Netflix’s Leonardo Padrón and José Ignacio Valenzuela, Fidelio’s Mauricio Leiva-Cock and The Immigrant’s Silvana Aguirre participated in a panel today at Content Americas speaking about the evolution of narrative models in Latin America, the role of the showrunner and the creative freedom offered by streaming platforms.
The conversation began with the way in which series are currently being told in Latin America and the restructuring of narrative models. “The truth is that I’m not very clear about what the models were prior to those that are being restructured today,” commented Valenzuela, creator of ¿Quién mató a Sara? for Netflix. “What is clear is that for many years in Latin America, we operated [with a certain dramatic] model. We had three characters who were trying to achieve something and usually, the only role that one of those three characters had was to prevent the other two from achieving their goal.”
He continued, “This is classic Latin American melodrama. It is the genre we invented and of which I am very proud. But for some time now, Latin Americans have replaced one of these elements not with a character but with a situation. So, the stories have changed. Latin America began to embrace new themes, and our melodramas stopped being a simple love story between two characters with a third party that prevented it. This began to resonate in the United States, in the Middle East and in Europe.”
Leiva-Cock, showrunner, writer, director and executive producer at Fidelio, said that character development is one of the main factors when structuring a narrative. “Character building has started to differentiate our stories in Latin America,” he said. “Certain archetypes worked in the past, but we are now breaking away from them.”
Leiva-Cock also noted that social context is another element that is evolving in the narrative. “This has moved our stories forward to new places,” he said. “We explore the genre and find new ways of telling stories that have been told in the past. That’s what we’ve been doing with Joaquín Murrieta, which launches in February on Prime Video. It explores how, within a specific historical context, there are epic characters who find themselves in circumstances and realities that reflect current events.”
Regarding new narrative models, Aguirre, co-founder and director of the development department at The Immigrant, said, “I don’t know if the models have been replaced or if they are evolving. Melodrama is a proven genre that travels very well internationally and with which Latin America is well known. But this genre is changing a lot in the region. We are learning to use the tools of melodrama, but also to tell stories in a different way. This is an asset, but also a risk. It is dangerous for a region to be limited to one genre. It is an asset because it can be exploited, but it is also important that Latin America is not limited to what kind of stories it can tell. The diversity [of talent] that exists in the region is important. We must be strategic because melodrama is key.”
The panel then addressed the different narrative layers that melodrama has and the combination of genres such as thriller and suspense. “I think the challenge is to go beyond the stereotypes portrayed in Latin America,” said Padrón, creator of Pálpito for Netflix. “We manage our emotions with extraordinary intensity. It’s part of our DNA. That’s why melodrama is so essential to us.”
The executive explained that currently, writers are experiencing an important moment because platforms “have freed us from the restrictions that one usually has in broadcast television, which is always very constrained by the fear of executives at TV channels. [Platforms] have allowed us to propose different narrative structures, which [gives] us an opportunity to innovate.”
Speaking on character-driven stories, Leiva-Cock reiterated the importance of character development. “In the characters I present in the stories, I also try to address how the circumstances they are living through affect them. From a developmental perspective, it has not only to do with the in-depth elaboration of the conflicts that the characters are living, but also how these circumstances lead them to make certain decisions that are perhaps morally grayer than they were previously.”
“I love it when they allow you to explore what you feel like doing and playing with those gray areas as Mauricio said,” Valenzuela remarked. “When you’re able to explore this, melodrama stereotypes start to [break down]. The hero is the good guy for a certain number of episodes, but then it turns out that he’s really the villain. This not only can keep the audience engaged, but it also allows you to explore different themes. It’s the characters that tell the story.”
Aguirre agreed that exploring the gray areas is her preference. “Circumstances and societies change fast, and this gives us the chance to explore [narratives], but it is also challenging. You must be aware of the stereotypes that you may be perpetuating and which ones you are changing or evolving,” she said.
The conversation then turned to the role of the showrunner in the relationship with platforms. Leiva-Cock said that currently there is more control over how the story is told. “Amazon has given me the possibility of taking special care the work that is done from every perspective: artistic, acting, directing, photography.”
“The focus is now on the creator,” Valenzuela added. “There is no one better than the creator to answer questions regarding the story. Indeed, the role of the showrunner, which has always existed, was not as important as now. What we are currently seeing on screen is what was in the mind of the person who created it.”
“Although no one knows the story better than the creator, I believe that television and film are a team effort,” Padrón said. “There always has to be a final voice that decides what is going to happen.” The executive said that the writer is not always the showrunner, “but I find it interesting that one has the possibility of being involved in all aspects of the process, from art direction, wardrobe and score.”