All posts by DQ

Fact file: Kiss Me First

Melanie Stokes, from Kindle Entertainment, and Balloon Entertainment’s Bryan Elsley offer six points of interest about Kiss Me First, a drama series set in both the real and virtual-reality worlds coming to Channel 4 in the UK and Netflix.

1. Kiss Me First tells the story of Leila, a lonely 17-year-old girl who is addicted to a fictional online gaming site. While playing the game, Leila meets Tess, a cool and confident party girl who harbours a dark secret. The pair become friends in the real world, but after Tess disappears, Leila decides to assume her friend’s identity and is quickly drawn into the mystery behind her disappearance.

Kiss Me First is based on a book by Lottie Moggach

2. Melanie Stokes: The show is a thriller, a coming-of-age story. It’s full of intrigue but essentially it’s about female friendship, set in the real world and the virtual reality (VR) world. It’s based on a book by Lottie Moggach, which I read at manuscript stage about four years ago.
I wanted to do something that looked at the impact of the digital world on young people, how it’s changed the way they identify and communicate, and how they can hide in the internet in a way we just don’t understand. So when I read the book, it felt absolutely ripe for adaptation. Bryan wrote Skins so I sent him the book and, luckily, he liked it. The biggest challenge was that, in the book, it’s set in chat rooms and it didn’t particularly lend itself to dramatisation so we were really struggling to represent that on screen. Then Bryan had the idea we should make it a VR world so when she comes into the internet, she becomes an avatar. That was the breakthrough idea.

3Bryan Elsley: Combining live action and animation wasn’t easy to start with because we didn’t know anything about animation. Four years later, we know a little bit more. We were lucky that we found a fantastic studio, Axis Animation in Glasgow, and just sat with them for a year working out how to put live action and CGI animation together. It was a long process. It’s a very new kind of project, so there was skepticism from all sides – could we actually do it? We just had to pretend we did know how to do it for quite a long time.

The show blends real life and virtual reality

4. Elsley: Our main concern was working out how to tell a coherent story set in two different worlds. My main inspiration for the way we’ve approached the show is Mary Poppins, which made a huge impression on me when I saw it at the age of six. I just wanted to go through that pavement like the kids in Mary Poppins.
The idea of escaping to another place where you can be different is at the heart of the story. The jury’s out on what will happen with VR and how it will be utilised in future. I’m sure many exciting things are going to happen, but our main priority was to tell an arresting story about young characters. There is already a prototype VR experience that goes with this show.

5. Elsley: The principal element of the animation is motion capture, so the actors’ performances were captured and then we proceeded to animation. I thought that would be quite easy, but it was the beginning of a very long road of experimentation. We placed a lot of focus on getting nuance and believability into the animated characters’ faces, which is a difficult task. If you do it in too much detail, they cease to become believable or relatable, so you have to tactically limit the facial expressions.
Stokes: If you map the face and do an absolute replica, the likeness becomes uncanny so the animator wanted to create a more idealised avatar to give a sense of it being painted, which gives them more soul and brings them closer to the emotion of the original actor.

6. Stokes: The show was originally put into development by Channel 4, which was very supportive from the get go. Then Bryan spoke to Netflix, which already plays Skins in the US, and they were keen on the combination of C4 and Bryan, so it was that alchemy that came together.
Elsley: We’re in conversations about season two. We’re hopeful. We like the show and we think it’s come out quite well.

Kiss Me First debuts on Channel 4 on April 2 and Netflix later this year.

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So Farr so good

From his background in theatre, David Farr wrote episodes of BBC spy thriller Spooks before big-screen feature Hanna became his calling card.

However, he got his big break on TV by adapting John le Carré’s novel The Night Manager.

In this DQTV interview, he talks about updating le Carré’s novel, the shifting power between film and television and his fascination with themes of identity, which informs his writing.

Farr also recalls how he fell in love with Philip K Dick’s The Impossible Planet, which he adapted as part of the Channel 4/Amazon anthology series Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, and how he put Helen and Paris’s love story at the centre of epic BBC and Netflix drama Troy: Fall of a City.

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Brothers in arms

Brothers Jack and Harry Williams started writing out sitcoms, separately, before they decided to join forces and then give scripted drama a try. The result was The Missing, a gripping thriller that propelled them to the top tier of British writing talent.

They have since followed up that series with One of Us, a second season of The Missing, reverse-narrative crime drama Rellik and emotional thriller Liar.

In this DQTV interview, the brothers discuss getting their big break and look at the challenges of breaking traditional story structures with both Rellik and Liar.

They also talk about the phenomenon of water-cooler television and how they balance writing and producing through their company, Two Brothers Pictures, which is owned by All3Media and was responsible for smash hit BBC comedy Fleabag.

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Original voice

Lennie James, an actor best known for roles in Line of Duty and The Walking Dead, is also the creator of the latest show in which he stars, Sky Atlantic original drama Save Me. In the six-part thriller, he plays Nelly Rowe, a charmer and a chancer living on a south London council estate.

When Nelly is accused of kidnapping the estranged daughter he hasn’t seen for 10 years, he sets out to find her, saving lives, making enemies and risking his life along the way.

