Tag Archives: Jordi Frades

Cutting the bull

The creative team behind Spanish drama Matadero, a thriller tinged with dark humour, tell DQ about why they wanted to make a series that shows the true character of small-town Spain.

For a long time, Jordi Frades had wanted to make a show set deep in the Spanish countryside and focusing on the people who live there. A meeting with Antena 3 then presented itself as the perfect opportunity for the director to pitch “Fargo in Spain,” and the broadcaster, understandably, was keen to develop the idea further.

Frades then reunited with writer Daniel Martín Saez de Parayuel, with whom he had worked on royal period drama Isabel, to create Matadero, a 10-part series that mixes thriller elements with dark humour. “I gave him a very short story: it’s a thriller in the middle of nowhere,” the director recalls. From that briefest of outlines, de Parayuel went on to build a story around an ensemble of characters living in a small town.

The plot unfolds in Torrecillas, a village in the central Spanish region of Castilla, which is characterised by cereal fields that extend as far as the eye can see. It’s here that lead character Francisco runs a slaughterhouse – or matadero in Spanish – processing cheap, imported meat for sale. He works alongside his brother-in-law Alfonso, a vet by trade.

Matadero’s creators wanted to make a ‘very Spanish show’

Blackmailed by Francisco over a secret he has kept from his wife, Alfonso turns a blind eye to the dubious condition of the animals they import and other illicit activites. But what Francisco doesn’t know is Alfonso is secretly a drug dealer – and an unexpected situation will disrupt the quiet life of these anodyne characters.

Produced by Endemol Shine Group’s Diagonal TV and distributed by Atresmedia, Matadero stars Pepe Viyuela, Lucia Quintana, Ginés García Millán, Carmen Ruiz, Antonio Garrido, Tito Valverde and Miguel de Lira. It is due to debut this autumn.

“I’m lucky to live in the countryside near Madrid, and I know the countryside,” says de Parayuel. “The challenge for me was to make a story that had all the ingredients of Fargo but with our characters and our background, and this was more difficult. But the characters are always pushing the drama.”

While de Parayuel progressed with the scripts, Frades was shooting another Antena 3 series, period drama La Catedral del Mar (Cathedral of the Sea), though he found no reason to interfere with the writing process. “What Daniel writes is what is on the screen. He gets the story and the characters perfectly, and makes it true,” Frades notes. “The characters get crazier and that’s fantastic. I had very few things to say, except ‘How are we going to make it?’ because we had very little time and very little money. It’s difficult.”

L-R: Jordi Frades, Montse García and Daniel Martín Saez de Parayuel

The process was made more complicated by the style the creators were aiming for, with a preference for an “ugly” series that portrays what real life is like for many people in Spain. “Usually in television in Spain, characters live in very nice flats, even though they couldn’t afford a flat like that in reality,” Frades explains. “We wanted them to have a horrible kitchen. The other thing I wanted to do was make a tribute to Spanish cinema and Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar, who make films about Spanish-specific characters. We wanted to show that kind of series because all thrillers in Spain pretend to be American thrillers and we didn’t want that. We wanted to make a very Spanish show.”

It wasn’t just the costumes and set decorations that were dialled down. Even Frades’ directing style was simplified as he adopted an “old-fashioned” approach, preferring flat shots to 300mm lenses and highly stylised camera movements. “Everybody asks me, ‘Do you want that shot to be so ugly?’ Yes, I want it to be ugly,” he jokes. “When the DOP saw the kitchen of the house, he said, ‘It’s impossible to shoot here. It’s two metres by two metres, it’s impossible with the cameras.’ But I said, ‘That’s why I like it, it’s real.’ I didn’t want a kitchen bigger than my house.”

That the series is also free of Spain’s popular period dressing is also a relief to Diagonal TV producer Montse García. “It’s really fantastic because Cathedral of the Sea is period and this is very different for us,” she says of the thriller, which will air worldwide on Amazon Prime Video.

Frades concludes: “We were a little stuck in period shows and we wanted something lighter that you could have a good time with. Sometimes this is the more difficult show, but we needed some fresh air after so many kings and queens and battles.”

tagged in: , , , ,

Sea view

Jordi Frades, director of Spanish period drama La Catedral del Mar (Cathedral of the Sea), tells DQ about filming the epic series and why he wanted to stay true to its source material.

Four months after its debut on Spain’s Antena 3, period drama La Catedral del Mar (Cathedral of the Sea) is now available worldwide on Netflix.

Set in Barcelona during the 14th century, the series uses the construction of the real-life church of Santa María del Mar as its backdrop. It focuses on a servant who, after escaping his father’s abuse, harbours ambitions to secure wealth and freedom – much to the disdain of the noble class and the suspicion of the Inquisition.

The large ensemble cast is led by Aitor Luna (Arnau) and Daniel Grao (Bernat), who share the screen with 2,500 extras. It is based on the book of the same name by Spanish author Ildefonso Falcones.

The eight-part drama is produced by Diagonal TV and distributed by Endemol Shine International.

Here, director Jordi Frades tells DQ about the origins of the series, the challenges of production, filming epic battle scenes and why its intimate style means it shouldn’t be labelled Spain’s Game of Thrones.

Jordi Frades

How would you describe the story of La Catedral del Mar?
It is the story of how a child becomes a man and how a servant becomes a free man while Santa María del Mar is built in Barcelona during the 14th century. It is a story of pain, love and guilt – guilt as heavy as the stones that Arnau carries for the construction of the cathedral.

