CSUDH’s Hollywood by the Horns program welcomed acclaimed comedian, actor, and writer Chris Estrada to campus on April 28 for an evening of conversation and a screening of an episode of his hit series This Fool, produced by Fred Armisen, which airs on Hulu.
“Hollywood by the Horns functions in large part to create opportunities for CSUDH students to interact with professionals in film and television,” said Toddy Eames, an associate professor of Film, TV & Media who runs the program and served as coordinator for the event.
Estrada appeared before a standing room only audience in Ballroom B of Locker Student Union. He has both a personal and professional connection to the campus. His sister graduated from CSUDH. Comedian and actor Jesus Trejo, a writer for This Fool, is a fellow Toro.
After a brief introduction, attendees watched Episode 6 (“Los Botes”) from the first season, which premiered in August last year. The show has since been renewed for a second season, which is scheduled for release on July 28.
The screening was followed by a wide-ranging discussion of Estrada’s life and work, moderated by Emily Ziff Griffin. A successful novelist, educator, and filmmaker, Griffin is also the co-founder of CSUDH’s Industry Professional Mentorship Program.
Stand-up comedy, rather than any formal training, provided the connections that allowed Estrada to pursue writing for television, he told Griffin when asked about how he got his start. “I was working three jobs, but I knew I wanted to be a TV writer. I started doing stand-up, and that was how I met the people who co-created the show with me.”
This Fool is based on Estrada’s stand-up act and his own family history. It tells the story of Julio Lopez, played by Estrada, essentially a good guy with a heart of gold who is eager to help everyone else but himself. Estrada is also a writer and executive producer for the show.
“The series explores Julio’s attempts to better his community, overcome his co-dependency issues with his family, and navigate working class life in South Central Los Angeles,” Eames said in her introduction to the screening.
When Griffin asked about the cinematic quality of the show and the way episodes sometimes visually escalate in surreal ways, Estrada said that was an approach decided on at the very beginning. “When we pitched the show to different networks, we pitched it as the film Friday but directed by the Coen Brothers.”
Estrada included some practical advice for aspiring TV and film writers in the audience about making a successful pitch. “Know what you’re talking about. Have a very clear vision. I pitched a cartoon once, and I said it could be for regular TV or for cable. It could be for adults, or it could be for everyone. They knew that I didn’t really know what it was.”
Christine Cortez, a senior Film, TV & Media major, said Estrada’s personal story resonated with her. “It’s comforting to see my experiences on the screen and know that other people have shared those same feelings of community with their family,” she said.
Estrada’s ability to find humor and depth in his personal experiences was inspiring, said Jaylene Castro, also a senior Film, TV & Media major. “I feel like a lot of people think their own experience isn’t big enough or unique enough. But Estrada showed that people around the world can relate.”
Estrada offered some final words of wisdom for students getting ready to take their first steps toward a career in television and film. “Try to be part of a community and find others who are as passionate as you,” he said.
Estrada added that you shouldn’t fear changing direction if you find you no longer feel passionate about something, and that there are a lot of different creative opportunities in TV and film.
“You might try writing or something else and realize that you don’t love it. Falling out of love with something is not failure.”