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Mari Urdaneta

Latinos are a powerhouse

Mari Urdaneta launched her production company 200% Media this year to create content from the perspective that US Hispanics are «100% Latino and 100% American.» She talks about her beginnings in the content industry and her new projects, such as the reality contest show with Tomorrowland Brazil and Eccholine, the series Maradona: Sueño Bendito she recalls as a very satisfying project to develop, and how the streaming industry was the first to bet on the fact that audiences are more sophisticated than what people believed.

PRODU: As a content producer and developer, how has the US Hispanic market developed in the last five years?

“The main change I’ve observed is that we now better understand what a showrunner and writer should bring to the table. We’re seeing more writer’s rooms instead of one writer for an entire show and elevated production values. You see the change in the stories and our approach to production and storytelling. We’re getting more bold. Though there are still a lot of genres where we need to be represented, I am happy to see more experimentation being done in different styles like in The Cage, an excellent SciFi movie from Venezuela. These are stories we normally wouldn’t have been able to do previously because we weren’t able to sell them, as we mostly focused on unscripted entertainment or novelas. We’ve been able to learn so much from other markets around us and are incorporating those new ways of telling our Latin-driven stories, and those stories are transcending language and countries to be appreciated by new audiences all over the world.

Another change is the American market is looking to cross-pollinate more, and together, we have been creating very original ideas that are more representative of what the world is today. I know that development will only continue, but I’d love to see us push even further in genres like periodic historical pieces told through humor or from the female lens as shows like The Great do. Adult animation is another area I’m sure we’ll explore more in the coming years, as long as we continue making quality content.”

PRODU: How did you start in this industry?

“I knew I wanted to work in the industry since I was 13! Growing up with Orlando Urdaneta as my father, I often visited the set of Almorzando con Orlando during my summer vacation. The showrunner, Javier Ollarves, let me PA during those summers and was responsible for clipping out news stories of the day they would use for the show. It was a small task, but it meant the world to me and fueled my passion for working in production.

As I got older, I PA’d for Fátima Goncalvez and Abraham Pulido until Abram put me on to a producer role for Univision’s Al Desnudo, Concierto Intimidad, and En Persona. I eventually worked through the ranks to showrun two of those. That allowed me to work on shows like Protagonistas, the first reality show for the US Hispanic. I was later working with Cristina Palacio and Daniel Gutman from Promofilm; at the time, Gutman allowed me to create a show for mun2, which was relaunched at the time, called Full Access. At the beginning of Reggaeton’s takeover, we launched The Roof for mun2, and I got to showrun it. It was an incredible music show with videos, performances, and interviews that aired two hours live every weekday! I gained a lot of experience from that show,  which shaped me into the producer I am today.

Soon after, I met Luis Balaguer and Melissa Escobar at LatinWE.  Balaguer became a huge mentor for me in that he understood early on that Latinos deserved to have our stories told in the general market and, that even if it meant breaking down doors in Hollywood, we would get our place at the table. I’ve been working towards that sentiment ever since.”

PRODU: Which recent projects are you working on that you can mention?

“We are developing a huge reality competition show with Tomorrowland Brazil and Eccholine. Tomorrowland is one of the biggest music festivals in the world, so it’s an honor to collaborate with them in doing a reality show that celebrates music, food, travel, and more. It’s a spiritual venture where competitors will hitchhike throughout South America for the chance to enter the iconic Tomorrowland Brazil, which sold out in less than 24 hours. Bibiana Jiménez is showrunning and developing it with Xianelly Guzmán, also at 200% Media. Jiménez has worked on a lot of unscripted shows like Peking Express, Survivor, Masterchef, and most recently with us, Calle y Poché: Sin Etiquetas, so we know the show will be something special with her at the helm, Guzmán for creative, and Eccholine and Tomorrowland as fantastic partners.

There are a lot of projects we can’t discuss and are at a halt due to the WGA and SAG strikes, but once an agreement has been reached, we will have a lot of fun projects to show you!”

PRODU: What do you feel needs to improve or change for the industry and Hispanic talent to raise their position?

