Co-creators Sabri Louatah and Rebecca Zlotowski recall how they partnered for French drama Les Sauvages (Savages) and highlight an opening scene that sets a clash of religion, culture and family politics in motion.
Les Sauvages (Savages) opens in present-day France, where the first presidential candidate of Algerian descent is on the brink of power. But on the night of the election, he is shot, creating turmoil for two families and throwing the entire nation into disarray. Co-created by French author Sabri Louatah and director Rebecca Zlotowski (Planetarium), the series is based on Louatah’s four Savages novels. It is produced by CPB Films and Scarlett Production for Canal+, with StudioCanal distributing.
Rebecca Zlotowski: Savages deals with six days in the life of France, from day one when a president of Algerian origin is elected against a very tense background. He’s the victim of an attack and we spend six days between a family tearing itself apart and the country tearing itself apart. The story is about dealing with a new kind of French identity and authenticity.
Sabri Louatah: Coming from literary writing to screenwriting, I wanted to adapt the books myself. Even when I was writing the novel, I was longing to adapt it. But alone, I had only managed to write the pilot. When Rebecca came on board, she had just finished Planetarium (The Summoning) and she was looking for another project.
It was great to work with a movie director and I was a great admirer of her work. We met in New York and spent a lot of time working there. We did a lot of talking, debating and fighting. We fought over our experiences of immigration, so we had a lot of things to share and debate. It was very enriching.
Zlotowski: Those talks were the very beginning of the project. When I jumped in, I knew Sabri’s work because his novels are bestsellers in France. When the producer gave the project to me, I was stunned by the pilot. I really wanted to bring myself into a genre film, and the richness of the material and the layers in Sabri’s work excited me to give ideas and use casting to find new and emerging faces. When I met him, we had talks about identity and, as we were talking in another city, in another country, we knew those subjects were pretty universal.
Louatah: I live in the US; I moved here after writing the first novel in the series. Rebecca was kind enough to come several times to work with me. Being in this American, multicultural atmosphere, it shed a new light on the issue of identity.Often when you talk about a country and you’re not in it, you have a more acute vision of what’s going on there.
In episode one, on the eve of the vote, Fouad (Dali Benssalah) and Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub), daughter of presidential candidate Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem, pictured top), attend a family wedding, where Fouad’s brother Nazir (Sofiane Zermani), previously jailed for hate-speech offences, makes an unexpected appearance, threatening to derail the wedding and impact the election.
Zlotowski: The challenge was to bring together all the characters in an authentic way. You have to have an access point for each one, but with a TV series, the danger is you can lose the audience with a lot of plot.
At the wedding, Fouad brings Jasmine with their bodyguards, so it feels like there’s a gap between him and his family. Then you see the bad brother, Nazir, take all the attention. The thing with Savages is you know something is going to happen, so it’s suspenseful. Then at the end of the first episode, you see what happens. What interested me most in writing the first two episodes is how you catch the attention of the audience, because they know what happens – it’s not a mystery.
Louatah: There’s one movie we both love and talked about, The Deer Hunter, which starts with a long and sprawling wedding scene that’s not unlike the one we did. Ours is much shorter, but a third of the movie is just presenting the characters and making the viewers love them so they will care for them. We have lots of characters, so we wanted to get the viewers hooked from the first episode – not just on who shoots the president but what’s going to happen to them.
Zlotowski: It creates its own super-exciting challenges as a writer and as a filmmaker because, even for the characters, everyone knows. We make it pretty clear that Nazir is the villain. I love those shots of him at the wedding when he is carried in triumph on the shoulders of the others. It’s a great way to show the villain and his supremacy over the others. It’s a very striking sequence. I feel like you see all the themes of the series in there.
Amazon Prime Video’s animated drama Undone elevates its storytelling with a unique visual style. Femke Wolting, co-founder and MD of producer Submarine, reflects on the creative process behind the series.
Undone is an intimate examination of a young woman’s personal traumas and possible mental illness, as well as a wild science-fiction story exploring the elastic nature of reality through its central character, Alma (Rosa Salazar), a 28-year-old girl living in San Antonio, Texas.
After a near-fatal car accident, Alma eventually wakes up from a coma to discover that she can manipulate time and use her ability to uncover the truth about the death of her father (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk).
My business partner Bruno Felix and I both immediately loved the project when former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s company Tornante introduced us to Undone. At Submarine, we always like mixing genres, pushing the boundaries of storytelling and using new techniques to tell stories in exciting ways.
The series is written by two amazing showrunners, Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creators of Netflix comedy BoJack Horseman, which is also produced by Tornante. The writing is pure and original, emotional and intellectually challenging at the same time.
Submarine co-financed and produced the series together with Tornante and executive producer Tommy Pallotta (producer of A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life). The director is Dutch talent Hisko Hulsing (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Junkyard). Pallotta, Hulsing and I had previously worked together on the Emmy-winning Last Hijack, a mixed-media animation/live-action feature about the pirates of Somalia.
Undone is a hybrid between live film and animation; a mixture of oil painting, 2D and 3D animation and special effects. The writers wanted the series, commissioned by Amazon Prime Video, to be a real situational dramedy that was grounded in reality, so that when the characters move between different realities it would feel cohesive.
The unique animation style allowed us to seamlessly transition between alternate realities in a believable way, while sustaining our main character’s emotional and physical journey through space and time. The rotoscoped animation has the quality of animated film but, at the same time, allows the real expressions and emotions of the actors to come through. The result is both stylised and realistic.
A huge chunk of the animation production for Undone was done in our studio in Amsterdam, including storyboarding, set and character designs, animation and compositing. The unique visual style of Undone was directed by Hulsing in close collaboration with executive producer Pallotta.
Hisko Hulsing is an incredible painter and for Undone he oversaw a team of oil painters. He has a great sense of light and depth, which gives the series a very cinematic feel. Pallotta developed the rotoscope technique during his collaborations with Richard Linklater, including A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, each of which he produced.
For Undone, Tommy brought together a team of rotoscope artists in Austin, Texas, to rotoscope the video footage. In the film A Scanner Darkly, everything in the image was rotoscoped – the characters, sets, props. In Undone, only the actors were rotoscoped and the rest of the image is pure animation.
