Training as a marathon runner is helpful when entering the Latin American market. For producers, buyers, sales reps and asphalt thumpers alike, the rules are remarkably similar: stick with it and watch out for the potholes.
If you manage to avoid the pitfalls of currency devaluation, of cultural contradictions in a region of 18 countries without a common language, and of a TV audience (raised on melodramatic telenovelas) who are likely to equate the word ‘documentary’ with ‘boring,’ then you shall reap the rewards. The faint of heart need not apply.
Latin America supports over 47 cable and pay-tv services, and more than 74 national and regional stations, including those state-run stations dedicated to cultural programming – all in a less-than-tidy package spanning 7,791,500 sq miles (20,179,941 sq km).
The favorable markets amongst distributors are the comparatively large and wealthy countries of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela.
Brazil is the largest Latin country, with a population of 160 million. While 82.7% of the country’s 40 million households own a TV, the technical difficulties of wiring Brazil’s mountainous terrain, and a lack of disposible income per household has resulted in the very low cable penetration of 2%. By contrast, Argentina has a whopping 60% penetration. More than 50% of Argentineans live in the easy-to-wire urban metropolis of Buenos Aires, and have received cable for close to 20 years.
With an average of one cultural channel per Latin country, and additional non-fiction slots on free-to-air and cable, a persuasive case can be made for selling on a country-by-country basis. However, for distributors unfamiliar with the region, or who haven’t got deep pockets or huge libraries, the preferred first window is most often a pan-Latin channel such as Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia, and HBO-Olé or Mundo Olé.
Since its launch in 1994, Discovery Networks’ pan-Latin operations, with a 24-hour roster dedicated primarily to non-fiction nature programming and 11.6 million subscribers to date, has attained the highest penetration of all pan-Latin channels (according to the 1998 Los Medios y Mercados study by Audits and Surveys), followed closely in coverage by the Cartoon Network. Second of the non-fiction pan-Latin networks, with nine million subscribers, is Mundo Olé, a basic cable channel catering to historical, biographical and cultural programming on HBO’s Latin feed, launched in October of 1996.
The pan-regional feeds appeal to advertisers with a built-in upper-middle class viewer demographic, i.e. Latin Americans who can afford cable rates.
FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE TERRITORY, ONE STOP SHOPPING
Richard Propper, director of international development at L.A.-based distrib Solid Entertainment, makes a case for selling to a pan-Latin signal ‘unless you’re going to send someone down to sell every single territory and you have a library of 200 hours. It would only make sense if you’re getting US$400 a [one-hour] show.’
Citing response to a film on Mars by a buyer from Argentina’s Imagen Satelital, whose six channel network includes the doc channel Infinito, Propper continues: ‘[Imagen said] `gosh we really love this program and we want to pay you US$1,300 for it, and we want all of Latin and South America.’
‘In that particular case, we hadn’t sold the program to Discovery Latin America, but there is the potential that we may, so rather than let someone else make money off a program we sold to them for US$1,300, we’ll wait for Discovery and maybe get US$7,000 or $8,000.’
Lisa Hryniewicz, managing director at Paris-based Salsa Distribution, agrees. ‘You definitely have to go to Discovery or Olé first. Once it’s sold in a local [national terrestrial or cable] market it’s considered a re-run product and, most of the time, they won’t take it.’
She adds that terrestrial and cable prices vary wildly from country to country. ‘In places in Ecuador, they’ll offer you $50 for a half-hour, or even an hour, and then in Brazil, if it happens to get onto a major network, we’re talking closer to US$8,000. It really varies from market to market, compared to Discovery or Mundo Olé who will pay between us$8,000 and $12,000.’
Salsa expects to do brisk business in Latin America with the award-winning feature-length doc Paulina, produced by San Francisco’s CineM‡mas Productions in coproduction with The Banff Center for the Arts. The film is the true story of Paulina Cruz Sure who, as a child in rural Mexico in the 1950s, was traded by her parents to the village boss in exchange for land rights. Looking to sell first window to a pan-Latin pay channel, Morgann Favannec, director of sales and acquisitions at Salsa, expects Paulina to do well in the Latin market because: ‘…its blend of narrative and documentary techniques are precisely the best tools to attract viewers raised on telenovelas. Thus, the program targets a wider audience and not only a kind of `upper-class’ audience.’
