Paul Presburger, producer Matt Walden on ‘La Usurpadora, the Musical’


Until Pantelion Films launched “Instructions Not Included” in the United States, grossing $ 44.47 million there in 2013, no other distributor had truly entered the Latin market.

Over the next eight years, Pantelion produced the largest Mexican-American dual-market comedy film franchise, “No Sleeves Frida,” and managed the first US release of six of Mexico’s 10 greatest hits of all. the temperature.

Now, however, leading Latin studio Pantelion Films is upping the stakes.

In partnership with sister company Pantaya, the premium Spanish-language streaming service, since August this year, Pantelion has signed talent deals with Maite Perroni (“Dark Desire”) and Mauricio Ochmann (“El Chema”) and co-development and production agreements with Elefantec Global and El Estudio, The Lift and Traziende Films.

Simultaneously, with The Lift Entertainment, he went into production in Mexico on “La Usurpadora, The Musical”, a modern musical film revamp of the 1998 Televisa telenovela classic that garnered huge ratings and has been exported to 125 countries.

When the title was announced, Pantelion Films described it as its “most ambitious venture to date”. To put it mildly: “La Usurpadora, the Musical” aims to become the biggest Mexican film release in Mexico in 2022 and a wider release for Pantaloon in the United States.

A few days after the shooting, Variety spoke with Paul Presburger, CEO of Pantelion Films and Pantaya, and Matt Walden, producer of “La Usurpadora, The Musical” and former executive of Columbia Pictures, Fox and Arista Records, about Pantelion’s latest big swing.

Pantelion Films called “La Usurpadora, the musical” “the most ambitious undertaking to date”. Could you expand on this ambition?

Presburger: Besides the budget, there’s the business of a musical itself, integrating songs seamlessly into a very popular story that already existed and securing the rights to the telenovela and the music behind it. Then there are the extremely elaborate sets and the choreography. It’s a project we’ve been working on for four years.

Walden: Just the scope of the film is so important. Tomorrow we’ll be here in a small town with hundreds of dancers and hundreds of extras, filming the end of the movie. And it’s just not something happening, especially in this space and in this market, that kind of Hollywood-style musical. It is a first of its kind in its market.

“La Usurpadora, The Musical” appears to be part of a larger growth in Pantelion and Pantaya. Why the metal pedal?

Presburger: We definitely have our pedal on the metal. There is now a lot of competition for the Hispanic audience. For example, Univision will launch its service next year. We’re a smaller player focused on the Hispanic American market, then partnering with people in Mexico, Latin America, and around the world. For example, securing the talent contracts that we recently announced is one way to ensure that we have a steady flow of marketable and important content over the next several years.

And “La Usurpadora” is part of the construction?

Presburger: Yeah. We understood that in order to make noise in the Hispanic American market, which is indeed part of the general market, if we were making films in Mexico, we had to make the greatest films in Mexico. So in Pantelion we have made a maximum of three or four films per year, which we call our tents for Pantaya. We spend multiples of what the local Mexican market spends on their films because we have two markets: the Hispanic United States plus Mexico, Latin America. If you come back to the slate – “No Sleeves, Frida”, “Overboard”, “How To Be a Latin Lover” – it was really trying to be the biggest movies in this space. When Matt came up with this idea for a musical four years ago, it fit in perfectly with what we wanted to do.

And how, Matt, did you come up with the idea for the film?

Walden: I have spent most of my career making music for film and television. About six years ago, I joined the board of directors of the Center Theater Group, the largest non-profit theater company in the United States. We were doing a cover of “Zoot Suit”. Sitting at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and looking at the audience, I realized that part of the obligation of the biggest theater in Los Angeles was to do theater for the people who live there and you have a city in half. Hispanic. So I started to think about the most popular art forms in this market.

Alan Estrada, Santiago Limon and Isabella Castillo
© Feli Gutierres / Pantelion Films

Like telenovelas?

Walden: Yeah. Novels have obviously historically been the kind of content freak in this culture. But no one will really want to see a novela turned into a play. So I thought about the characteristics of a novela that make it interesting and unique. It’s a deep story: a deep character, a deep emotion, and those are all the elements of a musical. In a novela, when the emotions get big, people get melodramatic or very dramatic. In a musical, people sing. I started doing some research, looking for the perfect novel, and I came to Paul and asked him, “Could you see if the rights would be available for the Center Theater Group to develop as a Broadway-style musical?” in Los Angeles ? Paul came back to me and said, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, no, you can’t have those rights. The good news is, you’re going to be producing it for us as a movie.

“La Usurpadora” originally aired in 1998. They were two identical twin sisters, separated at birth and unknown to each other, one truly decent but humble who agreed to replace the another who is married, ultra rich and truly destructive. Given that this will be a modern musical, has that storyline evolved?

Walden: Valeria is written as a strong, independent woman who ends up making the choice to take this other fundamentally evil woman’s place, mostly from a place of strength. She does it to save her grandmother. And when she sees that the family business in Mexico is in trouble, she plays a very positive and proactive role in helping them save the business.

The musical is advertised in Spanish and English. Does this happen more in the US than in the original?

There is the story that takes place in the United States, even though it is not shot in the United States. Valeria, the good sister, grew up in Las Vegas. When she comes to Mexico to replace her nasty sister, the sick grandmother is still in the United States. Additionally, during the first half of the film, the evil sister stays in the United States with her boyfriend, which is why she made the proposal in the first place.

Presburger: What’s interesting is making it cross-border. What a challenge for lead actress Isabela Castillo, who has to speak English with an American accent and also Spanish with a local Mexican accent and do both without missing a beat. Many of Pantelion’s films are cross-border and in English and Spanish. We try to be really organic that way. If anyone spoke English, they would. And if anyone spoke Spanish, they would. This is how Hispanics live their lives.

Even in films made in one language like “No Sleeves, Frida”, there is still a cross-border sensitivity.

Presburger: I was just going to say. The same principle applied: if we were to shoot in a high school, we needed it to fit into both cultures. And so the school is indescribable, you don’t know where the story is going other than it’s in Spanish and the story is universal.

Walden: When you look at the group of talented people that we’ve put together to make this movie, all of these people have the capacity to understand a broader sensibility, how to attract the American market. Santiago Limón, our director, visited AFI. Sebastian Krys, who is Argentinian, set very successful records on both sides of the border. Extremely talented choreographer Priscilla Hernández worked on a James Bond film. Our star, Isabela Castillo, is Cuban-American. The cast also includes American actor Shane West. The movie will have all the elements that will appeal to the same people who go to see great Hollywood movies as well as here.

Presburger: We’re not focusing on Mexico. We focus on Mexico, the United States and the wider Hispanic market. The songs don’t just come from Mexico but from all over the Hispanic world and were among the top 10 hits. Latin music spreads across nationalities. Telenovelas have also worked everywhere these days. So we tried to take music that works across different nationalities and cultures, as well as an art form that does that too.

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Paul Presburger and Matt Walden
Pantelion films


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