Write What You Know

Advice to screenwriters by Hollywood executive Lynnette Ramirez, Sr. VP of Development for "George Lopez Presents"

By Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: January 18, 2010

Write What You Know

Lynnette Ramirez, Sr. VP of development and production for George Lopez Presents began her film career in development with Fountainbridge Films, Sean Connery's production company. In 2002, Lynnette launched Vida Films, an independent film production company. Quite recently she produced the ensemble drama The Blue Hour, starring Emily Rios, Alyssa Milano and Clarence Williams III. She served as a co-producer on the dark comedy 2 Days starring Paul Rudd.

In June 2007 she began her post as Sr. VP of Development and Production for George Lopez Presents, a film and television production company. In addition to her executive duties, she is also a member of the WGA and co-writer of Deep In The Heart of Texas.

Lynnette graduated from the Loyola Marymount University screenwriting undergrad program in 1997. While still in college she interned as a reader for Jodie Foster's production company, Egg Pictures, and worked as a freelance assistant production coordinator. In 2001 she also produced the successful Los Angeles based plays "The Pages of My Diary I'd Rather Not Read" and "Mistrial."

LatinoLA contributing editor Al Carlos Hernandez was fortunate enough to talk to Lynette in concert with George Lopez Presents principal Ann Lopez. They are two women who are destined to change the face of prime time entertainment in a post ethnic and post modern society.

AC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in the entertainment industry?

LR: As a child I loved to read books and write my own little stories. From a young age, having such a passion for storytelling, I wanted to be a novelist or a journalist. I didn't have an understanding that writing had anything to do with movies and television until I was much older. Then I still never considered a career in the film and television industry until my freshman year of college. I took one film class and had an epiphany that I could turn my passion for writing and storytelling into a career in the entertainment industry.

AC: What did your family say about your non-traditional career aspirations? What about your friends from high school and college?

LR: I've been very fortunate that my mother and step-father supported anything I wanted to do as long as I was committed to getting a college degree first. My father was a Mexican immigrant that had to stop going to school in the second grade to work with his father in the fields in Mexico. He had a harder time fully understanding why I would want to go into a career that was so financially unstable and competitive. As for my friends from high school and college, they were not surprised by my aspirations. I always had a love for the arts whether it was as an editor of my high school newspaper or performing in theater productions.

AC: What was your first major job in the industry and how did you get it? What sacrifices have you made to get to where you are now?

LR: My first job was as an unpaid internship for Jodie Foster's now defunct production company Egg Pictures. I was truly blessed that this was my first internship because, although I only met Ms. Foster once in my time there, she was committed to making sure that while we did free "busy work" we also learned valuable skills that would lead us to a paid job. The program was quite structured and we had a big handbook that basically was a bible on how to be a development/producer assistant in Hollywood. A lot of free internships are just getting coffee, running errands, and answering phones. I definitely had to do that at Egg, but I also learned how to do script coverage, make writer lists, and read the trades.

The sacrifices I have had to make fortunately have been mostly financial. I say fortunately because I haven't had to deal with too many difficult personalities or experience too many typical "Hollywood horror" stories. My first paid assistant job was $360 a week and no overtime or mileage reimbursement. Even in 1998, trying to live on less than $1500 a month in Los Angeles is perhaps still my most creative endeavor to date. I drove my car from college until a few years ago. I definitely paid my dues! In my experience there is no middle class in Hollywood, so you're either completely broke or you're doing just fine. Perhaps there are times I sacrifice my time with friends and family when I'm in production because being on set and meeting deadlines requires 14-16 hour days. Overall, it's hard to think of any of it as a sacrifice when mostly I just feel lucky to have found a career doing what I love.

AC: Is it harder for a Latina to make it in the business? If you were not Latina, do you think you would have more and/or better opportunities?

LR: Honestly, being a Latina was not something I thought too much about in the early part of my career. My mother was a single mother throughout my childhood. I watched her have to deal with the glass ceiling and she still managed to excel to the top of her profession. She set an example for me that anything was possible, but being a woman in business meant you do have to work harder, dress better, and be more professional. Our business is very social but as a woman I feel the pressure to make sure I always present myself in a professional manner in every situation.
Now, being Latina is such an asset because I work for George Lopez, a man who, I believe, is the most esteemed American Latino talent in the media business today. Talents like Ann and George Lopez have really paved the way for Latinos in the industry like me. Being Latina is a second thought instead of a stumbling block.

If I weren't Latina I don't think there would necessarily be better opportunities, but I definitely wouldn't be who I am today. While my mother served as a role model for women in business, my father's struggle to come to this country and make a life as a Mexican immigrant provided me with the belief system that anything was possible with determination, sacrifice and hard work. Again, my father had no education, barely spoke the language, and made immense sacrifices for his whole family so that they could come to America.

When he was thirteen years old, his parents, my grandparents, had an opportunity to create a better life for their whole family by working in the United States. Back in Mexico they left my father in charge of his five younger brothers and sisters until they were able to get papers for their children to come to the US legally. For five years my father stayed behind, raising his brothers and sisters, working and sacrificing his own childhood for the promise of the American dream. Finally, when my father was eighteen, they got their papers and he was able to leave behind a life of poverty and lack of opportunity in Mexico.