In this DQTV interview, series director Nick Murphy and executive producers Jessica Sykes and Simon Heath reveal how James was wooed by Sky to write the series and how the production was slowly built around his atmospheric scripts.

Murphy also talks about how the key to the show was that everyone involved knew exactly what they were making – something he says is both rare and important.

Save Me is produced by World Productions for Sky Atlantic and distributed by Sky Vision.

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Six of the Best: Tim Key

Tim Key is executive producer for BBC1 crime drama Death in Paradise, which has been recommissioned for an eighth season to air in 2019. For his Six of the Best, he chooses an eclectic mix of classic adaptation, soap, comedy, mystery, western and one emotional rollercoaster.

The Box of Delights
Trying to choose a TV series from a childhood filled with iconic favourites (obviously Monkey, The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team spring to mind) is tricky, but this wonderful adaptation of John Masefield’s classic book was a spellbinding Christmas treat. A show the entire family could watch together, sections of it were filmed in the town I grew up in, which might explain some of my bias. Its then-astonishing special effects may seem a little creaky now, but the fact that so many people of a certain age remember it so fondly is testament to its quality.

I’m Alan Partridge
Not a drama, I realise, but it might as well be, such is the depth and pathos of the title character. This is the series that really put flesh on Alan’s bones, transforming him from a sketch-show character into a fully rounded, deeply flawed but instantly recognisable comedy legend. The fact that so many years later he continues not only to exist but also to develop is incredible. And it is really, really funny.

Hard to decide between the usual favourites (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire and so on), but I’m going to go for this HBO series thanks to its remarkable – and brutal – sense of self and place. When writing, performance, costume, design and direction come together like this, you know you’re lucky to be living in a golden age of television.

The first two seasons of this show, for me, ushered in an era of high-budget and high-concept TV. I’m a sucker for a show with a proper mystery at its heart (which is why Life on Mars so nearly made the list too), so this had me from its cinematic pilot episode onwards. It lost its way, of course, infuriatingly failing to either answer its own questions or respect its own mythology, but its characters all felt real and rounded and its hooks were beautifully designed.

It’s easy to forget how genuinely groundbreaking this Channel 4 soap was, in every possible way, attracting exciting, up-and-coming writing talent, as well as a cast of which many are now household names. But its production style was revolutionary too – in particular, shooting in real houses gave it a realism that has inspired countless dramas since. I was lucky to work there much later, but its early years were especially powerful, passionate and transformative, truly defining the brand new television channel that featured the show on its first night.

This Is Us
There’s so much fantastic high-end television these days that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff to watch. Which is why choosing a recent show was so difficult – The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Better Call Saul and Big Little Lies all nearly made the six. But I’ve decided to go for the frankly underrated (in the UK at least) This Is Us, a masterclass in fine plotting, writing and acting. It can be accused of being shamelessly emotionally manipulative, but I don’t care – with each layer of back story it unravels, you just love the characters more, and I’m happy to cry at pretty much every episode when it’s this good and involving.

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Back to the brothels

Set in 18th century Georgian London, Harlots is described as a powerful family drama offering a new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity – sex.

The series follows Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and her daughters as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner in the face of an attack from Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), a rival madam with a ruthless streak.

Season two, set to air this year, sees Liv Tyler join the cast as Lady Fitz while Margaret’s daughter, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay), places herself in Quigley’s home and their toxic and deep-set rivalry is taken to a dangerous new level.

In this DQTV interview, Brown Findlay and executive producer Alison Carpenter recall the making of season one and preview the twists and turns that await viewers in season two of the series, which is entirely written, produced and directed by women.

They also discuss how authenticity was placed at the heart of the production, and give their views on the sexual harassment scandal currently sweeping through the film and television business.

Harlots is produced by Monumental Television for Hulu and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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State of play

Fox Networks Group’s first regional scripted commission for Europe and Africa, Deep State is a contemporary, international espionage thriller.

It tells the story of an ex-spy, played by Mark Strong, who is brought back into the field to avenge the death of his son. He finds himself grappling with his personal and professional lives – and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy between governments and big business.

In this DQTV interview, Strong and creator and showrunner Matthew Parkhill discuss making the series and explain how they put a family drama at the heart of a global conspiracy.

Parkhill also describes how real-world events influenced his writing process and his role as a showrunner. They also talk about the merits of film and television and why they now don’t differentiate between the two.

Deep State, which launches on April 5, is produced by Endor Productions for Fox Networks Group Europe and Africa and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

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Talking Liberty

Piv Bernth, the former head of drama at Danish pubcaster DR, and producer Karoline Leth reveal six things we need to know about forthcoming drama Liberty, about a young boy who moves to Tanzania with his parents. The series is produced in-house by DR and is distributed by DR International Sales.

