HAPY NEW YEAR!!

Dec 31, 2007



Today, the last of this year, I'm thankful for all the blessings received in 2007: health, love, family, friends, students, experiences, learning and achievements.

Best wishes in 2008 to all who accompany me in this blog and its version in Spanish.

And for telenovelas, I wish:

-More coherence and less circus
-More archetypes and less stereotypes
-More depth and less superficiality
-More acting talent and less beauty devoid of talent
-More genuine television criticism and less gossip and speculation from the entertainment press and its followers
-More commitment to a better television and less consideration of the telenovela as an easy business deal
-More respect and less underestimation of the audience
-More originality and less repetition/"adaptation"


HAPPY NEW YEAR 2008!!



Telenovela writers are key for the genre’s existence and survival. For those of us who study telenovelas, it’s essential to learn about these women and men. We read their interviews and their writings as they ponder about the colossal job that writing a telenovela is.

An excellent reference is the recent book by Valentina Álvarez, Lágrimas a Pedido (Editorial Alfa), where we find the voices of some of the best known authors as they detail the process of writing a telenovela.

For me, it’s particularly interesting to find the rare moments in which we can witness an exchange between telenovela writers. One of these occasions is when Venezuelan writer Leonardo Padrón interviewed Cuban author Delia Fiallo (Lucecita, Esmeralda, Cristal, Kassandra, Leonela, Rafaela….to name only a few of her telenovelas) in the first season of his radio show Los Imposibles (Caracas, Onda) on November, 2005.

Like all his interviews in Los Imposibles, Leonardo Padrón begins the conversation by reading a “postcard” that he has written especially for the person to be interviewed. Following is the postcard that Padrón wrote for Delia Fiallo:
(If you understand Spanish and prefer to listen to it, click here)

Fifteen years ago, a massive combination of destiny and randomness placed me in Miami so I could meet the mother of the Latin American telenovela. Her name? Is it necessary? We’re talking about Delia Fiallo. I was about to write my first telenovela and it would be an adaptation of one of her stories. César Miguel Rondón and the legendary Juan Lamata decided that I should meet in persona the queen of telenovelas. I thought it was a ritual moment in my life, a sort of initiation, that was taking me to the major sanctuary of the Latin American telenovela. And there she was, in her house in Miami, petite, beautiful and categorical, willing to share with this unknown man the secrets of the most denigrated and powerful job in the history of television. Allow me to remind you that telenovelas are Venezuela’s most important non-traditional export, and the main responsible for this miracle is Delia Fiallo. When we talk about the illustrious origins of the telenovela we all mention Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and even Balzac. But, no one has written more scenes of impossible love in the 20th Century than Delia Fiallo. For better or worse, depending on who you talk to, she established the aesthetic codes of the most popular massive television genre. Today, fifteen years later, I’m again in Miami sitting in front of a woman who’s impossible to erase from the mind of the Latin American imaginary. Welcome, Delia Fiallo.


The interview details Delia Fiallo’s journey writing telenovelas, her discomfort with the way Mexcian television has “remade” her stories (“they make me sick”), and her considerations about the many telenovelas she wrote: He major succcesses (Esmeralda, Cristal and Kassandra), her best written telenovela (Leonela), her biggest failure (María del Mar), and the one that had to wait for “The End” of its competition to bring out its best plots (Emilia, which waited for the end of Estefanía).

The conversation between these two authors, who happen to have opposite writing styles, was cordial, interesting and very informative. It would be impossible to detail it here. However, there’s a question-answer that is particularly fascinating to me:

Is Delia Fiallo willing to say that the telenovela has reached the point in which it can be called a literary genre?

Yes, of course. There are very good and very bad telenovelas. In the same way as there is good and bad theatre, and good and bad literature. What you can’t do is judge the telenovela with a theatrical play, because you can’t compare different genres. She must be judged within her own genre.

This interview can be read in its entirety in the book Los Imposibles: Conversaciones al Borde de un Micrófono (Padrón, 2006). It’s a jewel because it helps us understand both writers, breaks with speculations about them, and fosters our comprehension regarding the difficult job of writing telenovelas.

TELENOVELA MESSAGE BOARDS

Dec 21, 2007


Contrary to what those who denigrate telenovelas as simplistic shows believe, this television genre is fascinating because of its many facets which beg analysis. There isn't a boring angle to the study of telenovelas. It's a highly competitive genre that generates passionate debates and discussions among its followers.