Almost 1,000 actual oil paintings on canvas were produced for the series and served as the backgrounds for the scenes. In the fall of 2017, we did an initial animation test in Amsterdam before the production started. Based on that, we thought we knew how we would produce the animation for the series. But when we started production, it quickly became clear it would have taken a year longer to make the entire show like that.
It was a huge undertaking; we were basically doing the equivalent of two animated feature films in 18 months. We had to rethink the method to make sure we could maintain the look and creative vision, almost on the level of every single shot, but still be time-efficient. So we had to come up with solutions and new techniques. We were all open to experimenting and to disrupting regular ways of producing animation.
The project was a real creative collaboration between Amsterdam, LA and Austin. We would receive the scripts from LA, then we would start with storyboarding and designing the location and characters and making the oil paintings in Amsterdam.
Following that, the live-action shoot would take place in Amsterdam, rotoscoping started in Austin and then we would get the rotoscoped video back from Austin and start the animation process. It was a real back and forth. It was sometimes tricky to nail cultural details in the designs.
For example, the placement of traffic lights is different in the US compared with the Netherlands. Undone is set in Texas, which is also where our rotoscope team was based. Our concept design team was based in Amsterdam, and as a result we had no frame of reference when designing streets and buildings.
During many Skype calls, our trusty rotoscope team took us out on the streets of Austin with their cell phones and showed us around town.
The Undone theme of jumping through time was very appropriate for our teams in three different parts of the world – sometimes it made us all feel that perhaps we were in our own time warp along with Alma. The upside, of course, is that the whole team essentially worked around the clock, so the sense of progress and momentum every day was a strong motivator.
Although Undone has the distinction of being the first rotoscoped series produced for television, it is also notable for its mature themes. The style we created for Undone had to blend seamlessly with the story. The ‘uncanniness’ of rotoscope and the world built up with oil paintings and 3D animation had to work in concert to put you in the subjective point of view of the protagonist played brilliantly by Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel).
With fantastic writing, amazing acting from the entire cast and our unique animated world, we are very proud that Undone is unlike anything else made for television.
Fox network drama Prodigal Son stars Michael Sheen (Good Omens) as Dr Martin Whitley, who seemed like the perfect husband and son until he was arrested for killing 23 people, earning the nickname The Surgeon.
Now Martin’s brilliant son Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne, The Walking Dead) uses his traumatic childhood and personal knowledge of serial killers to become the best criminal psychologist in New York.
The cast also includes Lou Diamond Phillips as Lt Gil Arroyo, plus Bellamy Young, Halston Sage, Frank Harts, Aurora Perrineau and Keiko Agena.
In this DQTV interview, co-creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver talk about the origins of the series, which blends “twisted family drama” with case-of-the-week murder mysteries, thrills, scares and touches of humour.
Prodigal Son is produced by Warner Bros Television, Berlanti Productions and Fox Entertainment for Fox, and distributed by Warner Bros Worldwide Television Distribution.
Executive producer Marcel Ferrer outlines a key scene in Spanish-language political drama Preso No 1 (Prisoner No 1), which is produced by Telemundo Global Studios for US network Telemundo. It was co-developed with Keshet International, which distributes with Telemundo.
Preso No 1 (Prisoner No 1) follows a narrative style that is very different from what viewers are used to seeing in a series. It jumps back and forth in time, supplying different pieces of the puzzle of the characters’ stories over the course of three decades.
The story begins in the present, when Carmelo Alvarado (Erik Hayser), the president of Mexico, is arrested on charges of fraud. In a parallel scene, we see Carmelo taking office two years before. This scene sets the tone for the narrative, which unfolds in three different times: the past, the present and the future.
Because of this chronology, the audience doesn’t always understand everything that happens right away. Over time, the story reveals the past that led to the chaos we are witnessing in the present, or even the future. The plot, the conflicts and the political thriller are skilfully laid out in the script. The main conflict that frames the story is the corruption, extortion and abuse of power that characterise the world of politics and spill over into real life.
It’s difficult to choose a single scene that is fundamental to the story. Because of the subject matter, plot structure, and quality of the acting and direction, the series is full of great scenes. As in any production, of course, aspects of the script were adapted to suit the screen. Many scenes posed technical or directorial challenges.
But if I had to name one key scene, it would have to be one that marks a point of no return, when a character has to make a decision that, however small, has the power to change the course of the action.
Coming in episode 29, the scene features a secondary character called Dalia who has the power to free our protagonist, Carmelo. Dalia is an assistant to Judge Linares, who is in charge of Carmelo’s case. Both the judge and the interim president, Rivas Macin, have studied the evidence and it points irrefutably toward Carmelo’s innocence.
This is Carmelo’s only hope, and his freedom seems assured. But the judge makes a sudden about-face and sentences Carmelo to prison, surprising everyone, including Macin.
The key moment comes when Linares visits Dalia at her apartment after announcing the verdict and admits to her that he was blackmailed into finding Carmelo guilty. The judge’s life has been destroyed – his family has abandoned him and he is about to lose his job. Unable to see him in this predicament, Dalia agrees to take the blame for everything.
In a flashback, we see Dalia meeting Linares’ blackmailer and handing over a folder containing compromising information about the judge that will be used to pressure him into the guilty verdict.
This scene, which comes at the middle of story, marks the point of no return. If Dalia had decided not to turn over those papers, Carmelo would have been freed and the story would have gone in another direction, or even reached its conclusion.
The point of no return in a story is crucial because it defines the characters’ destiny and paves the way for the story’s outcome. Usually it is the protagonists who make these key decisions but, in this case, the responsibility falls to a secondary character. Undone by the pressure of the situation and remorse for her actions, Dalia commits suicide.
In the end, she loses, as does Carmelo, who remains in jail. But the story wins, because if Carmelo had been released from prison, the plot would have ended there.
This is the importance of the point of no return and the power to make free decisions in paving the way for the story the writers want to tell.
Though it only ran for 14 years, the Bauhaus has influenced art for a century. The German art school, which was established in Weimar in 1919, became a beacon of experimentation and a new way of thinking in terms of art, design, architecture and education.
