Zasha Robles, General Director of Spiral International, spoke to TTV Digital Preview about the development and production plans for Toda la sangre, StarzPlay’s original Mexican series, produced in alliance with Fremantle and Pantaya.
This year, Spiral International announced the project Toda la sangre, an original series of 10 episodes in alliance with streaming services StarzPlay in LatAm and Pantaya in the US.
Then, the announcement took on a new dimension, by confirming Fremantle Mexico as the production house of the project and Fremantle International as an international distribution partner, except in the Americas.
In dialogue with TTV Digital Preview, Zasha Robles, CEO of Spiral International, shares details about the development and production process that this psychological thriller will take, based on the Casasola saga by Mexican author Bernardo Esquinca.
What does this deal with StarzPlay mean for Spiral, Pantaya?
For us it is an honor to be able to work for one of the premium TV brands in the US in its international digital platform that today reaches more than 50 countries in the world, which is StarzPlay; in conjunction with Pantaya, which offers a selection of highly curated content for the US Spanish-speaking audience.
This first announcement has been joined by the alliance with Fremantle Mexico and Fremantle International as co-producers…
We needed a strong partner to carry this series forward locally and who could also bring international knowledge. That’s where Fremantle International comes in. Pantaya leads the distribution in the US, Starz / Liongsate leads the distribution -through StarzPlay- in Latin America and Fremantle will carry the international distribution in the remaining countries outside the Americas.
It is an important announcement for us because it marks a milestone in the history of Spiral, working with these types of large companies that have a very great knowledge to create an international story that has legs that go outside of Latin America and travel to Europe and the rest of the world.
We are simply the vehicle as this agreement is due to content. To the wonderful novel by Bernardo Esquinca, a Mexican author who has sold more than 100,000 copies in Mexico and has created this saga of the character Casasola.
How did the Toda la sangre project come about?
The project was born with my reading of the novel. When reading the work we immediately began to think about how to create a proposal and take it to the author to take the novel to the small screen. We develop the idea internally and start making the sale until we get to these screens to make it come true.
What phase is the project in?
We are in full development stage. It is a long process due to the density of the material. There is a lot of content that talks about pre-colonial history. All Aztec mythology. With a ritual assassin as the main character. We are planning a series of 10, 50-minute episodes, which is the right number of episodes to capture the story we want to tell.
Fremantle Mexico is going to take it forward with its new fiction team, led by Coty Cagliolo, who runs the Mexico operation and runs it like a Swiss watch. We have worked with her before and she is a crack as she runs her operation. And from the hand of the talented Manuel Martí who just joined the group about 7 months ago. They are both great executives in the industry. So far it has been a delight to work with them.
How is the writing team of the project integrated?
The author is one hundred percent involved in the development of his novel. He is a leader who is helping us investigate the psychology of his characters who are incredibly rich in complexity. To join the team of scriptwriters we had the Mexican writer Rodrigo Ordoñez [This is not Berlin]; together with another great writer, Santiago Roncagliolo, author of the novel Abril Rojo that won the Alfaguara Prize.
Toda la sangre is part of a saga, why did you decide on this third installment in particular?
The third novel has some elements that are very suitable to get us into the world of Mexican culture, where the Mexican is really proud of an ancient history. It integrates all this culture within the psychological thriller.
Taking into account the current situation, what is the estimated production plan and schedule?
The production will be in Mexico City, which is where the story is born and where it has to develop. How long and when do we plan to start? It’s anyone’s guess. We typically have a development and delivery period of about 18 months. Today we have all these uncertainties that we have to decipher. Ideally we would like to start filming in early 2021, to deliver it by the end of 2021. We have been ‘lucky’ to have all this time to develop and redevelop the whole story to have something completely finished and start filming.
How does the process of defining the technical team and the cast come about?
We are in the middle of the interview process and defining who will be the members from the technical and artistic side, outside of the members from the writing part.
Today there is a real battle to get hold of the best talents in the region…
Yes, the industry is definitely in a production boom in Latin America and we have to sell at all levels. The sale did not end after we placed the series, but we have to continue selling it to those who will be part of the team. It is not an easy subject. What does help is once the team has been formed, that brings more names and more interesting people. It is like a snowball. It is something that takes time.
Is Spiral International involved in all the project processes?
As with the Falco experience, we take projects from the beginning. We are present from the pre-financing, the development and all the different stages of production, the final delivery and after the sale and distribution.
In this sense, Falco was Spiral’s first premium series project in the region and won an International Emmy. How do you evaluate the experience and what lessons have you learned?
Falco was our first project in Latin America. In terms of international production it was our fourth project. He had already participated as executive producer of the series The Hundred Code with Bobby Moresco that won two Oscars… We have worked on drama series before. We were lucky that the first series in Latin America was awarded the Emmy award.
When you talk about the keys to producing, you have to find a topic that you are passionate about, surround yourself with a first-rate team, and know how to listen to your partners. All we can do is assemble a team, from the members of our Miami office to the members and partners who have decided to bet on this story. For us, less content is more and that is why we like to get involved in a project from start to finish.
What is the current state of the distribution business?
This year has been complex. I believe that the pandemic has been an accelerator of everything that was about to happen five years from now. It has brought the future to the present. Nobody is prepared for what is going to happen. It can be estimated, but nobody is prepared. This year has been a learning experience for all and, especially for us.
We have been fortunate to have a lot of new material in the library, along with partners who supply us with that content, both animation and fiction and non-fiction. And we have managed to close certain agreements that help us to have a little oxygen. Distribution is an important business line for us as well as post-production.
Returning to the Toda la sangre project, what are the elements that make the story have the potential to travel internationally?
First of all, Latin American content has something very interesting to offer, because in Latin America, like the US, there is the concept of melting pot; of a pot with a lot of cultures cooking. This story adds an ancient concept. Mexican culture goes in parallel with other cultures such as Egyptian. And these stories intrigue everyone. And when you bring out all this culture, you not only touch the heart of those who know it, but also the interest of the rest of the cultures.