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‘La Casa de Papel’ Showrunners Alex Pina, Esther Martinez Lobato Talk ‘The Pier’

The Movistar + series, a sensual thriller and woman’s journey of self discovery world premieres to large expectation at Mipcom

CANNES —   When a band assaulted a smalltime bank in the province of Buenos Aires this year, they wore the Salvador Dali masks featured in the Spanish series “La Casa de Papel” (Money Heist). Netflix head Reed Hastings donned the same mask and overalls to announce in a video a Netflix carriage deal with Telefonica for Spain and Latin America. More than any other series in the world and history, “La Casa de Papel” has symbolized one of the biggest revolutions in the new TV landscape: That foreign-language series, given the platform – here Netflix –  can be seen outside their country of origin by tens of millions of viewers, ranking in the same league of audience as high-end U.S. scripted plays.

So how did “La Casa’s” showrunner duo of Alex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato follow it up? By making a show, “El Embarcadero” (“The Pier”), which was not in their wheelhouse, they say. In the run-up to Mipcom, where “The Pier” bows today Tuesday as one of its only two World Premiere TV Screenings, the two talk about what marks this Movistar + original series apart. The expectation is huge. Produced in association with Atresmedia Studios – the first series to see the light of day at the new Spanish studio – and Pina and Martinez Lobato’s Vancouver Media, “The Pier” has already been at the center of one of the biggest eve of Mipcom deal announcements, being sold by Beta Film to France’s TF1.

A pier can be a place where a boat docks at the end of a voyage, or sets out onto the wide open sea. In the series, it seems to see metaphor for the life journeys of both Oscar and Alexandra…

Martínez Lobato: The series began with the idea of how humans have been domesticated, the battle or dichotomy between our most primary instincts, the wild animal we have inside us, and our adaptation via social prejudice to lifestyles which have little inherent to human personality. But we didn’t have a title, and we didn’t want anything too intense. So we drew on L’Albufera, where the salt water of the sea, and fresh water is divided by a pathway, with adjoining marshes. The image of “The Pier,” a powerful one in Episode One, gave us a starting point.

And the idea of a journey’s end or beginning?

Martínez Lobato: Yes, it’s related to that as well. All the characters make a journey, which is huge, devastating, threads the whole series, especially Alexandra. It’s a highly feminine journey of self-discovery, growth, and sensuality, where she peels away little by little her prejudices. So “The Pier” worked in that sense as well.

One key to “The Pier” is setting. From the get go, there’s a powerful contrast between a near futuristic big city Valencia and the Albufera National Park. Could you comment?

Pina: We wanted L’Albufera to conjure up memories of holidays in childhood, where everything smelt of villages, fields, less civilized place that is far more beautiful. The series discovers and constantly counterpoints two worlds, the city of Alexandra and her friends, who are architects, work which is highly-prized in urban context, and a world where time seems to go slower, where rice is sown in an almost artisanal fashion.

Which is one of more binomial contrasts in the series….

Pina: We are all two people, one draw to good, the other to bad, the private, the public. One thing does connect “The Pier” to “Vis a Vis” and “La Casa de Papel,” it’s a constant ambiguity. Few things spark more prejudices than polygamy. But we wanted to change viewpoints, make spectators doubt about what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s an idea which runs through the other two series as well.

There’s also a sense that we’re all Valencia, driven to achieve in a modern world, all L’Albufera, trying to recapture a more direct connection with life’s essences, and that we should be less Valencia, more L’Albufera. 

Pina: Exactly, the confrontation set up by the series suggests that there’s more real life in L’Albufera. Oscar is drawn there first, then Alexandra.

At the Movistar + Upfront, you explained that with “The Pier” after “Vis a Vis” and “Money Heist,” you wanted to move out of your comfort zone. Could you elaborate?

Martínez-Lobato: Yes, a  story with no guns, after a prison drama and a series about the perfect heist. A woman who discovers her husband lived a double life – that’s been told before. But that was the challenge: Taking a classic story and creating something slightly more modern out of it. But we didn’t have the plot supports which allow a screenwriter to move more easily: There was no way to mix sequences of emotion with another genre – comedy, action, a police procedural, a prison power struggle: We had to base each and every sequence in emotion.

Pina:  Yes, it was a major challenge. But I think it creates a large sense of empathy, because we’re talking about things which everybody has felt and feels, but ming in with different focus, which is what we always try to do.

You also referred to “The Pier” as a very feminine fiction…

Martínez Lobato: Before this current fiction boom, I spent years writing female characters who are not just women, the partner, secretary, wife or mother of male protagonists, but do other things, have other problems. This has now become almost mainstream. Once we have vindicated our intelligence, it’s time to vindicate the female world, to talk about our sensibility from a profoundly famine point of view. Women don’t always have to be in men’s worlds, be even harder than they are, never succumb to sensation nor sentiment. In “The Pier,” women behave like women.

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