Mipcom: HBO Latin America’s Roberto Ríos on ‘The Bronze Garden,’ Cinematic TV, Montaigne

As HBO vows to bring more international series to the U.S., Variety talks to Roberto Rios, HBO Latin America corporate VP, original production.

HBO Latin America’s Roberto Ríos on

CANNES — Episode 4 of the eight-part “The Bronze Garden,” the most-watched HBO Latin America’s Original of 2017, begins after its credit crawl with a 13-second shot where the camera swings out past a white-marbled turret of a building high above a teeming, ant-like Buenos Aires below. The next shot, at near street-level, and with a long-focal lens, records a one-minute conversation in sequence shot as it follows protagonist Fabián and dogged private dick Doberti walking down a crowd-clogged pavement, discussing the latest clues to the disappearance of Fabián’s four-year-old daughter.

A big-final-twist tale of extraordinary obsession, bowing from June 25 on HBO Latin America, “The Bronze Garden” showed two film directors, Pablo Fendrik (“Ardor) and Hernán Goldfrid (“Thesis on a Homicide”) not so much learning the ropes of TV as pushing the envelope on its expressive possibilities. Its cinematic ambition marks a highpoint in 2017’s Latin American cinema-TV fusion. Where HBO Latin America goes from here is another question. In the wake of “Sr. Avila” scoring a International Emmy nomination, and as HBO announces it will bringing some of its original international series production to its U.S. streaming and VOD platforms, Variety chatted to Roberto Ríos, HBO Latin America corporate VP, original production, about “The Bronze Garden’s” cinematographic punch, HBO Latin American distribution and diversification, Brazil, and making higher-budgeted scripted.

“The Bronze Garden” bowed out after eight episodes on Sunday, Aug. 13, hailed by HBO as its most-watched Latin American series of the year. One key was the migration to TV of two directors better-known for their film work….

This has to be placed in context. A first is when we began to produce in Latin America from 2002, HBO was consolidating in the U.S. as the great generator of original content. Our bet then was our bet now – that our audiences come to us with a significant amount of information about the content. From the beginning, we recognized a large interest from the creative community, which was expressing ideas and stories very well in film. We had to do more. We’ve known how to attract these people with a novel, original material or an idea for an original series which has to be forceful, relevant and, from its origins, very Latin American. “The Bronze Garden,” for example, is based on an Argentine novel, its author Argentine. But we chose it because of the quality of its content which gives it a universal appeal. There’s a lovely observation from Michel de Montaigne who says that mankind’s most universal quality is diversity.

Another growth area has been distribution. “The Bronze Garden” received a record near-simultaneous roll-out this early summer bowing June 25 on Latin America’s HBO and HBO Go, on HBO Nordic and HBO España from June 26, and HBO Latino in the U.S. from June 30.

Bowing simultaneously in over-50 countries generates huge curiosity. People want to know what’s happening globally, and this creates an emotional connection with the project. I think that from now on this will be more common for us.

In March, one press report suggested that you were going to produce at least 14 shows in Brazil. Why this ramp-up? 

There are various factors at work, distinct to the rest of Latin America: Strong tax incentives encouraging us to co-produce; and we also have to be careful to produce in Portuguese for cultural reasons. We’re making 14 projects and have at least six new ones which we will announce shortly, not only dramas but documentary series about Brazil and Latin America.

HBO Latin America’s diversification from its scripted series origins can be seen over Latin America, not just in Brazil….

Exactly. Last year, we initiated a new format, a talk show, “Chumel con Chumel Torres,” which covers political, social issues not only Mexico but Latin America. This year, we launched Brazil’s “Greg News,” featuring Gregorio Duvivier. Both have an acid, sharp and merciless humor traced back to their YouTube origins. They were both very clear that HBO was the only way they were going to leave YouTube, maintaining their total and absolute freedom of expression. An original series like “The Bronze Garden” or “The Secret Life of Couples” takes two years to make. Today we make “Chumel Torres” and “Greg News” on Monday and by Friday they’re out of date.

Returning to scripted, does the success of “The Bronze Garden” encourage you to experiment with bigger-budgeted series if justified by the story and the talent and potential audience is there?

This is an excellent question. A big budget, giving sufficient resources to tell a story, can be important, but it’s not the only solution. Throwing good money after bad doesn’t achieve anything. Opening up to buildings, a city, other elements, instead of just seeing faces – you have to put a production value and investment number to every narrative decision, and if it is well-measured we’ll say: ‘Let’s go for it!” But we’re in a very comfortable position because we don’t need to make big-scale series when we have “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld.”

“The Bronze Garden” was shown weekly on HBO Latin America. Packing such a mystery element, it makes for compulsive binge viewing, perhaps more than most recent HBO Latin American series…. 

To a certain extent, we’re reliving the world of the 19th century novel where authors such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Emile Zola published novels in weekly chapters and then all the chapters were bound in a book. Some people got very excited waiting for the next chapter of “Les Miserables.” Others read the whole book in two weekends. They’re very different experiences.