There are many Internet message and discussion boards focusing on telenovelas. Below, some of them:


Foro de Puerto Rico

Foro Telenovelas en España
Foro Univisión
Foro Televisión Venezolana e Internacional (TVVI)
Foro Recordar es Vivir: Las Telenovelas del Ayer

These communities have their own rules of coexistance and communication. Their participants sometimes are under the misperception that they are representative of the population at large. However, we must always remember that each message board is only representative of its active participants.

These message boards offer a wide range of content. From valuable information to the repetition of gossip and press speculation of the worst kind. We can also find in them specialized voices coexisting with small campaigns designed to manipulate these virtual communities. Participants range from those who see telenovelas as an art form, to those who consider it exclusively as a source of entertainment gossip. Here we will find polite and impolite people.

In these communities there are enlightening in-depth discussions. At the same time, we often observe how contradiction and speculation reign. Some times arguments generate more heat than light. For me, however, the observation and understanding of these boards is essential because these inflection points help me deepen my knowledge about telenovelas. Furthermore, it's in contradictions where the paradoxes inherent to this genre live, and where the questions that need to be answered are hidden. And, it's in these message boards when I can find and read people from around the world who are passionate about telenovelas.

There's a delicate and important aspect of these boards that I need to touch on. When one observes them we need to be aware that behind the participants' pseudonyms and nicknames there could be anyone. For personal and/or professional reasons, some participants feel the need to hide their true identity. They usually lurk and participate very little. It's rare that they would do any harm. There are others, however, who take advantage of the anonymity that their "nick" provides them, to carry a particular agenda: either promote/defend or denigrate/attack a particular telenovela product, network, artist, etc. These latter kind of pseudonyms merit close attention. If you follow them through time, their agenda is eventually evidenced. And these agendas are great pointers to the strong competitive undercurrents present in the telenovela world. (Sometimes in time even their true identity becomes obvious).

These people who hide behind a "nick" to promote their agendas are part and parcel of these virtual scenarios where we can also find the true lovers of the telenovela genre. For those of us who study telenovelas (and those who participate in these boards), it's essential that we learn to distinguish between agendas and genuine opinions, and between those who use a pseudonym to manipulate and those who honestly and generously exchange opinions and knowledge about telenovelas.

MI PRIMA CIELA: WHEN EVERYTHING WORKS WELL

Dec 18, 2007


Last night in Venezuela RCTV (now international) broadcast the final episode of Mi Prima Ciela, written by Pilar Romero as a remake of two of her previous telenovelas, Elizabeth and Maite.

In Mi Prima Ciela the elements of a good telenovela worked successfully together:

-A good script. The author adapted and mixed well her two previous scripts. The only weakness I felt was in the way she administered the dramatic knots of her story.

-Protagonists with terrific chemistry and "angel:" Mónica Spears and Manuel Sosa.

-Talented actors in almost all key roles.

-A nice mise-en-scene.

- A story that has worked well ever since Erich Segal wrote in 1970 his Love Story, which made a whole generation cry as they read and watched the film version with Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal:



Later, other books and other movies have told similar stories. For example: A Walk to Remember (Mandy Moore and Shane West), Sweet November (Charlize Theron and Keanu Reaves), Autumn in New York (Winona Ryder and Richard Gere), Here on Earth (Leelee Sobieski and Chris Klein), among others. In all of them, as in Mi Prima Ciela, the protagonist dies, but love conquers all and leaves lessons for the living.

There are stories that are perfect for telenovelas because they are so emotional. Death as the antagonist is one of them.


The semester is over and so is my Telenovelas class. And the last class was a nice final episode about final episodes. That day we moved our class from afternoon to evening, and from the classroom to my living room.



My students had already watched the final episodes of the telenovelas they had analyzed throughout the semester: Rubí, Amor Real, Corazón Salvaje, Amarte es mi Pecado, Pasión de Gavilanes, La Mentira, Piel de Otoño, La Usurpadora, Los Ricos También Lloran and Dame Chocolate. That evening at my house we discussed different types of telenovela endings. From the most traditional with weddings and terrible punishments for the villains, to the less typical (and more contemporary) ends in which the protagonists are together, without a classic wedding, and impunity is present as not all crimes receive punishment.

