All posts by DQ

Angel of death

Canadian black comedy-drama Mary Kills People stars Caroline Dhavernas as Dr Mary Harris, an overworked single mother and ER doctor who lives a double life helping terminally ill patients to end their lives. Assisted by her business partner Des (Richard Short), they strive to stay under the radar and keep one step ahead of the police, who are determined to stop their operation.

In this video interview, Dhavernas and Short tell DQ what drew them to the series and talk about the on-screen relationship between Mary and Des.

They also debate the controversial topic at the heart of the show and how it walks the line between its dark subject matter and its many lighter moments.

In ever-changing television business, the co-stars also discuss how actors fit into the evolving landscape.

Now in production for season two, Mary Kills People is produced by Entertainment One (which also distributes) and Cameron Pictures in association with Corus Entertainment. It airs on Global in Canada and Lifetime in the US.

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Dream on

Films including Blade Runner and Minority Report saw the work of acclaimed novelist Philip K Dick transformed for the big screen to great success. Now the late author’s writing is coming to television in an anthology series featuring 10 standalone stories based on his short stories.

Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Spall and Anna Paquin are among the stars in front of the camera, while writers and directors include Jack Thorne, Matthew Graham, Tony Grisoni and David Farr.

In this DQ TV interview, executive producers Michael Dinner and David Kanter discuss why Electric Dreams is more than a dystopian show but also a “very human show,” and how the programme was produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

They also explain why3 the deal to make the series took years to put together, with multiple producers attached to the project, which will air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon Prime in the US.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is produced by Rooney McP Productions, Electric Shepherd Productions, Anonymous Content, Tall Ship Productions, Moonshot Entertainment and Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television. Sony is also the distributor.

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Full Power

Courtney Kemp started her TV career on The Bernie Mac Show and has since gone on to write for series including Eli Stone and The Good Wife.

She is now showrunner of Starz original drama Power, having steered the series through all four seasons. A fifth is due to air in 2018.

In this DQ TV video, she reveals the writing process behind the show, the importance of themes in each season and how she likes to work with actors on the show.

Kemp also looks back at her origins as a TV writer, getting her break after writing a spec script for The Bernie Mac Show. She also discusses the showrunners who have influenced her career – including Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) and Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone) – and considers the changing role of the showrunner in today’s crowded television landscape.

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Six of the best: Kay Mellor

Politics, humour and strong female characters lead the pack for the creator of some of Britain’s best-loved dramas, from Fat Friends to Band of Gold, who also has two new series on the horizon – Love, Lies & Records for the BBC and ITV’s Girlfriends.

Boys from the Blackstuff
I absolutely loved it. Written by Alan Bleasdale, it looked at the stories of a group of men who have lost their jobs. I just thought it was amazing, and it made me want to write Band of Gold. It was about five men and I remember thinking, ‘I’d like to write about five women,’ although it became four. I also realised each episode could be a play for today. Each one could be about a particular character, with a beginning, middle and end, but looking at the collective as well. You could also tell a really dark story in a funny way – that’s a theme through all my work.

This taught me that it was possible to be political and funny simultaneously. It was more overtly political than Boys from the Blackstuff – it looked at corruption and power – but was similar in that it had dark humour and made me laugh hysterically in places. GBH is also by Alan Bleasdale, who I think has probably influenced me the most among English writers, because he’s also from the North and he’s not afraid of humour, of feelings and emotion, or of having something to say. He doesn’t write about just cops or doctors; he writes about people, and that’s what I think inspired me.

I Love Lucy
This was probably the first show I saw. I used to go to stay with my aunt on Friday nights when I was a little girl, and one of my earliest recollections of television was sitting watching in her front room. I’d watched things like Bonanza, all about men, but I Love Lucy was my first with a female lead. My mother was one of four sisters so, for me, life was all about women talking and being central. So when I watched Lucille Ball playing Lucy, it was a big influence on me to know that women could have lead roles.

I found this Danish series by accident when flicking through Netflix, and within about two minutes I was hooked. I was really intrigued by this woman – flaws, warts and all. In England we sometimes think our leads can’t do anything bad, because then viewers won’t like them – but Rita’s creators flaunted that in our face. I loved the dare of it, and Mille Dinesen [who plays the eponymous teacher] was amazing. You’d see a shot of her sashaying down the corridor and they’d linger on her. They’d never do that in England because it would be sexist, but they don’t care. It’s all about attitude and what she thinks. She expresses herself in the way she moves and I loved that about her.

Madam Secretary
An American Rita. This show looks at a woman [played by Téa Leoni] who is jettisoned into the position of Secretary of State, and I just loved the way her family life often echoes what’s going on in her work life. It’s a masterclass in writing. Some might say it’s a bit formulaic, but it’s formula at its very best. It’s got a lot to say about global issues and dares to do things with which I wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s a woman centre stage again, looking at her team of people and her home life. It probably inspired [registry office-set] Love, Lies & Records.

