K7 Media

K7 Media

K7 interviews Nando López, creator of Red Flags

On Sunday 7 April, Spanish streamer Atresplayer launched Red Flags, a teen drama tackling an impressive range of topical issues. We caught a preview of the show in February at the Berlinale Series Market, and later sat down with its creator Nando López (pictured) to talk more about its themes and why it’s so important to create content for teenagers.

López, an award-winning author and playwright of young adult literature, had collaborated with Atresplayer prior to Red Flags on a drama based on his novel The Age of Anger, which was adapted for the screen by Juanma Ruiz de Córdoba and Lucía Carballal. This time however, Atresplayer wanted López to pen a series based on an original idea. Working alongside writer Estel Díaz, he developed a drama that strives to realistically portray and explore the struggles of modern teenage life, with an emphasis on sexual identity, as well as show the benefits of strong friendships, empathy, and people from diverse backgrounds coming together.

Of course, in a media landscape flooded with platforms, some of which are offering user-generated content created by teens themselves, drawing in this target audience to a series made by adults can be difficult, and retaining their attention harder still. López recognises this challenge, as well as the importance of rising to it, and believes that holding a mirror up to teens and telling unpatronising, authentic stories is key to engaging them.

“Teenagers are a difficult audience to reach, but we have to show them in TV too. We wanted to offer a show where they can recognise themselves. A lot of people make programmes portraying how they believe teenagers are, but we [the industry] should show them how they really are, not how we think they are.”

López explained that this mindset was fundamental to the creation of Red Flags, and that for this reason himself and Díaz moulded their script around interviews with real teens, working alongside them to find out “what they really want to see, what they really want to hear, and how they think”. This helped give the show an unapologetically authentic tone, evident in the way its characters communicate, respond to challenging situations and – crucially – conduct their sex lives. López added: “There aren’t many stories where we can see these kind of characters and situations; I wanted to talk about [sex] in a realistic and even raw way. We wanted to create a show where we can encourage viewers to think and talk about sexual identity.”

Addressing the influence of pornography on sex and relationships in a serious way is typically shied away from in teen drama, but López sought to tackle the issue through the stories told in Red Flags. “Here in Spain many teenagers have been watching pornography since they were nine or ten years old. That’s really early. These children aren’t prepared for what they see. They can’t establish the difference between reality and fiction and they grow up thinking that porn is a way of learning, and it’s not at all.”

This is explored in the pilot through the character of Toni (pictured), a gay teen struggling with his sexuality. He has a sexual encounter with an older man that leaves him feeling unwell and unsure over whether or not he has in fact been raped. López explained: “This doubt comes from porn, because he has seen so many porn videos where sex like he experienced has happened. Now he doesn’t know if it’s ok or not.”

Toni is one of four main characters – the other three being Érika, Walter and Luna – who are strikingly introduced in the opening moments of the series through their own sex scenes.

“I think the structure of our pilot is very special because it starts with four sexual situations. We see four characters who seem to be enjoying themselves a lot. Then we have a flashback and we see how each of these characters reached their sexual situation, and at the end of our pilot we see the four situations again, but this time in full – with the context of each situation now revealed we realise that everything isn’t as cool as it at first seemed…We are essentially seeing what could be a porn video at the very beginning, and then we are seeing reality at the end.”

Another interesting character in the series is Walter, a boy who – despite being straight – is suffering from homophobic abuse due to not being stereotypically masculine, and finds himself struggling against peer pressure from people who believe he should lose his virginity as soon as possible.

“We wanted to say that there are young men who are trying to fight against sexism and don’t want to be this stereotypical macho man anymore. There are feminist boys who believe in equality. We wanted to have a character like Walter, who reads a lot and enjoys talking about books. He wants to be with a girl, but on his own consensual terms. He doesn’t understand why people say he needs to lose his virginity quickly, but because of that he begins to receive homophobic abuse. We wanted to talk about how homophobia doesn’t depend on your orientation, it depends on how the world reads us. We can be victims of homophobia because of our body language, way of speaking, or even thinking. It happens to a lot of people, gay or straight. Through the character of Walter we’re addressing that.”