“While I am constantly learning new things and continuing to grow, I do believe something that could improve for the industry and Hispanic talent to raise their position is unity. As a community, we’ve always had to fight for ourselves and find our way, but we need to push each other up and be each other’s hype man. It’s easy to slip into the thought of ‘who’s going to be the lucky Latin talent that will be the next big thing in Hollywood?’ but we can live in a world where we all get the recognition we deserve. The biggest issue to overcome is to stop looking at each other as competition begins rooting for each other and collaborating. Could you imagine the powerhouse we’d be all banding together? We’d be unstoppable!.”

PRODU: In your opinion, what have been the effects of the streaming industry on content production?

“In my opinion, the streaming industry was the first to bet on the fact that audiences were more sophisticated than people were giving them credit for. That viewers were more versatile and open to new formats as long as they were of good quality. Streamers took the gamble on directors, writers, and showrunners, creating these projects, giving us the courage to experiment with new ideas.

It changed the way our stories became important. It’s so surreal seeing movies like 1985 or shows like Club de Cuervos, where you recognize the true story as a local, but the platforms help make them universal. Our stories have a place, and people worldwide will be enthralled, dumbfounded, and in love with who we are. That opens the door to what we see when we look at the landscape of content being created by us. Overall, it has allowed us to grow creatively and for our talent to have more opportunities to do different things. I remember, back in the day, talent used to vent to me, wishing they could experiment with different characters but not having the opportunities. Streaming has given them that opportunity.”

PRODU: Which content you have developed gives you more satisfaction and why?

“Personally, Maradona: Sueño Bendito was a very satisfying project to develop. To hear that legendary Diego Maradona wanted to talk to me was the surprise of a lifetime! I originally was not a fan of Maradona as a person, but through the process of working with him and getting an intimate peak into his life that I don’t take for granted, I grew close to him. He showed me that he was a very loyal person. Even if you didn’t agree with what he was loyal to, he was loyal through and through!

I’m very proud of the positive impact Calle y Poché: Sin Etiquetas has had on the LGBTQ+ and Latino community, and to be able to work with an incredible crew at Prime Video and Miracol is always a joy.

Another project I’m so proud of is our Roku cooking competition show, Batalla en Abuela’s Kitchen, because our development executive at 200% Media, Xianelly Guzmán, came up with the idea. She is an example of what I’d want for all of us. I was fortunate enough to have mentors like Abram Pulido or Luis Balaguer, who took chances on me and gave me the tools I needed to run with an idea I had. I’m so glad I’ve been able to be that for Xianelly since I first met her when she was a college student. We were asked to pitch a family-friendly show and she came up with this great, smart, fun format! This show comes out of what happens when you are smart enough to realize you don’t know it all and are willing to give younger people the space and resources to grow and create with you.”

PRODU: What relevant trends within the industry do you currently observe?

“The domestic market is looking at us as a viable audience and business, and we’ve seen them wanting to collaborate more. There’s a learning curve on both sides, but I love that now we are slowly becoming one big industry. I love the trend of seeing the domestic market be more interested in our market and being good allies and partners to us. Our sandbox is getting big enough that we can all play together!

I also really love that we’re back to binge-watching 60-episode melodramas. The novela is getting better production value and has gripping storylines like Señora Acero or No te Puedes Esconder. These are binge-worthy shows people are looking to consume on the streaming platforms. With that, platforms have seen how big of an audience there is for this and are more willing to tell different US Hispanic stories (or as we like to say ‘200%er’ stories) from perspectives that they are 100% Latino and 100% American.

PRODU: What is your forecast for the entertainment industry in Spanish or oriented to the US Hispanic market?

“I believe the US Hispanic industry will see more unscripted shows, docu-follows, competitions, talk shows, and platforms like ViX as they make themselves the home of content you won’t necessarily see on network television, but will get consumed in Spanish from our best creatives and talent. We’ll see a US Hispanic market that flourishes.

I’d love to see a reflection of the new, younger audience in the traditional networks. We’re all more proud than ever to be Latino, so we need network programming that can serve different generations, countries, and backgrounds. It will speak to every Latino to some degree and be all-inclusive. I also love the trend of Norteño/Tejano and Urbano-type artists, and I think a lot of cool content will come out of that!”