The Sopranos
The Sopranos was one of the first US shows I just could not stop watching. I loved it because it was so dark and so funny and the production values were incredible. [Series creator] David Chase was doing things I was jealous of. You’d go from quite a domestic episode to one set entirely in a forest. It was quite violent, not my usual cup of tea, but it also had dark humour. There wasn’t one actor who was miscast, there wasn’t one duff episode and it was watercooler television as well. Often writers are told you can’t do certain things because people won’t like the character, but viewers forgive anything as long as the character is truthful and interesting. That’s what I’ve learned from series like The Sopranos.

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Crowd control

How far would you go to solve your daughter’s murder? That’s the question facing Jeffrey Tanner (played by Jeremy Piven), a tech entrepreneur who creates a crowdsourcing platform to help people around the world find the killer in Wisdom of the Crowd.

However, he finds the effects of the programme are far-reaching as it begins to be used to solve other crimes as well.

In this video, creator and executive producer Ted Humphrey explains how the series was developed for US broadcast network CBS, having originally been pitched as a serialised cable series.

In fact, Humphrey describes it as a “hybrid procedural,” similar to fellow CBS series The Good Wife, in which weekly episodes contained single stories while character arcs were built across whole seasons.

Wisdom of the Crowd won’t just focus on the good, Humphrey promises, but will also tackle the dark effects of crowdsourcing and the internet, where innocent people are tarnished by false allegations.

The show, which debuts on CBS on October 1, is produced by CBS Television Studios, Keshet Studios, Algorithm Entertainment and Universal Television and is distributed by CBS Studios International.

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On the ball

Soccer consultant Philippe Fallu tells DQ about creating match sequences for Canadian broadcaster CBC’s football-themed series 21 Thunder, which follows the drama surrounding the young players of the fictional Montreal Thunder on and off the pitch.

It was an amazing experience for me. I’ve been coaching for more than 20 years and building soccer scenes for 22 players at the same time was a big challenge.

It wasn’t always easy; it was very stressful sometimes but it went pretty well and I was lucky to work with some amazing people.

Philippe Fallu

The TV show was like preparing and coaching four movies. I had two great assistants working with me and I was helped a lot by the directors, especially Jim Donovan, the first director I worked with. All the crew were amazing.

I got the scripts for the first three episodes and three days later I met with the production team to do extra casting. I also had meetings with the writers and directors, where we started to build the scenes. I would draw up some ideas and, at the meeting, I would propose everything and talk with the directors, producers and writers and we would decide if it would work. There was also a camera coordinator there who would give their view on where to put different kinds of cameras. So we had a lot of meetings about the way it would work and who was going to do what.

It was a big challenge because while most of the actors were good soccer players, some of them were not that experienced, so we had to manage that. But they were all pretty good athletes, especially the goalkeeper, played by Andres Joseph. He had no soccer background but we would work in a park for hours doing goalkeeping drills. It was pretty impressive to work with them all.

The speed was a big issue [during rehearsals] because as a coach, you always want to protect your players and avoid any injuries but with this kind of work you can’t even have one injury. If you get one of your actors injured, the show can’t go on. So it was very important to do the rehearsals at 50% or 60% speed and then to slowly increase the pace. We also had to control the intensity because some of the extras who, naturally, wanted to show they were good players sometimes went in [for tackles] too hard or too fast.

21 Thunder centres on the on- and off-field challenges facing young players at a fictional football team

It was tough to recreate the sequences but it went surprisingly well. When I was sitting in meetings and drawing up certain scenes, I remember Jim would ask me, “Is this going to work?” But it went pretty well. I took all my inspiration from the soccer I watch on TV, from Serie A (Italy) and La Liga (Spain) to the Premier League (UK). You always want to include something exciting because it’s a TV show, but we had to keep in mind that on shooting days, we had to make it happen.

The first episode sees Thunder’s new signing, Junior Lolo (played by Emmanuel Kabongo), score a last-minute goal from 45 yards to win their first game. That was an exciting and difficult action scene to practice and shoot. That day we had the wind in our face in the direction we wanted to score the goal. The ball went over the goal and beside it. The actor tried to make the right shot as many times as he could, maybe for two hours. Eventually Jim asked me if I thought the actor could make it, and I said I didn’t think so, so we used a throwing machine.

You want to keep it realistic – you don’t want it to be too amazing. As I was told by the directors, it’s a TV show so the bottom line is you’re going to have real soccer fans knowing what it should look like. The principal thing was to make sure we didn’t repeat the same kind of actions. It was a big puzzle but there was great teamwork and I’d do it again any time.

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Taking flight

Military dramas are undoubtedly the programming trend of the 2017/18 US television season – but what is the appeal of these series and how can they stand out from the competition?

