El Comandante (60x60), the original Sony Pictures Television production, directed by Felipe Cano from Colombia and Henry Rivero from Venezuela, was a monumental challenge, to say the least. To showcase the life of such a controversial person as was the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, generated all sorts of clashing opinions and political consequences, that both directors were able to handle gracefully.
The series premiered on RCN Televisión in Colombia and pay TV network TNT (Turner Latin America) across the region, yet the government of president Nicolás Maduro forbid the broadcast in Venezuela. The series is set to premiere on other screens in Latin America soon.
How was the challenge of directing the show El Comandante, which revolves around a very powerful and polemic Latin American figure like Hugo Chávez?
Felipe Cano - Directing El Comandante was a major challenge, because being a Colombian myself, I had to delve into the inner passions of a country that isn't my own. To do this, in addition to having a partner in Henry -a Venezuelan director-, I had to study and be very responsible with the story and the different points of view there are. After reading many documents, seeing tons of images, speaking to many, many people; we decided to concentrate on the Chávez in our story, the one our writers gave us, and give that Chávez the universe and truth he needed.
Henry Rivero - The biggest challenge was how big of a project it was and how much it covered. To cover almost six decades in a character's life, recreating an entire country -Venezuela- in another one -Colombia-; in addition to historic events that required a lot of preparation and planning.
How did you get involved in this project?
Felipe Cano - This is my fourth project with Sony. We have a strong relationship where we always try to be a part of the riskiest projects, the most complex, and then, shoulder to shoulder, make it happen. I found out through Teleset, who asked me to join and I didn't hesitate for even a second.
Henry Rivero - In the first few days of March 2015, I got a call from Camila Misas, VP, Creative, International Production at Sony Pictures Television, inviting me to a confidential meeting at Teleset's offices in Bogota. She didn't share any further details, she just told me they were thinking of me to direct a series they were going to produce. On March 19 we had the meeting and then this project started, becoming a very demanding and highly satisfying challenge.
How would you define the story and the main character in this fiction?
Felipe Cano - I would describe Chávez in one word: passion. He's a man of love and hate, there is no in between. However you look at it and whoever you speak to, it's either love or hate towards him. We even realized this happens with people in other countries too, people who never even knew him or witnessed his actions. And I say "passion" because of the way our team worked, putting everything they had into the product, without thinking about political agendas.
Henry Rivero - Hugo Chávez is an incredible character for a fiction series. He's charismatic yet full of dramatic contradictions, with an incredible journey that begins with his childhood in poverty, to becoming one of the richest men in the continent, with a tragic and mysterious death. It's a story inspired by the life of a leader who was both loved and hated by people with the same intensity.
What was the treatment given to the "fiction" scenes?
Felipe Cano - Like Henry said, this is like looking through a keyhole and spying on what happened then and there. So there were a million different things happening at those moments, but the important thing was the fiction to be respectful of the reality expressed in the story, to find a how and a why that were cohesive to the actions that the story is representing.
Henry Rivero - A realistic approach was taken, treating references and historical events with respect but always seeking to emphasize the dramatic elements in the fiction.
Were you a part of the casting process? How was the selection of the main stars and, particularly of Andrés Parra, who plays Hugo Chávez?
Felipe Cano - We did the casting and met with a lot of people. It was very hard to say no, because they were so talented. With each person and each character, we worked for about an hour, polishing their acting, before they tried out on camera. Our idea wasn't for the actors to did what we expected, but rather work on their proposal and take it into our turf. Because the best thing that can happen during casting is to be surprised. With Andrés, he was always Chávez. I could even say Andrés was Chávez before I was the director.
Henry Rivero - We had intense casting sessions for months and all over Latin America, to find the more than 400 characters who play a part in the series. With Andrés Parra, he had already been asked by Sony to play Chávez a year in advance.
How much time did it take to shoot the series? Where was it shot? Which locations would you highlight?
Henry Rivero - One year in total, with four months of pre-production and eight months of filming. It was done in different towns and cities in Colombia. An abandoned farmhouse inside an archaeological park called Merecure, in Villavicencio, a Colombian region.
Felipe Cano – It took eight months to film the 60 episodes. The series was shot all over Bogota. We also travelled to Santa María and the Colombian Plaines.
How was the production team put together?
Felipe Cano - That was a matter of luck. Sony and Teleset decided on our partnership and the chemistry with Henry was instant. We have a lot in common and I was lucky enough to work with him.
Henry Rivero - The production team was chosen by the executive producers: Andrea Marulanda, Juan Pablo Posada and Luis Eduardo Jiménez.
How many professional technicians worked during the production -including post-production?
Felipe Cano y Henry Rivero - 150 people.
What were the most difficult scenes to shoot?
Felipe Cano - The landslide in Vargas, the first coup and Aprill 11. Not just because of the technical resources it demanded, but because we had to portray the personal struggles of everyone at that time.
Henry Rivero - The landslide scenes, the tragedy at Vargas in December 1999, where over 30 thousand people died and entire villages in Venezuela disappeared. Those were very intense scenes to direct because of the human drama and the emotional stress. We also had hundreds of extras, helicopters flying about. The scenes were shot with four cameras, steadycam and drones. Everything made it a very demanding and challenging shoot.
How was the relationship between the direction and the cast during the shooting?
Felipe Cano - Very good and fun. We had a great time.
Henry Rivero - We were very lucky to be able to cast amazing, talented and professional actors. It was a real joy to be able to direct them for over a year.
What was it like to work alongside the team from Sony Pictures Television?
Felipe Cano - I love working with Sony and Teleset. They always give us the tools and all the time we need. It's a family affair.
Henry Rivero - Being a part of this project was very satisfying both personally and professionally. I think of Sony as a home and their team as a family.