‘Gordita Chronicles’ creator and showrunner break down writing process
July 13, 2022
Claudia Forestieri (Good Trouble, Selena) and Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Diary of a Future President) serve as the respective creator and showrunner on HBO Max’s new, Latin-focused comedy series, Gordita Chronicles. Inspired by Forestieri’s own life experience, the freshman show centers around a Latina reporter looking back on her childhood as a chubby, willful and reluctant Dominican immigrant growing up with her eccentric family in 1980s Miami.
Write a script only you could write.
“The script was originally a one-hour dramedy,” Forestieri shares. “I was trying to break in, and someone had given me the advice, ‘Write the script only you could write.’ So I wrote about coming to America and how hard it was.”
“Then, when I had my general with Sony, they said they liked ‘Gordita’ and would option it if I was willing to turn it into a half-hour comedy. So I developed it with Josh Berman (Drop Dead Diva) and wrote the bible.”
Once the pilot was ready to shoot, the studio landed on Muñoz-Liebowitz to showrun. Little did they know, Forestieri and Muñoz-Liebowitz were already friends. They had met during the 2013 NBC Writers on the Verge program.
“It was so great to hear that a colleague of mine had gotten this far in selling a show,” says Muñoz-Liebowitz. “I had read an earlier draft of the script for punch-ups before she had submitted the script to HBO, and it was the cutest little show I had ever seen.”
She continues, “There was an immediate connection, even though it was her specific story because so many of the experiences in the pilot were what my family had experienced. It was a no-brainer for me to sign on.”
Make intentional choices.
The show is experienced through the eyes of the show’s young protagonist Cucu Castelli as well as through her VO as an adult.
“Someone like Cucu has her eyes wide open, and because she’s experiencing things for the first time, inconsistencies stand out when they haven't been experienced over and over again,” Muñoz-Liebowitz explains. “She's a brand new person in a brand new place.” So the voiceover functions as “a Rosetta Stone for cultural references and gives perspective to Cucu’s experiences.”
Forestieri adds, “It’s also a way for us to explain to the audience how things were because a lot of the things that happened to Cucu happened to me.”
And it was through humor that Forestieri and Muñoz-Liebowitz were able to put those things in context while keeping it a family show.
“There’s a real version that’s sad,” Forestieri shares. “When Donald Trump was saying all those horrible things about immigrants, it reminded me of the '80s and hearing it be said of Miami immigrants, so I wanted to show that, that has always been there.”
“But thanks to Brigitte–and it’s one of the many reasons why I love working with her–she was able to identify the funny, real-life moments and give those moments ups and downs that aligned with the show.”
It’s always better together.
When it came to taking the show from page to production, Forestieri and Muñoz-Liebowitz leaned into their respective strengths.
“We made every decision together because we each have our fortés, and we support each other in those ways,” says Muñoz-Liebowitz. “And if we disagreed, the person who felt most strongly got their way.”
“Brigitte is sick of me now–she ran away to Europe,” Forestieri says, with a grin. “No, I miss you!” says Muñoz-Liebowitz, leaning into the camera emphatically.
“[The creator-showrunner] relationship is somewhere between sisters and spouses,” explains Forestieri. “We spent 16 months together. And the product came out stronger and better [if and when we disagreed].”
She then pauses, remembering, “Sometimes we had an arm-wrestling contest.”
Muñoz-Liebowitz nods, “We have done that.”
“I’m so grateful Brigitte came on board. I don’t know where the show would be if she hadn't,” Forestieri continues on. “I had never been in a comedy room before, and so there was a learning curve for me to be in one.”
“There’s nothing better than a writers’ room, honestly,” says Muñoz-Liebowitz. “I come from an improv and sketch background, so I prefer to write with a group of writers. That’s how you build stories, by riffing off each other. It’s the funnest part of the job–collaborating with each other.”
“Having heavy-hitting comedians in the room made it so much easier, and I learned so much from them,” shares Forestieri. “You have all these amazing brains giving you notes to make the story better and funnier. That, to me, was magic.”
“You really need people to invest their souls into this, not only their time, to make a show successful,” she reflects.
“I saw my job in two parts. First, to support Claudia's vision and what we ultimately put on screen was what she wanted,” says Muñoz-Liebowitz. “And second, it was to deliver the show that HBO bought. From the pilot, we put out what we promised in the pilot. And we did a great job putting this together.”
“We’re like chocolate and peanut butter,” says Forestieri.
Forestieri and Muñoz-Liebowitz not only found support in each other but also from the higher-ups.
“Zoe [Saldana] came around when we sold the show to HBO,” says Forestieri. “She’s one of the biggest stars from the DR, which was extremely special.”
Saldana’s support of the show was pivotal at every step of the process–from choosing directors, to what the story was going to be about. And because of her, they were able to get the Dominican Republican actors they got “ because she has connections with DR talent,” shares Forestieri.
“Eva [Longoria] was the last piece of our puzzle when she came on as our director,” continues Muñoz-Liebowitz. “We were three weeks out from shooting, and we were talking to Gloria Calderón Kellett, and she said she’d give her a call for us.”
“It was like love at first phone call,” she recalls. “Eva was soo incredible and got what we were going for. And every step of the way, she was so enthusiastic and had great ideas–ideas she pitched to us were ideas we were going to pitch to her!”
Forestieri nods, “We were going for ‘80s John Hughes films… Or how we like to call it–Juan Hughes films. She really understood the aesthetic of the show.”
And what would they say if they could go back in time and high-five themselves?
“I would go back in time to the last day, the last night, the last minute of the last scene we shot of the pilot. It was so crazy because we shot it during COVID and had to wear masks and everything,” reflects Forestieri. “But I would go and high-five Brigitte and go party with her. And celebrate because we had such a wonderful pilot in the can, and we didn't even know it.”
Muñoz-Liebowitz smiles at the memory. “It wasn’t even that far back ago!” She pauses, thinking, before saying, “It's one of these things where you don't know what you've done until you've done it. It's like childbirth, where you black out because nature wants you to do it again.”
“When we got to be together in NY for the premiere… It literally felt like I was waking up from a fugue state, and I was just beginning to understand what we had done,” she says. “I'd give you a hug and a high five because we had worked our asses off. We definitely should’ve pounded some bottles of cab.”
Written by: Quincy ChoQuincy Cho is a multi-hyphenate comedy writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Born a 20-lb. baby with a creative flair, she doesn’t know which upsets her mother more—the fact that her baby hippo daughter grew up to do comedy or that she’s not married. Tomayto, tomahto. Quincy has studied and performed comedy with house teams on the mainstages of UCB and iO West. She recently made the Second Round of the Sundance Episodic Lab, finished the WAN Writers Workshop, was awarded the NBC/Second City Hollywood Bob Curry Fellowship in 2019, and showcased her work as a writer/performer at the 3rd Annual LA Diversity Comedy Festival. She attributes her success to her experience working in web comics as a producer and quality control editor. Favorite credits: Shameless, Queenpins, and her most recent Bud Light Super Bowl LV commercial. Now, in her spare time, Quincy happily spends her time pole dancing in her living room with her deaf cat (much to her dog’s dismay).