“The history of sound is always parallel to history,” says Martín Hernández, a Mexican sound producer who has twice been nominated for an Oscar for his work in Alejandro González Iñárritu films: Birdman (2014) Y The Revenant (2015). Hernández talks to EL PAÍS while manipulating the sound of an iconic scene from Birdman in which Michael Keaton He walks anxiously down the aisles at a Broadway theater, before committing suicide in front of the public. “Alejandro wanted thunder to sound like theater in the background first, but then to become very real,” says Hernández, showing the scene in the corridors with and without the stormy sound that accompanies Keaton’s despair. He does it like the pilot of an airplane, not in front of the sky, but with dozens of buttons in one of six new Dolby Atmos rooms that Hernández has just designed to his liking. “They are not a requirement” to make movies or series, says Hernández regarding these types of exquisite rooms for sound production. “But they are better at competing globally.”
These six new sound rooms are part of the bet made by the film and television producer Epigmenio Ibarra –CEO of Argos Media Group and director of the Gabriel García Márquez studios– to improve Mexican film production. “We want that when the public sees the trailer of a series, it looks spectacular, that it sounds like any North American or English production”, says Ibarra.
On Wednesday morning, Ibarra will inaugurate the six sound rooms, but also a giant virtual production set in which an entire movie with special effects could be made. “This is the second completely virtual set in Latin America, and the first in Mexico,” Franz A. Novotny, special effects supervisor in the new room, tells EL PAÍS. In addition, Ibarra opens an acting school, directed by actress Karina Gidi, and a theater. At the inauguration there will be several important officials – the Head of Government of Mexico City Claudia Sheinbaum, the Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier, and the Secretary of Culture Alejandra Frausto – and of the world of the platforms of streaming, like Francisco Ramos, vice president of Netflix. “We made an effort to call for a meeting between the film industry and the Government,” says Ibarra.
Towards the middle of last year, in the midst of the economic crisis that the pandemic generated, the Mexican film industry spoke of a dangerous restructuring. The Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador had decided to end several trusts that were key for decades to promote the industry, such as Fidecine (Fund for Investment and Film Stimuli) and Foprocine (Fund for Quality Film Production). “A country without cinema is a blind country,” González Iñarritu said at an event celebrating 20 years of Love Dogs.
Support for Mexican cinema in these lean times has been scarce, and that is why financial support for Ibarra’s project –which is close to López Obrador– have seen each other with suspicion. In March of this year, latinus He said that the production company directed Argos had received a loan for 150 million pesos from the Government through Bancomext, for the production of series and films. A loan that was granted only months after the pandemic started, when many small businesses were trying to survive the crisis with little or no aid.
“It was a loan, it was not a personal loan, nor was it a gift,” Ibarra tells EL PAÍS, adding that his is only one of more than 5,000 that the Government granted to companies like Argos at that time. “We are not hyper-leveraged, it is not true,” he says. Ibarra says that the presence of officials at Wednesday’s event is more “because we want the Mexican State to perceive, with all its strength, the emerging industry. Who were the visible ones in the audiovisual industry until recently? Only Televisa and TV Azteca. So it is very good that the State has relations with us and considers us as a clear actor in the economy ”.
Ibarra founded the Gabriel García Márquez studios in 2016 – the Colombian writer was a friend of Ibarra and the name of the studios is a tribute. Although all kinds of audiovisuals are produced there, such as commercials, they have made several famous series on television platforms. streaming that have given them the impetus they needed to distance themselves from networks such as Televisa or TV Azteca. Under Hernández’s supervision, they recently worked on Bread and Circus, by Diego Luna, and now they are working on the second season of the Netflix series Dark desire. The first season was seen in 35 million homes around the world. “We have an extraordinary opportunity right now, because the platforms open us to 195 countries in a matter of hours,” says Ibarra.
More than the presence or support of the Government, producers like Argos are finding a huge financing door in the promises that these platforms have made. streaming in Mexico. Netflix, the most important, recently opened its offices in the country promising to invest 300 million dollars this year to make an average of 50 national and international productions. According to Forbes magazine, the platform invested 200 million dollars in 2020, and Mexico has become one of the “most important markets for the company”.
“There is a strange ‘democracy’ on the platforms of streaming”Says Martín Hernández, the sound producer. Next to a production that takes years is one that takes a few weeks; next to one that costs 200 million dollars is one that costs two million. “Is that going to help us all do our job well or not?” That, it seems, is what I would like to see. Hernández explains that, by 2018, although sound production such as that allowed by Dolby Atmos theaters had become central in the cinema, the same was not happening with series production. With the intention that Mexico will improve its sound production, in cinema and series, he proposed to Ibarra this expensive project that opens this Wednesday. “You can’t get to Acapulco with half the tank,” he says metaphorically to explain the cost required to reach excellence in sound. If the film industry moved to Netflix, the Mexican film industry also has to bring the best of its production to the world of streaming to be noticed in that visual democracy.
In the sound room, Hernández shows an image of the Netflix series Dark desire, in which two characters are seen in the middle of a terrible storm whose sound floods space. “The rain, like the air, has no sound”, clarifies Hernández, “what sounds now are the surfaces that both touch.” The history of sound is always parallel to history, a phrase so true for Birdman, to Dark desire, or for the history of the cinema of Mexico in 2021.
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