We watched several interesting final episodes. Among them, Juana La Virgen's, which like this whole telenovela, was mostly "rosa" but with an interesting twist. In its final episode: the use of memories and recollections by the protagonists who are now elderly.



We watched the terrible and lesson-laden end to the important Colombian series Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso, which has many of the elements of a telenovela--melodrama, love triangles and secrets--but it's too short, in my opinion, to be considered one.



We also had a chance to watch on the screen (and read the script) of the last episode of Cosita Rica, which blurred the line between reality and fiction until the very end, by having the character Nixon presenting on the stage of a filled theater the end of each character/subplot.



(Pictures courtesy of Dani, foro Cosita Rica)

We were able to compare the script and mise-en-scene of Ciudad Bendita's last episode, which occurred in the tragic context of the murder of actor Yanis Chimaras, only hours before the last key scenes were taped. This time reality bit fiction. Throughout these examples, we talked about the distance between the script and what we saw on the screen, and the way these episodes were received and read by the public and the entertainment press.
























And to honor that this class was an approximation to Latin American culture through its telenovelas, I cooked for my students a typical Venezuelan meal consisting of pabellón criollo and arepas. For dessert, we had what is now my best-known recipe--a Tres Leches cake, which we accompanied with the reading of a letter that actress Marisa Román wrote especially for my students.

















































It was a great final episode for a semester that enriched us all. Teaching and learning always go hand in hand. As a professor, I'm immensely satisfied and grateful for this experience.



A few weeks ago the students in my Telenovelas class turned in one of their assignments: to write an introspective essay about any (or several) of the aspects of the production of Venezuelan telenovelas that we have studied in class. In other words, I wanted them to reflect on telenovela production from a very personal perspective.


Their essays were honest and enlightening for me, both as a teacher and as a person who's now very familiar with the process of producing a telenovela. As a researcher I know well that it's always important to be able to see the familiar with unfamiliar eyes, and my students allowed me to do just that.


Below a summary of two of the topics my students focused on (in their own words):

* The industrial rhythm and complexity of the production process:

I have enjoyed going behind the scenes of Venezuelan production as it has given me immense insight into the world of telenovela creation. Each aspect of production holds its appropriate place in the successful execution of the show. I realize that without the careful attention to detail and collaboration of each group, the telenovela would suffer. Each member of production, from the writer to the actors to the production assistants, is essential in the success of the telenovela (Jackie).

When you view an episode of a telenovela, you are witnessing a small miracle. Before taking this class, I never could have fathomed the complexity and rapidity of a single episode’s production (Amanda).

I am so impressed with everyone in this process’ ability to work under pressure, especially with the actors being able to memorize their lines in only a few hours. I loved hearing the stories about the actors hiding their scripts seconds before “Cinco y acción!”. I was astonished to hear how close some novelas are written to their actual air time. I would not be able to work under that kind of stress! (Alli)

Producers are faced with a difficult task that has potential to create tensions with actors as well. They must know where to draw the line between being a compassionate leader and a strong leader. Being a strong leader without any compassion can lead to a power hungry producer who misplaces their priorities and leading skills. However, being overly compassionate can result in the individual being walked all over and underproductive (Megan).

I found it very interesting to learn about the process by which actors are notified of their taping schedule because scenes are so rarely taped in their final order. As a consumer and someone who sees a telenovela only in its final form with scenes placed in their correct order, it was difficult for me to imagine taping them out of order for the sake of convenience. Learning about the roles of the script as well as the importance of the “pauta” also really amazed me. I had no idea that the sheer taping of a show could be so complicated. Prior to this class, I thought that most programs were taped in order on a set, which seemed much easier than the actual process of bringing certain actors together at very specific times to tape an array of varying scenes, all with the same props, make-up and accessories to ensure that the coinciding scenes are cohesive. To be honest, I felt very overwhelmed when learning about all of the necessary actions that are taken to make sure that each scene comes together as it is mapped out by the writing team.
(Jessica)




*The writers' limitations regarding the final product:
I understand now that the director’s interpretation is incredibly important. He, or she, has, in some instances, more power than the writer because if he interprets one scene differently than the writer, the whole feeling of the episode could change. (Alli)

There are often times discrepancies in how a character was written to be portrayed and how a character is played out on screen. The ideas held by the writer do not always match up with the actor’s ideas or style of acting. At times ideas can be tossed around without causing tension, but sometimes a party may become defensive about suggestions or criticism (Megan).

