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Netflix’s ‘High Seas’: 5 Takes on the New Spanish Series

MADRID — Netflix’s “High Seas,” its fourth Spanish Original Series, produced by “Velvet’s” Bambú Producciones, initiated rehearsals in October. Netflix has yet to announce an exact release date this year.

But, following on “Cable Girls,” Netflix’s first Spanish original and another Bambú production, “Elite,” and “Money Heist” (“La casa de papel”), expectation is high. Variety visited the set in late January and interviewed Bambú founder and lead writer Ramón Campos. Following, five takes on the upcoming Netflix Original:

1.MYSTERY AND, AS ALWAYS, MELODRAMA

Created by Campos and Gemma R. Niera, “High Seas” (“Alta Mar”) is set in the late 1940s on a luxury transatlantic liner carrying passengers from Spain to Brazil. A murder is committed – of a woman passenger not on the passenger list and whom no one remembers. Only one thing seems certain: The murderer cannot leave the ship. With producer-partner Teresa Fernández-Valdés, Campos broke out internationally with 2011-13’s “Gran Hotel” and 2014-16’s “Velvet,” producing women’s melodramas which offered an upscale alternative and limited series resolution to audiences once fixated on long-running series and soaps. “We want to find new ways to channel this melodrama,” Campos said on the set of “High Seas.” So while “Gran Hotel” was “melodrama and mystery,” “High Seas” will be “mystery with melodrama.”

2.A VINTAGE PERIOD DECOR

Taking melodrama to a modern level, Bambú’s solution, Campos said, was “to give a female public, enamored of romantic series and melodramas, a quality product, something it could be proud to see.” The sets of “High Seas” are a case in point. Covering a total 29,000 square feet, all were designed to recreate the glamor and luxury of a 1940s cruiser, according to art director Carlos Bodelón. One centerpiece set, of the boat’s first-class restaurant, the tables set spaciously apart from one another, has a deep-marine blue and black carpet, tubular light fixtures set in pillars, a grand staircase sweeping up to a mezzanine level. First class cabins sport large-paneled glass windows. The sets may be built, but incorporate real-life props, such as an early 20th century compass on the captain’s bridge, which proudly proclaims its fabrication in Liverpool. Bambú productions, whether for free-to-air (“Morocco: Love in Times of War,” made for Atresmedia) or pay/SVOD (“Velvet Collection,” Movistar +’s first production) are so exquisite in palette and composition that they can be watched with the sound turned down. Picturing the elegance of a liner, “High Seas” may at times be no exception.

3.A CELL-PHONE AESTHETIC

Netflix asked “High Seas’” director Carlos Sedes to shoot “thinking of close-ups not wide general shots, allowing viewers high-quality viewing on small devices,” said Campos. That, and “the use of cutaways, dollies in towards the characters, how the characters are captured,” will give the series something of the aesthetics of a comic book,” he added. Older audiences love murder mysteries. But Netflix’s audience target is every single person in the world. Just as sci-fi drama-thriller “Osmosis,” its third French Original Series which world premiered at last week’s Series Mania, proved to target far more than 15-25s, “High Seas,” despite what could seem a Agatha Christie premise – the murderer must still be on the ship – is for a far larger demo as well.

CREDIT: Marco de comunicación/Netflix

4.GIVING A PAY-TV EDGE TO BROAD AUDIENCE SCRIPTED

“High Seas” captures the glamor of the ‘1940s. That’s nowhere to be seen on its teaser poster, however, released April 4 by Netflix. The hulking black hull of the cruiser, a steel Leviathan, rears into the sky, as the ship pounds an endless dark ocean, black storm clouds dwarfing a wane sunset. “Some secrets are deeper than the ocean,” the logline reads. The only really visible nod to the ship’s art deco elegance is a design under the title. Netflix has given little clue to who did it, or potential suspects, let alone motives. The lower class passengers are “traveling from Europe to Latin America in search of a better life.” Lead characters include sisters Carolina (Alejandra Onieva) and Eva (Ivana Baquero), “as different as they are inseparable,” and handsome officer Nicolás (Jon Kortajarena), “a man who fate has put in the wrong place.” “Love, intrigues and many lies… in a ship that hides a story in each one of its cabins and a dark secret deep inside,” it teased, announcing the project. From the poster, however, whatever the final explanation, it may well be more unsettling than traditional murder mysteries of old.

CREDIT: Manuel Fernandez-Valdes

5.ONE REASON FOR SPAIN’S SCRIPTED BOOM

Seasons of “Cable Girls,” now shooting its fourth, have frequently made Parrot Analytics tables of top 10 streamer shows in Latin America countries. “Elite,” Spain’s third Netflix Original Series, was ranked by its data as one of the most in-demand series throughout the world in October 2018. Presenting its first quarter 2018 results, Netflix declared “Money Heist,” then an acquisition, now an upcoming original, to be its most-watched foreign-language series ever. That shouldn’t be put down just to the estimated 477 million native Spanish speakers in the world. Another reason is Spanish showrunners’ origins. Campos and Sedes broke through, at least for Spain, with 2007’s “Desaparecida,” made for public broadcaster TVE, a milestone in Spanish TV production, incorporating the pace and character complexity of contemporary international scripted serie. Campos, like “Money Heist’s” Alex Pina and Esther Martínez-Lobato and Ivan Escobar (“Vis-a-Vis”) came of age professionally writing for free-to-air TV. “We lived off the audience. There was only one mantra:’Trap the audience and never, ever, let him get away,’” he recalled on the set of “High Seas.” “I have to deliver a twist in minute one, then another twist, then another, another, all through to the end, and ramp up to a cliffhanger so that audiences want to see more the next day, or to see the next episode if binging”  That craft is in his TV generation’s screenwriting DNA, he claims. Expect to see its results in “High Seas.”

CREDIT: Manuel Fernandez-Valdes

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