All posts by DQ

Korea opportunities

Korean dramas provided the basis for two US series this year, with ABC shows Somewhere Between and The Good Doctor both taking their inspiration from a country that is prolific in its output of scripted content. Here, DQ picks out some new Korean series that are also ripe for acquisition and adaptation.

Emergency Couple
A divorced couple reignite their feelings for each other when they become interns at the same hospital years later. Produced by Dragon Studio for tvN and distributed by CJ E&M.

Why were you interested in telling this story?
Director Chul-gyu Kim: I chose the story because it added a pleasant romantic comedy element to a medical drama genre that could turn out to be a heavy and serious story. The story seemed like one that could give audiences balanced enjoyment.

How was Emergency Couple developed for the network?
At the time, tvN was oriented mostly towards young and active people. The network was embarking on a strategy to broaden its demographic, and our story fitted in well with that strategy in that it can appeal to all audiences.

The show switches between two timelines – how did you tackle that?
For the scenes in the past when the couple were together, we focused on their emotions. For the present, social environments, roles and positions were added on top of their emotions and they were harmoniously depicted.

How would you describe the writing process?
We carried out thorough research and tried our best to reflect reality in the hospital. We collected as much medical information as possible and also gathered diverse ideas from people who work in the industry.

Why were Song Ji-Hyo and Choi Jin-Hyuk picked to star in the show?
Both are talents who can express earnestness and brightness, which are important to starring in a melodrama.

A thriller in which a prosecutor who is unable to feel emotion begins to uncover corruption within his office. Produced by Dragon Studio for tvN and distributed by CJ E&M.

Why did you want the lead character, Shi-Mok (Cho Seung-woo), to lack emotion?
Producer Jae-hyun So: Being unable to feel any sort of emotion is a big flaw and is abnormal. We wanted to contrast this with the other ‘normal’ characters in the story. Doctors who save lives, prosecutors who convict criminals – they need to have an underlying love for humanity. However, we set up a character without emotions because we wanted to portray someone who would pursue the truth and not be swayed by personal greed, not to mention justice or love for humanity.

Tell us about the show’s visual style.
In the development stage, our camera, art and casting teams came together and decided to make the show look cold and emotionless. We shot tight angles, getting very close to the actors to better capture their emotions. The actors’ expressions seemed much more real this way.

Where was Stranger filmed and what does this bring to the show?
We filmed the show in Incheon, South Korea, but the story was inspired by the Seobu District Prosecution Office. All the houses, bathrooms and crime scenes were all filmed on set. We tried our best to make it look real. The prosecution office on the set was built after tours of real-life offices and we referred to videos and documentaries about how the prosecution operates.

What were the biggest challenges in development or production?
As the whole drama was made before it began airing, there were limitations to receiving viewer feedback. However, we could elevate the perfection in post-production with editing, mixing, CGI and music.

How is K-drama evolving and what new stories are you able to tell?
Audiences now seem to prefer dramas with a unique concept – storylines that are different from any others, regardless of the genre. In addition, successful shows reflect Korean sentiment and social atmosphere.

Band of Sisters
A ‘womance’ that depicts the friendship between a group of women out for revenge after they each lose something following a car crash. Produced by SBS and FNC Add Culture for SBS and distributed by SBS International.

How would you describe the writing process?
Producer Younghoon Choi: Traditionally, Korean weekend drama series feature the story of an extended family. However, I wanted to introduce some fresh and dramatic devices and settings, with younger main characters and three villains. I emphasised the confrontation between good and evil and abandoned the clichés of a Cinderella story or a success story. I wanted to have characters attack each other and defend themselves in each episode, like a game, and I upgraded the clichés of a birth secret, false romance, betrayal and conspiracy, and utilised them colourfully.

How did you create the style of the series?
I wanted something between American soap operas and cinematic TV series. It was difficult to keep it low budget and high quality while producing and directing a 50-episode series. So for the first 10 episodes, I shot at 24fps to maintain the cinematic look and later I shot at 30fps. Also, I used three cameras for every episode to reduce the shooting time and capture various shots.

What were the biggest challenges in production?
The overwhelming volume – 50 70-minute episodes – was the most burdensome. It was challenging to control the rhythm of the story from the beginning until the end. I tried to make the scene transition quick, but at the same time tried to make the story flow naturally. I constantly interacted with the actors while shooting, and held enough rehearsals before shooting so they could act smoothly. I enjoyed experimenting with various genres – this series has elements of comedy, thriller, action, romance and even horror.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
Band of Sisters features a clear confrontation between good and evil. The story development is fast and the situation changes quickly, not allowing the viewers to feel bored. Moreover, romantic scenes and touching family stories are a bonus.

Questionable Victory
A wrongly convicted death row inmate escapes from prison to save the life of his friend’s sister. Produced by SBS and RaemongRaein for SBS and distributed by SBS International.

Where did the story come from?
Producer Kyungsoo Shin (pictured): I was interested in stories about people who waste their youth in prison after being falsely accused of a crime. In 2000, a taxi driver was stabbed to death and the first witness, a 15-year-old delivery boy, was accused of murder. He was recently released from prison at the age of 32, after his innocence was proved in a retrial and the real perpetrator emerged. Nothing can compensate the time such people spend in prison. I wanted to make a story where the wrongly charged individual solves the case by himself. The writing began in 2016 and the casting began this July. Pre-production kicked off in August and shooting is now underway.

How would you describe the show’s tone?
This is close to a serious drama, but I’m adding some humour at some points so it doesn’t become too serious. Unexpected, natural comedy or a funny situation will prevent the series from becoming too serious.

What makes Questionable Victory stand out from other Korean dramas?
I try not to make emotional scenes too deep or too long. Questionable Victory will stand out because it gives a light touch to such scenes. But to find out if this difference becomes a strength, I’ll have to wait until the editing finishes.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
The story is easily approachable even for foreign viewers. A story of a falsely charged man trying to solve his problem by himself, about jailbreak and a detective, is easy to understand. Also, the main character is humble and has his faults, so viewers will feel comfortable with him.

An action drama about two brothers and the ill-fated choices they make, due to air in November. Produced by Drama House and Kim Jong Hak Productions for JTBC and distributed by JTBC Content Hub.

What did you find appealing about Untouchable?
Producer Cho Jun Hyoung: It’s not just a tale of two brothers, but a complex family story. Initially, it may seem like [main character] Joon’s journey to avenge his wife’s death is the central plot, but his internal struggle is the real arc of the story. As he faces the disgraceful history of his family, his deep hatred for his monstrous father and brother grows. But he is conflicted by the desire to forgive them because they are his family. Audiences today can connect with this complicated and delicately told father-son conflict, magnified through dramatic settings. It is directed by the charismatic Cho Nam Gook and written by Choi Jin Won, known for his dense writing style.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
It may sound weird to say that this is a story about family when a brother is seeking revenge for his wife’s death and the plot includes a struggle against immense power. But as you get into the story, you will see that it’s something we can relate to, because we all experience life as a family in some way. We are telling a story that can draw the sympathy of not only people living in Korea but around the world.

