Brazil’s Alice, Felipe Braga on ‘Neymar Jr…,’ Branded Content and Giving Celebs Their Own Voice

Los Bragas’ Latest Production Presented Friday at Rio Content Market

Brazil’s Alice, Felipe Braga on ‘Neymar

Starring Alice Braga, the best-known Brazilian actress of her generation, (“Elysium,” “I Am Legend,” “City of God”) directed by Felipe Braga, co-scribe of Stephen Daldry’s “Trash,” and produced by both Bragas (no relation) and Rita Moraes at Los Bragas, 2013’s “Latitudes” was a cry of modernity in Latin America.

An Internet, then TV series (on TNT) then theatrical feature film, it tapped branded-entertainment financing and abandoned local social issues to pick-up on societal trends worldwide: Here the dislocated love story between a fashion editor and photographer which, unspooling at seven luxury hotel worlds, is both enabled and frustrated by their globe-trotting lives. On Friday, at the Rio Content Market, Alice and Felipe Braga present their second production, where they also share directorial duties: the three-season web series, then featured TV series, “Neymar Jr’s Life Outside the Fields,” which is again out of the box, and an act of enfranchisement, allowing a celebrity – soccer star Neymar Jr, the most famous Brazilian alive – his own voice and situating him in another global phenomenon: the world’s fully-literate Internet generation. Set to screen at SXSW, “Nymar Jr…” has already won international recognition: a dedicated Neymar Jr YouTube channel to broadcast it, brand support from Spain-based high street bank Santander, 30% international viewers, and an International Digital Emmy nomination in a competition whose winner will be announced at April’s Mip TV TV/digital content trade fair in Cannes.

Before their RCM presentation, both Bragas talked to Variety about artistic and industrial choices, new distribution patterns in Brazil, (some of) Los Bragas’ future plans, and, of course, slightly about the real Nymar Jr….

One key creative choice for “Neymar Jr’s Life Outside the Fields” is what sense of overarching narrative to give to the seasons and indeed Neymar’s life…

Felipe Braga: We were very aware of two different things. The first: To make sure that Neymar was part of the narrative, that the story was told in the first person, had his perspective. Everything we watch and read about Neymar is so mediated. There’s always someone on air talking about him. It’s very rare to see him expressing himself, talking about what he thinks and feels. Second: To put some of the conflicts and challenges that he lives daily inside that same narrative.

Alice Braga: We started shooting with Neymar when he was still in Brazil, trying to decide when he wanted to go to Europe.  Then we worked with him in Barcelona, when he was injured. There was a lot of pressure because of the World Cup. That’s the second season. His larger ongoing journey is that of a 17-18-year-old boy maturing into one of the most influential persons in Brazil

Great series also have a sense of character. Bit by bit you suggest how, on one hand, Neymar is very Brazilian – in his sense of family and emphasis on fun, example –  and, on the other hand, how he is part of a kind of international Internet generation. You develop that in multiple ways during the series to the point of Neymar himself supplying material for it.

FB: Yes, exactly. About 30% of our audience is from outside Brazil. That shows how he can reach other audiences because he is part of the same Internet generation. One thing Neymar used to tell us is that it’s incredible how the Internet makes him closer to people, and at the same time very far from everyone because relations are digitally maintained, and he’s separated through a cell-phone. Neymar is 10 years younger than Alice and I. 10 years shouldn’t be that much. But in this case, it is a completely different generation from us in the way it communicates. One day he had the One Direction kids at his home, and they obviously didn’t speak any Portuguese at all. Neymar doesn’t speak any English but they were able to communicate through a Google translator chat they all had on their cell-phone. And at one point I just looked at them and said: “That’s so rude; they are all together but all have their cell-phones out, looking at pictures on Instagram or Facebook or whatever”, and then I realized that they were actually talking to each other ….

There’s a lovely situation in the first episode of Season Three where Neymar is with his father and his sister and they are joking around answering questions sent to him by real fans and at the same time on his cell-phone answering, or e-mailing, or chatting. So you have that triple play of currents going through the whole scene.

AB: It’s interesting that he is so spontaneous when you’re with him there in person and as soon as he is giving an interview or something he becomes the player. Not that he is manipulated: He says what he wants to say. But the way that he delivers an interview is completely different from what he is – 21 at the time, and now 23. What Neymar gave us was the reality of his answering and fooling around with real questions.

And what kind of style did you want for “Neymar Jr”?

FB: My main work is in fiction but I have a strong relationship with documentaries. I really love an observational style and a point of view to documentaries. I hate talking-head interviews and voice-over narratives. So “Neymar Jr..” is about showing the public special moments and very subtle reactions that we get from him.

Apart from your artistic decisions, a crucial choice was to world-premiere on the new Neymar Jr  YouTube channel.

FB: Yes, that was a big part of the plan. We were very interested in understanding a new format, which was having a sports celebrity as his own broadcaster, showing that celebrities and personalities don’t have to rely any more on TV channels or news companies and they can have their own voice on their own channels. So the concept of having Neymar as the first soccer player in the world to have his own channel, where he premieres original exclusive content about himself, that was a very important concept for us.

When we gave a talk at SXSW Festival last March we were already shooting “Neymar Jr…” but we didn’t know exactly how to broadcast it: If we should go to a major television channel, or cable or global outlet, or sell to sports channels all over the world, and what would be the focus. So there were many, many options, and they were all more lucrative than starting this new concept. So we went to SXSW and they have now a new section that is called SXsports that discussed exactly what’s next in terms of original sports content. That’s when we had that Eureka moment and said: “Let’s forget about news companies and TV channels and make him have his own channel where he produces his own stuff.”

