SUCCESS STORY: MANUAL DE SUPERVIVENCIA
We met Juan Pablo Gugliotta in March 2019 in one of our Pitchbox events. This was a very special event for us, as it was the first event we part-took as a Spanish company in Latin America. It is an event with an International approach that focuses on attracting the best TV fiction series. And between those, Manual de supervivencia was present.
We opened a call to select 8 projects from Latin America and we had many attendees from all countries of the region, and we selected the top 8 and we gave them the possibility to present their projects in front of the executives of some of the top-notch production companies of the moment: Amazon Prime Video, Alazraki Films, Argos, Dopamine, Dynamo, EndemolShine Boomdog, Fábula, Fox Networks Group Latin America, HBO Latin America, Lemon Studios, Mediapro, Telefonica Media Networks, Televisa, y Turner.
Manual de supervivencia, is an Argentinian TV series, written by Victoria Garaldi and produced by Magna Cine and today we are talking with its producer Juan Pablo Gugliotta. Manual de supervivencia was one of the success stories we had on that event but is the only one that after a year, the 14th of May, was released as an original Movistar series — their first original TV series in Argentina. We are really proud to have been able to aid to accomplish this result.
Why should we watch your series?
J-P: Survival Handbook is a comedy, we call it drama-comedy since it is touched with parts of seriousness. In which we follow the life of Esteban, a young and talented lawyer, with a very successful professional life, that decides to change his life at the age of 40, and he quits his career, his wife, the lawyer cabinet that was a family business and follows his dream of becoming an actor. During the series, we see how he changes and how his surroundings, contacts and the city, in his case Buenos Aires, changes around him. We see him meet with women and make friends from a more bohemian context as well as other parts of the city. Therefore, we see how his universe changes from a formal and professional world towards a Buenos Aires that is more bohemian, more artistic and cool [canchera]. The series is structured around 8 episodes of 30 minutes each, where we see the progress of his change and we also see how he keeps finding a wall, he falls, stands up again and persists on his dream. So that’s a survival handbook because it gives you some form of guidelines by watching Esteban’s life, because we’ve all wanted to do what Esteban does — bring an enormous change to our lives, well he does it. He stands up, leaves everything back in his studio and gives back the keys to his father and starts a career as an actor.
We would like to hear about the beginnings of your career, if you had a clear idea that you wanted to be a producer, what were your first jobs in the industry and how did your career as a producer started.
J-P — Look, my older sister is a documentary director, she’s also a producer. I entered thanks to her. I would be attending secondary school and I would already go with her when she worked as an AD and I would go with her to the sets. She used to work mostly in Telefe, in those years it belonged to Telefonica, I believe. While on set I wanted to look around, and help and learn. I was 14–15 and I was rather decided on what career I wanted to follow after school. Not exactly sure what because when you are so young you do not know really the subtle differences between a director, a PD, etc. Nonetheless, I started by studying Communication Studies, a little like Esteban, I started on something different. But as I was studying, I was also helping on set and shootings. So, my life was 24 hours of constant studying and working. Little by little, my life on set, due to necessity and interest, ended up occupying as well the space that University had.
From a very young age, I started working in the industry as an assistant of production; direction. And I remember a change in 2002, when I first entered the production team, on a very low position, for the film of Walter Salles, Motorcycle diaries (2004), with Gael Garcia Bernal. Those were 6 months of work in Patagonian Argentina, we crossed to Chile and there I had to drop out of university and start working. In 2006 we decided with Natalia Videla Peña who is my actual partner and represents the 50% of Magma Cine, to throw our own production company. We were young and bold. Argentina still offered its young people opportunities to rise and that’s how we started, with the movie of Pablo Fendrik ‘The Assailant’ El Asaltante (2007). We filmed it in 2006, without the state’s aid and the movie ended up in the Cannes’ critique weekly in 2007. For us that was a clap on our backs, there we were two 26–27 years old, noticed and selected in Cannes. And from that point we realised we really enjoyed this, we were passionate about it and our career started really. We worked with Adrian Caetano, we are co-producers of Andres and Gaston Duprat’s The Distinguished Citizen (Ciudadano ilustre, 2016). We made ‘The Ardor’ El Ardor (2014) with Pablo and his next movies as well, the last one was the previously mentioned with the collaboration of Gael García Bernal and Alice Braga, with collaboration from Brazil and Mexico. It screened in Latin America, France, and the US. Ended up in the selection of Cannes.
