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“Christian fiction? We do not need proselytising stories”

Curro Royo is a scriptwriter with over 30 years of experience in TV series such as Spain's popular Cuéntame como pasó. In an interview, he talks about his Christian faith and his passion for stories.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus MADRID 23 DE OCTUBRE DE 2023 12:31 h
Scriptwriter Curro Royo, in a filming set of the popular Spanish TV series Cuéntame cómo pasó. / Photo: Courtesy Curro Royo.

When I was a child, Thursday nights at home were all about the series Cuéntame cómo pasó (Tell me how it happened), in prime time on Spain's national television. My parents and I followed the series until almost when I started university. The series would last for 13 more years.

In September 2023, the last season of what has been one of the longest-running productions in the history of Spanish television started.

Curro Royo has been one of the scriptwriters of the series, from season 8 to 18. In this last season, he has written Episode 3. “I was there for ten years and then I left to do other things. When the last season got underway, the series' script coordinator invited me to write”, he told Spanish news website Protestante Digital.

A scriptwriter with 31 years of experience, Royo is also co-director of the Master's degree in scriptwriting at the Carlos III University (Madrid).

Royo shared in this interview about a professional career in which he has also found space to speak honestly about his Christian faith.

[photo_footer] Curro Royo, with the red jacket, during the recording of an episode. / Courtesy Pilar Cortés Fotografía. [/photo_footer]

Question. What are your feelings now that Cuéntame como pasó is soon over?

Answer. This is the most important television series of all that have been produced in Spain, because of its social relevance.

The series has followed the evolution of our society in Spain in the last decades. We have made a titanic effort to delve into our recent past and document it reliably. I think we have managed to connect with Spanish society because the story has an enormous weight of truth and people have identified with the characters and the circumstances.

I am sad that it is ending, and on the other hand, I am happy that it has the ending. The good closure that the story deserves. I was on the last day of filming and it was a very emotional moment.

Q. Why has it lasted so long?

A. Television works according to the most savage capitalist logic that exists, which is that if something doesn't work, it disappears. If Cuéntame has continued all these years, it is because it has managed to win the trust of the audience. It has been affected by the competition of junk television, but managed to keep the quality and the connection with the audience.

And not just the older audience. For example, my daughter discovered it on Prime Video and watched it straight away. Many series now get a second life on these digital platforms.

Q. Do you agree with the idea that Cuéntame cómo pasó reflects the historical journey of Spain in recent decades?

A. We have fictionalised reality. We have brought Spaniards closer to their own reality through characters who somehow embodied the changes they witnessed.

Spain went from being a dictatorship to a democracy with all the consequences of the transition, all the violence. and all the changes in moral paradigms, such as the definition of family.

Every season, before we started writing, we watched the advertisements, the television, the films, listened to the music of the specific historical moment we were about to represent.

Q. Many Spaniards have felt an identification with one or another character in the series.

A. They are all wonderful, but for me the most paradigmatic of the evolution of the series has been Mercedes, the mother of the family.

When we started the series [Season 1 is set in the year 1968], Mercedes couldn't have a bank account or buy or sell without her husband's permission. Mercedes' journey has run alongside the story of emancipation and the awareness of their rights, and how they have exercised them.

Just as Antonio's story is the story of a father who wants his children to have what he did not have. This was the key driving force of cultural development in Spain.

Q. As a scriptwriter, on what other projects are you working now?

A. We are currently shooting the first season of Like Water for Chocolate, an HBO Max series, produced by a Mexican company and two American companies, one of which is Salma Hayek's company.

The series is based on the novel by Laura Esquivel. Many people remember it from a film made in the 90s by Alfonso Arau. I saw that film back then in my home city, Zaragoza, and I left the theatre floating. If they had told me at that time that I would one day write the series, I would have really freaked out.

Post-production is also finishing on a crime series I've written called One Life Less in the Canary Islands. I have done other series like that.

I have also worked on the historical genre. For example, I did a series about the conqueror Hernán Cortés (title Hernán) with actor Oscar Jaenada, that was a co-production between Spain and Mexico. It was a huge project.

[photo_footer] In addition to Cuéntame cómo pasó, Royo has also worked on other projects, such as Hernán and Desaparecidos. / Courtesy of Curro Royo. [/photo_footer]

Q. After the emergence of streaming platforms, some people said that the days of fiction content on television were over. How do you see the situation?

A. We have to reinvent free-to-air television. What has really changed are the consumer models. You no longer wait for the weekly date to see the episode of your favourite series. Now the viewer takes control, and decides what TV they want to watch and when they want to watch it.

Cuéntame cómo pasó has a second life on Prime Video. Or La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), the great success of Spanish TV channel Antena 3, jumped to Netflix to become a global success.

This change will also affect the amount of fiction that general television channels can finance and programme. They are now in a period of transition or of crisis, we don't really know. But they are still betting on fiction and in some cases, it is working very well.

Q. This new scenario must have impacted your work as a scriptwriter.

A. We have had more work than ever before. In fact, the market is now in a period of adjustment, after the bursting of what many call the digital bubble.

Now comes the time to find out whether this global strategy of a huge investment in content, in search of quantitative subscriber growth, is sustainable. Or whether the time has come to produce fewer series with higher quality. Or to introduce models inherited from the old television in the streaming platforms, such as commercials or live sports.

Overall, it seems that the platforms are going to end up reinventing television.

Q. The “idiot box”, “trash TV”, you have heard these definitions. How to write and make good television?

A. As in everything, there is good and bad stuff. But, if the arrival of the platforms has shown anything, it is that television fiction is on the same level of quality as any other content, such as cinema. In fact, if there is one good thing about television series, it is that we have a lot of time to tell many stories.

