January 31, 1996
ABOUT NEW YORK / By DAVID GONZALEZ
High Tech, High Heels and Low Artieut. Giovanni Bello sidled up to the woman in black, ignoring the matinee crowd descending upon Carmine's restaurant near Times Square.
"I'm C.I.A.," he told her.
"I'm a hit woman," Helen replied, taking a deep drag on her cigarette.
Actually, they're both looking for a hit.
They are characters in "Techno 3," a soap opera on the Internet that recounts its characters' exploits with text, sound and pictures. Computer viewers can watch the soap opera 24 hours a day by connecting to its World Wide Web site (http://www.bluepearl.com) and clicking on words and pictures to retrieve episodes in video snippets.
The come-hither looks of the series' slinky secret agents hook viewers, and if enough people are dazzled by the technological razzle, maybe the show's creators will get a chance -- admittedly slim -- to go from computer monitors to TV sets.
Like on-line buskers, the creators of "Techno 3," Blue Pearl Entertainment, are the kind of hustlers and dreamers who hope to charm their way to the big time. They shoot on the fly in a city where conservatory-trained singers serenade pedestrians, and concert violinists solo on the subways. The city doesn't stifle their creativity. It only challenges them to hone their craft in the most unlikely places.
The plot revolves around three high-tech femmes fatales who work at glamorous corporate jobs by day and execute the whims of an unseen master terrorist by night. So much for stringy-haired geek hackers.
The series' creators say they hope to break a more lingering stereotype by featuring Hispanic actors in a technological thriller rather than in the barrio bad-boy roles that often go their way.
"Look at TV," said Radames Soto, a former television journalist who started the series as part of Blue Pearl's entertainment and documentary video productions. "They're obviously not interested in doing Latin culture of any kind. Here you go straight to the general market. The Internet becomes a way of beating the system."
Recently, the big worry was about beating the weather. The story line was set in the summer, and the new episode called for a sidewalk cafe scene. But the winter chill forced Victor Pupo -- the writer, producer and cameraman -- to make some quick changes.
He settled on Carmine's since one of the actors works there. The cast and crew squeezed through the waiting line and hurriedly set up the scene: Helen discussing business with one of her clients before being jostled accidentally by Marie, a rival she has never met.
Roselyn Sanchez, a petite actress who plays Marie, waited off camera and talked about recent auditions. She said her role as a record executive with a secret life as a hacker was a welcome change.
"You have to grow as an actor," she said. "If I had to play a Puerto Rican hooker, it would be difficult, but I would learn. But I wouldn't want people to get used to it. It happens easily for Latino actors to get only calls for that."
Dan Ferrera, who plays Lieutenant Bello, said he relished the chance to portray a spy who is a linguist who has wreaked covert chaos in the Persian Gulf, the Soviet Union and Central America. He is suave, even if the only government operative he looks like is Henry Cisneros.
"This gives you a dimension that you never have the opportunity to do as a character," he said. "There is a universality in that you have skills to accomplish anything. Who's to say there is only one James Bond?"
Funny thing this Internet. For all its hi-tech gloss, the stuff on "Techno 3" has echoes of some time-worn traditions. The actors, like those in silent movies, sometimes have to rely on overdramatic facial expressions for the images that will accompany the on-line text.
"All of a sudden it's back to the beginning," Mr. Ferrera said. "Action and reaction."
Judging from viewer reaction, old preferences are hard to break when it comes to the public's taste. It seems that cyber-babes are all right, just as long as the emphasis remains on the "babe."
"Make them naked, have an affair with the terrorist, put them in bikinis, that kind of stuff," Mr. Pupo said of the E-mail requests about the soap. "A lot of sex-related stuff."
His own fantasy is to become an on-line Quentin Tarantino and make his cast Internet stars, poised at the gate when the era of 500 television channels dawns. While the actors went through their lines, though, any thoughts of greatness had to wait. The matinee crowd jamming Carmine's doorway knew a thing or two about lines, too.
"Lenny!" urged a nasal-voiced diner. "Lenny! She's calling our name!"
Other Places of Interest
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company