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How Music Supervisor Vanessa Jorge Perry Worked with Eva Longoria to Bring Chicano Music to Flamin’ Hot

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Jesse Garcia and Dennis Haysbert in FLAMIN’ HOT. (Credit: Anna Kooris/ Searchlight Pictures)

Vanessa Jorge Perry is feeling flamin’ hot. After more than two decades spent handling a variety of music-oriented positions – including Music Supervisor and Director of Music – and placing music in indie films, trailers, videogames, television shows, and promos, she’s stepped up to the plate big-time for Eva Longoria’s well-received feature directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot.

The film, now streaming on Hulu and Disney+, centers on Richard Montanez (Jesse Garcia), the blue-collar Mexican immigrant and Frito-Lay plant janitor who – with help from his family and his community – in 1992 created the blockbuster Flamin’ Hot Cheeto that saved the then-struggling company. Longoria tells a heartfelt, feel-good tale. To tell it, she brought together a cast and crew consisting predominantly of LatinX talent, including Perry. 

Below the Line recently chatted via Zoom with Perry. During our exclusive conversation, she touched on discovering music as a child, her first meeting with Longoria, selecting the music for Flamin’ Hot, and her plans for the future.

[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length]

Flamin Hot
Vanessa Jorge Perry (Credit: Lumos PR)

Below the Line: Take us through the early days of your relationship with music. How’d the passion become a job?

Vanessa Jorge Perry: First of all, my mom considers herself a singer, so she would be playing music and singing around the house when we were younger, but she wanted us to take up instruments as kids. I took up the piano around seven. From seven to 10, I played the piano. I took basic lessons, but I never was really good at reading music. I pretty much played from ear. From that, I got into singing and I loved it. I would sing in the school choir when I was little. That took me up until high school. I sang in a vocal ensemble in high school, and then I sang in a jazz vocal ensemble in college. I tried out for that ensemble not knowing how to read music and still made it on the team, which I thought was great, but it was difficult for me.

I’ve always had a love for music. I was into making mixes when I was a kid, recording from recorder to another. Recording for my friends, I would make tons of playlists. I would grab one machine and another, and just play around with making music. I was always into having the right song for the right moment. In my family, I was always the DJ. I was always into the music and scores for films.

BTL: Such as?

VJP: One of my favorites as a child, I remember, was The Mission by Ennio Morricone. I would play that over and over again. I was 12 or 13 when that came out, and I just dove into that. I was so obsessed with that score. I knew that I loved this music, film, composers, and scores. I didn’t realize that that was a career for me. At that age, you don’t really know that that exists for you. I went through college doing music ensemble as a hobby or something fun, not taking that seriously.

BTL: What career path did you expect? 

I got into journalism and I thought that I would be a producer or director. I actually wanted to be in front of the camera. I wanted to be an entertainment news reporter. The first time I saw myself in front of the camera, I was like, “Well, I definitely don’t want to do that.” I got into producing and directing. I pretty much looked for internships in the entertainment industry, and I got my first internship at Entertainment Tonight on the Paramount lot. I started there as an intern and worked my way up as a Production Assistant. I was a production assistant there for a while, until I heard that the Music Supervisor was leaving. It meant a little bit more money from the measly paycheck that they were giving me. I was in my twenties, and I was like, “Oh, I want to do that. What’s that?” I started fighting for that position and they were like, “Sure! The guy’s leaving, you can have it.”

I started as a Music Supervisor at Entertainment Tonight. They called it the University of Entertainment Tonight, because you learned while you were there. I taught myself cue sheets. I taught myself how to pick music, work with libraries, and work with composers. I worked there for about five years. I worked on so many TV shows there, different branches and spin-offs of Entertainment Tonight. As you have it, they wouldn’t give me a raise. I quit one day, and the next day my head hunter was like, “They’re looking for a Music Supervisor at this place called The Ant Farm.” I was like, “Okay, what’s that?” Next thing you know, I interviewed and I started as a Music Supervisor in movie trailers, and that put me into a trajectory of motion picture advertising. I would be selecting the music for the trailers. One of my first big trailers was for the movie Sideways. I placed some music in that one. It was a big hit, and it won awards.

BTL: And then you went to Aspect…

VJP: I was there for a good seven years, and then I went to Aspect. I was the Music Director there for another five years. Then I had my children and I started freelancing from there. In the last eight years, I’ve been freelancing and still working with movie trailers, but also jumping into indie movies and working on video game trailers and content; just doing everything that I can get my hands on.

