All posts by DQ

Dark Secrets

Based on Michael Robotham’s novel, The Secrets She Keeps stars Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) as Agatha, a supermarket worker who becomes obsessed by ‘mummy blogger’ Meghan’s idyllic lifestyle.

When she discovers both are pregnant and due at the same time, Agatha strikes up the courage to talk to Meghan (Jessica De Gouw, Underground). But while they share much in common, it soon emerges that Meghan’s life isn’t as happy as it seems, while both are harbouring explosive secrets.

In this DQTV interview, Carmichael talks about moving on from period drama Downton Abbey, her first role in television, and how she relished the chance to play a character poles apart from Lady Edith – someone quick to anger, impatient and complex.

She also talks about her research process for the role and the intensive work demanded of actors in high-stakes drama series.

The Secrets She Keeps is produced by Lingo Pictures for Network Ten, and distributed by DCD Rights.

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Playing a Blinda

After producing Quicksand, the first Swedish original drama for Netflix, producer FLX turned its attention to the financial world for eight-part thriller Fartblinda (Blinded).

Based on Carolina Neurath’s book of the same name, it stars Julia Ragnarsson as financial journalist Bea Farkas, who, in pursuit of her next scoop, detects irregularities in ST Bank’s trading department – a matter made more complicated by the fact she is having an affair with the bank’s married CEO Peder Rooth (Matias Varela).

In this DQTV interview, FLX MD Pontus Edgren and head of development and drama programmes Fatima Varhos discuss their decision to make a financial drama, something never seen before in Sweden.

They also talk about why they added the romance between Bea and Peder to the story and the dramatic transformation Ragnarsson underwent for the role.

Fartblinda is produced by FLX for C More and TV4, and distributed by All3Media International.

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Paint job

Japanese director Kazutaka Watanabe introduces NHK’s film An Artist of the Floating World, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and starring Ken Watanabe as an ageing painter revisiting his past.

Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist of the Floating World is considered one of the best novels ever written, telling the story of an ageing Japanese painter who looks back on his life and how his role in the Second World War has changed attitudes towards him and his paintings.

It has now been turned into a one-off drama, produced by Japan’s NHK and distributed by NHK Enterprises. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Inception) stars in the lead role of Masuji Ono.

Kazutaka Watanabe

Here, director and executive producer Kazutaka Watanabe talks about taking on the adaptation, casting Watanabe, working with Ishiguro and shooting in ultra-high-definition 8K for the numerous dreamlike sequences in the story that explore Ono’s memories.

Why did the project appeal to you?
I thought it would be a very interesting story to take on, but I also recognised that it was a view of the world that would be quite difficult to portray in a drama. It was a challenge to find the delicate balance between the world and art of Kazuo Ishiguro and a drama that had entertainment value. After it aired, I was prepared to be criticised for making it difficult to understand, but that wasn’t an opinion I heard very much.
The novel is one of only two that Mr Ishiguro has set in Japan. After he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, I approached him and told him I wanted to adapt An Artist of the Floating World for television in Japan. Mr Ishiguro is known for nuanced depictions of human emotional complexity; the way he sees and describes the world is inimitable. I stayed as faithful as possible to the novel’s vision.
My work was a constant search for ways to overcome artistic challenges and simultaneously create entertainment value.

How was Kazuo Ishiguro involved?
Mr Ishiguro was very generous, saying, “Do whatever you want with this.” Paintings are a key element of the story and we asked three different painters to produce them. When Mr Ishiguro saw them, he told us it was like the artists were “looking into his mind.” I didn’t give any specific instructions to the painters, so I was very impressed to see that, as artists themselves, they were reading into the novel on a whole other level.

Ken Watanabe was sought for the leading role from the off

How did you cast Ken Watanabe in the main role?
As I read the novel, Ken Watanabe was the only person I pictured in my mind. Mr Ishiguro also supported the suggestion, saying that he would love for him to play the part, and we were able to meet with him in London. The protagonist, Masuji Ono, keeps his inner turmoil under wraps and presents a calm facade to the world.
I asked Mr Watanabe to play the lead because I believed only he could express this kind of emotional complexity. I understand Mr Ishiguro felt the same way. I never gave Mr Watanabe any detailed directions but I felt like he was enjoying the role even as he struggled with it. A first-person narration by an unreliable narrator is a characteristic of Ishiguro’s works and Mr Watanabe did a splendid job portraying this difficult form of expression.