Conventional wisdom says pan-Latin feeds generally look for international programs with a broad enough subject matter to appeal to a diverse audience, and to cover their costs on the world marketplace.
‘Latin American sales typically pay about 10% of the budget of a program. To license it is considerably less than that, so you do the math,’ remarks Rick Rodriguez, VP of programming, Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia.
That said, recent moves by Discovery indicate a trend towards the acquisition and coproduction of more local fare. The network hosted a producer’s workshop at the Discovery Network Latin America/Iberia’s Miami HQ in February. (See Sidebar.)
Not everyone is following Discovery’s lead. With 60% of its programming coming from A&E’s library, Mundo Olé is not likely to initiate regional programming anytime soon. Madeleine Lopez-Silvero, exec VP and GM, explains the virtual lack of regional programming on her channel: ‘If there is a series out there based on Latin American history or something like that, I’d definitely be interested in evaluating it, but to this day, of what we have seen, nothing has met our standards.
‘We’re looking for the big common denominators and we have not run out of them yet…. In terms of biography, everybody has an interest in the president, the Clintons, the Hollywood big names or the European big dictators.’
Lopez-Silvero echoes the oft-heard Latin perception of doc programming: ‘We are an entertainment channel. People don’t watch television to be educated. If you learn something about life and history, that’s great, but we’re here to entertain.’
One concrete move towards regional definition for Mundo lies in building their advertising base. Says Lopez-Silvero: ‘It’s something we didn’t want to do in the very, very beginning; we wanted to establish the channel first, but now we are working on aggressive advertising sales. [Our] three signals [Central and northern South America, Brazil and South Cone] allow us to cater more specifically to an advertiser that only wants to be in a particular area or language.’
One form of advertising very specific to Latin America is the channel’s mascot Papa Mundo, a Pope John Paul II lookalike who works the Mundo Olé booth at trade shows. ‘He’s one of the personalities we cover in Biography. People get their pictures taken with him.’
WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE?
Meanwhile, Carlos Abascal, senior VP of programming for the pay channel HBO Latin America, has developed a new slate of docs dedicated to Latin American subjects. This year’s line-up includes Cronicas Anonimas (Anonymous Heroes) a 4 x 60-minute series featuring the personal stories of Latin American teenagers and immigrants, with some footage supplied by the subjects. Also on the 1999 slate is La Caravana del Arcoiris (The Rainbow Caravan), a one-hour doc about an ecological theater troupe performing from Mexico to Argentina, and Al Filo del Siglo (At The Edge of The Century) a one-hour special that showcases Latin American artists and philosophers speaking about the coming Millennium. All projects are produced in-house.
For Jaime Sandoval, VP of production and programming at the E! Entertainment Television’s Latin American office in Caracas, Venezuela, one key to success in Latin America is to throw out the imperial wrench. ‘I think the best lesson here is that we cannot use the same tools you use in a mature market like the U.S. or perhaps Europe.’
A relative newcomer since its launch in 1996, the E! channel, born from the ashes of 1995′s YA music channel, now has eight million subs, one million of those through dth. Sandoval outlines his plan to keep the channel growing and relevant to the region: ‘We’re trying to establish an image, a branding in Latin America; that’s very important, at least for the first five years.’ Part of that brand awareness comes from shows such as Pleasure In…, a fast-paced, travel series produced in-house at E! Caracas and modeled after E!’s American strand Wild On…. Says Jon Helmrich, VP of international development for E! Entertainment Television in L.A., ‘the kind of programming Jaime is doing is so key to our strategy – producing locally throughout the market.’ He describes recent plans to take the L.A.-based Fashion Emergency makeover show on the road to Mexico as ‘a beautiful case of E! Los Angeles working hand in hand with E! in Caracas.’
One pan-Latin channel bound to lure some of E!’s young Latina audience is The Cosmo Channel with a proposed launch in Latin America on basic cable and satellite systems following its launch in Spain in January 2000, says Cynthia Hudson, senior VP of Cosmopolitan Television. After a successful run of test pilots in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, the channel aims to closely resemble the print magazine of the same name with a ‘…focus on relationships and…the aspirational success of young women.’ Although the bulk of the programming will be fiction, documentaries will be served up in a specials slot that will include ice skating and concert events. Non-fiction projects under consideration are a series on ecotourism for women and a series on famous women of the world.
AFTER TELENOVELAS, WHAT DOES LATIN AMERICA LIKE?
