Brazilian hospital drama Bajo Presión (Under Pressure) takes the medical genre to new levels of authenticity, using real-life stories and filming at a disused hospital. DQ hears from creator Jorge Furtado and artistic director Andrucha Waddington about producing this ‘genuinely Brazilian’ series.
For all the talk that nobody watches linear television these days, ignoring traditional schedules to catch up in their own time, one series has proven beyond doubt it is still possible for a family – heck, a nation – to share the experience of watching a drama series together.
When it first aired in July, Brazilian medical drama Bajo Presión (Under Pressure) attracted an astonishing 44 million viewers. At a time when there are more ways to watch television and more shows to watch than ever before, five out of 10 households across the country tuned in to Globo’s fast-paced series, set in a run-down hospital in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.
Coproduced by Globo and Conspiração and distributed by Globo International, the nine-part series follows a team of doctors torn between their personal conflicts, the difficulties of their profession and the surprising dramas behind each patient as they attempt to save lives.
Here, creator Jorge Furtado and artistic director Andrucha Waddington, who also directed a movie that preceded the series, tell DQ about the origins and production of the show.
How would you describe the story of Under Pressure?
Jorge Furtado: The series is about a very real story of urgency – life and death. It’s about the lives of the doctors and staff at a public hospital in the suburbs of Rio. It’s about each of the characters – and the two leading roles, of course – and their relationships as the story moves forward.
The curious part is that the two leads are most likely their own worst enemies: Evandro [Julio Andrade, Above Justice] is haunted by the ghost of his deceased wife. Carolina [Marjorie Estiano, Dangerous Liaisons] suffered a traumatic experience during her childhood and still struggles with the consequences. She still carries the self-inflicted marks and bruises on her body. The climax for these two characters is when they are able to finally deal with the skeletons in their closets.
Why were you interested in telling a story set in a hospital?
Furtado: The idea for Under Pressure came from the movie with the same name, which was originally envisioned by director Mini Kerti, freely inspired by the book Sob Pressão – A Rotina de Guerra de um Médico Brasileiro (loosely translated as Under Pressure – A Brazilian Doctor’s War Routine), written by Dr Márcio Maranhão.
But what really interested me was how important it was to bring pressing issues to our audience’s attention. I went to medical school for four years, back in the 1970s [along with Dr Maranhão], but I decided to give it up because it was not my true calling. When you get to the fourth year of medical school, which is when you spend the most time at the hospital, you see people dying right in front of you every day.
One day when we were at the hospital, there was a child screaming with pain in the waiting room. Márcio took a look at him and said it was probably appendicitis. So he asked the doctors why they wouldn’t prioritise the kid’s case. A doctor answered: “We don’t have any cotton compress.” I saw the boy begging us to do something and realised that our role was to make television.
Why is the series described as ‘genuinely Brazilian?’ Which elements make it unique to Brazil?
Furtado: Each episode brings to light different problems of life in Brazil that challenge the medical staff. The series is about our shortcomings and realities, and it always conveys important messages of public utility: wear condoms, AIDS is making a comeback, don’t drink and drive, always wear a helmet and so on.
This series is not just about doctors investigating diseases. The disease is the final straw. The main focus is on the personal drama lived by these doctors while facing the harsh reality and pain of the patients.
What research did you carry out?
Furtado: All of the patients’ stories in the show are based on actual cases. They came from conversations with Dr Maranhão, who worked as a consultant while we were shooting, and from a lot of reading and visits to Rio hospitals to gather information.
The most incredible story we came across was about a woman who survived being shot in the heart with a rifle. When we asked the doctors how that was possible, they simply said: “We have no clue.”
The research process was very inspiring for us to create the stories. There were days when we’d leave the field with more than 10 new stories for the series.
How would you describe the writing process?
Furtado: Antonio Prata, Marcio Alemão, Lucas Paraizo and I wrote the series using a lot of research, and conversations with several different doctors, especially Dr Maranhão, as well as the many visits to hospitals.
Describe the visual style.
Andrucha Waddington: We aimed for realism, with most of the show being filmed in a real hospital. When we were searching for a location, we found out about Hospital Nossa Senhora das Dores, in Rio de Janeiro, which has the perfect structure and only uses 20% of its capacity. A huge wing is empty, and using it as our location did not interfere with the hospital’s operation in any way. We filmed 75% of Under Pressure there. Additionally, some scenes were filmed in other locations, where the personal lives of the medical team go on.
The photography, art direction, makeup and wardrobe all serve dramaturgy, helping to translate the personality of the professionals who are part of the ER’s chaotic environment. At the same time, we have the guidance of a medical team supervised by Dr Maranhão, our consultant for the series as well as the movie.
What were the biggest challenges in development and production?
Furtado: Our goal is to always balance drama and hope, while showing how hard the doctors work to save a patient, even with all the difficulties and obstacles – all while trying to bring as much realism as possible to a fictional series.
Andrucha is an extreme perfectionist, which helps set the tone for the plot. The surgery filming time, for example, is handled very carefully. And there are also the prostheses that he had made. It’s all very realistic, including the location. The fact it was shot in an actual hospital makes all the difference.
How is Brazilian drama evolving and what new stories are you able to tell?
Furtado: I’m very optimistic about how audiovisual drama production is progressing in Brazil. I don’t think we have ever had such a diverse range of narratives, themes, accents and genders. There is a little bit of everything for every taste and need; the hard part is finding the right audience for films and series. The various platforms, wide-ranging media and technological amenities ultimately leverage the production and demand for audiovisual content. I believe all of this is very positive. Nowadays, there’s no excuse not to make a series.
Waddington: Brazil is full of stories that are unique, rich, happy and full of drama. The more Brazilian the stories featured in drama pieces, the deeper and more cosmopolitan they become.