1. Karoline Leth: Liberty is based on a Danish book by Jakob Ejerbo. Set in the 1980s, it tells his real-life story of going to Tanzania with his parents when he was a child. It’s a very famous book in Denmark and I have wanted to adapt it since it was published in 2009, so when the rights became available, I grabbed them. It’s a story about expats and Scandinavian society. They’re going to Tanzania with good intentions to do good for African people, to help them, but the problem is they’re pressing their own system on people who don’t really need that kind of help. So for me it’s also a story about colonialism, because we tried to do good but we really did a lot of bad things. It’s also about families and what happens to the individual when you’re suddenly in a country where there are no rules.

International viewers of Liberty will recognise Sofie Gråbøl from global hit The Killing

2. Leth: The book was so prescient, which is something we’ve been talking about a lot. In Denmark, there’s a lot of discussion over why people coming from other countries are always together in a ghetto. And what do we do when we go to other countries? We do the same. So it’s a mirror.

3. Piv Bernth: This is the first time a book has been adapted at DR – it’s been its trademark to do original stories. Many other people have tried to do their own take on this book, but they treated it with so much respect that they couldn’t work with it. You have to love it but also disrespect it to be able to do it – that was the case for us – and when the concept was presented to me, I really liked it. Then, because the final season of The Bridge is only eight episodes, we had the possibility of doing a five-part miniseries, and this was perfect.

4. Bernth: Liberty is brave for Danish drama because its African setting is a totally different environment from what you’ve seen before in Danish series. It takes place in the 1980s and many scenes are quite on edge, with a clash of cultures. It’s the tale of a white boy trying to be black and a black boy trying to be white, and whether that can be done. It’s a good story with some tragedy, a lot of comedy and a very human ending that shows you are what you are, no matter how much you try to be someone else.

The drama also stars Hollywood actor Connie Nielsen

5. Leth: We have been filming the show in South Africa, which has been hard, fun and intense. We have been living the theme of the book and series ourselves, as there has been a clash of cultures in that we have experienced two ways of filmmaking. We have been working with a tiny Danish team as well as a South African film crew, and that was fun but also challenging. We had to learn from each other.

6. Leth: The all-star cast includes Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing, Fortitude), Carten Bjørnlund (Rita, Arvingerne) and Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Devil’s Advocate). We’ve worked with so many beautiful, fantastic and gifted people. It was 10 weeks shooting three episodes together and it’s been quite a thrill. Liberty is coming very soon. Produced by DR and distributed by DR International Sales, the show is due to air on DR1 in February, so we are editing very quickly at the moment. It’s a hectic process but sometimes it’s good too. You have to make faster decisions than you are used to.

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A bit on the Side

Brazilian screenwriter Walcyr Carrasco tells DQ how he was inspired by Voltaire’s Candide to create Globo telenovela The Good Side of Life and discusses the changing landscape of Brazilian drama.

With a television career spanning four decades, Walcyr Carrasco is firmly established as one of the foremost screenwriters in Brazil.

A journalist, author and playwright, Carrasco began writing for the small screen in the late 1980s with telenovela Cortina de Vidro for SBT, before penning miniseries Rosa-dos-Rumos (1990), O Guarani (1991) and Filhos do Sol (1991). He worked alongside co-writer Mário Teixeira on Xica da Silva (Rede Manchete, 1996) and later wrote SBT’s Fascinação (1998).

Then, in 2000, Carrasco created his first telenovela for broadcaster Globo, O Cravo e a Rosa (The Thorn & The Rose), directed by Walter Avancini. The pair later reunited for A Padroeira (The Patroness) in 2001. Telenovelas Chocolate com Pimento (Pepper Chocolate, 2003) and Alma Gêmea (Soul Mate, 2005) followed, along with Sete Pecados (Seven Sins, 2007), Caras & Bocas (Watercolors of Love, 2009) and Morde & Assopra (Dinosaurs & Robots, 2011).

His first series in Globo’s primetime 21.00 slot was Amor à Vida (Trail of Lies), a critical and commercial success in 2013, while Gabriela (2012) and Verdades Secretas (Hidden Truths, 2015) both aired at 23.00. The latter earned Globo an International Emmy, as well as the APCA Trophy and the Prêmio Extra de Televisão for Best Telenovela.

Last year, Carrasco created Êta Mundo Bom! (The Good Side of Life), which was directed by Jorge Fernando and aired in the 18.00 slot on Globo, while current series O Outro Lado do Paraíso (The Other Side of Paradise) reunited the writer with Hidden Truths director Mauro Mendonça Filho. It is now airing in Globo’s primetime slot.

As distributor Globo International brings The Good Side of Life – a 1940s-set tale about a poverty-stricken boy separated from his wealthy mother at birth – to the international market for the first time, Carrasco reveals the origins of the project and his thoughts on the changing Brazilian drama landscape.

Walcyr Carrasco is one of the foremost writers in Brazil

How would you describe The Good Side of Life?
The Good Side of Life is an optimistic and funny telenovela. I wrote it wanting viewers to feel happy and optimistic while watching, with plenty of laughs. I think I managed to do so, since the show had really high viewership in Brazil. The country loved the characters and the optimistic message as well.