Among them is Valor, which stars Christina Ochoa as warrant officer Nora Madani, one of the first female helicopter pilots within an elite US Army unit called the Shadow Raiders. When a mission to Somalia goes horribly wrong, she is one of only two people to return. Now back on home soil, she faces questions about what really happened.

Speaking to DQ, series creator and showrunner Kyle Jarrow reveals why this is more than just a workplace drama, detailing the complicated personal relationships that drive the story.

Jarrow explains how his brother was the inspiration behind the series, and why it is a perfect fit for commissioning network The CW.

He also discusses how broadcast networks are responding to the way cable channels have pushed the boundaries of genre and storytelling.

Valor is produced by CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros Television and distributed by CBS Studios International.

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Ratings war

A news anchorman goes to dangerous lengths to draw huge ratings to his show when he begins to cover the gang wars playing out deep in the Amazon jungle. DQ speaks to Intro Pictures’ Simoni de Mendonça and Lucas Vivo about Brazilian thriller Pacto de Sangue (Blood Pact).

Some people will do anything for ratings. That’s the case for reporter Walter Souza, the central character in Brazilian drama Pacto de Sangue.

Produced by Intro Pictures for Turner-owned Canal Space, the 10-part series centres on Souza, who discovers that using extremely violent content will help bring massive audiences to his programme.

Intro Pictures co-founder Simoni de Mendonça tells DQ more about the series with contributions from series creator Lucas Vivo.

Pacto de Sangue sees reporter Walter Souza go to extreme lengths to get big ratings

What is the story of Pacto de Sangue (Blood Pact)?
De Mendonça: It’s the story of a reporter, Walter Souza, who sees an opportunity to get big TV ratings through raw, violent content. With the help of his ex-cop brother, he gets involved with Trucco, a big local Narco in [the Brazilian state of] Amazonas and starts covering murders and gang wars that occur between Trucco and the other big drug lord of the area, Amaral. He slowly starts getting more and more attention and becomes a celebrity anchorman. At the same time, the disappearance of a young woman from São Paulo brings an alcoholic, foul-tempered detective, Moreira, to Belém de Para, the gateway to Amazonas, as the body of the girl appears floating in one of the many rivers in the jungle.

What are the origins of the show?
De Mendonça: Lucas likes characters who don’t belong in their own place and time. Moreira is one of those. He’s extremely loyal but has no discipline to follow orders. He does things his own way.
Vivo: I always liked the idea of sending a big-city detective to investigate the case of a missing young girl in the jungle. The fish-out-of-water experience was something that definitely interested me a lot in the beginning of the conception of the idea.
De Mendonça: Furthermore, in Pacto de Sangue, we address different subjects that are really violent but common in any Latin American suburb, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, sicarios [contract killers] and the fight over power and territory between gangs. All this is seen through the media’s point of view, which is never fully impartial. In a sense, it is a critique about what is journalism today in many Latin American countries.

The show was filmed in Belém de Para, the Amazon Delta and São Paulo

How was the story developed for the network?
De Mendonça: We had the story developed, with synopsis, character descriptions, all the drama of season one and cliffhangers for a possible season two. Once [Space owner] Turner agreed to move forward with the project, we brought together a screenwriting team with Patricio Vega, who also directed, and started working on the scripts. Turner’s involvement in collaborating on the scripts started at that point and finished once we finished the whole writing process.

How would you describe the writing process?
Vivo: It was a hell of an adventure. For me it was my first big experience in this genre, which I so much love. It took us 10 months to fully write all of the series episodes. Taking into account that it took me over six months to develop the concept idea, storyline and characters, it was a very long, very tough, very rewarding process.

How did you work with the director to develop the visual style and tone of the series?
De Mendonça: Lucas already had in mind what kind of narrative wanted for the series. It had to feel very real, very human and very raw – life as it is. It had to have the natural beauty, cultural feel and violence as seen on Latin American news, not the fiction of a Hollywood film. The use of hand-held cameras and natural lighting was encouraged from the beginning. This is why Adrian Caetano was the first pick to direct this series, followed by Thomas Portella.

The drama was produced by Intro Pictures for Turner-owned Canal Space

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
De Mendonça: Guhilerme Fontes plays Silas Campello, the greedy anchorman who neglects his family and is all about getting to the top. It was a perfect role for him. He brings some particular freshness to the anchorman role.
Ravel Cabral plays Moreira, the tough São Paulo detective who has to step out of his comfort zone and travel to the middle of the Amazonian jungle, to Belém de Para, to investigate a corpse that may match a missing girl from São Paulo. He is awesome in the role. Besides fitting perfectly the physicality of the role, he is a very well trained actor, very versatile and convincing.
Vivo: He brings real drama to his character, and he is very good at the physical aspect that was required for his role.
De Mendonça: Andre Ramiro plays Soares, the detective from Belém who has to work beside Moreira during his stay in Belém. He is the counterpart of Moreira – a thinking nerd, but a very brave and reliable officer. I liked Andre’s work since I saw him in Tropa de Elite. I had always thought of him for this part from the beginning.
Trucco is played by another great actor whose work I’ve been following: Johnathan Haggensen. He brought to the Narco role a tough and cold-blooded look but with empathy and sensitivity as well when it comes to helping his community.
We also invited other renowned actors to be part of the cast, including Mel Lisboa, Gracindo Jr and Fulvio Stefanini.