How would you describe the state of Korean drama?
The K-drama industry is enjoying an increased number of networks and timeslots. Correspondingly, there is a flood of new shows being produced, and many of the major networks are preparing to open a new slot for drama. The result is a more competitive environment for us. JTBC is home to a diverse genre of stories such as Woman of Dignity, Strong Girl, Man X Man and Hello, My Twenties!. Our main priority is to discover and deliver fresh stories and subject matter.

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Drama of Biblical proportions

A Belgian drama inspired by the Ten Commandments sees a modern-day Moses commit a string of gruesome crimes. DQ leans more about the series – 13 Geboden (13 Commandments) – from director Maarten Moerkerke.

The story of Moses is no stranger to screen adaptations, but 13 Geboden (13 Commandments) takes the Biblical tale and gives it a grisly modern-day twist.

The Belgian series follows a string of horrendous crimes committed in an apparent attempt to lift society out of a state of immorality. Meanwhile, a soon-to-retire police officer and his ambitious young partner get caught up in the impossible hunt for the perpetrator, who becomes increasingly popular despite his cruel retribution for the people he believes have sinned.

Produced by Menuen for Flemish broadcaster VTM, the show is distributed internationally by Canada’s Attraction Distribution. It is due to air next year.

Here, director Maarten Moerkerke, who was also part of the writing team, tells DQ more about the series, his role in its development and how the show reflects the excesses of modern society.

What is the story behind 13 Commandments?
Maarten Moerkerke: Inspired by the Ten Commandments, a modern-day Moses starts committing a series of gruesome crimes in order to jolt society’s conscience and restore its moral values. The fact that he can’t kill anyone (the Fifth Commandment) doesn’t inhibit him to punish determinedly and fiercely. The seemingly impossible hunt for the perpetrator is led by Peter, a 60-year-old inspector who just returns from a career break due to a burnout, and Vicky, a rookie inspector who had to leave the SWAT team after a car accident that left her mother in a coma. As the investigation unfolds, Moses gains popularity, despite the atrocity of his crimes,  and then they catch him – or at least they think they do.

Why did you join the project?
I only got involved as a director late in the process of development but I immediately liked the idea very much, as I saw the possibilities to refer to our contemporary society, its growing populism and the anonymous cry for instant justice on social networks and in online comments on popular news sites.

Maarten Moerkerke (left) on set with star Dirk Van Dijck

Why do you think this series stands out among the number of other crime dramas on television?
The originality lies within de development of the story and the characters. It starts out as a regular, almost cliché, crime drama: an older cop, a new younger, female colleague, a serial criminal… And, of course, there’s the obvious conceptual link to the movie Seven, to which one of the cops refers at a crime scene. But as the story evolves it becomes much more complex. There’s the unpredictable path of the crimes, their impact on the personal lives of Peter and Vicky, who have their own crosses to bear, and how it all melts down. It’s not a typical whodunnit story but rather it becomes the tale of two people who try to catch a criminal who confronts them, through his crimes, with the mess in their own personal lives.

How did you influence the development of the series?
When I first read the drafts, they were much more predictable and almost formatted, tackling one commandment per episode. The focus was on ‘Moses’ and the complexity of his crimes and, above all, it was constructed as a whodunnit. I convinced the network that it wouldn’t work, certainly not with 13 episodes, as viewers would get bored. So we changed the focus from Moses to Peter and, more importantly, Vicky. We almost recreated her with a different background, less clichéd and with much more depth. That gave us the tools to tell the story in a much less predictable way. Another huge turnaround was that the viewers know, well before the end of the series, who Moses really is. This knowledge gives the last episodes a real boost as the story shifts into a totally different direction.

13 Commandments shares a similar premise to David Fincher’s Seven

What is the message behind the show and how does it reflect or mirror contemporary society?
Moses’ acts automatically imply a certain view of contemporary society, as his crimes point out that certain values are diminishing or have completely vanished. First of all, Moses is not a religious fanatic; he uses the Ten Commandments rather as a cultural, widespread reference – a manifest, so to speak. He wants to give the public an easy, well-known explanation for his deeds. And furthermore, most of the Ten commandments are still a moral code, even for atheists – no killing, no lying, no adultery, honour your parents, no stealing, honesty… So he may have a point that some of these moral codes have been hollowed out in our modern times where people store their parents in care homes, work seven days a week and try to survive in a world that seems to turn faster than ever.
As sane people, we can never accept his violent reaction to this so-called moral depravation. But what if he proves beyond any doubt to the general public that someone who’s leading a normal lifeis an active paedophile? And what if that reveal sparkles a medieval witch hunt? And so we’re back at the instant cry for ‘justice’ on social media. Populism and right-wing politics have never been so popular.

How would you describe the writing process?
We did a thorough makeover of the original scripts with a new team of four writers. We only had four months until the start of the shoot, so it was quite hectic, as I prepared the shoot as a director and at the same time co-wrote the shooting scripts. We all knew what had to be done, and although we didn’t have all the shooting scripts by the start of filming, everyone at that time – cast, crew, production and the network – had enough confidence in the project, so the shoot was intense but rewarding.

Tell us about the lead actors.
Peter and Vicky are played by Dirk Van Dijck and Marie Vinck. I had previously worked with Dirk and when the project was proposed to me, I contacted him immediately. He was my only option to play Peter. It didn’t take long to convince him, although we had long discussions about his character and the direction I would take in the rewrites of the screenplay. But there was faith and friendship. I knew it would be a huge task for him but he took it very seriously – he even lived for five months in the town of Aalst, where we were shooting – and he delivered tremendously.
As for Marie, it was more complicated because Vicky was completely different in the original screenplays. I really had to convince her that we would transform her character completely in a more gripping, compelling way. But once she was in, she lived to the job and played Vicky exactly as I imagined her.

The drama will hit screens next year

Is there a way you like to work with actors, either in rehearsal or on set?
On 13 Commandments, there really wasn’t much time to rehearse as I was still writing during preproduction. But we had open discussions about the characters, and the advantage of the ongoing writing process was that I still could shape the characters or the scenes till the last moment. There was a lot of trust during the shoot, for which I was very grateful, although it was a huge responsibility at the same time. We even did scenes from the last episodes without any script or context. We all just leaped – it was scary but it felt right.

