All posts by DQ

Knockout locations

Kenton Oxley, CEO of Knockout Production Services, reveals how locations were sought for the seventh season of Sky and Cinemax action drama Strike Back, which was filmed in Malaysia.

Kenton Oxley

The process of finding the perfect locations for any drama production is a fantastic experience, but when producer Left Bank Pictures approached us with a view to filming Strike Back season seven in Malaysia, we found the sheer number of locations needed for the script exploded, just like the drama itself.

With approximately 100 unique locations used – within an intense schedule – we ensured the cast and crew filmed in the most beautiful, grimy, secluded and dense locations in Malaysia.

Filming revolved around Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and the surrounding jungle. With the intense heat (40°C in the shade) and 90% humidity, filming was a challenge, but worth it when you watch the series. Malaysia delivered in spades.

We provided a detailed analysis of Strike Back’s infrastructure needs, based on the powerful and action-packed script. We have a great team on the ground in Malaysia, alongside 17 other global locations, so we were spoiled for location choice. Along with the rustic street locations, various dark and secluded warehouses where shootouts would take place and jungle territory, there were many settings that had to stand out and make a particular impact.

One of these was for the entrance of Colonel Coltrane, played by Jamie Bamber. The scene was shot on the rooftop of Menara KH’s Heli Bar, with the beautifully imposing Petronas Towers in the background. The location became the backdrop for the official Strike Back 7 press photography (pictured top) and Colonel Coltrane enjoyed an introduction like no other – from a venue on top of the world.

Filming locations included the jungle, where the crew encountered an enormous snake

Another location with gravitas is the missile warehouse, packed with technology and power. The location chosen was in Port Klang, approximately 350 kilometres from Johor. The humid and varied jungle scenes were shot in Hulu Langat and the street scenes were set in Armenian Street, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Penang.

The variety of locations needed proved intense, but our Malaysian location manager, Shan Iman, and our local line producer, Zurina Ramli, have extensive experience and knowledge as well as a database of locations. To add to this, we worked with the film commission in Johor and engaged local scouts, providing thousands of pictures of potential sites.

Working from the script, we sent back a potential locations document and awaited the director and producers’ choices. It was then over to us to secure permission from the location, government and local authorities to get releases and, finally, contract the location.

Sometimes this is straightforward. In developing markets, people embrace the idea, but dealing with individuals, big and small corporations, government bodies, local councils and associations while also educating proprietors and owners about the process and contractual commitment for filming is time-consuming.

The production also involved shooting in urban environments

With locations secured, we looked to logistics. For example, when we shot in a densely populated block of flats, we obtained permission from the flat owner, their neighbours and their neighbourhood association. Following this, we informed the local council about road closures. And because Strike Back involved firearms, chase scenes and explosions, we needed to inform the Royal Malaysia Police too.

As well as getting through all this red tape, we hired security to help with road diversions, while health and safety support was required in extremely remote locations in addition to basic amenities like power, water and waste management. We had to ensure complete independence and self-sufficiency. It was hugely satisfying to achieve.

Accomplishing this is challenging when local wildlife can be lethal. Ensuring medical kits include anti-venom for all local snake species, among other life-saving medication, is crucial. Every eventuality is covered, from medical emergencies through to evacuation procedures. Other than coming face-to-face with a huge boa constrictor on location in the jungle (humanely caught by our on-set snake handler), I’m pleased to say the drama was left to the script.

Our most challenging location was a recently closed shopping mall. Simply powering up the air conditioning was a massive task. Complexities of property ownership added complications, but the location was needed and it was just another day at the office for us.

The Strike Back cast ready to take to the skies in a helicopter

In contrast, a favourite filming location loved by all was Penang. It is a stunning city; a very welcoming environment that delivers as an amazing shooting location.

Left Bank Pictures executive producer Sharon Hughff agrees that the locations delivered: “When Left Bank Pictures embarked upon filming Strike Back in Malaysia, the creative challenges were immense. Not only were we looking to stage ambitious, complicated action set pieces, but Malaysia had to double for Goa, Indonesia and Hong Kong

“The beauty of the landscape, from the jungles around Johor Bahru to the neon futuristic cityscape of Kuala Lumpur all made for an incredible backdrop that exceeded our expectations and made for an epic on-screen production value.”

One of our aims at Knockout is for the locations to stay in the viewer’s mind after they watch the series. Certainly, one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I enjoyed seeing develop was at Sg Pendas, Johor, featuring a seaplane take fire as it flies over the immense lake. It is a stunning sequence with a stunning backdrop. For me, that’s what pre-production is all about – ensuring the great script and cast is supported by the best crew, infrastructure and locations in the world.

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Inquest into Coroner

After starring in HBO’s Ballers and Marvel series Inhumane for US network ABC, Canadian actor Serinda Swan returned home for her latest television project.

She takes the lead in Canuck pubcaster the CBC’s Coroner, in which she plays Jenny Cooper, a coroner tasked with investigating suspicious deaths while struggling to come to terms with her husband’s passing.

In this DQTV interview, Swan reveals why she was drawn to play the character in a show that blends procedural and serialised storytelling.

She also talks about the opportunity to tell a “very Canadian story,” backed by a crew that is sought-after by US productions, and why she wants to challenge a system that says you need to move to Hollywood to be successful.

Based on the books by MR Hall, Coroner is produced by Cineflix Studios, Muse Entertainment and Back Alley Films for CBC and is distributed internationally by Cineflix Rights. The series launched in Canada in January this year, with a second season due in 2020.

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Back to the Studio

Set in 1993, Flemish series Studio Tarara goes behind the scenes of a fictional comedy sketch show of the same name, whose actors gradually lose themselves in a spiral of self-destruction.

Following a suicide, the scandalous secrets of the entire studio threaten to be exposed by the ensuing investigation.

In this DQTV interview, actor Tim Van Den Begin and co-writer and director Tim Van Aelst introduce the Flemish-language tragicomedy, in which Van Den Begin plays Jean, “a joyful character with a very dark side.”

They talk about making a comedy series that aims to cross international borders and discuss the support they received from broadcaster VTM, which itself features in the series.

Studio Tarara received its international premiere last month at Canneseries following its launch in Belgium in February.

The eight-part series is produced by Shelter for VTM and distributed by Be Entertainment.

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Making Magnus

Norwegian series Magnus follows an idiotic yet genius detective as he attempts to solve a murder rooted in Norse mythology. Teaming up with a suicidal partner and a scrawny neighbourhood boy, he embarks on an increasingly strange adventure.

In this DQTV interview, creator and co-writer Vidar Magnussen and director Geir Henning Hopland talk about how they brought together a myriad of genres for the series, which they describe as a “supernatural comedy drama thriller.”

They also reveal how the movies of Peter Sellers influenced the show, while Hopland discusses his directing process.

Magnus is produced by Viafilm for NRK and distributed by Hat Trick International. The series had its international premiere at Canneseries last month.

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Investigating The Murders

The Murders, an eight-part Canadian police procedural, stars Jessica Lucas (Gotham, Cloverfield) as rookie homicide detective Kate Jameson on the hunt for a mysterious killer who uses music for destructive ends.

In this DQTV interview held at Canneseries, Lucas explains why she was drawn to play Jameson, who she describes as a strong, smart detective who is also deeply flawed.

She also reflects on taking the lead in a series that celebrates diversity, her dual role as an executive producer and actor, and why she felt empowered to bring her own ideas to the series.

The Murders is produced by Muse Entertainment for CityTV and distributed by APC Studios. NBCUniversal International Networks acquired the series for its channels across Europe and Africa.

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Six of the Best: Vanessa Shapiro

Gaumont’s president of worldwide TV distribution and coproduction shares her six favourite series of all time, featuring a mix of US comedies and international dramas.

