EXCLUSIVE: Amazon has scrapped plans to resume production and complete Cortés y Moctezuma, its epic four-hour miniseries starring and executive produced by Oscar winner Javier Bardem and executive produced by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.
The Amazon Studios/Amblin Partners project, described as the largest Spanish-language production of all time, was two weeks into filming in Mexico when it was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Written by Oscar winner Steve Zaillian, it also starred Tenoch Huerta and Yoshira Escárrega.
“Due to the production constraints created by the COVID-19 global pandemic, Amazon Studios and Amblin Partners are unable to move forward with production on our Cortés y Moctezuma series,” the two companies said in a statement to Deadline. “In the current climate, there is unfortunately no way to remount the production in the near future to achieve the scale and scope that was intended and that the series deserves. We have nothing but admiration and respect for Javier, Tenoch, Yoshira, Gael, Diego, Steve Zaillian, and the entire cast and crew of the series and hope we can work together again in the future.”
Cortés y Moctezuma has been a passion project for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin. The company originated it in 2014 as a feature, a potential directing vehicle for Spielberg. It eventually morphed into a four-hour miniseries through the TV division of his company, run by Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey. Given the long history, I hear the company may try to revive the idea again in the future. Because it was shot out of sequence, I hear the completed footage could not be turned into a cohesive special or movie.
Cortes y Moctezuma was a priority project for Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke who visited Mexico City in late February to tour the elaborate sets and attend a table read.
Featuring an A-list production team, which included Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Caballero, Cortes y Moctezuma was a massive production with elaborate sets built on multiple stages, intricate props, a backlot filled with exact replicas of pyramids and hundreds of extras.
The massive production came with a massive price tag, said to be at the top of Amazon’s high-end TV budget range. When factoring in the significant shutdown costs associated with the production’s suspension, the holding costs for all sets, props, equipment and talent, the restart costs to transport everyone back to Mexico and get filming up and running with strict COVID-19 protocols which increase existing budgets by about 10%, restarting appeared to be prohibitively expansive, with ballooning additional costs impossible to absorb. Add to that the unknown of shooting during a pandemic in a country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
While the production won’t restart, Amazon’s existing commitment to land restoration remains. The company will apply the significant designated funds to ensure the land used for sets and other production activities is left in the same or better state than when the series’ team arrived. Throughout its development and pre-production phases, the mini prioritized culturally authentic storytelling that is respectful to the heritage of local cultural communities, especially those within the Xochimilco district, which is not only a protected environmental space but also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Cortés y Moctezuma is the latest TV project that has become a casualty of COVID-19.
Netflix recently decided not to proceed with previously greenlighted and fully written seasons of two YA series, The Society and I Am Not OK With This, “due to circumstances created by COVID.” Similarly, TruTV opted not to go ahead with the previously greenlighted season of scripted comedy I’m Sorry, created by and starring Andrea Savage, which, like Cortés y Moctezuma, had been two weeks into production at the time of the shutdown due to COVID-19.
This is something we will likely see more of as the months-long Hollywood shutdown creates a logjam when trying to ease all series impacted by the shutdown back into production, while mitigating higher production costs due to strict COVID-19 safety protocols and losses from the pandemic and also trying to rearrange talent’s schedules.
Cortés y Moctezuma encountered another hurdle during the shutdown when a June bombshell news report detailed anonymous sexual misconduct allegations against the miniseries’ co-director, Ciro Guerra, involving alleged incidents from 2013 to 2019, before he was hired for the Amazon project. At the time, the director vehemently denied the allegations and has since taken online magazine Volcanicas to court for defamation. The matter between the publication and the Oscar-nominated helmer remains in the Colombian justice system. I hear this development played no role in the decision not to proceed with Cortés y Moctezuma, the reason for which was overwhelmingly financial.
Penned by Schindler’s List writer Zaillian, the series centers on the legendary conqueror Hernan Cortes (Bardem), who led a rebellious expedition to the heart of King Montezuma II’s (Huerta) Aztec empire, connecting two civilizations for the first time and changing the course of history.