All posts by DQ

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.

tagged in: , , ,

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.

tagged in: , , , ,

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.

tagged in: , ,

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.

tagged in: ,

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.

tagged in: , , , , ,

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.

tagged in: , , ,

Start your engines

Billy Zane and Sean Bean lead an ensemble cast in Curfew, which follows the story of ordinary people and extraordinary characters competing in the world’s fastest, most furious illegal nighttime street race.

In this DQTV interview, the stars introduce the series, which is described as a mix of Death Race, 28 Days Later and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, with some added Wacky Races and a hint of The Fast & The Furious.

Bean talks about how Curfew combines the danger and excitement of the race with the stories of the very ordinary people taking part, and introduces his “charming, dangerous” character.

Zane describes how his character provides some comic relief to proceedings, with stunts and antics designed to build his social media following.

Executive producers Will Gould and Frith Tiplady also discuss how action feature films from the 1980s inspired the series, which Tiplady says is “unashamedly fun.” In addition, they detail the challenges of producing Curfew, including near-constant night shoots, maintaining dozens of vehicles, and numerous stunts.

The eight-part show is produced by Tiger Aspect Productions in association with Moonage Pictures for Sky1 in the UK. Sky Vision is handling international distribution.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

Disappearing dozen

As Dutch series De 12 van Oldenheim (The Oldenheim Twelve) drops on US streaming platform Acorn TV, producer Gerd-Jan van Dalen and writer Lex Passchier discuss building tension, blending genres and storytelling for global audiences.

Producer Gerd-Jan Van Dalen

With a second season of mystery drama De 12 van Oldenheim (The Oldenheim Twelve), Dutch network RTL4 is planning to keep its viewers on the edge of their seats all over again.

Season one sees journalist Peggy Jonkers (Noortje Herlaar) return to her home village of Oldenheim, where a 16-year-old girl inexplicably vanishes. When more people start to disappear, detective Sharif Dahmani (Nasrdin Schar) starts to investigate what is going on.

The 12-part series from Endemol Shine Netherlands was RTL4’s most successful series of 2018, and the network subsequently ordered a second run that will take place in a different village with new characters. It will once again be written by Lex Passchier and Martin van Steijn. Anne van der Linden also returns as a director.

Distributor Endemol Shine International subsequently sold the series into Japan (Wowwow), Russia (Showjet and IVI.RU) and North America, where it debuts on Acorn TV today.

Here, producer Gerd-Jan van Dalen and Passchier discuss making the drama.

What were the origins of the series?
Gerd-Jan van Dalen: In internationally successful series like Les Revenants (The Returned), Broadchurch and Under the Dome, you can see a trend in stories about village societies that come under pressure and where all of the relationships among the inhabitants are put to the test. We wanted to make a Dutch variant that would show the Netherlands in a way that’s different from what you usually see in Dutch drama.

Lex Passchier

Lex Passchier: When I heard that the mother of a missing mountain climber said she would rather hear that her son had been killed than to keep on living in uncertainty about his fate, I thought, ‘In our village there won’t be any murders, but people will disappear.’ Receiving word of a death is tragic, but uncertainty is horrendous. This immediately enhances the drama.

How was the series developed with RTL4?
Van Dalen: We produced six seasons of the police series Moordvrouw (Fenna’s Law) for Dutch broadcaster RTL4, so we had a lot of good contacts with RTL and its streaming service Videoland. On the basis of a pitch written on just three sheets of paper, they embraced the idea of The Oldenheim Twelve and created a budget to develop it further. When we had an extensive format with storylines and character descriptions, they bought the series and we could start production. Up until the very last minute, RTL didn’t even know how the series would end. They wanted to be surprised, which made them a perfect test audience during the viewings. This is only possible if you trust each other.

We’ve seen lots of dramas about missing children. Why is this proving a popular subject with creators and viewers?
Passchier: Although The Oldenheim Twelve begins with a missing 16-year-old girl, more characters of other ages quickly begin to disappear. So the disappearances can have an enormous impact not only on a parent but also on a partner, brother, sister, friend or neighbor, because it’s so inconceivable. Was a crime involved? Did someone run away? Was there an accident? Everyone can imagine something related to this primary fear of losing someone without knowing what has happened. And a film and television audience is strongly attracted to those fears that most of the viewers are fortunately not confronted with in their own lives.

What are the challenges of blending genres, in this case a mystery with supernatural elements?
Passchier: We are indeed playing with the idea that there’s something supernatural going on in the village, if only because some of the characters begin to believe this when people seem to go up in smoke. But we leave this unclear for a very long time. This makes the mystery more unfathomable, which is the reason we used it. Is the solution supernatural? We’re not going to reveal that here, if only because Dutch viewers are too rational if this sort of thing plays a role in Dutch fiction. The series, including its solution, is especially about believable psychological drama.

How would you describe the writing process?
Van Dalen: Lex wrote the series with Martin van Steijn. Even though they’d worked together before, this was their first coproduction. It worked very well.

Passchier: In the Netherlands, we’re not used to working in a writers’ room. Writing a scenario is often an individual activity. But in a series like The Oldenheim Twelve, with so many characters and a plot that has to be constructed like a house of cards, it works much better to write together. It’s not only faster, but it makes for better stories. What works especially well for Martin and me is that we never say that we think something is a bad idea. We think that a bad idea exists only because of a better idea. Then your level rises.

The Oldenheim Twelve follows a series of mysterious disappearances in a Dutch village

What is the style or tone of the series and how was this achieved?
Van Dalen: We knew in advance that the series had to have something a bit alienating. At the same time though it had to remain recognisably and Dutch, so we had to find a balance. The directors (Anne van der Linden and Rémy van Heugten) found that balance together with a fantastic cast and crew. It was basically a question of courage and daring.
We experimented and tried out shots that in later editing appeared not to work out because they made things too strange. But this also resulted in some good discoveries that did make it into the episodes. This combined with the camera work of our director of photography (Joost Rietdijk) and with the fact that the story takes place in three seasons, so that you can see the beautiful Dutch landscape change from summer to autumn to winter, gives the whole a special visual allure.

