With a career spanning film and television, Pau Freixas is one of the most talented creators, directors, producers and screenwriters in the Spanish and international industry. His name is quickly associated with The Red Band Society (Polseres vermelles/Pulseras rojas), for which he was co-producer and director. This incredibly humane story not only conquered local viewers but also audiences around the world. To date, Freixas has worked on many other successful shows, including I Know Who You Are (Sé quién eres)for Telecinco, Three Days of Christmas (Días de Navidad) for Netflix and You Shall Not Lie (Todos mienten), which will premiere on Movistar+. In this interview, Freixas talks about his start in the industry, working during the pandemic and current and future projects, among other topics.
TV DRAMA: How did the experience working on The Red Band Society help you face the current challenges in the industry?
FREIXAS: The experience with Polseres was important. From a creative standpoint, it helped me understand the personal relationship you develop with a project. With Polseres, we developed a very close relationship with the kids who played the characters. We created the series for a local channel, TV3. We weren’t thinking about making something that would travel or that would garner any great amount of success. I was coming off a film called Héroes that also included kid actors, some of whom made the cast of Polseres.
As a creator, I was satisfied having worked with kids, and I wanted to work on something with adults where you could focus on something from an adult mindset. When TV3 offered me this project, I had plenty of doubts about taking it on. The producer at TV3 called me and said, “It really doesn’t matter if no one sees the show. The important thing is that kids who are hospitalized in real life watch the series and relate to the heroes on screen. The show will have a purpose if this audience watches it.”
Something clicked when he said that. I realized that the series didn’t need to be successful. We wanted to make it for kids who were in hospitals and, in some way, empower them. So, we began making the series with these strong emotions, without thinking of pleasing people or looking for success. We wanted to be honest with the story. This type of motivation may be a bit impractical; it’s emotional, it has to do with telling an important story without just thinking about selling a product.
This has been my mindset ever since. Why am I making this series? It’s much more than a job and making a living. Am I telling a story I care about? Something that benefits people? Can I go on this journey that will result in some personal discovery? If I can answer these questions, then I’m on board. If I can’t, something’s wrong.
TV DRAMA: You’ve worked in film and television. Do you have a preference?
FREIXAS: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a director. But it’s also true that when you connect with stories you want to tell, that are important to you or reveal something about yourself, you have to get involved in screenwriting. Now I feel involved in every aspect. In regard to being an executive producer, it has to do with control and management, overseeing the entire product. The projects are like kids to me, and when I’m involved in a production, you can be sure I’ll be involved in the script, direction and executive production. If I have a relationship with the channel and we’re discussing how a show is going to be or if we’re selling it, I want to be leading those conversations.
TV DRAMA: I Know Who You Are was also a successful production, but that story concluded with a book (La última palabra de Juan Elías). Did you have the opportunity to tell that story on screen?
FREIXAS: We never really talked about it. Sé quién eres was a stand-alone story from the outset. When we launched the series, a publisher pitched the idea of launching a book. I wasn’t heavily involved in the project, just in a few meetings, and I didn’t write anything. I was credited for working on it but I told them that the proper credit was for the writer. My credits were only for the characters and the creation of the series. I would have loved to further the story [on television] because I fell in love with the characters and the story.
TV DRAMA: Why do you think I Know Who You Are appealed to global audiences?
FREIXAS: It had a really high concept with a lead character who was difficult to figure out; you don’t know if he has amnesia or not. The viewer is not sure if he’s trying to recover his memory; he seemingly doesn’t remember anything and then discovers he’s married and has children. So, there’s an emotional journey there that I think anybody can relate to.
The story also hints at the possibility that this character is deceiving us, pretending to not remember anything in order to cover up a crime he committed. This ambiguity places the viewer at the center of an interesting mind game. On one hand, you have a possible deception, and on the other, there’s the emotional journey of a man trying to get his life back.
The series also deals with the issue of reason versus emotion. Reason tries to convince him to go back to his life. His wife is a judge and his friend a lawyer, but they are corrupt and immoral, and with their help, he’ll be able to escape his predicament. But when he ponders this and faces his emotions, he can’t come to terms with how they are as he realizes he’s not like them. The downside of not following reason, however, is that he would probably be accused of murder. There’s a real struggle between his heart and reason. So, I think these elements of the story are very universal.
We all struggle with this in our daily lives, in our relationships and at our jobs. And as I mentioned, the story has that mind game in which you don’t know if the lead character is deceiving you or not. This holds people’s attention because you wonder if his actions are typical of an amnesiac or if he is blatantly lying.
TV DRAMA: Filming for You Shall Not Lie for Movistar+ finished at the end of last year. What can you tell us about this production? Do you feel there’s more creative liberty in working with SVOD platforms compared to pay or free TV?
FREIXAS: In terms of budgets, it’s clear that these platforms offer more possibilities. This obviously allows you to be a bit more ambitious with the series. There’s more time for filming, having a bit more money to make it shine in terms of production.
Regarding creative liberty, I think there’s more flexibility on these platforms and also more trust in the creator compared to the traditional linear broadcast channels that are looking for content that appeals to the broadest possible audience. Depending on what kind of creator you are, the aim of reaching the broadest possible audience can limit the kinds of stories you want to tell. It’s possible to be going through a stage in your life when you want to tell a story that’s geared toward a broad audience and when you pitch the idea to the broadcaster, you find that your vision is aligned with what they want to do. Since platforms have such varied offerings and want to reach different viewers, it’s possible that your show, which can be geared to a particular niche, may find its way onto these platforms.
Regardless of the platform, be it broadcast or streaming, the important thing is that the story you want to tell aligns with the vision of the platform. You can’t make the mistake of approaching a free-TV channel with a very particular show, pitching them something that’s obviously geared toward a niche audience. Eventually, conflicts will arise because both parties have different visions and objectives.
TV DRAMA: What has your experience been during the pandemic?
FREIXAS: It’s been hard. First of all, the [sanitary] conditions that were put in place were significant because we had to test everyone periodically, everyone had to wear masks and keep social distancing—the same things everyone had to do at their office jobs but now transposed to the filming process. It was crazy. Setting up everything in one place and then taking it down to set up another, while so many people are trying to work and relate to each other. With actors sharing an intimate scene where they hug or kiss, you had to be very careful. The actors participating in these scenes were tested on the same day. It’s easy to see how this change in logistics can complicate things. All of this really affected us because we’re an industry that’s known for having intense relationships. It’s like Big Brother on steroids because you’re working together the entire day on a project that is special to you, so there’s an emotional investment. Social distancing prevented that dynamic.
I do have to say, however, that in the case of You Shall Not Lie, which was the first one we filmed after quarantine, there was a bit of a contradiction because although sanitary measures affected us, we were very grateful to be able to work. Everyone was going through a really difficult time but we managed to continue working in the industry. It was like fighting a common enemy; we were facing Covid-19 that was on the prowl. Being able to face it together while being grateful for the opportunity to continue working developed strong bonds among us. This fueled the filming of the series with emotionality, turning everything into a very positive experience. Small disagreements started having very little significance. People were very connected to what was really important; that we were healthy, that people weren’t getting sick and we were disciplined while being able to do our jobs during a very difficult time.
TV DRAMA: What can you tell us about The New Thirties (Los nuevos 30)?
FREIXAS: I’m focusing on the potential second seasons of the projects we’re working on now, and I’m also on another project that I can’t talk too much about titled Arca. Los nuevos 30 is a series we were going to do with Netflix but decided to put it on hold and look elsewhere. We’re also exploring other projects and looking for the best partners to develop them with.