Whether pan-Latin or strictly regional, the most sought-after non-fiction programming is nature and reality TV, or `disastertainment.’
‘Most of our business has certainly been natural history. We’ve sold Discovery somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 hours,’ says Solid’s Propper.
Helen Grattan, managing director at Explorer International in London, says, ‘Latin buyers are quite precise in what kind of docs they’ll take, because they have a long tradition of telenovelas. They’ve always taken the National Geographic specials because of the brand name, and the subject matter of nature and animals works for them.’
For programmers looking for another non-fiction Latin crowd pleaser, nothing beats `disastertainment.’ Kim Relick, VP of international distribution at L.A.’s GRB Entertainment explains: ‘There’s a lot of human drama in reality TV…the everyday hero, the survivor. That’s what people identify with, in all cultures.’
The popularity of reality has offered GRB a variety of sales options, including a first window on HBO’s Latin pay-tv channel. Second and third window sales include those to an American-based pan-Latin cable net, as well as to individual Latin broadcasters.
Of the 1998 cable sale Relick says, ‘We were fortunate in that we produced a great deal of programming – we did 40 hours one year and 70 hours the next – that was for pay-tv. That meant that we had a lot of programming suitable for cable available for the next window.’ A deal with Mexican broadcaster Televisa’s audio dubbing house gave grb the advantage of having Spanish format programming.
Says Relick, ‘Latin American buyers are interested to hear how the product is working in other markets. If it has rated in other territories, they really like to know that. They don’t feel like they’re taking such a big risk.’
Reality TV also drives Latin sales for Unapix International, a company with a library of over 3,000 hours of non-fiction. Scott Hanock, managing director, international, is unequivocal: ‘The big thing for us in Latin America is reality. All our reality series and specials are sought after for terrestrial and cable. When you’ve got something like that, you figure out who your first window is. In a lot of cases, a second run is not always detrimental because the territories say it helps them if it’s had some kind of exposure.’
DOOR-TO-DOOR WITH CHANNEL 4: flexibility with second, third windows
Echoing that second-run sentiment is Channel 4 International. The sales strategy, as outlined by Alix Wiseman, C4 program sales executive, is that ‘maximum exposure can only be achieved by ensuring no actual or potential buyers are excluded in favor of large U.S.-based pan-Latin channels, and that it is possible to do business with all interested parties.’
Wiseman cites a long-standing history of doc sales to Mexico’s state-run Canal 22 (Television Metropolitana) and its competitor, Canal 11. Recently, C4I concluded a deal with Mexican broadcaster CNI Canal 40, ‘who have been fairly active at recent markets, looking for docs as well as drama series.’
C4′s success in Brazil is attributed to their launch of a ‘dedicated C4 slot on Globosat’s documentary channel GNT three years ago’ says Wiseman. Single docs from high profile strands such as Equinox, Cutting Edge and Secret Lives also sell well to Globosat, including a recent sale of the biography The Real General Pinochet from the Real Lives strand (produced by London’s Mentorn Barraclough Carey).
Wiseman is less thrilled about the Argentinean market for European docs. ‘They don’t acquire much in the first place and what they do acquire is from the U.S. British programming is considered too obscure.’
Aside from regional sales, C4 also coproduces a number of programs with Discovery Channel International for which DCI generally holds Latin rights, and most recently sold the one-hour Songs from the Golden City (produced by London-based Faction Films) to People and Arts.
Explorer International is another company for which door-to-door means cool cash. Edwina Thring, senior sales rep, says National Geographic Specials sell well on individual terrestrial stations. A one-hour program will fetch more than US$1,500 from Argentina’s terrestrial broadcaster Artear. Compare that to Argentinian satellite Imagen’s bid of approximately $800, and even smaller fees from Argentina’s TV Quality.
Canal+’s catalog of nature, science, art, history and sports is more likely to end up on a pan-Latin channel, says Thring, such as the recent sales of one-offs Advertising Missionaries (a copro between Australia’s Aspire Films and Ellipse Programmes in France) and Devadasis (a copro between France’s Lapsus Films and Canal+, and Wajnbrosse Production in Denmark) to Discovery’s People and Arts. Sales to the competitor? Says Thring, ‘It’s ironic, but the Nat Geo catalog is completely separate from Canal+, and the Canal+ catalog is very suited for Discovery.’