From the perspective of the writer, does an understanding of the process trump what he or she wants? Where do you draw the line between the product and the art form? I think it is sad that writers have to tip-toe around what network executives and government regulations want. But I guess that is just one of the prices that a television writer must pay. Making a telenovela requires the work and vision of many people, so it is impossible for the original idea to be untainted. But I think that the writers should try to be as involved as possible in the production process to ensure that their stories and ideas are not watered down and to maintain the integrity of their original ideas. (Tia)

I should mention also that the students' essays touched on other topics such as the importance of music in a telenovela, the production of special effects within a low budget and the importance given to actoral credits in a telenovela. Their writings reflected what I've learned by now: what happens behind the scenes is as interesting and fascinating as what we see happening on the television screen.


(Photos taken during the production of telenovela Ciudad Bendita)

TELENOVELAS: EMAILS, REQUESTS AND BLOGS

Dec 7, 2007























This will be an unusual post in which I will respond to the emails I've received from people who read this blog.


A large number of emails request two things from me:
  1. A list of my favorite blogs related to telenovelas
  2. The titles and interpreters of the musical themes from Venezuelan telenovela Arroz Con Leche.
So, here's my very short list of blogs that focus on telenovelas with three caveats: 1.- There are many blogs dedicated to telenovelas, so this list is unavoidably incomplete. (I also wanted it to be very short). 2.- I'm including blogs in English and Spanish. But, there are blogs related to telenovelas in almost every language. 3.- I'm NOT including message/discussion boards, just traditional blogs.

Blogs in English:
Telenovela Love Garden
Telenovelas Stories Dot Com
(both by Philomena Ojikutu from Lagos, Nigeria)
Caray Caray! (recaps in English of telenovelas broadcast in the US)

Blogs in Spanish:
Todotnv (Excellent blog from Spain)
Blog de Telenovelas (In one page you will find the links for the latest posts from six blogs in Spanish related to telenovelas)

Now, for the titles and interpreters of the music of Arroz Con Leche:
* Main musical theme of Arroz con Leche, interpreted by el Pollo Brito

* Fabio and Silvia's song, Sin Ti, interpreted by Johnny Sigal

* Amanda and Rodrigo's song, No Me Arrepiento De Nada, by César Román

* Desde que te Perdí, by Roque Valero




Yesterday we closed our conversations with people who work in telenovelas in grand style. Talented actress Julie Restifo visited my class via telephone. Julie's CV includes more than 20 telenovelas, several series and unitarios, 36 works on the theatre stage and 13 films.

Two of her most remembered roles in telenovelas are:

Josefa "Pepa" Lunar in Viva la Pepa, written by Valentina Párraga:



and Joaquina Leal "Juaca" in La Mujer de Judas, written by Martín Hahn:



Our conversation with Julie centered on the following topics:

1.- The importance that writers have for actors. For her, a good character is one that is well written, a person who has something to say, one that has nuances and interior life.

2.- How she has been able to balance her roles as mother, spouse and actor.



3.- How wonderful it's been for her that her husband, Javier Vidal, is also an actor (and director, writer, professor). It was touching to hear Julie talk about how they have grown together as they've harmonized their professions and lives.

4.- Her satisfaction regarding the opportunities she's received throughout her career. Julie is sure that if she got to live her life again, she would still be an actress.



5.- The importance of beauty and physical appearance for television actresses. In particular the issue of age. Actresses not only have to look good, but they also must be eternally young. Julie told us that the first time she had to personify an grandmother on television, she was only 29 years old!! She feels that Venezuelan TV has improved a bit regarding this, but also believes that there's a need for more authors who write good characters for women who are 40-50 years old. She mentioned how in Brazil, writers consider actresses in this age range as key to what they're writing. These women are considered stars. Meanwhile in Venezuela, we have in Leonardo Padrón sort of an exception, since he usually writes characters for actors of all ages, and he particularly writes for actresses that are in their 40s and 50s.



The conversation with Julie was deep, sincere and touching. It was a great way to close our series of exchanges with people who work in the telenovela industry. To all of them--Marisa Román, Daniela Bascopé, Leonardo Padrón and Julie Restifo--our genuine gratitude for contributing in a special way to our learning about the fascinating telenovela genre and its insertion in culture and society..