How are the detectives in the series portrayed? What makes them unique against the crowded field of television investigators?
Passchier: In the Netherlands we have a lot of police series with a permanent team of detectives who solve a case each week in a stand-alone episode. In The Oldenheim Twelve, the detective, Sharif Dahmani, is sent to Oldenheim from somewhere else to investigate the missing girl, and then things get completely out of hand. The fact that Sharif has to work in a very closed community that he himself doesn’t belong to and in a story that continues for 12 episodes makes this series different from other Dutch police series. Sharif builds up relations with certain villagers, but at the same time he doesn’t know who he can trust. He isn’t an objective player in a crime plot but instead he too becomes part of the story, also because of how this case affects him as a person.

RTL4 didn’t know how the series would end until the last minute

How does the series keep viewers in a state of suspense or tension across the 12 episodes?
Van Dalen: As a viewer, you look at The Oldenheim Twelve from a number of levels. In the first place, you have the question of who or what is behind all of these disappearances. In addition, it’s also a knock-out race: who’ll be the next to disappear? That could be anyone, including a character that you as a viewer feel closely connected to. We’ve tried to keep the fear of the next disappearance palpable throughout the series.

Passchier: But we didn’t want it to become a predictable pattern. So at a certain point, one of the characters returns and this gives the story a new direction. Where has this person been and what has he or she seen and experienced? And the suggestion of supernatural phenomena gives yet another accent to the tension in the series at the right moment.

What were the biggest challenges, in either development or production, and how did you overcome them?
Van Dalen: The Oldenheim Twelve was an ambitious project. Viewers are increasingly spoiled by all of the series on offer, especially from abroad. You don’t want to lag behind with your story or your look and feel even though we work here with completely different budgets because of our small language area. Foreign colleagues are astounded when they hear the sorts of budgets we work with here and the quality that we deliver. It makes you creative and sharp – how can we achieve the maximum effect with our limited means?

Passchier: The biggest challenge for the story was how we could have an unexpected solution to the mystery, but not so unexpected that it would be impossible to believe. That was a puzzle up through the final day of editing. Everything was in the framework of don’t cheat, give viewers all of the information they need to solve the puzzle but, at the same time, try to stay one step ahead of the viewers and overwhelm them without the answer seemingly coming out of the blue.

Where does this series stand in terms of the progression of Dutch drama? Does it push boundaries in terms of character or story?
Van Dalen: This series is a true thriller. Not many Dutch dramas are set in a small quiet town, but this was the perfect setting to really get viewers on the edge of their seats and it gave the story an enigmatic feeling. Viewers increasingly want to binge watch. The Oldenheim Twelve was on Videoland for a few months before being broadcast on RTL4. During the regular broadcasting, the number of subscribers to Videoland rose considerably because viewers didn’t want to wait for a week for the next episode, they wanted to see the series all at once.
When people say that they really wanted to go to bed but that they kept watching, this is the best compliment you can get. In that sense, The Oldenheim Twelve is part of a new development in how viewers approach a series. No longer a case a week, but being able to lose yourself in a series and not watching it to the end.

The Oldenheim Twelve was on Videoland before airing on RTL4 and helped boost its subscribers

Why might the series appeal to international viewers? What makes this story universal?
Passchier: Village communities like Oldenheim exist everywhere. In that respect, this story can easily be transferred to any village in the world. And in their daily lives the characters struggle with universal themes like a fear of commitment, money problems, marital affairs, depression, infatuation or ghosts from the past. The disappearances cause all of these tensions, some of them repressed, to explode onto the surface.

Van Dalen: You identify not only with certain characters but, to an extent, also with all of Oldenheim, which literally and figuratively changes into a war zone where the army takes charge as long as it’s not clear what’s going on. This is very stifling to see no matter what country the viewer is from. In addition, the mystery appeals to the imagination. The settings are Dutch, but they are ‘only’ the decor for a story about the fears, sorrows and uncertainties that everyone can imagine.
Globally, crime is one of the most in-demand drama genres and this show really is a compelling story of 12 people disappearing. It feels mysterious, and that’s captivating for audiences.

Does the prospect of selling a series abroad now inform the types of stories you produce and the way they are told?
Van Dalen: The fact The Oldenheim Twelve has been sold to the US, Russia and Japan shows that we were successful in doing this. We are now filming the second season, The Schouwendam Twelve, which takes place in a completely different village with new characters and a new mystery. In this way, De 12 is modelled after a trend that you see in international TV drama, the so-called anthology series: every season consists of a completely new story with a new plot and new characters, but the individual seasons together form a whole in atmosphere, tone, theme and visual style.
In The Schouwendam Twelve we hope to raise the bar even higher than in the first season because we feel obliged to ourselves and the viewers to do so. But we still work from the perspective of what interests and affects us because then it will also hopefully interest and affect viewers wherever they’re from.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

Hunting Hanna

Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman and Esme Creed-Miles star in Hanna, Amazon Prime Video’s original series based on the 2011 feature film of the same name. The show follows the journey of an extraordinary young girl, Hanna (Creed-Miles), as she evades the relentless pursuit of an off-book CIA agent and tries to unearth the truth behind who she is.

Kinnaman plays Hanna’s father Erik, described as a hardened, intuitive and uncompromising soldier and mercenary who has raised his daughter in the remote forests of Northern Poland for the last 15 years. Enos plays Marissa, an efficient and ruthless CIA agent hunting them down.

The series has its worldwide premiere this week at Berlinale’s Drama Series Days event.

In this DQTV interview, creator and writer David Farr recalls the conversation that kickstarted this television reimagining of Joe Wright’s 2011 film, which Farr co-wrote, and explains why the series will take viewers on an emotional journey as Hanna searches for the truth behind her own identity.

Lead director Sarah Adina Smith talks about why she was drawn to the characters in the series, her collaboration with Farr and her approach to building the world of Hanna, which was filmed across Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and the UK.