How did you create the look of the series?
The network insisted on a look that wasn’t too dark, literally, but that was never our intention anyway. Anton Mertens, the DOP, suggested a dirty look in which we wouldn’t hide anything in the darkness but rather show it all, albeit in a very explicit, stylised light. We both loved the photography in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man. The combination of warm and cold light in one composition would be something we would use a lot. Mertens really did a great job in creating the right atmosphere for a society, or rather an environment, where our Moses could thrive.

Where was the series filmed and how did you use real locations within the show?
The series was originally set in Antwerp but I relocated the shoot to Aalst, a smaller city with fewer landmarks and a very specific vibe. It has a more industrial character with a factory in the centre of the city – a very visual concept that fitted our view of Moses’ society. We shot the whole series, with a few exceptions, over there and used mostly real locations, or we constructed sets within real locations.

What are you working on next?
I am finishing the series I shot right after 13 Commandments. It’s called The Gang of Jan De Lichte, a story that takes place in Flanders around 1740. In between, I also shot my first feature, Verborgen Verlangen, a feel-good movie that will be released this month.

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Drawing a blank

What do you do if you can’t trust anyone, least of all yourself?

That’s the dilemma at the heart of Tabula Rasa, a nine-part drama about a young woman with amnesia who is locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. A police officer believes she was the last person to see a man before he vanished, and won’t allow her release until he is found.

In order to solve the puzzle, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her recent past. The more she remembers, the more she starts to distrust not only the people around her, but also herself.

Showrunner Malin-Sarah Gozin and actor Veerle Baetens, who is also among the series’ writers, reveal the origins of the story and talk about how the show was developed.

Gozin also talks about her role on the Flemish-language show, why viewers are drawn to stories featuring unreliable narrators and plans to turn Tabula Rasa in to an anthology series.

Tabula Rasa is produced by Caviar for VRT-owned Één and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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A-nother Word

Howard Burch, creative director of scripted at prodco Keshet UK, looks at the challenge of repeating the success of hit drama The A Word with its forthcoming second season and discusses the development process behind the follow-up.

The first series of The A Word was a standout success, attracting a consolidated average audience of 5.5 million and a 22% share on BBC1 in 2016. It also aired on SundanceTV in the US, which is also the US broadcaster for season two.

What can one hope for with a second season of a successful show? That it expands on the original? That it whets the audience’s appetite for more? Maybe even that it is better than the first? Or simply that it doesn’t disappoint a loyal audience eager for more?

Produced by Fifty Fathoms and Keshet UK, and based on an original Israeli series by Keren Margalit called Yellow Peppers, The A Word is about a messy extended family living in the Lake District, whose youngest son, Joe, just happens to be on the autistic spectrum.

The A Word centres on an autistic boy Joe (Max Vento) and his family

But in writer Peter Bowker’s assured hands, the drama is never issue-led or ‘about’ autism. Audiences flocked to it because it was warm, accessible and light-hearted – and with a great soundtrack to boot!

The second season, coming to BBC1 and SundanceTV this autumn, picks up on events two years on – and Joe, played by Max Vento, is changing. Now seven years old, he has begun to look at the world and finds that he doesn’t fit in. It revisits the funny, mixed-up lives of the Hughes and Scott families as they struggle to do their best as parents, carers and lovers… and to work out what’s really important in the face of nothing ever feeling normal.

Bowker explains: “‘Autistic’ is a word Joe has heard but can’t yet understand. ‘Different’ is what he feels, and fears it might be something bad. It’s up to the whole family to help Joe make sense of who he is and his place in the world. But to do that, they must first be honest about themselves.”

The team, including executive producers Patrick Spence, Marcus Wilson and producer Jenny Frayn, again consulted with various bodies such as the National Autism Society and Anna Kennedy Online to make sure the scripts feel authentic. But the series has never tried to be reflective of every experience of autism in the family. It tells the story of every family through the prism of one family struggling to come to terms with their son’s unexpected diagnosis.

Lee Ingleby and Morven Christie play Joe’s parents

“Peter Bowker has extensive experience of working with families with children with autism and was able to draw on this wealth of knowledge to create a detailed and truthful portrait of a family with a child with autism at its heart,” says producer Frayn. “As well as drawing on Peter’s experience, we also spoke to a number of organisations involved in autism, as well as parents of children with autism. We kept in touch with them after the first series aired and we were pleased by the support we received and the largely very positive feedback.”

For the first season, we filmed in Manchester and the Lake District, just as Storm Desmond brought record rainfall to the North West. For the second season, we were blessed with calmer conditions, partly because filming was pushed back to the spring and summer of 2017. “Although, the weather in the Lake District doesn’t follow the typical laws of the seasons,” notes Frayn. “We started filming in March with snow on the hilltops, and in June we faced torrential rain and high winds.

“We tried to film a fell-running festival with outdoor stalls, people in skimpy running gear and young children licking ice-creams as tents were being blown away and rain lashed the bouncy castle. The cast and crew were all real troopers about coping with the weather, but in the end we had to come back on a sunnier day and stage the fell-running festival all over again. It looked glorious.”

One of the ingredients new to this season is an even greater verisimilitude. “A brilliant illustration of this,” says Wilson, “was the sequence in the special school. We took Max and his on-screen parents Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby into a real special-school classroom to film Joe’s first day because we wanted to portray an authentic environment.

The series also features former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston

“Producer Jenny and location manager Gary Barnes liaised in detail to work out exactly how this could be achieved by integrating a small documentary-style crew into the classroom and letting real-life action unfold around our characters. We had to make sure we were incredibly sensitive to the needs of the class and teachers, making sure they were comfortable with the equipment and that lighting and sound and all the usual noises of a set were attuned to what the class could cope with.

“Director Sue Tully managed the set beautifully, whispering directions and capturing genuine moments. To ensure the families felt comfortable with what was shot, Jenny [showed footage] to parents and teachers and discussed what we were trying to achieve and whether they were confident about what was seen in each shot.”

The show has sold around the globe, via our distribution arm Keshet International, to countries including Canada, Australia, Finland, Iceland, Croatia, Slovenia, Sweden, Brazil and South Korea, as well as a second-window VoD rights deal to Amazon Prime Video in the US. The series is proving over and over again how relatable and important it is, perhaps because it just really resonates with people – we all have a family, and families all have challenges to overcome. So it’s with comfort and pride that we envisage more viewers around the world watching something so worthwhile.

Hopefully viewers will find this season an even deeper and more rewarding experience than the first. As with any returning series, the writers and creators know the actors they are writing for and can play to their strengths. But, crucially, both cast and crew have spent longer in each other’s company, and that feeling of being one big, unconventional and sometimes fractious but mostly harmonious family filters through in every scene.

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Trial of the century

Set immediately after the Second World War, Tokyo Trial follows the 11 judges from allied nations who were called to Tokyo to preside over landmark legal proceedings that would determine the fates of 28 Pacific military and political leaders charged as war criminals.