I’m on the board of directors for the Guild of Music Supervisors. Staying in it and working in music, I was approached by John Houlihan at Fox Searchlight, and he was saying that Eva Longoria was looking for Latin Music Supervisors. There’s not a lot out there, so they were opening up their search. I interviewed with her and DeVon Franklin, and, sure enough, got the job.

I’d always done indies here or there. I’ve worked on two or three different, small indies, either helping out with licensing or music selection. There was always a desire to do that. I love trailers, but once you’re in this niche, you’re placed there and it’s hard to get out. I feel like (working on features) was always a dream of mine, I just didn’t know how to get there. Of course, I’ve always had the connections and I know all the people, but it’s hard — especially freelancing — trying to get those gigs sometimes.   

Eva Longoria on set of FLAMIN’ HOT. (Credit: Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

BTL: How did your first meeting with Eva Longoria go? And what guidance did she give you as to what she wanted and needed from you for Flamin’ Hot?   

VJP: She’s amazing because she knows what she wants. She really wanted — not just in front of the camera, but behind it — a Latino presence. She wanted the sound of this movie to be a Chicano anthem and a Latin-forward music soundtrack. Her interview with me, I was upfront with her. I said, “I’m pretty green on the whole bigger movie process, but I’ve done it for so many years, I know I can do this.” She replied with, “Well, this is my first time directing a big movie, so I think this is a great fit.” She was cool and down to Earth. She knows what she wants in terms of sounds, so it was actually fun to work with her. As you know, during COVID we were working a lot like this on Zoom and Evercast, so it was a unique experience.   

BTL: Some Directors say they have very specific music in mind for their movies. Other Directors say the music came later via their Music Supervisors, and they signed off on it. And some Directors explain that the music in their movie was a combination of those elements and in some cases, a studio saying, “We have a deal with so-and-so, you have to find a place for this song.” What was your experience on Flamin’ Hot?   

VJP: Eva had some clear ideas. It would be funny. She would pick this song, for example, “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” In the scene, it didn’t work because it was a 1974 scene. We were like, “Well, this song wasn’t around.” It was a cool collaboration of, “Why do you think this works? Why doesn’t this work?” There was another artist, a female artist, and I said, “This sound should be a male artist here.” There wasn’t a lot from the studio, which is great. I pretty much had free range with the music. A lot of it was just me, the Music Editor, Erica Weiss,and the Editor, Kayla Emter, of the movie putting a lot of stuff in, showing it to her, and her saying yes or no.   

BTL: What did Erica bring to the table for you? 

VJP: She was amazing. She made it so effortless and a great integration of music. Just pitching a lot of stuff to her over and over for certain scenes.

Flamin Hot
Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones in FLAMIN’ HOT. (Credit: Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

BTL: What songs were you personally most excited to use in the movie, and which do you think worked best?   

VJP: Oh my gosh, there were so many good ones. There were ones I definitely fought for like “La Raza,” which was in the scene where all the gangsters come into the factory. I loved that; that was a childhood song for me, but also such a good Chicano anthemic song. “The Cisco Kid” in the boardroom scenes was great, and I really wanted War to be on this soundtrack.

There were so many anthemic Chicano sounds that I was fighting for with this movie, including Santana. The newer stuff, like Ozomatli. I got my hands on their album before it came out. “Mi Destino” was played during the scene where they’re putting their own culture and their own flavors into the Cheetos slurry, the flaming hot slurry. “Mi Destino” is my destiny, and I had a good connection with that song as well, so I was excited that that also made it in.   

BTL: You mentioned before that much of your work on this was done by Zoom due to the pandemic. What was it like to flip on your screen and see so many Latina and Latino faces collaborating with you on this film?

VJP: I honestly get choked up when I think about it, because it was inspirational. It’s an inspirational movie, but also Eva made an inspirational journey through the whole process. She started out the interview and hiring me by saying, “I want this to be female Latinas or Latinos in general, as much as possible.”

Flipping on the Zoom and working with a female presence was cool. I’m a mother of two, so seeing Eva with her child on her lap while we’re Zooming or my kids coming home from school and we’re Zooming — Erica Weis also has kids – Eva was very flexible and understanding of what was going on. That representation is important, not only for Latinos, but also for women in this industry.   

BTL: Now that you’ve done a feature, do you want to do more?

VJP: I want to do them more. It’s such a fun journey working on a movie. It’s different from trailers. With trailers, it’s quick and fast-paced. I’ve had music supervisors who do films actually try to search for trailers and it’s overwhelming. It’s fast-paced, and they need things that day. The movie journey is different; it’s cool, I would love to do both, and I think that I can.   

Flamin’ Hot is streaming now on Hulu and Disney+. 

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