A national satellite broadcaster is the second option for the Canal+ catalog. ‘If Discovery or another pan-Latin channel doesn’t want it, I would put it on a minor satellite, like [Argentina's] Imagen, or TV Quality or [Brazil's] Globosat.’
The present economic crisis notwithstanding, Brazil’s Globosat leads the price pack for cable satellite, with fees in the US$2,000-$5,000 price range. TVA is likely to offer a lower price, but with a shorter hold-back period than Globosat’s usual two year period. ‘I’m not pushing National Geographic in Brazil at the moment. I’m working on a strategy for Latin America,’ says Thring. Does this strategy have to do with the proposed National Geographic pan-Latin channel? ‘Possibly.’
‘I would so much like to start hooking up with local producers, on both catalogs, for Canal+ and National Geographic, in terms of coproductions and in terms of localizing the programs for their market.’
Nat Geo has plans to boost their brand on the continent. With a Spanish-language edition of National Geographic Magazine already in distribution throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America, a Portuguese edition for Brazil and Portugal is in the works. But, on the much-anticipated pan-Latin feed, Sandy McGovern, president of National Geographic Channels Worldwide is reticent. ‘We hope to be there in the near future.’
And Thring, although not wishing to comment officially on whether Brazil’s economic crisis was stalling plans for a pan-Latin feed, opined that ‘it does make sense to wait until an area stabilizes before launching a pan-regional channel.’
EFFECT OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS IN BRAZIL
You might think all you need is a decent translator and 100 hours of nature and disastertainment to do business in Latin America. Add a crystal ball to that list. After years of increasing stability, Brazil’s currency has fallen by at least 60% since January.
In March, Brazilian media giant Globo reported a US$293.4 million loss for 1998, exacerbated by falling ad revenues and declining cable subs for its Globo Cabo subsidiary.
The crisis is obvious in the marketplace. ‘Normally NATPE is busy, but buyers were cautious,’ says Salsa’s Hryniewicz. ‘All the buyers who were cautious in January told me they’d be buying at the L.A. Screenings in May.’
‘All the main buyers in Brazil are having to re-negotiate terms by reducing license fees by between 20% and 35% and spreading out payment terms,’ reports C4′s Wiseman. ‘It may be at least a year before the market returns to what it was before Christmas.’
The effects are further-reaching than payment schedules. Brazil’s 2% cable penetration is not expected to grow much. Says Rodriguez: ‘We anticipate cable penetration will not exceed more than 10-15% for the next five or so years. In fact, we probably will have to review those projections downward if the economic situation continues.’
Most producers and distributors view the currency crises as an inherent risk of doing international business. Says GRB’s Relick, ‘It’s what happened in Asia. So much programming now produced in the U.S. is dependent on international revenue. I think all American distributors, and certainly the foreign distributors too, realize that the problems are going to come and go. It’s cyclical.’
LATIN FLAVOR AT DISOCVERY’S MIAMI CONFAB
At a producer’s workshop hosted by Discovery Networks International in February, producers and programmers from 60 territories gathered in Miami to encourage local involvement in DNI’s programming. The workshop focused on proposal development, with independent Latin producers pitching to international programmers.
Rick Rodriguez, VP of programming, Discovery Networks, Latin America/Iberia explains his push for regional flavor: ‘We’re there to give people real world information. Clearly we can’t do that effectively without buying and creating programming that originates in those territories.’
The pitching session resulted in five development contracts: Lusia Films of London, with producers Marcela Cuneo and Monica Henriquez; Stone Tree Productions of Miami, with producer Alvaro Gonzalez; Hera Producciones of Mexico, with producer Miranda Quijano; Grifa Cinematografica with producer Fernando Dias and Polo Imagen with producer Roberto Viani-Batista, both Brazilian based.
Says Rodriguez, ‘It definitely influenced our decision that these projects already came with, or were able to muster, international interest.
‘The challenge we face here in Latin America’ says Rodriguez, ‘is that, although we are the largest programming service, it’s still a relatively new and small market. So, in order to be able to achieve high-end production, we really have to be able to leverage our dollars along with those of other broadcasters.’
And though the typical budget for those projects with development grants is US$250,000 per hour, Rodriguez makes it clear that Discovery will not foot the entire bill. ‘We’re going to help the filmmakers attract additional personnel to the project, to get the financing necessary to complete the project.’
The chosen producers ranged from those who represented the marriage of Latin America’s emerging market with more experienced European production companies, to those who had done respectable business in their own country but needed a boost to enter the international community.
