14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 September 2016 – He is a self-confessed “son of television,” but he also admits that Cuba “is a bit behind” in the last decades with regards to innovation and quality in this medium. To catch up, Rolando Lorenzo León has created an entertainment program focused on the lives of artists and private sector businesses that circulates on the “alternative” network known as the “Weekly Packet.”
This week he spoke with 14ymedio about Q Mania TV, the production that absorbs all his energies and dreams.
Luz Escobar. How did you get the idea for this alternative TV show?
Rolando Lorenzo León. Q Mania TV emerged in May of this year from Bola8 TV, a previous project I was working on as general producer and that was distributed in the Weekly Packet. The project only lasted a little more than a month, but it achieved a tremendous rating and then differences arose among the team and I left. After the split I decided to start my own project. I wanted to show that I could make a great program, a good product, with a few people who know what they’re doing and are professionals.
Escobar. What it is the focus of Q Mania TV and how often does it appear?
León. It took off from the idea of the “mania” Cubans have for knowing about what’s going on with artists. My mania, or the mania of my team, is to learn where our artists are going and about the international artists who choose to come to Cuba. The result is a product with a national identity, a good profit potential, and targeted to the Cuban customer, to the Cuban family.
It began as a fifteen-minute weekly project. So far it has had 10 episodes, and will have 12 this season. There are still two to be produced, which are already recorded, but I have had to spread my time among other projects… because I have to live.
Escobar. You chose the Weekly Packet as the main method of distribution.
León. Yes, to appear on that alternative channel that many fear, others hate and others enjoy. If Cuban TV paid me and there wasn’t censorship, I would have my program right now in front of 11 million Cubans on the national channel. It’s not about being reactionary or going against the current, but about profit, because television can’t be made on a few pesos.
Escobar. In addition to the artists you have a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.
León. I thought from the beginning about private businesses, also because the program needs to be produced and I’m not a millionaire. I wanted the program to show where to go to eat, get your hair done, starting from a limited production. Although Cuban entrepreneurs and cooperatives are not ready for stable advertising. People see the Weekly Packet as one source of advertising but advertising is everywhere.
Escobar. How much does the production cost?
León. An ideal program of 27 minutes needs to be able to raise about 1,000 CUC (roughly $1000 US) a week for production costs. Cuban television costs more than that for each episode of a regular program. We brought four months of shows to the air and spent a quarter of the cost of a program on Cuban television, which has no audience and is broadcasting into the void.
Escobar. Do you have an idea of your audience numbers?
León. We are seeing many people. Although I have pieces I did working on national television, I never had much of an audience. Cubans like the forbidden.
Escobar. What problems have you had during filming in state premises?
León. When we started there was a lot of conflict with the issue of the concerts in places like La Casa de la Música, where managers were afraid of us because we are a program on the Weekly Packet. What we did was to establish direct communication with artists and they recorded the concert for us and then passed us the images. Other managers understood that there was no harm in the project and that a noncommercial space doesn’t generate any dividends, so they facilitate things for us.
Escobar. Do you aspire to put this product in international markets?
León. We would like to, and I think that is part of the natural development of the historical moment we are living in right now. If you are opening the doors for music and human potential and it is one of the most important sectors of the Cuban economy, television should not leave this behind. I see a talent flourishing in this country that wants to say things and that doesn’t have to lose its identity and its roots.
However, if in order to appear on an international channel I have to adapt to what I do not think or believe, I will not be in any international media.
Escobar. Will you bring this program to national programming someday?
León. My horizon has no limits. I’m not against being on Cuban TV if it suits my way of doing and saying things. But it is more likely they would take my program and plagiarize me than that they would pay me, because there are people who are afraid to make room for a young person.