CANCUN, Mexico — It’s boom time for drama series production in Mexico, Spain and Brazil, driven by pay TV and OTT players and their competitors alike. As a co-production forum, the 5th MipCancun moved up a gear. This year saw its biggest attendance, plus strategic alliances, hints at or presentations of multiple new series announcements of huge ambitions – Televisa’s 20-title remake extravaganza Fábrica de sueños; Secouya’s plan for a Madrid Content City. 14 takes on the new Spanish-language series gold rush:
1.SPANISH-LANGUAGE SERIES PRODUCTION BOOMS
MipCancun rocked. But it did so as a production forum, not a classic sales market. The production driver? The ever more fully-fledged OTT platform financing phenomenon. “It started focused much more on global content. But we’ve seen a second wave now of these same players – Netflix, Amazon, moving into more local content, in Latin America, India, Korea, even in the Middle East,” Creative Artists’ Matteo Perale said at a MipCancun panel, The Many Faces of Financing.
After Canada, Latin America was the second territory to see Netflix launch, way back in 2011. It was the first to see a totally foreign-language series release: “Club of Crows” in August 2015. As a region, it is now in the flush of second-phase Netflix growth – a spectacular volume increase – and full first-phase launches from other-OTT-players, led by Amazon Prime Video in Latin America, and Telefonica’s Movistar + in Spain. This digital platform surge isn’t just about making more series. A big bunch are scoring spectacular ratings and critics reviews, proving the series medium can offer new creative satisfaction to cinema-groomed creatives. This is crucial as the battle for new TV supremacy turns on tying down talent.
2.LATIN AMERICA’S NEW TV BULL MARKET
Mexico used to produce four-to-six series a year, said Epigmenio Ibarra, president of Argos Comunicación, producer of Telemundo’s Intl. Emmy-nominated Super Series “El señor de los cielos” and Netflix’s “Ingobernable,” with Kate del Castillo. That number has now risen to 45, Ibarra added at a MipCancun. Argos used to produce three series a year. It now produces 8-11. “The second language in the entertainment industry, after English, is Spanish,” he argued.
Telemundo International Studios has 15-20 series in development, will go into production next year on its third, said Ana Paula Valdovinos, VP Production & Development. Turner Latin America aims to “triple or quadruple” drama production levels, producing 15 series in Latin America by 2021, added Marcelo Tamburri, who heads up TLA content development in the region. These numbers speak of exponential growth.
3.SPANISH-LANGUAGE BREAKING THROUGH, OR BREAKING OUT
One tonic of MipCancun was a near wonderment at both the success of Spanish-language series and major players’ ramp-up in production volume. All that made for a hugely upbeat MipCancun, galvanized by players linked to show creators who this year have broken through or broken out on OTT. Just four examples:
*Produced by show-runners Alex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato and Spanish broadcast network Atresmedia, “La casa de papel” (Money Heist) burst upon the world on Netflix, proving the U.S. streaming giant’s most-watched non-English-language show ever, it announced in April.
*Mexico’s Manolo Caro scored, again on Netflix, with comedy “La Casa de las Flores,” an eye-popping riff on telenovela dynamics and dysfunctional family excess.
*Proof that Televisa can produce premium drama, Gabriel Ripstein’s “Un extraño enemigo,” Amazon Prime Video’s second Latin American original, bowed in October to large critical acclaim for a bold, exacting, painstakingly researched drama turning on a prior political taboo: Mexican governmental machinations and plain murder in the run-up to the 1968 Mexican Olympics.
*Back in Spain, Paco Leon and Anna R.Costa’s women’s liberation dramedy “Arde Madrid,” set against Ava Gardner’s sojourn in the Spanish capital, punched 1.2 million viewers in a first four days, 300,000 binging the season complete, a record for the just 14 month-old pay-OTT giant.
*”Elite,” Netflix’s second series in Spain, is building social media heft, moving from cult to larger mass-cult status.
This bullish backdrop gave a huge tailwind to MipCancun as digital platforms co-production and sales emerge as not only a real but often now first option for Latino producers.
