With Mexico’s infamous druglord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman behind bars in the U.S., the race is on to tell his story via TV series and movies.
First out the gate is a Spanish-language co-production between Univision Communication’s Story House Entertainment and Netflix. “El Chapo” debuts Sunday on Univision. Movies in the works include Fox’s “The Cartel” with Ridley Scott attached, and Sony Pictures’ “Hunting el Chapo,” with Michael Bay tipped to direct.
Guzman’s legend grew in the U.S. after actor Sean Penn made a secret trek to a remote location in Mexico in October 2015 to visit the cartel leader, who has a Robin Hood reputation in Mexico. Penn wrote about the experience in a Rolling Stone article published in January 2016, a day after Guzman was captured by Mexican authorities.
“El Chapo” marks the first scripted series from the Spanish-language broadcaster’s fledgling content development and production unit and its first co-production with Netflix, which will carry the show outside the U.S. With leading Colombian shingle Dynamo Prods., the same company that serviced Netflix’s “Narcos” providing production services, “El Chapo” has been shooting in Colombia for security concerns, as well as for rural and urban settings that can double for Mexico in earlier decades.
“Shooting three seasons back to back, a first for us, has allowed us to achieve economies of scale, and plan ahead creatively,” said Camila Jimenez Villa, who oversees Univision Story House as co-president and chief creative officer of Univision’s Fusion Media Group (FMG), which serves audiences across a range of platforms and in both Spanish and English.
The second season of “El Chapo” is currently in production with a third season pending for a total of 34 episodes, running nine to 11 per season. Portrayed by stage and TV actor Marco de la O (“Tanto amor”), “El Chapo” traces the rise and fall of the most notorious drug kingpin in Mexico’s modern history who escaped twice from maximum security prisons in Mexico before being recaptured and finally extradited to the U.S. earlier this year. His next scheduled court appearance is on May 5.
By tapping Univision’s team of investigative journalists and building stories based on fact, Story House has become the company’s go-to shingle for premium scripted and non-scripted programming in English and Spanish for Univision’s portfolio of owned networks, including its English-language network Fusion TV.
“We partnered with Univision’s team of journalists early on; they’re invariably with us in the writers’ room,” said Christian Gabela, VP and general manager of Story House Entertainment.
Launched in May 2016 as a result of Univision’s mandate to address an increasingly bilingual, digital savvy, and assimilated Hispanic demographic in the U.S, Story House’s mission is to bring to life stories that reflect the cultural diversity of America and the issues they face.
Story House first produced the documentary “Hate Rising,” which featured Univision’s star anchor Jorge Ramos reporting on the discrimination facing immigrants during the 2016 elections. “Hate Rising” bowed simultaneously Oct. 23 on Fusion TV in English, where it was among its highest-rated shows, and in Spanish at Univision where its premiere drove double-digit ratings gains in its 10 p.m. time slot.
Story House’s first unscripted docu-series “Outpost” has been delivering double-digit gains in the 11 p.m. slot since its debut late March on Univision sister channel UniMas, compared to the previous four Sundays on average. Viewership data for Fusion TV is still unavailable.
The travel-adventure series hosted by celebrities revolves around themes and little known aspects of various countries. In the first season focusing on Latin America, hosts include former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson discussing his lifelong passion for birds as he enters a songbird competition in Suriname; web comedian Rudy Mancuso connecting with Brazil’s wildly popular online comedy troupe Porta dos Fundos in Rio de Janeiro, and NY celebrity chef Laila Gohar discussing the food revolution in Puerto Rico.
Story House also produced docu feature “Residente” as part of the Fusion Media Group’s creative, multi-platform production deal with musician Rene Perez Joglar (aka Residente). The eponymous docu directed by Perez Joglar premiered at the recent SXSW Film Festival. “Residente” follows Perez Joglar who, after taking a DNA test, sets out on a journey across to world to trace his ancestry. His journey takes him across four continents, seven countries and regions spanning from Siberia to London to Puerto Rico.
Story House is currently defining “Residente’s” theatrical distribution and festival run as well as looking to spin it off into a series for Fusion, per Gabela.
Ultimately, Story House’s goal is to “give more work opportunities to Latino talent from diverse backgrounds (and) place more women and minorities in the writers’ room,” said Jimenez.