Crime thriller “Sequía” (Drought), the first-ever fiction co-production between Spain and Portugal’s pubcasters, RTVE and RTP, was discussed at a Conecta Fiction panel session moderated by the forum’s director, Géraldine Gonard,

The session was sponsored by ONSeries Lisboa, a new event running Nov. 25-26 in Lisbon, that will offer a showcase for Portuguese TV series, aiming to attract international broadcasters and buyers.

The panelists were the co-producers involved in “Sequía”: RTVE’s content director, Amalia Martínez de Velasco, RTP’s programming director, José Fragoso, and Jorge Sánchez Gallo, chairman of Atlantia Media (Spain) and Bruno Santos, managing director of Coral Europa (Portugal).

Sequía is a noir thriller set in a small submerged village on the Spanish-Portuguese border, that re-emerges from a huge dam built in the 1990s, after a severe drought. Two skeletons are unearthed, revealing evidence of a bloody crime.

The action switches between the 1990s and the present day, against the backdrop of the climate crisis and corporate skullduggery.

The panel session included a teaser and clips, which highlighted the series’ slick visuals, high-profile cast and intense ochre-colored parched landscapes.

Produced by Atlantia Media and Coral Europa and co-produced by RTVE and RTP, the series stars Spanish thesps Elena Rivera, Rodolfo Sancho and Miryam Gallego and Portuguese actors, Marco D’Almeida, Soraia Chaves and Margarida Marinho.

The series is written by Arturo Ruiz and Daniel Corpas and directed by Joaquín Llamas and Oriol Ferrer.

The four-month shoot began in June this year, at multiple locations in both countries, including their capitals, Madrid and Lisbon, and in Cáceres in Spain, near the Spain-Portugal border.

RTVE’s Martínez de Velasco explained that the broadcaster was attracted by the script, the visual appeal of dramatic arid landscapes and also by pulling off RTVE’s long-cherished desire to co-produce a fiction project with Portugal’s RTP.

RTP’s Fragoso echoed this idea: “Spain is our neighbor. In the past we’ve co-produced documentaries and other content but never fiction. At present, it’s very important to set up co-productions between European broadcasters, because it helps us open up a new window.”

Fragoso emphasized that RTP is the leading Portuguese broadcaster in terms of producing series with high production values, making around 12 series per year, in contrast to its competitors, that focus on telenovelas.

“‘Sequía’ is a police thriller, involving two countries, two languages, with people working together on both sides of the border. Our actors and technical teams need this kind of valuable experience.”

He estimated that around 20% of the dialogues are in Portuguese, the rest in Spanish, but that there is an organic flow between the two languages which makes him believe that Portuguese audiences will embrace the series.

Financing for shooting part of the series in Portugal was facilitated by a 30% cash rebate scheme, PIC Portugal that enables local broadcasters to embrace more ambitious projects.

Fragoso added that Portugal currently boasts a very vibrant independent production sector working in both TV fiction and cinema, with RTP assuming a pivotal role in this dynamic.

Atlantia’s Sánchez Gallo explained that the project received a greenlight from RTVE in early 2020 but initially had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

The project had already contemplated shooting in Portugal, but solely on a production services basis. Given the new constraints caused by the pandemic,  Sanchez Gallo said that the only viable solution was a full co-production – which led to a more organic contribution from Portugal.

The series was originally conceived as six 70-minute episodes, but was restructured as eight one hours. Sánchez Gallo says that the lockdown period also provided the opportunity to review the scripts and introduce a more powerful emotional dimension.

“Working with our Portuguese partners helped us maintain our original idea of a noir thriller but we brought the project closer to the tradition of Southern European Noir, with greater emphasis on the characters, family ties and emotions.”

Gonard noted how Southern European broadcasters are providing a counterpoint to the tradition of Nordic noir, and cited the recent Portuguese series, “Sul”.

Bruno Santos emphasized that given the culture and the strong tradition of telenovelas in Southern Europe, it is important to bring a powerful emotional and personal dimension to any noir project. “We only identify with these projects if we feel a close link to the characters – for example if we see relationship problems, such as between a mother and daughter, or with a partner.”

It was a complex task to put together the cast of more than 40 Spanish and Portuguese actors, and reconcile their schedules, said Sánchez Gallo. The key Spanish characters were cast first, followed by the casting of the Portuguese actors. “We were less familiar with the Portuguese actors but it has been a great discovery – in terms of their capacity, professionalism and talent.”

This meant finding Portuguese actors who already had a good command of Spanish or who took an intensive language course.

Gonard asked Martínez de Velasco about whether co-producing with other pubcasters is a priority for RTVE. She said that it is both a necessity, due to financing and distribution factors and also an opportunity, because it provides greater access to foreign markets. For this project she emphasized that the images highlight the close proximity between Portugal and Spain, in terms of their traditions, peoples and landscapes.

Fragoso added that RTP is co-producing other series with Spain, in particular projects involving the neighboring regions of Galicia and Andalusia, and also with Catalonia.

“This enables us to develop stronger projects, that have greater distribution potential because they have more funding, and are also more stimulating for our actors and technical crews,” he added.  “The international potential is very different from a domestic project that is limited to the spectators in your country. A project like ‘Sequía’ has the potential to be shown on channels all over the world.”