4.TURNER BOWS FIRST MOVIE SLATE PRODUCTION IN LATIN AMERICA
So how do more established players compete? One way:
Burnishing the brand of their strongest channels as must-carries in a primly near-future world of ever skinnier OTT bundles. At MipCancun, Marcelo Tamburri, who heads up development at Turner Latin America, confirmed TLA will produce from 2019 around five theatrical feature films a year in Mexico. TLA already produced one movie in Brazil: “O Doutrinador.” This is its first ever mass movie production move, however. “We need original, distinctive product to communicate our brands. One drop of ink in a swimming pool has no effect, but multiple drops a year may do so,” Tamburri said at a MipCancun presentation. By 2012, Turner Latin America mains to make six-to-seven series a year in Mexico, five-to-six in Brazil, one-to-two in Colombia and two-to-three in Argentina. Mexico has large moviemaking talent and great public-sector incentives, facilitating film financing, Tamburri argued. “We’re looking for commercial ties, with known stars and directors,” he added, explaining that Hollywood’s studios were retaining ever more titles for their own OTT operations.
5.FOX IN LATIN AMERICA: GARCIA BERNAL, PABLO LARRAIN, SEBASTIAN ORTEGA, AND MANY MORE
During MipCancun, Fox Networks Group Latin America announced cast additions for Season 2 of Gael García Bernal’s “Here on Earth” (“Aquí en la tierra”): Mexico’s Adriana Barraza, Kristyan Ferrer and Natasha Dupeyron. They join an already robust Latin star roster, led by Alfonso Dosal and Daniel Giménez Cacho. Talking an industry audience through Fox’s 2018-19 Latin American line-up, Mariana Pérez, Fox Networks Group Latin America, also confirmed projects in development with Chile’s Pablo and Juan de Díos Larraín, “Sr. Avila” writers Walter and Marcelo Slavich, “El Marginal” producer Sebastian Ortega in Argentina, and Brazil’s Breno Silveira, creator of Fox’s Intl. Emmy-nominated “One Against All.” Details were scarce but there’s a bigger picture point to the announcements. The biggest battle of the new Latin American TV landscape is being fought over talent. “Talent can come from anywhere,” said Perez, citing Fox Original Productions’ Call for Projects which received 1,900 drama series applications a year. Teaming with top-of-their-class talent is one of the only tried-and-tested strategies which near guarantees some form of success.
6.TYING DOWN TALENT: SONY MUSIC & BTF MEDIA
In one of the biggest news announcements at this year’s MipCancun, BTF Media and Sony Music Spain have inked a strategic content production alliance. The deal sees Sony Music Spain boarding a bioseries on Spanish music legend Isabel Pantoja, currently set up at BTF Media. Heralding a new production, BTF Media, Sony Music Spain and Mexico’s Endemol Shine Boomdog will co-produce a bioseries on famed Spanish writer-singer Joaquín Sabina. The deal marks the first Spanish productions of BTF Media and the first ever of Sony Music Spain.
It’s a win-win alliance: BTF Media accesses “a partner who can contribute not only the music, but the artist and their stories and collaboration in promotion, which is very natural and gives series a large drive,” Francisco Cordero, BTF Media founder-CEO, said at MipCancun. For Sony Music Spain, equity investment in a production, rather than simply licensing rights, offers it more upside on a burgeoning series genre, which exploded with Juan Gabriel life story “Hasta que te conocí.” BTF
Media has also walked the walk, producing “Hasta que te conocí,” “El Cesar,” and now “El Secreto de Selena.” BTF Media has demonstrated its production expertise and success in this series type, which it can now offer our artists,” said Sony Music Spain president José María Barbat.
7.LATIN AMERICA FREE-TO-AIR: TURKEY TOPS REGIONAL RATINGS
In MipCancun trading news, Turkey’s Inter Medya announced the sale of Intl. Emmy winner “Endless Love” to Univision. New Turkish sales company Madd Ent. confirmed its first sales to Latin America, with Chile’s top network Mega taking “My Little Girl.”