What are the origins of the series?
The telenovela was inspired by Voltaire’s satirical novella Candide. Candinho is the lead character. We also have Professor Pancrácio, who is Professor Pangloss from the original work. A great Brazilian humorist, Mazzaroppi, created his own movie studio back when everything was still black and white and produced the first version of this classic, a film written by Abílio Pereira de Almeida. I was directly inspired by Voltaire, but I also soaked up Mazzaroppi’s humour, since we both bought into the work’s argument. It was a pleasure to work with such profound and intelligent but light-hearted texts.
Who is Candinho and who plays him? Who are the other key characters?
Candinho is played by Sérgio Guizé (Forever and Ever), who portrays the classic Brazilian run-of-the-mill country boy; a farm boy lost in the big city, whose friends are another boy and his pet donkey, which he truly loves. Marco Nanini (Walking the Clouds) plays Professor Pancrácio, Candinho’s mentor. Eliane Giardini (Brazil Avenue) is Anastácia, Candinho’s millionaire mother whose son was taken from her at birth and for whom she constantly searches. Débora Nascimento (Brazil Avenue) plays Filomena, Candinho’s great love, who comes to the city and becomes a dancer. It’s a really great cast.

Tell us about your writing process.
My writing is intuitive – I have a hard time rationalising. The story and the characters, they got to me and got confused with my emotions. I really get into them when I write. If it’s a funny scene, I laugh; if it’s dramatic, I cry.

What were the biggest challenges in making the show?
My biggest challenge was to keep everyone laughing until the end, and to sustain the optimistic message.

What’s the secret to writing a long-running telenovela with more than 100 episodes?
I don’t know the secret to writing a long telenovela; I don’t theorise much about my work. I sit down, I write and it just keeps coming. I’ve written telenovelas with more than 200 episodes and it’s always been incredible.

‘Optimistic’ telenovela The Good Side of Life is distributed by Globo International

Are Brazilian viewers still in love with telenovelas or are shorter series becoming more popular?
Brazilians are still in love with telenovelas. This is reflected in the viewer numbers, in the percentage of the population watching telenovelas. Of course, [shorter run] series are gaining ground as well. But I don’t see a dispute between telenovelas and series, as if the public necessarily prefers one or the other. I think the public prefers the more touching story. It’s not about the format, but the strength of the work itself.

When did you first decide to be a writer?
I decided to be a writer when I was 11 or 12, when I fell in love with books. My family deeply and lovingly supported me. I still feel the same sense of passion for writing today.

How is Brazilian drama evolving and what new stories can you tell?
This is a complicated question for me because I don’t theorise about the creation of TV drama or fiction. I prefer to let a story take me in, to let it grow so intensely inside me that I feel the need to tell it. So I can’t answer this question, since I’m moved by intuition, by creation, without being bound by theories.
At the same time, I can’t say how Brazilian drama production will evolve, just as I don’t know what will happen in literature or in the theatre. We need fiction in our lives as much as the air we breathe. Fiction is intense and transforms us, and has an amazing ability to set feelings, emotions and hearts into motion. I don’t believe an author can also be a theorist. The critic, the theorist, he studies dramatic structures and understands their process throughout history. The writer is simply somebody who has an antenna and is in tune with his feelings, movements and even the future. This antenna is surprising, just like fiction sometimes takes unexpected turns.

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Miami vice

Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story stars Academy Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as Blanco, who was a pioneer in the Miami-based cocaine trade.

From working with local drug runners in Queens, she quickly masterminded a way to smuggle cocaine from Colombia before moving to Miami to expand her empire, becoming known as The Black Widow. Blanco, who built a drug distribution network that spanned the US, was also suspected of ordering more than 200 murders in her lifetime.

In this DQTV interview, Zeta-Jones explains why she waited three years to play the character. She describes the film as “one of the best experiences ever,” revealing her excitement at stepping outside of her comfort zone to immerse herself in a character that “has no redeemable qualities.”

The Welsh actor also discusses the types of screen roles that appeal to her and why she chose to return to television, which first launched her screen career with The Darling Buds of May.

Cocaine Godmother is produced by Asylum Entertainment for Lifetime and is distributed by A+E Networks.

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Emmy love

Turkish drama Kara Sevda (Endless Love) picked up the 2017 International Emmy Award for Best Telenovela. Director Hilal Saral and producer Kerem Çatay tell DQ why it stands out from the crowd.

Turkish telenovelas have been knocking on the door of their Latin American peers for several years now as the format continues to grow in popularity around the world.

Now the door has been bulldozed down by Kara Sevda (Endless Love), the long-running drama that last year became the first Turkish scripted series to win an International Emmy, triumphing over competition from 30 Vies – Isabelle Cousineau (Canada), Totalment Demais and Velho Chico (both Brazil).

The Endless Love team proudly show off their International Emmy

The series has now been sold by distributor Inter Medya to more than 60 countries across Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, following its debut on Turkey’s Star TV in 2015. It runs to a total of 244 episodes.

Endless Love follows Kemal, an engineering student from a middle-class family whose life is turned upside down when he meets Nihan, who comes from a wealthy background but finds herself distant from her own world. Viewers discover what happens when two people from different backgrounds fall in love and whether they can stay together.

