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María Medinilla AND Roger Grau: "We have always liked to stress the figure of the female character because they lack more representation and we want to give a voice to women, even more so in this case because it talks about bullying."

06/05/2019

This month we interview María Medinilla and Roger Grau, directors and creators of the web series Nosaltres through their production company Young Soul Studios. This project arose thanks to the support of the Montblanc Foundation and is intended to educate through audiovisual. They are already preparing the third season. 

How did the idea for this project arise?

Roger Grau: In the Montblanc Foundation for the promotion of women they were looking for a project which had an educational nature, but also a more cultural aspect in order to be closer to the youth. The foundation has a voluntary work programme called Mou Fitxa in several schools throughout Catalonia. These schools asked them whether they had any kind of activity or programme to be able to offer in tutorials and to work on contents with values with young people and above all their concerns. At the time Montblanc didn’t and we proposed a web series of professional quality, which could perfectly well be shown anywhere but which would have a more educational content or nature. As a result of this, we started knocking on doors to obtain funding. Atrápalo joined the project, as did Èpic, a social institution which encompasses the private schools of Catalonia. They financed the project.

 

The series is on the coexistence educational and audiovisual platform of the Montblanc Foundation for the promotion of women. Is that why a girl is the main character?

María Medinilla: Partly yes, but we also have the habit of having a female main character. We have always liked to stress the figure of the female character because they lack more representation and we want to give a voice to women, even more so in this case because it talks about bullying.

Roger: It also went very well because the foundation itself also promotes everything to do with women; it fits in because that is our hallmark.

 

Are the main actors professionals?

María: We consider them all to be professionals; some are beginning now, others 10 years ago, but they all have baggage. We do not hold castings. When we create the characters we already have a very clear image of what we want. In the case of Nosaltres with Paula Jornet, we did not have any contact of hers and we wrote to her through Instagram, telling her that we had a project and whether we could meet and talk. That’s how it arose.

Roger: Paula Jornet grew up in La Riera; she is now a singer and she has received awards for her performance in The Importance of Being Ernest, which started out in the TNC and then in the Poliòrama. The rest are people who have done things maybe not so well-known, but they are professional. The other well-known person is Roger Príncep, who appears in the second season as the co-star. He is the boy from The Orphanage.

María: What we wanted was not to have many well-known faces. As it is a new project, created in Barcelona, we also wanted to give an opportunity to people who have experience but have not had a big project. To create synergies among all of us who are young.

 

What is the target audience?

María: It is geared toward secondary school children, from 12 to 18 years old. There are also adults who have seen it and like it. And also younger children.

 

What are the relations with the schools like, since it is an educational tool? How does the series work within the academic curriculum?

Roger: It started out as something very small. As a pilot test. And within a year 150 schools from all over Catalonia had registered on the platform to use the resource. In the year and a half that it has been active, there are already 430 schools. It has grown a lot and I suppose that this is also because it is a free resource; the only thing that you have to do is to register. It has spread by word-of-mouth. After registering, they can access the web series and, apart from this, teaching guides which have been made by volunteers who are teachers from the Foundation. These teaching units are used to complement the series. A lot of things have also come from the institutional support. The first season received support from Barcelona City Council and, consequently, the JIP points (Youth Information and Participation Point) , which work directly with adolescents, and the same council’s adolescents and family service, began to promote the project in the public schools within their area.

On the day against bullying in schools, the Generalitat announced the resources that they recommended to work on in class, and the six or eight resources, the great majority from the Generalitat itself, included our web series. We knocked on doors a great deal to see what relations we could establish with the schools as a mailing contact, but the institutional support is also very important in order to become better known. In the end, it is very difficult to present the web series without having support.

María: In actual fact, initially, when we phoned the schools, they told us that they weren’t interested because they already had series, but they weren’t series focused from an educational viewpoint. It was very difficult in the beginning. It was a tough process, but the result is very rewarding.

 

What were the motivation sessions with the actors like and what new did they bring to the project and how did it help the pupils?

María: We began with the first season. It’s a surprise effect. After seeing the last chapter, the female actors enter the class. It’s incredible because they are not very famous or anything, but the effect is: wow! And the motivation session is basically based on dialogue. We do not come to give a talk about how “bullying is bad”. They don’t listen to this and they already know it. It is an open debate in which they talk, they ask questions and they do a little more role-play activity, about what they think about what the characters have done. We then reach a point, at least that’s what happened in the latest motivation sessions, in which the pupils decide to open up to the actors. They declare that they have had real problems at school. And this is what we were trying to do, to get the pupils to be able to open up and explain their experiences through this tool. This moment is created in which they share experiences; some talk with the teachers to explain that things are happening to them. We are excited to hold the motivation sessions, because we have done something which helps.

Roger: A climate is created which, if the people who are up playing the roles were not so young but rather they looked very adult, would probably have a rebound effect. “I’m used to them coming and going on about how bullying is bad, etc., ...”. When they see the actors, they are surprised, because they weren’t expecting it. But, irrespective of this, the climate which is created is sufficiently comfortable for the pupils to forget that the teachers are there supervising the motivation session and they explain things which they probably wouldn’t have explained if a more adult person had come. The teachers sometimes tell us that they didn’t know what their pupils were explaining and that it was very good for us to go there. Despite the fact that they have to decide how to act and they have to transfer it to the teaching staff. We also have to tread very carefully. Adolescents sometimes do very big things when they are not very big. However, at least they take this step of talking, which is one of the most important things, to talk about it and express it.

