Few big European telecoms have driven into original high-end drama series production at the scale of Movistar Plus.
When it world-premiered at the San Sebastian festival in 2017, “The Plague,” a re-creation of 1580 Seville in its dazzling glory and poverty, was most probably the biggest-budget Spanish series ever made.
Yet, even by such measures, Alejandro Amenábar’s “La Fortuna,” which world-premieres at September’s San Sebastian Film Festival, sets a new bar for Movistar Plus’ ambitions.
The six-part series also says much about how Movistar Plus, the pay TV-SVOD unit of giant European telecom Telefonica, is setting out to consolidate audiences in Spain and secure even more of a global viewership.
“La Fortuna” weighs in as the single biggest single U.S.-Spain co-production in history, teaming AMC Studios, Movistar Plus and Spain’s Mod Producciones. It has the Spanish media company’s biggest stars to date: Stanley Tucci, who plays Frank Wild, owner of Atlantis Underwater Searching, the world’s biggest American deep-sea discovery company, and Clarke Peters, immortalized in David Simon’s “The Wire,” who takes on the role of Jonas Pierce, the world’s best maritime rights lawyer.
The AMC pact also delivers the most far-reaching distribution deal for any Movistar series to date with AMC Plus releasing the series in the U.S. and Canada this winter and Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022, Movistar Plus bows “La Fortuna” in Spain and giant European independent Beta Film handles other territory international distribution. That set-up allows Movistar Plus to grasp the holy grail of current high-end drama series production: IP ownership and overseas distribution reach.
Straddling the U.S. and Spain and past and present, “La Fortuna” is not only the biggest but also most complex series that Movistar Plus has ever made.
That cuts several ways.
It begins with Frank locating the wreck of La Fortuna, a ship sunk by the Royal Navy in 1804 off the Atlantic coast of Spain. It contains, as he knows, the biggest sunken treasure trove in history off the Spanish coast.
When Frank ships the booty to his home base in Atlanta, Alex Ventura (Alvaro Mel), a rookie civil servant, is dispatched by Spain’s ministry of culture to retrieve it, enrolling a fiery bureaucrat (Ana Polvorosa) and Jonas to argue Spain’s case for sovereign state ownership through a tense battle, which expands from Atlanta to Washington.
Apart from courtroom scenes, “La Fortuna” was shot at about 50 different locations in Spain, says Fernando Bovaira, head of Mod Producciones.
That’s a huge number, and ranges across the country from Madrid, Cadiz and Zaragoza to San Sebastian, A Coruña and El Ferrol. The segments depicting when the retrieval of the treasure becomes a matter of state lensed in Spain’s equivalent of the White House, Madrid’s Palacio de Moncloa. As the Ministry of Culture sets out to prove that Frank’s treasure comes from La Fortuna, production brought in the Spanish navy, army, civil guard and oceanography institute to access launches, helicopters and a deep sea submersible. Tanks and three Hercules transport planes appear in later scenes.
Location shoots, a Movistar Plus hallmark, gives “La Fortuna” “a unique personality and an essential sense of realism,” says Domingo Corral, head of original programming at Movistar Plus.
“La Fortuna” is also the first TV series from one of Spain’s greatest filmmakers, director of Nicole Kidman starrer “The Others,” “Agora” with Rachel Weisz and “The Sea Inside,” starring Javier Bardem, which won Amenábar and Bovaira a foreign-language film Academy Award.
That, however, reflects larger Movistar Plus philosophy. The battle for success in a high-end series world is a fight to source and retain world-class talent, including Amenábar.
To attract it, Europe’s biggest SVOD players such as Movistar Plus have to guarantee the resources to allow top writer-directors to make the shows they want to make at the level of budget required and with a reasonable freedom.
“In such a complex and disruptive industry, the quality of our own production is one of our competitive edges. Our creative process in terms of freedom, respect and high standards towards creators is very unique,” says Cristina Burzako, Movistar Plus CEO.
“We talk about auteur cinema. Movistar Plus makes auteur series,” Amenábar says.
Many of his films are genre-blenders. So is “La Fortuna,” which mixes a comedy-spangled rites-of-passage adventure with building thriller intrigue, plus an entire episode of classic court-room drama, Bovaira says.
Amenábar set out to shoot “La Fortuna” as if it were a film. He succeeded.
” ‘La Fortuna’ has the dramatic structure of a series but Amenábar’s direction is purely cinematographic,” Corral says. “It was like shooting film for over five months.”
In the most notable departure for a modern-day broad audience adventure thriller, the series flashes back to the sinking of La Fortuna, two centuries ago, and the agony of the captain of another ship in the convoy as he witnesses his family go down with the vessel.
“What we wanted to do was to explore the human side to the tragedy, so that the spectator connects with the past,” Amenábar says. “We’re not just talking about economic loss, but something less tangible but equally important.”
To shoot the re-creation, Movistar Plus hired two frigates, one from France, another from Russia. To allow Amenábar to shoot at a speed but with a cinematic sophistication, animatics were created of the historic scenes prior to shooting.
The series, which work best for Movistar Plus in terms of its own audiences and abroad, are those that take “less-traveled routes” and “the most complex subjects,” says Sergio Oslé, president of Movistar Plus, citing “Riot Police,” “Arde Madrid” and “Perfect Life.”
Though a much bigger and more mainstream play, “La Fortuna” would look to be part of this universe.