Hanna is produced by Working Title Television and NBCUniversal International Studios for Amazon Prime Video.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Fighting back

Maria Camargo, lead writer of Brazilian drama Assédio (Harassment), tells DQ about the real-life themes and issues that inspired this series about a group of women who stand up to the doctor who sexually abused them.

Described as one of a “new breed” of drama series for Brazilian broadcaster Globo, Assédio (Harassment) was notable in that it first launched on the network’s streaming platform, Globoplay.

The subject matter is also particularly topical and timely, dealing with many of the issues at the centre of the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, a topic of significant relevance to audiences in Brazil and around the world.

The story follows a group of women who get together on social media to expose the sexual harassment they have all experienced at the hands of a renowned specialist in reproductive medicine, beginning when one of them decides to reveal what had until then been confined within the walls of the doctor’s office.

Stela (Adriana Esteves), Eugênia (Paula Possani), Maria José (Hermila Guedes), Vera (Fernanda D’Umbra) and Daiane (Jéssica Ellen) all suffered the same abuse by Dr Roger Sadala (Antonio Calloni). Through the show, the lives of these five women intertwine amid dreams, frustrations, grief, resilience, heroism and a burning desire for justice. Supporting their cause is Mira (Elisa Volpatto), a tireless journalist who obsessively pursues evidence of the doctor’s crimes.

Significantly, the drama is split into two sections. The first depicts the rise of Dr Sadala, in contrast to the women’s suffering. The second takes place after the women unite and break their silence.

Filmed on location in São Paulo, with the big-city backdrop juxtaposing with the victims’ loneliness, the 10-part drama is written by Maria Camargo (The Brothers), together with journalist Bianca Ramoneda plus Fernando Rebello and Pedro de Barros. Behind the camera, the series was led by artistic director Amora Mautner (Precious Pearl, Brazil Avenue), who guides the limited series, with general direction by Joana Jabace and direction by Guto Botelho. Globo is the producer and distributor.

Carmago tells DQ more about the show, which is among the new dramas being screened at Berlinale’s Drama Series Days next week.

Maria Camargo

What were the origins of the story?
Maria Carmago: The series is fictional, but based on real life – the case of doctor Roger Abdelmassih, a fertility expert who was convicted of sexual abuse. It wasn’t his story that interested me, but the symbolic significance of his crimes, his capture and his conviction. For me, the central conflict was the clash between a world that has always been too violent for women and women who, together, break this cycle of violence. The plot reflects a world in transformation.

How was the series inspired by the ongoing #MeToo movements and other similar groups?
When we started writing Harassment, there already were some complaints on the internet of harassment, violence against women and sexism in Brazil. The issue was in the air – #meuprimeiroassedio (loosely translated as ‘my first harassment’), for example, appeared on social media in October 2015, two years before #MeToo. When the movement in Hollywood came to light, we were already writing the series. Therefore, more than an inspiration, the movement was a confirmation that we were on the right path.

Describe your writing process with Bianca Ramoneda, Fernando Rebello and Pedro de Barros.
It was a little different from what the writers room used to be. Since we were dealing with a structure that had many plots, most of the time the work was distributed among the writers by story groups, not by chapter. I structured the episodes after the creation meeting, with the scenes already described and in the right order, and Bianca, Pedro and Fernando wrote the scenes from the groups they mastered best. At the end, with the scenes written, I did the final writing of the episode.
There’s a little bit of everyone in the series – and also of Eduarda Azevedo, a researcher who helped us explore the true story and turn it into fiction in a responsible manner.

Why did you decide to tell the story in two distinct parts?
The construction of the narrative had a clear intention: to make the public follow very closely the story of each woman and, then, their union – a union that gives them the strength to face the doctor. In the first half of the series, the antagonist is on the rise, increasingly powerful, rich and influential. The women, on the other hand, are falling down, living in an increasingly deeper hell. They are presented in their suffering, one in each episode, like voices being added to a choir.
In the second half, this choir is complete and, together, the women gain strength – unlike the doctor, who is cornered and starts to decline. Anchored in a world that allowed him to do what he was doing, he weakens against the union of his victims. Both parties are, therefore, constructed from two main opposing dramatic curves, representing the doctor and his victims. A third vector is added to the latter: the journalist who helps the victims during the complaint.

Harassment focuses on a group of women who have been abused by the same doctor

How did you build the characters of the women at the heart of the series?
The actual story only happens because the protagonists are women, with desires, vulnerabilities and, above all, a strength that is essentially feminine. In Harassment, women are the ones who run the world.
Having these multiple female protagonists as a starting point, we did thorough research into the story and the real victims. We investigated in depth their testimonies, their motivations, the paths they travelled between violence and their search for justice, starting with the desire to become mothers and their frustration at not being able to fulfil this wish. Motherhood has always been a central point for me. Despite not facing obstacles to having a child, I always thought that, if I had, I would have done anything to get pregnant, because it had always been my greatest wish.
After investigating and identifying the victims, we knew it would be impossible to account for all their stories. Therefore, we built fictional characters to represent the tragedies experienced by real women. Stela, for example, is the woman who keeps silent for a long time, has her life completely destroyed by the doctor and is not able to make the dream of motherhood come true. Eugênia, on the other hand, is more emotionally structured and has her husband as an ally, but lives in conflict regarding the paternity of the child generated in the fertility clinic. Maria José has a more humble origin, having crossed the country and sold her assets to accomplish her dream – a dream she achieves, but at too high a price: in addition to the rape, she is also a victim of violence from her husband, who doesn’t believe her.
With the six main characters – and other women, with smaller roles – we tried to encompass hundreds of stories balancing facts, versions of the truth and, of course, fiction. We did everything within our grasp to make the passage to fiction gently and responsibly.

Why did you decide to introduce a journalist to help them fight their cause?
Like the six victims represent aspects of a story that involved so many other women, Mira, the reporter, represents the media professionals who were essential to capture the doctor and served as an inspiration for the limited series. Obstinate and obsessive, she is a symbolic character. The role of the press in the case was hugely important and could not be left out.

