JUAN RAMOS: BEHIND THE CAMERA FOR COPPOLA’S “MOZART IN THE JUNGLE”
Academy Award Nominee Roman Coppola is essentially American cinema royalty. He has understood high art and lived amongst it his entire life. When he professes, “Juan Ramos is an exceptional talent with a highly unique vision and the ability to deliver amazing results under pressure. I had the pleasure of working with him when we collaborated on the TV series ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ which I directed and produced. There were several critical scenes which Juan helped us shoot. Leading a film crew, Juan shot numerous sequences in the series…in particular, many of the scenes in and around Mexico City. It is essential for me to the very best Steadicam and Camera Operators to achieve my vision for this series and Juan is exactly that…the very best. Thanks to Juan’s talent and skill, our series was a huge success.” …you can be sure that it carries a lot of weight in the industry. Juan Matias Ramos Mora has been a part of numerous films, including Academy Award-Winning ones, but the life of a Steadicam Operator is one of work and practical application rather than public accolades. This is not a difficult scenario for Juan Ramos who has been certain since his teens that his definition of success was being a professional camera operator on productions which were unique and creative for him. As an operator on such well-known creations as The Sea Inside, Sexi Best, “Fear The Walking Dead”, and others, Juan has cultivated an impressive body of work in both TV and film which has caused Coppola and his peers to enlist this exemplary camera operator.
“Mozart in the Jungle” is a comedy/drama series produced by Amazon Studios. The Emmy/Golden Globes/Imagen Foundation awards bestowed upon the series, as well as its extremely high rating on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, confirms that both the public and critics find it fascinating and charming. After the show’s award winning first season (an occurrence which repeated itself in following seasons), Juan Ramos was approached to become a camera operator. Juan describes Coppola as one of the most talented directors he has worked with in his entire twenty-five-year career. As a Steadicam Operator, Juan is highly aware of movement in a production and immediately noticed and appreciated the use of this in the director’s approach. Not only did he enjoy this facet, but it also gave him an opportunity to display his expertise at this in a unique situation. Juan notes, “For example, in this show Roman likes to work with single-shot scenes and very little cuts in a single scene. This is a ‘choral’ show with a big cast and complex choreographies so that they can interact in a natural way. The way Roman builds the scenes and makes everything interact through choreography is almost a ballet. It’s beautiful to film and it is beautiful to watch because different elements that you might expect to be difficult to bring together, he actually makes it look natural and flow organically. It is actually quite complex to achieve this and it’s very fun to work on achieving this look and flow. He plans for a lot of queues, a lot of different specific actions, and it’s amazing how he does that.”
The link between every camera operator and the director is the Director of Photography. Tobias Datum is the DP for “Mozart in the Jungle” and wanted to bring Juan Ramos aboard for Season 2 (Juan was not involved in the first season of this series) due to his skill and commitment to the project. Juan admits that there is an added pressure when signing on for a production that received so much previous praise and recognition as you are required to immediately start as part of a machine that has already been operating at a high level. Datum’s faith in the Steadicam operator’s skill would prove true many times. Juan recalls, “There was a sequence we shot in one of the balconies in Bellas Artes Palace in Mexico City. We decided most of it would be a single shot with an 18 mm lens with the Steadicam in low mode. A night exterior shot with an 18mm lens was a very demanding situation for Tobías. Roman’s mise-en-scene plus the work of Tobías, and how they asked me to execute the movement added up to an amazing shot. It was mind-blowing to watch this shot being built! I think it works really well to tell the story. This was the 9th episode of season 2. It was amazing how we built a choreography that actually works on an 18mm lens, with which you can basically see everything. The designing of the lighting and a location as enchanting as Bellas Artes made a beautiful scene. Working with these talented professionals is the greatest part about being involved.”
While those he worked with on the set may have been his favorite part of the experience, filming in Mexico was a close second. Mexico City is a giant, chaotic, dynamic, & colorful city. It’s simultaneously interesting and challenging for a production department to film there. “Mozart in the Jungle” was allowed to shoot in a couple of “Magic Villages”, which are traditional villages in Mexico that invest in preserving what’s left of the colonial architecture as well as important traditions like gastronomy and festivals. One of these was Tepoztlán, which afforded the cast and crew the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere and traditional food of Mexico.
At his core, Juan Ramos is passionate about imagery and conveying feelings through them. He is so immersed in this that he seems to have let his ever expanding reputation avoid his gaze, leaving him to focus on the work. Perhaps this is best for all involved. The artist who focuses on his work and not the reception of his work continues to race after the elusive mastery of said work. One day maybe Juan will stop to look at it and realize what Coppola, Datum, and so many others have…that the mastery has been there for quite some time.