VI World summit of the
telenovela and fiction


Confessing the secrets of adapting telenovelas
GMA Worldwide production company vice-president Lilybeth Gomez Rasonable unravels the mysteries of adapting a Latin American telenovela to international markets. The success of Lalola and Marimar in the Philippines.

“We realize that love and loss in other languages mean us in the same way. But it has to be a compelling story,” Lilybeth Rasonable says at the VI worldwide summit of telenovela and fiction that took place in Buenos Aires Argentina on November 26th and 27th. She gave a lecture on some elements that are required whenever producers have to adapt a foreign telenovela to the culture of other society. “Some adjustment to the local norms are necessary,” she explains and points out some of the elements that merge in the genre: love, close family ties, different social backgrounds, the need to overcome obstacles and the will to pursue happiness are always there when it comes down to telenovelas. Why, then, have telenovelas gripped the Philippines? Why have these programmes reached ratings of over 50 points? Where does their success lie? “We all like a good story; stories that can make us laugh or bring tears to our eyes. Stories that are both strange and familiar, we welcome all this stories into our house every time we turn on our TV screens, and watch our favourite soap operas at times laughing and crying with the characters,” she analyzes.
So, the messages conveyed by teleno velas are a social phenomenon that is related to universal topics and,  onetheless, have to be adapted to the local culture, customs and moral norms. To shed some light on this process, Rasonable has talked about two major hits in the Philippine screens: the case of Marimar and Lalola.

Marimar: the telenovela that took the Philippine by storm
To such an extent was Marimar success that women would comb their hair the same way as Thalía used to do so: long hair with curly touches. To such an extreme point, that they named their daughters Thalía or Marimar, making a reference to the telenovela that has been released on air in the Philippine television ten years ago.“The Mexican telenovela (Marimar) took the Philippines by storm. Marimar final episode rated 51.9 percent with 74.1 percent of the TV audience with the wedding of Sergio Santibañez and Marimar. In March 14, 2008, we broadcasted a two-hour long special that invited the audience to participate in the wedding and in the live reception that gathered celebrities and personalities as guests. It wouldn't be odd to see the audience in tears of joy. They too were guests in the wedding as though the wedding was for someone who they personally knew,” Rasonable says, adding that: “Marimar now holds the highest single episode ratings among old GMA programmes in history.” According to these facts (the overwhelming response of the audience and the ratings figures), Marimar has been a huge success when it comes to adapting a format. Although there are some shared cultural traditions in both the Mexican and Philippine society, “we have been influenced by Spain and the Catholic faith,” there are complex considerations to bear in mind if we would like to adapt a formal properly. “Adaptation involves more than just changing the dialogues from Spanish to Tagalo. The Marimar story was already familiar and it was necessary to modify some elements to suit the Philippine context and to bring it to the times of new generations of viewers,” Rasonable comments. Which plot elements have been adapted in Marimar? Rasonable quotes the example of Santibañez family household and workplace: “hacienda Santibañez was transformed into a more modern resort empire run by Don Renato.” In the case of the original and the adapted programme they were both blending family relations and industry, placing the family as the center of conflict. Marimar was a poor girl who fell in love with a wealthy man, Sergio Santibañez, which adds the plus of social ranking differences to the plot of the telenovela. “In many of these novelas, they (the poor girl and the rich man) have to overcome obstacles faced by family and society”. Even the main characters shifted into something else as a result of the adaptation. In this example, in the original Sergio Santibañez was a professional soccer player whereas he is a racecar driver in the adaptation.
As far as the actors are concerned, Rasonable says that taking part in Marimar was their chance to achieve many accomplishments as performers, they have become local superstars, thus creating a local star system the same that exists in other parts of the world.“From an afternoon soap artist María Rivera is now the country most popular female star. Her rise to popularity is simply phenomenal. Soon after her introduction as Marimar, movie offers and products endorsements came. Meanwhile, José Sistodantes became after one of the hottest leading men. He is now even included in the prestigious EHollywood 25 sexiest men in the world,” she says.

Lalola: a global hit
“Lalola explores several powerful, heavy themes: sex and gender equality, internal family fortune and the possibility of love and romance in a male-dominated environment,” Rasonable says. Lalola is the story of a man who turns into
a woman because of a spell by a former lover of him. Lola has to battle against all odds to be herself in an office where everyone is chauvinist and, unexpectedly, she has a crush on one of her colleagues and the love story unfolds. On one hand, a hilarious comedy starts as she manages to get over all the difficulties faced as she learns a woman's behaviors. On the other hand, a romance blossoms despite her efforts to avoid the whole situation.
On October 13, 2006, Lalola premiered with an impressive 35.8 percent in the Philippine television, placing number one over all across all networks.
“Lalola is a global hit. What made Lalola interesting to GMA network? Its unique story, the freshness and with the proper adjustments it would have a lot of potential to draw in audiences in the Philippine television,” Rasonable says. She admits there were some other elements that did not encourage the producers to take the plunge and give the nod to Lalola: “at first glance it was a story that seemed too risky for the still largely conservative Philippine audience. There were some aspects that needed to be changed in order to fit the Philippine context”. She quotes just a few examples: in the original Lalo best friend and flat mate is a girl named Grease but a girl living with a man was regarded as improper and unbelievable for the Philippines. Therefore, Grease was changed for Gary, a homosexual friend, which “also offered countless comic possibilities and more variations on the theme of sexuality”.
In the original, it is only Romina who puts a curse on Lalo but the Philippine adaptation includes three girls planning their revenge, a sort of wizards who belong to a magical kingdom. “The inclusion of a fantasy world in is brought about the prevalent high concept fantasy drama soaps in the Philippines.”

Where the success lies: openness for change
Taking into account GMA experience in the former telenovelas, Rasonable reflects on the main issues that must be considered if we want to make a good adaptation. “All in all, the success of Lalola, Marimar and other telenovela adaptations depends on one theme: the openness of the licenser, to the revisions and changes to the story, a story that remains true to the heart and soul of the original.” 0And it also comes down to other issues: “finding romance and lasting love, enjoying close family relations, laughing at sometimes tragic but also funny moments of their lives, this is what makes people happy. All these contribute to the success of the Latin American, Spanish or Philippine soap opera in the global arena.”