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Down for Life
Directed by Alan Jacobs
Produced by Scott Alvarez
Written by Screenplay:
Alan Jacobs
Trina Calderon,
Based on the ‘‘New York Times Article’’ by:
Michael Winerip
Starring Jessica Romero
Danny Glover
Snoop Dogg
Elizabeth Pena
Laz Alonso
Kate del Castillo
Emily Rios
Lil Rob
Music by Vito Colapietro
Neely Dinkins
Cinematography Dana Gonzales
Edited by Clayton Halsey
Roger Marshall

Down for Life is a 2010 American dramatic film directed by Alan Jacobs based on the true story of a 15-year old Latina gang leader in Watts, Los Angeles. The story follows one day in her life as she struggles to break away from her gang. The film is based on a New York Times article by Michael Winerip. [1] Made in cinéma vérité style, the film stars many local teens, with veteran actors such as Danny Glover, Laz Alonso, Kate del Castillo, and Snoop Dogg in supporting roles. Down for Life focuses on the gritty reality of gang life and the racial tension surrounding it. Ultimately, the film’s message is one of hope to those in tough circumstances while shedding light on a pressing social issue.


The film spans one day in the life of Anjelica Soto, aka “Rascal” (played by Los Angeles native Jessica Romero), a 15-year old Latina gang leader in Watts, as she struggles to survive. Surrounded by escalating violence and racial tensions, Rascal realizes her days in the gang are numbered. Encouraged by her English teacher (Danny Glover) to apply for a writing program in Iowa, Rascal hopes to use the material from her life to write her way out of Watts. The forces around Rascal thrust her into a deadly cycle of violence that seems almost impossible to escape. To leave, she will have to make the dangerous decision to renounce her loyalty to the gang.


Down for Life is based on the actual experiences of Lesly Castillo, born October 4th, 1989, in Jalisco, Mexico. The Castillo family moved to Los Angeles from Mexico when Lesly was four years old. Her father worked nights for a demolition company. Her mother was a housewife, raising Lesly and her two younger siblings. Lesly attended Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles, where some of the movie was filmed. Having the reputation as one of the city’s lowest performing schools, Locke High School often witnessed “one of the homegirls or homeboys… get shot or killed or just simply put in jail.” [2] In 2001, out of a class of 979, only 322 students graduated. Lesly began skipping school in 8th grade. When The New York Times article “Essays in Search of Happy Endings” was written, Lesly was in the process of repeating the 9th grade. She was required to attend summer school to make up the missing credits and was offered a mercy “D” if she would describe a day in her life.

Lesly has since renounced her gang ties. She currently is enrolled at Los Angeles Southwest College. [3] In September 2007, Locke High School became a charter school operated by Green Dot Public Schools. Despite continued violence at Locke High School, Green Dot Public Schools has subdued hostility, increased parental involvement, and has organized its educational system into six academies. [4]


Jessica Romero as Rascal
Danny Glover as Mr. Shannon
Elizabeth Peña as Mrs. Castro
Snoop Dogg as Mr. Hightower
Laz Alonso as Officer Barber
Kate del Castillo as Esther
Lil' Rob as Manny
Nicholas Gonzalez as Officer Guttierez
Emily Rios as Vanessa
Cesar Garcia as Flaco
Whitney Gamble as Aisha
Andrea Valenzuela as Babygirl
Isamar Guijarro as Troubles

Jessica Romero, Andrea Valenzuela, Isamar Guijarro, Sheila Ochoa, and Ilene Trujillo were discovered at local area high schools. Director Alan Jacobs chose local teenagers with no acting experience to maintain the authenticity of the story. [5] Jacobs believed that using real girls familiar with the types of issues depicted in the film would create an honesty to their performances.[6]

Production Team[edit]

The film was shot on location at Locke High School, where the story was based, as well as at other locations in South Central and East Los Angeles. These locations were chosen to “evoke the city in all its stark contrasts of privilege and poverty, hope and despair.”[7]

Alan Jacobs, a New York native, directed Down for Life. Jacobs has directed six feature films, working with actors including James Coburn, Brendan Fraser, Virginia Madsen, Timothy Hutton, and Laura San Giacomo. His first film, Nina Takes a Lover (1994), screened at the Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival in 1994 and was later released by Columbia Pictures. American Gun (2002 film), his most recent film, was distributed by Miramax. Jacobs also directed a romantic comedy, Just One Night (2000) and co-directed an animated feature, Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists (2000). [8] He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Scott William Alvarez is the Producer of Down for Life. After receiving a U.S. President's Award in 1989 from George H. Bush for his academic, creative, and athletic achievements in high school, Scott graduated Tau Beta Pi and Phi Beta Kappa in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1994 where he also played baseball for the Stanford Cardinal. After founding Insurgency Pictures, Scott wrote, produced, and directed television commercials and marketing films for such national brands as Kelly-Moore Paints and Books For Dummies. In 1999, Scott co-wrote, directed, and produced Shelter (1999), his first project with his new company, Cinema Revival. In 2000, Scott met Patricia Anthony, acclaimed author of Brother Termite, the science-fiction novel recently adapted by John Sayles for James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. Her World War I novel, Flanders, became Scott's first motion picture project as a writer, producer, and director [9].