Where was the series filmed and how were locations used in the script?
De Mendonça: The series was shot between Belém de Para, the Amazon Delta and São Paulo. We took those three universes and the contrast between each one is very appealing to watch. We went from a huge crowded city like São Paulo to a small northern Brazil city such as Belém de Para, where the colours and the culture are very different from the ones in São Paulo. To this, we added the Amazon Delta, which brings mystery and more beautiful scenery to the series. Something I really like about Pacto de Sangue is that you can really feel Brazil running through its veins.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
De Mendonça: Shooting deep in the Amazon was very tough. We had big boats as hotels for both cast and crew when we shot action sequences in the jungle. We had a very big team, with very big challenges, shooting in the middle of nowhere. We’re happy we could pull this off without any major problems. Our production team did an outstanding job.

How does Pacto de Sangue stand out from other television dramas in Brazil?
De Mendonça: For its story, its production values, the amazing job Portella and Caetano did in directing and because we managed to bring together an amazing cast.

What do you hope viewers take away from the series?
De Mendonça: Viewers should enjoy 45 very entertaining minutes each time they watch an episode. Our job is to entertain – and this is no easy task. If we get there, then we achieved our objective.

What are you working on next?
De Mendonça: We are writing a new project for Fox with production scheduled for 2018. It is a thriller that takes place in a psychiatric ward. It’s going to be amazing. For this project we hired the Slavich brothers, Walter and Marcelo, as writers.

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Law and order

Inspired by the television series and feature film of the same name, CBS action drama S.W.A.T. tells the story of a specialised police tactical unit operating in LA. In particular, it centres on Daniel ‘Hondo’ Harrelson (Shemar Moore), who is torn between the police and looking after his own community.

Executive producers Shawn Ryan and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who wrote the pilot, tell DQ about the origins of the series and how it was shaped by current events in the US as they sought to investigate how the police interact with communities.

They also reveal why they opted to design the series as an episode-of-the-week procedural for US network CBS and share their thoughts on the current trend for military-inspired drama series.

S.W.A.T. is produced by Sony Pictures Television in association with CBS Television and distributed by Sony.

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Doctor in the house

Freddie Highmore takes the lead in ABC’s The Good Doctor, the story of an autistic trainee doctor trying to make his way through a highly competitive teaching hospital.

Executive producers Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0) and David Shore, who wrote the pilot, discuss why they wanted to produce a show about a hero in the age of anti-heroes on the big and small screens.

They also discuss how they adapted the South Korean series on which The Good Doctor is based for a US audience, while Shore – best known as the creator of hit medical series House – explains his decision to return to a hospital setting and how the show will balance procedural and serialised elements.

The Good Doctor is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Shore Z and 3 AD and distributed by Sony.

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In the Navy

CBS military drama SEAL Team, which stars David Boreanaz (Bones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), follows the lives of the elite Navy SEALs as they train, plan and execute dangerous, high-stakes missions for the US.

Executive producers Sarah Timberman and Ben Cavell, who wrote the pilot, tell DQ why authenticity is key for the series, which they chose to focus on the people who carry out these missions, rather than the missions themselves.

Fellow executive producer Ed Relich also explains why the creative team didn’t want SEAL Team to simply be a ‘mission of the week’ drama, but one that tells stories through the show’s characters and their relationships with each other.

SEAL Team is produced by CBS Television Studios and Timberman-Beverly Productions for CBS and is distributed by CBS Studios International.

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Rocky road to love

The path to romance proves bumpy in Turkish comedy-drama Hayat. DQ hears from producer Burak Sağyaşar about making a series for a younger audience and why fantasy shows could be on the increase in Turkey.

In a sign of the growing reach of Turkish series around the world, more than 20 million viewers in India have been watching clips of one romantic drama before it has even aired in the country.

The show in question is Hayat (Aşk Laftan Anlamaz), the story of an affair between the eponymous woman and a businessman named Murat. It airs on Show TV in Turkey.

Burak Sagyasar

Following her graduation, Hayat is struggling to find a job and her mother threatens her with an arranged marriage. As she runs from one interview to the next, she scolds a young man in a taxi line – who turns out to be her next interviewer, Murat. After a case of mistaken identity, she ends up working with him, and so begins a rollercoaster of events with their relationship at the centre.

The series, which runs to 102 episodes, is produced by Bi Yapim and distributed internationally by Inter Medya. The cast is led by Hande Ercel as Hayat and Burak Deniz as Murat.