His first job was working on the backside of the horse race track in Southern California. That led to his career as a jockey. He rode for eleven years and had a successful career as a professional athlete until an ill-fated accident ended his riding career. To this day he still works in the horse racing industry as a valet for top jockey Mike Smith. My parent's individual struggles served as examples for my brothers and I. If you shoot for the stars you might just land on the moon.

AC: What made you decide to launch your own independent film company (Vida Films) and how hard is it to get funding for projects when you are just starting out?

LR: I launched my own company, Vida Films (named for "life" in Spanish), because my favorite films are those about the struggles in life that are universal. Also because I feel that art doesn't just intimate life or vice-versa. When a film or television character and theme is inspiring to an audience it impacts their life in a unique way.

Getting funding is exceptionally hard. I feel very proud to have been involved in raising money for two independent films: TWO DAYS and THE BLUE HOUR. The later was made on a shoe-string budget of 100k and it premiered at the internationally well-respected San Sebastian Film Festival in 2007. It was a very proud moment for all of us who worked on that film. We like to say, "It was the poorest film from the richest country at the festival that year."

AC: What is the hardest part of being a producer and owning your own company?

LR: The hardest part of being an independent producer is raising the money for a project. As far as owning a company‘«™there isn't much to own but your passion and work ethnic. You never really own an artist's vision, idea or script. I felt like Vida Films was a facilitator of the arts‘«™a place where storytellers could partner as a first step to getting their films made.

AC: You have consulted on screenplay development - what do you tell an aspiring screenwriter? What stories should be told but are not being made?

LR: Thanks to the success of THE BLINDSIDE this year hopefully more inspiring dramas with female leads will be get made because these types of stories are always few and far between. Yet I grew up loving films like COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, NORMA RAE, MASK, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, ANNIE HALL and STEEL MAGNOLIAS. I would hope to see a few more of those types of movies being made more often again. As well as more film and television shows with minorities in leading roles where they aren't stereotyped or marginalized in execution of the storytelling.

I tell aspiring screenwriters, "Write what you know", which I learned in film school at Loyola Marymount University. Also I tell them what I learned in my first development job: "Just because it happened to you doesn't necessarily mean it makes for good drama or comedy."

AC: How did you meet Ann Lopez? Why did you decide to work together? What projects have you done?

LR: I met Ann Lopez for the first time in my interview to work for George Lopez Presents. She immediately walked in, hugged me, and then got down to business. She has warmth and genuine presence when she enters the room that immediately puts people at ease ‘«Ű yet she's extremely professional, talented, and creative, and knows all aspects of the entertainment business. I also met George at the same time. I had long admired George's career because he's a trailblazer who went against the grain and found success by keeping true to who he is, where he came from, and working hard. After meeting George and Ann I knew this was one of those life opportunities that I needed to seize. While we have many projects in various stages of development, our first collaboration is MR. TROOP MOM that aired on the Nickelodeon network in June 2009. We are very proud of that film because we all worked on it from inception to completion.

AC: What does a co-producer on a feature film do? What do you feel when you see your name on the screen?

LR: Primarily my job on any project, whether I'm being credited as a co-producer, executive producer or producer, is "creative." I don't necessarily do the nitty-gritty of line budgets or contracts, although I have. My focus is always on using my strength, which is storytelling, to make sure the project comes to completion. I'm involved from script to screen and everything in between, including casting, locations, choosing key creatives, editing, music and marketing. Filmmaking is a team effort. I try to find my position on a project based on my strengths, to work with everyone involved, and to turn out what we hope is the best product critically and commercially.

AC: What projects are planned for the near future? What is your ultimate goal as a company?

LR: We are very excited about a family film with franchise potential based on a timeless brand that we can't announce just yet. We also have optioned a very cool chick-lit book we are developing as a television series, have two feature films in development, as well as a few reality properties that we're exploring. My ultimate goal is to continue to serve the George Lopez brand of entertainment. Our company is fortunate that George is already a strong brand of entertainment that continues to provide Latinos with opportunities both behind and in-front of the camera. Honestly, with hard work the successful brand George and Ann already have built means the possibilities are endless.

AC: What are your personal goals?

LR: Personally my goals are to always strive for a work/life balance. As a woman and someone who wants to start my own family in the next couple of years I'm fortunate to have a strong example in the workplace. Ann's an incredible mother, a dedicated wife and business partner to George.

AC: Legacy?

LR: I guess I would like my legacy to be to produce a few unforgettable films that have timeless themes, and at least one ground breaking television show like THE GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW or THE COSBY SHOW ‘«Ű a show that is made because of my contribution, hard work and creative input. There has never been a time when the media has influenced our youth so greatly thanks to the growth of technology. You can watch a movie alone in your bedroom, on a laptop, or stream a television show from your iPhone on a subway. There is a responsibility as a producer that I take seriously: what you put out into the world has an effect on society. I'm also very passionate about the deterioration of the public education system in this country and the violence in public schools.

As my career grows, my ability to make an impact on this issue will, hopefully, be part of my legacy as well.

About Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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