MADRID — Telefonica’s Movistar Plus was set to show off a pair of dramas at this year’s MipTV before the market was canceled. Now, Movistar has prepared online presentations on Monday where it will screen episodes of both series as well as conversations with producers and creatives from both series.
Each show focus on terrorist organizations working in Spain. “La Linea Invisible” recounts the origins of violence within the Basque Country’s ETA organization in the ‘60s, while “La Unidad” (The Unit) is a contemporary look at Spain’s National Police antiterrorist unit and how it works globally to prevent terrorist attacks.
One of the biggest international plays to date for Movistar, “La Unidad” re-teams director Dani de la Torre and writer Alberto Marini, who found audience and international sales success with the 2015 Venice-selected “Retribution” (“El Desconocido”), which won Spanish Academy Goya Awards for new director, editing and sound. Marini co-wrote on “La Unidad” with Amèlia Mora, a story editor on famed Spanish horror film “[REC]” and head of development on Marini’s “Sleep Tight.”
De la Torre and Marini talked with Variety ahead of Monday’s screenings.
This is one of the most ambitious television series in Spanish history. Are these types of multinational, high-end productions sustainable? Is there additional pressure to produce a hit with this ambition?
De la Torre: I think we are in the ideal time to address new themes and take risks in storytelling, and that means greater ambition. Series play globally now. Any series can be seen anywhere in the world almost simultaneously. That global market means productions must always be made with the widest possible audience in mind.
What kind of research did you do when writing the series? How involved were anti-terrorist officers in development?
De la Torre: We worked side by side with the National Police information brigade. Beto and I attended interrogations, counter-terrorism operations, met with infiltrators and have been at important briefings. The police were close collaborators.
Marini: The raw material of this series came from opportunities we had to be in close contact with the men and women of the National Police. We spent more than two years on the scripts, largely because we’re not fast writers, but even more so because of time spent doing this development work. Experiencing first-hand moments of counterterrorism work was an extremely enriching experience. Although, possibly the most valuable material we got was not so much the technical knowledge, but about the human side of its protagonists.
Have the officers you worked with seen the series? What did they think?
De la Torre: Yes! They’re thrilled. It’s extremely satisfying because they left us free to tell the story we wanted without any censorship. They felt the series shines a light on them through its characters.
Marini: I agree. The screening for the Police was the one that made me most nervous. When they congratulated us and told us that we had managed to portray their truth, it was a source of enormous relief and satisfaction.
How did you find the experience of shooting in so many locations?
De la Torre: Each place had its own idiosyncrasies. Melilla impacted me a lot with its gigantic fence, endless daily queue and the presence of the army on the streets. It is a place where different cultures and religions coexist. Other places like Lagos in Nigeria were equally memorable. Our story required lots of locations because this type of terrorism is global, and there is an important domino effect after any action. The repercussions of the War in Syria were felt globally. As thousands of refugees arrived in Europe and the U.S., terrorists arrived too. That’s why authorities must be connected. Spanish police have close ties with Moroccans, the CIA, Mossad, the French police, Interpol. They all work in concert to stop terrorists before they act.
This is a multilingual, multicultural and geographically disperse series, which still feels very Spanish. Was that always the goal?
De la Torre: Yes, it felt logical. The protagonists are The Unit, the information brigade of the National Police, and the story pivots on them, although the type of terrorism they fight is global. It’s a fact though that the Spanish police have the most anti-jihadist arrests in the world. Spain is an important place of passage for these groups.
Marini: The goal from the beginning was to tell a fictionalized truth of the fight against terrorism in our country, but the truth is that it’s a global threat. You can’t fight it in one territory. The multiculturalism and the different languages that appear in the series reflect this reality.
The visual effects in the series are stunning. Can you talk a little bit about special effects and how you filmed the action-packed combat scenes?
De la Torre: The challenge was to be authentic in all things: the lives of officers in Spain and in the conflicts around the world. This required mixing real images of locations here in Spain that resembled those of Raqqa in Syria or Nigeria, and then touching them up digitally to make them more authentic. We were fortunate that the VFX work was done at El Ranchito, which worked on “Game of Thrones” and “The Mandalorian.” It’s another example of the professional quality of Spanish technicians.
Does the story of “The Unit” end with Season 1? Or could there be more seasons in the future?
De la Torre: I hope there will be more seasons. We still have many stories that we couldn’t tell in the first. I hope audiences connect with the show.
Marini: In the real world, unfortunately the terrorist threat is still active and constantly renewed. And as long as there are professionals who dedicate their lives to fighting this threat, there will always be a interesting argument to tell in the stories of “La Unidad.”