Daniela De Carlo’s latest feature, The Blackout, is out now through Gravitas Ventures. Originally from Argentina, she worked her way up from P.A. to writer-director-producer, collaborating along the way with a myriad of industry heavyweights such as Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, David E. Kelley, and Tony Scott. In 2010, she helmed the romcom Qualquer Gato Vira-Lata for Buena Vista International, which opened wide in Brazil to unprecedented box office success, and was one of six Hispanic directors on the 2014 feature drama Blue Lips. She was awarded the NBC/Universal Directing Fellowship and appointed to the USA Network show Royal Pains, and as a recipient of the inaugural NBC Female Forward program, recently helmed an episode of the primetime show Chicago Med. She is currently developing a biopic series about Xuxa, the most famous Brazilian pop star of all time. Daniela will exec produce, write and direct, in partnership with Xuxa and Gullane Filmes. She lives in Los Angeles. (Photo by Sari Thayer.)
When I was 12 years old growing up in Buenos Aires, one Friday evening my mom brought home, as it was customary, her favorite gossip magazines to delve into over the weekend. She would often get us kids comic books and children’s magazines with activities and such, but this time, she also brought an extra item which she thought I’d like. It was a special magazine on “Xuxa, Queen of the Little Ones,” the Brazilian media sensation who’d been garnering fame and success in the neighboring country for the past decade, and who was now gearing up to do a TV show in Argentina (my home country) that would be broadcast to the rest of Latin America. The cover was all her: big ocean eyes, sun-kissed hair and golden skin, with a radiant smile that pulled you in like a strong tide. And I was pulled in, alright.
To say it was love at first sight would be an understatement. It was more like an instant obsession! I read that magazine back and forth a hundred times that night alone, devouring every picture and word in it. But it wasn’t just Xuxa’s stunning beauty or charisma that was alluring to me. It was also her life story: She was a girl of humble origins, the youngest of five siblings born and raised in a little town in the South of Brazil that ironically neighbored Argentina, who had conquered her homeland and now was, at least in my eyes, on top of the world. She was fearless, ambitious, talented. She had something to say and people were listening! She was “Xuxa” (pronounced Shoo-shaa), and then some. She was amazing.
The photos showed me that on her TV show, she would dance her heart out and sing and laugh and play with kids like she was one of them. And then there were the live shows, where she would fill Maracanã, the biggest soccer stadium in the world at the time, like it was a box of chocolates. As an Argentine, I knew this was big, for until her, this superpower had only been attributed to men, more specifically, sportsmen such as Pelé and Maradona. But Xuxa was breaking records left and right! Every album she launched went platinum. Every movie she released became a box-office phenomenon, every piece of merch with her name would sell out, guaranteed. She had made it to the Forbes list of most powerful women in the entertainment world, alongside Oprah Winfrey and Madonna. And there I was, never having heard her voice, let alone seen her show, falling madly in love with her. This was December of 1990, so well before the internet could allow me to Google her and get 3,000 pictures and videos to binge on. All I had was that (by now dog-eared) magazine and my imagination. So I dreamed of her day and night for the long subsequent weeks and months, until her show in Spanish aired. And when it did – don’t ask me how – it was like seeing an old friend. She was exactly as I had dreamed her. I knew her and her soul. I spent the next two years of my life getting my Xuxa PhD: I learned all her songs (even the ones in Portuguese!), watched all her movies, and decoded and nailed every piece of choreography. I even started a collection of press clippings on her! But my idolatry also had a deeply spiritual component: Every night before going to bed, I’d pray that I would meet her and she would know my name. I would repeat those same words religiously, like a mantra, and visualize the encounter vividly, to the very last detail.
The Secret was not a thing back then, and I had never heard about the power of positive thinking, or manifesting, or the laws of attraction. But, in my still pure existence, in my kid-like state of infinite possibility, I must’ve done something of the sort, because one fine day, Xuxa became my neighbor. Yes, you read that right. And I’m not talking about the same neighborhood or the same block, she’s my next-door neighbor! I can see her through my windows and we can high-five from our verandas overlooking the park, where hundreds of fans scream her name at the top of their lungs. In fact, that’s how our first encounter came to be: My family and I heard people screaming outside, so we ran to the balcony and there she was, saluting the crowds like Evita Perón. My mom had the genius idea of sending her flowers as a welcome gift, with a card in which I signed my name. So when she met us, she said, “Hola! Are you Dani?” And when I nodded, she said it was nice to meet me and invited me to the taping of her show that same afternoon. I don’t remember much other than my mother crying in awe, saying something like, “¡Qué hermosa es! ¡Qué luz irradia! ¡Parece Nuestra Señora de la Aparecida!!!” (“She’s so beautiful! She emanates light! She’s like a Holy Mary apparition!!!”)
