Watching TV: Students of Brazilian Cinema
As filmmaking in Brazil experienced a renewal beginning in the mid-1990s, it was also becoming entangled with the domestic television industry, with implications for art as well as business.
Last month the UCLA Latin American Institute (LAI) invited the head of international business at TV Globo, Ricardo Scalamandré, to describe the worldwide reach of Brazil's biggest television network, which is the core business unit of the Globo media conglomerate. Held at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, the Jan. 28 event dealt with strategies for licensing and producing television series abroad. Although the co-sponsored lecture clearly had appeal for aspiring managers and marketers, it was conceived by an expert on Brazilian film, LAI Director Randal Johnson, with additional audiences in mind.
"It's difficult to talk about Brazilian film today without also talking about television," said Johnson, who writes about cinema as culture but also as a business.
Much in the way that generations of Shakespeare specialists became fascinated with rival theater companies or the London book trade, people who want to understand films and television miniseries by the director Luiz Fernando Carvalho, or the television and film careers of City of God co-directors Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, are now seeking to understand the role of television in all sorts of audiovisual productions. The international hit City of God (2002) had, in effect, a television series as a pilot production, and later spawned another series called "City of Men," scenes from which were ultimately included in the 2007 film of the same title. Meirelles' production company is responsible for a string of such crossovers.
"You end up having kind of this mixture of television and film aesthetics. I don't think it's just that you have more of a film language on television," said Eli Carter, a graduate student in Spanish and Portuguese who is beginning a dissertation on this broad new "audiovisual field" that has developed since the early 1990s.
The mixing of tropes and of techniques in lighting, composition and so on, said Carter, is a natural consequence of, for one thing, the entry of Globo into the film business in 1998. Although Globo's film division represents a small piece of the media empire, which is better known domestically and globally for telenovelas (TV soap operas), Globo Filmes has had a hand in most movies, especially the commercial successes, that have come out of Brazil ever since. Because it doesn't qualify as an independent producer under a critical 1993 law that created financial incentives for filmmaking – state support for cinema had collapsed earlier, under President Fernando Collor de Mello – Globo collaborates with independent production companies, leading to more experimentation.
Since the 1970s Brazilian filmmakers have recruited stars from Globo novelas and other popular shows, according to Johnson. That's another way in which television, where the Brazilian "star system" matters most, and cinema work hand-in-hand.
Though he's as committed as ever to studying film, Johnson is now completing a book with former Globo executive Joe Wallach on his role in the rise of TV Globo, which in the 1970s garnered as much as 90 percent of the Brazilian TV audience and is still the leader. In addition to events on film, Johnson has been putting together discussions not only about high-concept miniseries but also about the TV business.
At last month's lecture, Scalamandré offered some hints about how Brazilian television productions will play out globally in the coming years. In 1999, Globo launched an international channel directed towards the three million Brazilians living abroad in the United States, Angola, Japan and elsewhere. The company is also licensing its shows in more than 100 countries, sometimes removing local plot-lines for those audiences. In co-productions with foreign partners, shot from India to Italy, Globo addresses itself more directly to a global audience, rather than a Brazilian one. This is where Scalamandré said his own energy goes, towards building a new formula for commercial and artistic success.
"We will never produce alone in another country, but always with a partner," said Scalamandré. "I think this is the future, the co-production."