Produced by Ay Yapim, it is directed by Hilal Saral with a cast led by Burak Özçivit (Kemal), Neslihan Atagul Dogulu (Nihan) and Kaan Urgancioğlu, who plays Emir, a businessman who is also in love with Nihan.

Following the show’s Emmy win last November, Saral and producer Kerem Çatay, CEO of Ay Yapim, tell DQ about the series and how it stands out from other telenovelas.

What are the origins of the series?
Hilal Saral, director: Kerem Çatay’s own project, Endless Love is about a test of real love. Kemal, a mining engineer, falls in love with Nihan but she refuses him. He then goes to work at a mine for five years and comes back to Istanbul for revenge. It goes without saying that there is no revenge in love – nothing is more important than love.
When I shoot, I always decide from whose eyes I’m going to tell the story and for Endless Love, it was through Kemal. I thought a lot about Burak Özçivit’s dark eyes while I was designing the shots. Kemal and Nihan break up but Nihan never forgets him. We all felt sad for Nihan and came up with the character of Emir, who was portrayed by Kaan Urgancıoğlu. Good things happen when the characters and performers match perfectly and when there is harmony between the director, the actors and the setup.

The telenovela centres on the relationship between
Neslihan Atagul Dogulu and Burak Özçivit’s characters

How was it filmed? Does it have a unique style?
Saral: My starting point was Kemal’s eyes – black like coal. Kara also means black/dark in Turkish. All of the design and the locations were developed with this image of Kara. The director of cinematography, Tolga Cetin, was very helpful in developing this image. I’ve been working with the same technical team for almost 10 years and I believe this is the proof of my stability. I’m the kind of director who always tries to highlight all the characters, primary and secondary. If you focus only on events and ignore the characters, it becomes harder for the audience to bond with the characters. After receiving the setup, I focus on the situation, style, personality and tension of each character and find what they represent sociologically. What I care about the most is the current mood of the character, not the before or the after but the experience they have at that moment. When I’m able to catch that, it is easier to make sense of the scene.
Kerem Çatay: The secret is that we never produce series we wouldn’t watch. We can’t enjoy our job if we stop trying new things and challenging ourselves. A few years ago, even the use of flashbacks in a series was a risky idea for Turkish audiences, but we took the risk and produced Ezel. This season, we have a new title called Ufak Tefek Cinayetler (Stiletto Vendetta) with a very special tone. We take the viewers’ expectation into account while producing series, and Turkish viewers always expect to watch refreshing products.
Apart from that, we have Phi, the first Turkish series made for the digital market, so we are always trying to produce good-quality products and it is important to make them long-lasting.
People we are working with play an important role in our success. We choose to work with concentrated co-workers. Even though sometimes things don’t go as planned in the long term, I always prefer to work with people who never lose their concentration. The storyline and the scenario are the two most important factors in the success of a series. When a good scenario, good performers and a successful director come together, the result is usually a successful product. You can make an original story out of a stereotype and you can make it watchable by telling it in a different way.

Director Hilal Saral used the dark eyes of Özçivit (right) as a ‘starting point’

What makes the characters stand out?
Saral: In Endless Love, Nihan sacrifices her love for her brother and she is exposed to severe psychological violence. For me, it was important to tell her story as a woman. She was subjected to horrible events, which Kemal probably had no idea about. I think being realistic is what makes this show appealing to foreigners and what made it win the International Emmy Award. When shooting, I also always have an aesthetic concern. When you combine reality with aesthetics, the product acquires a different dimension. It’s not only about Kemal, Emir, Nihan, Vildan or Leyla.
I also have to highlight Zerrin Tekindor’s great performance as Leyla. She is an incredible actress – a great advantage for any director. Her talent makes our job easier. Nihan and Emir are also really important because they were also very realistic. Emir was also a passionate lover. He made us really feel his passion. It all came from his childhood – the traumatic relationship he had with his mum brought him to where he is now. We [put a lot of faith in] Kaan Urgancıoğlu (Emir) and it resulted in a very good [performance].
I can’t deny the importance of the secondary roles to our success. They complement the main characters very well as they increase the conflict, which then increases the popularity of the show.

The show comprises 244 episodes

What does this show winning the International Emmy for best telenovela mean for Turkish drama?
Saral: In recent years, several Turkish dramas have been nominated for International Emmy Awards but this was the first to actually win – a huge success and honour that got all of us very excited. I wasn’t expecting such a success, since we had applied with different titles in the past and always came back empty-handed.
The situation over here is utterly different and [everybody knows about] the political circumstances. For this reason, to win the award was a total surprise for us and that night was one of the best nights of my life.It was also a gift for my 20th anniversary as a director. I’ve been working non-stop for 20 years aiming to improve myself. I’ve always tried to develop shows with great effort, experience and imagination, and with all my soul. It is also a great feeling to see a project written and directed by women win an International Emmy. We won this award on behalf of the whole industry.
Çatay: In 2014, we applied to the Emmy Awards for best actress with Tuba Büyüküstün’s performance in 20 Minutes. That was the beginning of Turkish content at the Emmys. At that time, there were no other applications from Turkey. In 2015, we applied with Engin Akyürek for best actor with his performance in Black Money Love. In 2017, we applied with various titles and Endless Love managed to make it to the finale. We were lucky to win in the same category with one of the most successful Brazilian producers out there. No one was expecting a Turkish production company to win the award but we did. There are so many rules at the International Emmys both during the application and the evaluation stages. There is a judging system composed of approximately 600 people from the industry and from different countries. It’s a reliable system in which many people vote through the final stage. At the ceremony, the host said, “This contest is the World Cup of series,” a contest in which different contents from different countries compete in. It is, of course, a great pleasure to win the award in such a platform.