What was your visual approach behind the camera?
The experience was practically stress-free. We shot in 8K, which was not much different from shooting in 2K, but when I saw the images in 8K for the first time in the editing room, I did realise one thing – when we shoot indoors, the outdoors gets washed out in 2K, but that doesn’t happen in 8K. Everything is exposed, so there’s no faking it. I thought the dark tones were expressed beautifully.
The smell of burning and images of brightly burning flames are symbols in the novel. I worked hard to effectively represent this visually using flames and ashes. Thanks to 8K, the images are so realistic that they stimulate other senses. Viewers can almost sense the heat of the flames and the smell of burning paper. Other visual aspects, such as the vivid colours of Japan’s autumn foliage and the shadows in a traditional Japanese house, are also brought out in a unique way by 8K. I feel that 8K has opened up a whole new world of exciting possibilities.
Mr Ishiguro has a unique and distinctive view of the world. I wanted to stay as faithful as possible to that vision. Although the story is set in Japan, the theme is universally relatable and speaks to each and every person. I hope it will be received by a diverse audience.

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Fired up

Sean Bean, Helen Hunt and Lesley Manville head the cast of World on Fire, a seven-part series that follows ordinary people from across Europe as the continent becomes consumed by the Second World War.

In this DQ interview, writer Peter Bowker and executive producer Helen Ziegler reveal the origins of the series and explain how it follows the lives of multinational people on all sides of the global conflict.

They also discuss how they tried to distance the show from any elements of nostalgia, building the series around a love story between a British translator (Jonah Hauer-King) who falls in love with a Polish waitress (Zofia Wichłacz), despite his relationship with factory worker and singer Lois (Julia Brown) back home.

World on Fire is produced by Mammoth Screen for BBC1, and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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Jury duty

Belgian drama De Twaalf (The Twelve) follows a trial from the perspective of its jury members, who must decide the fate of a woman accused of murdering her daughter and her best friend.

As the trial proceeds, the drama follows how the the weight of the case affects the jurors’ personal lives.

In this DQTV interview, producer Peter Bouckaert and director Wouter Bouvijn discuss the unique perspective of the 10-part Flemish series and how the jurors’ own baggage influences their thoughts on the case.

They also reveal how the actors were involved in shaping their characters, and discuss why Belgian series are currently shining in the international spotlight.

The Twelve is produced by Eyeworks for VRT and distributed by Federation Entertainment.

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Labour of Love

Tala Prystaetska, creative director of Ukrainian period drama Love in Chains, describes the challenge of making this ambitious 48-part series and why it has found success at home and abroad.

During a production schedule spanning 12 months, more than 230 actors worked across 254 shooting days – and 50 night shoots – to bring Ukrainian period drama Love in Chains to the screen.

The 48-parter stars Kateryna Kovalchuk as Kateryna, who was raised by her godmother as a lady of noble blood but to the world is the property of the richest landowner in Nizhyn, Petro Chervinskyi (Stanislav Boklan). Struggling for her freedom and happiness, she will have to endure abuse, the deaths of her closest friends, and survive an uprising for the chance to escape.

Produced by Film UA and Starlight Media, the series broke viewing records when it debuted on Ukraine’s STB this spring and also became a hit series for Poland’s TVP1. It is distributed by Film UA.

Here, creative director Tala Prystaetska outlines the ambitious concept for the drama, the search for a star and why she thinks the show has resonated in multiple countries.

Tala Prystaetska

What was the concept for the series and how was it developed?
We sought to create a layered, multi-character ‘novel,’ not just a telenovela. We wanted the viewer to be immersed in the story in the same way they used to be in novels by Alexandre Dumas, George Sand and Maurice Druon.
We were not interested in a predictable tale of love. We wanted to create a real world where passions would rage. And like a novel, the story was supposed to engage completely different audiences.

How was Kateryna Kovalchuk cast?
The search was long and difficult. Our main character had to combine innocence and passion; fragility and strength. Casting took over six months and more than 100 actors auditioned for the role, including one from Scandinavia. In the end, Kateryna, who has also acted in the US, scored the part. She managed to bring everything the scriptwriters had intended for the character.

How did you select the locations?
The team travelled all over Ukraine. We needed the architecture to not only reflect the era but also play up the traits of our characters, mirror their storylines and be technologically suitable for filming.
The most difficult was the mansion of Lydia Schaefer (Kseniya Mishyna). The building, according to the plot, is burned down during an uprising. After a while, different characters come back to the burnt estate over the course of the story. We chose the Chechel estate in the Khmelnitsky region – a magnificent mansion with formal gardens.
Naturally, a fire or even its imitation were out of question. But thanks to CGI and the efforts of our set designers, we could realise everything in the script without sacrificing the real building.

Kateryna Kovalchuk as Kateryna in Love in Chains

How would you describe the visual style of the show?
The period we have chosen has left its mark on the show’s visual identity. The style of a lot of frames was inspired compositionally by famous old paintings. This was the principle our DOPs Serhiy Revutskyi and Oleksiy Lamakh applied to most wide shots. The picturesque beauty and full immersion into the emotions of the characters with the help of expressive close-ups were the two key visual principles.