And that was our beginning, 15 years ago. Recently, we became interested in the TV series format and we began to analyse it and realise low budget and small documentary series and some fiction mini-series. Mostly directed to public TV and with an educational objective but also for the INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audio-Visuals of Argentina) projects. And so, for the first time, we threw ourselves on the production of Survival Handbook (2020) as a large fiction series production. All the while continuing with the film feature’s format. Right now we’re working on film projects but we’re keeping an eye also on series and mini-series.
How is this project born and how does it reach your hands? And why do you choose this project to jump from film feature to fictional series?
J-P — We had been thinking about changing our focus. One one side, it is not a very farfetched change, but on the other side, it’s true that it’s not the same. We realised that while developing the projects. But I find these fascinating and we were excited to partake on one but we couldn’t find any projects. And Victoria whom we already knew as we had co-produced her last film Pensé que iba a ver fiesta (2013) which appeared in San Sebastian in 2014, came with her new project which, my partner, Natalia saw and felt the potential it had. Natalia reviewed the project and the truth is that we really wanted to work with the very talented Victoria Garaldi.
We really enjoyed her comedy universe about the middle-age, in an urban scenery, with a protagonist that says, “It’s over, time to change.” And changes his life. We found it really interesting. We decided to work on the development with our own finance and look for funding. First, we signed into the INCAA series contest. We won it, which gave us much needed air to carry on in addition to our own funding thanks to this public finance. But with this public finance comes quite a bit of compromise as you are required to go to the end of your project or give back all the money. So, we came out and — you have to realise something else. As producers, we were known in the film feature world, on the TV world? No. And on the platforms even less, which we took as a challenge, basically. In fact, our first event as series producers was Filmarket Hub’s Pitchbox in Guadalajara in 2019. The first time we were pitching for a non-feature film project.
When we talk with producers, we ask them if they have an editorial line that they use to choose the projects. Or do you rather rely on market trends?
J-P — No, we work with an open editorial line. For example, if we find a horror-movie project what we will most likely do is find a co-producer, specialised on the genre, to work with. With the years, we’ve come to the conclusion that the key relies more on the project and its creator rather than our editorial line. I believe this is an important message to give, especially to the younger people reading this. This is what happened to us with Survival Handbook, we fell in love with Victoria, presented her project in 2019 and we’ve managed to have it screened in a new format and platform this year. Of course, it is not always the case that this goes so smoothly.
But what I feel happens too often is…If you only focus on what the big platform is doing, what is the OTT doing, what is the studio doing, etc. In other terms you track the giant, from PIMES such as Magna Cine or filmmakers, you will always be late. Because you don’t have enough information! Suddenly you hear that Netflix, it’s the brand right now and is the best example, that Netflix has arrived in Argentina to produce local content. Same in Chile. So, you go and present them your project, with a local story, with local actors, your mini-cheap-format, because it’s not a premium project yet. But as you arrive, you’re late. The executive tells you that now they’re looking for Glocal projects or at the minimum regional and you’re out. So, at some point, we found that the key we really have is to look for good authors, good filmmakers, good actors and good stories. Because a good story with a good author or a good creative team will always find its niche and space. As I like to say, a good project always ends up finding its groom or bride.
Our next question goes in line with this. How was the process before entering Filmarket Hub and how did it go?
