May 19, 2024

Yanet, lateish twenties, opens her eyes, looks in the mirror, takes in air, straightens two braids of hair, hold her head in her hands, purses her lips, is called for her stage test.

She begins to sing. “People say I have to change, but I don’t care at all. I feel so free I could sing on the high-velocity train.”

The trouble is her memorised rap has become a screech and, rather than don’t give a damn, she’s hanging on every word which will be delivered by a judge sitting in the theater, who asks her to stop. 

“If you had any talent, you wouldn’t be on this stage at all, he tells her…”

Dropped on Amazon’s Prime Video on Oct. 4, “Urban” is produced by Spanish free-to-air broadcaster Mediaset España, in collaboration with Alea Media and Prime Video. Mediaset España will released a first episode on its channel Divinity on Oct. 5, the series repping one of the biggest plays of its sales arm Mediterráneo at mid-October’s Mipcom.

“Urban” also reflects a fluid windowing relationship between Mediaset España, in the free to air space, and PrimeVideo, working various windowing synergies with ME’s free-to-air window.

“Our relationship with Prime Video is extraordinary. We work very closely with the acquisition department, exploring different business synergies and developing a ‘win-win’ model for both parts,” Ana Bustamante, director general of Mediterráneo Mediaset España Group, told Variety.

“We are constantly trying to improve it and adjust it, evaluating the window exploitation possibilities for each title. In this case, the project was conceived from a necessity of the platform in young-adult content, so we decided to develop “Urban” as an exclusive title for them and their implication has been great. They loved the project from the beginning.”

From an original idea by Aitor Gabilondo and Jota Aceytuno at Alea Media, producer of iconic recent Spanish shows such as Mediaset España’s “Unauthorized Living” and HBO España’s “Patria,” “Urban” delivers a portrait of a late Millennial generation.

Yanet walks off the stage, quits her job as a barmaid and hot foots it back to Málaga, driven by Lola, from a ultra-rich family, where both meet Patrick, Yanet’s once love of her life, until she abandoned him to chase fame and fortune in Madrid. Seven year’s later, he’s the trap star at a local club. 

Unspooling on Malaga’s grungy rap scene, “Urban’s” 20something cast can hardly be weightier, with María Pedraza, Alison Parker in “Money Heist” as Lola and Asia Ortega, star of “The Boarding School: Las Cumbres,” as Yanet. Patrick is played by Mexico’s Bernardo Flores. 

“Urban. La Vida en Nuestra” is created and developed by Nico Frasquet, Amanda Encinas, Paloma Rando  and  Carlos del Hoy

Coarse in language, brutal in put-downs – Yanet’s mother tells her she left Málaga seven years ago so that her family and friends wouldn’t see her fail – “Urban” asks if success and failure is everything to life, and if it should be judged by conventional parameters. Variety talked to Aceytuno in the run-up to the series bow on Prime Video. 

“Urban” could be seen as a portrait of a late Millennial generation which knows that it doesn’t want its current life (Lola, Yanet) but doesn’t know what they want (Lola), or seemingly doesn’t have the talent to get what it wants (Yanet); or does but is reluctant to betray its principles (Patrick). Could you comment?

Jota Aceytuno: We spend our lives searching. Searching for answers, direction, sensations, trying to find our real place in the world. We are sometimes more conscious of that, at times less so, but survival is an instinct, something inherently part of us, and I think that is at the heart of the question you raise here. When intuition is your only true companion, you try. And fail, and try again. And perhaps you fail again. Or perhaps not. What’s the limit for finding that true place? In times such as those we’re living at present, where everything so hinges on immediacy and true reflection is now secondary, it seemed important to us to look at that fear, or uncertainty, which resides among us, but which is given very little opportunity to become something else. And this applies not only to young people. Grown adults live that in their daily lives as well. “Urban. La Vida es Nuestra” doesn’t set out to be any kind of coaching manual for the spectator; in fact, the very opposite. It talks about emotions, it shares weakness and, then, after all that, sheds some light on things when everything is dark. Questioning the concepts of success and failure is one of the keys of the series.            

The series boasts two considerable stars on Spain’s recent TV scene: María Pedraza and Asia Ortega. How did María learn to battle rap?