What could be more compelling than the real-life rise to global power of the world’s most infamous drug lord? In its first two seasons, Narcos (also pictured above) tells the story of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine kingpin who consistently outmanoeuvred omnipotent Drug Enforcement Administration agents, rival drug lords and the Colombian government to become the wealthiest cocaine producer and distributor – reportedly worth US$30bn at the time of his death – in the world.
The series doesn’t sugar-coat the acquisition of Escobar’s ill-gotten gains as he courts the poor, thumbs his nose at authority and executes some of the most cunning business strategies ever. The third season continues the story of the Colombian cartels, while the latest instalment, Narcos: Mexico, switches its focus to Mexico’s cannabis trade and the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s. The true story element makes Narcos an addictive and fascinating show.

Every American of a certain age can recall their favourite episode and has also identified with one or more of the iconic characters in Friends, which enjoyed a decade-long reign on NBC and became one of the US’s most popular television series of all time.
Relatively unknown when the series debuted, Friends stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow were soon catapulted onto the A-list, influencing a generation’s apparel, hairstyles and vernacular. The series is still extremely popular today, and it’s always fun to watch re-runs.

Grace & Frankie
I was hooked from the first episode of this show, when tight-laced Jane Fonda as Grace meets her husband (Martin Sheen) for dinner with his business partner (Sam Waterston) and his hippy-artsy spouse Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin. During the dinner, we learn that the husbands are not only partners at a law firm, they are also lovers and have decided to come out to their wives, each seeking a divorce so they can marry each other.
The series deals with the challenges of starting over, relationships with exes, adult children and more through its sharp, witty dialogue that makes you laugh, touches your heart and leaves you anxiously waiting for each new season.

Las Chicas del Cable (The Cable Girls)
The producers of the acclaimed Spanish series Gran Hotel and Velvet hooked me with this Spanish period drama. Set in 1928 in Madrid, the series follows the lives of four very different young women who work as switchboard operators for the country’s only phone company at the time. It addresses the social mores of the time, as well as the women’s relationships, ambitions and dreams juxtaposed against a changing society. While the technology may be antiquated, the situations and choices these women face are just as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent)
This French series may hit a bit too close to home for some in the TV biz, but I love it. Dix Pour Cent follows the lives of three struggling talent agents, each attempting to balance their personal lives with the professional pressures of trying to keep the high-maintenance celebrity clients of the ASK agency happy following the sudden death of the agency’s founder. You’ll laugh, you’ll relate and you may even pick up some pointers.

Sex & the City
OK, I’m just going to say it: I wanted to be sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw, just to hang out with her friends –Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda – or to dress in some of the cutting-edge fashion (and those fabulous shoes!) on display in the series.
The show introduces us to the sexually liberated and slightly older Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the guarded and headstrong Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), the sheltered and spoiled Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and the inquisitive writer Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), who uses her personal encounters and those of her friends as fodder for a newspaper column.
While each of these women enjoys a successful career, they all struggle with a roller coaster of emotions and self-reflection as they explore and experience Manhattan’s plethora of available men. This series tackled timely and relevant subjects like sexuality, monogamy and relationships from each of the women’s very different perspectives. It became a classic and still airs around the world.

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Getting Blood to flow

Sophie Petzal, writer of Irish drama Blood, reflects on a pivotal scene in this psychological thriller about a woman who returns home to her estranged family following her mother’s death. The series is produced by Company Pictures in association with Element Pictures and distributor All3Media International for Virgin Media Television in Ireland.

From the earliest days of storylining Blood, we had written up on the episode two whiteboard, in bright blue marker: ‘LINE OF DUTY DINNER SCENE!!’

Sophie Petzal

You’ll often find playful abbreviations in a writer’s notes – an instantly evocative reference to jog the memory and conjure the tone and feel being striven for in a particular scene. This seemingly jocular nod to one of my and producer Jonathan Fisher’s favourite shows began as just that. But as the sequence developed and unfolded, the reference proved to be one of our most influential starting points and became the key to unlocking the subversive crime drama flair we yearned to inject into the domestic and seemingly ordinary world of Blood.

The scene in question takes place after the funeral of Mary Hogan, wife of Jim – played by Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar. The couple’s daughter, Cat (Unforgotten’s Carolina Main), has returned home to rural Ireland after her mother’s sudden death following a fall by the garden pond, circumstances she finds suspicious.

Once the crowds had dispersed from Mary’s wake, I knew we would have a quiet, ‘After the Dance’ sequence where our core family members would be sat together, eating leftovers, decompressing and grieving, and it was at this moment that I knew Cat would finally, openly confront her father.

Though it is perhaps the most hilariously inappropriate moment conceivable, Cat has learned by now that it is too risky to confront Jim alone, so she has waited for a moment where the family are together, where she can present the discrepancies and secrets to Jim in full view, so he will have – to her thinking – no choice but to answer them.

Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar as Jim in Blood

Instead, Jim turns the tables on Cat, asking her the question he knows will hurt her the most, the very question that ironically, she has been asking him this whole time – ‘Where were you?’ But when Jim asks the question, he is not asking for an alibi. He is asking, ‘Where have you been all these years? Where were you while your mother was dying?’ It speaks to the very heart of Cat’s guilt, a potentially crippling counter-move.

Perhaps by now, the Line of Duty reference makes sense, referring to the infamous 20-minute interrogation sequences in Jed Mercurio’s BBC police drama where anti-corruption unit AC12 fastidiously present their findings and their theories, only to have the tables turned on them by a questionable yet capable suspect.

At the outset, the aim for this scene was for Cat to put Jim on the spot, and for Jim to turn the spotlight back on his daughter. I wanted the audience to be left torn between the two, trusting no one. That I always envisaged Adrian in the role of Jim when writing this was only an amusing fraction of the motivation for the Line of Duty reference.

What I hadn’t quite anticipated was just how this scene would take on a life of its own, and rather than – as I always worried about – fall into the TV drama trap of ‘normal woman suddenly becomes Sherlock Holmes,’ became one of our most delightfully human and kitchen-sink family moments. It was a sequence that delivered twists and tension, and subversions in the vein of a crime drama, but also all the family dynamics – the drunken, overwrought explosions and black humour of domestic drama.

In the writing of this show, it was in this scene where the tone of Blood finally came alive. This was instrumental in the writing and re-writing of this episode and every other episode until production.

Carolina Main plays Jim’s daughter Cat

I vividly remember this scene being read aloud by our full cast at the readthrough. These are often horrifying experiences for writers. You lose all sense of perspective and instead hear every dud line, every missing plot detail. It can be excruciating. But I remember watching our incredible cast read this scene and forgetting I had even written it. I was just spellbound. Watching Adrian stare across the table at Carolina, asking her, ‘Where were you, Cat?’ I remember eyes lighting up around the room. Stolen glances. It was an audience and players moment, the moment where everyone catches the glimpse of the show we’re trying to make – if we don’t cock it up.

Across all productions, there are peaks and troughs. You watch through rushes that work and others that don’t. You learn to roll with the punches, to trust the process. You learn to know you can make things work. But this scene was always our fulcrum, in whatever form, be it a readthrough, an on-set rehearsal, a set of rushes or a first cut.

This was the scene we would watch when times were tough to remind us of the show we were trying to make, of the way we wanted our audience to feel. There never felt to me a scene more representative of Blood than this dinner confrontation sequence and, as such, it will always have the place closest to my heart – alongside, of course, Line of Duty…

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The end is Nye

For four years, The Durrells has provided entertainment, drama and plenty of laughs as it follows the titular British family living in Corfu in the 1930s.

In this DQTV interview, creator and writer Simon Nye talks about making the ITV series, which is based on Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical books.

He discusses his journey through television, starting with BBC sitcom Men Behaving Badly, and why he now enjoys writing drama.

Nye also talks about his writing process – and explains why some episodes will have up to 10 drafts.

The Durrells is produced by Sid Gentle Films for ITV and Masterpiece in the US, and distributed by BBC Studios.