I realize that alone could be a fantastic ending to the story, but the truth is, it was just the beginning.
For that whole year, she’d come to Buenos Aires every other week to tape her show and I had an open invitation to go for as many tapings as I pleased. Not only was I having a blast and living my dream of getting to know Xuxa and be near her, but also, as a bonus, I was introduced to the world of audiovisual production at the highest level. It was a fascinating world, and I was hooked. I soon realized the enormous amount of work and thought and creativity that was devoted to putting on a show like that. So many artists and craftsmen collaborated to make it happen. My mind was blown! That’s how attending El Show de Xuxa in a VIP-all access backstage capacity became my first unofficial internship. In one year, I got a crash course in TV production and learned more than I would’ve in a three-year MFA. Marlene Mattos, Xuxa’s producer/manager/director at the time, immediately saw my interest and level of inquiry, and took a liking on me, becoming my first mentor. She would teach me stuff and pick my brain about things, and I even got to punch cameras once in a while. Needless to say, a seed was planted, and I never saw a movie or TV show with “naïve” eyes again.
The year came and went fast, but my friendship with both Xuxa and Marlene continued. I was invited to Rio de Janeiro on multiple occasions, and stayed in touch throughout the years. When Xuxa became pregnant with her daughter in 1998, I wanted to be close to her, so I applied to an exchange program my university had with a school in Rio de Janeiro. You had to speak Portuguese, which I did! So I easily got in. On that trip, I did a formal internship with them and took my first screenwriting and directing classes. Also on that trip, I met my husband, musician Pedro Bromfman, and a couple of years later, we moved to Los Angeles together. He wanted to score movies and shows, and I wanted to write and direct them. To that end, Pedro jokes that the “Xuxa miracle,” as we call it, doubled as a blessing and a curse in my life, because it taught me that anything was possible, and that I could do anything I set my mind to … And that relentlessness can be exhausting at times!
For years, I P.A.’ed my ass off and networked like there was no tomorrow. I got to meet so many of my idols, like Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Rob Reiner, Michael Patrick King and Quentin Tarantino; and in some cases even worked with them, like the Weitz brothers, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Forest Whitaker, Tony Scott and David E. Kelley. Had I been a white young dude, I would probably be running this town. Alas, as a brown, petite woman with a slight South American accent, life wasn’t always easy as an aspiring filmmaker. I juggled odd jobs to make ends meet, including working as a barista at Mani’s, a fancy (but now extinct) pioneering organic café in Santa Monica (with notable recurring customers including Anthony Hopkins, Bobby Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke and Helen Hunt); organizing people’s homes (before professional organizers were even a thing!) and even nannying (which I loved).
But, against all odds, I persisted and broke through the noise, directed a few successful features abroad, became a mom and made an auteur movie I am proud of that was just released by Gravitas Ventures, called The Blackout. A rough cut of the movie got me into the inaugural NBC Female Forward Program, which granted my very first episodic on the hit show Chicago Med. My episode, #417, entitled “The Space Between Us,” turned out really well and I got praise from the showrunners, executives and stars on the show. It even got me signed by Paradigm! And this is where the story goes back to Xuxa, because, wait for it … it aired on her birthday, March 27. Of all 365 days in the year, the first ever episode directed by me on national television went on air on Xuxa’s birthday. The birthday of my childhood idol, my first love, with the deep ocean eyes and radiant smile that pulled me in like a strong tide.
I remember driving on the 101 North headed to Burbank the following morning for the last sound mix session on The Blackout, pondering, what did it mean? It had to mean something. And I almost hit the car in front of me when I had the idea – or the epiphany, more like it – that I was to tell her story!!! I was going to create a biopic series about her life. Her magnificent, epic, astonishing life. I worked on a pitch and visual deck for a few weeks, tightening my vision, my angle for it, and shared it with Xuxa. And even though she told me many people had presented her with this idea before and she had said no, she said yes to me without missing a beat. We started working on it right away and a week later, I was flying to Rio to spend two weeks at her house, gathering stories from “the source.” I’ve been developing the show, Queen, for two years now under my content banner, Moon Lodge Pictures, in co-production with the prestigious Gullane Filmes, and we are finalizing negotiations with a major streamer as we speak. I can’t say their name yet, but they are in the business of making dreams come true, so it all makes perfect sense.
Working on Queen has been the most incredible journey for me thus far, both professionally and personally speaking. I speak with Xuxa on the daily now, from woman to woman, from mother to mother, from artist to artist, and we collaborate on telling her story as my daughters come in and out of the room, calling her “tia Xuxa” (aunty Xuxa) and we sing and dance our hearts out to her songs … And all the dots connect … The world is a magical place … Life is crazy … And I’m here for all of it!