The Sopranos, The Wire, Succession or Game of Thrones are superior to many cinema films. Just as in cinema there have always been wonderful art and also rubbish.

Television fiction has gained much in the quality and dignity of its products.

Q. Scriptwriters don't appear on screen but they are behind every word and every sentence that the characters say. How does the job work?

A. The scriptwriter is the real creator. Before, there is only a blank page. When he finishes his work, there is a story, characters, conflicts, etc.

It is also a group work. The rest of the colleagues in the project make efforts to finance it, post-produce it, etc. But they work interpreting a work that has been previously created by the scriptwriters. So we claim that we are the real creators.

Out of pure interest and I think also because of my mother's inheritance, who was very unionist, I have been very involved in the trade union and now in the screenwriters' management body, so I am very up to date with our fights for our rights. I think that, little by little, the central role we have in the business and in creation is being recognised.

[photo_footer] Royo has also devoted himself to teaching, co-directing, among other activities, the Master's Degree in Scriptwriting at the Carlos III University / Courtesy of Curro Royo. [/photo_footer]

For example, the news of the last American screenwriters' strike has been all over the world and it has helped us to give visibility to many issues that we share with them, such as the rise of Artificial Intelligence.

It is true that we are not known to the general public. I have asked my friends about the names of actors and they recognised many of them. Of directors? Some. And of scriptwriters none, but that doesn't mean we can't point to the central role we have.

I work in what I love. I deeply love my work and my profession even though I have to do it in the midst of an industry that is very complicated. It is a very creative job and you are constantly in contact with people who challenge you, this is fascinating.

Q. Was being a scriptwriter a dream of childhood?

A. I'm what people in Madrid call “a kid from the provinces”. I studied history in Zaragoza and for me, being a scriptwriter was like someone telling me I was going to be an astronaut.

At first I had a lot of doubts. Suddenly it was like a kind of fascination that seemed to come true. From then on, I kept studying and settled in the industry.

The difficult thing in this job, as in many others, is not to get in but to stay. And I can say that I have been feeding my family with this job for 31 years and, thank God, I have a long way to go.

At the same time, I think I have the so called “intruder syndrome”: the feeling that you have crashed a party to which you were not invited and that the day will come when they discover you and tell you that you do not belong here.

Sometimes I get hired to write a script and I think they are going to realise that I have been deceiving them all these years, pretending to be a scriptwriter.

Something that my wife and I have tried to teach our three children is the importance of finding out what it is that you are passionate about and what you want to do.

Q. Is the world of scriptwriting what you imagined it would be like?

A. No, not at all. I gradually discovered it as I went along, and it's a field that changes at a tremendous speed. You have to be surfing the wave all the time.

[photo_footer] Celebrating an award. / Courtesy of Curro Royo. [/photo_footer]

Q. Some people may find it strange to be able to reconcile some jobs with the Christian faith. What has it been like to reconcile your day-to-day work with your faith?

A. If you have a problem with television, it's very easy: just don't turn it on. If someone wants to renounce this kind of pleasure, that's their problem. Or maybe it's because their faith is very weak and their conscience is very sensitive.

I have lived my faith in a very natural way. Many of my colleagues know that I am a believer.

Being a scriptwriter means that when you are in a Writers Room, you end up undressing yourself, figuratively speaking, because we write based on our experiences.

What we seek is to put human experience on a page, understanding that it exposes you as you are, and that realities of your own life can end up seeping into the characters you write about.

I haven't seen this job as being much more belligerent with the Christian faith than it might be with law or healthcare, the profesison of my wife.

Q. Do we need Christians creating fiction?

A. We need good stories, whoever they come from. Good stories have that depth of truth and human experience that we all need.

Fiction is the great tool we have to tell stories and pass on experiences to each other. When we see the main characters of a series facing a conflict, it activates those mechanisms of identification in us.

This is a very tough and competitive profession, of which more and more people want to be a part. I have seen many talented and brilliant people who have not stayed. Thank God, many others have.

Apart from being something that requires a lot of vocation, it also requires a lot of training. And, despite all that, the only way to learn to write is by writing.

Q. What do you think about Christian fiction?

A. We do not need proselytising stories. I don't know if there are people who have this fantasy that you can write and make films that could transmit the Christian message.

I insist that what you can do is tell your experience in an honest way. It is not by chance that the Bible is made up of stories, some of them very raw, in which the most shameful details of the characters' lives are not hidden from us.

It is because the Bible treats human beings as they are, with all the good and bad that they have, and exposes them as they are.

It is curious that God decided to communicate with us many times through biopics, through stories. And Jesus taught through parables, which makes me think again about the power of fiction.

There is really no story, even if it is supported by I don't know what movement or church, that is going to do miracles.

The only way people can come to question whether God exists is with an honest and personal reading of God's Word. Anything else is trying to fix something that has worked perfectly well for centuries.

Q. Recommend us some series that you have enjoyed.

A. I have really enjoyed the Apple TV series lately. They have a very funny and very human series called Ted Lasso, which is about an American football coach who is hired to coach a football team in England. It is one of those series in which you can end many episodes with a tear in your eye and which talks about the goodness of human beings.

From the same platform I also like For All Mankind, which is a dystopia about what would have happened if the Russians had landed on the moon first instead of the Americans. It has some fabulous characters. There's also The Umbrella Academy, which is about people with superpowers.

Lately I have been exploring the universe of anime, which is an industry with a very mature narrative, which goes far beyond comic book escapism. Demon Slayer on Netflix is fabulous.





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