James Schamus (pictured, left), the former co-president of Focus Features who is best known for his laureled producing partnership with multi Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, is creating his first TV series for Netflix Mexico.
Schamus will serve as executive producer and showrunner for the series, which he co-wrote with Monika Revilla (“The House of Flowers,” “Someone Has to Die”) and author Fernanda Melchor (“Hurricane Season”).
The series, whose storyline is under wraps, will shoot in Spanish with local crew and talent in Mexico and is set to debut later this year. Francisco Ramos (pictured, right), VP of Spanish-language originals for Netflix in Latin America, told Variety that Schamus is learning Spanish. Ramos also expressed his delight at the “complete and diverse slate” that Netflix Mexico has put together in recent years.
This is the first major Latino collaboration for Schamus — producer of Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” as well as “The Ice Storm,” which he also co-wrote — since his 1990 producing debut, “The Golden Boat,” the first American movie by Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz.
In his tribute to the late Ruiz, who died in 2011, Schamus described “The Golden Boat” as “a hilariously deadpan, blood-soaked, surreal romp through the New York art world,” and credited Ruiz for starting him in the film business.
As announced in January, Netflix will invest some $300 million dollars in 50-plus local and global original productions filmed in Mexico and set to premiere in 2021. If we add the $200 million that the company invested in 2020, Netflix Mexico will have spent half a billion dollars in two years by the end of 2021, Ramos confirmed. Netflix also expects to fully open its Latin American headquarters in Mexico in 2021, with over 100 employees by year’s end.
The company has continued to expand beyond drama series to delve into comedies, adventure, documentaries, action and unscripted fare. “Comedy, whether scripted or stand-up, is a good thermostat for gauging what’s popular out there,” said Ramos. Mexico’s rich tradition of telenovelas also provides a wealth of local producers, crew and talent for Netflix’s elevated dramas, he pointed out.
Given Mexico’s rich pool of producing and creative talent, “we can make both small, amazing stories and large productions,” Ramos said.
The growing commitment of Netflix and other streaming services to Mexico and Latin America is a shot in the arm for local entertainment industries as their public incentives have either been decimated or reduced. The pandemic has also increased hardship in the industry, which prompted Netflix to distribute up to nearly 30 million Mexican pesos ($1.5 million) to below-the-line workers in Mexico. Netflix also disbursed relief aid to the audiovisual industries of Brazil and Colombia as part of its $100 million global relief fund.
“We’re here to make great TV and to up the game; there’s enough talent in Mexico to make world-class programming,” Ramos asserted.
Among Netflix Mexico’s recent successes are teen drama “Control Z,” which was watched by 20.5 million households internationally in its first 28 days and made the Top 10 lists in 64 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Spain, France and the U.S.
Breakout erotic thriller “Oscuro Deseo” (Dark Desire) reached 35 million households around the world in its first 28 days. It was also in the Top 10 in 77 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, France, Spain and the U.S.
Biopic series “Selena: The Series,” despite mixed reviews, lured 25 million households its first 28 days, half of them from the U.S. Season 2 premieres on May 14.
Documentaries have gained more traction, with half of Netflix members in the region having watched a Latin American doc last year.
Netflix Mexico’s 2021 slate includes:
“Todo Va a Estar Bien”
A comedy series created and directed by Diego Luna, which explores present-day issues roiling families and relationships. La Corriente del Golfo and Exile Content executive produce.
“Guerra de Vecinos”
A comedy created by Carolina Rivera and Fernando Sariñana that turns on two battling neighbors, played by Vanessa Bauche and Ana Layevska, in an upscale neighborhood.
A high-octane series set in the world of car racing and heists in Mexico City, from director Alejandro Fernandez. Produced by Dynamo, with Andrés Calderón and Juliana Florez executive producing.
“La Venganza de las Juanas”
Produced by Lemon Films (“Monarca,” “Control Z”), a dramedy series that revolves around five female strangers who share an identical birthmark that will lead them to hunt for the scoundrel who cheated on their respective mothers.
Written and directed by Marcos Bucay (“Club de Cuervos”), the comedy turns on two friends, whose dreams of becoming tech titans after creating an app during one drunken night come crashing down when they can’t remember a thing the next day.
Narrated by Daniel Giménez Cacho, directed by Manuel Alcalá, and produced by Gerardo Gatica (“I’m No Longer Here”), Inna Payán and Luis Salinas, this documentary chronicles and questions the circumstances behind the 1984 murder of renowned journalist Manuel Buendía.