the gang that were interspersed throughout the film. Those scenes had a purpose in their original locations, but we found that Richard's arc and journey was more effective and meaningful when we could appreciate where he came from and his growth. Eva and I worked with Linda Yvette Chávez, our amazing writer, to find the right tone and charm of Richard's voice to tie those new transitions together.
“We also expanded the voiceover to contain more information and context regarding ‘The Chicano Movement’ montage. A lot of people are not familiar with that historic civil rights movement by Mexican-descent Americans in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so we saw it as an opportunity to share the truth on how it impacted the Hispanic community at that time.”
Any final thoughts on this project?
“The movie has impacted me a lot, and I believe it will do the same for many people. I’m drawn to the underdog, rags-to-riches storyline and love that it encourages viewers to pursue their passions, believe in their ideas and work hard to achieve their goals. And it proves that every individual has the potential to make a difference, regardless of their background or circumstances. This film holds a special place in my heart, as it's a very important story that shines a light on an underrepresented community that deserves to be on-screen.
“Some of my favorite projects are those that allow me to play and challenge my choices as an editor. This film had no shortage of layers to explore and push the boundaries of how to best tell Richard's incredible story. I try to approach my work without being too precious, and always challenge what is needed to advance the story and character forward. That's the beauty of editing — you can always take things out or put them back in. The only way to find the best answer is to keep trying. The minute you say something won't work is when it absolutely will. So always try!”
Vanessa Jorge Perry served as music supervisor on Flamin’ Hot. Her career includes supervising music placements for projects that include
Lord of the Rings,
According to Perry (pictured), director Eva Longoria really wanted a Chicano anthemic soundtrack.
“We worked with the composer, Marcelo Zarvos, to create a modern Latin score with a heavy Spanish guitar,” she recalls
As for commercial songs used in the film, Perry says she spent a lot of time researching music through the decades, including those used in films ranging from the 1970s al the way through the 1990s.
“Chicano-anthemic songs from artists like War and Santana,” she recalls, “adding new music from Los Lobos and Ozomatli.”
She also researched the songs that the main character would be listening to around
those times in Southern California.
“The challenge here was that there is wall-to-wall music in the film. I worked with the amazing composer and the very talented music editor, Erica Weiss, to make exact changes and specific decisions on what would be score music and what would be song to convey a certain feeling.
The soundtrack features older Chicano classic songs, and modern Latin songs, with some fun swagger library tracks.”
The team was able to stay within their budget, though there were some challenges tracking down song publishers in Mexico and needing to communicate in Spanish to get the deals done.
“But in the end, it was all resolved and we got it done!”