Was the ‘Selena: The Series’ cast and crew mistreated by Netflix?
When Selena: The Series was first greenlit, its cast & crew couldn’t have been happier. The project was a high-profile opportunity for Latinx creators to show the world what they could do. And, in a way, it was kind of a no-brainer: a TV show about the life of one of the most popular Hispanic musicians, one whose music transcended frontiers & languages? How could that not be Netflix’s next big hit?
And it was. While the streaming giant is well-known for not revealing exact numbers when it comes to its shows’ viewership, it was no secret that Selena: The Series dominated Netflix’s Top 10 charts in several countries once it was released. More importantly, Netflix has gone as far as confirming that half of the show’s audience came from the U.S., where Selena held the platform’s #1 spot during its first week.
So why were the Selena: The Series cast & crew paid considerably less than people in similar positions, in similar high-profile projects? The answer lies in a recent Los Angeles Times exposé that has revealed some unflattering behind-the-scenes details from the Netflix production.
High profile, low budget
When we think of “Netflix Originals” we tend to consider them all under the same type of production blanket. The reality is more complicated than that. For example, Selena: The Series isn’t a U.S. Netflix original, but rather a Latin American Netflix original. The key difference? One type of Netflix production carries a much bigger budget. We’re sure you can guess which one.
According to the L.A. Times, multiple sources cited the budget for Selena: The Series as under $2 million per episode. For comparison, The Crown launched with a reported budget of $13 million per episode (and who knows how much it costs these days). The staggering difference in production budget was reflected in the production value, despite the Selena: The Series cast & crew’s best efforts.
And yet, Selena: The Series was still a smashing success in the face of a much lower budget than what it warranted. But still, that triumph didn’t translate into compensation for those involved in making the show. A smaller budget meant lower salaries for the cast & crew of Selena: The Series – an unfortunate turn of events that most decided to push through due to their love for the project.
Still at the door
“You gotta pay your dues” is the kind of statement that keeps new talent from being discouraged by subpar treatment from those above them. It’s also a mentality that allows those with power to exploit those beneath them. In the case of the Selena: The Series cast & crew, the L.A. Times argues that they took a bad deal because that was the only one available to them – and they really believed in the project.
In theory, the entertainment industry has a system meant to prevent these sorts of situations from happening. For example, the Writers Guild of America has rules for minimum compensation on streaming series based on episode length, episodic budget, and the number of subscribers to the platform. When Netflix’s budget for Selena: The Series went under $2.5 million per episode, the minimum rates for compensation dropped.
What this meant for staff writers on the show was they were paid between 30% & 50% less per week than if Selena: The Series had been a Netflix U.S. original. To make matters worse, the production schedule was grueling. The original expectation was for the team to complete eighteen episodes in twenty weeks – the time usually given to eight or ten episodes. Basically: more work for less pay.
Insert angel-face emoji
Based on all this, some would argue that Netflix gamed the system. They took a project that was very likely to be a big hit, but they budgeted it as a smaller production. It seems to be the kind of stuff you can get away with when you’re dealing with artists who are eager to get their work on the screen. According to the creators interviewed in the L.A. Times piece, it’s even worse if you’re a minority.
Netflix’s response has been to claim innocence. A spokesperson for the company told the L.A. Times that the reason Selena: The Series was a Latin American original is that the Netflix Latin American team is the one who pursued the project – a project which was eventually greenlit thanks to the singer’s popularity in Mexico. So Netflix is saying that as far as Netflix U.S. was concerned, the show wouldn’t be popular in the U.S.(!!!).
Obviously, as it has already been established, that didn’t turn out to be the case. But putting aside how much Netflix believed or didn’t believe in Selena: The Series, would the company agree the cast & crew were underpaid? Not really. The L.A. Times quotes a Netflix spokesperson as saying they believe “the writers were compensated fairly based on quotes negotiated by their U.S. representation”. Blame the agents!
Here’s a positive spin on the Selena: The Series experience for its cast & crew. Next time they work on a project, there’s a good chance that the good buzz from this Netflix show will allow them to negotiate a fairer deal. We can only hope that’s the case.