The four-part miniseries, set over two-and-a-half years, follows the judges’ struggle to reach verdicts for each of the accused while finding a balance between political, professional and personal conflicts.

Here, executive producer David Cormican reveals how the series – which mixes authentic footage with scripted scenes based on extensive research – was developed for Japanese broadcaster NHK, with Netflix picking up international rights.

He also describes the challenge of recreating post-war Japan on set in Lithuania and finding costumes for a cast of thousands.

Tokyo Trial is produced by NHK, Don Carmody Productions and FATT Productions in association with Netflix, and is distributed by Entertainment One.

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Guardian angels

Brazilian drama Conselho Tutelar (Guardian Council) bypasses the country’s telenovela traditions with series set within a government department focusing on child welfare. Producer Carlos De Andrade reveals how it dramatises stories straight from the headlines.

Newspaper headlines have long prodived inspiration for television dramas, a trend highlighted by the current spate of true crime series airing around the world.

But Conselho Tutelar (Guardian Council) has found a new way to dramatise real-life stories and shed light on an area of life that viewers may not be so familiar with.

Based on the work of a real government department, the series follows a group of people tasked with protecting the rights of children and adolescents, often going far beyond the call of duty to support those in their care. But they must do this in a world full of bureaucracy, precarious working conditions and political decisions that affect their every move.

Produced by Rio de Janeiro-based Visom Digital, Guardian Council launched on TV Record in 2014, with season two following in 2016. Season three is due to air next year.

Here, executive producer Carlos De Andrade reveals the inspiration for the series and the challenge of pushing this Brazilian series away from the country’s telenovela traditions.

Carlos De Andrade

What is the story of Guardian Council?
De Andrade: Entirely based on true stories, Guardian Council is a procedural drama that follows two deputies, Sereno and Cesar, who are elected by their own communities to oversee and enforce children and adolescents’ welfare.
These two guardians are joined by psychologist Ester and  social worker Lidia, and have to fight against poor working conditions and the system’s bureaucracy and politics, which often focus on anything else except the true welfare of the children.
Cases of physical and psychological abuse, neglect and abandonment are at the core of these true stories, and the characters’ personal lives get entangled with their dedication to the job. All of the barriers they face in their everyday procedures are overcome by their passion and personal commitment.
Guardian Councils are federal government institutions supported by cities, with elected deputies, created to enforce the Childhood and Adolescence Statute, known as ECA. This is a rulebook of procedures, laws and rights applying to Brazilian children and adolescents.

Why has the show proven to be a hit with viewers?
Shows based on true stories relate to the public very effectively. Our story supply comes from headlines that, unfortunately, are endless and increasingly gruesome.
Besides that, being broadcast on a free-to-air channel, we work with stories that usually end on a high note – but despite their heroic nature, the characters still have human faults and failures, making them three-dimensional and credible.
One interesting aspect of our show is that we have generally avoided household names [in the cast], but they are still excellent actors. That again lent us credibility, which helped the show immensely.

All of the stories featured in Guardian Council are based on real-life accounts

What was the inspiration behind the series?
Although Guardian Council is not a police show, French movie Polisse [2011] was our main inspiration. The depth of the characters and the crudeness of their interaction with their job helped us to improve the tone of our show. The lack of technological apparatus on show in that movie also related better to our reality than the traditional US procedurals.
When designing the series, we also looked at two American dramas I am a fan of: House and Law & Order: SVU. The prologue, the two-story episode structure and the protagonists’ drama arcs were inspired by House, while the attitude of SVU’s protagonists and their interaction with their own bureaucracy and politics influenced our characters.

How was the series developed with the network?
TV Record was the obvious choice as a network for our show and we only pitched to them once. It might have been beginner’s luck, as we struck the deal at the pitch, but we knew the channel’s history and their focus on family and social awareness.
At the end of our presentation to the drama commissioners, programming head Marcelo Silva stood up and said that he knew all about the work and importance of the Guardian Councils, as two of his four children were adopted. Then we knew we had a deal.
TV Record ended up giving us the graveyard slot – we debuted on a Monday at 23.30. One thing is for sure, they never expected the show to triple their average audience and reach a 17% market share with all the announcers asking to be placed in our slot. The success meant that before we aired the fifth episode of season one, we already had a second and third season.

The drama is heading into its third season

How would you describe the writing process?
I met a guardian, Heber Boscoli, who was recording some music at my studios and he told me stories and spoke of a service that I, as a conscious citizen, should have known about but didn’t. I needed to tell this to the world, and a fictional series for TV was the right vehicle to calcify this knowledge into people’s minds. [Series creator and writer] Marco Borges was writing a music docuseries with me but the financing was not yet in place and I asked him to meet with Heber. I gave him the four main characters and he gave them names, a persona and a universe to exist in. Marco is a natural and he immediately dove into that landscape and wrote a pilot episode. It was all there. We pitched with that and 12 other synopses. With that and an interview with Heber, we landed the deal.
Marco put together a fabulous writers room and, with the constant guidance of TV Record’s Janaína Ávila, brought in Mariana Vielmond, Bruno Passeri, Chris Gomes and Bosco Brasil. The team worked for four months non-stop and created a 14-episode series.
Looking for a way to relate to audiences beyond our borders, we brought in a script doctor from UK. Eva Klaver, a writer with credits for Universal Pictures, helped us trim the edges in our stories and give them a broader perspective.
To our surprise, while we were at work, the network had a poor experience with a similar deal and decided to revise our agreement. They asked us to reduce the show to five episodes, to be presented from Monday through Friday and at a later date than firstly requested. We adjusted the stories to reflect a possible end by the fifth episode, but one extra episode was added following Guardian Council’s success, so we now have 15 episodes divided across three seasons.

What is the style or tone of the series?
It’s as raw as possible without being graphic or aggressive to viewers. Record has a strong Christian audience so we had some limits, but we knew that all along. Working on an episodic procedural drama, it was a challenge to make the show look unique. I designed the technical aspects of the series to have a cinematic look with strong colours, as we are in the tropics, and also to have a somewhat dirty look that matched the subject we would be dealing with.

The guardians of the title are tasked with protecting vulnerable youngsters in Brazil

Where was it filmed and how do you use the locations in the story?
We did not want to shoot in studios, as this would have given the series a novela feel. So we shot all three seasons on location at an old campus ground, close to the TV Record studios in Rio de Janeiro. We used the life experience of those walls, floors, ceilings and furniture to lend us a sense of truthfulness that could be used in the narratives. We also filmed in houses, shelters, hospitals and schools with their own histories, and we believe the audience has responded to each and every observance to detail from our end.