Antonio Calloni as Dr Roger Sadala

How is Dr Roger Sadala presented – as an evil character? Or is it not as simple as that?
He is a classic antagonist, in a way. He is awful, but, at the same time, extremely charming and seductive. His out-of-control libido, combined with a social, political and legal permissiveness that favoured him, made him a criminal. It’s hard to create nuances in a character like this but, when writing a character, you have to put yourself in his shoes, say things he believes in, believe in the stories he tells himself. Without this, he would be an excessively stereotypical villain. We wanted him to be a character whom anyone could run into. These are the worst antagonists – the ones you can meet in real life. Even more in this case, when we start with a man who exists in real life and whom several women had the misfortune to meet.
We tried to build all characters, including the secondary ones, like this, focusing on their truths. But what prevails, of course, is the women’s point of view. We, as authors and directors, took their side.
Harassment has multiple groups that intertwine, and we include a few moments where the doctor and his family are shown. But in the scenes of the attacks, we are always with the victims. This careful approach was developed from the beginning. We’re not seeing with the eye of the aggressor.
In this sense, I go back to what Dr Roger Sadala represents – a world established on a patriarchal and sexist operating model, which accepts, enables and encourages violent behaviour that should not be tolerated. Apparently harmless harassments pave the way to cases of unspeakable sexual violence. This is what we’re talking about: a system that silently allows violence and abuse against women, and a movement of women who break this silence.

How did you and the other writers work with artistic director Amora Mautner?
The screenplay and direction teams always worked in line; we were telling the same story. It was our first time working together and it was a happy marriage.
Amora has a very special insight into the mechanics of a scene, a sophisticated eye and inexhaustible energy to make things happen on set. And there was, of course, affinity, which is rare. I like the way she directs, she likes the way I write. We have the same type of observation – we like the same images. I graduated in cinema and, before becoming a screenwriter, I was an assistant director and dabbled with photography. These past passions are present in my writing and helped our aesthetic affinity. Additionally, it was very good that we were women helming the project.

Adriana Esteves plays Stela, one of the women who take action against Sadala

What do you hope viewers take from the series?
In addition to entertaining, I hope the show can also cause reflection. I’m not talking of pamphleteer speeches that kill any drama, but of the choice of theme and how to tell it, of ways to see the world. I believe a good story can help change things, especially when it is strongly intertwined not only with reality, but with a reality that needs to be questioned and modified.

How is Brazilian drama evolving for writers?
Writing is not easy, in Brazil or anywhere in the world. In dark times such as those in which we are living, this is exacerbated. On the other hand, we have an abundance of raw material. Brazil is an astonishing country, in good ways and bad.
What’s good is that female voices have gained space. Of course, we will always have men writing about women and women writing about men – empathy is almost synonymous with dramaturgy – but the fact is that, for generations, there was much more room for male storytellers, particularly in the audiovisual sector. The diversity of perspectives and voices is an evolution, and it is good for everyone.

tagged in: , ,

Hidden meaning

Swedish drama Eldmärkt (Hidden), commissioned by Nordic streaming platform Viaplay, is based on Filip Alexanderson’s novel in which dark secrets, unsuspected identities and supernatural forces converge in modern-day Stockholm.

The eight-part urban fantasy thriller stars Isabella Scorupco (GoldenEye) and August Wittgenstein (Das Boot), which mixes the paranormal, hard-hitting realism and psychological drama.

In this DQTV interview, Scorupco describes her character in the series as “the most empathetic person I’ve ever come across” who doesn’t care about looks or appearance.

The actor also discusses her love of working with directors, and opens up about her experiences in Hollywood after finding fame as Natalya Simonova in 1995 James Bond thriller GoldenEye, which was also Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007.

Hidden is produced by Yellow Bird (Wallander) in association with Tele München Gruppe and Lumière for Viaplay and Sweden’s TV3, and distributed internationally by Banijay Rights.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , ,

Steppe change

Writing for DQ, Alexandra Modestova, director general of Russian film and television consultancy Expocontent, explains how series such as The Road to Calvary and An Ordinary Woman are leading the rise in female-led dramas in the country.

Alexandra Modestova

The global market has started to open up to Russian drama. As stories have focused on the domestic market for the past 10 years, Russian series were known to offer traditional values – strong, powerful men who rule the world and drive the story, and women filling mostly secondary roles.

But times are changing. Since top Russian producers now focus on the global market and make series intended for worldwide audiences, they have to adapt the way Russian women are seen and presented by local television.

Female-led shows where women drive the story have begun appearing over the past few years, and that’s quite a step forward for the local industry. Among the most recent examples are Mata Hari, Mathilde, Ekaterina (pictured top), Sophia, The Road to Calvary, Better than Us and An Ordinary Woman.

The latter is a compelling example of another major change for Russian female characters: they can now be complex. Produced by Look Film and 1-2-3 Production for TV3, An Ordinary Woman centres on a married woman with two kids and a small flower shop. It turns out she is secretly running a prostitution network to fully cover her family’s needs, which her husband is incapable of doing. That might seem a radical way to help one’s family, but the story carries a great deal of irony and deep thought, depicting a strong woman in a world of weaker men.

An Ordinary Woman follows a mother who secretly runs a prostitution ring

The heroine is a mother of two daughters and a caring wife, yet she can be cynical, cold-headed, even cruel in her secret (but very real) life. She is a complicated, independently minded woman who has flaws and doesn’t fit into that typical kind of ‘perfect’ female characters who are too good to play by their own rules. So the title is significant – any ‘ordinary’ woman watching the series in any part of the world shares her character and complexities, her flaws and private thoughts. It’s no surprise that the series was immediately picked up by an international distributor, Cineflix Rights.

The series may seem to broadcast a new message for the local audience, but in fact women have always been strong in Russia, so it’s not only down to contemporary stories.

