Leaders of The Pack
Showrunner Lucía Puenzo and Fremantle executive producer Christian Vesper tell DQ about making Chilean drama La Jauría (The Pack), one of Amazon Prime Video’s first Latin American original series.
At first glance, Chilean drama La Jauría (The Pack) may appear to be a conventional crime drama about the search for a missing schoolgirl. However, featuring a host of powerful performances from its female-led cast, the series goes much deeper, highlighting how abuse can take many different forms, from physical and sexual to psychological and emotional.
Amid angry protests against a teacher who has been abusing his female pupils, the series opens when Blanca Ibarra, a young girl in a Catholic school, goes missing. After three female police officers from a gender crimes unit launch an investigation into her disappearance, they uncover a deadly online game that recruits men to commit acts of aggression toward women, brought to light when a video of the missing girl’s assault goes viral.
As the eight-part series progresses, the police officers find they are not untouched by this game, leading their private lives and those of their families to fall apart around them.
Directed by showrunner Lucía Puenzo and produced by Fabula (A Fantastic Woman) and Fremantle (The Young Pope), La Jauría was originally commissioned by Chile’s TVN but has since been picked up by Amazon Prime Video as an original series for its subscribers in Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain, where it launched last Friday. Other broadcasters to have picked up the series from Fremantle, which is also distributing the drama, include Blu TV in Turkey, Viasat in Russia, Cosmote in Greece, Manoto TV in Malta and Canal+ in Poland.
“In a way, La Jauría was ahead of its time because we wrote it two years ago when the feminist movement was just beginning to show its head,” Puenzo tells DQ from her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “The movement was just coming onto the streets, with young women making themselves heard in very creative ways. Women of all ages, and then men, were also on the streets with them and it became one of the biggest themes of the last two years.
“We were writing it at the same time as it was happening, so the way the dialogue matched reality was incredible. I’ve never written a show that was so in tune with everything that was happening. We were feeding from each other in a very incredible way.
“Everything that appears in the series is what has happened in Latin America in the last two years. Many things that weren’t considered abuse, at least in Latin America, are now considered abuse, and that is one of the main themes of La Jauría.”
Describing La Jauría as a tense, character-driven thriller, Puenzo says Fabula and Fremantle gave her freedom and flexibility to build the series and the characters as she wanted. “If you have well-built characters, you become intrigued by them – and that’s what happened with La Jauría,” she says. “The characters are really complex; many of them are amoral, but you walk hand in hand with them. They’re contradictory in interesting ways.
“But with projects that have a lot of women involved, you have to be careful with the male characters because there is a danger you will fall into stereotypes and make them too simple or the villains. La Jauría also has very interesting male characters, and that combination made it very juicy when we wrote the plot. The characters were very alive, and I had that feeling all while we were shooting.”
The series stars Daniela Vega (A Fantasic Woman) and Antonia Zegers (Fugitivos), along with Mariana Digirolamo (Ema, Pituca sin Lucas), Antonia Giesen (Ema, Inés del alma mía) and Paula Luchsinger (Ema, Tranquilo Papá).
Though the female police officers initially took centre stage, Puenzo says the young schoolgirls who demand justice for their classmate quickly became integral to the story. “The cast were completely amazing. All the young actors and actresses were incredible so they won their space first in the scripts, then in shooting and again in the edit,” she says. “They became just as important as the police. I really liked that about La Jauría, how certain things weren’t part of the equation. They weren’t supposed to be main characters and they became main characters.”
Puenzo worked on the project for two years, with a writers room accounting for eight months’ work ahead of an 11-week shoot in Chile’s capital, Santiago, and the surrounding area.
“We had a very good team of Chilean and Argentinian authors. We worked together, the four of us, for eight months,” she says. “We had an incredible Chilean technical team. My brother Nico Puenzo, who is the other director and the DOP, and I were the only Argentinians on board. We were very well received. We’ve made many friends from La Jauría. It was an incredible experience because it was a series we shot in 11 weeks, so we had to run for it. We had many teenagers, we had children and very difficult scenes throughout, and a lot of action. It was a difficult shoot to do but it went well.”
Working with so many different actors, in scenes that often demanded emotional performances, meant Puenzo spent lots of time at readings with her adult cast and working with them in rehearsals. With the younger cast, “it’s about trust,” she says. “The most important thing with them is they trust you and you trust them. There’s a bond there.
“We didn’t rehearse the sex scenes. It’s better not to rehearse them, but we did read the scenes together from the first to the last script before shooting, which was really good. We don’t shoot episode to episode, everything is open – so in one day, maybe you’re shooting scenes from episode one to episode eight. When you’re shooting in that way, there has to be a lot of pre-production to really understand the story arc. Everybody has to understand where we are. It’s a lot of work in pre-production to understand and prepare for shooting.”
The series also sees Latin American music star Ana Tijoux play an on-screen role and perform the song the accompanies the opening credits. “She’s huge, not only in the music scene in Latin America but also in the feminist movement,” Puenzo says. “She’s very respected in politics. I’ve admired her forever. We approached her to be one of the main characters, an underground hacker. It was an important character. She had never acted, so she was terrified, but she said yes and liked the idea. We worked together with her and Daniella Vega, who also sings, to prepare the lyrics for the song. Ana is a poet too, so she came out with this beautiful hymn.
“Now it’s getting used by so many feminist movements around Latin America because it touches the very heart of what we’re trying to say in La Jauría, which is there is a pack of women working together to have a voice. That’s what has happened in Latin America in the last year, so Ana, as the incredible artist she is, put her finger on the heart of what we were trying to say.”
The project is the first to come from Fremantle’s first-look deal with Pablo Larrain and Juan de Dios Larrain’s Oscar-winning prodco Fabula, signed in February 2019 to develop a slate of English- and Spanish-language dramas, with Fremantle distributing them worldwide. At around the same time, Fremantle exec VP and creative director of global drama Christian Vesper met Puenzo, and the creative team came together to develop the series.
“You don’t want the ‘message’ on the surface of the show, and that’s where La Jauría succeeds – it’s not there,” says Vesper, who is an executive producer on the series. “If you don’t care about any of it, you’re still going to enjoy the show. There’s a scene in episode one where Mariana Digirolamo, as Sofia, is being interviewed by her teacher and it’s so upsetting. It’s one of those things where, for someone who considers themselves pretty progressive, it was the first time I really understood different kinds of abuse and how incredibly abusive what he was doing to these girls was, even though there was no physical interaction. It’s such a scary way to set up the show.”
Puenzo picks up: “That scene has to do a lot with the spirit of how we made La Jauría. We had one hour to shoot it, and we had another scene that was allocated seven hours. When we got to that scene, the girls were doing something so incredible that we spent four hours filming it, and one small scene that was supposed to be in episode three became the opening scene of episode one. The producer allowed me to expand the scene four times its scheduled duration because they understood something special was happening.”
Something special is also happening in Latin America, whose series are now finding audiences around the world thanks to Amazon, Netflix, Walter Presents and other broadcasters and streamers.
“A lot of series like La Jauría have a cast from one country and a director from another country,” Puenzo says. “There’s something very interesting in the mix of different Latin American countries doing series together.”
Vesper adds: “You’ll be seeing a lot more from Fabula, Fremantle and Lucía. Creativity is running high right now. What’s great is it’s a different take on a familiar subject yet, culturally, there’s still enough connection that, once these shows start to be seen in the US and Europe, it will be exciting for everyone.”