What have been the biggest challenges in production?
We deal with real stories about real people, and sometimes the proposed perspectives can reveal touchy issues and create friction within the Guardian Councils and their regulatory body, the Ministry of Human Rights. Despite their public support for the show, we still have to deal with susceptibilities in the institution and maintain a friendly environment when we expose a flaw in the system.
Another challenge was maintaining continuity throughout three seasons spanning three years of a rapidly growing market and three different cinematographers. We also had to deal with a plethora of changes at the network and work in a regulatory environment where they hold a minority stake in our show but are also its primary exhibitor. Record is our partner and NBCUniversal is our Latin American distributor. This is a potential battlefield that has been graciously paved by a very accommodating NBCU, flexible network management and us. It has been a true balance of power aiming at a higher goal, the show.

The series airs on TV Record

How would you describe the state of Brazilian drama?
Brazil has set a number of landmarks in novela productions over the years. Our stories travel the world and are acclaimed abroad for their technical quality and artistry. However, novelas are open stories, written while they are being played and adjusted according to audience acclaim. It is a drama factory, not quite a business for independent producers to venture in. They have open budgets; the TV studios have to employ artists and writers for long periods of time and that is hard for even the strongest independent production company to endure.
But well-budgeted drama series have started to prove themselves, so now we have excellent Brazilian drama productions on all premium channels and most movie-based pay TV networks.
OTT is also breathing new life into our drama world. If you consider that one of Netflix’s most watched foreign-language dramas is Brazil’s 3%, and that Narcos was created and is run by Brazilian director Jose Padilha, you will come to the conclusion that we are not doing so badly when it comes to fictional series.

What are you working on next?
TV is the most important mass-communication vehicle there is and I believe in using it to communicate relevant social subjects coated by entertainment – and nothing sticks better than the vicarious life offered by good drama stories and acting.
Visom has been funded to develop two new series: a historical drama called Gangs of Rio and a road series on human trafficking called The Nortons. Besides that, Visom has presented a new series to TV Record called Love is a Stranger, a different police procedural series with a greater drama arc and dealing with the universal theme of domestic violence. All three series are based on true stories and we are looking for coproduction partners to team up with us to take these ventures beyond our borders.

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Fairy Godmother

Catherine Zeta-Jones was the star attraction in Cannes when she attended Mipcom to promote her forthcoming Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother. DQ was on hand to hear how she helped develop the series, how she transformed herself for the role and why she has now returned to the medium where her screen career began.

She won an Oscar for her dazzling turn in big-screen musical Chicago and has starred alongside Tom Hanks and George Clooney in films such as The Terminal, Ocean’s Twelve, The Mask of Zorro and Brit comedy Dad’s Army.

Now Catherine Zeta-Jones’s career has come full circle. After beginning in theatre, her big break came with British TV drama Darling Buds of May before she moved to films. But now she’s back on the small screen, first with FX drama Feud, which aired earlier this year, and now as the lead in Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother.

Zeta-Jones plays real-life drug lord Griselda Blanco, a pioneer in the Miami-based cocaine trade who built a drug distribution network spanning the US and was suspected of ordering more than 200 murders.

The Asylum Entertainment production is written by David McKenna and directed by Guillermo Navarro. A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights.

Zeta-Jones last week added some star power to Mipcom in Cannes, where she spoke about the project alongside Patrick Vien, executive MD of international at A+E Networks, and Tanya Lopez, senior VP of original movies and miniseries at A+E-owned Lifetime.

Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Griselda Blanco

Griselda Blanco was a vicious, brutal character – and that’s why Zeta-Jones wanted to play her on screen…
Catherine Zeta-Jones: What drew me to this role was a desire to get inside the skin of such a woman with all those qualities. Usually in drama school they say you have to find some thread of yourself that you can put into a character. Well, this is not that at all and that’s what made it so interesting. A woman came from nowhere, literally the slums of Medellín, Colombia, and became the most revered, powerful, feared woman in the drug business, dominated by ruthless men. How did that happen? Who was this woman? So to be able to get deep into that character, get under her skin, is something I personally had’t had the chance to do in a long time.
For me, this movie [reignited] my love of acting. This is what it’s about. It’s all very good to be playing ingenues; it’s all very good and flattering to have your character’s name preceded by ‘the beautiful, sexy woman walks in, her name is …’ – but I always go, ‘Aw, shit’ because I know that’s way too much time in hair and make-up. With Griselda, I was able to let all that go and find the woman, find out who this woman was. [I had to] humanise her in a way that was unfathomable but certainly not to homogenise her or find some sympathetic quality to her, because I don’t think she had one. That’s why I thank A+E and Lifetime, because it would be very easy to homogenise and rose-tint this character and story, and I was adamant about that. I said, “Please, Tanya, let me loose,” and she said, “Go girl.” [Griselda] was everything I thought she would be for me as an actor – deep, dark, emotional, dangerous. [She is] unsympathetic in a way but, for some weird reason, I think our audience will connect with her or at least understand her.

Cocaine Godmother embodies what a Lifetime movie should be…
Tanya Lopez: The message I want everyone to hear is we’re telling stories about strong, smart and, in some ways – and I really feel this about Griselda – badass women, with high production values and exceptional talent. That’s where, as far as we’re concerned at Lifetime, the movies are evolving to and we’re reaching for. On this particular movie, part of it was shot in Colombia, in Medellín, and the idea of us spreading out and shooting these movies in other parts of the world is very important.

The actor reveals she underwent a physical transformation for the role

TV movies can bring an audience to stories that may be lost as low-budget features, and give actors the chance to bring stories they’re passionate about…
Patrick Vien: We’re living in such an extraordinary period of television where the gates have been blown wide open for a group of artists who, if you go back 15 some years, might have been more about the motion picture business. If you’ve ever worked in a company that has a motion picture division and a television division, there is that absolute rivalry between the two. What’s brilliant about television is it started at a moment in time when Kevin Costner joined our company with Hatfield & McCoys and we saw many other projects – True Detective is another example – where suddenly [film talent] was coming into the marketplace.
The golden age of television is made that much more golden by talents such as Catherine who come to us to realise projects that we can bring to vast audiences through the medium of television. This film simply puts us in the league we want to be in. Everybody uses this phrase ‘premium content.’ Having Catherine at our side and this project in our stable means we are solidifying A+E Networks’ position on a global scale as a premium content provider.

For all her bad traits, Zeta-Jones found something strangely likeable about Griselda Blanco…
Zeta-Jones: There are so many qualities about her that are normally just bad, just not right but, as a woman, there’s something sadistically fantastic and admirable about where she came from and how she was literally the boss in a very dangerous man’s world. You’ve got to give it to her. I know in some of our early conversations, it was like, ‘How do we humanise Griselda? How do we make people relate to Griselda?’ I remember saying, ‘Don’t worry, as bad as she is, I’m going to make people kinda like her.’ Whatever she did, the violence and the murders she’s associated with and eventually charged with, and eventually assented for, I kind of like her. It’s a very sick, dark sense of humour I’ve been hiding all my life and now it’s come out in Griselda.

