By Elia Esparza
There’s a new web series that had me in stitches. It is genuinely funny and that is such a rarity these days. With so many screenwriting software and how-to books, it is tiring to watch show’s that are written “by the book” and refreshing when a show like Becoming Ricardo comes around and keeps you glued to the screen because you are cracking up so much.
So far Becoming Ricardo has accumulated the following stats:
- 16-minute premiere episode broke 1,000 views [in relative short time]
- The show Rrached their fundraising goal on KickStarter and through private donations totaling $10,000 for season one.
The show has Jesenia Cruz (Jesenia The Comedian), a talented actress who is at her wits end and will do just about anything to be successful. Frustrated with the lack of good parts for Latinas, her mother (Lisa Velez-Mello) tries to help and points out to an open call audition for a popular TV series Crime Law and Justice, only the role is solely is for Latino men. So with her crazy make-up artist Sonia Cruz (Sofia Rodriguez), she soon becomes “Ricardo Montalban” and she lands the part on the hit TV series and the roller coaster, gender-bending ride begins!
Latin Heat caught up with the creators of this hystical show to tap into their psyche… are they as nutty as the characters they created? We asked Becoming Ricardo writers/creators Jenni Ruiza, Jesenia The Comedian and one of the episode director’s, Tony Clomax.
LH: How did the idea for Becoming Ricardo come about?
Jesenia: About three years ago, I produced two online Valentine’s Day sketches called “Latino Killer Cupid” and “Horny Cupid” for my sketch comedy show, “Ay Que Funny.” I had the idea that Cupid should be a woman dressed as a man, so he can have that asexual look about him. I ended up playing Cupid in the “Latino Killer Cupid” sketch and I literally had no idea what I was going to look like – until the day of the shoot. I had the voice, but no look. So, my son, who was 7 years old at the time, designed the Mohawk hairdo and as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, painting on facial hair and eyebrows – Ricardo’s swagger immediately came out of me. The sketch was a hit!
Since then, noticing this character’s popularity, I looked for ways to incorporate him into more sketches both at my live shows and the online videos and Ricardo quickly began gaining more and more fans. The moment I realized Ricardo needed his own show was when I performed a monologue for a Tupac Shakur audition – Yes; Ricardo wanted to audition to be Tupac – but I never submitted it. Instead I put the video online and it got so many hits. People were actually believing that I was a man – a little light went off in my head! So, I began to work on my idea, not really knowing which direction to start – except for knowing that it was important for me to incorporate myself as a woman in the show. I met with a writer friend of mine, Craig T. Williams, and as we hashed out ideas, it became clear to me that I wanted to do a show that was very much like a female version of the movie Tootsie but with a lot more slapstick comedy and sitcom feel.
LH: Wow! Sounds like what Tyler Perry did with his Madea character! Took it from the stage to the big and little screens.Was it hard to raise the monies needed? How does Kickstarter work for you?
Jesenia: Yes, it was very hard to raise the money. Fortunately, Ricardo has a die-hard following of people who want to see him in action – often! I also reached out to my friends, co-workers, family members and networking contacts for funding help. The love and support that we received from blogs, internet radio shows, Latino networkers and entertainment contacts during our fundraising campaign was amazing and a truly humbling experience! We also had a fundraising party, sponsored by George Torres of Casa Capicu, which helped us tremendously in reaching our fundraising goal! I will forever be grateful to him for believing in my passion project! Kickstarter, overall, is a great fundraising tool! Many people, who want to support independent projects, go on the site and just randomly donate – we got a few of those! So, I say, start your Kickstarter campaign and push push push you fundraising until you run out of ideas!
LH: How did the casting of Lisa Lisa come about?
Jesenia: I’ve been Lisa Lisa’s fan since I was a wee-little bit of a girl. I grew up in a time where Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Tiffany were the popular girls in music. Although I loved them, I couldn’t relate to any of these girls because, well they were white, blonde and skinny – I was none of the above! So when Lisa Lisa came out – this beautiful, brown, busty, Puerto Rican, curvy talent who sang her ass off and was the shortest girl on the block – I bonded with her through my TV set and she immediately became my Idol. Fast forward years later to 2009 – Facebook was very popular and while people were connecting with lost loves and old high school friends, I thought of searching for my childhood mentor – Lisa Lisa! After a few searches, I found her private Facebook page and sent her a very looooong message of how much I loved her and looked up to her as a child. She read the letter, added me as a friend and we have been friends ever since! She actually became my fan and loved my sketch work and characters and would always encourage me to continue on and never stop. So when I decided to write Becoming Ricardo and thought of the mother character, I thought of only one person to play her – Lisa Lisa! I asked her if I could send her the script, she read it, loved it and accepted the part with excitement and anticipation to start acting again! I was immediately my 10-year-old self again, singing Lisa Lisa songs into my hairbrush – in Boricua-freestyle heaven – screaming: ‘I’m gonna act with Lisa Lisa!’
