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Interview: Borja Cobeaga • Director

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“It’s possible to make good comedies for young people”


- Basque director Borja Cobeaga (31), whose short One Too Many was nominated for an Oscar in 2007, makes his feature debut with a film lauded at the Malaga Film Festival

Interview: Borja  Cobeaga  • Director

Cineuropa: What happened following the Oscar nomination for your second short?
Borja Cobeaga: I was offered a variety of projects, but I continued to work with Telespan 2000, who produced The Friend Zone [+see also:
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interview: Borja Cobeaga
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, and our collaboration pre-dates the nomination.

I think that in Spain there’s a sort of “debut film syndrome”. Ever since Alejandro Amenábar enjoyed enormous success with his debut film Thesis, we Spanish directors are affected by this syndrome. We think about it too much; when the opportunity to make our first film comes along, we pin all our hopes on it. That’s why, until I relaxed, I didn’t get anywhere with mine. “If the first one is a failure”, I told myself, “I’ll have to make a good job of the second”.

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We considered various projects. We wrote the script after the Oscar adventure and the following year we started shooting. And we’re currently preparing our next film, another comedy, with producer Tomás Cimadevilla. I’m better at comedy and sarcastic humour: it’s possible to make good comedies for young people in Spain and we’re going to continue making them.

How would you explain the concept “pagafantas” [the film’s Spanish title, which translates literally as “the one who pays for the Fantas”] to non-Spanish speakers?
I came across various websites which talked about “the friend zone”, a term that was also used in the series Friends when referring to the relationship between Rachel and Ross. There are videos on Youtube of a boy who has recorded himself on camera with a female friend whom he daren’t seduce. The “pagafantas” is just a friend in the eyes of the girl he desires, he’s like a teddy bear: she really likes him, they get along wonderfully but he doesn’t represent a sexual threat to her.

The Friend Zone won the Critics’ Award and Best New Screenwriter prize at the Malaga Film Festival, which shows that its humour appeals to all types of audience.
We were very surprised to win the Critics’ Award because The Friend Zone is a young people’s comedy. We left Malaga feeling very encouraged by the unexpected prizes, although I was calm because the film had already screened before audiences and had raised plenty of laughs. But winning these awards in Malaga was a wonderful bonus.

When getting the project off the ground, did you have to abandon any aspect of the film for the sake of sought-after commercial success?
After my shorts, I knew that the subject of old people had been a success, but for a film involving two years of work, I wanted to focus on people of my own age and tell a more direct story. And I knew that this would help us produce the film more easily. It was a change in my filmography, but it wasn’t too much of an effort, because I like the subject: I made the film as I wanted. In making the transition from short to feature, I was afraid that the television networks involved in financing the film would make us cast well-known actors, but, fortunately, this wasn’t the case.

The launch campaign for The Friend Zone includes original Internet promotion.
Yes, because a film is more than the movie itself, it’s everything that surrounds it: the Web, marketing, Youtube, etc… This is also part of the work, that’s why it’s very important to pay attention to it. I have a real obsession with controlling the film’s entire concept. I didn’t have to battle much with the production company, because the film I wanted to make was the one they wanted to produce: they asked me for lots of ideas and are delighted with my vision of things.

How much did it cost to make The Friend Zone?
€2,300,000, including backing from television networks Antena 3 Films, ETB and Canal Plus. I always hear about the difficulties people experience in getting film projects off the ground in Spain and I feel lucky because, as soon as the screenplay was completed, the film went ahead. We even had a Spanish distributor (Manga Films) before we started shooting. The film will be released on 240 screens on July 3.

Is summer a good time to release films?
This is due to the experience of Telespan 2000, who released The Other Side of the Bed during the same months, and it was a success. I trust them, because I have no idea. I’m already looking forward to getting the release over with so I can devote myself to my new film. I want to start shooting next year; that’s what I find most interesting and enjoyable.


international title: The Friend Zone
original title: Pagafantas
country: Spain
year: 2009
directed by: Borja Cobeaga
screenplay: Borja Cobeaga, Diego San José
cast: Michel Brown, Kiti Mánver, Gorka Otxoa, Sabrina Garciarena, María Asquerino, Ernesto Sevilla, Óscar Ladoire

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