Zeta-Jones (second from left) in The Darling Buds of May

The stigma of actors moving between television, film and theatre that once existed has now been broken…
Zeta-Jones: I was stuck in the theatre actor box – it wasn’t just that, it was a showgirl theatre, it wasn’t even Royal Shakespeare. So I was part of that world trying to get out of that box, that pigeonhole. I eventually made it into television, made it into film and then if you got to film, you don’t go [back] to TV. That’s changed. Actors are able to do human stories [in television]; they don’t have to be robots in a $200m movie. As an actor, that’s why we do it – to have those international human stories that any culture can understand because they’re human. It’s human nature. It’s qualities that you have or, like Griselda, you don’t have but the fundamental bottom line is they’re human stories – and on TV we’re able to have the time to be able to take those stories out.

The star underwent a huge physical transformation to play Griselda Blanco and relished immersing herself in the character…
Zeta-Jones: Griselda had a very specific face. It was a very interesting face. I didn’t want to do a caricature so that people who never even knew who Griselda Blanco was would see a picture of her and say, ‘She’s not very good, she looks nothing like her.’ I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to get under the skin of this woman. But I wanted to have a transformation – I gained weight, I put my back out the week after I finished shooting. I’m an ex-dancer so I always have a straight back, but my pelvis was forward, I was hunched, I was a bit like a man – if I had balls, I’d grab them from time to time. So that whole transformation was something I lived through every day.
I love my husband and my kids but I was so glad to be on my own on location, to immerse myself in this woman. So I pretty much was walking around feeling like Griselda for the whole length of the shoot, and then I put my back out. But I don’t care – it was worth it. I wanted to let it all hang out. Griselda didn’t care; she thought she was beautiful. She was a movie star, starring in her own movie, and she didn’t give a shit what other people thought. I wanted to have that attitude, that mentality, not to do a caricature of the mugshot people only ever see of her. She was glamorous, she was a bit of a recluse, she was a shopaholic, she was an addict. Everything in excess. She had rooms of clothes, bags, shoes and she never went out – only to kill people. It was a fascinating character to immerse myself in, very liberating. I didn’t care that my eyes were puffy, I was really hoping I was having a puffy day on the shoot.

Cocaine Godmother is written by David McKenna and directed by Guillermo Navarro

Her career has now gone full circle – “a wonderful circle” – as she returns to the medium that made her name…
Zeta-Jones: I’d only done theatre before and then I was cast in [ITV drama] The Darling Buds of May. We did six hours for two years with our legend of a television actor, Sir David Jason. That was the first thing I did on screen. I was a complete unknown and, within an hour of television, my life changed completely. Then I was in France doing films with Philippe de Broca and Édouard Molinaro. Then I went to the States and auditioned for a whole bunch of stuff, but nothing was really coming to fruition. But I was cast in the TV version of Titanic. All I wanted was to be Kate Winslet opposite Leo [Leonardo DiCaprio] – I wasn’t, but I took the TV version of Titanic. Cut to Steven Spielberg watching it on Sunday night and he casts me in The Legend of Zorro.
Next time I come back onto TV, it’s the biggest stroke of luck because I got to work with the best people I’ve ever worked with in my career, and it’s Griselda, it’s Cocaine Godmother. I feel very happy, lucky and blessed to be back in a medium which I felt very comfortable in, at home in, and what was really the start of my career. Even though I did theatre since I was nine years old in Britain and played leads in West End shows, I was completely anonymous, so it was The Darling Buds of May that opened up my world to TV and film. I’m very happy to be in a medium I feel very comfortable in.

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Back from the dead

After working together on Israeli spy drama False Flag, executive producers Maria Feldman and Oded Ruskin reunited for Absentia.

Castle alum Stana Katic plays FBI agent Emily Byrne, who has been missing, presumed dead, for six years. In her absence, her husband remarried and his new wife is raising Emily’s child. But when she’s found alive, she doesn’t remember anything and must live in this new reality. As the show progresses, evidence emerges that suggests she’s not as innocent as she seems.

The series, which is airing on Sony Pictures Television Networks-owned AXN channels around the world, mixes thriller, horror and mystery elements but at its base is a family drama.

In this DQTV interview, Ruskin describes his directing style and how he works with actors to get the best performances on screen, while Feldman recalls the rapid speed at which the production came together.

Absentia is produced and distributed by Sony Pictures Television.

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Directors’ paradise

Viewers will be transported to Berlin in the Roaring Twenties in epic German period drama Babylon Berlin.

Based on Volker Kutscher’s novels, the story follows Gereon Rath, a police officer from Cologne investigating in the capital with his own agenda. Yet the story only serves as a way into a city overrun by organised crime and political extremism. Berlin is a metropolis for those with talent and ambition but a dead end for the impoverished masses striving for a better life.

Writers and directors Tom Tykwer, Henrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries discuss how they used to books as the basis of the 16-episode series, which they say also asks questions about German society during the emergence of the Nazis.

They also reveal how they shared responsibilities in pre-production, during shooting and in the editing process, on a production that ran to 185 shooting days and filmed on a backlot built at Studio Babelsberg, complete with four streets and squares.

Babylon Berlin is produced by X Filme, ARD Degeto, Sky and distributor Beta Film.

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Back to the old stomping ground

Iconic Australian film Romper Stomper is getting a small-screen sequel, 25 years after it first appeared in cinemas. Here, producers John Edwards and Dan Edwards and creator Geoffrey Wright tee up the series, which has been commissioned by streamer Stan.

Romper Stomper launched the career of Russell Crowe when it first hit the big screen in 1992. Now 25 years later, the controversial Australian film has inspired a television sequel ordered by SVoD platform Stan.

The original Romper Stomper starred Russell Crowe

Picking up after writer/director Geoffrey Wright’s film, which followed a gang of neo-Nazis (led by Crowe’s Hando) in Melbourne, the six-part series is described as a high-stakes crime drama and political thriller that explores the human face of extremism. In particular, it follows a new generation of the activist far right, their anti-fascist counterparts and three young Muslims caught up in the conflict.

The cast includes David Wenham, Sophie Lowe, Toby Wallace and returning stars Jacqueline McKenzie and Dan Wyllie.

The show is produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond in association with Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Its producers are John Edwards and Dan Edwards, with Wright also returning to direct alongside Daina Reid and James Napier Robertson. The series has been written by Wright, Robertson, Omar Musa and Malcolm Knox.

