Allen Maldonado: The Ultimate Multi-Hyphenate
An actor with more than 70 credits to his name (including TBS’ The Last O.G. and ABC’s Black-ish), Maldonado is a writer (Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse), director and entrepreneur. He’s also the creator of Everybody Digital, a streaming app that features short films that might otherwise go unnoticed.
When I spoke to him, he was writing season two of The Last O.G., which also stars Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish.
We talked his packed slate, what it’s like to be in a writer’s room and how he got his start as an actor. Here’s what he had to say:
Eric Walkuski: Lately, you’re doing so many things but you’ve been acting for a while. Was that your first passion?
Allen Maldonado: Yeah. Everything evolved from my acting career more from out of necessity than anything … As an actor, you’re looking to start and find roles … It’s almost insane to think that somebody’s going to write the perfect role for you. So, I began to write.
Then I found my mentor, Michael Kane, who wrote all the roles for Tom Cruise. He took me under his wing and taught me how to write. Then from there went from, ‘now we writing it,’ then, it’s like, ‘okay, who’s going to make it?’ then … ‘let’s do it.’ I begin to wear all these different hats in production; editing, directing, producing to craft service … Fast forward to now, it’s prepared me for all the things and all the opportunities that are beginning to come my way … It’s been a journey but I love it.
EW: How does writing and directing influence your appreciation for those jobs when you’re on the acting side?
Allen Maldonado: It definitely gives you a deeper understanding on the acting side when you know [as] a writer … how to dissect the script better; being able to read between the lines and read underneath everything, trying to go emotionally with the writing outside of just what’s on the page. Even on the directing and all those things, knowing how things are being captured just only makes you a little better on the other side of the camera.
EW: Is acting still your main passion? I’m sure it’s hard to choose, but is that the one that is closest to your heart because that’s how you got started?
Allen Maldonado: I see it as acting is the sun and everything is powered by that.
As long as my acting is illuminating, everything else will continue to flourish and grow and gravitate … into its own separate things. But acting is the sun that drives everything.
EW: When did you know you wanted to pursue it? Was it a difficult road getting started?
Allen Maldonado: My senior year in high school is when it all hit me. I was a basketball player and I had an extra elective and so I chose theater … It was like a fish in the water, it just fit. Everything felt natural, everything felt like what I was born to do with my natural gifts. Basketball was something that was a challenge I had to work really hard to be good at. I knew this wasn’t my natural gift, but through hard work and good work ethic, I was able to get good. So, I transferred all those things from basketball over to acting and found myself three years later on The Young and the Restless.
EW: Fast forward some years and you’re on Survivor’s Remorse and then you make the transition to the writer’s room. How did it feel making that jump?
Allen Maldonado: Man, it was incredible being that I started with my first writing mentor when I was 19 years old. It was something that I held in my back pocket for years … When the opportunity came where I got invited to the writer’s room for Survivor’s Remorse, I was definitely well prepared from working with him and my others mentors on the way up.
It was … empowering. As an actor, when you say ‘actor,’ it gets one response … When you say ‘writer,’ its gets a totally different response. It’s more of a respectable response, which is always fascinating to me. Sometimes, depending on the audience, I’ll lead with writer before I’ll lead with actor.
EW: What are the challenges of transitioning to a writer’s room when you’re used to writing on your own?
Allen Maldonado: I actually enjoy it being that you get an opportunity to build from several different opinions; I call it ‘12 angry men.’ It’s like, your idea is the defendant and you have to defend it. When I go up to pitch an idea, I have to give all the pros and cons and I’d give why it’s innocent and I have to prove its innocence … People are going to poke holes in it; people are going to try to attack it, they’re going to challenge it. That’s how I see it … you have 12 different perspectives. You may be a little insensitive about something that some people are more sensitive to so I think it’s great for you to get the most well-rounded script you can.
EW: Right. And you have to be willing to take that criticism, you have to be ready for your ideas to be shot down.
