‘Money Heist’ Creators Alex Pina, Esther Martinez on ‘Sky Rojo,’ Netflix Spain’s Most Ambitious Series to Date

Netflix Spain’s most ambitious series release of 2021, “Sky Rojo,” the new original from “Money Heist” creators Álex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato, will launch in nine days time, premiering worldwide on the platform March 19.

Shifting from the dark, almost noir aesthetics of “Money Heist,” the new series utilizes a brightly colored, grindhouse aesthetic for the new series in a mix of genres its creators have dubbed “Latin Pulp.” The series is also a departure in format for the two, who trade in the hour-long episodes of “Money Heist” for eight punchy, 25-minute episodes, to be copied in the series’ already-confirmed second season.

“Sky Rojo” is headlined by the international trio of Spain’s Verónica Sanchez (“Gordos”), Argentine superstar actor-singer-songwriter Lali Espósito (“That’s Not Cheating”) and Cuban standout Yany Prado (“Tres Milagros”). The three play exotic dancers-turned-prostitutes trapped in the world of sex trafficking, each with a dagger hanging over their head. After a series of accidents, they flee for their lives fueled by drugs, violence and the forgotten feelings of freedom.

Spanish Academy Goya Award-nominee Asier Etxeandia (“Pain and Glory”) plays Romeo, the owned of the Las Novias club and the man wearing the boot holding the three women down. Spanish A-listers Miguel Ángel Silvestre (“30 Coins”) and Enric Auquer (“Eye for an Eye”) play Romeo’s goons Moisés and Christian, tasked with finding and recovering their boss’ runaway “girls.”

“Sky Rojo” is produced by Pina’s Madrid-based outfit Vancouver Media, with Pina and Martínez joined by longtime collaborator Jesús Colmenar as executive producers. Colmenar is also part of the series co-directing team which includes Óscar Pedraza, David Victori, Albert Pintó, Javier Quintas and Eduardo Chapero-Jackson.

Pina and Martínez spoke with Variety ahead of the series’ highly anticipated March 19 premiere.

What were some of the advantages or disadvantages in opting for a shorter, half-hour format for this series?

Pina: We tried to make a frantic fiction combining short, kinetic sequences, and this format suited that plan. We used the 25-minute format to create a continuous narrative of escape across the entire season, going back and forth in time with flashbacks. In the end, I think the shorter time format was more adaptable for the way we write.

Martínez: We also realized that we came to this format as beginners. We had never written fiction in such short segments. At first, we expected it to be easier to produce, but during production we realized that was completely wrong. The days were incredibly long, and the costs were almost the same shooting a 30-minute episode as they were when we were doing 50 minutes.

Was the decision to cast such a diverse group of characters entirely due to the series’ narrative, or is there something else appealing about casting actors with different looks and accents than are typical on Spanish TV?

Pina: First and foremost, that was how to present reality in Spain, particularly in the world of prostitution. In general, it’s full of people from different cultures, often Eastern European but more typically Latin American. We also thought it was the right time to work with actresses with different accents from different places. With Netflix the series will be available all around the world, and we wanted the 400 million Spanish speakers in the world to feel represented.

With Coral, Wendy and Gina, one gets the impression that they are not only trying to escape their pimps, but also their pasts.

Martínez: Definitely. The first step is for them to get out of the physical restraints of their lockdown, but after that there is an emotional aftermath which can make an even greater impact. It’s a constant recurrent theme in this series, that even once they’re away from the club, they’re still emotionally trapped.

One standout aspect of this series is just how irredeemably awful the bad guys are. You make it easy for the audience to just hate these guys and want them to fail.

Martínez: Rather than giving our “bad guys” redeeming qualities, we dove into their personalities and showed something about these characters which explains the evil inside them to the audience. We don’t make them sympathetic, but we show you why they are so bad in a stimulating way, so they aren’t just cardboard cutout bad guys.

Like you have done with many of your previous series, you let the characters of ‘Sky Rojo’ narrate parts of the series from an omniscient point of view, even if they’re sometimes unreliable. What is it that attracts you to this method of storytelling?

Pina: Unlike other shows we’ve done, in “Sky Rojo” we use three narrators, which allowed us to deliver a more poetic or lyrical version of our story which is often sordid and dramatic. For us, the voiceover and the omniscient narrator gives us a lot to play with because it allows a discourse that is otherwise much more difficult to show, and to work on two planes of reality at the same time. One reality is being told and the other is being shown. It’s something we like to do in most of our series and is a fundamental tool to tell the story with more sensitivity and poetry.

“La Casa de Papel” has been a revelation and changed the way Spanish- language series are viewed in the non-Spanish-speaking world. As the creators of that series, do you feel added pressure with your subsequent work?

Martínez: There is no outside pressure from any agency or co-producers or anything like that. At least for me, the greatest pressure is from ourselves at Vancouver to always improve the work we do. Nobody has told us we need to come up with the next “La Casa de Papel” or set any benchmarks we need to achieve. It’s almost been the opposite in that the content in “Sky Rojo” is much more adult, so this series isn’t for young audiences and therefore won’t have as broad an appeal. Early on we stripped away any specific expectations for this series that might have been imposed based on our previous work, which gave us a certain freedom. We wanted to start fresh, to create a world that makes sense on its own.

Was that the idea before you started developing “Sky Rojo”? Were you looking to do something more “adult”?

Pina: We were really trying to get away from our previous work with this series. We want each project to be unique, which we think we accomplished across “Vis a Vis” (“Locked Up”), “La Casa de Papel,” “The Pier” (“El Embarcadero”) “White Lines” and now “Sky Rojo.” All these series have bits of our DNA as writers, but neither in subject matter nor genre have we repeated ourselves. With “Sky Rojo” we wanted to create a draconian world in the desert like something Robert Rodriguez might create in the Latin world, but ours is in Spain, in Tenerife.

Martínez: We always want the next thing to be different. With “Sky Rojo” the work was difficult because we talked to victims of trafficking, read their stories, watched documentaries and soaked it all in. It was emotionally draining. Of course, the series is playful and there is a lot of beauty aesthetically and in the story of our three protagonists, but wading through the dark reality was difficult. I suppose with our next project we’ll look to do something pure and cleaner. Something we can approach with a new perspective.

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