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Between the Lines

Israeli writers Noa Rothman and Ester Namdar Tamam introduce legal thriller Red Lines, which takes viewers into the complex world of the district attorney’s office.

Set in a district attorney (DA)’s office, Red Lines centres on up-and-coming attorney Marcelle Ben-David, who believes in justice above all else – even the law. After convicting the head of a major crime family, she is given a promotion under the watchful eye of the highly esteemed DA.

Ester Namdar Tamam

As she begins working on her first assignment, a high-profile mortgage fraud case, Marcelle’s disregard for the rules of the DA’s rigid hierarchy opens a Pandora’s box that threatens to shake the country’s entire legal system. As Marcelle digs deeper into the investigation, she discovers that this case is only the tip of the iceberg in a massive conspiracy. Going against her boss’s wishes, Marcelle will do whatever it takes to bring justice to those involved – no matter the cost. But when she finds out that those behind it are the ones closest to her, can she stop it all before she crosses too many red lines?

There are a few things that most interested us about Red Lines, which comes from Kan and Tedy Productions and is distributed by Armoza Formats. The first was the setting, which presented an incredible opportunity for the series. The DA office in Israel is much more than just a work environment; it’s the centre of the country’s ethics and legal system and truly represents a lot of the good and bad things about Israel. This allowed the story to be much more complex than a typical legal drama.

In addition, as two strong women, we very much connected to our protagonist. She stands up for what she believes, speaks her mind and seeks justice. And yet she struggles with a dark side that haunts her.

Red Lines focuses on up-and-coming attorney Marcelle Ben-David

Another thing that interested us about the series was the way it grapples with the fact that there is good and bad in each person. The lines between our heroes and villains are blurred as you realise each character has a moral reason for their choices, an alternative narrative. Every character, good or evil, believes in their own ‘truth.’

Our favourite and most emotionally intense sequence is one from episode 10, an episode that completely stands out from the rest of the season. Marcelle must finally come face to face with her past and the choices she has made when she is called to the stand in the trial of the major crime lord she put away. The crime boss paints a picture that has the legal system and the criminal switching sides in the issue of good versus bad. And her mentor, ex-partner and best friend all witness this pivotal moment as she is questioned about her motives. The scene brings Marcelle’s true, dark nature to light as she is forced to admit the lines she crossed in order to close the case.

Noa Rothman

This scene was one of those moments that really makes you want to be a writer. The series was inspired by a true story yet is completely fictional, so watching this dramatic moment come to life was incredibly moving and gratifying, both in the writing and in the responses it provoked. It changed everything the viewers thought they knew about our characters, and their reactions to it were fascinating and extreme.

There is a belief that, as a writer, you bring the things that are inside of you to your writing – your fears, beliefs, dreams and desires. As you become an experienced writer, you start to believe this is just a myth. However, when a scene comes from deep within, you can see your soul in it.

This scene showed us just what you can achieve when your writing truly reflects you in some way, as we both felt ourselves in it – our words, our emotions and our experiences.

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Ireland’s time

As Irish production company ShinAwil launches a new TV drama division, CEO Larry Bass outlines its first projects and explains why Ireland’s scripted series are set explode on the international stage.

Ireland has been exporting literature since the time of the ancient bards. From Jonathan Swift to the 20th century literary masters of James Joyce, WB Yeats and JM Synge to the cinematic genius of Jim Sheridan, we’ve always punched above our weight in terms of novelists, poets, playwrights, film directors and acting talent. It’s in our make-up: we’ve always been a nation of great storytellers.

Larry Bass

But now it’s time for a new creative renaissance where our nation’s TV writers and production talent look to episodic drama as the genre to work in.

Ireland’s presence on the international TV drama stage is set to explode over the next couple of years – and we at ShinAwil are already at the forefront of this expansion.

For two decades now, we’ve been the dominant player in Ireland’s unscripted space, bringing big international formats such as Dragons’ Den, Dancing with the Stars and MasterChef to our local market.

However, we felt we really wanted to expand and scale our business geographically and by genre – and to do this, a stronger focus on the global market was paramount.

It’s what led us to launch a ShinAwil scripted division. After a number of years’ investment in development, we took our new drama slate to Series Mania in Lille last week. To make our ambitious division a success, we decided we wanted to develop a high-quality drama slate using the same disciplined focus we used for our successful unscripted business.

Drama industry talent was key for us to achieve this. So in 2016 we hired a head of drama in the shape of Aaron Farrell, who had previously worked on Michael Hirst’s Vikings and Neil Jordan’s The Borgias while at Octagon Films. In 2017, our team was further bolstered when former RTÉ commissioning editor of drama Mary Callery joined us as head of international. This management group has been key to attracting the best writers, directors and line producers that Ireland has to offer. Add to this my appointment by the Irish government to the board of creative agency Screen Ireland and we have a seat at the top table of the Irish TV drama landscape.

Our mission is to make a mix of dynamic, contemporary and period drama, and things are now coming to fruition. We are co-developing and coproducing with leading production houses from the US, Canada, Scandinavia, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Much of Game of Thrones, arguably the biggest drama in the world, is filmed in Ireland

Among our extensive slate of projects is the A+E Networks International-commissioned period drama Miss Scarlet & the Duke (pictured top). This is a six-part period drama on which we will oversee production in Ireland for US-based Element 8, and which is written by Grantchester and The Mallorca Files screenwriter Rachel New. The 19th century-set series follows London’s first female detective and is part of our growing slate that also includes Clean Sweep, an eight-part family crime series developed again in partnership with Element 8 and also state broadcaster RTÉ.

Both shows exemplify our mission not just to develop original drama content but also to partner with international players, coproducing using the producer-friendly Irish tax credit system and utilising Ireland as a production base. The tax credit has recently been extended and enhanced, and a regional uplift of 5% on top of the existing 32% credit is also accessible.

In terms of the broadcasting landscape, the entry of Virgin Media Television – formerly TV3 – into original Irish production has been very welcome. The success they’ve enjoyed domestically and overseas with soap opera Red Rock has helped the Irish TV community generate new creatives, writers, production talent and directors, all of whom have gone on to work on very successful shows.

Virgin Media has been investing in Irish drama with series such as Blood

Virgin Media’s successful psychological thriller Blood has made great waves too, while RTÉ is also pumping plenty of resources into comedy-drama Young Offenders and primetime series including Taken Down and Resistance. Indeed, the channels’ strategies to feature more original Irish content in their schedules has really helped us to generate momentum for a number of important shows on our slate.

Naturally, there will be knock-on effects from this boom, with more pressure to engage the top talent working in a small territory. But this also provides a huge opportunity for some younger talent to step up and make their mark. When you have shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings shooting in Ireland, homegrown writers, actors and production staff get fantastic exposure to some of the world’s most popular dramas and see the intricacies of how the business works.

It means it’s a really exciting time to be working in Ireland. But does this mean our reputation as a go-to nation on the international drama stage has been cemented? We’re getting there.

One thing to point out is that, post-Brexit, we will be the only English-language speaking country in the European Union (EU). While I’m personally saddened by Britain’s impending departure from the EU, this also leaves Ireland with a great opportunity to increase its footprint in the European and global scripted space. A lot of companies, outside the TV industry and within, have already started to relocate their businesses here and I can only see this trend continuing. And with this will come an influx of new and exciting creative talent.

Already we are starting to see the expansion of film and TV studio facilities in Ashford and Bray, Co Wicklow, Troy Studios in Limerick, and soon new studios in Dublin, so there is lots of new activity – international and domestic – on the horizon. This only bodes well for the future.

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Cold case

Juan Ignacio Sabatini, the director and executive producer of Chilean drama Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood, tells DQ about the story’s real-life origins and explains how the series pushes the crime genre in a new direction.

Set in the 1990s, Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood is based on a real-life police investigation that took place in Chile.