How does Endless Love stand out from other telenovelas?
Saral: In the case of Endless Love, I think ‘emotion’ is the key word. The demand for series that are emotionally charged and upbeat is higher than ever. There were three countries competing in our category: Brazil, Canada and Turkey. Brazil was competing with two different telenovelas and the country has won so many Emmy Awards in the past that we were not expecting to win this one. There was a medal ceremony one day before the award ceremony and even getting that medal was a great honour for us. We had the chance to meet other finalists as well. That was the first time I actually asked myself if we can really win the award. Everyone was so interested in Endless Love that they were asking us many questions and they were very surprised when I told them that I shoot 150 minutes in five days. We worked on this title a lot and this award is the result of the great efforts of our industry.

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Eyes on the prize

Kate Rowland, creative consultant at Red Planet Pictures and former creative director of new writing at the BBC, discusses the challenges of developing new writers for television as Red Planet seeks submissions for the latest round of its writing competition.

Kate Rowland

Television drama is more popular than ever; a creative medium that continues to evolve and innovate. As platforms proliferate and broadcasters ring-fence their drama output, it would appear that this is a great time to be a television writer. But how big a challenge is it for someone to break through? How do they make their idea stand out and persuade a commissioner to take a risk on their project?

In the current climate channels are more likely to focus their money and attention on writers they trust – experienced talent with a track record of producing drama that makes standout television like Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch or Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley.

There is a genuine appetite for stories and characters that capture our imagination and make us look at the world in a fresh way. As a writer, you need to not only write a brilliant script but also to understand the art, the craft and the business of being a writer. You need to be relevant and resonant. In a complex market where drama is expensive, broadcasters have to balance the needs of the UK audience along with the potential of coproduction deals to serve a global market and reach international viewers. There is no doubt that it is a demanding landscape to cut through and get that first original commission.

Crime drama Broadchurch was written and created by Chris Chibnall

However, the UK has an incredibly engaged industry, where producers and commissioners recognise that television is a writer’s medium. They are interested in the next generation of talent and want to find ways to support, nurture and mentor writers who can gain experience from open competitions and targeted shadow schemes offering training and commissions on the big returning shows. You have to think what best suits you, look at the kind of stories and worlds you want to create and see whether you are the right fit.

Many of our most exciting writers have written across platforms, for the theatre, radio and film, alongside their TV output. You only have to look at the likes of Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster) and Jack Thorne (Kiri, pictured top), both of whom I gave first radio commissions to. Don’t pigeon-hole your talent or your ideas too early on, as online and social media have opened up a whole new arena of potential digital platforms for new drama.

Red Planet Pictures’ Red Planet Prize is a great example of how new talent can be uncovered by commissioners and producers. Launched in 2007, the prize is searching for emerging writing talent who can create fresh and inspiring popular drama content, and this year is being held in partnership with ITV Drama for the first time.

Dickensian was penned by Red Planet Pictures CEO Tony Jordan

The prize offers shortlisted writers a unique, ‘money can’t buy’ invitation to take part in a masterclass, giving finalists the opportunity to network with established television writer Tony Jordan (Life on Mars, Hustle, Dickensian) and ITV commissioners Polly Hill and Victoria Fea, who, along with actor Adrian Lester (Trauma, Spooks), make up the judging panel. Along with key executives and script editors from both Red Planet and ITV, the shortlisted writers will have time to hone their pitch and develop the series potential of their idea. The winner will get a script commission and development opportunities with ITV.

Previous finalist Robert Thorogood created the BBC1 smash-hit series Death in Paradise, now starring Ardal O’Hanlan and produced by Red Planet Pictures, which is currently airing its seventh season and has been recommissioned for an eighth run next year. Last year’s winner Tom Nash is developing his winning series, Percentages, and has been commissioned to write on the eighth season of Death in Paradise – his first professional engagement.

Alongside The Red Planet Prize, I recommend that writers keep across the different opportunities on offer in the UK from the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, as well as those promoted by independent companies. Recently Sister Pictures and Kudos North both hosted new schemes.

Red Planet Prize winner Robert Thorogood created BBC hit Death in Paradise

Professional bodies such as Creative Skillset and the British Film Institute are also a great place to look for advice and inspiration. These tailored schemes bring work to the experts where development is tailored to the needs and wants of that organisation. There is no better place than BBC Writersroom to find out about the creative business of being a writer.