Marking the centenary of the Bauhaus’s establishment, German television drama Bauhaus: Die Neue Zeit (A New Era) tells the story of Doerte Helm, who joins the newly founded Bauhaus school and its innovative leader, Walter Gropius. As the school becomes a breeding ground for modernity, jazz, innovative architecture and feminism, Doerte and Walter fall in love – and their relationship leads to a scandal that threatens the school’s existence.
In this DQTV interview, stars Anna Marie Mühe (Doerte) and August Diehl (Walter) discuss the setting of the drama, in a world recovering from the First World War and searching for a new way of thinking and living.
They also talk about the love story between their characters and the universal themes at the heart of the story.
Bauhaus: Die Neue Zeit is produced by Zero One Film in coproduction with ZDF and Arte, Constantin Television and Nadcon Film, and is distributed by Beta Film.
After nearly two years off screen, gangster drama Peaky Blinders has returned for a fifth season, once again following the notorious Shelby family on the lawless streets of Birmingham.
In this new season, set against the financial crash of 1929, gang leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) has risen from backstreet crime lord to member of parliament. When he is approached by a charismatic politician with a bold vision for Britain, he realises his response will impact not only his family but the entire nation.
The cast also includes Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle, Finn Cole, Kate Phillips, Natasha O’Keeffe and Aidan Gillen, with new cast members such as Sam Claflin, Anya Taylor-Joy and Brian Gleeson.
In this DQTV interview, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight reflects on the success of the series and the opportunities that presents to a writer.
He also talks about why season five is the best yet, reveals details about his writing process and explains why he enjoys working in television.
Peaky Blinders is produced by Caryn Mandabach Productions and Tiger Aspect Productions for BBC1 and distributed by Endemol Shine International.
Ukrainian drama Hide & Seek opens in an ordinary apartment in which a girl is playing the titular game with her father. But when he begins to look for her, he discovers she has vanished. Later, a video is posted that shows her holding a sign with a mysterious set of numbers.
After two detectives launch an investigation, they find themselves searching for several missing children and the kidnapper behind their disappearance.
In this DQTV interview, Film UA’s head of development and coproductions Kateryna Vyshnevska and creative producer Olesya Lukyanenko introduce the eight-part series, which combines the detective and criminal genres with a noir sensibility.
They also talk about why Hide & Seek stands apart from other series produced in Ukraine and their hopes that it could breakout on the international stage.
Hide & Seek is produced by Film UA for ICTV Ukraine and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.
Magdalena Cieślak, head of scripted at producer Endemol Shine Poland, tells DQ about the inspiration behind the company’s first period drama, Stulecie Winnych (Our Century), and the challenges of bringing it to television.
Polish series Stulecie Winnych (Our Century) marks the first period drama to come from local producer Endemol Shine Poland (ESP).
Commissioned by TVP1, the 13-part family saga tells an epic tale spanning 100 years from just after the turn of the last century to the present. Following the fate of one family from the town of Brwinów, near Warsaw, season one begins in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War and runs until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
It is based on the novel by Ałbena Grabowska and boasts a cast featuring Kinga Preis, Jan Wieczorkowski and Olaf Lubaszenko.
Here, Magdalena Cieślak, head of scripted at ESP, tells DQ more about the production.
Tell us about the story of Our Century.
Our Century is Endemol Shine Poland’s first period drama and it has been a huge ratings success for public broadcaster TVP1. It is based on a bestselling book by Ałbena Grabowska and follows the fortunes of the multi-generational Winny family, woven into the dramatic events of the 20th century.
Creative producer Małgosia Retei and I were immediately taken by the story when we read the three-part novel back in 2016. It was nearly a thousand of pages of gripping literature, which we believed could serve as the basis for a great script. It took us some time to convince the broadcaster, though, as period dramas seemed a very costly and risky genre in Poland at that time.
What helped us was the involvement of one of the best Polish screenwriters, Ilona Łepkowska, who supervised the script development and ensured the project we pitched to TVP1 was outstanding in terms of storytelling. Then we managed to engage the best talent, including multi-award-winning film director Piotr Trzaskalski, DOP Witold Płóciennik and a stellar cast. So this series had all the right ingredients to become a success, and we are very happy that Polish viewers appreciate all the hard work we put into it.
What themes did you want the series to cover?
Our Century begins in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War and ends in modern times, so it covers quite a chunk of Polish history. However, the history forms the backdrop, as this series focuses on one family and their story. They’re a family full of deeply hidden secrets, passion, love, sacrifice and complicated relationships. If we take away the historical background, it’s a universal tale that could happen anywhere, anytime. People all over the world achieve great things and make mistakes, they love and suffer, and so do the characters in Our Century. It’s their credibility that draws the audience. When filming, both the director and the actors were constantly searching for the truth – in the characters, in their emotions and in the motivations for the choices they made.
How was it developed? How would you describe the writing process?
The first season consisted of 13 episodes, written by a team of five fantastic writers headed by Ilona Łepkowska. Throughout the creative process, which took about a year, we collaborated very closely with the book author, who gave us invaluable feedback on the scripts. Since this is a period piece, we also needed a lot of help from historical experts, language consultants and liturgy specialists. Interestingly, Ałbena Grabowska is a neurologist by profession, so she was also our medical consultant on the set, guiding the young actors how to “credibly die” from Spanish influenza. Now we are finishing the script development of the second season and the process is very similar.
What was the appeal of adapting Albena Grabowska’s novel? How has it been changed for TV?
Adapting a book for the screen, especially a bestselling one, is always a challenge. In the novel there is an enormity of plots and characters – the whole human universe to capture. To make the Winny family’s story more powerful, we decided to get rid of some of the background characters and focus on the most distinctive family members. We also added a couple of visually attractive scenes that were not in the book. At some stage, the director joined the screenwriting process, offering some fresh ideas that we all liked.
Tell us about the tone of the series.
It’s a nice blend of drama and comedy – tragic plots are balanced with lighter sequences. Although the whole story is very realistic, being filmed and acted with great attention to detail, there are also some dreamlike scenes and flashes of precognition, as the main character, Anna, has the gift of seeing the future.
Where was Our Century filmed and how would you describe its visual style?
