In a modern democracy, formed out of the receding shadow of a fascist dictatorship, could a journalist be murdered for political reasons? Chilean series “Bala Loca” starts with this singular question and unspools into a up-to-date thriller, a 180-degree departure from the telenovelas which have dominated Latin American drama.
Fitting in the 10-hour mould of the post-streaming world, the series has a look and approach which give it an international feel. That feel got it onto the New York Times’ list of what to watch for the first weekend of August this year, and a nomination for best series at the Premios Platinos, held in Madrid in July.
Produced by show creator David Mirando Hardy’s Filmosonido and funded by CNTV, Chile’s national council of television, the series was broadcast first in Chile by free-to-air TV network Chilevisión, owned by Turner Broadcasting System. It has since been picked up by Netflix for distribution in the U.S., Spain, and most of Latin America.
The show follows a small group of political journalists in Santiago de Chile who band together to investigate the dubious circumstances surrounding a colleague’s death, and the possible ties to major corporate and political entities. In addition to the main plot-line, “Bala Loca” addresses topics such as living with a disability, non-traditional family units, adolescence and sexual identity.
As is often the case with higher end TV productions, “Bala Loca” looked to the big screen to find many of its lead actors. Alejandro Goic, who featured in 2009’s Sundance hit “The Maid” and 2015 Berlinale Silver Bear winner “The Club.” is joined by Ingrid Insensee who played the lead in the 2014 San Sebastian competition player “La Voz en Off”, at the head of an ensemble cast.
Hardy started his career working in sound, the area of production that he refers to as his first passion. In addition to a successful domestic career in Chile, last year he was sound director on Pablo Larraín’s Oscar nominated “Jackie.” “Bala Loca” represents his first foray into TV, and Hardy answered questions about the series for Variety.
Where did the show come from? What were your inspirations and how was the idea developed?
We wanted to make a gripping show, one that would compel you to binge-watch it and would surprise you at every turn, so we could keep audiences captive as we take them into uncomfortable realities. We wanted to talk about Chilean social anxieties: that obscure dance between politics, money and power; our constant suspicion of corruption; the distrust in our newly-found democratic institutions. My creative and business partner Marcos de Aguirre has used a wheelchair since his thirties, so we wanted a protagonist with a disability that was front and center, yet we didn’t want audiences to refer to him as “the guy in the wheelchair”. The formula we found was a crime-solving thriller led by a group of investigative journalists with deep personal flaws.
Chile has a particularly rich history of producing top-notch acting talent. Can you talk about the casting process?
You are totally right about the rich acting history of my country. We were very fortunate because even though it was our first venture as content producers, actors were compelled by the story and we got everybody we wanted. Every part in the show, big or small, is performed by an experienced actor. The result is a level of truth and depth we could only dream about. With over a hundred speaking parts, the process was long and cumbersome. Casting Director Manuela Martelli was essential shaping this world-class cast.
Were any of the parts written with certain actors in mind?
Half way through the writing process, we knew we had Alejandro Goic to play Mauro Murillo. That changed everything, even the age and demeanor of our protagonist. I’ve known Alejandro for many years. He is a full-time seducer, and one of the best storytellers you can find. We wrote to take advantage of these qualities, and it was very reassuring to know he would be carrying the show on his shoulders. Alejandro can pull off very difficult scenes, balancing the cynical with the melodramatic with subtlety and passion. He is as charismatic as it gets. Antonia Serrano was also written with Ingrid Isensee in mind, from the very beginning.
Does the series have a definitive ending or is there room for further seasons?
Spoiler alert! We have a very big question dangling in the end, a perfect bridge to Season 2.
The themes in this show seem very universal. Have there been any discussions about the format being used in any other countries?
We are fans of American TV series and their creators and I have been lucky enough to meet some of the best, like David Simon and Shawn Ryan. For a small media market like Chile, it is essential to remain specific and local, but with an eye on internationalization and a broader universal appeal. We would love to see an American version of “Bala Loca,” as I believe a lot of the tropes, this dissatisfaction with the system, is deeply shared there. So far, we haven’t had any specific conversations to adapt the material, only to broadcast the original one.
The series has a cinematic feel. What did you do to achieve that?
There is a growing convergence between film and television in terms of production systems and creative talent. For instance, we made a point of “Bala Loca” being shot with one camera, like most films are. We took a long time to write it and all artistic decisions, from the wardrobe to the color palette, locations, music composition, were all carefully considered as they would be in a film. Having the fantastic actors we have lends the medium prestige and validation but, beyond all, it gave as an amazing wealth of talent and craftsmanship.