Dana Gonzalez worked as Director of Photography for Down for Life. Dana has shot commercials for Oil of Olay, Pantene, Lux, Proactiv Solution, Colgate, the US Army, and Quicksilver. He has worked with today's biggest talents, including Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Claudia Schiffer, Kelly Clarkson, Vanessa Williams, and others. His work is also celebrated in feature film and can be seen in Man in the Chair (2007) and Tony Scott’s Deja Vu (2006), as well as the Academy Award-winning film Crash (2004). [10]

Bernardo Trujillo, an award-winning art director, was the Production Designer for Down for Life. In 2003, at the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, he won the Sierra Award for Best Art Direction for the feature film Frida (2002). In 2005, Trujillo’s work on And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003) resulted in an Emmy nomination and a nomination for Excellence in Production Design by the Art Directors Guild. The Art Directors Guild also nominated Trujillo for Excellence in Production Design for the Oscar-winner Babel in 2007. [11]

Clayton Halsey and Roger Marshall were the film editors of Down for Life.

Clayton Halsey cut fourteen feature films, over twenty music videos, numerous trailers, promos, and EPK's. In 2000, he became supervising editor on the first season of Survivor and lived on the island in Malaysia for the length of the production. He also recently directed and produced a pilot, Blown Away, a reality show about glass artists on Maui. [12]

Roger Marshall is an experienced commercial editor. He has edited commercials for Pepsi, Reebok, Panasonic Corporation, State Farm Insurance, McDonald’s, Callaway Golf Company, Honda, Pacific Life, Travelers Insurance and numerous others. Down for Life is his first feature film.

Vito Colapietro composed the music for Down for Life. Previously, he worked on the soundtracks for Barbershop (2002) and Four Brothers (2005). He also was the composer for Just Another Day (2009). [13]

Related Films[edit]

Although there are over 45 million Hispanics in the United States, relatively few films feature Hispanic actors or tell stories drawn from their experiences. By comparison, films targeted towards black audiences have enjoyed substantial success at the box office, beginning with films such as Do the Right Thing (1989) and Boyz N the Hood (1991), which made $37 million and $57 million respectively. [14] [15] Latino film Bound by Honor (1993) achieved modest success at the box office ($4 million [16]), as did the more recent Under the Same Moon ($23 million), a Spanish language film distributed by the Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight Pictures. [17] American Me (1992) and Mi Vida Loca (1993) enjoyed limited theatrical releases. Thematically, Down for Life is most related to City of God (2002), a Brazilian film which also employed untrained at-risk youths in the lead roles.


In 2009, Down for Life was screened at both the Toronto Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, where it received critical support. The film is slated for a theatrical release in Fall 2010.

Peter Hammond of The Los Angeles Times says, “Speaking of 2010 Oscar contenders... we're wondering where the next Precious is coming from. Distributors should look no further than a 2009 Toronto Fest entry Down for Life… [The cast] is mostly comprised of L.A.-based non-actors led by Jessica Romero who could become next award season's Gabourey Sidibe.” [18]

Reed Johnson, also of The Los Angeles Times says, “The emotional chemistry among...novice performers, in concert with a few seasoned pros such as Danny Glover, Kate del Castillo and Snoop Dogg in secondary roles, is one of the things that makes Down for Life feel more authentic and credible than many of the countless other movies...brings street cred to two of the movie's thorniest topics: urban girl gang bangers, and tensions between L.A. Latinos and African Americans.” [19]

Carlos Morales of The Voice, says, “This film breathes life and resurrects what is happening on the streets of not only South Central but in all major suburbs across this country. It focuses a bright beam of light on the social issue that has plagued our country for years...The acting is real, the story is real, and the action is real...It is moving, motivating and a must see!... It's deserving of a distribution deal ...and as an unofficial entry into next year's Oscar race... It's that good...” [20]

Toronto’s The Globe and Mail describes the film as a “gritty, wallop-packing Los Angeles-set drama...Unflinching (but not gratuitous) in its depiction of domestic violence and girl-on-girl brutality...Disturbingly frank, the film assaults its viewers, but in a very effective way.” [21]

Erin Oke of Exclaim.CA describes the film as “a brutal and uncompromising look at an environment characterized by poverty and desperation...The script does well capturing the contrast between the shockingly commonplace physical and sexual violence of gang life and the moments of light-hearted girlhood...Lead actress Jessica Romero is a fresh and vivid presence in her film debut as Rascal.” [22] says the film is “a powerful and unflinching look at a world most of us know little about yet it is grounded with a sense of hope that a mainstream audience can relate to: there is a better life out there, if you are willing to fight for it...Riveting, painful and disconcerting in its jagged reality.” [23]


Down for Life trailer