LH: That’s a great Lisa-Lisa story! What or how was this show shot? Tell us the filmmaking technical info on it.
Tony Clomax: Because we had a very limited budget to film the pilot, we were not able to film the way we wanted. Since gaining some funding for the show, we’re aiming for a more broadcast-ready approach because we’re creating a show for TV. The show will be shot with a 7D & 5D 2-camera set up, using prime and zoom lenses. We want a colorful aesthetic, with rich tones and contrast instead of a flat sitcom look. Similar to the way the show, New Girl [FOX, stars Zooey Deschanel], is shot. New music and music composing will be used to enhance the comedy and dramedy. We will also incorporate the services of an editor who edits comedy for HBO. Jesenia and I will probably do a working edit, then let the other editor jazz it up the way we see other comedies on HBO. The goal is to not cut corners and to constantly think big.
LH: Did the funds raised cover your budget? So your budget was $7,000?
Jesenia: Well, being our first fundraising attempt, we did not want to scare our supporters with a huge money amount, so we aimed really low. With all the costs of filming and all the things involved in a production, $7,000 can only really produce 3 episodes, so we are planning future fundraising events. Honestly, we’ll need at least $14,000 to finish producing the entire season 1 of Becoming Ricardo.
LH: Ricardo reminds me of a Latina I Love Lucy — how much of Lucy did Ricardo morph or was it more of a Bosom Buddies/Tom Hanks inspiration?
Jesenia: To even be compared to such iconic shows is such an honor, so thank you so much for that! Becoming Ricardo is very much so inspired by Lucy’s crazy situational humor, much like that of the I Love Lucy show. The Jesenia and Sonia characters are very much our Latina versions of Lucy and Ethel. They’re cousins who were raised together like sisters and are best friends. Jesenia (Lucy) has the crazy ideas and Sonia (Ethel) is the wing woman/partner-in-crime, and vice-versa! Being a gender-bending kind of show – yes, it has a Bosom Buddies and Tootsie feel to it. Because Becoming Ricardo is the only, if not first, comedy to gender-bend from female to male – it is very much paving its own road, making it a “never seen before” kind of slap stick comedy.
LH: Tell us anything you want our readers to do that would help promote Becoming Ricardo.
Jenni: With inclusion of all the links and handles provided below, we would love if Latin Heat could continue a partnership with us to promote upcoming new episodes as they debut. What we’re looking for is a permanent avenue to stay partnered in Becoming Ricardo’s ventures and premieres. One of the things that you rarely see out there right now is a successful and quality Latino-produced show. What we’re attempting to do with Becoming Ricardo is to create a strong, relatable, and premiere outlet for not only Latinos in the entertainment field, but for our following to be Latino-centric without ostracizing anyone from our audience. Subscribe to our YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/becomingricardotv and spread the word – new episodes are set to debut in late Spring/early Summer of 2013.
Thank you, Jesenia, Tony and Jenni! Latin Heat is always about promoting Latino-made and/or Latino-themed projects. Becoming Ricardo is off to an excellent start and we wish you all the success you deserve. Your web series is very funny yet tackles some serious issues.
Becoming Ricardo show makers:
Writers: Jenni Ruiza and Jesenia
Director: Damian Bailey (episode 1); Tony Clomax (episodes 2-9)
Assistant Director: Ren Humphrey (episode 1), Jenni Ruiza (episodes 2-9)
Director of Photography: Tony Clomax (episode 1); CJ Gates (episodes 2-9)
*We’re looking for more crew members for the production of our Season 1. To apply, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Becoming Ricardo Cast:
Jesenia The Comedian, Sofia Rodriguez, Lisa Velez-Mello (Lisa Lisa), Mario Corry, Michael Simmons, Sean Morales, Giordona Aviv, and Joe Perez.