Directing Without Shame: Bringing HIV-Focused Telenovela Sin Vergüenza to Life
An Interview With Series Director Paco Farias
January 25, 2013
Family secrets ... betrayed trust ... condom usage?
The classic, persistent themes of Spanish-language soap operas, also known as telenovelas, get a refreshing, enthralling update in Sin Vergüenza (Without Shame), the new telenovela that is taking the Internet by storm. Presented in English as well as Spanish, and imagined and realized by California's vast AltaMed health care network, the aim of the show is to "educate without being educational." The project is a unique endeavor -- it combines a fresh narrative format with the ability to tackle real-world issues such as HIV, stigma, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) issues, family issues, infidelity, shame, aging, dating and more.
Before you read, make sure to watch Episode 2 of Sin Vergüenza. Stay tuned for two more episodes in the coming weeks -- each accompanied by a conversation with key people involved in the production!
In the second interview in this four-part series, TheBody.com sat down with the director of Sin Vergüenza, Paco Farias. A longtime watcher and admirer of telenovelas, Farias knew he had to pay homage to the format while updating it for a modern audience. In this interview, he talks about the lengths to which the actors went to perform the scenes in English and Spanish; the privilege of being a Latino director taking the helm of this unique project; and his favorite scenes to shoot throughout the process.
Can you talk a little bit about how you became a director?
I started out as an actor first. In the late part of 1999, I came to Los Angeles to try acting out here. I got a job as an assistant to a director on a DVD series. From there, I started to work very closely in post-production and learned how to edit. That slowly became my main source of income instead of acting, and I became an editor. About five or six years ago, I started to do short films with a friend of mine, Douglas Horn, who is a very talented writer, director and filmmaker. I then started directing my own short films. That's kind of what led to this job offer -- my very first directing gig.
Who approached you to direct Sin Vergüenza?
For the past year, I've been working with Ben Odell. Ben is the head of production at Pantelion Films [the first major Latino-focused Hollywood studio]. I've been writing for him for over a year now, along with my writing partner, Jennifer Stetson, who actually did help me out with Sin Vergüenza. Ben knows that I wanted to direct features. The director that was hired for Sin Vergüenza had to back out because of a conflict, so the producers from AltaMed were scrambling at the last minute to find someone. They asked Ben if he could recommend someone, and Ben recommended me, and that's how I got the job. I had to interview with them, but that's how I got in the door.
It was interesting because this was new territory for them. Up until then, AltaMed had done mostly instructional videos. They were venturing out into a narrative world, and they kind of wanted to get my take on what the novela should be like. What I said to them was, because of the subject matter, this project had to be treated with panache, but with a little more respect.
When people think of telenovelas, there are certain preconceptions that come with that. One of things that pops first into my mind when I think of the older telenovelas is this hyperbolic acting, speaking and tone that's very popular within the genre. That's changing. I watched a lot of telenovelas for research, and I think it's a lot more subtle these days, even though the heightened drama is still there -- I don't think that's ever going to go away. I said to them, "I think that's kind of what we want to shoot for. I think we want it to be a little more cinematic and have a high level of production value, because with the subject matter, if there's any sense of us being flippant or light or sort of making fun of it, then I think that works against us." They completely agreed, and that's what we set out to do.
You know, my mother called me after watching it and said, "I like it a lot, but it doesn't feel like a telenovela." And I said, "Well, that's good; that's what we were shooting for."
You want to pay tribute to the format and use the format, but still do something fresh and new.
Why do you think that the telenovela format is such a great platform to tell the story? What about the genre works for this particular story?
All of the characters in the telenovela were based on actual people, actual cases, that the producers and story creators had come across in their work. These are heightened realities. The experiences that these people are going through in real life are so heightened that it can feel like a soap opera -- incredibly emotional, and sad. Those are all elements that I'm familiar with in telenovelas. It seemed to be a good fit.
When you were offered this project, what made you want to take it on? What did you see in it that was appealing to you?
I thought the message was great, as far as reaching an underserved population. According to the producers and the data, as Latinos, we are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. I think that may be because of our culture, and the way we handle subjects that are scandalous or taboo: We try to ignore them, and hopefully, they'll go away.
That that's the way it was in my household growing up. If there was something borderline scandalous, you just didn't talk about it. And if somebody tried to bring it up, it was "Oh, I don't want to talk about that. We're not going to talk about it." I can only speak from my own experience, but there's a heavy religious aspect to the Latino community. There's that sort of "properness" that makes you just not talk about sex or sexuality. It's like being in Catholic school. Everybody's aware of sex, but nobody acknowledges it for fear that they would have to have a discussion about it. It's ignored. And that's part of the problem. I thought Sin Vergüenza was a wonderful out-of-the-box idea for addressing that problem. And, I really liked the people that were putting it together.
My two biggest reasons for taking on this project were the subject matter and the people I was going to get to work with. I sat down with the story creators, Natalie Sanchez and Hilda Sandoval; we got together over dinner and just started talking. These two extraordinary women talked about all these people that they had met, and come across, and how they wanted to reach out to the Latino community and this was their idea. From that premise, from that point on, I was on board. And, once I got to work with the casting director, Blanca Valdez, again, and started to assemble the cast, I just got more and more excited, because I was going to get to work with so many wonderful actors.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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