London-based Lusia Films is most often associated with documentary filmmaker Marc Karlin, the company’s high-profile, founder, recently deceased. The European company with a Latin flavor came to the spotlight in 1984 with a series of films on revolutionary Nicaragua for C4. Their winning pitch, Where the Sun Never Sets, a documentary on the history of Japanese immigrants in Latin America, won points from dni for already having secured development funding from the MEDIA Programme.
For Fernando Grifa, producer and president of Brazilian-based Grifa Cinematografica, the Discovery development grant is a much-needed bridge to international buyers and markets. Their project, The Langsdorff Expedition, features the ill-fated nineteenth century canoe exploration of Brazil. The adventure ended in tragedy – Langsdorff went mad and many crew members were killed. Although Grifa Cinematografica is strong within Brazil, they have yet to sell to foreign markets: ‘Discovery is setting up meetings for us at MIP-TV this year, something we couldn’t do on our own. It’s very helpful,’ says Grifa.
The first round of programs will be broadcast on the pan-Latin feed, with no immediate plans for production to target specific regions. ‘They do represent a significant investment on our part so we need to be able to transmit them as broadly as we can. Though, I do anticipate some time in the future where we will deal with programs specifically for Mexico or specifically for Brazil, for example, because it warrants being told in that market and doesn’t necessarily work in the broader market,’ explains Rodriguez.
‘The challenge is that we have so many of those stories and the issue is, in trying to secure international co-financing, you need to broaden the story or subject matter sufficiently so it interests other people. We face that give-and-take situation where the more it interests others internationally, the less specific the story is and sometimes the less interesting to us.’
GETTING TO KNOW THE LOCALS: a look at Latin American prodcos
Adventure and nature are the non-fiction winners for most Latin regional producers. It’s a natural, given the variety of geographical wonders in the region, and it’s a good seller on the international market.
Much can be said about Brazilian culture; a steady stream of sex, music and humor in a land of breathtaking natural beauty. For a quick lesson, you need go no further than cable station Teleglobo, where, on a Sunday night, the magazine news show Fantastico serves up a blend of hard-hitting news stories intercut with cheesecake poses of a ‘Globo-Girl.’ The most popular news show in the country, for Sao Paulo-based Associated Press journalist Mike Astor, Fantastico is, ‘with its mix of quirkiness and sexuality, the perfect show for Brazil on a Sunday night.’
Vista Nova Productions
While most American magazine shows pay lip-service to using local crews to round out their footage requirements, Paramount Television’s Wild Things producer Bertram Van Munster, going into his third season with the show, has watched his Latin American content jump two-fold in the last year.
‘Definitely a fourth of the material comes from Central and South America. We focused very much on Asia and Africa in the first year, but South America has become a complete part of this series because we found more stories and we started to know the continent better.’
Part of that knowledge comes from working with Rio de Janeiro-based Vista Nova Productions, a production company Munster considers to be ‘my satellite office in Brazil and most of South America.’ Adam Stepan, president of Vista Nova Productions, an American who grew up in Brazil, has, according to Munster, ‘the style of shooting I’m looking for, he understands the concept from the get-go.’ Muster adds that he usually takes American crews on location worldwide. ‘I have not used many foreign crews. I shoot in so many countries, it has to be coherent.’
Stepan, explaining his company’s advantage over others, says, ‘From my experience as a cameraman working on American shows, for American production companies, I understand what it means when they need something `yesterday.”
Vista Nova Productions was recently commissioned by National Geographic for the production of NGT’s Braving Brazil, broadcast in the U.S. in the fall of 1998.
Recently awarded a Discovery Network Latin America development grant for The Langsdorff Expedition, Sao Paulo-based Grifa Cinematografica has a long history of producing and distributing nature programming for the Brazilian cable market.
Aside from the Discovery deal, Grifa’s usual method of financing is through corporate sponsorship. Brazilian companies can contribute up to 80% of the project’s budget in exchange for a 100% tax write-off, as well as possible mention of the company during the program’s broadcast. Their 3 x 52-minute series Three Plateaus and a Balloon, sold to TV Cultura, and received the 80% maximum budget contribution through Roche Pharmaceuticals.