We filmed the series in genuine farmhouses in open-air museums and heritage parks, as well as in a specially built studio set. The streets of Warsaw were shot in the Old Town, and the theatre scenes were in the beautiful interiors of Polski Theatre in Warsaw. We also used some old palaces around Warsaw, both for interiors and external shots. In terms of visual style, Witold Płóciennik did a brilliant job of adding some patina to the picture. With the use of natural light, dirt, dust and with a lot of creative input from the costume and makeup departments, we managed to bring every detail to life and convince the viewers of the reality of the story.
How would you describe the current landscape for scripted drama in Poland?
It is booming and there’s constant demand for home-grown drama. Free-to-air channels remain the strongest players, and the genres that work best for them are weekly dramedies, daily soaps, medical dramas and period dramas. More recently, crime shows and thrillers have been doing well. Similarly, cable channels are investing in original Polish series, mostly crime genres.
How are scripted series evolving in Poland and more broadly across Central and Eastern Europe?
We believe the production quality of most scripted series produced in Poland is outstanding. The market is very competitive, and every new production raises the bar a bit higher. In terms of content, most of the viewers have quite traditional taste and reach for the offer of free-to-air channels like TVP, TVN and Polsat. Younger audiences are more open to edgier series, which they can find on HBO or Netflix.
What creative opportunities are there to tell new stories?
Polish viewers prefer local stories and 80% of the dramas on air are created and produced locally. To find new ideas that will entrance the audience, we need to invest in local talent, beginning with scriptwriting and development. Over the past two years, we have also seen more book adaptations making it to screen, so we are watching the publishing market very closely, searching for adaptation opportunities. We are also hoping for some new coproduction, line production or film service opportunities following the recently introduced 30% cash rebate.
What are you working on next?
Apart from the second season of Our Century, we are currently filming a romantic comedy movie – a local remake of NL Film movie Ellis in Glamourland. The premiere is set for November this year, so it’s quite a tight schedule. We also have some other projects in the early development stage.
The first German original drama commissioned by Netflix, Dark is a family saga with a supernatural twist, set in a town where the disappearance of two children exposes the double lives and fractured relationships of four families.
A success on its launch in 2017, the show’s second season landed on Netflix in June this year.
In this DQTV interview, co-creator, writer and director Boran bo Odar talks about the journey he and his showrunning partner Jantje Friese took to bring the series to television.
He also discusses the creative process behind the show, his surprise at Dark’s popularity and how they overcame writers’ block during development of season two.
Bo Odar also touches on the changing role of directors in television and explains why he’s happy the small screen puts writers into focus.
Sputnik Vostok Production’s general producer Alex Kessel introduces Russian drama The Counted and outlines a scene that pushed the cast to their limits in freezing temperatures.
The Counted is a 16-hour television drama for Russian streaming platform start.ru. It tells the story of two former lovers who find themselves trapped in a strange world after catching a deadly virus, and then wake up cured in a new land among weird people who worship an unknown god called Lapsi.
The story is set in a northern part of Russia named Karelia, which is located close to Finland. It’s a unique geographical location that is home to many mystical legends.
Shooting took place in winter because the story is set in a frozen place. But winter in Russia is not an advantage in itself, and the winter in Karelia is the last thing anyone would choose. The crew faced temperatures that reached minus 20-25 degrees celsius, and even colder at night. That’s why one of the most complicated scenes to shoot was one where a naked woman gets punished. The plot dictates that she is stripped naked in full view of the island’s weird community and is turned into slave. They call it ‘turning into morlok’ in the script.
Our viewers have already compared this highly dramatic act with Cersei’s ‘walk of shame’ punishment in Game of Thrones. They are right in that it has nudity in common, but keep in mind we were filming at night in temperatures of minus 30 degrees. We also made a silicone nape, as the punishment involved chaining her up using skin perforation. This was a big issue because we didn’t have time for many takes – otherwise we would literally freeze the actress, Irina Cherihenko.
The scene was extremely well planned and looked very much like a military operation. A few days before filming, Irina was asked to take a vitamin drink to improve her immune system. The shoot consisted of two takes for each shot, with everything drawn up on an elaborate storyboard. We did everything we could to ease the tense working conditions and Irina made the scene great. The whole crew was happy when the scene was shot.
However, we did face unexpected problems. The camera could not handle the frost, meaning some of the material was taped with mistakes and frames were lost. We didn’t lose the whole scene – thank Lapsi – but after losing some frames in each take, the video could not be played or edited properly. Thus we had to choose one of two options: either repeat the shoot and make Irina go through this extreme experience again, or put additional money into CGI and restore the recording manually. We took the second option, because we care about our cast. Irina suffered sincerely and this is what we needed for the dramatic look of the scene. We call it ‘turn the defect into effect’ in Russia. The cohesiveness of the filming crew made this mission possible – some things could never be repeated.
The whole plot centres on a test: our characters test their ability to be rational when they are asked to believe in the impossible. They face facts that can hardly be explained and are more mysterious than death itself. Irina said her experience was ecstatic, describing it as a quite religious trip — a trip through Russia’s endless miles, plot-wise, and a trip inside herself as an actor.
Many topics are covered in the show – faith and fact, science and religion, freedom and captivity, man and woman, the choices we make. Filming the punishment scene on a dark winter night did much for the storytelling and our producer’s vision. And the viewers got the chance to watch the act, which was directed and shot with maximum naturalness.
The series was highly acclaimed by local and international audiences, and now we think it is the right moment to say many thanks and much respect to Irina for taking on the challenge. The Counted would never have been the same without this scene.
Anna Friel, Sinead Keenan and Rosalind Eleazar star in ITV’s emotional thriller Deep Water. Writer Anna Symon introduces the series, produced by Kudos and distributed by Endemol Shine International, and discusses a key scene in the first episode that lays the groundwork for events to come.
Deep Water tells the story of three ordinary mothers who each go on an extraordinary, emotionally compelling journey. Told through a female lens, it places modern women and their needs and desires at the centre of the drama.
