Why Money Heist became a worldwide phenomenon?09.09.2021
Every global phenomenon must start somewhere. In this case, it was a hammock at a Panama beach. Alex Pina was trying to think of his next project. The Spanish producer had just finished Vis a Vis (a brutal drama about daily life in a women’s prison), and it was 2016. He wanted the new venture to have a lighter tone, and he needed it to be easy to produce. It had to be something he could do almost entirely in a studio, but it had to have a premise that would blow you away that you weren’t in the same four walls. He sat down and thought about the possibilities.
How about a heist?
Yes, it was a heist. Pina met his team, and they soon were on the right track. The heist would be held at the Royal Mint of Spain, which would easily satisfy real-life studio requirements. Here the perpetrators would hold the employees hostage and then print billions of euro for themselves. Flashbacks and ballsiness of Reservoir Dogs would be combined with surreal black comedy by Luis Garcia Berlanga, the Spanish director. A group of career criminals who are outcasts, brought together by The Professor, a mysterious and intelligent brainy man. Each of them was assigned a codename that corresponded to a major city: Tokyo. Rio. Berlin. Moscow. Nairobi. Helsinki. Oslo. The show would be characterized by a wardrobe that included Salvador Dali masks and crimson jumpsuits.
La Casa de Papel, the final product, was premiered on Spanish television station Antena 3 (2017). The ratings plummeted by season 2, and the production was shut down. Cast and crew packed up the production and went back to their families and lives.
Pina had already sent a flash drive containing the pilot to Diego Avalos (a V.P. Netflix). Netflix had an ongoing licensing agreement with Antena 3 & Pina. This was a good thing for both of them. Avalos says, “I saw it on the plane ride home from L.A. and realized there was something special.”
Pina was asked by the streaming platform to cut it into smaller chunks, from 15 to 22 episodes. She also added subtitles and dubbing to make it more accessible to a wider audience. The show was renamed Money Heist for English-speaking audiences. It is a title that is so simple it’s almost comical. Avalos also said that they spent “zero marketing dollars” on the first season.
It was a smart addition to Netflix’s library. Money Heist had become the most-watched non-English-language series on Netflix by 2018. (In early 2021 that distinction was held by Lupin, a French series featuring a charming and sly thief.) It also cracked the top five most-watched series overall. It was the ability to binge watch without interruptions that was lacking. Pina states that waiting until the next week can make it seem fragmented. Pina says that this can cause viewers to not get into the series or lead them into a state where they are addicted. Netflix has released two additional seasons to meet demand. Now, Netflix fans eagerly await the fifth and final season. It will drop in two parts, five episodes in September, and five episodes in December. Netflix has a tight grip on streaming numbers, which is more secure than security at the Royal Mint of Spain. However, it revealed that 65 million households watched season 4 within a short time. It would be ‘sandwiched’ between Tanzania and the United Kingdom if it were an independent Republic of Money Heist Watchers.
While the statistics are impressive, the cultural tsunami that the show sparked is quite another. Consider the distinctive costumes the characters don as disguises. Director Jesus Colmenar was instrumental in obtaining them. He tells that George Lucas said, “Everyone knows how Star Wars characters look like, I wanted the same thing.”
It worked. Red jumpsuits and Dali masks started appearing everywhere. They were worn by protestors in Puerto Rico against homophobic and sexist leaders, as well as at soccer matches in Greece. In Brazil, India, France, and France, real-life criminals staged copycat robberies. The show was praised by Neymar and Stephen King, while Bad Bunny used it multiple times. The show’s theme song, “Bella Ciao”, was written in protest by workers in 19th-century Italy. It was then adopted by antifascist militants during World War II. This song has been covered many times, including an EDM remix from Steve Aoki. The TV show’s fictional group of thieves wins the hearts of the viewers, which is a parallel to what happened in real life.
Each actor was instantly famous in their own way, made more bizarre by the fact that it was for work they had done before. Ursula Corbero plays Tokyo, Money Heist’s feisty reporter. She grins when she recalls the moment that her celebrity realization hit her. She was with her boyfriend and their family at a New Years Eve party in Uruguay at the end 2017. Corbero quickly explains that suddenly everyone started coming up and saying, “Tokyo, you are a goddess, you have incredible talent, I love you,” Corbero said. “She was a little confused and thought, “What are the chances that all four of the people who saw the show happen be at this party?”
