‘Senna’ Producer Fabiano Gullane on Netflix’s Biggest Brazilian Play, New Business Models, Brazil’s Crisis

John Hopewell
·5-min read

As Brazil emerges from its shoot shutdown, the magnitude of its biggest production, Netflix fiction miniseries “Senna,” about Formula One racing genius Ayrton Senna, is rapidly becoming clearer.

The series, now in development, ticks multiple boxes for both Netflix and its producer, São Paulo-based Gullane.

“Language is no longer a barrier, only ambition and quality are barriers,” Francisco Ramos, Netflix VP of Spanish-language Originals in Latin America, said as a keynote at September’s San Sebastian Festival.

“Senna” certainly has ambition. It will be “the first Netflix title from Brazil conceived from its very inception as a global series,” “Senna” producer Fabiano Gullane told Variety during Ventana Sur.

In order for a Netflix title to “be successful abroad, it first has to have an impact in its own country,” Ramos also observed.

Senna can expect to have a huge impact n Brazil. For Gullane, “Other Formula One World Champions were heroes of their sport, Senna was bigger, a hero of a nation, Brazil’s biggest hero ever, a figure who unites Brazil, an example for new generations that you must believe in what you were made to do.”

Though born into a wealthy São Paulo family, his dad buying him his first go-carts, Senna also taps into a contempo zeitgeist.

Like the heist gang in “La Casa de Papel,” he challenged the establishment, “here the global colossuses of Formula One, its most powerful European figures,” says Gullane, embodied in Jean-Marie Balestre, the French president of FIA, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, Formula One’s governing body, a despot, whom Senna questioned, confronted and ridiculed, and who suspended Senna, costing him a World Championship.

Senna’s life also raises a huge question, Gullane argues: “How could a thin, shy, timid guy become a driver of such towering charisma and daring?” One explanation, given by Ron Dennis, the former boss of the McLaren Group, is “intellect” – his ability to think faster at extraordinary speeds, his calculated ruthlessness. Another may turn on Senna’s defining obsession with racing which he took to near mystical levels. “The harder I push, the more I find within myself. I am always looking for the next step, a different world to go into,” he once said.

All of which makes for a large, complex, character-driven series, which can also bring to the table Gullane itself.

Founded by brothers Caio and Fabiano Gullane in 1996, and first operating out of the back of a van, it is now making movies and series of larger ambition than any other independent production house in Brazil.

At Ventana Sur’s Animation strand, it will showcase as a work in progress “Noah’s Ark,” about two mice stowaways on the vessel, set to the lyrics and songs of Brazilian Bossa Nova greats Vinicius de Moraes, on whose children’s book the series in based, and Tom Jobim, creators of “The Girl From Ipanema.”

A co-production with “The Motorcycle Diaries” director Walter Salles at Videofilmes, Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP, and leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies, “Noah’s Ark” is most probably the biggest-budgeted Latin American movie at Ventana Sur.

Gullane has just won a best comedy International Emmy for Netflix’s “Nobody’s Looking,” from Daniel Rezende, a comedy-drama about a rookie guardian angel who challenges the system.

The powerhouse also co-produced, with HB Filmes and Globo Filmes, Brazil’s International Feature Film Oscar entry, “Babenco – Tell Me When I Die,” an intricately crafted love letter to both the great and gracious Argentine filmmaker, director of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and the Gullane-produced “Carandiru,” and to filmmaking itself, directed by a strong new female voice, Bárbara Paz.

At Ventana Sur’s Copia Final pix-in-post section, Gullane is also showcasing Sergio Machado’s feature “Anaira,” a study of the foibles and failures of manhood, as two brothers compete for the same object of desire, the woman of the movie’s title.

Such a powerful and broad lineup implies in itself a new business model for an OTT age. Gullane operates three production arms, for cinema, TV and streaming platforms.

“It’s in producing the right content for the right format, to the highest quality, and putting together the best talents for each and every individual project where we feel most comfortable in our work,” Gullane says.

Profits from streaming platform production can finance TV or film work where Gullane can retain at least part IP, building corporate asset value, Gullane argues.

“Senna” and “Nobody’s Looking” are Netflix releases. Gullane is looking for a sales agent for “Anaira,” he says. “Noah’s Ark’s” sales agent, Edward Noeltner’s Cinema Management Group, has painstakingly pre-sold the animated feature territory-by-territory, racking up seven-figure dollar sales.

It’s a diversified, big slate business model which only the biggest companies in Brazil can practice, Gullane recognizes; the costs of merely maintaining a backroom to service legal and paperwork with platforms is substantial.

In contrast, Brazil’s film industry, like that of Latin America at large, is hugely fragmented, made up of valiant small production houses making auteur-driven movies, ever more frequently from exciting new female voices. These depend, however, on central government funding which has slowed dramatically under President Jair Bolsonaro.

In such a context, Gullane can see two ways forward for small companies: Association with Brazil’s bigger independent players to produce for platforms; Funding from regions or cities which still offer state film support, led by São Paulo City’s Spcine, but including Pernambuco, Caerá and Recife.

“Spcine has been crucial for Brazilian productions to continue to advance; many many productions were only made possible in this time of crisis and freeze of federal funds due to the local support offered by Spcine,” Gullane said.

Never has state financing in Brazil been so limited at a time of such production opportunity.

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