The series is based on two books by Paula Daly: Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and The Mistake I Made. So often in TV drama, the family, and the home in particular, are a place of safety and retreat from where the real story is going on, be it a police investigation, the world of intelligence or a business setting. But in these books, as in most of our real lives, the highest stakes surround the families themselves. The question each woman is being asked throughout the series is: how far would she go to protect her family? It’s a question that, to me, feels highly relatable but also surprisingly under-examined in TV drama.
Paula was born and bred in the Lake District, and when you read her page-turning novels, you really feel you’re being taken to Lake Windermere by someone who understands it from the inside out. By placing our women in this beautiful but, at times, harsh landscape, we hope to have further added to the epic scale of their stories – even if that meant filming the show was often hindered by rain, hail and snow.
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? tells the story of two mothers, Lisa and Kate, while The Mistake I Made is about Roz. In developing the series, I put all three characters in the same world by placing all their younger children in the same class at school. It’s quite a departure from the books, but I have kept the brilliant characters Paula invented and her very authentic vision of the Lake Windermere and the surrounding villages.
One line from Paula’s books that really struck me is: ‘The Lakes have always been littered with two extremes of women – the ones who never work and the ones who never stop.’ That class divide in the Lakes is one of the key themes of the series. Kate (played by Rosalind Eleazar) is one of the women who doesn’t work, whose family own lots of property in the Lake District.
Lisa (Anna Friel) runs the local kennels, so her life is about servicing the moneyed class who leave their dogs with her while they go on holiday. Her husband is a taxi driver, so he’s also in the service industry. Together, they’re busy parents who both work really long hours. In other words, they are very different from Kate, although we soon discover she has real challenges of her own. Roz (Sinead Keenan), a physiotherapist, is in serious financial trouble, so she is also working every hour she can to make ends meet.
In the first episode, Kate invites Lisa and her husband round for dinner. There is already an uncomfortable undercurrent to the invitation because Kate has accused Lisa’s 10-year-old son of bullying her own boy. Intimidated and wanting to please, Lisa accepts the invite. As soon as she and her husband arrive, Lisa gets whisked into the kitchen by Kate. Kate’s sister Alexa is also there, who’s as polished and impressive as Kate – at least in Lisa’s eyes.
Lisa soon feels completely out of her depth, amazed that Alexa can afford to send her four children to boarding school. A very awkward conversation ensues between the three women about how they bring up their kids. It’s the sort of conversation to which many of us have been party in one form or another. As women, we often compare and judge each other’s choices, at least in my experience.
This is a pivotal scene because it’s about who has money, who doesn’t, who works, who doesn’t and how that impacts on your family. As the evening progresses, the scene moves to the dinner table.
Here, Kate and her sister argue about whether you should stay together for the sake of your children if your marriage is in trouble. Kate storms out, and there’s a sense that something very strange has happened in her life. It’s the first clue we give the audience for them to try to work out what has happened to Kate in her past, and what secrets there are within her household.
At the same time, we notice Lisa starts to flirt gently with Adam, Kate’s brother-in-law, and this leads to a major transgression. This kicks off one of our main storylines, examining female desire.
Overall, in this scene, I’m laying down all the themes that are going to emerge throughout the series: class, marriage, parenting and sex, all told through a female lens.
The co-creators, writers and directors behind HBO’s Israeli drama Our Boys talk about the complex and delicate journey they undertook to dramatise and examine the tragic real-life events that led to war in Gaza in the summer of 2014.
In the summer of 2014, three Israeli teenagers – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel – were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas militants, sending shockwaves across Israel. The burned body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem, was later found in a forest, leading to weeks of riots in the city.
These events, which left Jewish and Arab communities alike shaken and furious and led to the outbreak of war in Gaza, have now been dramatised in HBO limited series Our Boys. The 10-part drama follows the investigation into Khdeir’s murder, led by Simon (Shlomi Elkabetz), an agent from the internal terror division of Shin Bet (the Israeli Security Agency), while the parents of the slain teenager begin their long and anguished journey toward justice and consolation.
A coproduction between HBO and Keshet Studios, Our Boys is produced by Movie Plus and distributed globally by Keshet International. It was created by Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment), Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) and Tawfik Abu Wael (Thirst), who all also write and direct.
Apart from Simon, all the characters featured in the series are based on real people involved in the events.
Here, Levi, Cedar, Wael and lead actor Elkabetz take DQ into the development, writing and production of the series, detailing how they pulled the story together for television and the challenges they faced along the way.
Why was this a story that you wanted to tell on television?
Hagai Levi: I remember the summer of 2014 very well. It was a historic summer. For two-and-a-half weeks, I, like everyone, believed that perhaps the boys would be found alive. I remember where I was when their bodies were found. On July 2, the morning of my birthday (which, as usual, I try to ignore), word quickly spread about an Arab teenager from Shoafat whose body was found burnt in the Jerusalem forest. Moments after the shock, another rumour spreads: the boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was murdered by his family because he was a homosexual. The force of my repression arises again: I am amazed at how readily I accept this theory, the extent to which I refuse to believe that the murder could be at the hands of Jews.
From here on, everything happened so fast: sweeping Palestinian riots in Jerusalem and the rest of the country, rockets fired at southern Israel, the bombing of Gaza. Within a week, all the boys were almost forgotten because the war began. I felt that what happened that summer was a story that had to be told. We are artists who make artistic choices but, in this specific case, I found it far more interesting to delve into my own self and not what had been done to me; to dig deep inside in hopes of finding answers that were not too upsetting.
How was the series developed with HBO? Joseph Cedar: In the spring of 2016, Hagai invited me to join him on this show he had already begun developing with Noah Stollman. The mandate from HBO was to find a story that captures the essence of what had happened in Israel in the dramatic and violent summer of 2014.
Tell us how you developed the story. Cedar: After months of research, we finally agreed on the story we felt had the potential to touch – if not fully capture – the endlessly complicated chain of events that led to a full-blown war in the Gaza Strip, one that still reverberates today on many levels in Israeli and Palestinian society. The murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, told from the separate perspectives of all the key real-life characters involved, was that story. Shlomi Elkabetz: While Hagai, Joseph and Tawfik were writing Simon, we were talking about him on a daily basis for a few months before we shot the series. What really struck me was that this guy is hunting for the truth. He knows that what he’s looking for is something he will not like, and I was fascinated by this conflict – of somebody who knows that what he finds will designate his own end. In that sense, he is looking for his own death. The reality of the story and the truth he is going to find is something that is going to define him as a murderer, in a way. Because finding the people who killed Muhammad Abu Khdeir means to find the murderer within yourself, and that is something very challenging in acting and storytelling. The process was absolutely fascinating.