J-P — The project arrived at a curious stage. We were looking to secure 50% of the funding and we arrived with 4 episodes already filmed, because with our own money we filmed the pilot and with it we went to INCAA and won, and with it, we filmed three more chapters. But the truth is, we couldn’t keep up. With film features in their mid-point of shooting, we have other resources, another agenda to go to and other phone numbers to call — we know what to do. But series, that’s another world. So, the Pitchbox was an elemental resource for us. We have a great memory of your event in Guadalajara, of Filmarket Hub, it was an essential point for us.
When we came, we knew the series was not something which we consider Premium, neither was it a project to attract the Gigantic. For us its strength relied on a local focus, as the cast and its story shows, even due to her filmmaker and her record, but we believed that it could travel, as we say. Its content can be seen outside of Argentina. In fact, it premiered in numerous countries of the region and it worked, because at its heart it tackles a universal story.
We arrived with 50% of the funding and we found a partner in Movistar with Joanna Lombardi, who became ideal because being a small company you fear when the large OTT meets with you, with all its executives, studios, development departments, etc. all very good and necessary. But with Joanna it was different, she felt the atmosphere and our work and she was the perfect partner for us in Movistar, because she understood our work, our goals and she communicated very well with Victoria — the author, filmmaker and showrunner of the project — and this communication proved key for the calendar and swiftness of this project, it has to be said.
How did you arrive at Filmarket Hub and what do you recall of the event?
J-P — We arrived through a call to the festival of Guadalajara, which for us is one of the festivals to which we give the most importance in Latin America, that with the one of Ventana Sur. For instance, our first film ‘The Assailant’ had its “work in progress” show in Guadalajara. We work well with its calendar, in March, and the space is very good and interesting for this kind of project. Filmarket Hub I had studied it by name and mostly when looking into the European market and I really liked its format, the Pitchbox, the going up the stage with a screen on my back I found it amazing until I arrived. When I arrived! I have this memory — You’ve already realised that I pitched for films, I have an idea on how to go, but when I found all the rules and limits for the pitching…I was a nervous wreck in the hotel after the rehearsal. I had gone telling myself that it would be fine and I’d do well, I had experience and done it a dozen times. During the rehearsal, I remember I did everything wrong. I had timed my presentation to the second: when I had to tap the play bottom, what I had to say… And I screwed it. With my partner, we changed and reorganised the presentation that same night in the hotel. And at the end, during my pitch, it worked out!
I think that when you pitch for film features you still have space to talk about the “art” and then you have more time to discuss other parts of the film, such as style and atmosphere. But with this format you are more limited in time, you have 7 minutes to talk about 8 episodes of 30 minutes each. You have to go for the kill and tell the best of your project. Therefore, the preparation you give us is great, it really helps us and all the chosen projects came with a good background and had a great former experience. Most of them I know from previous events, I’ve already crossed paths in the past and I know the quality of their work.
How did that match happen? And if you know, what elements of your series called the attention of Movistar?
J-P — The match went great. But when I ended my speech, I felt it had gone terribly. I did feel there was some interest coming from the executives, for their questions and the conversation that was building up. Joanna gave us the most interesting feedback and what worked as well was we met at a time when Movistar was looking for such content to offer in the region. They left that Pitch event with another series from Colombia and another from Peru. Mostly comedy formats of 8 chapters of 30’ and with a local cast. Most interesting for Argentina and the region, which helped a lot in getting the match.
What advice would you give to someone who could have his project selected in a Pitchbox?
J-P — First, if you get chosen to be presented on the Pitchbox, be glad, it’s already great news for your project. Then you have to prepare differently from and styles of pitching and take it seriously. Listen to everyone that is involved in the project and event. Because the pitch I had prepared for that trial, Filmarket’s team will break it down in front of you and then you will need to play with a plan B or C. So prepare yourself, analyse in detail your project, study it well and don’t worry, in my case we were very lucky we found a match, but if you don’t that’s common, it happens to me all the time, but you keep on and brace yourself to be patient and persistent on your project and keep working on it.
What happened next? How did you arrive at the shooting?