Here, producer Burak Sağyaşar tells DQ about the unique origins of the series as he sought to make a show targeting younger viewers.

What are the origins of the show?
This show was based on our desire to create a series that could stand out among the many productions that have been unable to fully capture young audiences. Generation gaps were growing between young audiences and producers. Having observed that, I decided to produce Hayat. A lot of young stars in Turkey wanted to work with me when I founded my company, Bi Yapım. So in a way, Hayat was a perfect match for that – with the universe it created, its cast and the trendy love story it told.

How was the story developed for the Show TV?
There was close cooperation with the network. Even though this is the first TV series I have produced, they trusted me completely and only made minor suggestions along the way. The result was completely original and the idea belonged to me. I hear it’s attracting incredible interest in India right now and the sales are going well worldwide, which is all exciting for me.

How did you find the right balance of comedy and drama?
In Turkey, productions are usually one or the other. Any ‘romantic comedies’ are based on situational comedy with some sweet banter between couples. The biggest difference with Hayat is the intense dramatic journey. When the story was first designed, it was a drama, which was then adapted to comedy. Thus between Hayat and Murat, you actually watch a solid love story.

Hayat stars Hande Ercel as Hayat and Burak Deniz as Murat

How would you describe the writing process?
I shared my idea with our writers and creative teams, then the story was conceptualised with a projection of the plot line. Finally, the script drafts were created. The one thing I prefer to never follow is a ‘make it up as we go along’ rationale. It’s a different thing to make manoeuvres according to the ratings. But knowing what you will be shooting and watching without any surprises is another thing. I always want to be able to see ahead, even if those stories may change later on.

How do you find enough storylines to fill 102 episodes?
We first laid down the groundwork. In my system, stories are worked on in batches of 10 episodes – which can change afterwards – and five episodes are approved in advance. I built close relationships with our writers and sometimes I even attended script meetings for hours. We have even created more than 400 episodes on other projects working this way.

How did the writers and directors develop the visual style and tone of the series?
During pre-production, three months prior to broadcast, our director and writers met at the production company every day. They were accompanied by creative department heads. At those meetings they discussed all details regarding the colour, tone and visual style of the show, as well as what camera, lighting equipment and other materials were going to be used – anything you can think of. I have a motto that I always like to say: ‘Everyone will see the dream on the table the same way.’

The story comprises 102 episodes

What do the lead cast members bring to the series?
Hande Erçel and Burak Deniz are two very promising and talented actors. After many auditions, I decided they were the perfect couple. There was very meticulous styling work done and Hayat and Murat emerged as a result.
Hayat has probably contributed to many people’s careers, but with Hande and Burak, it gave their careers a quantum leap. Their dedication, discipline and acting contributed greatly to the show. I’m happy to have worked with them.

Where was the series filmed and how were locations used in the script?
The series was filmed in and around Istanbul. We decided where the story would take place and the writers wrote accordingly. Beautiful and romantic locations were selected for shooting.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
We did not have any major problems or challenges, from episode one right up to the finale. Working with professionals, we were able to quickly take care of all minor troubles among ourselves. That’s why it was a project I happily worked on.
But referring to my earlier comments on the writing process, I can say this: at the risk of ratings dropping, there were at least five sharp turns in the storyline of Hayat along the way. Thanks to the support and collaboration of the network, and being able to read the audience reactions well, we were successful. Still, that was quite a challenge and a risk.

Hayat was created with younger viewers in mind

How do you think Hayat stands out from other dramas on air in Turkey?
As a producer, I try to keep track of everything on screen. There are certain periods when the industry enters a vicious circle of ‘temporary blindness’ and you keep seeing similar works on TV. In the name of raising awareness, as I mentioned before, Hayat is a series that was built on a dramatic structure. Telling the charming and impossible love story of two young lovers embellished with the components of a youth series and a different narrative style, it has become successful and stood out from its rivals.

How are television dramas changing in Turkey and what new stories are being told?
Successful producers in Turkey are those that follow global trends as well as observing their local market. We also follow innovative and exciting stories but, sociologically speaking, in Turkey it is the female audience that drives ratings. We can include women from all categories in this segment. Then come the youth and male viewers. That is why love stories always attract the most interest.
I think the fantasy genre will be the rising trend in the near future in Turkey. The world is transitioning into a new dimension with futurism, with artificial intelligence, space technologies and visionaries like Elon Musk currently among the top trends.
With the proliferation of digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and others, more courageous and futuristic stories will be told.

What are you working on next?
Bi Yapım and Tims Productions recently merged in a major deal. Tims Productions is the creator and production company of Magnificent Century and a number of works that have become global hits. From now on, producer Timur Savcı and I will be continuing as partners under the new company name, Tims&B Productions. We are currently working on three new projects, which will be on air in the new season.
Our action series The Oath, which is on air now, has been one of the most talked about series in Turkey and around the world. It was featured on Fresh TV at the last MipTV in April. We are working hard to bring many more successful projects to life.