In the eight-part series, the disappearance of 12 young girls from the commune of Alto Hospicio, in the north of the South American country, triggers an investigation by police captain César Rojas (Francisco Melo, pictured above) to solve the mystery of their whereabouts.

With a small town and its inhabitants struck by the tragedy, the investigators try to find the culprit as the killer wanders in search of lonely adolescents, surrounded by the sands of the driest desert in the world and unable to stop his impulses.

The crime drama is produced by Villano for Chilean broadcaster Mega, with DCD Rights distributing the series internationally.

Here, Villano’s Juan Ignacio Sabatini, who directs and exec produces the series, reveals more about the titular character and how the show came together.

Inspector Rojas: Cold Blood director and exec producer Juan Ignacio Sabatini

Tell us about the story of Inspector Rojas.
This is basically a story about discrimination and classism, about gender violence, coloured by the horror of the actions of a sick mind that was allowed to move with total freedom thanks to the negligence of local authorities unable to control their own impulses. Then, Inspector Rojas comes into the story. He’s a foreigner finding himself in hostile territory where he’ll fight little by little to settle his own demons and to get justice.

Where did the idea originate?
Back in 2015 I was hired by TVN to make a miniseries based on a book by Rodrigo Fluxa. The book was about Daniel Zamudio, a young man who suffered a brutal attack and subsequently passed away. This paved the way for a huge social movement in Chile, which lead to the first gender equality law in the country.
During the scriptwriting process, Rodrigo approached me and mentioned he was about to submit some editorial about Julio Perez Silva, the psychopath from Alto Hospicio, which was going to be part of a publication called Los Malos, which would be collated into a series about people in Latin America who represent the worst of humanity. After reading the draft, I realised it fulfilled the criteria for an amazing police thriller, so we started working with Rodrigo and Enrique immediately.

How was the series developed with the broadcaster?
The relationship with Mega was great and it was hugely beneficial to the project. The biggest point of debate was finding a comprise for the series’ staging, bearing in mind that Mega is a free-to-air network.
Jeff Rush, the script doctor hired by Mega, proved crucial. The discussion eventually turned to the focus of the story and how it should move forward while keeping the interest of the audience – and to make it work for the viewers of both free-to-air TV and OTT.

Who is Inspector Rojas? How does he stand out from other police officers?
Rojas has a complex past and had a difficult childhood, which saw him move between foster homes and adoption centres before joining the police force. He is an orphan who took this job in the police force because he was looking for containment. He wanted to find somewhere he could fight justice and find the inner peace he didn’t have during his early years.
In this context, Rojas puts up a wall around himself to contain his inner demons, which are conceptually aligned with the hidden demons often found in the most remote of places. The wall begins to crumble just before he embarks on this journey. It is in this place, the driest desert in the world, that Rojas comes up against his ideals of justice, his quest to find it and his past.
Rojas’s need to fight for justice is intrinsically linked with trying to solve his own issues. This inner strength is what makes him stand far above his colleagues.

What does actor Francisco Melo bring to the role?
Francisco Melo is a fantastic actor. He’s had a very successful career and has the right tools to play such a complex part.
Back in 2003, I saw Melo in the theatre in the production of Sarah Kane’s Devastados. The way in which he was able to express pain, and how he was able to show that society’s violence had an impact on him by leveraging a violent sexual behavior, was mesmerising. When this story came into my life, I immediately remembered Melo in that play.

What was Rodrigo Fluxa and Enrique Videla’s writing process?
We have an excellent relationship with Rodrigo and Enrique based on common interests and the space we give each other to talk about our differences.
The interesting thing is we all come from different backgrounds – Rodrigo is a journalist, Enrique is a scriptwriter and playwright and I am a director – but together we’ve managed to achieve amazing results with two series inspired by real events which have created a lot of debate among our audience.

How did they use the true story to inform the show and did how did they balance the real story with dramatising it for television?
We tried to maintain the series’ storyline based on two plots from the real story to shape our story: teenagers lost somewhere in the middle of the desert, authorities that move slowly, people’s indifference and an expert policeman who arrives from Santiago to solve the case.
We used this to shape the characters and the scenes. We took some aspects from the real-life characters and enjoyed freedom to create all the other characters involved in the story and the world they live in.

The crime drama unfolds in the Chilean desert

How would you describe the show’s visual style?
In terms of style and aesthetics, we perceived the story as something developed within the parameters of a police thriller and a modern western, where the impressive landscape becomes an ‘actor’ in the story and builds the atmosphere of the show.

How does this series present a new take on the crime genre?
Beyond it being inspired by a real story and the story of the murderer, the most interesting aspect is the landscape where much of the action takes place – the immensity of the Atacama desert and the contrast this offers. You get to see the wonderful stage that is the desert’s colour scheme and light against a blue sky, which also reveals a devastating truth. There is no life, no water; there’s nothing.

Why are true crime dramas becoming more popular around the world?
I think humans have always had a morbid interest in evil and the different ways in which it manifests. This obsession is exponentially increased when the story is based on true events.

What do you think are the key ingredients to a crime thriller – and have these always been the same?
I think constructing the story and the way in which the clues about crime are revealed is key. Being able to give the audience a structured, yet broken, stream of information is crucial, as it means they are able to conjecture different scenarios as the case unfolds. You have to create characters that have multi-layered personality who are able to connect with viewers. Being able to do this creates a narrative that generates an interest and an emotional response to the story.

Why do you think crime stories continue to resonate with audiences around the world?
I think crime, regardless of its origin, creates a lot of morbid interest. We all want to know who committed the crime and why.

How does the series balance the strength of its characters with the plot?
The plot’s development is constantly challenging for our characters; the drama, the anxiety, the fear that arises as the girls disappear serves to question their ethical and moral structure, stripping them off their essence and challenging their preconceived ideas.

What were the biggest challenges in production?
Filming in the desert was very difficult, as we had to endure extreme weather conditions. It was very hot in the mornings, followed by strong winds and cold temperatures in the afternoon. Staying focused, without becoming complacent about the evil we were depicting, was also challenging.

Why do you think this series proved so popular in Chile – and why might it appeal to international audiences?
Aside from the interest generated in Chile because we were relaying a story inspired by one of the cruellest serial killers of our history, we also touched on very relevant societal issues, such as classism, discrimination and gender violence. All of these generate varying opinions among our audience while also helping our characters to forge an emotional connection with them.
I’m sure the story’s treatment and its geographic setting will continue to captivate people outside of Chile’s borders.

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Nature of the Beast

Japanese director Nobuo Mizuta tells DQ about the challenges of making a romantic drama in the shape of Nippon TV’s Weakest Beast, the story of two 30-somethings struggling to find love until they unwittingly cross paths.

Following the success of Nippon TV relationship dramas Mother and Woman – My Life for My Children, the Japanese broadcaster is bringing a romantic drama to international audiences.

Nobuo Mizuta

Weakest Beast is described as a love story for adults who hope to find romance but are crippled by fear or anxiety. The series follows two modern-day millennials: a 30-year-old woman who does everything perfectly at work yet is constantly keeping her emotions in check and a street smart, charming 33-year-old ladies’ man. He trusts no one until one fateful day draws these two people together. Will they finally follow their gut instincts and open their hearts?

Weakest Beast is produced by Nippon TV’s drama series producer Kyoko Matsumoto and directed by Nobuo Mizuta (Mother, Woman – My Life for My Children, Anone). Here, Mizuta, who is also operating officer and president of production at Nippon TV, tells DQ how the series was conceived and why it has become a social phenomenon in Japan.

