Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

June 11, 2024

The Director’s Chair

As viewers continue to move away from linear TV, what does the future hold for traditional soaps? Director Joan Noguera tells DQ about launching Spanish daily drama Sueños de Libertad (Dreams of Freedom) and why the genre still holds an important position in the television landscape.

Described as the most watched series in Spain following its launch in February this year, there’s no doubt Sueños de Libertad (Dreams of Freedom) made a huge impact when it arrived on Antena 3 and Atresplayer.

With more than two million viewers tuning in, and a further 260,000 watching on catch-up, it became the biggest free-to-air fiction series in the country for two years.

But this isn’t a true crime drama or a contemporary thriller. Instead, it’s a daily soap that follows a woman who is trapped in a toxic marriage to factory owner Jesús de la Reina (Alain Hernández), yet her incessant search for freedom brings her hope for a better future in 1958 Spain.

Filmed in Toledo and Madrid, the series comes from Beatriz Duque and Verónica Viñé. It is produced by Atresmedia TV in collaboration with Diagonal (Los Pacientes de Doctor García). Montse García and Jaume Banacolocha are the executive producers, with Joan Noguera as co-executive producer and director.

Here, Noguera tells DQ more about the story at the centre of the series, recreating 1950s Spain and why broadcasters – and viewers – are continuing to back continuing dramas.

Director Joan Noguera on set for Sueños de Libertad (Dreams of Freedom)

Introduce us to the premise of the series.
Sueños de Libertad tells the story of Begoña Montes, a woman on a mission to escape a toxic marriage while navigating the patriarchal society of 1950s Spain. Even with Begoña’s constant search for freedom, it is a hopeful and optimistic story with love, rivalry, family and friendship.

Why was Antena 3 interested in launching a new soap?
Even with the rise of streaming platforms bringing so much choice to viewers, daily drama continues to work well on linear TV. This kind of programme builds audience loyalty and guarantees a high-performing slot for the broadcasting channel. This trend has influenced all of Spain’s main television stations to produce a series with daily episodes, to safeguard their audiences. When Amar es Para Siempre ended on Antena 3 earlier this year, the network decided to commission another daily soap to continue to win the majority share of the afternoon audience.

Why might a new soap still be of interest in the modern age of streaming television?
The way people watch TV has changed: whereas families used to gather in the living room once a week to watch an episode of their favourite series, now it is more about the individual viewer deciding how, when and where they watch something. This has encouraged binge-watching, where instead of leisurely watching a series across the span of a month, viewers are able to finish an entire season in a single afternoon. The broadcasting of a series showing daily episodes guarantees there will always be something new to watch – which is why this format fits in well with the new way of watching TV.

Sueños de Libertad followed Amar es Para Siempre, which ran for 12 years and almost 3,000 episodes. What challenges did you face bringing the audience to a new story?
The first challenge was to refresh and update our production process in order to avoid facing competition from other channels that were also airing newly created daily-episode soaps that were showcasing a wider variety of locations, new filming techniques and a more modern visual style.

The second and perhaps most significant challenge was that we wanted to retain the loyal following that Amar es Para Siempre had built up over the course of 18 years. We kept the same production team for Sueños de Libertad. We wanted to make a new soap, but without forgetting the faithful fans who followed Amar es Para Siempre over the years and had just had to say goodbye to their favourite series.

The Antena 3 soap opera is set in 1950s Spain

How would you describe the writing process behind the series?
Creativity aside, the writing process is like a well-oiled machine: several scripts are written each week, and each one continues to evolve up until the point of filming. We don’t stop writing, we don’t stop filming – it’s a constant work in progress.

What is the secret to keeping viewers hooked on a daily drama?
Conflict within the story. Addressing topical, present-day issues and magnifying them with the censorial and oppressive environment of Spain in the 1950s is hugely impactful. It’s not just about the aesthetic appeal of the period; the political and social context amplifies the challenges the characters face and allows the show to broach them more poignantly. In this way, we can address current themes like abuse, LGBTQIA+ relationships, sisterhood, and the fight against a patriarchal society, contextualised in a time when attaining equal rights for all seemed an impossible feat.

And how do you balance the storytelling demands of featuring so many characters?
We achieve this by creating additional storylines that run in parallel to the main narrative. We have a strong main plot in Begoña’s survival story, which has the potential to overshadow the subplots, but we put a lot of work into creating storylines for the other characters that act as intermittent relief from Begoña’s intense narrative and have timely links to the main plot, despite perhaps initially appearing as independent subplots.

What is the visual style and how is this achieved?
Each series has its own style and it depends on many factors, from the set design, to the cinematography, and the production methods chosen by the directors. We wanted to make a period drama but without relinquishing the colour and vivacity that other countries had in the 1950s. At the time, Spain was a country closed off to the world; grey, wary and demure. So we decided to utilise its period context, but with the aesthetic and conventions of other, more liberal countries to achieve a more modern and lustrous visual style during the bleakness of post-war recovery.

Sueños de Libertad is one of the country’s biggest shows so far this year

What are the production challenges associated with creating a historical drama on a soap’s quick-turnaround schedule?
We film in many locations and, although we have some naturally authentic locations, we often resort to shooting in the streets or buildings of Toledo and Madrid. If it were a contemporary series, this wouldn’t be a problem, but being set in 1958, we must create the right environment. And this doesn’t just involve covering up elements that aren’t true to the period; we must include extras, source period cars and avoid filming anywhere with modern buildings in the field of view. These are all very time-consuming activities but, luckily, we have been making period soaps for many years and we are used to quick turnarounds.

How do you balance studio scenes with those filmed on location?
The series is mainly recorded at our film studios in Madrid and in two fixed locations in Toledo and El Escorial. Several scenes are filmed in the De la Reina household and factory where, depending on the storyline and shooting schedule, we combine studio sets, exterior locations in Toledo and filming on the streets of Madrid and Toledo.

What are the challenges of recreating 1958 Spain?
The biggest challenges are to avoid anachronisms and to portray the period effectively while adding the desired modern and vivacious atmosphere that didn’t really exist in Spain at the time. We want to be faithful to the memory of the time, without foregoing the more modern aesthetic we want to apply.

How would you describe a typical day on set? Is there such a thing?
A shoot can be a complex operation. There are different departments, with their different managers, whose target is to record a series of scenes a day. Our success depends on sticking to these timelines, giving our days a frenetic pace and the need for a very strong, collaborative team spirit.

Noguera hopes the show can run and run

Does Sueños de Libertad subvert the traditions of Spanish soap operas or telenovelas, or have you sought to stick to familiar themes and styles with this series?
I don’t think it’s about subverting themes, but about listening to the audience, who help shape our storylines week by week. We must take into account contemporary issues that interest our viewers and portray how these would have been responded to in the 50s.

What do you think is the future of soaps on television? Will audiences – and networks – stick with them?
Its natural evolution is a move towards streaming platforms, and we’re seeing this already with Diagonal’s 70-episode commission for Disney+, Regreso a Las Sabinas. The way we watch TV has changed, and that makes viewers want to access to their go-to series on a daily basis. So, what better than a daily soap?

What are your ambitions for the show? Do you have an ending in sight, or do you plan for it to run and run for the foreseeable future?
For now, we have not considered a definitive ending. All the team hopes to continue to accompany our viewers every afternoon, like Amar es Para Siempre did for 18 years… I hope Sueños de Libertad provides that same joy.

What else are you working on?
For the moment, I am solely working on Sueños de Libertad. A project of this magnitude, and the intense nature of the daily-episode format, demands the investment of all your time and effort – and I am really enjoying the experience.

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