Amazon’s Latest Latin American Deals: 5 Takeaways

“The only absolute in history is change,” said the Victorian historian Lord Acton. He might have been talking about the streaming platforms’ current international strategies. Since they launched internationally, Netflix and Amazon’s focus and priorities have been in constant evolution. Current pressures – evolving demographies, new regulation, new competition, still untapped growth  – mean that re-engineering won’t stop any time soon.

On Jan. 23, as the NATPE Miami conference wound down, Amazon Prime Video announced out of Miami four new Latin American Amazon Original series: Lucía Puenzo’s “La Jauría” (“The Pack”), “Colonia Dignidad,” produced by Diego Guebel; Daniel Burman and Sebastián Borensztein’s “Iosi, The Repentant Spy”; and Andrés Wood’s “News of a Kidnapping.”

The announcement says much about Amazon Prime Video’s priorities, and the state of the streamer business in Latin America. Five takeaways:

1.Amazon Expands Production Reach

Also on Jan. 23, Amazon announced its first two forays into Italian scripted: Milan-set mob drama “Bang Bang Baby” and comedy “Life as Carlo.” Last December, it unveiled its first scripted originals in Brazil: Family relationship story “LOV3,” action crime thriller “DOM,”  transgender dramedy “Setembro,”and an untitled Marcelo D2 series.

The four Latin American series mark the first ever local Amazon Originals to launch in Argentina, Chile and Colombia, Amazon announced Thursday. (FIFA Gate scandal “El Presidente” is presumably an international Amazon Original). To date, from May 2018’s “Diablo Guardian,” Amazon has produced five series in Mexico.

For Amazon Prime Video, “the fundamental is the competitive edge in those markets and the ability to grow international subscriber base, which is of course is where Netflix is getting its growth from,” said Guy Bisson, executive director, Ampere Analysis.

Another factor, however, is cost, he added. “Certain markets are becoming prohibitively expensive to produce in, which would include the U.S. and to a lesser extent the U.K. International productions makes a lot of sense. You can make high-quality drama for much, much lower budgets.”

2.These Aren’t Not Just Any Old Series

These Latin American titles, moreover, aren’t just any old series. “La Jauría” drew large heat off just one festival outing late last year, a screening of Ep. 1 at late September’s Zurich  Festival. The Amazon deal, for Latin America and Spain, is the first sale, and in key territories, for the series, proof of its commercial potential.

Given the deal, buzz, backers and talent – it’s showrun by Puenzo (“The German Doctor), the first international series from Pablo and Juan de Diós Larrain’s Fabula, and the first produced with and sold by Fremantle (“The Young Pope,” “American Gods”), with whom Fabula now has a multi-year first look deal – “La Jauría” is shaping up to become one of the highest-profile Latin American titles of 2020.

Way back at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, Daniel Burman talked up “Josi” to illustrate what he could bring to the table when Mediapro announced it was taking a substantial stake in his Oficina Burman production label.

“Colonia Dignidad” turns on a community whose leader underscores a central trope of Chilean film-TV: the survival of modified facets of Pinochet’s dictatorship – its allies, beneficiaries, criminals, arch conservatism – down to this day. Accessing adaptation rights to Gabriel García Márquez is like being given part of Latin America’s cultural crown-jewels. It’s huge recognition for Chile’s Invercine & Wood, just after it’s co-produced “Dignity,” a very early series for German OTT service Joyn, the Discovery-ProSieben joint venture.

3.The Crossover

Go back to mid-last decade: Andrés Wood released his international movie breakout “Machuca” in 2004; Daniel Burman won a double Silver Bear – the Grand Jury Prize and best actor (Daniel Hendler) – that same year for another movie, “Lost Embrace”; three years later, Lucía Puenzo took a Cannes Camera d’Or – its best first feature award – for “XXY.” Sebastian Borensztein’s movie break.out, “Chinese Take Away,” came slightly later, in 2011.

Near a decade and a half later, Wood (last year’s “Araña”,  Puenzo (“Impactados,” presented at Ventana Sur) and Borensztein (“Heroic Losers”) still make movies. But they and Burman, four driving forces of the modern Latin American cinema, are now also pillars of its new regional drama series scene, Argentina’s Puenzo making “La Jauría” with Chile’s Fabula and TVN and the U.K.-based Fremantle, Burman, also from Argentina, “Supermax” with Brazil’s Globo, and Wood “Dignity” with Germany’s Joyn.

Burman now serves as head of content at The Mediapro Studio; Wood’s “Noticias de un secuestro” is notably also co-produced by Lourdes Díaz and Stuart Ford at Los Angeles’ AGC Television, part of Ford’s AGC Studios – a sign of just how international Latin America’s TV scene is becoming.

4. The Age of the Studios

“For the best part of 100 years, the same few studios dominated the content creation business- But as these studios explore direct to consumer, others are filling the gap,” Bisson argues.

Distributors – networks, platforms, sales companies, telcos – need to move ever more into production to access content. The net result is a world of “new studios,” says Bisson, where content powerhouses are behaving like studios. Amazon’s new four-pack series deal includes not just scripted series but “Colonia Dignidad,” a docuseries from famed Argentine TV format creator Guebel “Caiga quien Caiga.” In Mexico, Brazil and Italy, Amazon has moved into reality shows with “LOL: Last One Laughing,” “Loose in Floripa,” and “Celebrity Hunted” respectively. “The strategy is always the same,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told Variety last week, announcing its new Italian slate. “We don’t have any type of obligation of having a certain amount of scripted or unscripted – or movies for that matter – for Prime audiences,” she said. “It’s basically about whatever comes in the door that feels inspired and driven by a strong creative vision, and that we fee like our subscribers will love.”

5.The Fascination of Latin America Series

Ep. 1 of “La Jauría” begins with a moment of excruciating ethical horror, as a near middle-aged male drama teacher, hidden out of the frame, asks one of his teen girl students to pretend she’s his girlfriend. Mortified, she doesn’t know where to put herself, her whole value system questioned. The first episode of “La Jauría” is highly informative, Olivia Fernandez (Antonia Zegers, “The Club”), a member of a gender-based crime specialist police unit, taking a school teacher through the psychological impact of abuse. Ultra-contemporary in its portraits of school shut-down protests, party teen sex, Internet social organization, and hacking, the drama is, however, so gripping – a race against the clock to find a missing girl, raped in a video distributed online – that this near manual presentation of toxic masculinity never feels labored.

“We are thrilled that our first project with Fabula has found a home in Latin America and Spain on Amazon,” said Christian Vesper, Fremantle creative director for global drama. “Latin America is an exciting market for us, and working on such partnerships are key to our strategy there,” he added.

Part of that excitement, Vesper told Variety, is that “everything that we’re doing in Latin America is, I think, both commercial, and has something to say about really big ideas.”

Equally, the other three series turn on the possible connivance of Argentina’s intelligence services with acts of terrorism (“Iosi”), the complicity of Chile’s establishment, unwitting or not, with a torture center led by a pedophile (“Colonia Dignidad”); and the horror of true-story-based abductions (“News of a Kidnapping”), as detailed by Gabriel García Márquez in his non-fiction book of the same title, which Wood adapts.

Latin America scripted is gaining a reputation: Part of that is that it is made up by scripted series of substance.

La Jauría
CREDIT: Fremantle


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