Several period dramas from Russia television and radio revolve around female leads based on real women in different times and circumstances. Ekaterina tells the story of the Russian empress Catherine the Great. She arrives in the country as a young girl and becomes the most powerful woman in Europe. Another drama, Sophia, is dedicated to the first influential woman in Russian history, Sophia Palaiologina, grandmother of Ivan the Terrible, who managed to survive in a harsh world filled with conspiracies. She supported the integration of a divided country and helped to push out invaders and build the Kremlin in Moscow.

These memorable heroines make their own way in a male-dominated world. They are smart and decisive enough to hold power and influence during periods when this was extremely unusual for women. These productions provide accurate historical context but with a modern look, so these women are similar at their core to women today: ambitious, intelligent, independent, passionate and imperfect.

The Road to Calvary is based on the novel by Alexei Tolstoy

Other compelling examples of shows where women dare live, feel and make mistakes are The Road to Calvary (NTV Broadcasting Company, distributed internationally by Dori Media) and Mathilde (Rock Films). The Road to Calvary is based on the novel by Alexei Tolstoy and follows Russian intellectuals through the revolution of 1917 and the Soviet era, telling the story of two sisters. Here an absolute classic is reinvented by and for a younger generation. The young still read classic literature but nowadays they need to look at the story through a different lens.

Mathilde, presented at Mipcom in Cannes last year with support from Made in Russia, tells a classical love story: the last Russian emperor and his affair with an attractive ballerina. Again, it shows a woman full of passion who follows her desires boldly. The whole world is against her but she is able to stand up to it.

It seems that science fiction is also seen as a place for women. Better Than Us, from Yellow Black and White and Sputnik Vostok Production, centres on an android who seems to have her own thoughts and intentions, and looks at the impact she has on the humans around her. She is perfectly beautiful, yet any evil intentions towards her end badly for any potential offender. The series has just been acquired by Netflix from Start Video, the rights holder, and will become the first Netflix Original from Russia.

Better Than Us will be the first Netflix Original from Russia

The android woman is played by Paulina Andreeva, a rising star of Russian TV and cinema. She also plays the lead female role in Method, a series by Sreda that was among the first Russian projects acquired by Netflix. Andreeva appears as an ambitious young law enforcement graduate who is taken on as a trainee by a famous detective, her idol. But his methods of tracking down dangerous criminals and maniacs aren’t anything like she imagined.

The past few years have seen a range of high-end shows from Russia that are driven by female leads. Although there may not be many of these yet, the Russian TV industry is going international and following global trends. This includes the necessity to let women have a distinct voice and fair representation on the screen. These days fair means complex. Like real women and like the new, younger audience, female characters have to live life on their own terms. The choices they make may be different – they might be married or single, a tender mother or child-free, a successful business woman or a housewife, even a criminal, or a combination of all these.

The main point is it’s their own choice.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six of the Best: Hilary Salmon

The BBC Studios head of drama, London, picks an all-British half-a-dozen shows that she wishes she had made herself, including one she almost did.

Boys from the Blackstuff
This is the show that without a doubt persuaded me to make the move from the theatre to TV. Deeply political while never lapsing into polemic, Blackstuff hit our screens at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s first term as UK prime minister and was seen as a reaction to a move to the political right in national opinion. In fact, Alan Bleasdale wrote the piece under a Labour government. Packed with great performances and dark Liverpudlian humour, the show is likely remembered most vividly for Bernard Hill’s ‘Yosser’ Hughes and his catchphrase, ‘Give us a job.’ The scene where he visits the dole office surrounded by his kids is iconic (the dole clerk played by my now husband, incidentally). But for me, Julie Walters’ speech to Michael Angelis in episode three, in which, out of sheer frustration, she attacks the very core of his masculinity, is just as universal. With his sharp eye and authentic voice, Bleasdale inspired a national rage at what it meant to be living at the bottom of the heap.

Band of Gold
This is the one that got away. Kay Mellor and I developed the show together for the BBC and I’ve always regretted that we couldn’t get it commissioned. The show moved to ITV and became a huge hit as a returning genre series. With the show set in the world of prostitution, Kay wanted to write about a group of women who rarely have a voice on our screens except generally as murder victims. We would have made it as an authentic, gritty miniseries on BBC2 but I loved the boldness of Kay’s storytelling and the fact she found a way to bring her unloved characters to such a broad audience. It’s also the show that introduced Samantha Morton as a teenager.

The truth about how and why the 1989 football stadium disaster happened and what it felt like to be a parent caught up in it. Meticulously researched by Jimmy McGovern and the Granada team, it told the story of the cover-up 16 years before Bishop James Jones’ inquiry made it undeniable. Heartbreaking and, like Blackstuff before it, changing the national conversation about where the blame for the disaster lay. ‘Did he have a drink before the game?’ a policeman asks a victim’s father. ‘I hope so… I hope he was drunk out of his mind.’

The Honourable Woman
Hugo Blick’s brilliant series about politics in the Middle East succeeded in not nailing its own political colours to the mast until the final episode, and perhaps not even then. How is that possible? Only by the writer questioning everything his characters are doing at every point in the story and never allowing them to become slaves to what the story needed them to do. Endlessly fascinating and involving, and bold in its structure as it flashed back and forth in time. Deeply intelligent TV, The Honourable Woman showed that, in the end, the personal and the political are forever entwined.

Written by young people for an audience of young people, Skins (also pictured top) succeeded in being utterly true to the experience of its young characters and totally inclusive of a broader audience at the same time. The show captured the pressure that teenagers feel in so many aspects of their lives and how they are rarely helped by the hapless adults whose roles should be to support them. Written with truth and love by Bryan Elsley and his extraordinary team.

Queer as Folk
Russell T Davies’ show forced itself onto our screens at the end of the 1990s and we’d never seen anything like it. In a display of sheer Channel 4 fearlessness, the show was a no-holds-barred portrayal of the lives of three young gay men playing the scene in Manchester. Drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll were personified in Aidan Gillen’s irresistibly sexy and charismatic central performance.

tagged in:

Achieving Success

HBO Europe’s first original series from the Adria region, Success, began life as one of the winning projects of HBO Adria’s First Draft contest in 2017, which sought new writing talent from across the territory.

