Is Netflix too square, or too costly, for most young Brazilians? Or just not the place where they’d ever sample cool Brazilian content?
The U.S. streaming giant may soon find out. Simply put, its latest Brazilian series, “Sintonia,” launched globally Aug. 9, can be seen as an acid test of Netflix’s ability to leverage original series in order to grow its audience outside the U.S. in a core demographic: Young adults.
As established players, especially in Europe, target more mature audiences, Netflix’s future, identity and part subscriber appeal as a company depends to an extent on such success.
Already, six of the Netflix’s 15 Brazilian Original Series broadly target the YA crowd with futuristic, fantasy and horror plays, whether teen dystopian thriller “3%” now in its third season; “Reality Z,” reworking Charlie Brooker’s comedic zombie bloodbath “Dead Set”; or “Boca a Boca,” just announced, a teen contagion thriller.
Produced by Netflix and Losbragas, “Sintonia” goes straight for the YA jugular.
The six-part series is co-created and co-directed by 30-year-old musicvid producer Kond, born Konrad Dantes, whose Canal KondZilla, ranks as the tenth-most subscribed YouTube channel in the world, with 50.7 million subscribers and an accumulated 25.6 billion views, according to Social Blade. Kond has built his following producing and playing musicvids from various sub-genres of Brazilian funk which are meant to entertain, but have a social edge.
His channel, he told Variety in March 2018, when it announced the show, is “a mix between the situation we’re living right now in Brazil, which is really tense, and new forms of entertainment/consumption in youth culture.” For Kond, “I don’t represent the traditional Brazilian political scenario in Brazil and that means something.”
How to channel Kond into drama series narrative is another matter. Most attempts to put YouTubers to work in more structure narratives have failed, says Losbragas producer Rita Moraes.“People are not gong to spend 5o reais to see a YouTuber doing what you can see them do for free.” The key thing about YouTubers, she argues however, is that they have good creative minds, and something to say to an audience they have built..
So in “Sintonia” Kond brought a seal of street creed and “a vision of Brazil and its specificities which a fair share of its young population can identify with but have not seen before on a screen. I feel we’ve accomplished the aim of their being finally represented : the Brazil of the big city outer-radius slums,” Moraes adds.
For Kond, as he, Guilherme Quintella and Losbragas’ co-founder Felipe Braga discussed how the series could be shaped as narrative, poor youth options in the Sao Paulo outer-radius cut three ways: “First and easiest, crime. If you have a strategic brain, you can become very rich.” Moraes recalls.
“Then probably the church because most are born into Evangelical households, and if you don’t have money or government support for the basics you need faith. And, for a lucky cream, Brazilian funk music.”
These worlds look set to shape the series’ sense of authentic specific local detail. But the story needed to anchor audience engagement more.
That in turn in part reflects Netflix’s major gameplay: To drive up international subscriptions not only by the appeal of foreign-language shows in their own local markets but also far beyond to many of Netflix’s now 153 million subscribers around the world. It is no coincidence that every time Netflix has announced a Brazilian series, its executive -it has emphasized the show’s resonance or relevance outside Brazil.
So Kond, Quintella and Braga forged an emotional bedrock of friendship in the tale of three childhood friends Nando (Christian Malheiros), Doni (MC Jottapê) and Rita (Bruna Mascarenhas), born and raised in the outskirts of São Paulo, who fall under the sway of funk, drug crime, and the Evangelical church. That distances them. But to achieve any of their dreams, they ultimately realize that the only people they can rely on are one another.
Then of course there’s the music. “That can draw KondZilla’s audience towards us, because here he’s most certainly a reference,” Moraes argues.
Doni is played by JP, a real MC from Sao Paulo. He creates tracks and performs during Season 1, as does another character, Dondoka, who steals one of his songs, played by real-life popular singer and former Globo actress Leila Moreno. The soundtrack is from Fabio Góes and DJ Zé Gonzales, aka Zegon, part of the Tropkillaz, a huge DJ duo in Brazil.
“To appeal to foreign viewers, you have to bring something that’s unique, ultra fresh, but grounded in something that speaks very intimately to people,” said Moraes. “so Felipe [Braga] opted to work towards connecting audiences everywhere eyeing the contemporary spirit of our time.”
“Audiences can first be attracted to the novelty, the music, the sounds, the landscapes,” she adds noting that the team opted to and made ample use of very wide angles and drones at the get-go. This way, the audiences can understand the size of the Sao Paolo outskirts which, paradoxically, circumscribe the main characters.
“Then you appeal to them with something universal,” she added, “which is the freshness of the youth and the value of friendship, with which people identify straight away.”
The Netflix trailer gives an early sense of how all of this can play out: