Lee: I'm running a company which produces almost everything in Spanish, fiction and non-fiction content for different companies around the world

Isaac Lee of Exile Content: I've never been happier now producing what I love
11 de junio de 2021

"And what did reporter Isaac Lee learn from all this?" was one of the many questions he was asked during his interview on #PRODUprimetime program with Ríchard Izarra, who he introduced him with these words: “Today I am excited because I have the honor of being with a born journalist, an entrepreneur and businessman, a TV and film producer, and I would say, the precursor, in practice, of the alliance of two giant companies: the Televisa with Univision. He is the great Isaac Lee, from his residence in Los Angeles, where he has lived for two years."

“I learned a lot. The most important lessons are always the human ones, those regarding people, those that have to do with transparency, with credibility, who are at which moment, how people behave ... I think that those human lessons, that occur during games that apparently are of power, are supremely interesting. I, at least, have learned that gratitude is something fundamental in life, that holding resentments and bad blood is something that hurts only you, and not the people against you hold those feelings. Every learning opportunity is what allows you to get where you are. I could not do what I do today if I had not had the opportunities that have been presented to me. Buddhists always say that you are never wise enough to understand that what is happening to you at the moment is good for you. I take things the way they come day by day, and I am learning, and I do believe that a very important lesson is that nothing lasts forever.”

Ríchard thanked him for accepting the invitation to talk about his immediate past, his present with Exile Content -his new production company-, and his vision about the future. Richard told him: "In the 33 years that I have covering Univision, I have never met an executive with so much power: president of Noticias, president of Entertainment and president of Digital,". He added: "In addition, you installed yourself in Televisa San Ángel as general director of Content of the two companies, Univision and Televisa, at a time when 'the fantastic 4' (Emilio Azcárraga and his childhood friends who rescued and promoted Televisa) were disintegrating; Pepe Bastón was leaving, and the soap opera was questioned. What can Isaac Lee say about that moment?”

Lee replied: “Everything has been taken out of proportion and is less sexy than it sounds. They have done an impressive job at Televisa. They received a company in bankruptcy, that had more debt than equity, that had an administrative problem with a huge debt. That group of people turned it around and made of it the largest Spanish-language media company in the world. And besides, for a long time, he had the vision to bet on the future. This is a company that today has more income from telecommunications (what it does in cable, what it does in satellite) than from the TV part itself, and that was what allowed them to get to where they are today. The merit of Televisa, which also bought its percentage in Univision at a very different price than the original buyers in 2006, and that today has 45% of that new entity, has been the job that they have done and in which I have absolutely nothing to do with it. A company that has this great library, that produces 80 thousand hours of TV per year, is the only partner that exists that can give the scale that is needed to an OTT project.”

“The truth is that both companies gave me trust and total support. I arrived at a very difficult time, there had been big differences in content issues, and it was very important to be able to deal with both companies as one, to be able to make content decisions that were important to both companies, to work as a team. That generated some substantial changes. I was able to focus on what was absolutely necessary at that time in order to take the next step that the company needed. I'm not going to tell you that it was a pleasant job, nor that it was what I wanted to do, or something I asked to do, but you know, it's like being at school, they give you homework, there are some that amuse you and you like them, others you don't, but you do them and you do them well.”

RI: Would you accept another executive position?
IL: “No way, I am absolutely happy with what I am doing now. There is a very big difference between having to do a task, having to restructure something, and having the possibility and the blessing of choosing what you want to do. As journalists, we are very spoiled because our profession is fun. We are doing something different every day; when we are interested in a topic we can go as deep or as superficial as we want; and you are constantly feeling the contact with changes, with sensations, with social dynamics, with politics. When you are an executive, you have a different responsibility. I'm not saying that being an executive is not good. Sure it is. If at the end of the day you do not have the ability to make decisions, you cannot bring to fruition what you want to do. I have never been happier than I am now and I have no interest in having bosses”.

“I'm running a company, Exile Content, which produces almost everything in Spanish, fiction and non-fiction content for different companies around the world. We have a docuseries that has already aired on HBO Spain about the Real Madrid women's team, where we had exclusive access and we are already in the second season, it did very well. We did a series in which Diego Luna is the showrunner, co-produced with La Corriente del Golfo, which is top-notch, and it will be released on Netflix in summer. We have a grid of products in development or sold, in production, that will be extremely interesting. I am very happy from Los Angeles, choosing only the projects that I like, that makes me happy and with the opportunity, we have now that content providers are on-demand; everyone needs the best content and finally Spanish is being given its rightful place.”

“It does have enormous advantages to be in Los Angeles, because the talent, the agents, the lawyers, the producers, the buyers, are all here. It is the capital of production and entertainment. I think that is the best place to be now, but I was very happy in Colombia, I was very happy in Mexico, I was very happy in Miami, and now I am very happy here in Los Angeles. It is a city that has received us very well, we have many friends, which is the most important thing in life and we are super happy.”

“The bet is on talent. We have projects with Nicolás Celis, who was the producer of Roma and who is a great professional, I am happy with the joint projects that we have. We are making a movie with Fernando Frías, a Mexican director and producer, which is going to be spectacular, he is the director of Ya no Estoy Aquí, a movie that talks about cumbia in northern Mexico, and which was one of the most successful last year. I consider Alejandra Márquez an absolutely brilliant director, she is Mexican, she did Las Niñas Bien, we have two projects with her; Xan Aranda, who is a very talented Hispanic woman, made Room 104 for HBO, we have a project with her too. Sebastián Hoffman, who are great producers and developers and who works with Manuel Alcalá, we have a couple of fun projects with him. We are also working with Diego Enrique Osorno, one of the great Mexican journalists.”

“In Spain, we have Newtral as partners, with the journalist Ana Pastor, for whom I have all the admiration and affection. With her, we made Un Sueño Real and with them, we are making the docuseries that will tell the story of Spain’s royal family, what a story! It does not stop generating news every day, and I think it will be impossible to miss. Of course, I'm going to produce in Colombia: we have three projects there at the moment, with very talented people who make us very happy and who we know are going to be successful. I hope I can do many more there. It is very important for me that tax incentives of the different countries and governments are there for production so they can be competitive.”

“My favorite project is Club Mundo Kids, the show is on Universo and on Televisa, where they have treated it with great affection and I thank them very much for that. It is broadcasted on Saturday mornings. I have always believed that we must bet on the future, if we do not invest in children, if Latino children do not have the opportunity to the best content, if we do not understand that one out of every four children in the United States is Latino and that if we Latinos are doing well, the country is doing well, we are not going anywhere. This is a show that makes me absolutely happy. Romina Puga, who is the producer, host, and soul of it, is a top journalist and deserves all the credit. On Televisa they have promoted it very well and on networks, it is doing incredible. We have been fortunate that it is being posted, people find it on Instagram, YouTube, etc. I am convinced that it will be a success, this is something that did not exist in Spanish and that it will end up being a Sesame Street.”

“Producing to be successful on primetime broadcast TV is very different than producing to be successful on a streaming platform. That is why it is so important to have different teams that are measured with different results, that have different budgets, that have different concepts of what the consumer wants because one has to worry about selling advertising and that people are engaged and are there. The other has to worry about selling subscriptions, staying relevant, having a deep library, constantly innovating, and being able to surprise. Those are different tasks and an important change”.

RI: What is your production target? Platforms and open TV?
IL: “I'm interested in premium content. I like to do things with spectacular quality. I prefer that they take more time, and digital platforms are the ones that have the budgets and the patience, and the aggressiveness to bet, more than traditional media. And more than producing things for other people, I am interested in creating brands, creating franchises, that have their own identity and that can represent something important. Club Mundo Kids is a perfect example. More than producing something and getting paid a fee for being a producer, I am interested in creating something new, communicating something new, so you are contributing in a different way. Several of our projects go in that direction and I have a lot of faith in them and, above all, a lot of enthusiasm.”

“We are also doing journalistic projects that matter a lot to me because there are issues that I am committed to until the end. We have an important story about press freedom and the risks journalists take. They are important stories today, and every day. And it is something that I did not imagine would be a priority for us, but that thanks to the pandemic became a very big opportunity, is the entire audio part: we have a slate of projects with IHeart, with Spotify and we are growing a lot in audio...".

RI: Does Exile has any special meaning?
IL: “Exile was born from a work of art that we bought a long time ago, it is an Exit sign but instead of saying ‘exit’ it says ‘exile’, and I have always had it on the front door of the house. It has important and playful symbolism. But I do believe that we all have a history of exile in some way and that in exile you are more creative, more resourceful, you have the distance to see things in depth and exile is fun, you are without ties of any kind, and this is how I feel, and I have a lot of fun.”

Watch the whole interview where he talks about Univision today and his role when he worked there