Spanish formats are having a moment in Europe and further abroad, headlined by successes such as “Dangerous Moms,” “Gran Hotel” and, perhaps most successful of all, Albert Espinosa’s “The Red Band Society” — the format was sold globally, including to the U.S.
Espinosa, after a decade remaking his highly autobiographical Catalan original “Polseres vermelles” (“Red Band Society”), is back with “Alive and Kicking,” a new coming-of-age series that Beta Film is shopping at Mipcom.
Produced by Movistar Plus and Dynamo Audiovisual — the Madrid-based branch of Colombian indie powerhouse Dynamo, producers of Netflix’s “The Great Heist” and Colombia’s 2019 Oscar submission “Monos” — “Alive and Kicking” marks something of a sea change for Spain’s most successful fiction format creator.
A decade ago, when “Red Band Society” was created and its format sold globally, Netflix wasn’t a player in Europe and wouldn’t even arrive in Spain for another five years. As streaming has changed audience viewing habits, original versions of TV shows and movies, regardless of language, are traveling better than ever, making “Alive and Kicking” a doubly exciting property for Beta.
According to Beta’s Christian Gockel, “Our primary interest is to sell the Spanish original version first. It’s extremely well made, and we want to bring the Movistar brand to the forefront of the international market, which is best done by selling the original. It’s also an opportunity to showcase Albert and the creatives who worked on the series.
“But naturally, there are further possibilities with the format,” he adds. “Today, library formats still show tremendous signs of life.”
Espinosa’s “Red Band Society” set the bar, but there are other strong, recent examples that prove the theory. “Gran Hotel,” a 9-year-old series produced by Bambú Producciones in Spain, was recently sold by Beta to TF1 in France, where the updated “Grand Hôtel” proved a ratings hit.
“Alive and Kicking” season one — a second has been commissioned and written — is delivered in seven, 25-minute episodes that gives the series a sense of urgency Espinosa likens to “24.”
“Red Band Society” was based on Espinosa’s own life experience, hospitalized for his teenage years while battling cancer, “Alive and Kicking” comes from his observations of the children on a floor above him in the psychiatric ward.
In the series, four teens, Mickey, Yeray, Sam and Guada, are locked away on an island in a mental institution. Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, obsessiveness, bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks and sociopathic tendencies, the group decide to plot a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-style breakout.
“There are currently 40,000 children in psychiatric hospitals in Spain. They are full,” Espinosa says. “I know these kids well, I met them when I was a kid in hospital. I’ve also researched the subject and for me, putting any kid in a psychiatric hospital is almost a crime. The problems aren’t with the kids, but with how society shuts them out.”
Espinosa hopes to change the way kids like those in the series are viewed and referred to by major parts of society. The series Spanish title, “Los Espabilados,” doesn’t translate directly to English, and while “Alive and Kicking” has a bit of the same spirit, for Espinosa the word “clever” comes closer.
“For me, an ‘espabilado’ is someone who has an innate intelligence to get themselves out of trouble. Like a child that doesn’t have many resources but has a smart energy that drives them. I think this is a better way of referring to these kids than saying they have mental illnesses. They aren’t crazy or diseased.”
That, according to Espinosa, is the heart of the “Alive and Kicking,” a series fueled by the underestimated decision-making power of children and which he describes it as the best he’s ever made.