40th Sharjah International Book Fair offers insights into the storytelling process of the Emmy-award winning television series
For immediate release
Sharjah, 10 November 2021
“Great storytelling can come from anywhere; it could be the UAE’s turn next to spin a global phenomenon” said Diego Ávalos, Vice President of original content for Netflix in Spain and Portugal, during a conversation with Javier Gómez Santander, head writer of Emmy-award winning La Casa de Papel, the iconic Spanish heist blockbuster, at the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair at Expo Centre Sharjah.
Ahead of next month’s screening of the series Season 5, the two creative minds shared insights into the collaborative screenwriting process of one of the most popular non-English productions on the streaming service at a session hosted by the Spanish Pavilion as part of its Guest of Honour programming agenda at SIBF 2021.
A former radio, press and television journalist, Javier Santander described how he first began writing fiction to battle depression. “I would start writing at 9am each day and end the chapter on a cliffhanger – to motivate me to continue unravelling the story the next day. Little did I know then that this storytelling device which hooks audiences with its suspenseful ending would help me as I journeyed into screenwriting.”
The writing culminated in a novel which, says the writer, “was an utter failure – but it was this book that also changed my life as its edgy pace caught the eye of Spanish producer Álex Pina who invited me to work with a team of writers for La Casa de Papel.”
Co-writing a script with a team was a unique experience, explained Santander. “One of us would throw an idea on the table; this would be picked up and embellished by another, modified by yet another person, and the process would continue until it snowballed into something bigger than what any of us could ever have imagined.”
Working together in a closed space for weeks at a stretch also led to forming strong personal connections with the team, he added. “Talks and debates were the starting point of a story. We mixed in elements of thriller, romance, melodrama and would scrap and rework quite so often. We worked under tight deadlines and extreme pressure as the script was being written while filming was happening.”
Characters began to evolve based on audience reactions and responses, said Santander. “This allowed us get to the pulse of what was happening, feel the rhythm of the audience, and paved the way for new ideas and story lines.”
The series became a worldwide phenomenon in 2018, prompting the announcement of two new seasons which meant new story lines had to be nailed, more characters had to be created, and many had to be killed. “The death of a character could be disheartening for viewers, but for us as writers, it opens the space for other characters to flourish and new stories to come up.”
Advising aspirational writers at SIBF 2021, the Spanish screenwriter said, “Keep on writing; be constant in your work. If you don’t try, you could miss the opportunity. My novel failed, but it opened new doors for me.”
Diego Ávalos added: “The success of Money Heist has changed the landscape of the audio-visual industry that was once dominated by English fiction. So, stay rooted in your local narratives; for the more local the flavour, the more universal is the experience.”