How did you represent both sides? Cedar: It quickly became evident we needed a Palestinian partner to tell the Palestinian side of the story. Both Hagai and I are acutely sensitive to external storytelling that tends to become culturally exotic or sensational. Tawfik Abu Wael was the first and only Palestinian partner we considered. Ever since his first film, Atash (Thirst), I have felt Tawfik’s work combines a rare poetic sensibility with an unflinching look at harsh realities. This precise blend also defines our ambition for this show. Tawfik Abu Wael: Joseph and Hagai wanted to give a significant voice to the Palestinian story so reached out to me to write and direct the Palestinian part of the series. Working with them was fascinating and challenging. They’re like two scientists, brilliant and thorough. As an artist from the margins of society, I had to re-invent myself within the demands of the job. It was a profound and infinite creative process, diving into all the layers of the story, with all the tension and difficulty it creates, where they ‘represent’ the Israeli side of the story and I represent the Palestinian side. Eventually, our loyalties were always towards what was more human and towards the artistic truth of the story. That was the common basis of our work.
Why did you choose to mix documentary and dramatisation? Levi: It was very clear from the beginning this was going to be our style. The idea was to create a unifying world where you don’t reveal what is documentary and what isn’t. It was also important for us that the abducted kids and their families would not be characters in the series. That was a decision we made, perhaps because we were too close to them and I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Cedar: We are reminding the audience that this is all real. In that sense, Our Boys is not at all like other Israeli shows, such as Fauda. When the riots broke out in Jerusalem after the bodies of the three Jewish teenagers were found, there were tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrating on the streets, but there was no way for us to put this on the screen without using this kind of documentary footage that says, ‘This is real.’ We had some obligation to put that on screen.
Episode one begins with the three Israeli teenagers being kidnapped, but the rest of the series focuses on the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and subsequent investigation and trial. Why did you make that decision? Levi: This is a big issue and we discussed it at length. We were drawn to understanding the perpetrators of this murder more than we were interested in understanding the victimhood of our side, and there are two reasons for this. One is that we are on this wheel, where one act causes another. This has been going for years; this is our life. You can stop this wheel anywhere and it’s pretty much the same story. It’s a story of pain turning into revenge.
For us, both dramatically and politically, understanding the aggression is crucial. Understanding the victimhood is not uninteresting, but it’s easier to automatically sympathise with characters who are feeling pain. Focusing on the victimhood creates more acts of revenge. Focusing on the aggression, at least as I see it, speaks to trying to stop it. If you watch further into the series, you’ll find out the perpetrators of this horrible act are so far from anything that anyone would expect. Cedar: It’s easy to say they were extremists, but they’re not. They are just like us. So we tried to understand how this could happen – could it be us? Could it be our children? This is what interests us.
How would you describe the writing and directing process? Levi: I have been a showrunner for many years, so I’m used to cooperating and collaborating with others and then taking the best you can get, and dealing with all of the fights. For [Cedar and Wael], this was their first television experience. Cedar: We argued out every tiny detail as if it were the heart of the show and as if our entire personal and professional identities were resting on the outcome of every argument. Nothing was too small to fight over. But by fighting over ideas, abstract notions and vague opinions tend to crystallise and become distinct. Wael: I reinvented myself into this different process of working, of working with other people. I needed to argue all the time to defend and fight for things I believed. The good thing is that we all had the patience to listen to each other, to fight but not to hit each other. And, like they say in football, everything stayed on the field. Cedar: Tawfik wrote and directed the Palestinian line of this series. I directed the Jewish line of this series. Some scenes had both Palestinian and Jewish characters on set, so it was a bit like a boxing ring – I would coach my Jewish actors on one side of the ring, he would coach his actors on his side. Then they would meet in the middle, and nothing would work!
What were the key elements of the story you wanted to include? Levi: It was very important to us to not make this conflict entertainment. It was also important to us to be responsible and not to use people who are still living with this tragedy – it’s still very fresh, it was only five years ago – to make something fun. The main facts around the crime itself are always true. We invented some personal stories, but not the main story. Wael: It’s a true story; we did a lot of research, but it is a personal interpretation of that truth. Yes, I invented a few things for the drama. The main conflict is that you want to write a good story for all the world to enjoy but, on the other hand, you want to retain the dignity of the people concerned.
How did you overcome challenges in production? Wael: What made it all possible was those people behind the series – its creators who knew how to contain the story’s complexity; the producer who knew how to run everything smoothly, professionally and with endless humanity; the actors who played complex roles and who each gave their time and talent to the series; the cinematographer and two editors who knew how to maintain a distilled form of art while working with three different directors in a charged political story; and all the chiefs and technical crew who worked very hard to make this series what it turned out to be.
What are your ambitions for the series and what do you hope viewers take away from the story? Levi: As a writer, I want to deal with issues that are close to me – issues of introspection. That summer was very shocking to me personally. Something about that time had a great effect on me; it broke and disturbed me. As a former Orthodox Jew, I think that doing soul-searching is something that is really typical of us, and when I write and create a story, there is a certain ethic to which I am committed. I hope the series sparks the right kind of debate.
Russian drama Storm follows a policeman who faces a desperate choice if he wants to save the woman he loves. Producer/distributor Yellow, Black and White’s Irina Sosnovaya and Daria Bondarenko introduce the series.
Russian drama Storm details follows a policeman’s descent into criminality and the detective on his trail.
Launching later this fall on Russian streaming platform Start.ru, the series is produced by Start Studio, part of Yellow, Black and White Group (YBW), which has exclusive distribution rights
Here, YBW’s creative producer Irina Sosnovaya and Daria Bondarenko, executive VP of international development, distribution and coproductions, tell DQ about developing the series, the writing process and the emergence of Russian drama on the international stage.