Distributor DCD Rights has already closed a deal for SundanceTV Global to air the series in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Dutch-speaking Benelux, Iberia, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here, Wright, John Edwards and Dan Edwards tell DQ more about their decision to bring Romper Stomper to the small screen.

What was behind the decision to bring Romper Stomper to television?
John Edwards: When we started with Roadshow, Dan had looked through their distribution history – and one title jumped out as having had such a huge impact on him as a teenager.
Dan Edwards: I tracked down Daniel Scharf, who was one of the producers of the original film. We met with Geoff and Daniel the following week. After an hour of quite forthright discussion, we had an embryo of a concept that scared the hell out of all of us, but in such a way that none of us could walk away from it.
Geoffrey Wright: Clearly, the ascendancy of Donald Trump in the US made the blended issues of culture, race and politics uppermost in the zeitgeist.

Geoffrey Wright on the set of the Romper Stomper TV series

In what way is the film still relevant today and how will you use the original themes in the series?
John Edwards: Back then, it was an exciting study of a group at the very fringe of society. Now, extremists who are not so different are right at the centre of political power and our cultural life.
Dan Edwards: Over the past few years I had grown interested in international groups like [anti-fascist movement] Antifa. It struck me that the anarchic core of the original film was probably more naturally attributed to the antifascist/anarchist movement than the fascists who in Australia today are more often jet-skiing, outer suburban types with mortgages. Australian fascism is much more hidden in plain sight and, as a result, scarily close to the centre of society.
Wright: In the old film, newcomers to society – in this case Western society – are demonised and made the focus of irrational fear and loathing. Today’s newcomers are often second-generation Australian Muslims, and they are the current focus of misplaced fear and loathing.

Had you thought about the series before now?
John Edwards
: We decided to make the show while the Trump campaign was gathering, without knowing he would be elected or the subsequent coming out into the open of extreme right-wingers would happen. And this at a time when Australian politics has a hamstrung parliament…

The show’s creators say it has been influenced by the rise of Donald Trump in the US

How has the show been developed with Stan, a streaming platform rather than a traditional TV channel, in mind?
John Edwards
: Stan was always the right place for a show that was both intrinsically noisy and needing to be executed with a great deal of creative freedom.
Dan Edwards: Romper Stomper could almost have been made nowhere else. Stan has shown tremendous courage at every stage of the development and production process.

How has the writing process taken shape?
John Edwards: We put together a story room based around Geoffrey, James and Daina [the three directors], and Dan very much wanted to seek out new writers’ voices to drive that room – hence the novelist/journalist Malcolm Knox and the novelist/poet Omar Musa.
Dan Edwards: After working on a brief outline with Geoff, we decided to try to reach for new and exciting talent, given the talent drain in Australia to the bigger English-speaking markets. This required a number of quite unusual cold calls. James Napier Robertson was one of the first, as I’d been keen to find an excuse to approach him since watching The Dark Horse, and he joined the writer’s room the following week. I called Omar while he was taking some time off deep in the Indonesian jungle somewhere, and he flew straight into Sydney and into the room, while with Malcolm we had been searching for a project to work on together, as both John and I were big fans of his novels and sports journalism.

Geoffrey, how do you balance writing and directing duties?
Wright: The two have always been linked to me, so balance isn’t an issue.

How would you describe the visual style of the series?
Wright: That will vary a bit between directors, but it’s safe to say it’s energetic and restless.

What was the decision behind Jacqueline McKenzie and Dan Wyllie reprising their original roles as Gabrielle and Cackles, and how do they fit into the new story?
John Edwards: The concept from the get-go was picking up the story a generation later, imagining where the survivors would land.
Wright: McKenzie’s role was a major one in the movie and the notion of her being a mother and exploring her relationship with her son is central to the new story. In the case of Wyllie, he played a prominent and memorable character in Hando’s gang and represents the pull of the past on current events.

Romper Stomper will premiere on Australian streaming platform Stan

What are the biggest challenges in producing the show?
John Edwards: From the very start, we were determined to have at least two action sequences, with all the energy of the original per episode. That’s very hard to achieve across six episodes, but we’re doing it.
Dan Edwards: Telling the story from multiple points of view, given that the original film was more or less from one, the skinheads. Geoff and the team were not interested in remaking the movie, so we’ve stretched what’s possible to tell as many sides to a contemporary story as possible within six hours.

What’s the message behind the series, 25 years after the film?
John Edwards: I don’t know about a ‘message,’ but in throwing these different points of view into a plausible mix, there are lots of cautionary tales.
Dan Edwards: That’s a hard one… Perhaps that violent extremism is less effective than playing a centrist long game?
Wright: The series is about identity and the idea that there is far more to that than simply blood. Blood is not destiny.

What is behind the trend for film-to-TV sequels or reboots?
John Edwards: Producers are always looking for a good story, and inspiration can often be found in the past. But for networks, there’s the advantage of there being a brand. In this case ,though, the story is even more important in a contemporary context.

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Talking Bull

After 13 years investigating crimes in US juggernaut NCIS, Michael Weatherly swapped the navy police for the courtroom with Bull. As the legal drama begins its second season, the actor discusses both CBS series, auditioning for Steven Spielberg and why procedurals still have the ability to satisfy viewers.

For 13 years and more than 300 episodes, US actor Michael Weatherly was best known for playing special investigator Anthony DiNozzo in CBS’s long-running action-crime drama NCIS.

Now, however, he is preparing to return to the screen for the second season of Bull, a legal drama from the same network inspired by the early career of TV personality and psychologist Dr Phil McGraw.

Weatherly plays Dr Jason Bull, a brilliant, brash and charming legal expert who runs a jury consulting firm, using his skills and those of his investigating team to select the right jurors for his clients and then help his clients’ lawyers to win them over.

Bull’s US debut in September 2016 drew more than 15 million viewers, and a full season order quickly followed. The show was then among 18 CBS series to earn an early renewal in March, two months before CBS unveiled its full 2017/18 schedule. Season two debuts in the US tonight.

Counting Steven Spielberg among its executive producers, Bull is produced by CBS Television Studios and distributed by CBS Studios International. Season one aired in more than 200 countries.

Weatherly was a special guest at the New Europe Market television event in Dubrovnik in June this year, where the actor spoke about leaving NCIS, his first meeting with Spielberg and revealed his thoughts on the battle between episodic and serialised television drama.