AB: It’s interesting because he has more control. As soon as you go to a network, even for fiction, here in Brazil, they have editorial control over the material. If he put it on his own YouTube channel, he becomes the actual producer of his own content; he can show people whatever he wanted to show as his own voice.

FB: That’s a huge focus at our production house Los Bragas right now. The big thing for us this year is having more celebrities, more sports stars that have their own broadcasting channels and exploe the production of their own content.

Afterwards, however, the series, or part of it, has been seen on more traditional TV, right?

FB: Yes, some of the material was shown on “Fantástico,” which is the most important Sunday night TV show in Brazil, on Globo. It’s been on air for decades, it’s very, very traditional. The problem for Globo is that it’s very much used to having the most exclusive, important and relevant material on special figures like Neymar, especially a couple of weeks before the World Cup. But this time they didn’t have anything at all. It was all on Neymar’s channel. That was a really interesting experience because we were able to have our series premiering on-line but having a huge recall on Globo that brought us more audiences than online. When “Fantastico” aired the special with our material, they had 70% of material that had been broadcast already on-line, and we gave them 30% of material that would still be the next Wednesday, three days later, and we made an agreement that they would say that those images were part of a special that was going on-line three days later.

How was “Neymar Jr’s Life Outside the Fields” financed and monetized and what was the viewership like?

Initially, we financed it ourselves, because we were very confident about the format and the content. And immediately after we started airing episodes, we had very interesting revenues, both from on-line views and a sponsorship deal with Banco Santander, the Spanish bank, which is very strong in Brazil and sponsors Neymar. The series was monetized with ads on the videos. YouTube has monetizing systems that work very well. It’s hard to get money from it at the beginning of the process. But when you start having millions of views, then it starts to be more interesting. In terms of audience , we had 35 million unique visitors, 742 million impressions, 11.8 million video views, and 200 million minutes watch time viewed, plus a 220% increase in channel subscribers.

So it was profitable?

FB: Yes, especially because we established a format. Now we’re multiplying, experimenting with other celebrities.

Everyone’s trying to understand how to make money with those projects, how to understand what the numbers mean. It’s all a grey area right now. What’s the difference between a viewer online and a household television set? How do you calculate the weight of each of those things. There’s no scale right now.

When you talk about multiplying, what kind of celebrity characters are you looking at?

FB: Personalities that have their own audience already. That’s why we went to Neymar in the first place. He had an audience of 50 million people following him daily already. We’re looking for those characters that have a big, established audience already.

Another challenge is to attract brands whose advertising agencies have had a very satisfactory relationship with broadcasters such as Globo.

Yes, it’s a huge discussion. They sell so much to TV channels that working on online programs is a new thing that they still have to understand how to monetize. We spent so much of our time speaking to agencies, to people from our generation, to try and make them more sensitive to the opportunities of online programming and independent programming. We know at this point that the best thing to do is to invest in those formats and make them happen, so that we have a track record. If you get Santander, they’re really happy with all the results they got from the investment. There were millions of views, it’s nominated for an Emmy. They see a lot of beautiful things coming back when they invest in original online content.

AB: It’s new. The Internet’s been a strong format for a while, but people are still skeptical about it, they don’t understand the numbers or how it can help the company.

FB: We’re been working with the same brands we worked with for “Latitudes.” P & G, and now Santander. Once they decide to participate in those experiences…. The decision’s hard for them, but now we’re starting to have those numbers. We’re able to do projections.

What were your final numbers with “Latitudes”?

FB: They were not as big as Neymar. They were good online and in TV, not so much in movie screens. It’s too hard for distributors in Brazil. They’re not as into experiments like in U.S. where films are released online and in theaters at the same time.

AB: “Latitudes” is different from the “Neymar Jr…” project because he has his own publicity, his own audience, millions of people who know his work. And it’s about his life. “Latitudes” is fiction for Internet, which is still ongoing. It was a good step forward to produce content fiction for Brazil.

Do you feel like pioneers in Internet content in Brazil, or beyond?

AB: In a way, yes. A lot of people started discussing this after “Latitudes” came out. We won an award from the APCA – the Sao Paulo Assn. of Art Critics, which is well known and important. They give awards for TV, movies. We won, though we were an Internet series. But we were on included as TV because the series was broadcast on TNT. But it’s still transmedia. It’s hard to say we’re pioneers. I’m sure some people already did it, but we came with a strong voice as to how it’s possible. And it was for free! Being able to use the Internet to make a project that someone can just click on YouTube and watch, that’s phenomenal.

How did you split up directing “Neymar Jr”?

AB: I stepped up because Felipe’s my best friend and I love working with him. Felipe invited me and it was interesting for me since i was curious about directing. I jumped on board and tried to figure it out on the road, how we could manage to discover this man and find an interesting way to tell it, through the conflicts Felipe has talked about… to find a balance of assessing him as a human being and creating questions to find out more about those conflicts. The directing’s an inspiration from Felipe’s invitation and I admire his work and wanted to learn from him, especially after watching “B1,” which is a beautiful documentary.

FB: We were honest with Neymar. We said: “We’re not journalists, its not a TV show or an article. We’re filmmakers. We want to tell your story.” It was all about convincing him, making him trust us. That was our strategy.