Miguel Herran, who plays Rio, a boyish hacker, and Tokyo’s love interest says that he saw his Instagram followers grow from 50,000 to one million in a short car ride. Esther Acebo (or Stockholm), so-called because she is a former bank employee who was held hostage before switching sides. She was also overwhelmed by the flood of social media attention. She says that her phone began to beep like a slot machine, where all the cherries line-up. “Then it just shut off.” Pedro Alonso (the gang’s resident sociopath), said that he was in Florence looking at the statue of David and “just studying this beautiful sculpture” when he realized that everyone else in Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze was looking at him, not Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
Pina recalled driving through Italy with the actors after they lost their minds. He tells me that people were following them like the Rolling Stones. “We believed: The world was upside down. What is the matter?
But why Money Heist?
The series grabs your attention in the first minute, hooking you up to high-octane action on a constant basis. The twists are clever and constant. Think Soderbergh with the melodrama turned up to 11. The show taps into the anger and outrage that arose in the wake of the global financial crisis. The series is intended to entertain, but the idea runs beneath. Pina stated last year that she is skeptical about central banks and governments. Another thing that has universal appeal? They are charming, well-built, and, let’s face it, genetically gifted. One thing that humanity can all agree on, despite their differences is that we love watching super hot people have sex.
Netflix approached Pina to offer to revive the series for a third season after the success of the first two episodes. In late 2018, he brought the gang together and had them try to rob Bank of Spain of their gold reserves. It was long gone the days of swinging from a hammock and trying to cut costs. Netflix funding meant one thing: money. It was a lot.
Javier Gomez Santander (head writer) recalls the immediate effects of the change. He says, “I have always wondered what it would be like to write with a large budget. It’s raining money, and you see it when you write it on your script. You write in your script that this takes place in Panama or the Philippines. Nobody says no. It really does happen.”
Money Heist will be closing this winter. However, executives who want to make money again will continue to study its remarkable global success for many years. This is hard evidence that entertainment rules have changed in real-time. Netflix is undisputed leader in this new market. It has over 190 countries represented and boasts a terrifyingly powerful algorithm. Netflix allows you to easily access the platform from your sofa, and watch everything from a Weimar Republic epic (Babylon Berlin) to a terrifying horror series from Egypt (Paranormal) to a South Korean medieval-zombie drama (Kingdom).
Streaming allows viewers to access stories from around the globe, which can be a challenge to American cultural dominance. However, not all stories are presented in their original form. For first-time viewers, foreign shows are defaulted to the awkwardly dubbed setting. This is due to the data-driven, but perhaps flawed, assumption that it will encourage more people to view them. Netflix’s Money Heist was a major factor in their decision to invest in the quality and scope in alternative-language options. This allowed them to expand the concept of who a show’s target audience might be.
It helped to expand the concept of what makes a global story. While Netflix may have nabbed Money Heist’s creators, it did not alter the intrinsic DNA of what they were creating. “We did not want to abandon Spain. Colmenar says that we have this Latin passion. This essence is not lost on the third and fourth seasons. We actually have some Spanish references, possibly even more than those in the first and second seasons.”
Instead of trying to reduce cultural idiosyncrasies to arrive at a common, bland common denominator they have succeeded by using some old-fashioned storytelling wisdom. The specific is universal. Money Heist’s success is a reminder that it is always worth looking outside your bubble, especially if you are a country that thinks it is the center of the universe. This is an example: Although the show didn’t do as well in Anglophone regions as it did elsewhere, it still beat Tiger King in viewers.
Money Heist did not change Netflix’s strategy per se but it did confirm it. Avalos states, “It just confirms the fact that great storytelling is possible from anywhere. It’s not Hollywood that decides what stories work in other parts of the world.”
Money Heist’s stars still struggle to understand how to be famous, even though the show is over and their futures are open. Herran and Corbero, two of the biggest stars, told they have been spending more time at home in Madrid than usual to avoid being noticed when they go out. Corbero claims she sought therapy to deal with the change, saying it was “important to do that, to stay grounded”. Herran, on the other hand, has been very open about how fame has affected him mental health. He says, “I always ask people questions I find interesting on Instagram, like ‘Are your happy with the society we live in?’ People aren’t happy.” I don’t want people believing that because you’re famous you are happy. That’s why you’re so popular. All things are fine and good. “I’m still a human being, just like everyone else.”
Although the creators keep the details of Money Heist’s final two-part series secret, they shared that it was conceived as a type of war. The grand breaking point between beloved characters and the state with all its messiness, intensity and difficult decisions. This is their last chance to stretch a little, to show how far they have come since the beginning. Avalos enthusiastically shares, “We built an entire set – this huge set that only lasted for a minute and half before we exploded them.” It will be difficult. Colmenar says: “A victimless conflict is hard to find.” However, the team managed to get the world to care about their small story. Isn’t that a victory in and of itself?