Helmer to produce 'Illegal'

John Singleton is making his first incursion into urban Latino territory.

Multihyphenate will produce drama “Illegal Tender,” with “Empire” scribe-helmer Franc Reyes attached to direct. Project has sparked the interest of several domestic distribs.

Reyes’ script tracks a young Latino man on the run with his mother from thugs who killed his father.

Casting talks are under way with top reggaeton artist Tego Calderon, Rick Gonzalez, Wanda De Jesus and Zoe Saldana. Reggaeton music, while not the centerpiece of the story, will dominate the soundtrack. Reyes is currently in Puerto Rico location scouting and hiring local crew.

Budgeted at some $3 million, pic is slated to start shooting May 9 on location in Puerto Rico and New York. The former is offering the production a 40% rebate on all of its expenditures on the island, including plane tickets, hotels, local transportation and salaries of local crew.

Filming of “Illegal Tender” will coincide with that of another Latino-themed pic, “Mal de Amores,” to be directed by Luis Ruiz and exec produced by Benicio del Toro, Don Ranvaud and Ruiz. “Mal de Amores” will be 80% financed by the Puerto Rico film fund. Sony BMG’s “Reggaeton,” co-produced by Jennifer Lopez’s Nuyorican Prods. and to be directed by Argentina’s Alejandro Chomski, is slated to shoot there in late June.

Singleton, who received directing and original screenplay Oscar noms for “Boyz in the Hood” in 1991, has a three-pic deal with Paramount, but drama will not necessarily fall under this pact.

Reyes’ feature debut, “Empire” — the first release from Universal’s now defunct Latin specialty label Arenas Entertainment — was made for an estimated $3.5 million and grossed $17.5 million.

Reyes is a Bronx-born songwriter, dancer, choreographer and music producer who made his first foray into film with the award-winning short film “In the Deep South,” starring Jon Seda and Lauren Velez. Reyes is also attached to write and direct “Tiny Dancer” for Disney as well as the remake of “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” for Regency Enterprises.

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