When the Spanish series La casa de papel, created by Álex Pina, premiered on Antena 3 in 2017, viewership was modest. But when it launched globally on Netflix last year as Money Heist, it gained devoted fans around the world, becoming the streaming service’s most-watched non-English-language series. It tells the story of a group of robbers who don red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks and, led by a diabolically brilliant professor, take over the Royal Mint of Spain and get their hostages to print billions of euros.
TV DRAMA: What does it mean to you that Money Heist has become the most-watched non-English-language series in the history of Netflix?
PINA: It was totally unexpected. We made a small series in Spain and look at what it has become! It is very exciting that the series has a global reach through Netflix. We created a series that somehow touches upon moral ambiguity. We changed the moral and ethical focus of the characters and we also worked with the viewers’ empathy. In other words, we presented them with situations in which they probably wouldn’t have liked to be involved themselves or they [empathized] with characters like Berlin, who is very complicated.
TV DRAMA: What was your inspiration for Money Heist? Did the recent financial crisis in Europe that impacted Spain so strongly influence the story in some way?
PINA: I love stories about the perfect heist; it’s such an entertaining genre. I thought about moving the genre, which only existed in feature films, to serialized fiction. This presented us with many challenges because we had to maintain an internal flow of time in regards to how the series was structured, the moment when one episode ends and the other begins. Thanks to this, viewers got that flashback feeling and the characters grew significantly.
Many times in a feature film you’re left wanting more because the story absorbs almost all of the narrative time, but a series allows you to expand the characters. In this sense, Money Heist allowed us to include a vision of what you touched upon—the disappointment there is in Europe after the financial crisis. And not only in Europe, but also in Latin America. So the series allowed us to add that certain level of skepticism that exists against governments, central banks and immigration policies. Many things are happening that have made people think and be disappointed in the people that control or govern the world. This is present in the series, together with that moral ambiguity.
TV DRAMA: What have been your major creative influences?
PINA: Perhaps the most important influence present in Money Heist is Breaking Bad, the series that in some way changed the way we work and write. After Breaking Bad aired, we did Vis a vis (Locked Up) and Money Heist, as well as El embarcadero (The Pier) for Movistar+. In the three shows, you can see the constant change and moral ambiguity in the characters. In the end, we’re all two different people, two different things, two concepts of right and wrong. Everyone has that duality, and I think that this is what we’ve continued to work on.
TV DRAMA: The format for TV fiction in Spain is 70-minute episodes, while for Netflix, the series was adapted to episodes between 40 and 50 minutes long. How will that affect the narrative for the new season? Will you have a bigger budget to present more complex narratives?
PINA: In regards to the duration, we began working with 70-minute episodes and turned them into 45 minutes in post-production. A lot of work was done in post-production because, logically, the endings for each episode didn’t coincide and had to be adapted. It’s a very complex task. I like the 45-minute format better now that we’re working on it for El embarcadero, just as you’ll see for the third season of Money Heist for Netflix. I’m passionate about the format and it’s how I watch my favorite series.
TV DRAMA: What do you think has made Money Heist so appealing to global audiences?
PINA: First of all, there’s an immediate visual element that has to do with the Dalí masks and red jumpsuits. The characters have an iconic identity that causes a very strong response, and when you see an image of the series, you know it’s Money Heist.
People are entertained by the series and they’re noticing that we’re making their empathy for the characters constantly change. There’s Berlin and there’s Tokyo, who is very impulsive, although sometimes she’s affectionate and people love her. These changes are a big surprise for viewers and so they watch with anticipation. When characters are so rich in evoking emotions, people get hooked.
TV DRAMA: What can you tell us about the third season?
PINA: We’ve been locked inside the Royal Mint of Spain, and sometimes I miss getting out for a little air. I think we’ll be traveling this time around, showing some incredible locations. Visually, people are going to love this season.