Created and written by Marjan Alčevski, the show follows four complete strangers who are bound together irrevocably by a violent event. As the consequences of their actions start to infiltrate every aspect of their lives, these ordinary people, from diverse backgrounds, decide to fight back.

Starring Toni Gojanović, Tara Thaller, Iva Mihalić, Uliks Fehmiu and Marija Škaričić, Success was shot on location in Zagreb, Croatia, under the direction of Academy Award winner Danis Tanović (No Man’s Land).

The series debuted this month across HBO Europe and will also air later in the year on HBO in the US.

In this DQTV video, Alčevski discusses the origins of the character-driven crime thriller and explains why he wanted to write a series that spoke about modern Croatian society

He also touches on the themes that affect the lead characters, including violence towards women, corruption, one person’s inability to feed their family and the concept of success, and how these subjects have made it a series that resonates not just in Croatia but across Europe and around the world.

HBO Europe executive producer Steve Matthews also talks about why Success stood out among the other entrants of the First Draft competition, owing to its mix of good and bad and jeopardy.

Success is produced and distributed by HBO Europe, in coproduction with Croation prodco Drugi Plan.

tagged in: , , ,

Cry in the sky

Jacquelin Perske, writer of psychological drama The Cry, reveals how she adapted Helen Fitzgerald’s novel for television and tackled one of the opening episode’s most turbulent scenes. The miniseries was produced by Synchronicity Films for BBC1 and is distributed by DRG.

The Cry is a four-part drama adapted from a novel by Helen Fitzgerald. It is a contemporary story set in both Scotland and Australia. I was drawn to the novel as it was both a nuanced relationship drama and an original thriller. Basically, really terrible things happen to an average couple and this couple deals with these events in ways that are surprising, almost logical and also deeply disturbing. All the things I like about a good story.

Jacquelin Perske

Thematically, the show is about becoming a parent, in particular a mother. As a mother of three children myself this was deeply relevant to me. No matter how prepared you think you may be, how much you read, absorb and observe, the shift from single, childfree woman to wife and mother is seismic, shocking and irreversible. There is no going back. You walk through a door and it shuts behind you.

I found the experience both exhilarating and also frightening. The Cry is a study in parental fear. The fear of not being up to the job, the fear of failing in your duty of care, the fear of losing your child, the fear of not loving this creature that you must love for the rest of your life. These fears and anxieties are usually hard to dramatise, but The Cry had a structure that allowed their full weight to be played out with devastating consequences, within a tight thriller story.

When adapting The Cry, I decided to tease out the thriller elements by playing with time. The four episodes shift from the present to the past to the future as the audience starts to piece together what has happened to new parents Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and Alistair (Ewen Leslie). There is a building tension as we see where this couple has come from, what they are doing now and what they will become. This structure allowed a sense of impending crisis and an uncomfortable tension and looming dread as the story plays out.

One of the early sequences in the novel takes place on a long-haul flight from the UK to Australia. It became a kind of core thematic place I could return to throughout the four episodes. It encapsulated the tension and the thematic concerns of the show. On a long-haul flight, a group of strangers are strapped in and locked in a metal can thousands of feet in the air. The notion of personal space is strained. Passengers politely confine themselves and endure the hours before they arrive at their destination.

Jenna Coleman and Ewen Leslie in The Cry’s aeroplane scene

If you place a crying baby into such a scenario, there is an instant tension. In The Cry, Joanna and Alistair are taking their baby from the UK to Australia to visit family, and it is their baby, Noah, who does not stop crying. He cries for hours and hours. The child himself is distressed and too young to understand why. The passengers’ patience wears thin as the crying continues and there is nowhere to escape. The parents themselves are in a terrible predicament as they bear both the brunt of their fellow passengers’ discomfort and an intense public display of their seeming incompetence as parents.

This sequence works on a thematic level in The Cry because Joanna is privy to the other passengers’ open judgment and criticism of her parenting skills, as they become increasingly angry at the incessant crying. The sequence also shows Joanna struggling to know what to do – isolated and alone – despite being surrounded by other people. It spoke to me of the experience of being a new parent in a unique and yet very real way. In The Cry, Joanna bites back – yelling back at the other passengers for their callous judgement of her and lack of sympathy for her predicament.

The sequence sets off the chain of narrative for the rest of the series, so it is a pivotal moment both thematically and narratively. Its honest brutality set a tone that I carried through the screenplay for all four episodes.

tagged in: , , ,

Origin story

YouTube Premium drama Origin tells the story of 10 strangers who wake up on a deserted spaceship after agreeing to journey to a distant planet on the promise of leaving their past behind. The abandoned passengers must then work together to survive – but they quickly realise one of them is far from who they claim to be.

In this DQTV interview, showrunner Mika Watkins discusses the genre-bending story, which blends sci-fi and horror with romance, noir and more.

She talks about taking on the series – the pilot was the first script she was ever paid to write – and the challenges that came with developing the drama.

Watkins also opens up about her writing process, running a writers room and the differences between being a showrunner and a lead writer on a series.

Origin is produced by Left Bank Pictures, Midnight Radio and CiTVC, in association with Sony Pictures Television, for YouTube Premium.

tagged in: , ,

A taste of Delicious

Writing for DQ, Phillippa Giles, executive producer of Sky 1’s Delicious and MD of Endemol Shine UK prodco Bandit, discusses how the relationship series puts women front and centre – both in front and behind the camera.

“Show us as women with all our flaws. Show us in huge close-up.”

That challenge, issued by Delicious star Dawn French upon the drama’s conception and combined with the brief from Sky’s former head of drama Anne Mensah to push women to the foreground, has always informed the series.

The show, which concluded its third four-part season on Sky1 last week and is now available via the Sky Store, centres on two women, both former wives of the same man, but now, after his death, struggling to make the hotel he left behind a success in the middle of bucolic Cornwall.

French plays passionate cook Gina, who has inherited the Penrose hotel and restaurant together with the glamorous Sam (Emilia Fox), both of whom were once married to the deceased head chef Leo Vincent (Iain Glen). In season three, Gina and Sam’s business has been booming, their delicate friendship has lasted and they are on the lookout for a new protégé in the kitchen.

