Brazilian Soap Writer on Creative Process, Power of TV

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TV Globo script writer Gloria Perez speaks in Perloff Hall. (Photo by Inda Reid)

One of Brazil's most important and prolific script writers, Glória Perez, explains the genesis and the motives behind profitable television shows that reach well over 100 countries. The symposium was part of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies series "On Brazilian Cosmopolitanism."

When Glória Perez, the astonishingly prolific script writer on some of Brazilian TV Globo's biggest international projects, asked the neighborhood association of Encantado, Rio de Janeiro, what it wanted television viewers to know about life in that barrio, she learned that the biggest problem was the lack of a bus line for getting around. Perez depends on those kinds of details to do her work, she told an audience in Perloff Hall on Thursday, May 19. She has conducted interviews in hospitals, mental institutions and immigration detention centers as well as on a plane returning Brazilian deportees from the United States, all to gather material for internationally successful telenovelas, or soap operas, including "The Clone" (2001), "América" (2005) and "India – a Love Story" (2009).

Not long after TV Globo aired scenes featuring an Encantado woman holding her worn-out shoes in her hand, the neighborhood got its bus line, according to Perez.

"That's when I saw the power of the telenovela, and not only as a way to discuss social problems, but as a problem-solver," she said, speaking at a UCLA symposium on the global appeal of Brazilian telenovelas. The event, conducted in Portuguese with simultaneous translation into English, was organized by the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies and the International Institute as part of a series that has included visits by Brazilian director Luiz Fernando Carvalho and executives from Globo, the dominant media firm in Brazil. Guilherme Bokel, TV Globo’s head of international production, discussed alterations made to telenovelas to suit the demands of audiences in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the Americas.

Perez said that she writes with a sense of social responsibility on two broad subjects: the impact of technology on everyday life and the challenges faced by people who are different or marginalized in society. In the 1980s she ran across a medical journal article on the possibility of surrogate motherhood and conceived a telenovela highlighting this social novelty and "tremendous human drama."

"The story remained in my drawer for a while. It sounded like science fiction," she said.

In other scripts Perez has taken on organ donation, human cloning, drug abuse and romances lived out on the Internet. While some writers work in groups, Perez says that she needs to work alone to solve the problems that a plot presents to her, always aware that viewers "despise" predictability. Once a project gets going, she produces something on the order of six chapters a week, or up to 240 pages, as UCLA Vice Provost of International Studies Randal Johnson, an expert in Brazilian film and media, explained to the audience.

"If you don't write one day," said Perez, smiling, "you're going to have to write twice as much the next day, and that inspires you to keep on track."

Duration: 02:18:52

Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011