Tommy Mottola, Lex Borrero Say Education Is Still a Large Part of Bringing Latin Culture Mainstream

·8 min read

For Tommy Mottola and his producing partner, Lex Borrero, the word “no” doesn’t exist. The pair are on a tenacious mission to bring Latin stories to mainstream entertainment.

“We tell our team all the time that the word no doesn’t exist,” Borrero told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. “It’s really [a mindset of] create first, think without limits, then you figure out the money to make that happen. That gives you a certain freedom. That is very different than when you approach things just as a business, because then you’re always looking at dollar signs.”

Through his talent incubator Neon16, Borrero is responsible for brokering influential deals in the Latin entertainment space, including the eight-figure sale of Puerto Rican producer Tainy’s music catalog. Mottola, the former CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, has decades under his belt developing artists from ex-wife Mariah Carey to Jennifer Lopez.

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And yet with all that success, many people still don’t know how globally successful Latin culture has become.

“A lot of the challenge really is educating,” Borrero said. “We are a young company and even though we have a list of expertise and incredible executive talent with Tommy and myself on our team, these ventures that we’re creating, especially with a Latin view, are fairly new to the marketplace.”

“Los Montaner,” a docuseries produced through Borrero and Mottola’s joint content studio NTERTAIN, is set to debut later this year on Disney+. The series follows the prominent Montaner family — headed by patriarch Ricardo Montaner, a prominent Latin music singer and songwriter for decades — and how they merge their private lives with their professional careers in front of the public eye.

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Read on as Mottola and Borrero explain the inspiration for the series and break down more about their creative partnership.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a little about your partnership and what you’re hoping to bring to the entertainment space?
Borrero: When we started the company, I came to Miami and realized what was happening in Latin music and understood the space that we could build by building Neon16. It became really quickly apparent that the best way to build this company and the best way to truly take advantage of the opportunity and really bring the culture forward was to put a team together that’s the best of the best. [Tommy] was the first person that really created the Latin explosion, 10 to 12 years ago. There was no better partnership than to unite these two forces in this understanding of what we wanted to do, which at the core is we want to bring Latin culture and make it what it is right now, which is a global culture, not only in business and in the creative space. The goal is really to raise the bar and create opportunity for our culture, create an opportunity to have a platform to really develop any ideas. I think that’s the core of what Neon16 is, and what we built together with Tommy is an idea incubator. It doesn’t have to just be entertainment. It really is cross-pollinating in multiple areas of business at this point, with the same goal, which is really to innovate and impact culture.

Mottola: So for me it was about being at the epicenter of growing up with Latin music in my neighborhood [The Bronx] and having that as part of the fabric of my life, and then, fast forwarding at Sony, really focusing from the day that I started into the Latin business — whether it was with Gloria Estefan at that time or then moving on to Shakira and Marc Anthony and JLo and all the great artists Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, everybody — and creating this fusion of Spanish-language Latin artists and turning it into a global enterprise. I was always confused why the greatness of what that was, and what it represents, could not transcend language, because it should always transcend language. Now, it’s really been this longing for me to want to reenter into the Latin space on any level and finding someone that I thought was capable of going and taking this to the next level. That was Lex. We’re really focusing all of our energy on being connected to that urban culture, which is really the voice of the community. And if you’re connected to that, and you understand that, and you know how to convey that, whether it’s through music, whether it is using that to promote and attach to product, or whether it’s to make television shows or movies, then you are authentic. And for me, it’s all about authenticity. Because without that you’re nothing.

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Can you talk me through the conception of “Los Montaners” and how you think a docuseries like this will further those goals you talked about above?
Borrero: Starting NTERTAIN, we saw the space in the market and we understood that there was not a production home that really understood culture, and also had the level of relationships we have with music talent. We also wanted to change the perception of what Latin content is from an aesthetic point of view, from a storytelling point of view. We really wanted to bring something that had excellence in every sense, but also kind of broke the stereotypes. Ricardo and his family have been close friends of mine for a long time and during the pandemic, they really had this explosion of success. Camila became a No. 1 artist and then also the family became viral sensations. I found that really interesting because in the midst of all this, it’s very rare that you find a family that has that much talent. We’ve created [the show] in a way that really showcases the family not because of drama, not because of just ridiculous reality TV. This is not scripted at all. We show it as if it was a music documentary. We wanted to tell the story of what their struggles are and the stage of their life that they’re in. We hadn’t even sold it when we announced production, and that announcement had 1.3 billion impressions. It created this perfect storm of the right team over at Disney, the right show and the right creators over at our company.

Mottola: I think it will be Disney’s biggest hit, because it has something for everybody. We have very high expectations. I don’t normally like to say that. I like to keep it low and then be surprised. But I think going in, we definitely have something special. Without question. It is unique and like nothing else that’s out there.

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You’ve also just announced a joint venture with 22 Publishing. How do you see this as another way to infiltrate the industry with Latin artistry, not just on the Top 100 charts, but across film, television, and more?
Mottola: If you look at the way hip-hop got its start, and even the reluctance in the beginning to sort of infuse it and incorporate it in all genres, whether it was TV, film, advertising, branding… and now, of course, it’s, culturally, part of the fabric of everything. The Latin culture is now being looked at, and being sought after, I think in an even more voracious way. The numbers don’t lie. You look at the top five or top 10 [songs] globally, and it’s dominated by Latin music. That is now pop culture. Pop culture transfers to general market content, music, fashion, advertising, everything. I think our goal is to really fan that fire.

Borrero: To his point, I think it is really about creating opportunity. When we got into the Latin business, the producers were not looked upon as a respected part of the creative process. We changed that with Tainy, who became a superstar as powerful as any of the artists that he produces for. In doing so, it really created a system that allowed us to show the Latin business and other producers a ‘Hey, our creativity is valued.’ What we bring to the table is as important as what the artist is bringing into the table. With 22, we really have embarked on the music side of it to really utilize our platform to give producers the opportunity to build beyond. We want to showcase that you can do incredible content and do it right and do it at a high level, even though it’s Spanish-speaking content, that you can tell the stories in a completely different way. Not everything is a drug dealer or a maid in distress waiting for her rich boss to marry her. There’s these powerful figures and powerful story lines in Latin culture, and in human culture, that we really want to tell through this.

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