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Colombian TV Soap Operas Resume Production Post-Pandemic Shutdown

Telenovelas resume production in Colombia.   -  
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Lynne Sladky/AP


Telenovelas Production Back in Action in Colombia

Soap opera television production in Latin America is being revived in one of the continent’s largest industry references Colombia after the onset of the covid-19 pandemic shut down filming.

'Cafe,' a remake of the 90s Colombian classic 'Café con aroma de mujer' written by Fernando Gaitán, is being shot in Chinchiná, Caldas — with coronavirus-prevention measures such as asepsis, covid-19 tests, restricted seating, mask-wearing and anti-fluid suits put in place and all against tight production budgets in light of the health crisis.

A far cry from the romance depicted on screen.

Katherine Velez, an actor on the project seems resigned, "Whoever you hug you hug, and if the virus gets you, then oh well, because it's our job, I don't know, if we were astronauts we would have other distances, but we are actors who work with emotions, the body, the voice."

Navigating a Pandemic While Filming

Social distancing has been challenging for not only actors but make-up artists and costume designers who depend on physical proximity to do their jobs. As such the whole team is required to take a PCR test on Mondays.

Mauricio Cruz, the TV director, is serious about upholding sanitary measures while still getting good work done.

He explains, "For example, yesterday we were going to do promotions and there was a scene with a kiss, but the tests were done the day before, so we were very sure, and being here allowed us to be very concentrated, isolated from where the infection is, we are in the field outdoors, and all of us who are here are healthy and this is fundamental for everything to flow in an easy way for everyone."

Industry Costs, Budgets and Losses

The government-ordered lockdown in late March forced RCN and its competitor Caracol to stop 38 productions, according to the National Media Association — with many of the 270 employees of ‘Café’ on set when the news broke and logistical costs being multiplied by the pandemic's effects.

Yalile Giordanelli, an executive producer of the project, recalls how the unexpected events played out, "Just 10 days before the start of the shoot we entered quarantine for almost six months, so it delayed the start of shooting and the way of doing it."

The channel apparently kept its contract during the months of inactivity — although with a reduced salary. Unideal but still better than situations of several other Colombians in artistic fields who did not meet the same fate.

According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics, the arts and entertainment sector was among the hardest hit in Colombia by the pandemic with around 200,000 jobs lost between October 2019 and the same month in 2020.

Colombian Storytelling Post-Pandemic

In the case of television soap opera production, the virus not only disrupted revenues and schedules but also crept into the storytelling as writers of 'Café' had to rework the scenes of parties and large social events to accommodate small family gatherings within coronavirus guidelines.

The new version of the old classic, in the words of its producer, "a much more collected, intimate story" in spite of the unprecedented difficult situation in which it was filmed.

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