Leonardo Aranguibel, VP of Production and Head of Operations and Production Strategies of The Walt Disney Company Latin America: Shorter content

Disney: The audience is getting hooked on series of 6 to 8 episodes although those of 50 still have space
20 de octubre de 2021

“I feel that audiences, and not only in our region but globally, are preferring shorter content, from six to eight episodes. Those from 13 to 15 no longer have the same hook. However, the tradition of the long narrative of our TV in Latin America, with series of 40 or 50 episodes, continues to have space,” said Leonardo Aranguibel, VP of Production and Head of Operations and Production Strategies of The Walt Disney Company Latin America during #PRODUprimetime with Ríchard Izarra.

‟Today I have the honor of being with a great fictional leader. He is a director, screenwriter, executive producer, and has been part of the creation of the new narrative of Latin American content. He has dedicated his entire life to this industry, and he has been in Disney Latin America for 16 years. He is an active part of the new audiovisual narrative in our continent. Thank you, Leonardo Aranguibel, for being with us. Leo, this year production seems to have bloomed in Latin America, there is a boom, especially for your company, who now have more channels, more OTTs, more streaming. How is the company doing? Working harder than ever?” were the words with which Ríchard began the conversation.

"Yes! It seems a contradiction, but in this year and a half that we have all been working from home, the general experience is that we are working more than ever. Since our company and our senior management, some years ago, established the path of connecting directly with our consumers, launching our streaming services, we embarked on a creative boom to develop products that could attend to, from the very beginning, the launch of our platforms. Last year was the very successful launch of Disney+ in the region and now, last month, of Star+ for Latin America. It is something that fills us with great pride, to see the fruits of the work done,” he pointed out.

RI: Leo is a journalist who graduated from the Central University of Venezuela, studied at the London Films School, has directed novels for RCTV and made documentaries for HBO. He comes from the old school, but he is also part of the new one, with a different look, and more quality. Right, Leo?
LA: "Without a doubt. I think that one of the great phenomena that can be identified in this era of television, “the platinum era” as I like to call it, is the homogenization of quality internationally. I think that one saw in the previous decades, the 70s, 80s and even the 90s, a very big difference between the productions of the BBC or the US networks, or the big productions in general, and ours.”

He continued: “They had a very high technical level, which was difficult to achieve. I think that gap has been closing. Technology has become, in a way, accessible to the masses because costs have dropped, the digitization. Upgrading of equipment and broadcasting drove the prices down, and now with a phone, a person can record an HD video. Ten or 15 years ago, that was impossible. In order to have an HD camera, you had to invest good money, and that could only be done by large companies. This has also meant that, as we find ourselves more into technology, when we reach a more similar level internationally, the stories begin to have more value. Because when the technological difference overwhelms you, even though your story is very good and attractive, it will be more difficult that people want to see it if it has a lower quality. But if there is no technological difference, then the story is worth more. That is what I think has changed in the world, not only in our region.”

RI: In addition to technology, I would add the training of our professionals, directors, screenwriters, who have gone from making soap operas to fiction with other levels. Yes?
LA: “Undoubtedly. The dissemination of content also has to do with this. Now we have wide access to everything. You watch series from Denmark, New Zealand, Korea, from wherever. The dissemination of content has made it a way of learning, of training. The more you watch quality series, the more you raise your criteria to produce your series. You start to see the frames, the lighting, the camera movements, the acting, the texts. You start comparing and that raises your level. It's like when you try many wines, it makes you become a connoisseur of good wine”.

Ríchard showed him a video interview that he did about 15 years ago. Leo said: 'I could compare that moment with the one I am living now. It was a turning point at that time, not only professionally because I started working at Disney, but also personally. And now, in the last two years, we are also experiencing a turning point in our business. The strategic relaunch of our company by making a large number of productions that we didn't even dream of at that time. Before we had like a boutique-type production, about 8 to 10 productions a year. Now we are talking about 90 to 100 productions, and first-level content in all the markets of the region: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil ... We are working with an intensity that was the dream at that moment (that of the video shown), now we are living this other big shift.”

‟We have a production team built under the leadership of Fernando Barbosa, our general manager in the region. Diego Lerner and Fernando began this whole phase of believing deeply in local content, in local production. We have four teams: one led by Cecilia Mendoza, in Kids & Family; another with Mariana Pérez, who heads General Entertainment; Javier Castany in the Unscripted area, and Fernando Semenzato in Factual Entertainment. We have all worked as a great team. It has been my responsibility to be more or less in the middle of everyone's path and to be like a kind of piece of gear. Of course it is a great pleasure to see all these great professionals together. I feel part of a golden team, the best in the industry, and I am very proud.”

Ri: Now we are talking about hyperlocal content. What can you tell us about localism, ‘glocalism’?
LA: ‟I think and have the very firm conviction that content that reflects the culture and idiosyncrasy of the place where it is produced is much more valuable. What is universal is the drama, but the environment, the setting, the people, the way of speaking, is a very local thing. When you don't do that and try to satisfy others by making certain things global, I think people perceive it as innocuous, tasteless, that says nothing in particular to anyone. I remember at the Huelva festival, the year Amores Perros was premiered. I was with the HBO team covering the festival, and I left with the feeling that the world had changed for Latin Americans. Because that Alejandro González Iñárritu film is very local, extremely local, and you could spend up to 4 or 5 minutes without understanding the slang of those village characters. It was an incomprehensible thing, but at the same time it seduced you a lot, it hypnotized you. I said 'of course, what mesmerizes here is the story, no matter what they say. I feel that was a great achievement, not only of Amores Perros, but of a large number of productions that in these last two decades have given the final blow to that. I think hyperlocal content is much more valuable internationally today.”

RI: Is there a specific genre that is in vogue?
LA: ‟Dramas and comedies, in any of their subgenres: dramedies, dark comedies ... Those two great pillars of audiovisual narrative will always have a great weight, and there you start to see police, suspense series, horror, science fiction, there are a lot of later variants. The human being, since ancient Greece, has always given himself to dramas or comedies as great pillars, and from there down whatever you want. You can give it some touches, take this away, add this, but they are still drama and comedy.”

RI: I must remember that Leonardo in a pandemic made a very fine and beautiful documentary, La Peste del Insomnio, with texts by Gabo narrated by a number of actors from all over the region, recorded with mobile technology. Written and directed by him. How has that project done?
LA: ‟It has been one of the biggest surprises of my life. It needed to shout something in the middle of the pandemic. I started doing it in April, at the peak of the pandemic. I asked all my colleagues for help. It was an amazing thing, everyone working from home. After it was released on the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation website last year, we have had a wonderful journey. We have been selected to more than 20 festivals until yesterday I was counting 24 festivals, and we have obtained 12 international awards in the film festival circuit. It received a wonderful review, almost a whole page in the NYT, in La Nación de Argentina, in Folha de São Paulo. I was invited to speak at a university in Germany (of Göttingen) by Zoom in front of more than 300 students. They translated it into German and Mandarin because in China they have a dissemination center, it was translated into Portuguese, English.”

… ‟The truth is that my initial objective was to give a message of solidarity and support, first to those who had lost family members; we had already lost friends since the beginning of the pandemic, and also to the people who were working to protect us, the health services. And it became something that went all around the world, well beyond my expectations. We even won an award at the international festival in Tokyo. I am very proud of it, for all those who accompanied me, the 35 actors from all over the region and the members of the technical team: one in Spain, another in New York, two in Mexico, three in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, from all around. It was really a very nice experience.”

View interview here