MADRID — Los Bragas, run by actress-producer-turned-director Alice Braga (“Elysium,” “I Am Legend,” “City of God”) and writer-director Felipe Braga (“Trash,” “Latitudes”), is seeking international broadcast TV outlets for “A Vida Fora dos Campos,” an intimate web/TV portrait of Brazilian soccer player Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. which marks Alice Braga’s directorial debut.
As the world girds up for June’s FIFA World Cup soccer tourney, “A Vida” (literally “Off-Field Life”) digital build takes soccer coverage to new levels.
Packing two seasons of six five-to-six minute episodes, first seen as web-segs, “A Vida” is produced by NJR, Neymar Jr.’s own label, and Los Bragas, marking Neymar Jr.’s entry into production. In April, using the content, the partners launched a Neymar Jr. YouTube channel, the first with original content co-produced by a soccer player himself, said Felipe Braga.
On June 11, the eve of the World Cup’s opening match between hosts Brazil and Croatia, Neymar Jr. Channel will launch a 25-minute special, covering the soccer star’s preparations in Spain and then trip back to Brazil for his first World Cup appearance in an event where Brazil departs as favorites and Neymar is its undisputed star.
The co-scribe on Working Title’s “Trash,” helmed by Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot,” “The Hours”) and director of “Latitudes,” a pioneering TV, Internet and feature film production seen at SXSW, Felipe Braga directs with Alice Braga, the best-known Brazilian actress of her generation.
The creation of a YouTube channel was a question of logic, said Felipe Braga.
Los Bragas and NJR are now negotiating a TV deal for the series in Brazil.
“Neymar’s social media figures put together are something like 25 million. He has more viewers than most cable TV channels in Brazil, so it made no sense to go after a cable TV slot there. He became his own channel,” said Felipe Braga.
“A Vida’s” real step-forward, however, is its focus. It uses the digital realm to reveal Neymar as a person and portray the world he lives in, which is influenced not only by his Brazilian origins – his sense of family, faith and fun – but also membership of a new global digital generation. Neymar doesn’t just star in “A Vida,” or co-produce it: He shot some of the material himself.
Part of “A Vida” responds to the global interest of fans in a game which moves so much money to know more about what makes its defining players really tick.
The World Cup will cost Brazil a total $11 billion, per Bloomberg, more than 2013’s U.S. movie box office ($10.9 billion). It will also have 22 sponsors, including Adidas, Coca Cola and Sony. In 2012 and 2013, SportsPro named Neymar the most marketable athlete in the world.
Shooting in an observational style, with high production values, “A Vida” gradually reveals the young man behind the media hype, but not via classic docu-style talking heads interviews.
Los Bragas” originally started shooting Neymar for a TV series of portraits of multiple soccer star. But the portmanteau project collapsed.
“We became increasingly curious about talking about a young soccer player of Neymar’s generation. Ten years ago, his situation would have been different,” said Alice Braga.
“Everything shown about him is mediated, TV interviews, etc. We wanted to ask what he really has to say, who he really is. etc. We wanted to ask what he really has to say, who he really is- and bring it to the public through his own point of view.”
“A Vida’s” first season, “Days in Santos,” follows Neymar in Sao Paulo where he plays for Santos. The second, “Half-Time Barcelona”) catches up with him, carrying an ankle injury, halfway through his first season with Spain’s FC Barcelona.
A leap in the dark, the series attains a “cinematic” quality, said Felipe Braga.
That’s partly because of its style, with high production values, and a variety of fluid, often-stylish camera set-ups: Overhead shots, fades, a studied focus on one person – Neymar, his father, wife or small son – in a particular seg.
Sitting in at first on Neymar media shoots, for promos, commercials, as well as at meetings, “A Vida” gets steadily closer to its subject, tracking him in downtime, ordering pizzas (something he relishes – not just the food but contact with someone who doesn’t know who is), go-karting in Barcelona with Sao Paulo friends (where he proves highly competitive: he is cock-a-hoop at coming first), pranking around, joking with his father; being blown away by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. It also pays testament to Neymar Jr.’s constant use of mobiles, Blackberrys, laptops, cell-phone cameras: When a fan asks for a photo with him, he grabs the fan’s cell-phone and takes a selfie.
Neymar shot material for episodes on his own cell-phone.
“Many times, ‘A Vida’ feels like a fiction film,” said Felipe Braga. “There’s one episode where Neymar says: ‘Dad, I’m going to cut my hair.’ And his dad says: ‘No, You’re not.’ They’re comfortable enough to have us there when they’re quarrelling: You forget Neymar’s a super-star.”
There is also a sense of narrative, Alice Braga argued: “In the first season, he’s a Brazilian boy with a dream of playing for Barcelona. In the second, he’s now a man, someone who’s made his dream come true, but he now has new responsibilities, new challenges.”
She added: “He’s the image of the Brazilian soccer team when the World Cup will be played in Brazil, the dream of every boy in Brazil.”
The series makes but sparing use of interview and voice-over, which makes them all the more telling.
A child of the Internet revolution, he is also a victim of Internet rage, trolls: At one point, his girlfriend laments: “On one side, you get the affection of his fans, but there’s also nasty people, commenting his photos, judging him without even knowing him, just the product, his image.”
Soccer is about “dribbling, scoring goals, having fun.” Sometimes, as a child he would play all night, he says. “Now I attempt to keep hold of the happiness I had as a child…despite all the envy, evil which exists in human beings, to continue being that child the most time I can.”