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Step Aside, “Serial”: Wilmington Filmmakers Produce 10-Part Crime Drama

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Ana Quiroz-Samayoa and Yari Olivo-Camacho, the masterminds behind “Maintain,” figured each episode of their new Delaware-born web series might get about 100 views, maybe 150 if word really traveled around. With hundreds of hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute, they faced stiff competition from cats playing piano, people falling awkwardly and other viral fodder.

They underestimated. By a lot.

The first episode of their 10-part crime drama, which premiered earlier this year, has attracted 20,000 views, with views of approximately 10,000 to 18,000 for subsequent episodes—not bad for a pair of young filmmakers who wrote, shot, directed and edited their debut project on a shoestring budget while having to balance graduating from college and 9-to-5 jobs.

Quiroz-Samayoa, 25, and Olivo-Camacho, 26, may have tried to keep their expectations in check, but the cast knew the two had created something special.

“It’s the least surprising thing that ‘Maintain’ has done so well,” says 22-year-old Rosemary Lynne, a Wilmington resident and one of the show’s stars. “I knew while reading the script and filming the scenes that audiences would love it.”

Quiroz-Samayoa and Olivo-Camacho met in a film class at Wilmington University. They hit it off immediately, bonding over their mutual love of telenovelas and their quest to enter the movie business—a tough field to crack for minority women, especially in Delaware.

“Nobody was going to give me a shot to be director while I’m still in school,” says Quiroz-Samayoa, of Wilmington.

Seeing limited options, the two founded the independent film production company Las Mijas Productions in 2014 to create thought-provoking, intelligent and diverse entertainment with commercial appeal. The next year, friend Andrea Higgins joined the team, assisting with producing, casting, styling and marketing.

Anxious about the new venture, Olivo-Camacho, also of Wilmington, says their desire to craft interesting stories quickly settled the butterflies. “All our worries were pushed to the side because of that,” she explains.

The inspiration behind “Maintain” came from a dream Quiroz-Samayoa had about a young man leaving a crime scene. From there, she spent the next 10 days writing the script. 

The story revolves around Danny, a struggling college student (played by Nicholas Pontrelli), who seeks help from his professor, Katherine (played by Dionne Williford), to obtain a part-time job as a janitor. When Danny returns the favor, he ends up getting involved in a murderous scandal. (To reveal any more details would spoil the fun, but be prepared for some plot twists and turns.)

They shot “Maintain” off and on over a period of two months last year. Much of the filming happened at night and on weekends to jibe with everyone’s school, family and work schedules. During the day, Olivo-Camacho is a clinical IT specialist, and Quiroz-Samayoa an administrative assistant.

Being their first production, they only had about a $2,500 budget—barely a fraction of what you would see for most typical Hollywood shows.

“We exhausted the amount of favors we asked,” laughs Quiroz-Samayoa, noting that most of the filming took place at their friends’ houses in Wilmington, Hockessin and New Castle.

No fancy catering or food trucks appeared on set, either. Olivo-Camacho cooked many of the meals for the cast. 

Nobody seemed to mind the bootstrapping, as the two say they owe much to their focused, hardworking team.

“It never seemed like it was a job,” Olivo-Camacho says. “We were all having so much fun.”

Among the cast, the feelings were mutual. “Working with Ana and Yari was a blast,” says Pontrelli, 24, who now attends the Groundlings School of Improv in Los Angeles. “Their strongest skills on set were having clear communication and making the environment a positive place to be.”

Williford, 41, of Hockessin, describes the experience as “an absolute pleasure.”

“They’re both very young, but their professionalism really set the tone for the entire production,” she says. “Some artists forget that simply having the creative force isn’t enough, but this is not a failing these ladies have. That’s a huge part of the reason why ‘Maintain’ has been a success.”

The two college students slated to graduate this summer remain humble amidst the heaps of praise. Instead, they choose to focus on the relatable characters as one of the show’s strongest attributes. 

“While Danny and Katherine aren’t real, we have all still met them in one way or another,” says Quiroz-Samayoa, who also believes the series format played a large part in the high level of audience engagement.

Rather than dumping all the 8- to 10-minute-long episodes online at once, like many popular web shows do today, they released one a week—with an extended break at the series’ halfway point.

“We build suspense and angst, which attracts our viewers,” Olivo-Camacho says. 

Despite the relative success of “Maintain,” a second season needs some help to get rolling. Quiroz-Samayoa has outlined the script, but the shooting will depend on the amount of money they can raise.

Quiroz-Samayoa and Olivo-Camacho also plan to explore traditional TV and movie projects for Las Mijas Productions, even if more “Maintain” doesn’t pan out. Either way, they’ve already made a mark.

“‘Maintain’ was a true blessing in my life in terms of really solidifying what I want to do with a career in acting,” Pontrelli says. “It has also been a testament to women of ethnicity in the entertainment industry. I feel as if this story can embolden others to take on positions of influence, such as directors, producers and writers.”

The filmmakers say they would love to be role models for the next generation. In fact, Quiroz-Samayoa says their mojo has rubbed off on her little sisters. Kind of.

“I caught them playing ‘production company,’” she smiles. “They were firing their Barbies.”

To watch “Maintain,” visit www.youtube.com/lasmijasproductions


The inspirations behind “Maintain”

Inspiration bubbles up from many places. In their own words, Yari Olivo-Camacho and Ana Quiroz-Samayoa shared some of their favorite TV and web series that helped to fuel the creative process behind “Maintain.” First up, Olivo-Camacho’s top five:

1. “Breaking Bad”
“Aside from the awesome plotline, story and characters, ‘Breaking Bad’ was visually pleasing in terms of color theory. One of the things that influenced ‘Maintain’ was their shaky camera view. It allows viewers to feel as if they’re part of the story.”

2. “Jane the Virgin”
“Due to my profound love of telenovelas, it was literally love at first sight. The characters are funny and so outgoing, and it has so many telenovela elements with a modern twist. The show also touched a special spot in my heart because of the predominant Latino cast. They’re a true inspiration.”

3. “Law & Order: SVU”
“I used to sit up every night with my older sister to watch ‘SVU.’ I had many dreams when I was younger, and one of them was to become a detective.”

4. “RWBY” 
“I’m a lover of martial arts, and my eyes became glued to the screen as soon as I first saw ‘RWBY.’ The great soundtrack, epic fighting scenes and interesting characters all in an animated web series make it so unique. I would love to create something like this in live action in the near future.”

5. “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”
“I’m a huge fan of the ‘Mortal Kombat’ franchise and have followed it for years, playing the first game in the series as a child. To everyone’s surprise, I’m an avid gamer, mostly interested in role-playing and martial-arts-style fighting games. ‘Mortal Kombat: Legacy’ brought my favorite characters to life.”

Quiroz-Samayoa, too, puts “Jane the Virgin” and “Breaking Bad” on her top-five list. In addition, she includes the web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” along with TV staples “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Doctor Who” for influencing her storytelling.

“They’re all brilliantly written,” she says. “The characters and stories are, to some extent, portrayals of our real society—people who are brilliant and flawed, develop and acquire skills or fall and hit rock bottom.”

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