What is the series about? Irina Sosnovaya: The story begins at a small seaside town festival. A prominent businessman who has his sights on the mayor’s office opens a children’s arts and sports palace. The roof of the building collapses under the weight of the snow, and the palace turns into a mass grave. It looks like the businessman is going to get away with it until Detective Sergey Gradov (Aleksandr Robak) from the police anti-corruption unit deems it a matter of honour to put the man responsible for children’s deaths behind bars.
When Gradov is just a step away from achieving his goal, his wife Marina (Anna Mikhalkova) falls gravely ill, with her only hope of survival being a liver transplant and expensive specialist treatment overseas. To save the woman he loves, Gradov will have to let the main suspect go and resort to extortion, bribery and evidence-tampering to raise the money he needs.
The criminal decides to get rid of Gradov because he knows too much. But Gradov’s razor-sharp mind and talent for scheming make him incredibly elusive. To save his life and fight his enemy, he starts killing people and getting rid of the evidence. But his friend Mikhail Osokin (Maksim Lagashkin), who works in homicide, begins to suspect Gradov could be behind the chain of murders. Although he has no hard evidence, it becomes a matter of honour for Osokin to expose Gradov’s crimes.
How was it developed with the broadcaster? Daria Bondarenko: The director, Boris Khlebnikov (Arrhythmia, An Ordinary Woman), is well known in Russia for his nuanced and realistic social dramas that capture Russian realities and present an in-depth analysis of interpersonal relationships. Many of them have been distinguished and recognised internationally.
Another exciting thing about the series is that it is a mostly character-driven story in which we see a man just like any other making a choice – and crashing down. When we discovered this story, we realised that only an online platform would be able to handle this sort of frank portrayal of Russian realities. Sosnovaya: Storm has many layers to it, which can attract critics and spark discussions. Government against business, civil servants against military, journalists against activists – these are some of the conflicts it covers.
It also has a lot to say about human relationships. One of the investigators has a fiancée who teaches psychology at a university. He wants to marry her and have kids. Another one has a wife, but he is not happy with her and tries to convince her to try an open relationship. A businessman, who feels that he owns his town, has a wife and a kid who remembers his father’s every misstep. Both the hero and antihero want to see a continuation of themselves in their children, so their conflict is, in a way, a battle for Russia’s future.
How would you describe the show’s tone? Sosnovaya: We realised it would be challenging to pick the right tone for a story about corruption and police in contemporary Russia. But we feel that these series are not primarily about the police or the investigative committee, but about people and the choices they make.
The story emphasises the protagonists’ lack of moral compass, which is what makes it interesting. The characters are complex people who find themselves in challenging circumstances. This story is not rooted in a particular setting or town. It’s more about human nature in general. Bondarenko: The complexity of the story comes from the complexity of its characters. There are no straight heroes or villains, so we think the audience will be more interested in following the more realistic plot development.
What was the writing process like? Sosnovaya: It is a wholly original story that Natalia Meschaninova, a writer/director, came up with. The goal we set ourselves with this story was to make a genre series that would thrill and entertain within the social context that is characteristic of contemporary Russia and any other country.
Boris Khlebnikov, the series director, was also a big part of creating the story. As producers, we tried to give as much creative freedom to the talented crew as we could, not forcing them to stay within the boundaries of the genre but encouraging them to write the social drama we would be excited to follow.
Where was it filmed and how would you describe the visual style? Bondarenko: We picked Kronshtadt, a beautiful seaside city that stands on a Kotlin Island, one hour away from St Petersburg. Sosnovaya: The series is stylised after 1970s American movies like William Friedkin’s French Connection, but with a modern twist
How are drama series evolving in the region? Sosnovaya: Since the rise of online streaming services that produce original content, the industry has been booming. Content creators are no longer bound by the restrictions of the major TV channels and they are starting to create bold genre and high-concept projects.
The Russian online audience is more informed and pickier. The world has globalised, and the series that are popular abroad are also popular in Russia. Chernobyl was an event; many people have said it should have been shot in Russia if the industry were more developed. We are trying to help the industry get there, to bring it to the international level.
Digital-only projects are gradually becoming the industry’s leading events – shows like Gold Diggers directed by Konstantin Bogomolov and An Ordinary Woman by Khlebnikov. We are seeing how, little by little, the world’s majors are gaining interest in Russian projects that are getting recognised by the international audience.
What kinds of stories are audiences interested in? Sosnovaya: The audience loves watching itself. It’s the effect of recognition. We like imagining ourselves in every story we hear or see; we enjoy experiencing someone else’s life.
As a production company, we seek stories that combine high concept with familiar characters and relationship models. We can’t have simple black-and-white characters – it won’t keep the audience’s interest for long. We need complex ones. This would allow us to do projects that not only have high production values but tell the story in a more detailed, engaging way, allowing for more in-depth look on the characters.
What are you working on next? Sosnovaya: Our next project is called A Good Man, a story about a killer that is based on real events that have shaken the entire country. A man who slaughtered 82 women and managed to get away from the police for 20 years turned out to be a decent-looking person who everyone around deemed ‘a good man,’ and, most shockingly, he was a policeman.
After his wife cheated on him, he got disappointed in women and decided to become a ‘judge,’ meeting females and brutally murdering those he deemed unworthy, letting go only those who passed his test.
As we were preparing for the project, our scriptwriter and I went to interview the subject of our story in prison. Four hours into it, we discovered his real motivations, which we used as the foundation for our script. Konstantin Bogomolov, who directed Gold Diggers for us, will be directing this series as well. Bondarenko: We believe this story can appeal to viewers outside Russia. The audience’s interest in high-concept stories rooted in real-life events is continually growing. What could be more potent than a story of a maniac who is trying to ‘catch’ himself as a policeman? And it’s not just a story, it’s something that really happened.
Lambs of God, a four-part miniseries commissioned by Australia’s Foxtel, introduces three eccentric nuns who live on a secluded and remote island.
When their peaceful way of life is interrupted by an ambitious young priest on a mission from the church, they are forced to take matters into their own hands in a tale of faith, love and redemption.
Based on the book of the same name by Marele Day, it stars Essie Davis (The White Princess), Sam Reid (Prime Suspect 1973), Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) and Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale).