Over the years, I have read thousands of scripts and I am acutely aware when someone has that indefinable thing called talent. But how that then translates into a commission is more complex. Personal taste also plays a part and affects the way your script is received. It might be well written but lack originality, compelling narrative or a big idea that makes the story complex and rich. Can the idea sustain more than one episode? Is it distinctive enough to engage an audience? Will anyone care?

There are always several questions that need to be answered, firstly by you, the writer, about what drives your characters and their story, and then by the reader. Be aware of the innovations happening on the digital platforms. Remember, content is king so think carefully about where your drama starts its journey and how you can develop it from there. Never underestimate the importance of a great calling card script – that’s what grabs the attention. Once people are interested in you, you can pitch them your killer idea. Be passionate and be thoughtful. Write what you want to see and have more than one good idea.

Submissions for Red Planet Prize 2018 are being welcomed until Monday, February 12 2018 via the Red Planet Pictures website. The winner will be announced in summer 2018.

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American Dream

British comedy-drama Living the Dream follows the Pemberton family as they decide to leave rainy England and move to the sunshine state of Florida in search of a better life.

Once they arrive, however, they find that things aren’t quite what they expected.

The cast is headed by Philip Glenister and Lesley Sharp, who play Mal and Jean Pemberton.

In this DQTV video, Glenister talks about why this show is the perfect antidote to darker television dramas, featuring a married couple still madly in love with each other and embarking on a new journey together with their children.

Executive producers Luke Alkin and James Dean reveal their decision to make the show a Donald Trump-free zone, though it does feature themes and cultural issues shared by people living in Britain and the US.

Living the Dream, which has been renewed for a second season, is produced by Big Talk Productions for Sky1 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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Roman invasion

Set in 43AD, anarchic drama Britannia follows the Roman army as they return to crush the Celtic heart of Britannia, a mysterious land led by warrior women and powerful Druids who claim to channel the forces of the underworld.

David Morrissey stars as Roman general Aulus, alongside Kelly Reilly, Zoe Wanamaker, Ian McDiarmid and Mackenzie Crook.

In this DQTV interview, Morrissey reveals what drew him to the unusual role and how he was captivated by the show’s stunning set design.

The actor and executive producer James Richardson also discuss working with co-creator Jez Butterworth, the acclaimed playwright behind Jerusalem and The Ferryman, and explain why this isn’t just another historical drama.

Britannia is produced by Vertigo Films and Neal Street Productions for Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime Video in the US. Sky Vision is the distributor.

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Walter’s Italian odyssey

Set in Sicily in the 1970s, Maltese tells the story of one man’s fight against the Mafia.

Dario Maltese (Kim Rossi Stuart) is a talented detective battling to stay moral in an immoral world. But when he returns to his hometown to attend a friend’s wedding, he is suddenly and violently sucked back into the world he fled 20 years before.

This time, however, he must stay to uncover the truth – but what starts out as a simple murder investigation quickly escalates, uncovering more disappearances, further murders and ultimately exposing a network of corruption and lawlessness.

In this DQTV video, Italian actor Stuart talks about why he chose to take on the role and how this 1970s set series speaks to modern-day audiences.

Meanwhile, Walter Iuzzolino, the curator of Walter Presents, reveals why he fell in love with Maltese and the elements that elevate it above other series to ensure it would become the first Italian drama to air on the streaming platform.

Iuzzolino also compares Maltese to two other shows – Spain’s Locked Up and Germany’s Deutschland 83 – that went on to become flagship series for their respective countries.

Maltese is produced by Palomar for Italian broadcaster Rai and distributed by ZDF Enterprises. It launches in the UK Channel 4 on February 4, with the entire series immediately available to view on Walter Presents.

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Kreuk in court

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a hot-shot lawyer who returns to her home town and gets pulled into a case involving a group of sick high school girls, while also facing some unresolved family business in town.

In this DQTV video, Kreuk reveals why this legal drama stood out for the actor, who was keen to step away from genre series such as Smallville and Beauty & the Beast, which brought her fame. She also tells of the appeal of playing a flawed character in a series with a social conscience at its core.

Kreuk also discusses her approach to acting and how she is now stepping up her role behind the camera.

Burden of Truth is a 10-part serialised drama produced by ICF Films, Eagle Vision and Entertainment One (eOne) for Canada’s CBC. eOne also distributes the series internationally.

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Hot stuff

Six-part drama Hard Sun is described as a pre-apocalyptic crime drama set in contemporary London.

While investigating the death of a computer hacker, partners and enemies Charlie Hicks and Elaine Renko inadvertently stumble upon proof that the world is facing certain destruction in five years.

Pursued by ruthless security service operatives, who are willing to kill them in order to keep them silent, they must protect themselves and those they love while ensuring a new breed of murderers, abusers, serial killers and cult leaders face justice.

In this DQTV video, writer/creator Neil Cross (Luther) and executive producer Kate Harwood discuss making the series, which centres on the relationship between two detectives who stand morally and ethically opposed to each other.

Stars Agyness Deyn (Renko), Jim Sturgess (Hicks) and Nikki Amuka-Bird (Grace) also reveal more about the conflicted and complex relationships between their characters and the appeal of starring in a show written by Cross, who also talks about his writing process.