What are the origins of the project?
Akiko Nogi, the scriptwriter, and our producer Kyoko Matsumoto had previously worked together on The Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami. Ms Matsumoto asked Ms Nogi to create something for Nippon TV again, and that is how Weakest Beast was born. It turns out Ms Nogi mentioned she wanted me to direct it. Ms Nogi is consistent with her theme and she focuses on how challenging it is for women to navigate the world in this day and age. No matter what people say, there are still a lot of stubborn men who are not sensitive at all. Many can attest to how tough it still is to live as a woman.
As the writing process unfolded, I realised some masculine aspects were interpreted by women in ways that were so different from a male perspective. It was eye-opening. For example, the old boyfriend of the lead female character came out like such a loser, even though I thought he was not that bad! Ms Nogi, Ms Matsumoto and another experienced female producer always made sure they checked their perceptions with each other, and they had many convincing depictions of men and their behaviours and thoughts that resonated strongly with female viewers (and male viewers, in the end).

What is Akiko Nogi’s writing process like?
Ms Nogi’s early drafts are already quite well written. I have worked with a lot of screenwriters and she is in the upper tier. She has excellent composition skills. Screenwriters write as they imagine scenes, but we directors work in reality. I know, for example, that I can reach ‘that wall’ in three steps, but all that writers can do is imagine it, so there will always be a difference – and on some points, I insist on depicting things the way I see fit.

Romantic comedy Weakest Beast focuses on a pair of modern-day millennials

How do you film television dramas?
I have a unique way of filming dramas, which tends to draw the interest of writers. I believe it is not merely about having different cameras, lenses and lighting techniques. I do not stop the actors in the middle of the scene. I also minimise the number of cameras on set. I designate one main camera that will capture the most crucial essence of the scene and then film that scene from top to bottom without cuts. Then I change the angles and lighting before doing another run. I never try to make the cast act in a way that would fit a particular cut I have in mind. In a way, this method resembles documentary filmmaking, which is a bit different from the way other directors shoot dramas. It gives actors the freedom to portray their roles. I just tell them to be free and act. This brings forth more reality to the finished product, because acting is really about reflexes.

Is it challenging to make a romantic drama?
Yes, because I have not had much success in romance! For Weakest Beast, we tried to be a bit ‘snobbish’ and depict scenes in difficult or indirect ways because that’s the way Ms Nogi’s script was written. Challenging stories like this are the ones that make you feel it was worth all your effort. And when you begin to feel that all your hard work is worth it, the sense of difficulty disappears. It feels more worthwhile working on difficult portrayals.

How did you find the location for the series?
Finding the right location is one of the most crucial elements of pre-production. Preparation is 80% of a director’s job. That includes writing and casting. Filming is only about 5%, while 15% is post-production, where we decide how to edit and what music and sound to add. As long as you have done a good job in preparing, there will be no unforeseen occurrences during filming.
Before we decided on Five Tap, a chic craft beer bar where all the characters get together and the drama starts happening, we looked at countless locations. Ms Nogi loves craft beer, so that was in the script from the get-go. She wanted to bring craft beer to the national stage but we realised brewers are our sponsors, so we thought it might be difficult to show on screen. Then, [brewer] Kirin offered to let us use their name on an imaginary product. We were excited because the drama would be complete even if it only showed the main characters drinking beer every time.
What we wanted was a pub in the middle of a residential neighbourhood and not an entertainment district. It was important to have the pub and the female character’s apartment on the same street, with the male character’s office in the middle. Our conditions were quite specific and we wanted to show their geographical placements in one take while they were walking on the street.

Much of the drama unfolds in a craft beer bar

Why do you think Weakest Beast has the potential to attract international audiences?
In many countries, even in developed ones, there are still factors that compel women to speak out, just like what happened with the #MeToo movement. This series focuses on how tough it still is for a woman in this day and age, be it in Japan or elsewhere. I believe we are at a juncture right now that will head towards equality for men and women, and viewers of this series will relate to the characters in the series in how they make decisions on their own to make their life better and meaningful.

Why has the series been described as a social phenomenon among millennial viewers?
Ms Nogi really wanted to write a story that accurately reflects men and women in modern society. Take a look at the male character: he talks badly about people behind their backs, and yet he does not present better alternatives or show leadership qualities. He also passes out when he drinks, even when he is with a woman. Isn’t he so typical of the guys you see nowadays? He basically feels no pressure to act like a man.
The woman does everything perfectly at work, while constantly keeping her emotions in check. All she wants is to fall madly in love and have a relationship where she can be true to herself, but every day passes without progress. She soon realises she has been the perfect employee and girlfriend yet this is getting her nowhere. These are the kind of examples that made viewers post so many responding messages on social media sites during and after watching.

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Holding out for Hierro

The Canary Island of El Hierro lends its name to Spanish crime drama Hierro, a ‘southern noir’ story of the hunt for a killer. Executive producer Alfonso Blanco reveals all.

From being named best coproduction project at Berlinale 2015, it’s been a long journey to bring Spanish drama Hierro to the screen. Now backed by Spain’s Movistar+, the series will have its world premiere at Series Mania next week.

The title comes from El Hierro, a small volcanic island in the Canaries, where a corpse is found the water. Diaz, a local businessman, is set to prison for the brutal murder, until Candela, a forceful, temperamental judge, makes her first decision after arriving on the island – to release Diaz. While falling foul of the islanders, Candela believes she must do her duty, while Diaz is out to prove his innocence and uncover who has set him up.

The eight-part drama comes from Portocabo and Atlantique Productions in coproduction with Movistar+ and Arte France, with Banijay Rights distributing internationally. The series, which was filmed on El Hierro, was created by Pepe Moira and directed by Jorge Coira, with the cast led by Candela Peña (Princesa) and Darío Grandinetti (Wild Tales).

Here, executive producer Alfonso Blanco, from producer Portocabo, tells DQ more about the series.

Alfonso Blanco

Tell us about the origins of Hierro.
Hierro was designed as a coproduction to suit the international marketplace. Having observed the market just when Nordic noir was at its peak, we devised a new term to approach the market with – southern noir. With this term in mind, a brainstorming process culminated in an original idea by Pepe Coira in line with what we were looking for. From the very beginning, a story about a judge, a singular landscape and the island of El Hierro converged as a happy starting point.

How was the series developed?
The series was presented to the international market, firstly, at the Berlinale’s Co Pro Series event and then at Series Mania. During these two markets, the international coproduction was confirmed with Arte and Atlantique Productions, and Banijay Rights also joined the project at this time. After this, Movistar+ came on board, this being the company’s first international coproduction. The subsequent development process involving all parties was particularly fruitful.

Who are the main characters?
The main characters include a judge, recently arrived on the island, and a shady local businessman, the prime suspect of the crime. In this case, the main characters aren’t police officers. It’s a crime drama in which both characters and plot were developed from a realistic perspective. Everything that happens in the series could believably have taken place on El Hierro.

What do the stars bring to the series?
Both Candela Peña and Darío Grandinetti are renowned faces in cinema but are new to television series. The character of the judge, written two years before the final casting decision, was already named Candela – maybe a hint that the part was waiting for her. Both Candela and Darío’s approach to acting is based on realism. They are the best actors we could have wished for and they suit the characters perfectly.

What was Pepe Coira’s writing process?
Pepe came up with the original idea and is the creator of the series. Over a year, he wrote side by side with a team of five writers who worked closely with both Pepe and the four coproducers.

Actor Candela Peña with director Jorge Coira

How would you describe the tone of Hierro and how did director Jorge Coira work on the visual style?
Hierro is a character-driven crime drama with realism as its main focus – luminous and with great visual power. That is why Jorge Coira was the best choice. He’s a great director of actors and has his own visual universe.

How does this series present a new take on the crime genre?
We conceived the series as southern noir – a place of luminous landscapes and passionate characters, full of humour and intensity, and reflecting the reality of Spanish life.

How and why is the crime genre changing?
Crime drama is in constant evolution. It has changed over the past few years, in the same way as other genres, but what may be different now is its accessibility. Nowadays, an audience can watch the same series at practically the same time all over the world.

