MADRID –Madrid-based Plano a Plano, Spain’s highest-rating indie TV production house, is teaming with French prodco MakingProd, part of the Makever group, to develop “Salazar,” an epic thriller. Based on true events, the historical limited series turns on a real-life, though totally forgotten hero: Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar, called the Witches’ Advocate.
Plano a Plano’s first move into international co-production is an early milestone for the Madrid-based producer, headed by the creative tandem of Cesar Benitez, an experienced, highly-respected producer – of hit comedy features, such as 1995 “Boca a Boca,” starring a young hunky Javier Bardem, pioneering teen soap “Al salir de clase, and long-running cop series “El Comisario” – and seasoned writer-producer Aitor Gabilondo, a scribe on “El comisario” and now creator-writer of Plano a Plano’s door-opening hit “El Principe.”
Few companies in Spain have grown so fast. Founded in 2010, Plano a Plano is already celebrating having produced the two top-rating shows of the 2014-15 season in Spain, and is launching a 2015 line-up which makes it the only indie shingle in Spain producing primetime shows for the country’s three main broadcast network groups.
On “Salazar,” Stephane Drouet will co-produce for France’s Makever’s MakingProd, whose credits include France 2’s “Cherif” and Arte’s “Odysseus.” Nicola Soderlund at Stockholm’s Eccho Rights handles international sales.
Plano a Plano is currently developing a pilot script with its French partners, Set against an extraordinary background – the witch-hunt fever that struck France’s Basque Country and northern Spain from 1608, sparking the most famous of Inquisition trials, against self-confessed witches in Navarre’s Zugarramurdi. “Salazar” centers on a young Inquisitor who not only defies the authorities’ decisions, believing them to be unjust, but who also falls in love with one of the accused. His subsequent actions changed Inquisition law for centuries, said Gabilondo, who developed the original idea with Benítez.
“We would frame the series as, within the historical context, an investigative thriller but also a passionate love story,” Benitez added, saying producers’ ambition is to use Spanish and French actors, as the story requires.
Over the 2014-15, Plano a Plano pulled off a double. Its two hit dramas, the Telecinco-aired “El Principe” and “Down There,” broadcast on Antena 3, faced off in Tuesday primetime, aggregating a joint 49% share and 8.8 million viewers, and becoming the season’s most watched shows, only bested by crunch soccer ties.
The most-watched Spanish series of the year, now in its second and last season, thriller drama “El Principe,” set in Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta, turns on an undercover cop attempting to expose a Jihadist cell. Handled by Mediaset Sales, “El Principe” has sold to Latin America (OnDirectTV), Italy (Canale 5), Portugal (RTP 2), among other territories.
A remake has been optioned in Germany, and is in the works in France and the U.S., per Gabilondo.
“El Principe” also established a production identity for Plano a Plano: A drama with a social content, but filtered through a fast-paced thriller with multiple VFX, made by U.S. facility Stargate Studios (”The Walking Dead,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “24”) which allowed Ceuta locations to be re-created on a Madrid soundstage.
“Down Below,” a fish-out-of-water romcom, bowed in April to become the most-watched new series premiere on Antena 3 – the flagship channel of commercial broadcast group Atresmedia – in over a decade, averaging a 22.5% share. Sold at Mipcom by Atresmedia Sales, it follows a buttoned young gent from the North of Spain, as he hits Seville on a quest for love and happiness with Carmen, an outgoing nurse looking after his coma-struck mother.
Also on Plano a Plano’s 2015-16 lineup: Scheduled for an end-of-year shoot, suspense drama “La verdad,” with Maribel Verdu (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”), Jose Coronado (“The Body”) and Spanish top-model Jon Kortajarena which airs on Telecinco primetime in 2016; period procedural “El Caso,” about crime reporters in a highly censored ‘60s Spain, in pre-production for pubcaster TVE; couple-coaching show “Mejor llama a Pilar,” Plano a Plano’s first venture into entertainment, in post, set for Cuatro, Mediaset España’s second most-watched channel after Telecinco.
After five years, Plano a Plano has laid down the hallmarks of a brand. Going forward, “We aim to stay true to our trademark: In-house developed stories with a high production value that explore cultural and social events inside a fast-paced, highly entertaining plot able to seduce audiences, as ‘El Principe’ and ‘Down Below’ have proven to do. We believe in organic, story-motivated co-productions, as ‘Salazar’ is,” said Maria Cervera, Plano a Plano director of international.
Series are contained: Just two seasons in the case of “El Principe” and “La verdad”; “Salazar” is envisaged as eight segs.
“As Latinos, we have a world vision that can interest the world, just as Scandinavians have conquered it with a Nordic vision,” Gabilondo argued. Many forefront “passion, sentiments,” Benitez argued.
“Plano a Plano has been lucky enough to have found a space in little time in Spain’s TV market, with series on all three main channels. The next step is international co-production,” Benitez said, arguing the time is right.
“There’s very possibly a larger demand than ever before for fiction content, more communication on co-productions, and products that are local and universal at the same time travel ever more,” per Benitez.
International co-production may also allow Plano a Plano to cut one Gordian knot: Asset accruement.
Spanish broadcasters traditionally fully-finance, so retain show’s rights. That prevents indie producers from accumulating rights, building corporate asset value. For Benitez, “the step forward for Plano a Plano would be to have sufficient financial muscle to finance series, then license them to everybody, retaining their rights.”