In addition to the tax break, the funding corporation is usually recompensed with some form of non-product advertising on the broadcasting station. Acquisition prices are highly negotiable and vary wildly, with neither prices nor terms fixed from project to project. As Grifa producer Fernando Dias explains through a translator, such blurred lines are not uncommon: ‘In fact, this actually comes down to day-to-day life here in Brazil – nothing has a price, everything is negotiable. This is a problem for us to get into the international market, because [in the U.S. and Europe] everything does have a price, and it’s very difficult for a company coming from the States to understand how this works.’
Haroldo Palo, Jr.
Former wildlife photographer Haroldo Palo, Jr., the producer of Brazil’s Ecological Minute, has managed to make a living selling piecemeal to television stations in Brazil. He produced his Ecological Minute, a one-minute interstitial series on wildlife (with voices added for the animals) at a cost of US$180,000 for 100 installments, selling to a total of 48 stations in 12 different states on the TV Globo network.
‘I had to sell the package to ten stations just to get my money back. I did not consider it a risk, because this is my profession, but it took a long time – four years – to prepare and sell 100 stories. By now I’ve made $400,000.’
Palo, whose 20 year career as a photographer and cinematographer was recently featured in the National Geographic Explorer special Braving Brazil, is currently preparing a half-hour nature program aimed at children called Adventures in Nature for RBS-TV (Rede Brasil Sul). ‘We want to do something different with adventure and action, to show that it’s possible to explore nature safely.’ The half-hour series is roughly budgeted at US$35,000-$40,000 per half-hour.
A blip on the Latin economic map, Ecuador is largely ignored by sales agents. But at Ecuador’s Productores Independentes, producer Juan Carlos Mendizabal is enjoying the success of his homegrown news show La Television, a combination of news, sports, ecology, and travel in a one-hour magazine format. Mendizabal explains the program’s grass-roots appeal: ‘There are not any leaders of opinion in Ecuador. Most people just tell the news, we try to go farther and give our opinion and that is close to the [audience's] feelings.’
The award-winning news-magazine, broadcast for ten years in Sunday primetime on the free channel Ecuarisa, has had such a cult following that the show’s director Freddy Ehlers, at the urging of La Television’s audience, ran as a presidential candidate in recent Ecuadorian elections.
Mendizabal has amassed a 500 hour library of footage of Amazonian ecology. He’s in talks with Reader’s Digest who have expressed interest in buying the footage to repackage.
Although largely an urban-based culture, Argentina is host to a diverse landscape, from Patagonia to the Pampas.
Sergio Cesari, executive producer of El Atajo Productions, producers of the 77 x 30-minute sports adventure series Estacion Sumarina (Underwater Station) wears a few hats when necessary. With underwater footage shot by Cesari, the show features diving locales around the world using locals as hosts. The series has just finished its first-run with Torneos y Competencias Sports (T y C Sports), a cable sports channel with national broadcast in Argentina and Uruguay.
When not underwater, in the air or in production on his non-fiction series on extreme aviation for T y C entitled Fanaticos del Aire (Fanatics of the Air), Cesari is shopping for a second window for Estacion.
Mexico, like Brazil, has a booming economy in the production of telenovelas. With much of their programming dedicated to the popular dramas, the two main commercial networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, do very little business with documentaries. The exception was Paramount Television’s second window sale of Wild Things to TV Azteca this year and Televisa’s Mexican history series Siglo XX (20th Century) produced in-house at Televisa and airing on the network’s Canal 2 in Monday evening primetime.
For Antonio Zavala, president and CEO of Mexico City’s Background Productions, the word documentary is often met with blank stares and a closed checkbook. Although Background had worked with Televisa on a number of dramatic coproductions, when approached to help finance Background’s non-fiction project El Silencio de Sarajevo, the Mexican media giant expressed a decided lack of interest, leaving Background to piece together funding from a local radio station, a cable station and from industry donations.
Background Productions’ work in non-fiction began when they were the local producers for the Central American segment of producer Geoffrey Haines-Styles’ 1991 documentary Childhood. The relationship with Haines-Styles continued with the production of Triad-One, a CD-ROM by Seismic Productions to be launched later this year, including footage of Mayan culture filmed by Background.
For Zavala, the challenge is to achieve the slick look and pacing associated with American network programming. Undaunted by lack of interest from commercial stations, he has plans for a feature-length doc about three of Mexico’s bright stars on the opera scene, entitled Voices From Mexico. Says Zavala, ‘We want to show that Mexico can export something other than boxers.’