Michael Weatherly (left) alongside Mark Harmon in NCIS

After 13 years on NCIS, Weatherly still embraced his character but knew when it was time to move on…
I was very happy to be typecast and known as another character’s name – what a privilege. I never got tired of it. It reached a point with DiNozzo when I thought I’d aged out. He’s supposed to be this overgrown, adolescent, fun, ebullient, hyperactive guy, and I have an aspect of myself that is like that. But I did get to the point where [I thought] if I’m too old to play this guy, I better leave before they ask me to leave.
I talked to CBS for two years about how I was leaving and I wanted to give them enough room to make that possible. Then they came to me with Bull. I’d prepared two other projects I was ready to go on. One was a remake of The Persuaders, the other was a book I optioned, Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming. Both of those were international properties and were things I thought would be a lot of fun to make.

Bull was brought to the screen by an eclectic group of producers…
When we were getting ready to make the show, I sat down with Dr Phil at Steven Spielberg’s compound on the Universal lot at [Spielberg’s production company] Amblin Entertainment. Bull is a very strange show because you have the guy who wrote Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show, House and Homicide: Life on the Street [Paul Attanasio] and the guy who directed In Treatment for HBO [Rodrigo Garcia]. Then there’s Dr Phil, Steven Spielberg and the guy from NCIS [Weatherly himself] – that’s a weird soup.

Weatherly had forgotten he auditioned for Spielberg for a role in hit sci-fi movie Minority Report…
The first thing he said was, ‘I liked your audition for Minority Report.’ I thought, ‘I never auditioned for Minority Report.’ Then I thought, ‘He thinks he hired someone else. How to do I play this, because I’ve got the job [on Bull]? I don’t want him to unhire me.’ We tend to remember things that are good that happen to us, or things that are so putrid, horrible and bad that we never want to do that again. But things that are minor disappointments in life we just throw that away because it irritates you if it’s there all the time. So I have discovered I totally screen-tested for Minority Report and I forgot about it because I didn’t get the job.

Weatherly’s character in Bull is loosely based on a young Dr Phil McGraw

Like most TV dramas, Bull simplifies timelines and practices to tell the most compelling story…
On NCIS we were all doing the pilot episode and we had our technical advisor, who is a former federal agent, a former marine NCIS agent for 20 years, and we’re doing a scene where we’ve all got our guns out, bulletproof vests on, and we’re going to go through a door and get terrorists. [NCIS lead] Mark Harman turns and says to the tech advisor, ‘When you’re doing this in the field, and you’re storming a room, what’s the proper procedure? Who goes in first? What do you say?’ The tech advisor took a very long beat and said, ‘I’ve never drawn my weapon.’ So it’s television.
When you think about a TV show like 24, what happened for 24 hours that you had to stay awake and save the world every season? That’s a lot of coffee. That is really what it’s like with Bull. We have compressed timelines and we have a lot of fudged and simplified truths. But we try to stay away from too much simplification, and some of the things I have learned from doing Bull have blown my mind. They’re not tricks. It’s psychology and understanding why we make the choices we do. So understanding where people are, how people think… that’s why it’s a great show for me. I get tired, but I don’t get tired of making the show. It’s fascinating to figure out what’s going to happen next.

Being a producer on Bull has also informed Weatherly how expensive television drama is…
We shoot in New York City because we’re incentivised by a tax rebate. That starts to be a very important thing. NCIS: New Orleans doesn’t take place in New Orleans by accident. New Orleans is actually a very productive town for a lot of movies and television shows because they incentivise productions to come there. Producing television isn’t just smoking a cigar and saying, ‘Show me what you’ve got, kid.’ It’s really about taking off your blinders and seeing the totality of everything.

Bull also features Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Eliza Dushku (right)

In the age of serialised storytelling, he believes procedural dramas are still extremely satisfying for viewers…
One of the terms I heard [describing] the closed-ended single-episode format was ‘evergreen.’ That’s so interesting, not just for purposes of syndication and rebroadcast but for the purposes of storytelling. The one-hour closed-ended story can be extremely satisfying from a viewer experience. When you watch Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, that arc can carry you on and on, and one hour leads to the next hour and the next hour. But sometimes you just want to watch an episode of Magnum PI and at the end of that, you’re like, ‘That just makes me so happy.’ That’s what CBS does really well as a studio and as a force in television, and I think that’s what I’m able to contribute to them. I don’t freak out that it’s not some hugely sophisticated, complicated story arc. I always find them slightly unsatisfying when I get to the end of Lost or something. So I like a series that’s closed and has layers that add on season after season. Mad Men was a show where if you just watched one episode of season four, you don’t know what the hell’s going on. That’s not a satisfying experience to me – and I loved Mad Men.

It’s taken a while for US broadcast networks to warm to the miniseries format…
Eleven years ago, a friend and I were trying to pitch a six-episode thing. We went to talk to some very important people in Hollywood but nobody understood what it was. I was like, ‘It’s like Prime Suspect from the UK. It’s just a shorter version. Bigger than a miniseries but smaller than a regular series.’ Everyone said there’s no way to monetise it, and that was the big thing back then. America has always just said, ‘We make 22 of them, here’s what it is.’ So it’s taken a while for all of this to fracture and get everyone thinking competitively. Look at what’s happened to music – the last 17 years has just been revolutionary. If I want to listen to something, there’s a hundred different ways to find it.

But Weatherly still enjoys the grind of making a 22-episode season…
Because I grew up with it and it’s comfortable for me, I love the thing I do. I wouldn’t make Bull if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a crushing schedule, to be picked up at 04.45 to make television all day until 20.00. I’ve been making one-hour television non-stop; this is my 18th year. That’s a long time. Ask [Bones and SEAL Team star] David Boreanaz! There’s not a lot of us that have just been crunching it out. I have a great deal of understanding now of what it takes. A lot of people burn out and a lot of people have different expectations. But I love making 22.

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Breaking the mould

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, comic book publisher Marvel successfully transplanted its cinematic universe to television with two spin-off series based on characters from its big-screen blockbusters.

Marvel Television then made a groundbreaking deal with US SVoD giant Netflix to bring The Defenders to the small screen. First came solo series featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, followed by a drama that brought them all together.

Speaking to DQ TV, Marvel TV senior VP of original programming Karim Zreik explains how Marvel rolled out its series across television, bringing fans of the cinematic universe with them to the small screen.

He then reveals details of a development process that aims to find the right character for a new series, while trying to keep things fresh to avoid superhero saturation.

Zreik also looks ahead to new Marvel series including Inhumans, Clock & Dagger, The Runaways and The Punisher as the company seeks to break the mould with each new show.

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Slaying the competition

After beginning her career on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marti Noxon has written for some of the biggest shows on television, including Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men and Glee. She also created Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and co-created UnREAL.

Speaking to DQ, she looks back on her storied career and reveals how she picks her projects.

Noxon reveals why showrunners Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), Joss Whedon (Buffy) and Matt Weiner (Mad Men) have had the most influence on her as a writer.

She also previews her next projects: HBO drama Sharp Objects and AMC series Dietland.

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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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