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Trailer Watch: Somos., James Schamus’s First Television Series, Soon Premiering on Netflix

Producer, screenwriter and director James Schamus has created a six-episode series, Somos., for Netflix that will premiere June 30. The first trailer has dropped along with a statement by Schamus on the Netflix site. Based on a ProPublica oral history of a cartel massacre in Allende, Mexico, crimes that journalist Ginger Thompson writes were triggered by actions by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the series has two goals, says Schamus:

In telling the story, we have two core objectives: to make visible the people our culture often works to erase from our perceptions and memories, and to affirm our co-existence with them. In English, the phrase ‘Somos’ requires two words: “We are” or “We exist.” But in Spanish, one word says it all. I asked if we could add a period after the title so that it reads as an assertion, and not just a title.

As Schamus explains in the statement, while based on true events, the film’s characters are fictional, with the series essaying their lives and interpersonal dramas as violence looms.

Shot in Mexico, in Spanish, Somos. finds Schamus collaborating with a team of Latin American directors and writers. He writes:

I always knew Somos. should be created by Mexicans and primarily for Mexicans. My role was to serve as a kind of participant-observer, to use my ignorance as a kind of springboard to open space for the extraordinary team behind the series. I was not only new to television production, even after decades in the film business, but new to everything in Mexico. (Happily, the team indulged my painfully slow progress with learning Spanish and my enthusiastically quick progress enjoying the cuisine.)

And thus the whole process was built around empowering our hundreds of colleagues to lift their voices, share their knowledge, and articulate their perspectives and ideas so that every detail rang true. Our writers Monika Revilla and Fernanda Melchor, producer Sandra Solares, directors Álvaro Curiel and Mariana Chenillo, and head editor Soledad Salfate all shared this commitment to collective empowerment. And it is not coincidental that the majority of key creative leaders on the series are women, for it is mainly women who spoke most fearlessly in Ginger Thompson’s oral history, and women who continue to lead the effort to memorialize and account for the events on which Somos. is based.

At Variety, Schamus described the series’s casting philosophy, working in Spanish as well as the challenges of finishing the project during the pandemic:

The pandemic also took its toll on the production, forcing them to suspend the shoot for about five months. When then President Trump decided to close the borders between Mexico and the U.S. to stem the spread of COVID-19, Schamus flew back to the U.S. as a precaution. This meant monitoring the shoot from a bank of monitors in New York. “It was tough, I now have more empathy for drone operators, who are stuck in bunkers in the middle of the Nevada desert,” he said.

“The series shifts our attention to the people who are standing in the corner of the frame,” he pointed out. To that end, Schamus opted for a mix of non-professionals with professional actors, which was a challenge in itself as both groups learned to work with each other. The production held a three-week intensive workshop to prepare them for their roles. To prepare for the project which shot primarily in Durango, Mexico, Schamus took intensive courses in Spanish, which he speaks quite fluently now.

In addition to the many films he’s produced over the years that have appeared in these pages, Schamus is well-known to Filmmaker readers for his various contributions as a writer as well as for his debut feature, Indignation, which the late screenwriter Walter Bernstein interviewed him about.

Somos. drops on Netflix on June 30.

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