Why do you think crime stories continue to resonate with audiences around the world?
Crime stories engage due to their genre. To place characters in extreme situations is something that engages and excites audiences. Crime stories also have a universalising effect; the mechanics of a crime thriller can be followed in almost any country. In addition, the duration of a miniseries allows for greater evolution of characters, helping to create a frame in which to develop different stories and characters. The genre also permits a sociological approach to different realities, therefore the variety of stories is infinite.

How does the series balance strength of characters with the plot?
In Hierro we always had a clear idea that in a hierarchy between characters and plot, the characters came first. The story had to evolve in a natural way. To look for forced cliffhangers and effective turns wouldn’t fit into the series we were creating. We were looking for a series written upon the truth, on an existing reality, and we wanted to bring that reality into the story.

Darío Grandinetti stars alongside Peña

What was the biggest challenge during production?
The distance. El Hierro is the most remote of the Canary Islands, and getting all the equipment, the crew and the cast there was quite tricky. We also had to quantify our needs very accurately because to get things there was time-consuming.

How does the setting of the Canary Islands influence the story or the characters?
The protagonists of the story are not only Candela and Diaz but El Hierro too. The story couldn’t have happened anywhere else. El Hierro conditioned the life and reactions of all the characters enormously.

Why do you think Spanish drama is so popular right now?
Spain has been producing high-quality television drama for years, it’s not something that has just started. There is a solid television drama production industry in Spain. It began in the 1990s and now, 25 years later, it’s a very mature and capable industry. The worldwide success of series like La Casa de Papel [Money Heist] has turned the attention of international industry towards something that was already happening in Spain.

How is the industry in Spain changing? What new stories are being told?
In the beginning, there were only pubcasters and two private broadcasters in Spain. With the entrance of new operators, new opportunities arise. This has generated healthy competition, affecting the industry in a positive way. The OTTs and [pay TV platform] Movistar+ are not as conditioned by audiences, generating a space in which to produce more ambitious content. Now broadcasters are also open to coproductions, which will undoubtedly also affect the industry positively.

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Something to talk Abbott

Ever since finding success with Shameless, Paul Abbott has felt like he’s been “getting away with murder.”

Despite Abbott gaining numerous credits beforehand, the Channel 4 comedy-drama about the working-class Gallagher family allowed the writer to find his feet with a show that would run for 11 seasons in the UK, while its US remake is still going strong after 10 years.

In this DQTV interview, Abbott talks about the vital balance between comedy and drama in the series, and why a growing reputation as the ‘Laureate of white sliced bread’ led him to write political thriller State of Play.

He also talks about turning the crime genre on its head with police procedural No Offence, reveals the secrets of his writing process and explains why the television industry should do more to bring through new writers.

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Pushing The Limit

Robert Rodriguez, the director behind Sin City and From Dusk till Dawn, is taking audiences into a new world of storytelling with immersive blockbuster The Limit.

Starring Michelle Rodriguez (Lost, The Fast & the Furious) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), the VR thriller sees the viewer become a rogue agent with a mysterious past. With the help of super-assassin M-13 (Rodriguez), the viewer’s character must retrieve their identity and strike against the organisation that created them.

The 20-minute action movie is available on a host of platforms, including Oculus, Steam, PlayStation VR, Google Play and iOS.

In this DQTV interview, Robert Rodriguez and Andy Vick, chief commercial officer at VR studio STXsurreal, talk about the partnership that led to The Limit and reveal how they tried to push the boundaries of drama with this shortform VR film.

Robert Rodriguez explains why making The Limit was not like traditional filmmaking, and recalls the learning experience he went on to discover how to best use cameras and other technology to support the story he wanted to tell.

They also talk about the evolution of VR, overcoming user expectation and why Steven Spielberg has broken new ground with his own feature film, Ready Player One.

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Scent of a killer

Constantin Film producer Oliver Berben tells DQ about making Parfum (Perfume), an inventive German crime drama for ZDFneo and Netflix that uses both the book and film on which the show is based as plot points.

Oliver Berben

While book and film adaptations are key cornerstones of the television drama market, it’s rare that the existence of the source material is acknowledged within the show on which it is based.

But this is the case with German series Parfum (Perfume), with both the book and film that inspired the series appearing during the story, providing clues that help the detectives solve the mystery at the heart of this particularly gruesome crime drama.

Perfume begins with the discovery of the body of a woman on the Lower Rhine river, whose hair – pubic and axillary – have been removed. The investigators, played by Friederike Becht, Wotan Wilke Möhring and Juergen Maurer, then come across five people who knew the victim from their time at boarding school together.

It transpires that the group were interested in human scents, having been inspired by Patrick Süskind’s real-life 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. To help understand the case, the lead profiler subsequently reads the book and watches the 2006 feature adaptation that was directed by Tom Tykwer and starred Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Dustin Hoffman.

Here, producer Oliver Berben from Constantin Film breaks down the making of the series and talks about how the original book and the movie became integral to the plot of the drama.

What are the origins of the project?
The show originates from the idea of exploring, in a serial form, the fundamental premise of the novel and the movie of the same title: How far can humans be manipulated through their sense of smell? Constantin Film had acquired the film rights and produced Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of the novel, which became an international success. But with the serial, we wanted to take the historical ‘story of a murderer’ to another level and transfer it to our time.

What were your first impressions of the book?
I read the novel more or less when it first came out, as a teenager, and was completely overwhelmed by it. Perfume is one of the most fascinating and obscure books I know; it’s complex and intriguing, like a strange perfume. Süskind made me – and so many other people around the world – think about odours and scents in a very different way.

How did the novel and the movie inform the series?
They both served as inspirational starting points and as a reference throughout the series. They turn out to be a key element of the investigation. The novel, in particular, forms part of the backstory of our modern-day protagonists: They read the book when they were at boarding school together in the 1990s, and it inspired them to start experimenting with smells, like Süskind’s protagonist Grenouille in the early 18th century. The profiler who investigates the actual murder case, in the present, reads the book and watches the movie in order to learn about the possible motives behind the crime.

How are they related and why did you decide to take this route, rather than a straight adaptation or remake?
Tom Tykwer’s 2006 movie is a congenial adaptation of Süskind’s novel, in every sense. We did not see the point of trying to copy or simply repeat this approach in a TV show more than a decade later. Instead, we thought it would be interesting to ask ourselves: What makes this story so fascinating and relevant to us today? How can it be translated from 18th century France to our own world, where smells and perfumes are being perceived differently but may still have the same power over people’s emotions and behaviour?

Perfume’s meta approach sees the source material acknowledged within the plot

What was writer Eva Kranenburg’s process?
Eva started developing the idea for the show, the plot and the characters in close collaboration with me, and continued to write a concept that we closely discussed and worked on as a team over the course of several months. The process of writing the scripts for the six episodes was also aided by Philipp Kadelbach, the director, at a later stage.

How was the series developed with ZDFneo?
ZDFneo series are typically supervised, in the development stage, by a commissioning editor from ZDF. For Perfume, this was Günther van Endert, with whom we had worked on a number of great projects before, so there was a lot of mutual trust and understanding. Günther knew the scripts from a relatively early stage and really liked them.

When did Netflix join the show?
Netflix was on board from the very beginning. I explained the idea to Kai Finke [Netflix’s director of German-language content acquisitions and coproductions] in the early development stage and he was on board from day one. We found a deal together that could do justice to the complexity of the book, which had been translated and sold around the world, and also meet the needs of the broadcaster and a worldwide streamer on the other side.

How does Perfume stand apart from other crime series?
Perfume is unlike other crime series in that it combines a thrilling modern crime story, a deep psychodrama and a seemingly esoteric topic such as the mystical power of smell. It is also unusually original in terms of its visual and narrative style: beautiful but bleak, psychological but also extravagant, fantastical and hyper-realistic at the same time. We tried to create something without using existing patterns or paragons, something with its very own look and feel.

