Five, four, three, two, accion!
The handsome and cunning lawyer, Humberto Cano, is in his office, arguing with his busty longtime lover, who has just learned that he plans to marry another woman.
"I need money. With the move, I am left with nothing. I need a place to live here with my son,'' she tells him, pleadingly. "Aren't you going to ask about your son?"
Cano dismisses her.
"I will look for you later,'' he says, returning to work.
It's just another day of seductions and betrayals on the set of "Santa Diabla'' ("Holy Devil"), the latest Spanish-language soap opera, or telenovela, to call South Florida home. Since June, crews have been shooting exteriors of homes, office buildings, streetscapes and a cemetery in Broward County, which serves as the fictional backdrop of the small town of Marrero.
South Florida "is so cosmopolitan and eclectic, you don't have to go too far to find whatever is that you need with the exception of mountains," says actor Carlos Ponce (who plays Humberto Cano), as he studies his script for one of 20 scenes on a recent weekday morning. "It's a beautiful place. It's not always sunny but at least it televises that way."
Tax breaks, marketing opportunities and the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States have helped spur a boom in local telenovela productions in recent years, making the sightings of camera crews and production sets more commonplace. The productions have drawn actors, writers and producers from Latin America, who have helped turn the region into a tropical telenovela hub.
"The scenery and the culture is very similar and familiar to Latin Americans from the Andes and Caribbean regions,'' says Alejandro Alvarado, a Spanish-language journalism professor at Florida International University.
He notes that recent economic and political conditions in countries like Venezuela and Mexico have sent actors to South Florida for roles. "You have a lot of talent here and that has been integrated into the production of telenovelas."
"Santa Diabla" is a big production anchored in two counties with 28 actors and 200 crew members. . About half of the filming (interior scenes) happens inside Telemundo studios in Miami-Dade County's Doral; the rest takes place on location in Broward. In an office inside the Doral studios, 13 enlarged photos of Broward locations help transform South Florida into Marrero.
A two-story, colonial-style home in Davie portrays "Casa Victoria,'' the home of a female supporting character. A storefront off Las Olas Boulevard stands in as the fictional Café Mara. And the former River House restaurant becomes a bookstore, "Libreria Hortensia."
The steamy Spanish soap, which premieres 10 p.m. Aug. 6, tells the story of Santa Martinez, who is married to a music teacher. When her husband is hired to teach lessons to the granddaughter of the rich Cano family, he finds himself embroiled in a scandal that ultimately leads to imprisonment and death. Santa vows revenge and takes on a new identity.
"When they kill her husband, everything changes," says Gaby Espino, the Venezuelan actress who plays the titular character. "She is filled with resentment and pain and she begins to plot her revenge."
In fact, Ponce compares "Santa Diabla'' to ABC's popular Sunday night series, "Revenge."
"Is the good guy a bad guy? Is the bad guy a good guy? Is the good girl a bad girl? … It's very intriguing,'' he says.
The set is a flurry of activity. Cameras glide above and alongside actors during scenes. The Doral studio is like a giant warehouse, split up into various sets that represent the characters' living rooms, bedrooms and offices. Rows of bright stage lights dangle from the ceilings like giant fruit.
On this day, the raven-haired Espino sits in a quaint bright blue room where she recorded a video monologue as Santa to explain her backstory to viewers.
"During her journey, she falls in love with a Cano whom she didn't know about. She has to decide whether to continue with her revenge or love. It's very complicated. It's a telenovela Latina. That's how we are," Espino says with a laugh.
For the uninitiated, telenovelas — unlike American soaps — have a beginning and end, with episodes running five days a week for about six months. Telenovelas have been primetime programming mainstays that appeal to mostly female viewers. In South Florida, telenovelas regularly outperform English-language programs. Last week, seven of the top 10 most watched shows in the Fort Lauderdale-Miami market were telenovelas from Telemundo and Univision.
The genre has proven so popular that it has spawned English-language versions. Lifetime television's new summer series "Devious Maids'' was adapted from a telenovela, as was ABC's "Ugly Betty."
FIU's Alvarado thinks these addictive soaps endure because they're ingrained in the Latino community's DNA.
"As long as you have the grandmother or the mother in the house, they will be watching the telenovelas,'' Alvarado says. "And the second generation will be influenced by this trend."
It's just before noon back on the set of "Santa Diabla." An artist has just applied final touches of makeup on Espino. As she prepares to record another scene as her character's alter ego, Espino explains how grateful she is for the local telenovela work.
"Thank God there are many being produced here, because that is more work for everyone and it opens up the doors,'' she says. "When there is competition, you get better quality, and everybody gives it their all."