Allen Maldonado: Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing. For me, it’s not criticisms. It’s a process; the idea is the idea that’s going to spark the idea. Or the idea that may work is not going to work, only to get to the idea that’s not going to work again, only to finally get to an idea that may work to eventually find the idea. It’s all of these different processes and if you’re not aware of that, you can definitely be discouraged … You’ve got to just understand this process and ultimately, it’s the showrunner’s vision … so it’s my job to help facilitate that vision and see what he’s trying to see as best as possible.
EW: When you’re working on your own, what is your writing process like? Take me through how you get started on a script and then what the day-to-day on it is.
Allen Maldonado: Once I’m plugged in, I’m plugged in … Shorts, I usually work those out in a night or so once I’m dialed all the way in.
My process, I usually start with a story and then I do my outline of the script and then I dive into the screenplay … Getting to that process, [that’s] always the trick; it could be me playing music or lighting candles. It all depends on the mood. Sometimes I’ll actually take trips … I’ll just ride up to San Francisco just to clear my head and then I go in there and be locked in a hotel room, order room service and just stay in there for the weekend or go to the beach or I’ll get a place in Malibu … It all depends on what I’m trying to write and what kind of space that I’m trying to be in. I definitely like to be secluded, as most writers do. We like to be in our cave, in our lab or our lair, however you want to call it and get to business.
EW: You mentioned an outline. Are you the kind of writer who needs to know the whole story before you start? Do you know how it’s going to end or do you surprise yourself while you’re writing?
Allen Maldonado: I think it’s a little bit of both for me being that I’ve found that writing an outline makes it easier to make adjustments, rather than writing an entire screenplay and then going back like, ‘this thread doesn’t work,’ … An outline puts you in a position where you can move stuff. It just makes it a little easier to see your vision all the way through and then once you get into the script, once you get into the dialogue, you have more fun in building these scenes … The outline for me is the most vital part of my writing process being that I’m able to see the entire story and see what works without going into a 35 or 60 or 118-page script.
EW: Do you have a dream project that you’re working on; the one thing that you just really want to see get made either as a writer or writer-actor-director?
Allen Maldonado: Wow. I think the Bob Marley story; a Bob Marley biopic, which is, just literally two or three days ago somebody told me I looked like Bob. Years back when I had extremely long hair down to my waist, actual members of his family approached me saying that I looked like Bob … I started doing my research and looking at the images and learning his story and I’m like, ‘wow, this is incredible.’ I think the world deserves to hear how great this man was.
EW: Is that something you’re working on now?
Allen Maldonado: Yes, sir.
EW: Something I really admire about you is you’re a big proponent of short film. Having made a few yourself, you created an app that showcases them. What’s so appealing about that format for you?
Allen Maldonado: Every other genre has exploded … from music videos to commercials to now even Instagram videos and Vine clips … except for short films. There has been no real way to create or generate income from it; it’s just been seen as a stepping stone for filmmakers to get to the next level.
We look to create an industry for short films and reintroduce short films … [They are] the grandfather to all of the things that you see on social media; being able to tell these stories in a minute or less, that’s a short film. These are the things that in the ‘80s you would see before your feature film. You see cartoons, you see shorts … but trailers replaced them and they haven’t recovered since.
We have some award-winning shorts on our platform that may be five years old, but they’re new to anybody that’s watching now just because there’s such a small niche audience for short films … I’m looking to bridge the gap between that audience and the average consumer that goes to AMC on the weekends or watches television or enjoys watching media through social media … and I’m bringing in big-name stars to be a part of the short films.
EW: What aren’t you doing now that you still want to pursue?
Allen Maldonado: Oh, wow. I don’t know yet. I’m doing everything that I feel like I want to continue to grow on as far as from [the] acting side, directing and building this platform with my app. I kind of got everything that I want to do but you know, who knows. Who knows what comes with the future and I might discover something else that I want to tackle.
Screenwriter / Film Critic / Journalist / Reporter
Eric Walkuski is a screenwriter, film critic, journalist and reporter. He is currently a managing editor at JoBlo.com. You can follow Eric on Facebook and Twitter at @ericwalkuski