How are the detectives portrayed?
Our main character, Nadja Simon (Friederike Becht), is a young profiler. She leads the investigation but finds herself in a constant power struggle with the prosecuting attorney, Grünberg (Wotan Wilke Möhring), with whom she is having an affair. Köhler (Juergen Maurer), a detective with the local police, supports Nadja’s unorthodox investigation techniques and tries, unsuccessfully, to get closer to her.

The series was filmed on location in West Germany

What did director Philipp Kadelbach bring to the drama?
As a director with a clear vision and a legendary talent for working with actors, Philipp brought immense creative input to the series. Without his obsession – with every small detail as important as the entire production – Perfume would never have happened.

Where was the series filmed and how did locations influence its look?
Perfume was filmed on location at the Niederrhein, a rural/suburban region in the far west of Germany, between Cologne and the borders to Belgium and the Netherlands. The landscape is mostly flat and rather bleak, characterised by potato fields and pervaded by slip roads, power poles and run-down industrial areas. But in between, you come across small spots of surprising beauty: an old castle, the ruins of something in a blooming forest, a small river, a patch of moor.
This area, with its vaguely ‘lost’ feel, was the perfect setting for our show, whose protagonists are isolated – located nowhere, so to speak. The landscape also fits the look we were trying to create, with its focus on a kind of beauty that keeps oscillating between loveliness and gloom, between perfection and devastation, between a brutal present and the nostalgic transfiguration of the past.

What were the biggest challenges in development and production and how did you overcome them?
Movie making is always a big challenge overall and it creates tangible smaller problems during each step of the development and production process. It is only with the support of an excellent team, both on the creative side and on the production side, that you can overcome these constant challenges.

Why did you think Perfume would appeal to both German and global viewers?
Now that the series has come out [it debuted in November 2018 on ZDFneo and in December worldwide on Netflix], it is very exciting for us to see that German viewers and audiences around the world are reacting so strongly to it. Perfume has turned out as we had hoped – it is unlike anything people have seen before, and it has a sort of suction effect, a tight grip. So we are not surprised but very happy that it provokes and fascinates so many people at the same time, in so many different countries.

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Queens speech

Gal Zaid, from producer Endemol Shine Israel, breaks down his favourite scene from the first season of mob comedy-drama Queens.

Queens is a comedy-drama packed with strong women searching for respect and ready to break all the rules. The show aired on Israeli broadcaster HOT, where it was the most watched series of 2018. It was created and produced by Endemol Shine Israel, with Endemol Shine International distributing.

The drama follows the women of the Malka family, who lose their status and strength overnight. The story is based on an idea from Limor Nahmias, while the writing process, which took two years, was a collaborative effort between Dani Rosenberg, my wife Ruth Zaid, Dror Nobelman and me.

Gal Zaid

Queens begins late one night, deep into Eyal Malka’s bachelor party, as assassins board the family yacht and kill all the men and foot soldiers of the Malka family, one of the most prominent crime families in Israel.

The attack tosses the women of the family into a new reality, forcing them to fight for their place in a masculine world that only understands power. Over the course of the season, they will try to regain their footing and rehabilitate the lost family business, and seek vengeance for the deaths of their loved ones.

Dori Malka, the matriarch and wife of the head of the family, who was among those murdered on the yacht, stays in their home in southern Tel Aviv, alternating between grief and fantasies of revenge. Meanwhile, her daughter Lizzie, who has never moved out of her childhood home, tries to fight back and take over the reins of leadership. Soon enough, others will move into the spacious house: Naama, Eyal Malka’s ex-wife, along with their children, teenaged Nina and seven-year-old Ido.

Naama, a psychologist who has spent her entire life trying to keep her children away from the world of crime, will do everything in her power to protect her son, who has become a target since he is the only living witness to the mass murder on the yacht.

Cut off from the core family unit is Sapir, Eyal’s fiancée, who sits alone in the mortgaged penthouse apartment they had moved into just before his murder. She finds herself broke, ripe for the picking by Guy Francis, Eyal’s best friend, who survived the attack on the bachelor party since he happened to be in police custody that night and now finds himself wielding tremendous power.

One of the best things about writing the show the opportunity to work with my wife. In the past, when I used to write Israeli soap operas, whenever I would reach a dead end, Ruth would always come to the rescue with a creative solution. I realised that she had a hidden talent for writing within her and we began working on scripts together.

The writing of Queens became a part of our home. There were always dilemmas – should we begin the day running an errand needed for the house or should we sit down together and write? Of course, we would encounter about three arguments per day, but since they all had to do with the scripts, it left no time for personal arguments. The key to our great work together and professional relationship is that we understand one another very well and there is no need for extra explanations. Our most important rule was to never move on to a different scene until both of us were fully satisfied with the result. Also, when writing a series such as Queens, which has a strong tone of female empowerment, a woman’s perspective was key.

Queens focuses on the female members of the Malka crime family

My favourite scene of the series takes place in episode five, halfway through the 11-part season, when viewers are already familiar with the characters. The Malkas go to visit the fresh graves of the men of the family. Rita, who plays Dori Malka, is dressed in the usual dramatic style of her character, in black with bold red lips, and breaks out in a monologue for her murdered husband and son. It begins sympathetically and filled with pain, but gradually turns into an uncontrolled panic attack. She screams over the fresh graves, becomes hysterical and begins speaking nonsense.

Suddenly, in a dramatic and comical cut, Dori changes the subject, as she begins praying to God that her unmarried tomboy daughter Lizze, played by Dana Ivgy, will find a partner. By doing so, she is shaming and revealing her daughter’s weakness in front of everyone. She’s also revealing her own personal desire for her daughter to become more feminine, like many traditional young women in their 30s, to marry and raise a family. The scene paraphrases Lady Anne’s monologue addressing her dead husband in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Another Richard III parallel comes in the character of Albert, played by actor Igal Naor. Albert is an unpleasant-smelling fisherman, who has been in love with Rita’s character Dori for several years. He was always close to the Malka family and even did time in jail for Dori’s husband, for Dori’s sake, although she has never seen him as a potential romantic partner. Theoretically, the viewer sees Alberts as a harmless and innocent character. But like Richard III, a different side of his personality is revealed throughout the season.

In general, one of my favourite things about Queens is its eccentric and vivid characters. They all develop and evolve in many ways throughout the show – and even though they are mostly dramatic characters, they have a very thick comic undertone. This allows the characters to make fun of themselves in an exaggerated manner, which is what makes this drama unique and very funny.

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Six of the Best: Timur Weinstein

Russian network NTV celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. Here, its general producer picks out his six favourite scripted series, which include a pair of comedies, a crime caper and a portrait of gangsters in Prohibition-era America.

Married… with Children
This original US Married… with Children was released almost 30 years ago, when Russia did not even have such a notion as the ‘middle class.’ The story revolves around the everyday lives of ordinary people. Circumstances that are familiar to all of us were portrayed so brilliantly that sometimes it seemed like the screenwriters were just recording real life. Married… with Children is about family life, which we sometimes berate but always value more than anything else. It’s no wonder this show received seven Emmy nominations and seven for the Golden Globes. The series was so successful and popular that it was remade in many countries – and Russia was no exception. This show is important to me also because we produced the Russian adaptation (pictured left and above), called Happy Together, in 2005. We learned to shoot sitcoms while shooting Happy Together.

David Crane, Martha Kauffman and Kevin Bright started working on Friends in 1993, when the vast majority of television content was soap operas and there were almost no projects about youth. They hit the nail on the head with this show. Friends debuted in 1994 but still manages to make people laugh in 2018. Every scene, line and emotion was played brilliantly. So few people succeed in maintaining such momentum over 10 seasons. It is a challenge to produce popular and quality content for 10 seasons in a row.

The blackly comic crime drama from showrunner Noah Hawley has no pop-like nonsense, no mysticism, fiction, vampires or dragons in the series. It is a cynical and extremely exaggerated portrayal of living life on the edge. The characters embody human vices – envy, a thirst for power and hatred – which makes them act with indiscretion. Besides, the series is based on a famous and widely appreciated film of the same name by the Coen Brothers.