Hard Sun is produced by Euston Films for BBC1 and Hulu and distributed by FremantleMedia International.

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Making McMafia

McMafia stars James Norton (War & Peace, Happy Valley) as Alex Godman, the English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia history.

Alex has spent his life trying to escape his family’s criminal past, but finds himself forced to confront his values as he struggles against the lure of corruption.

In this DQTV interview, co-creators Hossein Amini (Drive) and James Watkins (The Woman in Black) discuss how they worked together to turn Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book into a global drama set in a world where the mob is no longer confined to one location.

They also talk about casting Norton in the lead role and how they wanted to capture the same authenticity and tone laid out in Glenny’s book.

McMafia is produced by Cuba Pictures for BBC1 and AMC and distributed by BBC Worldwide.

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Six of the best: Frith Tiplady

The executive producer of dramas including Peaky Blinders, Fortitude and Ripper Street chooses a mixture of British and US dramas – including one that has been stuck in her mind for the past 20 years.

A one-off drama in 1995, based on Jane Austen’s novel, it flipped a switch with period drama in that it was filmed in a very raw way. You could feel the countryside, the mud and the repression. It felt less reverential than any period drama I’d seen before. Amanda Roots was fantastic as lead character Anne Elliot. A lot of women’s lives are quiet, and Persuasion portrayed a quiet woman brilliantly. It’s also very romantic. It was revelatory to me; it spoke to me as a person but also felt fresh production-wise, and when you can do something fresh with a story that’s more than 200 years old, that’s exciting. I watch it yearly; it’s a beautiful piece of work.

Brideshead Revisited
I only recently watched this, so this is not a backwards glance. It’s a new discovery for me and it’s extraordinary. It’s the norm now, but the fact Granada [now part of ITV] made something of that scale and breadth and which cost zillions of pounds in the early 1980s seems extraordinary. To have done it about this family struggling with alcoholism, repressed homosexuality and their relationship with religion is remarkable. I’m not sure we could make it today. In this world of SVoD, you discover things you’ve never seen – we should all watch these amazing dramas and discover why we do it.

Mad Men
As an exploration of a construct of a person and human want, Mad Men is brilliant. Don Draper as a character is an amazing creation and against that backdrop, you’ve got Peggy and Joan being awesome females. Then you’ve got the restriction of the 1950s, so for me it’s the perfect exploration of masculinity and what that means to men and women. It’s just joyous and sexy.

Sex & the City
It’s perfect entertainment drama TV. I genuinely believe it made an impact on the world. People talk about television that makes noise, but Sex & the City made women embrace the importance of their female friendships and become more honest about their sexual selves. Despite the show appearing to be a comedy, for my generation it either reflected ourselves like never before or we became more like the characters. So while it’s dressed up as something frivolous, there’s a truth to it that really needed saying. It’s why Girls and The Handmaid’s Tale then made a splash – considering women are a massive part of the audience, it’s rare for stories to reflect the struggles of the world we’re in or the lives we lead.

ER (also pictured top) is the perfect long-running television series. I just lived and breathed it. It has that perfect mix of long-running serial and episodic story-of-the-week. There were key characters you knew were messy and imperfect but who worked really hard; but also episodic stories that ripped your heart out. It has that mix of tension and comedy, and you never knew what you were going to get in each episode. It managed to be formulaic without being formulaic. I genuinely don’t know how they did that. I kept on being surprising and I just loved it.

Our Friends in the North
I haven’t seen it for 20 years since it came out, but to this day there are scenes I can recall in my head. It was a brilliant exploration of humanity through characters’ lives and Daniel Craig, as Geordie, made me sob. The depiction of the messiness of people’s lives and the struggle between family and being your own person and work and passion and making money was nailed in an extraordinary way. If something sticks in your mind 20 years later without re-watching it, that’s got to be up there as one of the best.

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Revisiting Romper

Coming 16 years after the ground-breaking and controversial film of the same name, Australian drama Romper Stomper follows a new generation of the activist right, their anti-fascist counterparts and three young Lebanese Muslims caught up in the conflict.

The six-part thriller, airing on streamer Stan, brings the battle of opposing views into a modern-day context in which hard-right agitators have traded swastikas for the southern cross. Told from multiple points of view, it deals with political and social issues and highlights the shift of extremism from the fringes to the suburbs.

In this DQTV interview, writer/director Geoffrey Wright and producer John Edwards discuss how the project was delivered in little more than a year and why the chance to look back at the original film was an opportunity to break new ground in Australian television.

Meanwhile, Stan chief content officer Nick Forward explains why the show was a good fit for the streaming platform, which saw record-breaking ratings when the series dropped at the beginning of this month.

The ensemble cast includes Lachy Hulme, David Wenham, Jacqueline McKenzie, Dan Wyllie, Toby Wallace, Lily Sullivan, Sophie Lowe, Nicole Chamounn and Julian Maroun.

Romper Stomper is produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond for Stan and is distributed internationally by DCD Rights.

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