San Sebastian Debates New TV Landscape

Top execs, producers, creators thrash out the changes and challenges of creating high-end drama series

Coincoin and the Extra Humans
Alibi Communications

SAN SEBASTIAN — In 2014, launching in France and Germany, Netflix hesitated about entering Spain, reportedly because of prevalent piracy. Four years later, the U.S. streaming giant has chosen Madrid for its first European production hub.

Spain is on a roll, impelled by the launch of original series production at Movistar +, Netflix, Amazon and HBO España, the creation of Atresmedia Studios, and the build of drama series production at companies once only known for films, such as Mediapro, Mod Producciones and Filmax.

Where it’s rolling to is another matter. At San Sebastian on Saturday, at a mini conference on Serial Narration: An Episode on Creation and Industry, illustrious Spanish series creatives, producers and executives debated the new TV landscape’s creative and industry opportunities and challenges.

Providing an international perspective were Bruno Dumont, in Sebastian to present jocular sci-fi comedy series “CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans,” a standout at Locarno, and Agnes Johansen, at Baltasar Kormakur’s Iceland-based RVK Studios, producers of “Everest” but also international breakout series “Trapped.” Following, five takeaways from debate:


There was no common consensus. For Dumont, moving from cinema to short-format TV, “I don’t think things have changed at all. Auteurs are important not just for films but also for TV.”

The main point is having a story that is pertinent. Both derive from the feuilleton.” In cinema, Dumont did recognize, “the screen is very big and the spectator small, and in TV, the screen is very small, and the spectator is very big. And that is very different.” So TV could not afford to be as “contemplative” as film.

Mar Coll explained that the series she watches on TV aren’t quite like the films she likes to see in cinema theaters. Making Movistar + original series “Killing the Father” as a series, she sought something “fresher, lighter, sightly more striking, not so elaborate, and faster.” It was the first time, she said, that she ever measured the length of scenes. Elías León Siminiani, writer of Netflix series “El crimen de Alcasser, set up at Bambu Producciones said that when making TV series, he suppressed some of his auteurist film persona.

Aitor Gabilondo, the veteran screenwriter of big free-to-air hit “The Prince” and now Mediaset España’s “Vivir sin permiso” and first-announced HBO España project “Patria,” there isn’t even one kind of TV. “Platforms have changed the paradigm, not just the way we shoot TV but the way we write for it. With free to air you have no expectations. You sit down and see what people are putting on. Platform series can be made for precise audience targets. That attracts film directors, writers.”


Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s movie “The Realm,” which played in San Sebastian competition Saturday, is a kinetic, propulsive political thriller. The action starts after a minute-or-so, the camera chasing to keep up with an always on the move protagonist, hardly ever stops until a final scene. Similarly, series are winding up the action, offering ever more compulsive, event-packed entertainment. Enrique Urbizu’s buzzed-up Movistar + “Gigantes”, set to world premiere at San Sebastian, looks like a case in point, its pilot episode spanning three time periods over 20 years. “The first episode put things into context for the future, tells us why things are going to happen. But that has to happen quickly,” said Movistar +’s Nuria Massa.

“Acceleration, tempo and pace have to be quicker and give more figures and data in less time compared to traditional linear series,” TVE’s Fernando Lopez Puig agreed.

“Our first series at Bambu, “Guante Blanco,” was a huge failure, Ramon Campos (“Velvet,” “Las chicas del cable,” “Fariña”) recalled. “We spoke about things too slowly.” Now one of his basic tenets is that Bambu series simply cannot bore. Bambu’s departure from the languid tempos of some traditional free-to-air fiction fare has indeed been one of the keys to its success.


New platforms – Netflix, Movistar + – not only welcome filmmakers. They’re embracing Hollywood blockbuster style marketing. “It’s not that things have changed. It’s because we didn’t have a TV market. We had TVE, then Telecinco and Antena 3, and that was that. They didn’t need campaigns,” Campos recalled. He added: “Now Netflix, Apple, HBO, Movistar + have arrived and changed everything. They didn’t have that critical mass from the beginning so they had to buy ads.”


“If you’re not successful in Spain you won’t be abroad. “Money Heist” is the exception that confirms the rule,” Campos argued. Here, there was total accord. “In the Nordic region, we have a lot of series from around the world to watch, and I think people are getting more and more into that,” said Johansen. Movistar + “purchases multiple series from abroad but the idea with our original series is to show what we have here,” said Massa. “Movistar + series are near all localized in Spain,” said Koldo Zazua, producer of “La Zona,” set in a verdant Asturias, northern Spain. But that can be a plus, helping to create series which “end up being international and successful,” he argued. A nuclear plant meltdown murder mystery sold to Starz in the U.S., France’s Canal Plus and German pubcaster ZDF “La Zona” has indeed proved one of Movistar +’s best-selling original series to date.


But challenges remain, especially for Spanish producers. In Spain, new platforms, pretty much like traditional linear producers, demand 100% of rights to shows. Producers struggle to build longterm asset value for their companies, Campos lamented. Lopez Puig suggested that on one new production, TVE might cede part rights to a producer. “I’ve been proposing for the past three years that Bambu covers part of the production investment” and shares in a show’s rights, said Campos. “But talking about rights is impossible. Everybody wants the rights.”

“Here’s a prediction for Spain – in a couple years TV is going to be a very strong industry and screenwriters will get together, go on strike, and that will change the world,” Campos said. But maybe he was suggesting a pipe-dream. Or maybe not.