TV/Business NotesSpanish-Language TV Dramas Heat Up Miami
By Amy Chozick, The New York Times
- Mar. 9, 2012
MIAMI Blanca Soto moved to Los Angeles from Mexico to make a better life. After a decade of struggling there, she relocated to Miami where she works 10-hour days, six days a week.
Her job? Being a star.
Hollywood may be losing movie sets to cheaper locations overseas and New York soap opera mainstays like All My Children and One Life To Live are gone, but Miami is enjoying a boom in the production of telenovelas, daily soap operas that are wildly popular among Spanish-speaking audiences.
Five telenovelas are being shot in Miami up from only a couple a few years ago. Last year producers spent a combined $40 million in the area, up from $11.5 million in 2009, according to the Miami-Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment.
Although telenovelas were long churned out in Mexico, the two dominant Spanish-language networks in the United States, Univision and Telemundo, are increasing production in South Florida, attracted by American marketing opportunities, tax breaks and the growing Hispanic audience in the United States.
Telenovelas imported from Mexico can still bring big ratings on American networks, but increasingly Hispanics in the United States want to watch stories that resonate with their lives here, network executives said.
Actors, producers and writers from Latin America have descended on the city, turning Miami into a telenovela Tinseltown. The design district and its luxury stores and restaurants like Michael's Genuine Food & Drink have become a hub for paparazzi from Spanish-language publications on the lookout for stars like Ms. Soto, who plays Camila on Univision's telenovela El Talismán.
We joke that the best thing about Miami is that it's so close to the United States, said Luis Balaguer, founder and chief executive of Latin World Entertainment, a talent management and production company.
For many stars, the change is welcome for another reason: the escalating crime rate in Mexico. Actors have told me I don't want my kids being kidnapped in my country,' said Roberto Stopello, vice president for novela development at Telemundo.
Considered a mainstay of Spanish-language entertainment, telenovelas run five nights a week and require a breakneck production pace. A 120-episode season costs around $3 million to make, about the same as one episode of a prime-time network drama. Each telenovela employs roughly 95 crew members and 25 actors who often work six days a week.
The shift in production to Miami is a result in part of generous incentives offered by the state, but the housing crisis in Florida has become an additional selling point for local producers looking for cheap sets. Telemundo's La Casa de al Lado (The House Next Door), was partly shot in a high-end vacant home in the city's Palmetto Bay suburb.
While making television in Miami is still more expensive than in Mexico, Univision and Telemundo said Miami productions give the networks the ability to integrate products from a telenovela's inception, which means they can charge advertisers more.
A character in Eva Luna, for instance, worked at an advertising agency creating a campaign for Buick. The ad created in the series became a Spanish-language commercial that ran on Univision. The networks can also make money on international syndication and through DVD sales or reruns.
Mr. Balaguer, the talent agent, said that five years ago he never would have advised actors to move to Miami. Now, he tells them to build a following among Hispanics and then cross over to English-language networks. His most famous client, Colombia-born Sofia Vergara, the ubiquitous actress on Modern Family, got her big break on Univision.
I tell network executives, if you love an actress, but your nanny doesn't know who she is, that's a problem, Mr. Balaguer said.
On a recent afternoon, at a palm-tree lined studio near Hialeah, Fla., Ms. Soto's wholesome but cunning Camila pointed a finger at Lucrecia, the conniving seductress in El Talismán. Wearing a red negligee, Lucrecia tapped a stiletto and swore she did not plot to murder Camila and her powerful boyfriend, Pedro.
Corte! the director yelled and the actresses took a break on the set, made to look like a sprawling ranch in Fresno, Calif.
Ms. Soto, a former Miss Mexico World, tried for 10 years to start a film career in Hollywood before she moved to Miami and took the title role in Eva Luna, a Univision novela that averaged more than 4.4 million viewers.
Suddenly, I'd walk into a restaurant and the waiters and staff would all know me and want a picture, Ms. Soto said.
Running into telenovela stars at the supermarket or on the sidewalk is still new for Miami residents. I told Aaron you've got to be careful walking on the street because old ladies will hit you with their bags, said Gonzalo Bernal, production manager on El Talismán, referring to Aarón Diaz who plays the show's handsome evildoer, Antonio. Mr. Diaz confirmed that fellow Miamians are already starting to hate me.
Telenovelas have always shrouded social messages in old-fashioned melodrama: agrarian reform in Brazil, drug-related crime in Mexico and civil liberties in Venezuela. Think of them like postmodern Cinderella stories, said Thomas Tufte, author of Living With the Rubbish Queen: Telenovelas, Culture, and Modernity in Brazil.
American-made telenovelas feature social messages about issues that disproportionately affect Hispanics like diabetes, the importance of a college education and generational gaps between assimilated Hispanics and their more traditional Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents.
In Telemundo's hit novela from 2010, Más Sabe el Diablo (The Devil Knows Best) a character applied to be a census worker, a subtle message to viewers to get counted. We want people in the United States to know you're writing for them, said Joshua Mintz, executive vice president of Telemundo Entertainment.
Univision, the No. 1 Spanish-language network, also incorporates social themes, but to a lesser degree.
I'm not going to lie, the three-way love triangle is still the main story, said Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks.
Miami is still a long way from Hollywood when it comes to working conditions. In some ways, the industry here mirrors the early days of Hollywood. Spanish-language studios still largely have exclusive contracts with actors, and unions are virtually nonexistent. Actors often work 10-hour days and writers must churn out a 45-page script every day.
Low-budget novelas mean networks cannot spend lavishly on big-name stars. Instead, they pluck them from Latin America or do nationwide talent searches for Spanish-speaking aspirants.
We're still Spanish-language television, Mr. Conde joked. You win and then we make you put in 100-hour weeks.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/bu...ref=television