L-R: Serena Thompson, Ursula Rani Sarma, Robin Sheppard and Phillippa Giles

Delicious is that rare beast, a relationship show, but, even rarer, a relationship show revolving around four generations of women. The characters range from 85-year-old matriarch Mimi, played by veteran actor Sheila Hancock, to newcomer Tanya Reynolds as 22-year-old Theresa, with Gina and Sam bang in the middle. Putting Gina and Sam at the front of the series and subsequently all four generations was important to Sky right from commissioning the series. They didn’t want this to be ‘just another hotel show,’ and nor did I.

Sky has given us unrivalled support in allowing us to showcase women in front of and behind the camera in the last three seasons. We specifically look to discover new and up-and-coming women directors and writers for future seasons and hope, through the role-modelling on the crew, to bring on women in key trainee roles on camera and in sound, within the industry. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to fill these roles in a less traditional way, because the pool of talent is smaller due to the access to such positions, but the atmosphere fostered as a result is always worth the effort. There is a wealth of talented women out there waiting for their opportunity to show what they can do, and all it needs is the right project to attract them.

This season, original creator Dan Sefton, busy on other projects, was happy to pass on the baton to new lead writer Ursula Rani Sarma. Ursula and the all-female script team of Bandit head of development Muirinn Lane Kelly and script editor Ella Tayler Baron have ensured a number of things: that the sex (and it’s raunchy stuff) is not initiated by the men, that we talk about mastectomy as much as pregnancy and that we make sure there is a lot of wine-drinking, weed-smoking and skinny-dipping along the way.

Fun, both on and off set, is important to how Delicious works. With our female-heavy top tier of commissioning editor, commissioning exec, programme exec and producer, there is a family feel on set and both team and cast members are encouraged to bring their children along. In fact, one scene opens with a tracking shot past three young girls — the director’s daughter, the writer’s daughter and the composer’s daughter! The female bias percolates down through the crew with a woman boom swinger, camera assistant, art director as well as second and third ADs.

Delicious stars Emilia Fox (left) and Dawn French

Director Robin Sheppard was our lead director this season and she quickly bought into the collaborative atmosphere Delicious fosters. Schedules, scripts, design and photography all benefit from the cross-disciplinary dialogue encouraged by the woman-centric subject matter and predominance of women on cast and crew. Even the traditional bastions of chauvinism on any film set – sparks and riggers – have bought into the family atmosphere of hard work without the hierarchy.

A key sequence for us this year was the string of scenes playing out Mimi’s fake wake, or ‘death party’ as it is referred to in the script. This sequence occupies a substantial chunk of the third episode as it is the culmination of a big story strand for Mimi, which builds to an emotional climax through the season as, originally, Mimi hides her cancerous breast lump, then reveals it to her step-granddaughter who is sworn to secrecy but who eventually forces her grandmother into the open about the fact she needs help.

Second director Amit Gupta, new to the show, was tasked with giving this set piece the hallmark Delicious feel of natural beauty and cornucopia. We were anxious to shoot it in an outdoor location, as al fresco eating and partying is very much part of the Cornwall scene, but was it practical to take on the elements over two days of shooting? In the end, a compromise was reached with the design team whereby we would shoot in Port Eliot’s beautiful walled gardens with a large Victorian greenhouse to dash into for rain cover. But luckily this was never necessary.

Sheila Hancock as Mimi

The next challenge was to work with costume designer Rebecca Hale and food designer Lisa Heathcote to talk about colour palette and the look and feel of the party. Although this was a wake, of sorts, it was predominantly a family occasion with our four women leads– Sheila, Dawn, Emilia and Tanya – all needing to look wonderful but not overdressed or clashing. They also needed to carry in the food, so what they were wearing needed to be practical – no stilettos or trailing sleeves. And the food needed to survive two whole days outside in rain or shine.

These sorts of heightened family moments are the fulcrums of Delicious with its four female generations. The settings can be devastatingly beautiful and the frocks out of this world, but all this aspiration and glamour needs to be underpinned by strong writing and performances to deliver something that doesn’t tip into schmaltz or soap. The ambition of the camerawork and design helps to elevate the show, but towering performances like that given by Delicious matriarch Hancock at her own wake ensure the series maintains its own unique tonal brand of bittersweet.

The two-day stand culminated in a wonderful ‘on the blink’ moment when all four lead actresses were round the table, ad-libbing, and enjoying the family reunion as dusk set in and the camera pulled back on a long track to end the episode.

We seem to have turned a corner, with more and more series getting commissioned that have women leads and great roles for women throughout. Let’s keep up the momentum and build on this opportunity to make the best drama with women writing, producing and working behind camera. We’ve waited long enough. Now is our time.

tagged in: , , ,

Walking with Gigantes

Gigantes (Giants) director Enrique Urbizu takes us through the opening scene of the Movistar+ drama, which focuses on a family that runs a prestigious antiques business as a front for their drug empire.

The first minutes of a movie or show are decisive in establishing the tone, the heartbeat and, if you allow it, the style that should continue throughout the story. It is the entrance into history for the viewer, determining their first impressions.

Gigantes begins with the image of a puddle reflecting the cloudy sky of Madrid. There is also a dead bird. Three inverted figures approach until they are stood in the dirty water.

Enrique Urbizu

Two children follow their father, Abraham Guerrero, in a strange procession: in single file, the trio are dressed for mourning. The bells ring to mark death. It’s cold. Nobody talks, nobody cries. A fence encloses the frame.

The procession reaches the door of an old warehouse at the stone walls of the historical centre of Madrid. A wooden sign reads ‘Antigüedades Guerrero’ (Guerrero Antiques). Following a gesture from their father, the children stop by the door. Abraham enters. The children look in opposite directions: Daniel on the left and Tomás to the right of the frame.

Abraham comes out with an old leather suitcase, and the three continue on their way. Stone, wood and leather – textures of the warrior world – are visible.

