The coming together of the creative brains behind two of Netflix’s biggest international hits, The Crown and Money Heist, certainly sounds like an eye-catching proposition on paper. For Netflix, it was irresistible.
Left Bank Pictures boss Andy Harries and Vancouver Media’s Álex Pina flew into LA in February 2018 to sell their vision for a sun-soaked, sepia-toned saga, set in the breathtaking climes of the Balearic Islands.
Netflix was their first stop, with their meeting coming just weeks after Money Heist had taken off like a rocket on the streaming service. “They basically bought it in the room,” Harries recalls.
Fast-forward more than two years and Netflix is dropping White Lines this Friday, a 10-part series that tells the story of a British Ibiza DJ who is brutally murdered in the 1990s and his sister’s investigation into his death 20 years on.
Not only is the drama set across two different periods in time, it also brings together two different countries in a riot of color and sound. Harries says it is one of his proudest achievements in his decades of making top TV drama.
“It’s a real achievement to have brought these two companies together. It demonstrates that you can make shows for the Spanish and English speaking audiences without any compromises,” he explains.
The initial spark for the show was Narcos. Netflix’s Pablo Escobar drama stoked Harries’ ambition to create a series that straddled Britain and Ibiza — the Left Bank Pictures chief’s homeland and his frequent holiday destination.
The folklore of English DJs making pilgrimages to the Spanish island in the 1990s resonated with Harries, as did Ibiza’s modernization and its more recent associations with crime and corruption.
Harries wanted a Spanish writer to bring this vision to life and a Left Bank staffer pointed him towards Pina’s early work including Locked Up, which was shown by Channel 4 in the UK. “I could tell immediately that he was right up there as one of the greats,” he remembers. Soon after, Harries was in Madrid.
Pina was a little dubious about the project initially, believing that it could resemble a complicated “anthropological experiment.” But these concerns were quickly vanquished by creative conversations and “in the end, it became very easy,” he says. Harries adds: “We were fired up with all this enthusiasm about collaborating together.”
They gathered a writers’ room of five Spanish writers and one bilingual English writer. Pina would then write through the scripts and finally, the English scribe translated the relevant dialogue, knowing the nuances of the show.
“I hope what people feel when they watch the show is it sits properly. The Spanish are speaking proper colloquial Spanish in their natural rhythms and the English is perfectly natural too,” Harries says.
White Lines had a Spanish and English casting director, giving the piece an ensemble feel with actors including Daniel Mays and Laura Haddock representing the Brits, and the Spanish cast including Belén López and Juan Diego Botto. Directors and DOPs also represented both nations. Harries likens it to a diplomatic envoy.
“This was [filmed] against the background of Brexit. We felt we were the last attempt to demonstrate that Britain should be a part of Europe,” he laughs.
The shoot wrapped in October and although some of the post-production needed to be completed remotely, White Lines largely escaped the coronavirus pandemic. Its arrival feels timely, with its sweeping, sun-kissed scenes and thronging score likely to spirit people away from their sofas in lockdown.
“It’s like a window to oxygen,” says Pina. Harries agrees: “Shows full of sunshine, full of light, full of beautiful landscapes are always important. This is a fantastic time [to be launching]. People can’t go to the Balearic Islands right now and this is the next best thing.”
If the show does the business for Netflix, it will be back — Harries says it was originally conceived as a three-series returner. It’s got all the right ingredients, and he and Pina have got form when it comes to Netflix hits, although the Left Bank boss jokes that Money Heist “knocked The Crown off the top” of the streamer’s charts.
Since then, the crime drama has gone stratospheric, with Season 4 being watched by 65M households in 30 days. Pina calls it a “miracle” that proves that foreign writers can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans. Season 5 is coming, but Pina could not confirm any further series because “Netflix will put a bomb in my house.”
Bomb or no bomb, Harries is certain that only a streamer would be back the level of international storytelling on display in White Lines. “I don’t think I ever would have thought that this would be possible without a global streamer. That’s what’s changing in television, the ability to cross continents and make shows that are genuinely localized, but have great themes for a global audience,” he says.
White Lines premieres on Netflix on May 15.