‘She’s Ramona’: A conversation with scriptwriter Beto Cohen

ella_es_ramona_Enfilme_741i0Fatty, chubby, charming Ramona.

Since childhood, she got used to eat up the meals her sister could not finish. She grew up, and the sweet and loving gordita (chubby) has now to put up with demeaning comments about her overweight, at home and at work as a secretary in a beauty products company.

Ella_es_Ramona-988460451-largeShe is Ramona, an imaginative and superstitious gordita who wears a flower on her hair and loves to cook. With her delicious cookies and making use of some magical beetles, she does the unthinkable: she conquers her handsome, slender neighbor who acts in a chocolate commercial.

Be ready to laugh and have fun with this festive Mexican production, She’s Ramona — a very feminine comedy, cheesy, with a voice-over and a magical realist style in the vein of Jane the Virgin and Like Water for Chocolate. The film exhibits a rich artistic design and a lively score that leads the narrative in an agile and entertaining way.

“It is not a sin to be size 12,” said Andrea Ortega-Lee during the presentation of the film at the Guadalajara International Film Festival. A standup comedian and writer, it is her first role as an actress in front of the camera. And she does it very well, with grace and self-confidence.

In the words of director Hugo Rodríguez, the film introduces a person who is comfortable with herself and has to face bullying.

For the premiere of the film in San Francisco, we talked with Beto Cohen, co-writer of She’s Ramona — about his inspiration, the casting, art direction and his new film, The Journey of Keta, another film about a gordita.

She’s Ramona opens Friday, March 18, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. In Spanish with English subtitles. Schedule and tickets: http://www.roxie.com/ai1ec_event/ella-es-ramona-shes-ramona/?instance_id=11263

RAMONA-4

How did you get started in the world of cinema?
She’s Ramona is my first screenplay for cinema. I had written for television, a lot of ‘Sesame Street,’ and things for children, theater plays… But this is my first film script.

How did you come up the story of She’s Ramona?
Ramona’s character is based on my own mother to some extent. Ramona is a fat person who likes to cook, and is happy and very superstitious. It began as an idea for a short film, and then I said to myself, ‘’why don’t I make a feature film?’

Ella_es_Ramona_MILIMA20150907_0326_11And you decided to co-produce it?
I have a public relations firm where we handle press releases for movies and we work a lot with producer Mónica Lozano. We showed her our script and she liked it. Overall, it took us two years to finish the film. From the beginning, I conceived certain characters thinking about specific actors: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Leticia Huijara, María Rojo and Julio Bekhor. Those four were always in my mind when I wrote the script. Then, the task was to find the right actress to play Ramona, a very difficult search.

This is Andrea Ortega-Lee’s first, wonderful job as an actress. How did you guys meet?
Mónica Lozano had just finished producing Instructions Not Included and Eugenio Derbez was working on a project of Saturday Night Live in Mexico that did not come through. But he met Andrea while in that project, who was working as a writer. He told me, ‘You know what?, I have met someone who could be a candidate, she has never acted before but she does stand up comedy and I’m going to bring her over.’

Andrea did not really know what she was coming for. We showed her the script and something very funny happened. Talking about the character she told me that she was like Ramona in many ways but one thing. She was not superstitious. And then she said, ‘but hey, I’m a Pisces like Ramona, we already have something in common.’ I told her that Ramona was born on March 14. She froze and said, ‘Beto, I was also born on March 14! Now I am superstitious.’ And since that day, we agreed that she was born for the role.

ramona2The film is very striking visually. As co-producer, how much of the artistic design did you specify in the script?
In my first script I was already specific about the costumes and all the colorful part, how she puts on her stockings… A palette of lively colors, flashy costumes, with a lot of Ramona’s personality. But I did not speak much about her past. When we found a director for the project, Hugo Rodríguez, he wanted to incorporate new things. His contribution was that whole part where Ramona recalls her past as a girl. I spoke of the present and the future of Ramona, while he incorporated the part about Ramona’s childhood.

And the graphics, the musical score, the voice-over…
Voice-over yes, I referenced it a lot in my original script. And the very cheesy music. The graphics were the idea of María Fernanda Rai, director Hugo Rodríguez’ partner. When she saw the images she said, ‘let’s stretch it out more and make the story feel like a tale.’

The production was a true team effort seems like…
We were a whole bunch of friends, a group of people who have worked together for a long time. I have worked in many productions with Hugo, Mónica Lozano, Claudia Del Castillo, and also with the actors. So we decided to embark into the adventure of making this film. Everyone had an input. We’d reach a point at which we’d have to say ‘enough!’ It was very nice team work, as a matter of fact.

55105bf69fb6bRAMONA_3_How did the film do in theaters in Mexico?
The film did well in Mexico. It premiered last September, made it to the seventh place in the top ten that week. Of the more than 80 films released in Mexico in 2015, She’s Ramona was in place 16 or 17. It’s a film we made with low budget, because the government did not support us. We submitted it twice to the Fund for Film Investment and Promotion (Fidecine) and we did not make it. It is when Mónica Lozano said ‘let’s do it now’ and we all got on the role of producers. It is a film that was made with the help of many friends and asking for many favors, because we wanted to do it without waiting another year to get the support.

Are you writing anything new?
My new project is called El viaje de Keta (Keta’s Trip), a film also about a gordita. She cannot get a job and she ends up as a drug-dealer. Poor thing. She is very very fat, and she ends up on high heels, riding a bicycle, selling drugs. We’ve done this movie with zero budget but with a truly impressive cast: Regina Orozco, Angélica María, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Mónica Dionne, Mónica Huarte, Leticia Huijara, Daniela Schmidt, Alberto Estrella, Humberto Busto, Gabriel Retes… It is co directed by Julio Bekhor, who played Julio in She’s Ramona, and another friend, Fernando Sma. It’s a comedy in the style of Ramona, in that although being a comedy it touches on serious topics. Right now we’re going to crowdsource for the project via Fondeadora. For the same reason, because the government did not give us any support. We decided to push it through ourselves and we run out of resources to continue with it.

When will we be able to see it?
We just finished the first cut with the help of Carlos Bolado. Antonio Bribiesca, editor of Michel Franco’s After Lucia that won in Cannes, is doing the post production. We are right now working on the music. Regina Orozco will sing some songs, and Fred Schneider of the B-52s has composed the theme of the film. A lot of interesting people have joined the project.

Are you obsessed with fat women?
Well, I don’t know. I like fat women. In fact, I would like to make another movie with Regina Orozco as a protagonist. I feel I owe her something. I may end up making a trilogy about fat women! I like them.

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One Response to ‘She’s Ramona’: A conversation with scriptwriter Beto Cohen

  1. Pingback: 2016 was a promising year for Latino film exhibition in the Bay Area | cinemaerrante

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