Looming over the entrance to the Guerrero building is an image of Saturn Devouring His Son, originally painted by Spanish artist Francisco Goya, in the shape of a rosette. It represents the curse of the family – the father who consumes his descendants. This is an allegory that becomes the ‘soul’ of the first chapter of Gigantes and an anchor of meaning for the entire series.

Preceded by the shadow of Abraham, the sad procession enters a building and climbs the stairs; stairs that will be linked forever to their destinations. Dark, wet, eternal.

It’s an old-fashioned house, steeped in another time and with quality wood furniture – old Spanish. Cold light, cold day.

On the table is the suitcase, which is full of money. The children count bills. Tomás, the smallest, seems the most meticulous. Write carefully the figures in your notebook. Try to hide your tears.

Gigantes airs on Spanish network Movistar+

Abraham, sitting on his throne, watches over his territory. His presence imposes silence. In a corner of the room, a baby is stirring in his crib. He starts crying.

It has to be Daniel, the older brother, who cares for the little ones. “Today you can mourn your mother, tomorrow no longer. She does not cry anymore in this house,” Abraham dictates.

Emotions are buried; it’s forbidden to show any hint of weakness. The wild and permanent exercise of power through violence.

After burying their mother, the Guerrero brothers face a wild education, a sentence that marks them for the rest of their errant lives.

These first minutes condense some of the main narrative and aesthetic keys that make up the staging of Gigantes.

The series is stylised, tense, risky, adult and complex. We wanted to be more attentive to the characters than to the development of a criminal plot. The characters are what infect the character of the series.

tagged in: , ,

Enigmatic TV

Based on the book of the same name, The Flatey Enigma is an Icelandic mystery drama about Johanna (Lara Johanna Jonsdottir, Sense8), a mother who returns to home to bury her father.

After the funeral, she picks up his research into an ancient manuscript that posits a riddle pointing to the resting place of a Viking lord. She then continues his work to solve the puzzle, as police arrive on the island following the murder of someone else who was interested in the riddle.

In this DQTV interview, executive producer Kjartan Thor Thordarson introduces the series and talks about how it offers a viewers a slower pace and alternative visual style to other Scandinavian noir series.

The Flatey Enigma is produced by Sagafilm and Reykjavik Films for Icelandic public broadcaster RUV. Sky Vision is the distributor.

tagged in: , , , ,

Six of the Best: Zhanna Shakhshaeva

The head of the international department at Russian distributor All Media makes a selection of scripted shows worthy of binge-watching, including an Icelandic thriller, a Spanish prison drama and an award-winning US series.

This drama was produced in Iceland. It enthrals with its fascinating photography and creepy feeling as it unravels the dark mystery behind a crime committed in a small town isolated from the rest of the world by snow storm. The story centres on a policeman who finds himself having to deal with a major crime for the first time. With no hope of outside help, he has to rely on his scarce experience and his best attributes – his honesty and his fidelity to his job. This drama stands out for its dark yet utterly realistic style. The viewer’s feelings are intensified by its atmosphere of reality, generating fear, sympathy for the heroes and a desire to learn the truth.

The Young Pope
Another drama with unquestionable style, The Young Pope reminds me of Italian cinema that savours each detail in every scene. This is the most intriguing series on the most complicated theme – religion. All the hidden problems and complexities of the Vatican are told in a surprisingly light manner through the main character who, despite occasionally declaring he doesn’t believe in God, suddenly becomes the new, youngest ever, Pope. Creator and director Paolo Sorrentino is a brave, ambitious filmmaker who dares to challenge stereotypes about the life of clergymen. In just one season, he brings up a bunch of hot-button topics: abortions, paedophilia, infertility and faith among churchmen.

This American adaptation of the story born in Israel as Hatufim keeps up to date with real-world events, giving viewers the sense that its characters live next door and the action is happening right now. This involves you in the story and in the breathtaking conflict of the protagonist, Carrie (Claire Danes). She is constantly in the middle of a global conspiracy that threatens peace in her country, and is ready to sacrifice her life for her homeland at any minute. Yet we see how fragile her own world is: an incurable illness that threatens her whole career, a personal tragedy, and the constant struggle of raising her daughter and keeping her safe. Despite the overall political context, the conflict is very human. Homeland lets us sneak into the world of governors and decision-makers, but makes it clear that ordinary people – just like us – and seemingly small, insignificant events can change history.

Better Than Us
Russian drama Better Than Us (also pictured top) depicts a near future where people co-exist with human-like androids who become whatever we want, from home assistants to office employees. That provokes conflict with young people who blame robots for occupying their jobs and complicating their lives. These ‘perfect’ androids can have anything – apart from feelings. But what if they learn to feel? What if they have superior feelings and a superior mind? The drama intrigues with these questions, presenting a fantasy about a different world. It is performed perfectly by the actors, especially Paulina Andreeva (pictured) as the main female android. Produced by Yellow Black and White and Sputnik Vostok Production, Better Than Us will premiere in Russia soon.

Big Little Lies
I like the inverted way this story keeps you hooked the whole time. From the very first scene, you are dying to see the conclusion, when the truth will be unveiled. Every storyline matters and no detail is unnecessary. And the whole structure is built on one little lie that keeps viewers curious right up to the finale. Brilliant casting and storytelling makes every character central. The characters are key to the drama: although they are somewhat upper class, all are very real, alive and down to earth in a good way – even the ‘bad’ or broken ones.

Locked Up (Vis-à-Vis)
This Spanish series has proved popular around the world. It centres on a strong female character, a major trend nowadays that still has room for new interpretations and plots. The protagonist, charmed by her boss, commits tax crimes for him and ends up in prison, where she must rely on her toughness – it helps her overcome emotional shock, build relationships with her cellmates and simply survive. This combination of a fragile woman and a tough fighter is highly compelling. It makes you follow the whole story, as does the plot itself, which is full of twists and danger. Locked Up has the key combination for success – a well-written script and a bright protagonist whose desires and aspirations are very clear to any person in nearly any part of the world.

tagged in: ,