Brazil’s Soap Operas are Real
Generally known as novelas in Brazil, these fictional TV series play a large part in the cultural entertainment world of most Brazilians, particularly women. Any woman who doesn’t follow at least one “soap opera” as they’re called in the US, will find herself at a loss in the conversations in her shop or office.
Brazil’s soap operas are created by the largest TV network, Globo, and the more popular ones often capture 50 million viewers in the 9 pm time slot, one fourth of the entire country. While there are other soap operas on during the day, for example at 6 pm and 7 pm, the later one is generally the most watched, following the evening news at 8 pm. (As in most events in Brazil, starting times often run 5-10 minutes late, which can play havoc with the DVR settings.)
Surprisingly, all of Globo’s soap operas are filmed in the same location, in a Rio suburb, where wealthy and beautiful heiresses, orphans, and assassins lunch together in a mini-city. Mind-boggling, super-realistic cardboard sets for Globo’s novelas are spread across 165 hectares (407 acres) of unused farmland surrounded by hills and filled with tropical vegetation to form the modern television production center, Latin America’s largest.
Located in the Jacarepagua neighborhood, Globo’s location is self-sufficient, served by a gas power plant. Around 7,000 people traveling around on 300 electric cars work to create Brazil’s gigantic soap opera dream machine.
Inside Globo’s studio city today, a cobblestone street dating from the 1940s is dotted with storefronts that bear French names and where a group of actors is filming an episode of Joia Rara (Precious Jewel), which broadcasts at 6:00 pm. The director yells out his instructions for a scene in which a worker riles up the crowd as he seeks support for his run for a congressional seat. He is suddenly interrupted by a woman, holding a girl by the hand, who accuses him of walking out on her when she was pregnant.
A few steps away lies Itapire, a small Amazonian city with houses on wooden stilts surrounded by water, in a scene from Beyond the Horizon, which broadcasts at 7:00 pm. A little further, a small church has three facades, depending on the shoot’s needs of the day: colonial, gothic, or contemporary. “Rio of the 1940s and Itapire are just two of 22 mock-up cities currently set up within the enclosure,” said Renata Puppim, spokeswoman for this TV production.
These make-believe cities are built in three months by hundreds of workers and craftsmen who recycle the materials from one soap opera to the next. “We are Brazil’s number one consumer of nails, and among the first of lumber and paint. Each soap opera needs about 60 highly sophisticated sets,” said Puppim.
Objects used during filming are carefully preserved, including 180,000 costumes ordered by time period and hanging in a huge cloak room. Brazilian novelas, which last six to eight months, are broadcast six days of the week and bring much fame to the actors, who are better paid than their colleagues in film. They often create fashion trends and even characters’ expressions are mimicked by fans.
Joia Rara lead actor Bruno Gagliasso, 31, was hired by Globo in 2001. He noted that the television network covers 99 percent of Brazil, home to 200 million people. “But a film, even when it is successful, is only seen by a million people,” Gagliasso said.
“More than 2,500 hours of programming and series are produced each year at Globo’s television production center, a world record,” said Raphael Correa Netto, Globo’s director of international sales. “In 2012, Globo marketed 59 products equivalent to 25,000 hours of content in 33 different languages for 92 countries. In the first half of this year, 42 titles were marketed for 123 countries. Avenida Brasil saw its broadcast rights bought by 124 countries during the past 10 months and was dubbed into 17 languages, a record in terms of rights in the history of Globo,” Netto said.
The key to soap opera success for Globo has been to lock in a good story on universal themes that gives hope to all ethnic and social groups. The story varies depending on the public’s expectations and current news trends. These monster productions that last between 180 and 200 episodes require budgets of about 700,000 reais each (U$320,000).
[This article appeared on the Global Post website and was edited by CIE.]