Each of the four main characters in Red Flags has a struggle unique to them within the friend group, but ultimately they are all linked to the pressures modern teens feel as they establish and explore their sexual identities. Further exemplifying this is the story of Luna, who is in a toxic relationship with an attractive but controlling boyfriend. She believes she loves him and feels obligated to keep up appearances, despite suffering behind closed doors. She isn’t happy and doesn’t know why, and begins to imitate porn following the advice of a friend.

While Luna’s story is one López hopes will help people who feel trapped in unhealthy relationships, he also stressed the importance of shaping the series’ writing so that it lets the audience make up their own minds about each character’s situations: “We don’t want to teach, we want to show these kind of stories so that our audience can decide. We never see adults telling a character what to do about their problem. We wanted to avoid that at all costs. We worked a lot with our cast, we asked them for advice, we talked to them about the scenes, we took into account what they had to say. Whether they agreed with the situation [being realistic] and whether they recognised themselves before shooting the scenes was important.”

Completing the Red Flags friend group is Érika (pictured), a lesbian girl who has developed an eating disorder after experiencing body shaming on social media. This leads her to creating the #redflags hashtag on social media, through which she shares her experience and virtually meets Toni, Walter and Luna. López expressed the importance of showing how social media is now integral to teen lives and can be used in both positive and negative ways.

“Of course, social media has its dark side, but we can’t only show this. We want to recognise that [for some people] social media is their only way of communicating with each other, and that it can be used for good or for bad – that is up to us. I have talked to a lot of young people who are using social media for important things. They are using it in a positive way, in a creative way, in a political way, and we also wanted to talk about that. It’s something teenagers can use, it’s somewhere they can express themselves, and in our series that’s something they try. They try to use social media to build this safe space that they need and they don’t have. They create a community.”

Unusually for a teen drama, for the first half of the season, the four characters communicate solely through social media, and only meet in person after several episodes. López explained: “We wanted it to be very realistic, and when you meet someone on social media you need time to decide ‘ok, do I want to meet this person or not?’ and also ‘how?’ We can’t forget that these are just teenagers and that they live in different places. It’s not the same for a teenager to go out to a new place, to a new neighbourhood across the city for example. Teenagers are rooted to their own neighbourhoods, their families, their school environments. You can’t travel as easily as when you are an adult.

Our four characters come from different places, and have very different economic and social backgrounds. For example, Érika lives in Madrid’s city centre, and while her economic situation is not bad, it’s very different to Walter’s – he lives in a big house in the suburbs. And then there’s Toni, who lives in a very humble neighbourhood where it’s not easy to be queer. His problems are also related to money. That’s something we wanted to show: that money has influence on our lives. That we have privilege or we don’t. And that’s something that our characters think about.”

Despite their differences, the four characters form close friendships and become a support network for one another, helping each other deal with the challenges life has thrown their way. It’s a positive story dealing with some serious and timely issues that we at K7 believe has the potential to resonate with teenagers not just in Spain, but around the world, something with which López agreed.

“I really believe in this story and why we created it. I believe these kind of stories must be told. The issues tackled in Red Flags aren’t only happening in Spain, they are present all over the world. We have written it with this in mind and I think our series would be really easy to adapt because teenagers around the world are going to relate to a lot of its themes.”

Red Flags is produced by Atresmedia TV and Zeta Studios, and distributed by Atresmedia TV International Sales. You can check out a trailer here.

James Conibear

James graduated from Edge Hill University in 2014 with a degree in Film and Television Production.

As a K7 Senior Researcher, James is focussed on developments across streaming services, Australasia and children’s TV. As well as contributing to bespoke research, he writes the Digital Daily Seven newsletter, the weekly Australasian Report and the monthly Children’s Update.

Outside of K7, James is a passionate wildlife photographer, and spends much of his time in the countryside on the lookout for the perfect shot. He's also a keen cinema goer, gamer and aquarist.