Little wonder. The Wit’s Virginia Mouseler unveiled at a FreshTV Cancun presentation last Tuesday that the biggest pan-Latin American hit of this year in free-to-air is another Turkish series, “Mother,” with “My Little Girl” child star Beren Gökyıldız and producer Medyapim, which rated No. 1 in Chile and No.2 in Argentina, It also aired in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Turkish series turn on bedrock relationships. “There’s a mini-trend, seen in ‘Mother,’ ‘My Little Girl’ or another Turkish fall hit, ’Gülperi,’ sold by Global Agency, of mother or children battling against villainous or irresponsible male relations, brothers-in-laws or fathers,” said The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas. Also, they “are rooted in the melodrama of traditional telenovelas but are exotic, since not set in Latin American social realities, and in some ways maybe subtler in the presentation of emotion,” he added. MipCancun opened with the World Premiere Screening of “Bitter Lands,” Turkey’s biggest fall hit, an epic tale of two star-crossed lover down the years, knitting slow mo close ups of characters emotions, large production values – one of the series lecherous villains has his own plane, a vibrant cinematography and a headlong pace worthy of OTT entertainment.
8.LESS IS MORE: SHORTER LATIN AMERICAN SCRIPTED
Televisa scored in October on its main Las Estrellas channel with “Sin miedo a la verdad.” Series was billed as a telenovela, but is in fact a 21-episode thriller turning on a hacker who becomes a cyber-masked hero protecting the victims of cyberbullying, corruption and organ trafficking, Mouseler pointed out.
One of Globo’s big late fall plays is the digital-first oil-rig-set “Iron Island,” renewed for a second season before Season 1 launched. Described as an “epic series of action, drama, adventure and political intrigue,” it sports a large sexual symbolism as the attraction between an oil production expert, Dante, and the new platform manager, Julia, daughter of Brazil’s new minister of energy, proves as explosive as, potentially, the rig itself.
Both “Sin miedo” and “Iron Island” look Natpe-bound. Confirming the rise of the (super) short series, vs. traditional telenovelas, 70% of new scripted series launched in Latin America in 2018, have less than 60 episodes, compared to 53% in 2013, The Wit’s Mouseler announced at MipCancun.
9.TELEVISA UNVEILS FABRICA DE SUEÑOS
But just how far should major operators desert their legacy telenovela branding? That question has haunted Televisa over the last five years. Blim, its OTT service, hasn’t clicked with viewers. Back to the drawing board, Televisa is planning a huge experiment in reinvention, La Fábrica de Sueños, remaking 20 of its most iconic telenovelas as shorter-format, 25-episode series with “ambitious production levels,” and a “much more contemporary storytelling,” Wills said, presenting a promo. Titles which scrolled down the video included classics such as 1979’s “The Rich Also Cry,” 1983’s “El maleficio” and 1987’s “Sweet 15.” The telenovelas would be made with “the best talent, directors and producers of the Spanish-language industry,” Wills promised. First-run Televisa telenovelas would still run at 60-80 episodes, he assured, also screening the trailer of crime drama “El Ultimo Dragon,” written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, produced by Lemon Films for Televisa and Univision and one of its most ambitious upcoming series, turning on the heir to the leadership of a Mexican cartel, which he attempts to reform.
10. TIPS ON INDIE PRODUCING
On one Mipcom round table, Dawn of the Independent Producers, Lemon Films’ Billy Rovzar, 11:11’s Juancho Cardona, both working majorly in Mexico, and Chile’s Sebastian Freund, at Rizoma Producciones, swapped tips on the challenges of meeting the current huge demand for content in Latin America. One piece of advice per panelist. Rovzar: “The biggest challenge is time. You need to have time to properly develop a project. If pitched by a platform, don’t be afraid to say ‘no,’”. Freund, on partnering with companies: “The No. 1 factor, and No. 2 and No. 3 is confidence. Establishing this empathy and confidence is hugely difficult. But without it, you won’t get anywhere.” Cardona, same subject: “Study a client’s needs.” it’s all very well to think I want to be on Amazon, Netflix or Claro Video, because they’re great, people are going to see me. What you should be thinking is: ‘How can I make products so that these services are seen more?’”
11.BIOSERIES: AN EVER LARGER COMPLEXITY
According to The Wit, 14% of new scripted content launched in Latin America, Jan.-Oct 2018, was based on real events and real characters, vs. 5.2% worldwide. “Biopics form part of the true-story trend,” said The Wit’s Villegas. “Latin America may have a larger tradition of fandom, focusing on large figures. These are also stories audiences can relate to.”
