As TV continues to catch up, and in some cases surpass, cinema in terms of production values, action sequences and story lines, the race has not stayed confined to Hollywood. Brazilian broadcasters Globo represent perhaps the best positioned company to do just that in Latin America. With an overwhelming free-to-air market share, muscular resources, historic studios and large production expertise, the company is also innovating in a format where it has few rivals, the high-end telenovela.
A case in point: Colonial era epic “Novo Mundo.” Two centuries ago, the Austrian Archduchess Leopoldina was dispatched by her Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor father to Rio de Janeiro to marry the man who would become Brazil’s first Emperor, Dom Pedro. The Duchess was loved: Dom Pedro sided with Brazil’s liberals, wrenching independence from the Portuguese crown in 1822. The novela focuses heavily on Leopoldina’s sea journey to her new kingdom, the lifestyle of people during the era and the aesthetic of Brazil in its infancy as an independent polity.
Experimentation with telenovelas at Globo is hardly new, representing an “eternal evolution” of the format at the broadcast group as “part of a larger concern to offer relevant content to our audience, “ said Silvio de Abreu, Globo Chief Content Officer for daily fiction and super series. No other entertainment product guarantees such high daily audiences with 45/50% shares, he pointed out.
‘New World’s” push into state-of-the-art production should be particularly noticeable on “novo Mundo,” however. It will display not only a reconstruction of an era-appropriate rigged sailing ship but a small village built in the aesthetics of the time, CG and practical effects meant to rival anything currently on TV and a score almost completely written for the show by composer Sacha Amback. All of these features are on display in Portuguese-language trailer made available on the Internet. Globo is not pulling any punches in a pictorial realism depicting royalty, commoners, slaves, and taking in multiple love-stories, humor and a bit of action, all of which promise to continue over the show’s 186 episodes.
“Novo Mundo’s” ship was a “tremendous learning curve” which will now feed through to upcoming projects. The audience is increasingly demanding and dispersed over many entertainment offerings, making for an increasingly fierce battle for its preferential attention,” said De Abreu. “
He added: “It not only wants diversity and more choice; it wants to see something truly good, interesting and engaging,”
Marking the aesthetics of the show has largely on the shoulders of artistic director Vinicius Coimbra, who has worked at Globo for years, winning International Emmys for “Side by Side,” and critical acclaim for “Lady Revolution”. His acclaimed work has typically been on period pieces, which is where he brings his auteurist vision to “Novo Mundo” in a determinedly accurate physical portrayal of Brazil’s past.
To leverage a competitive advantage in scale, Globo secured the services of longtime Hollywood stuntman and VFX director Andy Armstrong who directed the action scenes of the series. Armstrong’s resume includes “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Thor,” “Highlander,” and a number of James Bond movies over a four decade career.
The telenovela ‘Novo Mundo’ will be released on March 22 on Globo’s main free-to-air channel. It will also be made available on its SVOD platform in its entirety for subscribers as it airs on open TV; some sections will be available to non-subscribers. Coimbra talked with Variety about the new period extravaganza.
Regarding the involvement of Andy Armstrong, the creation of animated characters fro crowd scenes, the VFX, what have been the most important innovations for Globo?
Globo has vast experience with CG and has used that again for the ship. There are three ships, a cargo vessel, a pirate ship and the ship on which Leopoldina travels to the New World. Great aerial shots were taken to show the ship’s progress. We also found a director to oversee action scenes and give a workshop at Globo. He imparted crucial knowledge to us.
The production notes say “the telenovela has a very sharp aesthetic.” How would you describe that?
It’s very real because of just how tough life was at the time, with a lack of running water, sewage systems, medicine and of course air-conditioning!Our Brazil is also very much influenced by the paintings of Jean-Baptiste Debret, his social groups and compositions. We approached the aesthetic with a human eye, one of a painter.
Can you compare “Novo Mundo” to other telenovelas and series made by Globo or those made outside of Brazil?
Without being presumptuous, some comparisons could be made with “Black Sails,” “The Mission,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” though these comparisons are relative.
We get the impression that “Novo Mundo” is part of a movement in Latin America towards “super-series” with high production levels and action scenes to differentiate themselves from a lot of local competition and put themselves on par with big international series. Would you agree?
I think that achievements in CG have benefited everyone, not just big international players. They invested first and we’re trying to keep up. It is important that the Brazilian public feels that Globo is not falling behind big international producers.
Of your characteristics as an auteur, “Side by Side,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” and “A Hora e a Vez de Augusto Matraga” has been a desire to immerse audiences in a Brazil from another time. There is a great emphasis on capturing the reality of an era. Do you agree and where does this passion come from?
My passion, if truth be told, is literature. My two films are based on classics, as is the miniseries “Dangerous Liaisons.” A writer’s motivations are less schematic than most screenwriters, less bound by rules and conventions. Literary characters interest me when they are set in a modern context, whether they be Brazilians or foreigners. My last film, for example, is a modern adaptation of “Macbeth.”
Many stories about the past of Brazil are stories of either progress, despite difficulties, or a lack of progress, because of difficulties. In which category do you think “Novo Mundo” falls?
The second predominantly marks the history of Brazil. It is a history marked by corruption, slavery, militarism, and huge land holdings. This is the Brazil that “Novo Mundo” portrays during this period, around the time of the proclamation of independence.
All history is a re-interpretation of the past through the lens of the present. What is the contemporary relevance of “Novo Mundo”?
In the latest novela, “Lady Revolution,” we showed a period just before that of “Novo Mundo” and show the revolutionary movements which fought colonialism. “Novo Mundo” goes beyond this but also talks about the socio-economic and political capital of Brazil. Here we see the inherited habits of Portugal but also the forging of a country which is truly Brazilian.
Virginia Juarez and John Hopewell contributed to this article