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Going Somewhere

Described as a romantic thriller, ABC’s Somewhere Between sees a mother given the chance to save her daughter’s life when she is transported back to eight days before her murder.

Speaking to DQ, movie star Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Warcraft) discusses the character she plays in her first leading television role and the appeal of starring in a broadcast network drama.

Meanwhile, showrunner Stephen Tolkin reflects on the Korean series that inspired Somewhere Between and talks about how he adapted it for US audiences.

Somewhere Between is produced by ITV Studios America and Canada’s Thunderbird Entertainment and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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Day and knight

Knightfall takes viewers inside the clandestine world of the legendary Knights Templar, the most powerful, wealthy and mysterious military order of the Middle Ages. The 10-part series centres on Landry, the leader of this brotherhood, as they move between battles in the Holy Land and clashes with both the King of France and Pope Boniface VIII to the betrayal that would ultimately lead to their tragic dissolution on Friday the 13th – a date that became synonymous with bad luck.

Speaking to DQ, British actor Tom Cullen — who plays Landry — reveals what attracted him to the project and how the series bridges the gap between history and mythology.

He describes the emotionally and physically gruelling experience of filming the drama and offers his thoughts on the increasingly filmic production of TV drama.

Cullen also recalls working with author Harlan Coben on his first original story for television, Sky1 drama The Five.

Knightfall is produced by A+E Studios for History and distributed by A+E Networks.

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Monkey business

Comedy drama Kim Kong retells an unbelievable and compelling true story for French broadcaster Arte. Thomas Bourguignon from producer Kwaï Productions tells DQ about the series.

It’s a story stranger than fiction: a movie director is kidnapped by a foreign dictator and ordered to make a new version of King Kong that will bring glory to his country.

And yet the premise of French comedy drama Kim Kong is based on an unlikely true story.

The series follows Mathieu Stannis, a bitter and frustrated director who, while shooting a mindless action flick in Asia, is abducted by spies from a neighbouring country. Enraged by his country’s abysmal movie production industry, the despot wants the French filmmaker to helm a new adaptation of classic monster movie King Kong that will glorify his regime.

Faced with an inept crew, equipment that dates from the Cold War and the crazy demands of the dictator, Mathieu’s life now depends on the success of the film.

The series has a strong pedigree, coming from the firm behind political drama Baron Noir, Kwaï Productions. Armance coproduces the show for French broadcaster Arte, while FremantleMedia International distributes.

Here, producer Thomas Bourguignon from Kwaï tells DQ about the story that inspired the series and the challenges he faced in production.

Thomas Bourguignon

What were the origins of the series?
The idea came from Simon Jablonka, the screenwriter. He told me the story of South Korean director Shin Sang-ok who was kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s. The leader at that time asked him to direct movies, notably a remake of Godzilla, which is called Pulgasari. We wanted to make a show about this situation, with a guy who is kidnapped by a dictator who wants him to make a movie.
We wanted to look at this kind of story and make a show not about North Korea but about dictatorship and the freedom to be creative, and how you can create when you’re trapped like this.
Our other inspiration was Misery, Stephen King’s novel, because it’s also about a guy who’s kidnapped by a fan and he has to rewrite his last book because she’s not happy with it. So there were two sources of inspiration. We wanted to make this story not about a specific regime or specific country but about every country, every regime and every type of creator. It’s really about creativity and constraints.

How do you balance the comedy and drama?
The situation is very dramatic from the beginning to the end but it’s dramatic as in movies like Gold Rush, MASH or The Ladykillers. The ground is very serious but we build several distortions that make comedy. It’s a question of life and death but we wanted to have elements where you can do nothing but laugh. The situation is always serious and asks the main character, played by Jonathan Lambert, to be very serious. So everyone around him acts strangely but he is very straight. The conflict between his straightness and the strangeness around him creates the humour.

How was the show developed with the network?
We wrote two or three pitches describing the plot, the main characters, our sources of inspiration and what we wanted to speak about. We also discussed the work of a screenwriter in the world of broadcasters. Sometimes you are confronted by a situation when the broadcaster asks you to cut things and change things. It was funny to tell to Arte we were going to talk about broadcasters – they found it very satirical. Arte is one of the most creative channels in France so we were very at ease with them. We always worked with Arte because we were sure it was not something for other broadcasters – it was a question of format and spirit. It was a new kind of comedy for Arte too because this kind of comedy isn’t on TV.

