7 things you didn’t know about ‘Money Heist’

Tristan Zinampan

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7 things you didn’t know about ‘Money Heist’
Did you know that 'Money Heist' was deemed a failure in Spain and was almost canceled after season 1?

MANILA, Philippines – On April 3, Netflix dropped the much anticipated 4th season its most-watched non-English seriesLa Casa de Papel (less gracefully retitled in English, Money Heist). 

Social media may be abuzz with revelations, such as the newest member of the gang being named Manila (Belen Cuesta) and surprises like the death of a fan-favorite character – which we’re not going to be mean enough to spoil. However, unbeknownst to many viewers, on the same day, Netflix also dropped a behind-the-scenes documentary on the show. 

Entitled Money Heist: The Phenomenon. the 57-minute documentary details the series’ meteoric rise, from a little-known shown on Spanish free TV to finding global popularity on Netflix – ultimately, transcending into one of the largest pop culture phenomena today.

Here are some Money Heist facts you may not know: 

The show was deemed a failure and was nearly canceled

When La Casa de Papel premiered on Spanish network Antena 3 in May 2017, it opened to ratings of over 4 million viewers. This was considered one of the best premieres in Spanish TV since 2015. However, even with strong critics reviews, interest in the show waned.

By the time of its finale, it had less than half of its original viewers.

Deemed a “failure,” the cast and crew were already resigned to the idea that the show won’t be getting another season. “Okay, well, I’ll see you all around in other projects,” said Alba Flores, who plays gifted-forger Nairobi. 

However, Netflix would soon pick up the show to be part of its international catalog. Re-released for streaming in December of the same year, without any promotion whatsoever, both Netflix and the cast and crew were surprised by how fast the show gained a following. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tokyo was the first character to get a name

Before anyone thought of giving the characters city names, Tokyo was already Tokyo.

According to Jesus Colmenar, director and producer of the showeverything started when Money Heist creator Alex Pina came to work wearing a shirt that had the word “Tokyo” printed in front. Colmenar suddenly thought “Tokyo” would be the perfect name to give a character. 

15 minutes later, he was already firing other city names such as Moscow, Denver, Berlin.

“Bella Ciao” started as one of the writer’s “hype music”

The Italian hymn “Bella Ciao” is considered by showrunners as part of the trinity of Money Heist iconography. (The other two being the use of color red and Salvador Dali masks.)

We first hear the song in season 1 when veteran miner and member of the gang, Moscow (Paco Tous), finally hits dirt as he digs an exit tunnel from the Royal Mint of Spain. According to screenwriter and executive producer Javier Gómez Santander, they were wracking their brains to figure out which song they can use to signify the celebratory moment within the show. All out of ideas, he went to his go-to “hype music” to get him thinking. 

Lo and behold, that song was “Bella Ciao,” and things soon clicked. “This, this is the song,” Santander said. “Bella Ciao” has the epic, anthemic feel the scene needed. Furthermore, its history as a protest song used by the antifascist Italian Partisans in World War II fits the show’s theme of resistance.  

Bella Ciao would be played multiple more times, becoming one of the show’s key elements.

There’s an insane amount of realism put into seasons 3 and 4

In the shooting of seasons 1 and 2 of Money Heist, the crew never really left Madrid – with things mostly being shot in a single studio, and international locales merely recreated via CGI. Seasons 3 and 4, however, saw a significant boost to the show’s budget thanks to its acquisition by Netflix.

One of the ways they put that budget to good use is by investing heavily in the research and logistics to make the new heist on the Bank of Spain as realistic as possible. This includes substantial research on the defense mechanisms of the actual Bank of Spain’s vault (because just like in the show, the vault in real life floods itself in case of a breach), as well as hiring a marine engineer to design an antechamber which can address the said defense mechanisms. 

WELDERS TURNED ACTORS. Real-life welders Manuel Manceras Sr. and Manuel Manceras Jr. were brought in as minor cast members in the show. Photo screengrabbed from Netfix.

For melting the gold and forging it into nuggets, the show also hired actual metalworkers to do the forging in the show (albeit with brass and not gold), turning them into minor cast members.

And lastly, but probably weirdest of all, in the scene where Arturo (Enrique Arce) gets shot and patched up by a doctor, it turns out that was a real-life doctor doing real stitches on Arce’s skin. Ouch!

The hardest scenes to shoot were the scuba and the money shower scene

A bigger budget doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. In the documentary, two seemingly simple scenes were highlighted as particularly troublesome to shoot.

The first is when The Professor (Alvaro Morte) uses a blimp to throw millions of euros above central Madrid. In shooting that scene, the weather kept changing from sunny to rainy, and it took multiple tries to get the cash to fly in the right direction, no thanks to impossible to predict wind conditions. 

Even wilder, however, was the scene where Denver (Jaime Lorente) had to scuba into the Bank of Spain’s water-filled vault. To make the scene possible, they had to rebuild the vault set above a large swimming pool, and then carefully submerge the whole thing. However, they weren’t able to factor in how the show’s gold bricks were made out of foam and kept floating once underwater. 

After drilling them in place, the next problem was that the bricks started collapsing because of water pressure. Not only that, but underwater scenes also caused the metal used in the set to rust as well as display visible water stains. Ultimately, the show proceeded to shoot the way things were and remedying it gruelingly via image retouching in post-production.

The show’s script is written parallel to filming

Unlike many shows nowadays where scriptwriters write everything in advance before shooting, Money Heist cuts things close by writing the story alongside filming. This gives no one, not even the writers themselves, certainty on where the show will go.

The logic behind this is so that the writers can better grasp what the story will need based on the results they see in shooting. Screenwriter and executive producer Javier Gómez Santander describes the process as akin to “keeping your ear to the ground to sense where the train is coming from. The closer the train is, the more information you have.”

An example of a scene that they found remarkable was the pig operation scene in season 3, where Marseille (Luka Peros) reveals that he is an animal rights activist even though he’s a hitman. Initially set up as a joke, to ease up a tense scene, how good the scene played would soon become the inspiration for Marseille’s character development. 

By season 4, the stoic Marseille’s love for animals would be used as means for him to bond with the grief other characters are experiencing.

The downside of writing and shooting simultaneously, however, is that there’s not always enough time for scenes to be rehearsed with the screenwriters. Luckily, there’s the technology of video calls for that.

 REMOTE INSTRUCTIONS. Screenwriter and executive producer Javier Gómez Santander guiding via video call a crucial scene involving Nairobi. Photo screengrabbed from Netflix.

The Professor also has a city name

Ok, this not actually part of the documentary, but a cool bit Rappler got from a video call interview with the cast of Money Heist. According to Alvaro Morte, the actor who plays The Professor, though unofficial, he has thought of the right name to fit his character.

“The concept of what it is fits him, but we have to remove the religious components. This would be Vatican City. It’s a state city. A very small one. But like The Professor, it’s always shielded, and at the same time, it has a great power all over the world,” Morte said. 

Jaime Lorente, who plays Denver in the show, would like to suggest an alternative, though. “I would call him ‘Professor Venice Beach,’ just because that would be amazing.” – Rappler.com

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Tristan Zinampan

Tristan is Rappler’s resident pop culture vulture. He leads Rappler’s youth culture section, Hustle.