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‘Girl in progress’, which is currently playing in cinemas, is about Grace (Eva Mendes), a single mom who is too busy juggling work, bills, and the very married Dr. Harford (Matthew Modine), to give her daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) the attention she desperately needs.
When Ansiedad’s English teacher, Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette), introduces her students to classic coming-of-age stories, Ansiedad is inspired to skip adolescence and jump-start her life without mom.
While Grace becomes preoccupied with the increasing affections of her co-worker (Eugenio Derbez), Ansiedad enlists the help of her loyal friend, Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), to plot her shortcut to “adulthood.” But as her misguided plan unravels, Ansiedad and Grace must learn that sometimes growing-up means acting your age.
It’s all in the writing: the Genesis of ‘Girl in progres’
Screenwriter Hiram Martinez – Dominican-born, New York raised – had written and directed the small indie Four Dead Batteries and was working as an editor for Keith Olbermann when the idea for ‘Girl in progress’ hit.
“I was thinking about growth, and how we each live through unique coming-of-age stories that shape us, when the light bulb went off…what if a girl willingly stages her own coming-of-age story?” Steeped in his Dominican roots but with a passion for indie fare like Thirteen and Rushmore, Martinez’s script grew out of those sensibilities.
He named his protagonist Ansiedad, the Spanish word for anxiety, explaining, “There’s no word Dominicans won’t turn into someone’s name. My grandmother was named ‘Light,’ I knew a girl named ‘Sadness’ growing up, doomed to neurotic dysfunction; so naming a teen Ansiedad/Anxiety said two things – how she feels and what kind of world she comes from.” But who or what would a teen named Ansiedad spend her story rebelling against? “Grace was a no brainer,” Martinez says. “It’s the timeless clash between mother and daughter.”
Martinez modeled Grace after women he knew growing up; he decided Grace should have still been a child herself when Ansiedad was born. “Her youth slipped through her fingers and Grace subconsciously pegged it on her daughter,” adds Martinez, “so the mother never really became an adult. The script all clicked after that: a girl decides to grow up because her mother refuses to.”
As for Ansiedad’s classmates, Martinez split the difference, modeling some after high school archetypes and a few after the real deal. The plucky and loyal Tavita, played by Raini Rodriguez, was closer to the writer’s heart; “Tavita represents the early faithful companion you kinda grow up with but then leave behind so you can branch out in a different teenage direction, and it ends up sucking for both of you, doesn’t it?”.
Trevor, played by Landon Liboiron, was inspired by “the sort of kid every guy wishes he had been at that age – a tractor beam for girls! Popular, good looking, rebellious, but if you asked him about his life maybe some dark stuff would seep out.”
In 2009 Martinez applied for a Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ten finalists were selected that year from more than 6,000 submissions. Martinez was one. His screenplay circulated to agents, producers and studios around Hollywood.
“I was getting a lot of calls. And then I got the call.” Greg Coote and Robert Lundberg of Latitude Entertainment read the script and responded to its original voice. Coote is a veteran of international production who most recently ran Dune Entertainment, which co-financed ‘Avatar’ and ‘500 Days of Summer’.
The script was then sent over to Jim McNamara and Ben Odell, who were in the process of folding their Latino-focused production company, Panamax Films, into Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate and Televisa. They decided to option the material together.
“Ben and I had been making movies in Spanish for a few years and as we shifted out focus to English, we wanted to find stories that were unique and original, universal but with a certain Latino flavor,’ says Former Telemundo CEO and Prexy Jim McNamara.
“First and foremost the ‘Girl in progress’ script was very entertaining but it was also smart with a capital S. It had a unique voice, an original point of view. And I have never come across a Hispanic character as original and articulate as Ansiedad or as layered and complex as Grace. We were all just riveted by the material. These are the kinds of movies we want to bring to our audience, stuff that stands out in any marketplace,” adds Odell.
Image Courtesy of Girl in Progress