The first four chapters are seen in the class without the team. The other four motivation sessions are tutored by the tutors themselves or the team from the council, for example, the JIP points. We arrive in the fifth session. And, as they have had the experience in the other four, they tell us that it is not the same when they try to have a dialogue with them as when younger people come to talk.

María: Some are more shy and don’t say anything in class, but afterwards they come up to the actors who are playing Clara and Laura. They tell them that they identify with them and that the same is happening to them. We are not psychologists or professionals to be able to help, but we can talk with the teachers. It is very satisfying to see that they open up. Initially it was more difficult but not now. They see it like a TV series. They become hooked. And I think that this is what works, and that they do not see that values are being developed, but rather they see it as entertainment.

Roger: The main character also does bad things. She is not perfect. And the bad one too. This makes them understand that they are human beings, that they are like us. Some pupils have even said: “wow, none of them do it well”. Yes, that was the point, that you understand that you can make mistakes, but what is most important is to accept them and to try to see how we can solve them. At least from what we have been able to see, they are very accustomed to seeing entertainment, but they do not analyze it. They consume it without thinking. We propose entertainment which they could perfectly well see somewhere else, but with the fact that there is a tutor or someone behind who is telling them: “Yes? Are you sure?” And then they reflect and they realize that the answer is no. In actual fact, this happened to us in the second season, in which we were working more on small-scale sexism which by definition is already accepted and they see it and don’t attach any importance to it.

María: “It’s a love story”, they say, “they will end up together”. And we say to them: “analyze it in more depth”.

 

Normally you deal with subjects which are not dealt with in audiovisual fiction, especially with young main characters. You have shot two seasons, each one devoted to a different subject. Explain what each season was about and how these subjects are chosen.

Roger: It’s true that, when it comes to writing the scripts, we base a great deal of it on our experience. But also what we did was to go to some schools involved in the project and to explain the general story to them a little. In the compulsory secondary school classes, we proposed this as an activity, even an assessed activity, to propose ideas about how it had to continue. The school sent them to us and we took advantage of many ideas, above all in the second season.

María: We also do this in the motivation sessions. We ask them what they would like to see in the next season. The pupils propose dramatic ideas which you see is probably what concerns them and is not dealt with in class.

Roger: The definition of the project is that it is made by young people and aimed at young people and we want there to be feedback. They are the audience which will consume it. We need to know what they want and how they want to work on it. Adolescent issues are not dealt with much in audiovisual and you have to look at those which are carefully. I don’t know whether it is very accurate or whether they actually went on the ground. We go there, we analyze the situation and, starting from that, we create, because we believe that they will see it as more accurate like that. So far this method hasn’t failed us.

María: Even the pupils are extras in the series. This also helps us to see how they talk, how they live.

Roger: Some schools have become more involved and have proposed shooting there. We thought that was fantastic.

María: And the pupils were delighted because they wanted to appear in the series.

Roger: Then it is incredibly complicated to shoot and to control 30 children. But it is very good because they also become involved in the shooting process and sometimes they ask us to go on a tour around the different departments. Or María and I explain to them with the head teacher of the centre everything that we do. The head teacher tells us that they learn a lot because they participate directly in the shooting. It’s like an additional experience. We often shoot at the weekend, because it’s complicated during the week. Even so, they come because they do something different. It transforms them and they think that it is fantastic that on their academic curriculum there is a web series. The teachers tell us that they only want to talk and they are delighted. They tell us: Why are the chapters so short? Couldn’t they last an hour? They are deliberately made so that you can talk afterwards.

 

How do you choose the subject of each season and do you already have the next one?

María: With the first one we made a list of subjects which we believed could have an effect and be of interest and about which it could be important to talk. Because sometimes there are many taboos. Everyone says bullying but do they really talk about it and how do they talk about it? On choosing the subject we focused on these points. We decided on bullying in the first one because, on being the pilot project, it was much easier to confront.

Roger: It was moreover one of the subjects that the schools which work with the Montblanc Foundation had requested the most. When we shot it in 2017, it was on the lips of everyone. In 2018 it was the subject of women. As many more schools had joined, we talked with those which are most active and we asked for a list of what they were most concerned about as a school. And, since we had already worked on bullying, everyone put sexism as number 1.

María: And the relations between adolescents. The influences, the groups of friends, boys and girls.

Roger: Other subjects have also been highlighted, which we also work on, but it is not the cross-cutting issue of the series, but rather subplots. We have been asked a lot to work more, for example, on relations with parents. Because it is complicated and it ends up having a great effect on the schools. Racism as well. The Generalitat mentioned this to us when we met the education department. As for the third season, we are currently assessing what to do.

 

The project has been very well received; it has won several awards. How is it being received in the school environment, above all on presenting the project initially?

María: What is most difficult is to fit in with the school curriculum; they already have everything closed before September. Many teachers were motivated, but when we arrive it reaches the person who makes the decisions, and it greatly dismantles the structure of a typical school. There are some which work on a project basis and adapt to how the adolescents grow. In the end, audiovisual is their tool. The teachers, head teachers or secondary school coordinators have thanked us. They took a risk and it worked.

 

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