The Bridge
At the beginning, the show lured me in with its powerful energy, suspense and conciseness. As a producer, I was interested in working in this style. We adapted this series and set it around the Russian-Estonian border. In our version, the main roles were performed by Russian cinema stars Mikhail Porechenkov and Ingeborga Dapkunaite. We preserved the main characters but made them a little bit more Russian: a simple-minded guy from Russia and a discreet woman from Estonia. They don’t have anything in common and they don’t like each other, but they have to get along. Due to the circumstances, the bridge is a symbol of unity for us. And with the development of the plot, it acquires additional meaning and its own specific colour.

Boardwalk Empire
This series focuses on the romance and cruelty of Prohibition-era American gangsters. It is often described as the heir to legendary movies including The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola and Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone. But my interest is not only the plot – I enjoy the atmosphere, mesmerising details, costumes and design. I can breathe the air of Atlantic City in the 1920s.

Seventeen Moments of Spring
This is an iconic Soviet TV series shot in 1973, about a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany. When this show was broadcast, the streets of the cities became empty. It is still broadcast around the world and is still popular. I am picking it as an example because it explains ‘Russian style’ that many distributors and buyers see and do not like in some Russian TV series. By this I mean the use of a specific colour scheme – sepia. This series was shot in black and white to make the military drama look more like a documentary. I think the decision of the director, Tatyana Lionozova, to make the series this way was the right one, giving the effect of historical authenticity. But times are changing and nowadays Russian series are our way to find something new: our own new style, new stories, new genres and new forms.

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Marital strife

State of the Union, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, stars Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd as a couple who meet in a pub immediately before their weekly marital therapy session.

Each episode pieces together how their lives were, what drew them together and what has started to pull them apart – exploring the complexities of marriage via writer Nick Hornby’s characteristic honesty and humour.

What makes this series stand out, however, is that it is a shortform drama consisting of 10-minute episodes, with the story playing out over 10 weekly instalments.

In this DQTV interview, Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) reveals how some free time in his schedule led him to take up the challenge of writing a 10-minute drama. He also talks about finding the voices of his characters and bringing together stars Pike (Gone Girl) and O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) and director Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal).

Hakan Kousetta and Jamie Laurenson from producer See-Saw Films also discuss the challenges of financing and producing shortform series.

State of the Union is produced by See-Saw Films for SundanceTV and is distributed by Endeavor Content.

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Super Strong

George Moura and Sergio Goldenberg, writers of Brazilian ‘superseries’ Onde Nascem os Fortes (Land of the Strong), talk about how the country’s unique landscape inspired this story of love and tragedy.

Onde Nascem os Fortes (Land of the Strong) is a 30-hour-long ‘superseries’ produced by Brazilian network Globo.

When an adventurous young man, Nonato (Marco Pigossi, Edge of Desire), goes missing after a fight, his mother Cássia (Patrícia Pillar, Side by Side) and his twin sister Maria (Alice Wegmann, Dangerous Liaisons) begin a dangerous journey in search of answers in a town where brute force is more powerful than the law.

From writers George Moura and Sergio Goldenberg, the pair behind fellow Brazilian dramas Doomed and Siren’s Song, the series is described as a modern and female-led western that looks at love, hate and forgiveness as it delves into an old family secret that puts many lives at stake.

As Globo brings the series to the international market for the first time, Moura and Goldenberg tell DQ about the origins of the drama, their writing process and the challenges of shooting in a unique landscape.

Sergio Goldenberg

What are the origins of the series?
Sergio Goldenberg: Land of the Strong is a story about how passion can lead to love and hate, and how forgiveness is the only way out of certain impasses. Based on the classic telenovela format – the story of a love thwarted by a tragedy – we have crafted a story that portrays Brazil as it is today.
George Moura: The story’s setting was defined long before we thought about the plot. Although I’m from the city of Recife, which is the capital of Pernambuco, in north-east Brazil, I discovered the hinterlands very early on. The Brazilian hinterlands have a symbolism similar to the west for Americans or the desert for Arabs. Land of the Strong is not a story about the friendly side of Brazil, for which the country is more commonly known. The plot addresses a Brazil where survival of the fittest prevails, where citizens find neither support nor assistance from the state and must make it on their own. This is one of the aspects of this story, which we developed after researching and experiencing the north-eastern hinterlands.

How did the location inspire the story or setting? What makes it a good backdrop for a drama series?
Moura: The hinterlands are more than a setting; we moulded them into a character in the story. We’ve always wished to return to the geography of the hinterlands to tell new stories, and Land of the Strong was a great opportunity. The hinterlands are a place with a mythical atmosphere which is deeply related to the formation of Brazil. What’s more, it has a confrontation between the old and the new that is very rich in terms of drama. Land of the Strong is a story that needs to take place in this area. Artistic director José Luiz Villamarim (Brazil Avenue, Doomed) and our entire team embarked on an adventure to make the show, shooting across different locations in the north east for almost six months and breathing life into the imaginary town of Sertão. We have a large number of external scenes, and it was an intense team effort. Essentially, our intention was to showcase a Brazil that few people know.
Goldenberg: By leaving the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis, we created an opportunity to explore a Brazil that, although very rich, is still unknown to many. It’s extremely important for us to portray Brazil from a different angle from the one the public is used to seeing.

George Moura

What research did you do before writing the scripts?
Moura: I decided to take a long trip around the north east before writing the show. I believe we need to contemplate the world with a clear head before writing a story, so that’s what I did. With pen and paper in hand and some books in my luggage, I travelled more than 3,000km through the hinterlands in 10 days, taking notes, daydreaming, listening to the silence and experiencing the local culture. Sergio and I used this information to outline the story we wanted to tell. The next step was a lot of work. It’s an obsession, a sort of trance that is more or less lucid at times. In many instances when we wrote sequences, we had already imagined where they would take place. This is not the only way, but it brings truth to this story.

Tell us about your writing partnership – how did you work together?
Moura: I met Sergio, whom I affectionately call Gold, a golden boy, more than 15 years ago during a TV job. From then on, we’ve always found a way to work together. I have full confidence in him and deep admiration for his talent and insights in tune with the world and, above all, people. He’s a tireless partner, always ready to get the best from the scene. It’s a pleasure and a joy to join him on this journey.

How was your writing process similar or different from that for Siren’s Song, Doomed and The Party?
Goldenberg: Above all else, the journey was different. Siren’s Song had four episodes, Doomed did not reach 10 and The Party had a small number of episodes as well. We made a more daring choice in Land of the Strong: despite the greater number of episodes, we challenged ourselves to write a story with only a few central characters – approximately nine – who develop due to the twists and turns of the plot and the changes they undergo throughout the story. It was difficult but very rewarding, because the audience’s response surprised us. It’s like we did four seasons of the same series all at once.

Land of the Strong is set in north-east Brazil

How did you work with the directors to bring your scripts to the screen?
Moura: When you write, you inevitably imagine the characters, geography, intentions and everything else. That’s where my partnership with Villamarim, comes in. We’ve made Por Toda a Minha Vida, Siren’s Song, Doomed and The Party together. It’s a type of partnership in which these things seem to be born together. Villamarim doesn’t write and I don’t direct, but somewhere along the line we meet to help transform what’s on paper into moving images.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, either during the scriptwriting or in production?
Goldenberg: Keeping the audience’s interest for more than three months on air with daily broadcasts, and shooting in a very dry environment, with very high temperatures, far from urban centres. The team was isolated for months, creating a sense of immersion that can be felt in every scene.

How is Brazilian drama evolving and what new opportunities are there for writers?
Goldenberg: The Brazilian market is very active. In addition to linear TV, there’s cinema and new platforms. I believe diversity is the hallmark of these times, and this is opening up new horizons for bolder stories that are yet to be told.

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