Kim Kong is based on the true story of a director kidnapped by a dictator and forced to make a movie

How would you describe the writing process?
There were two writers: Simon Jablonka at the beginning, and then we hired Alex Le Sec. It was written very quickly – we knew where we wanted to go and we were precise about what kind of comedy we wanted to make. The question was more about the drama because we were asking ourselves, ‘Are people going to continue to laugh if we kill someone off?’ We also wanted to be very clear that the show was not about North Korea; it’s about a fictional country. So we had to ask ourselves a lot of questions about the language the characters should speak in this place.
For a while we wanted everyone to speak in English because that’s the convention when you see an American movie, with everyone speaking English even though the action takes place in Germany or Turkey or wherever. But Arte were very clear they wanted it to be shot in French and another language because they are a Franco-German channel, so it was important for them to promote the French language.
In the end we decided to let them speak in Chinese, as the action takes place in Asia and it’s a common language for the region – but it’s not about China either. It was easy for us to say it’s filmed in Chinese and it was also easier for casting to find Chinese-speaking actors in France because we have a big community of Chinese people in Paris.
We spent a long time casting, as there are not a lot of French movies shot with Chinese actors. We were not sure we could find anyone, so we started the casting very early in the process, even before the scripts were finished, to be sure to find them in France.
Arte was excited by our casting. The majority of the actors are Chinese-speakers, but not all of them. The ones who weren’t Chinese had to learn the language phonetically and it was a long process; they had to be trained by Chinese teachers. Frédéric Chau, who plays Choi Han Sung, and Christophe Tek, who plays the dictator, are not Chinese speakers, so they had to learn everything by heart. It was difficult for them but they did it very well. It was a real challenge for them and for the director to direct in Chinese too.

How did the writers work with the director to create the look of the show?
We made a mood board with the director, Stephen Cafiero. He’s a young director; it was the first time we worked with him and the first time he worked with Arte. He had done a very good family comedy before and I saw some of the commercials he had done as well.
It was interesting for us because we had to create a whole world that doesn’t exist – the clothes, the set decoration, everything had to be invented. So he collected lots of images from lots of different regimes, from Russia to China, Korea to Cambodia, and we created the look of our regime using the mood board.
We decided to mainly shoot in the studio because it’s a movie about movies and creation, so we wanted to control the look of the movie. We shot 90% in the studio in Paris, where we built the sets.
As our country doesn’t exist, we wanted to create our own look. It was not in Cambodia, Thailand or South Korea, it was not in China. We never found the right country because they were either too modern, too old or too specific. It didn’t correspond to what we dreamed of, so we decided to make it in France in a studio. The exteriors were filmed in Thailand.
After we finished shooting, we erased everything we didn’t want in the frame, using lots of special effects to erase houses that weren’t on our mood board. That took a lot of work in post-production.

The show was created by Bourguignon and Simon Jablonka, who previously worked together on Baron Noir (pictured)

What were the biggest challenges?
In addition to the casting and the language, finding out where we were going to shoot was also challenging. At one point we thought we were going to shoot in Kazakhstan because because we found very interesting locations there and we thought we could cast people from Central Asia. [Kazakh capital] Astana is an amazing city but it is very difficult to shoot there because Kazakhstan’s president is not very democratic. We scouted across the world looking for a set for a long time before finally shooting in Paris!
Our King Kong is very small – that’s part of the problem for the director in the movie because the camera is very old, it’s shot in 16mm and the crew is very inefficient. And he has to shoot something, because the dictator has told him, ‘Either you shoot something or we shoot you.’ So the tension between the reality and what the dictator wants makes the comedy of it.

What new stories are being told in France?
This is something quite new; something that would have once been impossible. We first had this idea years ago, before Simon and I decided now would be a good time to try it. We were finishing Baron Noir and I said I would like to make a comedy about politics. It’s something that couldn’t have been done four or five years ago, but there have been many changes in France and broadcasters are more open-minded than before. They know the audience want something new, something different. They are watching series on different platforms. It’s a good time for producers and creators.

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Storm brewing

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Adam Price’s first major TV project brought the machinations of a coalition government to Danish screens with Borgen, which picked up an International Bafta during its three-season run.

Now he is taking on religion in Ride Upon the Storm, with two seasons of the show already commissioned by Denmark’s DR and Arte France.

Sitting alongside star Lars Mikkelsen, Price tells DQ how he hopes to address the big questions of life and religion in the show, which ostensibly focuses on the family of Mikkelsen’s priest Johannes, his wife and, in particular, their two sons, who each choose different religious paths.

Ride Upon the Storm is produced by SAM Productions and distributed by StudioCanal.

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Spanish inquisition

The disappearance of a loved one tears a family apart in Spanish thriller Sé quién eres (I Know Who You Are). Director and executive producer Pau Freixas tells DQ six things we need to know about the series.

As the British home of international dramas such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Spiral, BBC4 has built a reputation for finding screen gems among the hundreds of television series produced around the world each year.

Pau Freixas

Currently airing in its prized Saturday evening slot, which affords fans of subtitled drama a rarely scheduled double bill of episodes, is its first Spanish thriller, Sé quién eres (I Know Who You Are), a crime saga originally produced by Filmax International’s Arca Audiovisual for Mediaset-owned Telecinco.

