One advantage that TV has as a medium is its ability to cross between genres from episode to episode, and “La Zona” will take advantage of that. A thriller, there are episodes where the series will feel more like a family drama, police whodunnit, Western and post-apocalyptic nightmare.
The show’s co-creators, siblings Jorge and Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo, credit classic cinema for much of their inspiration.
“It’s kind of an ode to the movies. We used bits from our favorites: classic Westerns, ‘Blade Runner,’ bits of ‘Alien’ and some noir,” says Alberto.
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With so many influences it’s no wonder the brothers invested 16 months in writing the scripts. That’s a crucial difference from free-to-air traditions in Spain, not only in development time but also that all the screenplays were completed before “La Zona” went into production.
Set in Asturias, in the north of Spain, “La Zona” turns on a series of cannibalistic murders inside the exclusion zone set up after a Chernobyl-style nuclear incident. It’s left up to detective and incident-survivor Héctor, played by Spanish cinema legend Eduard Fernández, to solve the crimes and cope with his ghosts.
It was the quality of the screenplays that attracted him to “La Zona,” Fernández says.
Of his character, he adds: “He has been deeply damaged, probably forever, and he has to live with this injury. He has to cope with survivor’s guilt. Then, at work, he has to see the worst in humanity. But, because he is a good cop, Héctor feels most alive when he is working.”
Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo co-wrote and directed.
“The suspense is something we want to engage the viewer with, suspense balanced by drama. We wanted to use the conflict between characters to create drama like Hitchcock, where it grabs the audience by the lapels and doesn’t let them breathe,” he says.
A series that looks high-end is going to cost big bucks, and Telefonica’s Movistar has not been shy when it comes to flashing the cash for its crop of new programming. Last year, Telefonica announced it had committed €70 million ($83.3 million) on development and production of series.
Each of Movistar’s new series has big-name cinema talent attached; in the case of “La Zona,” the cast and crew list reads like a Goya nomination letter. Behind the camera, showrunner and director Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo has received three nominations, and was the man behind one of Spain’s first series to move towards the international model for high-end TV, 2013’s “Crematorium.”
In front of the camera, the assembled talent is led by 2016 San Sebastian lead actor winner Fernández (“Smoke and Mirrors”) and Emma Suárez, star of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta,” and includes Goya nominees and winners Luis Bermejo, Álvaro Cervantes, Juan Echanove, Tamar Novas, Manolo Solo and Carlos Bardem. The roster has a combined 30 Spanish Academy nominations with 10 wins.
For a series that only takes place in and around two communities, the number of locations used for filming may be unprecedented in Spanish TV.
“The script was very ambitious from the beginning,” says producer and co-writer Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo. “We had 170 distinct sets and it was hard keeping that straight with two units filming at all times. It was really hard going to a new set every single day.”
All the high-end content in the world doesn’t make a broadcaster relevant. Movistar wants to not only make good series, but to ensure that its audience can see them when and where they want. Week-to-week and VOD catch-up options will be available for “La Zona” starting Oct. 27. It should prove one of the TV events of the fall.