One case in point: the 13-part “Selena’s Secret,” a telling recount of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Selena Quintanilla, the Queen of Tex-Mex, in 1995. Produced by Disney Media Distribution Latin America, BTF Media, Moconoco and Latin WE, and aired on TNT in Mexico on Sept. 23. Based on the same-titled non-fiction book by Maria Celeste Arrarás, “Selena’s Secret” is not even a conventional womb-to-tomb resume, but rather a true crime story with horror pic beats recording the true lies and manipulation of the series’ real central character, murderer Yolanda Saldivar, as recounted by Arrarás who becomes another key character in the drama.
For legal reasons, the series had to stick as close as posible to Arrarás’ book, DMDLA’s Leonardo Aranguibel, author of the original story, recounted at MipCancun.
To convince – from the title downward, the series promises to cut through the smoke and mirror and reveal the truth – while Aranguibel and Arrarás developed the original story, Disney’s development team and BTF Media initiated an exhaustive investigation of the crime and its context. In this type of story, it’s fundamental to stick 100% to reality, BTF Media’s Francisco Cordero said on the same MipCancun panel.
Shooting the series, show runner Alejandro Aimetta and film director Natalia Beristain (“The Eternal Feminine”) capture characters from multiple POVs, pile on different opinions about Selena, her relationship with Yolanda, creating a fresco of subjectivities, takes, which the series realigns step-by-step to reveal Selena’s secret.
“Re-thinking old models like co-production” allows producers to create an alternative to digital platforms. Local players have a real opportunity to find ways to produce content that is genuine to their nature, partnering with others in new and creative manners.” said Adam Fratto at Reel One Entertainment.
“Co-production between big companies may well grow. You can do better things with partners without limiting your channel or windows,” she added.
Certainly, companies are eager to partner. In terms of Europe-Latin America co-production, it’s now Spain that’s leading the charge.
Mediapro has cut co-production deals with Turner Latin America (a multi-series strategic alliance), DirecTV (soccer world-set “Todo por el juego”), Pol-ka, Artear, Cablevision (a political drama, announced at MipCom), Telefe (crime drama “Los Internacionales”) and Televisa.
Atresmedia Studios – whose parent, Atresmedia, won an Intl. Emmy for best series on Monday for “La Casa de Papel” – has begun to work on stories with Latin American companies., said its chief creative officer Ignacio Manubens.
He added: “Our expertise, gleaned over the last 10 years of making fiction, which we can now offer to Latin American partners, is in good stories, departing from patrons similar to those in a novela, but updating them and differentiating them via genre, whether classical options such as thrillers, or adding elements of comedy.”
13.RAISING NEW TALENT
A major challenge for the new high-end series production sector is talent, especially writers. “One of the big aims of Amazon Prime Video is to look for the best talent possible, and make it feel comfortable,” said Pablo Iacoviello, head of content acquisition at Amazon Prime Video Latin America, noting that “scripts are the backbone of a series” and “A Strange Enemy” was in development for nearly a year.
“The number of screenwriters used to writing content for digital platforms is not large [in Mexico],” said Elite’s Alejandro Uribe. “I think our responsibility is to give the industry a little bit of oxygen, focus on incubating the next generation,” he added. Finding and raising a new generation, especially of writing talent, to meet the huge-and-still rising demand for high-end fiction was in fact one of the major talking points at MipCancun. “There are phenomenal storytellers all over the world, in English and in other languages, who are undiscovered or come from a different media,” said Fratto. He added: “One of the increasingly important jobs of producers is finding great voices. It’s exciting for them and it’s exciting for us. We need to embrace that.” Expect also the number of series screenwriting initiatives to flower worldwide.
14.THE NEW FICTION’S RESPONSABILITY
But why makes series at all? In one panel, Daniel Burman, of Mediapro-Oficina, attempted to put the drama series production into a larger context. Over the next few years, global [annual] investment in drama will reach $20 billion, said Daniel Burman. But not everything turns on money, he argued. “Taking so much of people’s leisure time, we have a large responsibility. We sometimes forget that we live in a real world. Series aren’t just about beats, hooks, but about moving people so much that they want to return to their lives, and revisit them. The best thing anybody’s ever said about one of my films was after seeing [Berlin winner] ‘Lost Embrace”’ that it made them want to phone their father.”