In this DQTV interview, writer Sarah Lambert and director Jeffrey Walker talk about their partnership working on the series. Lambert also talks about how she adapted Day’s novel for the screen, while Walker discusses how he threw off the shackles that sometimes limit directors to turn his ambitious vision for the series into reality.
Lambs of God is produced by Lingo Pictures and Endemol Shine Australia for Foxtel and distributed by Sky Vision.
German-language series How to Sell Drugs Fast (Online) starts with a question: how do you win back your girlfriend from the school drug dealer? For Moritz, played by Maximilian Mundt, the answer is clear: sell better drugs.
So begins the story of one teenager’s quest to launch a narcotics empire from his bedroom. But it’s not long before he finds himself confronted with a plethora of problems, such as meeting demand, quality control and, most importantly, not getting caught.
In this DQTV interview recorded at Canneseries, where the Netflix six-parter had its world premiere, creators Philipp Käßbohrer and Matthias Murmann reveal how a true story inspired their first fictional series.
They also talk about the visual style of the show, which blends the live action with social media pages, memes, emojis and video games to take viewers into the world of the characters and enable the story to jump between genres.
How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) is produced by BTF for Netflix.
Taís and Pedro face some life-changing decisions when they discover they are about to become parents in Brazilian series Pais de Primeira (First-Time Parents). Writer Antonio Prata tells DQ how the series was born.
Brazilian screenwriter Antonio Prata has experience across the board, from series such as hospital-based Under Pressure and Os Experientes (The Experienced), which features four-interconnected stories about ageing, to long-running telenovelas including Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue) and A Regra do Jogo (Rules of the Game).
His latest series, Pais de Primeira (First-Time Parents, pictured above), is about a couple who must reassess their priorities in life once they discover they are expecting a baby.
Here, Prata tells DQ about the origins of the Globo series, his writing process and the changing Brazilian TV landscape.
What was the inspiration behind First-Time Parents?
The maternal and paternal experiences of each of the scriptwriters – my experiences and those of Tati Bernardi, Chico Mattoso, Thiago Dottori and Bruna Paixão. It seems today we face every small decision as if it will have a huge and irreversible impact in the life of our children. Each detail will define whether the kid is going to be asthmatic or a triathlete, a quantum physics genius or unable to deal with their own feelings.
Our idea was to laugh at our afflictions and muddles, and also to demystify parenting as a bed of roses and the happiest time of your life. It is not, it is really difficult, especially for the mother.
What are the challenges of taking a universal subject like parenthood and making it specific?
Once you have solid, recognisable characters, it becomes easier to ask how each of them deals specifically with each conflict we are creating. But perhaps our greatest challenge is the opposite: how to take our specific experiences and make them universal. Brazil is a very unequal country and the way we experience raising kids does not always have anything to do with the way most people live. We are always asking ourselves, ‘Do young parents in a small town in the interior of the country also have this or that conflict we create for the characters? Does this story make sense to them?’ Our main characters are Taís (Renata Gaspar) and Pedro (George Sauma), a middle-class white couple from Rio de Janeiro, but they must resonate with other demographics.
How would you describe the writing process for the show?
We have a writers room where we work together from Monday to Friday. There is a huge blackboard where we create the plot of each story. It takes us about a week to create the step-by-step story of an episode, usually with plots A, B and C. Then it takes me a couple of days to finish the index cards, which are then divided among us four writers. Each writer has about two weeks to do a first draft, which we develop at home in the morning. This first version is read and commented on by everyone. Everyone then has one more week to do a second draft and then I take about a week more doing the final pass.
How involved are you through the production process?
Very much involved. The writers participated in the process of choosing the cast, as well as the approval of scenes and the soundtrack. We always saw the first cut of the episodes and could give many suggestions to the director, Luiz Henrique Rios. However, my involvement is not to the level of a showrunner in the US. Here in Brazil, responsibilities on series are still quite shared between writer and director. But it was a pretty cool collaboration – Luiz is a very talented and experienced director and I was able to learn a lot from him.
How is the Brazilian television landscape changing?
It is a contradictory situation. On the one hand, we have had a great expansion of the audiovisual industry over the past few decades. Each year we produce more movies and more series, with more quality.
On the other hand, we are currently experiencing a political and economic crisis. The arts in general, and the audiovisual industry in particular, are being directly affected, losing much of the state sponsorship and incentives that have made this industry what it is today.
Crisis, however, is not a new word in Brazil. We will discover other ways to make this industry viable. We will bypass the mishaps and use audiovisual media not only to better understand the storm we are in, but also to point to a brighter future.
What genre or topic would you like to write about that you haven’t yet?
Oh, many. I enjoy both drama and comedy and I have some projects in the works. Being a parent also makes me think of content for children. I have had three children’s books published and an animation project. I want to produce series, feature films, plays, animations, books…
Having decided to become a writer at the age of six, Karen Hall has enjoyed a career working on some of the biggest series in US television.
Having landed her first job working on M*A*S*H after a meeting with series star Alan Alda, Hall then secured her first staff role on Eight is Enough, before returning to the Korean War-set comedy for its final two seasons, contributing to its acclaimed finale.
Her other writing credits include Cybill Shepherd- and Bruce Willis-starring drama Moonlighting, plus Northern Exposure, Judging Amy and The Good Wife.
In this DQTV interview, Hall reveals why she moved to LA to break into showbusiness, how she learned about comedy in the M*A*S*H writers room and why US cable television wouldn’t be what it is today without Steven Bochco’s game-changing police drama Hill Street Blues.
The second Netflix original series to come out of Spain, Élite tells the story of the students of an exclusive high school, where three working-class kids have just enrolled after their academy was destroyed by an earthquake.
The clash between those who have everything and those who have nothing to lose creates the perfect storm that ultimately ends in a murder – but who is behind the crime?
In this DQTV interview recorded at Series Mania, co-creator and writer Darío Madrona reveals how the school setting was used to create a show that speaks about class beyond the financial differences between the rich and the poor.
Madrona, who created the series with Carlos Montero, also talks about working with Netflix and why grounding the story in a specific setting affords Élite a universal appeal to viewers in 190 countries around the world.
Élite is produced by Zeta Audiovisual for Netflix, with a second season launching on the streaming platform later this year.