LILLE, France — Lightning rarely strikes twice, but Alex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato most certainly have. Produced by Mediapro’s Globomedia for Atresmedia and, in its third season, Fox España, “Vis a Vis” (Locked Up), which Pina and Martinez Lobato co-created and co-wrote, is frequently singled out as one of Spain’s first free-to-air series to sport an undoubted cable-edge. Now, having launched their own shingle, Vancouver Media, 18 month ago, Martínez and Pina have made history with “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”). A free-to-air series made for Atresmedia, where its ratings were just so-so, it has famously been acquired by Netflix and gone on to be confirmed by the streaming giant in their first quarter results as  Netflix’s most-watched non-English language series ever.

“La Casa de Papel” creator Pina and co-writer and script coordinator Martínez Lobato visited Series Mania’s Forum on Wednesday to take a packed crowd through some of the series’ crux creative decisions. Here are five which go some way to explaining its spectacular success.


There have been many perfect heist movies, Pina observed, but no perfect heist TV series. That could be because heist series present problems. On is that heists skew male. “We tried to provide a more feminine vision. First, to prevent the show being too masculine, second because last year we saw an explosion of women’s stories,” said Martínez Lobato. So the duo introduced four main female characters: Tokyo, Raquel, the police inspector, Nairobi, and Monica, a mint employee. And they made Tokyo the narrator. “The most difficult decision to make was to find the perfect protagonist. We wanted to make her the most important character, a strong woman from the first impression the audience gets,” she added.


“La Casa de Papel” last 1,000 minutes. So when does the actual heist kick in? After 14. “We wanted to make it all frantic, a lot of action, events, one after another, unexpected twists and turns and this is something that made the series unique and so addictive,” Pina said.


“One of the goals of any art is to feel and make others feel just how much every person in this world is precious, special and unique,” said Yehonatan Indursky and Ori Elon, creators of “Autonomies,” one of Series Mania competition frontrunners. The same could be said of “La Casa de Papel.” “La Casa del Papel”s mint thieves include an ex-con, his drug-dealing son, a mother who has lost custody of her daughter, one of Spain’s most wanted armed bank robbers. “We started out with outcasts, misfits, people who some might regard as the garbage of society, and turn them into positive characters,” said Martínez Lobato. “The characters might be misfits but they have something special, poetic or aesthetic. We present them in another light, allow them to develop through the plot,” said Pina. Martínez Lobato added: “We can’t compete with the American industry’s resources, so we said: ‘Let’s focus on the characters. The strength of “La Casa de Papel” is not only in its thriller or action elements, but in its characters’ emotional development.” Multiple authority figures, all men, are portrayed in a negative light, whether Raquel’s violent ex, the feckless Mint boss Arturo, or the blackmailing head of intelligence services. This gives “La Casa de Papel” a strong anti-authority social edge, a large dose of sympathy for the disaffected and disenfranchised youth of today.


“We never wanted to be boring,” said Pina. One solution: “Make the series very fluid managing flashbacks.” Another, have narrator, Tokyo, telling the story of the heist from some “indeterminate” future. Yet another, said Pina, make Tokyo, despite being a character in the series, an omniscient narrator, able to describe other characters’ sentiments. That seems near revolutionary. Series are like literature, Pina insisted. “La Casa de Papel” sometimes approaches not so much the nineteenth century novel but modernism.


Produced with Sonia Martínez at Atresmedia, which is now mixing broad audience fiction with more experimental series such as “La Casa de Papel,” it’s the first series from Vancouver Media, founded by Pina and Martínez Lobato in late 2016. “It was a leap into the unknown. We would all be meeting in the courtyard of a small house where we decided to create a small series that we could control throughout the whole creative and production process,” said Pina.