JAUME BANACOLOCHA: “We haven’t done fiction just for the sake of it”.


This month we interviewed Jaume Banacolocha, CEO of Diagonal TV. The audiovisual production company is celebrating its 25th anniversary while bidding farewell to one of its big series, Amar es para siempre

You’re celebrating your 25th anniversary, congratulations. 

Thanks! More than 25; it’s 27 now. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t celebrate it two years ago. We weren’t allowed to have big meetings. We said we’d do it later and in the end we never did. So, as we wanted to celebrate the 18th anniversary of Amar en tiempos revueltos and Amar es para siempre, we said: “We’ll hold a celebration that’s for the 25th anniversary”. 


How did Diagonal TV come about?

Those of us who founded Diagonal - Joan Bas, Josep Maria Benet i Jornet and me - were in TV3 and the people from Telecinco came to see if we wanted to do a daily with a company that was called Zeppelin TV. They could provide the production, but we’d have to provide the software and all that. This encouraged us to ask: “What shall we do? Shall we stay or shall we set up a production company?” And we set up Diagonal. Also, this project wasn’t scripted by Benet but rather by Rodolf Sirera, a scriptwriter who came from the Valencian theatre and with whom we got on very well. We did El súper with him. That was the beginning of Diagonal. Joan Bas, who was fiction director of Diagonal, was like the cornerstone. We came from TV3, from Poblenou, Nissaga de poder,... and we were lucky that very soon TV3 gave us a series of which we’re very proud: Temps de silenci. It worked very well and this gave us many opportunities in Catalonia. We did Ventdelplà which also went very well. We took quite a while to enter the Spanish national market. We’d done El súper for three years, but we weren’t the producers. Our luck came when we did Amar en tiempos revueltos with TVE. It was an incredibly successful series. We had a 25% share and 2.5 million viewers. It was madness. That opened up many doors for us in Antena 3 and in TVE, obviously. With TVE we did La señora and Isabel, and 90-60-90, diario secreto de una adolescente for Antena 3. For us, Amar is the flagship, because it offered us the opportunity to do all the rest. 


You are known for doing period series, such as La señora, Cathedral of the Sea and Isabel. Now you’ve premiered Sueños de libertad, which is set in the 1960s. Do you want to diversify with other genres, with series such as El Gran Salto about the life of Gervasio Deferr with Óscar Casas?

All that was just by chance. We did Amar en tiempos revueltos and it’s true that Benet i Jornet, who’s now passed away, always said that “doing a series in which there are no mobile phones will help us a lot with everything (laughs). Therefore, we have to look for series in which there are no mobiles”. Despite the fact that in Ventdelplà a mobile saved a character in one scene. But, curiously, he did this in a daily like Amar, which was set a long time ago, in which the relations between men and women were very different. He gave everything a touch of romanticism and at the same time you can look for the empowerment of women. You can do a lot of things which it’s very complicated to do with modern series. This meant that people thought that we are a period production company. 

When we did La señora, which was also a period drama, which Telecinco asked us for, they said: “You’re really good at doing period series. Would you be capable of doing a period for prime time?” We were pioneers with this as well, because nobody was doing it. We started it up again. When we took La señora to them, they were afraid. They told us: “The thing is that we’re a more up-to-date, more modern channel...”. So we took it to TVE and they accepted it straight away. It was really successful. We’ve got this reputation because the same people ask us for period series, but we’ve been very diverse. Proof of this is that in this time we’ve done a very well-designed series such as Matadero. And then everything that we’ve done now, such as The Gypsy Bride and the second part, The Purple Network. We try to do other things. We did Sin identidad, which was also a present-day story. We try to do different things but it’s difficult. Not through our fault. The channels also seek you out to do period dramas. Sueños de libertad was present-day and the channel asked us, when the scriptwriters were already creating it, “Couldn’t you make it period, and set it in the 1960s?” So we changed it. We’re very open to other things. 

Now we’re doing El gran salto about Gervasio Deferr, which has now begun to be shot in Barcelona, and in Madrid we’re filming ¿A qué estás esperando? by Megan Maxwell, which is also present-day. We also like it a lot when we go to a set and we see that it’s all present-day. We’re not used to it (laughs). 


Now you’re also premiering Regreso a Las Sabinas, the first daily series on a platform. 

Present-day, eh? (laughs)


What do you think the secret of the success of a daily series is?

It’s difficult to say. When we did Amar en tiempos revueltos it was for one season. At that time TVE did daily series that were adaptations of South American soap operas here in Spain. And they were for one season. They told us: “Make an original one which isn’t an adaptation”. And look how long it lasted: 7 years on TVE and then 11 on Antena 3. 