The first episode opens as a 55-year-old man staggers along a highway following a terrible accident, with no memory of what happened or how he got there. His name is Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido, pictured top), a successful criminal lawyer and university professor, married to judge Alicia Castro (Blanca Portillo) and father of two children.

When the police find the wreck of Juan’s car, they also find the mobile phone belonging to his 23-year-old niece, Ana Saura (Susana Abaitua), who disappeared on the same night as the accident, with all the evidence pointing to Elias having killed her.

Now he will have to find a way to prove his innocence, even though he himself isn’t completely certain of his innocence.

The series, which is distributed by Arrow Films, is directed by Pau Freixas and the head writer is Ivan Mercadé.

Here, Freixas, who is also an executive producer on the 10-part drama, tells DQ six things we should know about this captivating series, which Sue Deeks, head of BBC programme acquisitions, described as “the dramatic equivalent of a page-turning thriller.”

The show centres on Juan Elias, played by Francesc Garrido

1. I Know Who You Are is a thriller with a strong concept and one that combines an addictive storyline, full of unexpected twists and turns and shocking revelations, with an intricate psychological profile of its characters, who are faced with enthralling and tragic moral dilemmas.

2. The cast is full of stars of Spanish cinema and television, including Blanca Portillo (Volver, Broken Embraces), Francesc Garrido (The Sea Inside), Pepón Nieto (Paco’s Men), Eva Santolaria (7 Vidas) and Alex Monner (The Red Band Society). These actors have brought a complexity to their characters that goes far beyond the demands of the plot.

3. The series was shot entirely on location, without a single scene being filmed on a set. Despite the city that serves as the setting never being named in the series, Barcelona and its surrounding areas shine for their rich and varied environments. The urban landscape, the sea and the mountains all give the series a rich and symbolic aesthetic.

Blanca Portillo (left) stars as Juan’s wife

4. The filming of I Know Who You Are is unique in the sense that there is no one person telling the story. Each scene has its own narrator, and the character driving each scene is clearly accented. To do this, a steadicam was used, allowing the audience to move around with the character and see what they see. This enables the audience to wholly identify with the way the character lives each situation.

5. One of the most addictive features of I Know Who You Are is that the plot continuously thickens throughout the 16 episodes [two seasons that will be shown separately on the BBC]. Episode by episode, the story unfurls in such a way that everything you thought you knew is transformed, outdoing your expectations and keeping you gripped. Only when all the pieces of the puzzle are finally put together at the end will the clues with which the series is impregnated become clear. The shocking ending finally reveals the whole story’s raison d’être.

6. In Spain, the series has not only enjoyed great audience success, but it has proven addictive among its viewers, each episode generating varied speculation on social media as they tried to do their own detective work. Throughout the second half of the series, where the characters force us to decide whether we are for or against them, two opposing sides were generated among the audience and stimulating moral debates ensued.

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All over

Damon Lindelof looks back at three seasons of The Leftovers after the HBO drama finished earlier this year.

He tells DQ about why he was drawn to Tom Perrotta’s book for a TV adaptation, how he worked with the author to create the critically acclaimed series and why the show was reset in a new location when the book’s story was exhausted by the end of the first season.

Lindelof, whose credits also include big screen blockbusters Star Trek: Into Darkness and Tomorrowland, discusses why fear and anxiety are key to his writing process and what differences he sees between working between film and television.

The writer also looks back on hit series Lost and reveals what lessons he learned from the show, which ran for six seasons on US network ABC.

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Staying alive

Swedish crime thriller Innan vi dör (Before We Die) stars Marie Richardson as Hanna, the fading star of Stockholm Police’s organised crime unit, whose son Christian (Adam Pålsson) has disowned her after he was jailed for drug possession.

When her lover and colleague is abducted, Hanna must take over his undercover investigation of a criminal biker gang and protect an infiltrator. But to prevent a brutal takeover in the criminal underworld, she must fight for her son’s life and break another family to save her own.

Here, actors Richardson, Pålsson and Alexej Manvelov tell DQ about their characters and explain why this 10-episode drama, which debuted on Sweden’s SVT earlier this year, is more than just a police story.

They also discuss the process of working with multiple directors and how the show pushes Scandinavian crime dramas beyond The Bridge as the professional and personal lives of its characters begin to blur.

Before We Die is produced by B-Reel Films for SVT and Germany’s ZDF and is distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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Kari on directing

From writing and directing feature films, Kari Skogland has become one of the most sought-after television directors in the US, with credits including Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, The Americans, House of Cards, Vikings and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Speaking to DQ, Skogland reveals a passion for history that led to working on shows such as The Borgias and History miniseries Sons of Liberty.

With a penchant for action, stunts and explosions, she describes her desire for scale and scope when choosing her next project and her directing process when she joins or sets up a new show.

Skogland also shares her thoughts on the trend for feature directors moving to television.

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