J-P — We met Joanna in March; we didn’t know her in person but we had sent the pilot to Telefonica in Madrid. They had knowledge of our project prior to the event but we hadn’t partaken formal contacts yet. The Pitchbox is a very useful event to establish these sorts of format contacts and meetings. That is a very important part for the production of a series, since even if you have contacts and a long experience, it’s not easy to get the attention of the executives. Events such as this one, are crucial in the process.
How did the shooting go, considering you had a background on feature films and this series was a little bit the first one you did at such a scale?
J-P — We started in March, very fast because another point that sped up the shooting was the 4 chapters already filmed but we also had in mind the agenda of the actors. Survival Handbook has one constant protagonist, throughout the eight episodes. Plus, the usual actors casted with a special appearance per episode, so by the end you have 8 invited actors. In terms of cast, this is difficult to manage. And when you work with an actress such as Dolores Fonsi, you work on a very tight schedule. Same situation with the protagonist, who had two other movies to shoot. Therefore, you have to go fast.
With companies of a medium calibre such as Movistar, it is easier to speed up the process than if you are filming with the Giants. They have other advantages of course — they can take your work to a global market with less constraints — but they’re slower. I had this in mind when I pitch for this project. Of course, I was interested in the Giants, but I was more interested in the medium lines’ players.
In addition, as I said before, Joanna grasped our project very well, which allowed her to get integrated smoothly in the team. Becoming part of the community or family that is often created with these more niche projects, especially in cinema. Oftentimes, when the executive arrives this bond that has developed prior to his arrival is broken by his presence. But not with Joanna, we all worked rather comfortably and efficiently making the project advance quickly.
As the inaugural series production of Movistar in Argentina, how was it received at the local and regional level?
J-P — The critiques were very good and the comments from the specialised press were surprising. As well as those coming from not-specialised newspapers. It worked very well in Argentina and other countries of the region. I don’t have the exact data, but it has worked really well. We’re discussing and working on the development of a second season, nothing formal, but we’re establishing discussions.
What other projects do you have with Magma, actually?
J-P — Right now we are working on the development of a feature film The Cardinal, a movie that will be directed by Benjamin Avila, who has already directed Infancia clandestina. It will be a large co-production with Chile, Brazil, Argentina and we’re hoping to find a Spanish partner. We want to offer a big production, coming from independent producers and important local filmmakers and we’re hoping to gather a large and competitive budget. We are highly invested in this project and we’re also developing new series. But for now, I don’t have anything formal to offer (laughs). But there we are. We’re swimming and searching through novel’s rights and looking to what can be brought out. It’s not easy to find the project.
What advice would you give to a novel producer that is trying to bring forward their first project?
J-P — Travel…well, right now that will be rather done online. But I’ve always thought that inverting on the market is worth it, in terms of preparing your portfolio, seeing how they function and what is being done. This allows you to see what your colleagues are doing within your region and abroad is very enriching.
Therefore, the crux is to travel, study, watch as many movies as you can on Festivals, read as many projects as you can and talk to other producers. It doesn’t matter whether they are players, decision makers, if they work on the market section of the industry. Listen and understand how the industry works. And most importantly, be patient, because it doesn’t get easier.
What advantages does Filmarket Hub’s market and events and the online market bring to the industry?
J-P — Filmarket Hub’s market is a tool I use a lot and like. When I said invest, I meant to invest within your capabilities. When we started we didn’t have the resources to travel and Filmarket Hub did not exist to breach that distance prior to 2005. For me it is a tool of vital importance and even more now with the new normality. It was a very good tool prior to the pandemic and now it will be even more significant. Now we’re all seeing it and we’re being pushed into the online marketplaces.
I also believe that this online market and the Pitchbox events will help the industry to become more democratic. There is a lot of emerging talent in Latin America, very young and interesting that doesn’t necessarily have the capabilities to go to festivals such as Toronto, Cannes, San Sebastian, Guadalajara, etc. I believe the digital world and the work you’re doing, will facilitate this greatly. I feel that players can find projects that would usually be left out from the on-site market.