What was the origin of the series and how did you become involved?
When the novel was published in 2006, my father told me about it, saying there was a great movie or series in it. I read it and it impassioned me. But I found it impossible to produce for the screen because of the high budget that would be needed.
At that time, there was no tradition of period drama series in Spain. Years passed and I began to direct some period series: La Bella Otero, La Señora and República… Suddenly, the production company I was working for, Diagonal TV, told me to make a first document about the possible adaptation of La Catedral del Mar, to license the rights. So I made that document and they gave us the rights.
At that moment, the script process began. Rodolf Sirera, Antonio Onetti and Sergio Barrejón were going to be the writers who would adapt the novel. Meanwhile, I directed the three seasons of historical series Isabel and a film called The Broken Crown. Then the long process of pre-production for La Catedral del Mar began.

What was the appeal of directing this series?
I was passionate about recreating something that had touched me so much – a truly powerful story with great characters and emotional moments. I wanted to have the chance to show what life was like in Barcelona during those times, and at the same time it was the biggest production I had ever faced. It would have been a great challenge for any director.

Cathedral of the Sea stars Aitor Luna as Arnau, a servant seeking freedom and wealth

How did you work with the writers during the script stage?
We had a great relationship because we agreed on almost everything. They made the great decisions on how to take the novel to script. They wrote a first draft with absolute freedom, and from there we worked together. I believed the adaptation should be totally faithful to the novel so the readers wouldn’t be disappointed. We incorporated some parts that had disappeared and that I wished to keep. We also changed the number of episodes from six to eight to find the right pace for the story.
The writers worked with humility, respecting the original author’s work. As we were having difficulties fully financing the series, shooting was delayed. That inconvenience, paradoxically, gave us the opportunity to improve the script in new versions.

How was the series developed with Antena 3?
We had the chance to work creatively with total freedom. As is often the case, they gave us some notes on the first versions of the script. At no time did I have the feeling that they intruded; they supported us completely and made the series better. In fact, I have always been lucky enough to work with total freedom.

Are there many parallels to contemporary Spain or does this series serve only as a historical story?
Class struggle is something timeless and universal. The same goes for feelings: love, pain, guilt…

How much did you use the original novel by Ildefonso Falcones as a guide to creating the show’s visual style?
I tried to shoot the scenes the way I imagined them when I read the novel. I went back to the novel to remember the feelings I had when I read it for the first time. I also delved into the atmospheric descriptions in the novel. Many of them gave me the right pacing and breakdown I was looking for.

The period drama is set against the backdrop of the construction of Barcelona’s Santa Maria del Mar

Tell us about production – how did you approach filming this series?
It was very complex, because although the money needed to shoot the series had been collected, it was a very tight budget. That forced us to cut some scenes, which was very painful. I worked hand-in-hand with the production manager and assistant director to adjust the shooting days, locations, CGI and so on according to the budget. But I was sure that I wanted to tell the story in an intimate way and not try to emulate series like Game of Thrones or do things we did not have enough budget for.

Most of the series is shot on location – where did you film and how do you authentically recreate 14th century Spain in the modern day?
We shot in many parts of Spain: Cáceres, Madrid, Segovia, Sos del Rey Católico and Barcelona. The sum of all those locations was going to give us the feeling of period that we needed. We also had a lot of sets on a soundstage.

What was the biggest challenge during filming?
The most important thing was that the audience recognised the novel in the series and did not feel frustrated. So all decisions were made with this in mind. Regarding the production, the castle assault and the sea battle were the most difficult scenes. We were short of money, time and extras, and the CGI budget was also tight. In addition, I didn’t have much experience with those kinds of scenes. The stunt crew saved my life.
The construction of the cathedral was a great challenge as well. Marcelo Pacheco, the production designer, did great work by building the exterior cathedral set over a real cathedral in Cáceres.

The creative team had to work hard to stay within the ambitious production’s budget

What scene stands out as being particularly difficult with the number of extras, and how did you film this?
Without any doubt, the castle assault was the most difficult. We had to make 200 extras seem like more than a thousand people. The three armies involved in the battle were played by the same extras. First we shot one army, then we changed clothes and we shot the other army and so on. It was complex because we only had two days to shoot the entire battle.

Why does Spain continue to be fascinated by period dramas? Will this trend continue?
The historical genre exploded in Spain because of the success of Isabel. So far we have had a lot of period dramas, but not historical. I think period works so well because the audience is moved away from reality in all senses. The music, performances, costume and sets are far from our daily life. It gives the story a unique and poetic point of view.
Of course, it is also a matter of trends. Our market is now in a new cycle where everything is a thriller, but there is always a period series in development or production.

Is your role as a director changing?
I have always worked in the same way; there is nothing I do now that I did not do before. What has changed is technique. Before, almost every series was shot with multiple cameras on a set. Now they are shot in real locations with one or two cameras, like movies.

Is there a second season planned? What are you working on next?
La Catedral del Mar has a second part written: Heirs of the Earth, and we already have an adaptation proposal, but I guess it is still early days given the series is still airing on TV Cataluña and has just launched on Netflix. Now we are about to premiere Matadero, a very Spanish black comedy thriller, for Antena 3 and Amazon Prime Video.

tagged in: , , , , ,