Aceytuno: By working non-stop and respecting what that profession is all about. Improvising at home, in the car, during phone-calls, or during rehearsals with Koldo Almandoz and Jota Linares. Departing from references such as Sara Socas also was important for her. The work with the musicians for the series, Victor Elias and Jaime Vaquero, was also fundamental. Together, they were able to create an atmosphere of confidence and talent that goes beyond the screen. Maria and Asia Ortega’s commitment and generosity, with their characters and the entire team and crew, were exemplary.          

It seems to me that the series is structured by the tension between two narrative currents: One is aspirational. Just Ep. 1 has Yanet at a casting; Patrick is persuaded by a talent scout to present himself in an underground battle which could clinch a record contract. There’s also a drive towards a basic realism, in psychology and its take on the music scene and creativity. Seven years after leaving for Madrid and a music career, Yanet is still working as a bar maid. Patrick is insecure about his possibilities to triumph outside his own. Obviously, aspirations and realism will clash head-on…Could you comment?

Aceytuno: The series was conceived around a reflection about the notion of failure. Today, we are so accustomed to seeing on TV and on platforms talent shows that are looking for gems that are out there, waiting to be unearthed, that only need polishing, among thousands of great talents whose professional careers, thereafter, only have to be led in the right direction as they are launched to stardom. Music talents are a great example of these formats. But…what happens to those who hear the dreaded word “NO”? What happens when one aspirant, after hundreds of casting sessions, gets off that stage and goes back home feeling defeated, and no longer has the will to carry on fighting? We spend so much of our life focusing on successful people, making them into references, setting ourselves impossible goals, but I think that failure, as a point of departure at any rate, is far more familiar and interesting. It’s a good place to start to build, so why not? Make it as realistic as possible. With silences, contradictions, ambiguous sentences and time enough to allow us to enter the heads of Lola, Yanet, Patrick and the rest of the characters.            

Could you explain the choice of Malaga as setting which I believe is inspired by a real-life music scene? 

Aceytuno: Indeed. The image of Malaga that’s usually out there in the collective imaginary is one of a city of sun, beaches, beer, fish on skewers, high season tourism, choc-a-bloc hotels. That’s all very true. But there’s another Malaga, that has a special magic, one not served up on postcards. I’m talking of the local, urban Malaga, the Malaga of cockfighting along the Guadalmina; the Malaga of urban art of the Lagunillas district and the true nature of life in its many districts. In this context, it also seemed interesting to us to show a city that, like its characters, shows one of its faces while the other remains more hidden. Malaga is a cradle of talent, light, music, art, and its people are its greatest asset.         

Many times when creating, you think of a great idea, develop it, and then think what audience you could reach to justify making it. Was this the case with “Urban” or is it an attempt from the very beginning to reach out to a certain demography? 6.If so, what audience is this? What generation, if any, are you reaching out for? Battle rap, for example, was really popularized outside the U.S. with 2002’s “8 Mile.”

Aceytuno: Everything in “Urban. La Vida es Nuestra” was born organically. It is true that, at the outset, the series could have been linked, naturally, to young audiences, the Z generation onwards. But, seeing the final result, I think it goes beyond than that, it’s more adult. We talk about music, aspiration, life goals. But we also talk about the depth of failure, the creation of links, fleeting and intense, and we talk about love. Is there any concrete, specific age to identify with those emotions? Or do we really live through all such things, in one way or another, throughout our lives?    

With regard to direction, what style have you looked for from the directors?

Aceytuno: It was very clear to us from the beginning that “Urban. La Vida es Nuestra” should steer clear of false trappings. It was a story that had to be told from the bottom, from very basic street level – asphalt. The opposite would have been incoherent with tone, the story and its essence. So Koldo Almandoz, who worked from the very outset on the tone, direction-wise, set a narrative pace that was hyper-realistic, avoiding any kind of stylised, technical language, and leaning heavily towards the constant use of the hand-held camera, on the shoulder, to vividly capture the pulse of the street. Ditto the interpretations: contained, nothing forced or over the top. Respecting silences, the emotions of every moment. In this sense, Koldo and Jota Linares, who also brought his vision and talent as director, did a fantastic job.   

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