Have you ever wanted to watch a film based on crisps? Well, that’s exactly the basis of Eva Longoria’s feature directorial debut.
Flamin’ Hot tells the story of Richard Montañez, a janitor at Frito-Lay who helps establish the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos brand and climbs his way up the ladder to become an executive at the company.
The screenplay is based on Montañez’s memoir – A Boy, A Burrito And A Cookie – and stars Jesse Garcia as the potato chip pioneer, Annie Gonzalez as his wife Judy, Dennis Haysbert as Frito-Lay production manager Clarence C Baker and four-time Emmy Award winner Tony Shalhoub as PepsiCo chief executive Roger Enrico.
“It’s a pretty powerful story,” she tells Sky News’ Backstage podcast. “I read it. I was blown away by Richard Montañez’s life, and I was like, ‘How do I not know this story?’ He’s Mexican-American, he’s from my community, I’m Mexican-American – everybody needs to know this story.”
Longoria has spent the past 10 years directing TV, an experience that she says prepared her for the film’s quick eight-week schedule.
The production employed around 204 New Mexican crew members, 44 New Mexican principal cast members and 875 extras of New Mexican background.
Longoria says she saw Flamin’ Hot as a chance to straighten out misconceptions about the Hispanic community and the way Mexican-Americans live.
“I think there’s obviously stereotypes that have been about our community for so long, but also because we don’t get many movies like this,” she says, adding that “Hollywood gets to define what a hero is”.
“I had the opportunity to create a hero and I wanted him to look like Richard Montañez. I wanted him to be brown. I wanted him to sound like my dad. And I want our community specifically to be able to look up onscreen and go, ‘Wow, that guy did all that’.”
Montañez and his contested version of events
Richard Montañez was born in an east Los Angeles barrio community to Mexican-American parents in the late 1950s.
He worked as a janitor at a California Frito-Lay factory when he says he conceived “his life-changing idea” to create and market a snack targeted to the Mexican-American community.
Just before filming for Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot began, the LA Times published an article seemingly refuting Montañez’s claims that he invented the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto.
Frito-Lay told the paper that “none of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market”, adding: “We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market.”
When asked if it had an impact on her directorial decisions, Longoria says: “No, it had zero impact on the movie.
“I never wanted to do the documentary of The Flaming Hot Cheeto and how it was invented. I’ve always wanted to tell the true story of Richard Montañez, and his story is fascinating. His life is fascinating.”
Longoria says he “just happened to have a hand in creating the number one snack in the world, which is a multibillion-dollar product”.
The script for the Disney+ film was rewritten to be from the perspective of Montañez and to include fantasy sequences, allowing the viewer to see “what was happening and what he felt happened”.
Longoria says it allowed them to have more creative freedom to tell the story and Montañez’s version of events.
“This is his truth, and this movie is true. So, yeah, that never really affected the script. The script was always what it was. It was always Richard’s story,” she says.
Richard Montañez has since retired from his executive position at Frito-Lay and has become an author and motivational speaker.
Flamin’ Hot is available to stream now on Disney+