For example, we think one of the main keys with a daily series like Amar es para siempre is that each year we changed the main story and we surrounded it with characters that people already knew. So you had a new story, and you didn’t have to explain the same thing to people. You talked about new neighbours who arrived or who already lived in the neighbourhood. The fact that there was a whole series of characters, that people like because they already knew them, meant that it was about everyday local life. There was melodrama on the one hand and everyday local life on the other. And many of the followers we’ve had over these 18 years told us this. That they found this everyday local life to be very lifelike, that they were like ordinary people, as if they were the same as them. For me that’s not the entire reason for its success, but it is what most influenced the fact that a series can last for so many years.


You’ve also done films, although less, such as Nobody Is Perfect, The Broken Crown and The Bookshop. Why?

Doing films is something that you start today and you don’t finish for another three years. We also said we’d do something that we liked. The first one we did was a comedy: Nobody Is Perfect. We all laughed a lot making it and then seeing it. In principle it was a TV Movie, but in the end they said it was better as a film. It wasn’t what was expected. Then it was very difficult for us to go back. With The Bookshop, we’d had the book for more than four years. We couldn’t find how to do it. First, that it happened in Northern Ireland. We said: “What shall we do? Shall we adapt it to Spain?” We came across a lot of problems. But one day we met Coixet at a dinner and she said: “I’ve read that book in English; I like it a lot”. And we said to her: “Wow, let’s get together and do it”. And that was how lucky we were with The Bookshop

We’re starting to do films now. At the moment we have three film projects. One will be recorded this year. It will be a film in Catalan that will be filmed in Catalonia. It takes place in the Aran Valley and this one is already starting up. It’s a co-production. And we have another two projects. Now we’ve got our act together (laughs). The other two projects are underway. I don’t say that we’ll record both next year, but maybe we will. 


What does a story need to have to attract you and for you to want to bring it to the big or the small screen?

We’ve always said that we like to tell stories. We’ve always liked what we explain to have some meaning. If possible, not to do something just for the sake of it. Even if it’s a comedy. Eh? Because you laugh a lot with Nobody Is Perfect, but it ends up as a drama. We’ve always enjoyed trying to explain something that has a social meaning. That’s what we try to find. The one that we’re going to do now takes place many years ago, but it has a social meaning which we think is very good; I can’t explain much more. The other one is maybe more a thriller and doesn’t have so much of this. And the third one we have is a historical case of something that happened; it’s already been talked about it a bit, but we think that it’s worth explaining the story of what happened at a certain time. We want what we explain to always have a social meaning, even if it doesn’t seem to. Obviously we don’t always succeed, but in the majority of cases I’m very satisfied. We haven’t done fiction just for the sake of it. 


What have your biggest challenges been so far?

The main difficulty has been “the period”, because the day they asked us to do La señora, with the money available then, decorating all that, costumes, decor, etc., we asked ourselves: “Will we manage to do it?” And we did. We’ve always suffered for things like that. When we said: “It would be good to explain Isabel”. To think about setting it in medieval times with the typical budget available at that time. And we did it. We wouldn’t know how to do it now. We wouldn’t be capable. The biggest challenges that we’ve had have been on making productions like these. The one for which it was most difficult to find funding was Cathedral of the Sea. We went mad trying to do it, because at that time it was very difficult to obtain the money. It’s easier now. It was a challenge for us. We had a lot at stake, a lot. Because there was no way to tie it all together. First, to have the money. And with that money, which wasn’t even the amount we wanted, to be able to do the production that we finally achieved. And also Heirs to the Land. These have been our biggest challenges. Precisely the period has given us many headaches, which have then turned into satisfaction. 


And what do you think the future challenges are, in the next 25 years?

At the moment we’re doing these present-day series. This also gives you a bit of peace of mind. There’s not so much at stake. We’re very happy. We have more projects. If Disney’s Regreso a Las Sabinas works well, it might bring us a lot of joy over the coming years. And we have projects on the table such as the films, but also series, which we really like and we think will go ahead. We have the feeling that this is a good time for us. As a production company you have moments when there’s a drop and you think: “it’s over”. We’ve always been fortunate to have had Amar. There were years when we didn’t have anything else. But also others like this year, for example, when we have two more productions and the film that will begin to be made in September. So we’re quite content. And Sueños de libertad, which is working very well as regards audience figures, gives us the peace of mind that maybe there’ll be a second season next year. The truth is that this is a good moment for us. These 25 years have been good to us.

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