What is the biggest challenge filming a 48-part drama?
Preserving our sanity! I’m joking, but only partly. The long production period, non-linear schedule, huge number of story twists and large cast of characters required constant concentration and unending focus. Continuity was key – between two adjacent scenes, a whole year could have passed in real life.
For example, in the 28th episode there are riot scenes and the Schäfer mansion is set on fire. We filmed that in September 2017, whereas the scenes of Lydia rushing around in angst during the riot were filmed in August 2018.

Why has the series been so popular in Poland and Ukraine?
We achieved our goal of creating a story that captivates viewers in the same way the best novels captivate readers. Viewers were immersed in the story and rooting for their favourite characters. The values, traditions and rituals in the show form part of the cultural code of the Eastern European audience, while modern viewers can relate to the problems Love in Chains addresses, such as abuse, difficult family dynamics and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The relevance and timelessness of our dramatic elements played a vital role in the success of our project.

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Sharing Secrets

Downton Abbey star Laura Carmichael heads down under to star in psychological thriller The Secrets She Keeps. The actor and Helen Bowden, producer, tell DQ about adapting Michael Rowbotham’s novel and filming in Sydney.

After six seasons starring as Lady Edith in the global phenomenon that is Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael recently returned to the character she first played in 2010 when writer Julian Fellowes transplanted the period drama to the big screen.

But in her next role, she’s leaving the Crawley family far behind by travelling down under to star in domestic noir The Secrets She Keeps, based on Michael Robotham’s bestselling novel.

The six-part thriller sees Carmichael play a pregnant woman called Agatha, who believes Meghan Shaughnessy (Jessica De Gouw, Underground), a mother whose parenting blog Agatha reads obsessively, has the perfect life. When she discovers Meghan is pregnant again and they are both due at similar times, Agatha builds up the courage to speak to her.

While these two women are very different – Meghan lives a comfortable life, Agatha less so – they do have one thing in common: they each hold explosive secrets.

Made by Lingo Pictures for Australia’s Network Ten, The Secrets She Keeps is produced by Helen Bowden and Paul Watters, with Rick Maier and Jason Stephens exec producing. DCD Rights is the international distributor of the show.

Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin partnered on the scripts, while Catherine Millar and Jennifer Leacey shared directing duties.

Here, Carmichael and then Bowden talk about the central characters and the relationship between them, adapting Robotham’s book and filming in Sydney.

Laura Carmichael (left) stars alongside Jessica De Gouw in The Secrets She Keeps

Laura, what drew you to the project?
I loved the script and I was instantly intrigued by Agatha. It felt unlike anything I had seen before.

Had you been interested in working in Australia and how did the experience differ from working in the UK?
I had just been on holiday to Sydney around Christmas time and had fallen in love with the city. I felt like I must have sent out some vibes of wanting to return, as a few months later the project came to my agent. I loved how it didn’t feel that different being on an Aussie set compared with the UK; it’s a sort of universal language, I guess. Although the catering in Oz is another level – absolutely delicious every day – which can’t always be said of the UK!

Were you familiar with Robotham’s novel?
I hadn’t read the book before doing the project but read it when I got the part. He’s a wonderful writer, I couldn’t put it down.

Why did Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin’s scripts stand out to you?
They were such page-turners. I loved that they felt so truthful, which makes the show at times terrifying and the next moment heartbreaking.

How would you describe Agatha?
She is tough, volatile, headstrong, burdened and impulsive.

Why does she idealise Meghan’s life?
To Agatha, Meghan has it all – the perfect life with the perfect family. She wants what Meghan has.

How did you prepare for the role?
The main thing for me was to piece together Agatha’s past, to timeline her life and experiences and sort of spend time in that headspace.

What was life like on set?
We did have rehearsals, which is always so helpful. It was a busy shoot with lots to contend with, so it was good to have some time set aside to talk things through. Both our brilliant directors, Catherine and Jennifer, were so wonderful at preparing us for the shoot.

Why do you think are audiences drawn to psychological thrillers?
They’re exhilarating. To be kept guessing as an audience is always more interesting than having things spelled out for you, and I love trying to find those thriller beats.

How does the series keep viewers on edge through the six episodes?
I hope the feeling you’ll get is that you’re never sure what Agatha is going to do next.

Helen Bowden

Helen, how did you acquire the rights to the novel?
Lingo’s literary scout, Shona Martyn [formerly of Harper Collins Australia], mentioned during a conversation one day that Michael Robotham, whose wildly successful books are all set in the UK, was Australian. She said that despite the gritty settings of his thrillers, he lived and worked on Sydney’s sunny Northern Beaches. I needed no further encouragement to read all his books and go up there to meet him.
I had no doubt we could re-set The Secrets She Keeps in Sydney, and Michael agreed. He was flattered by my enthusiasm but wary of handing the rights over to someone he didn’t know. He’d been a bit burned over one of his earlier novels. Fortunately, he is a close friend of both Christos Tsiolkas, who wrote The Slap, and Marele Day who wrote Lambs of God, two books I have produced for the screen. They each gave me a great rap, having loved the process and the resulting shows, so we were quickly in business.

How did you conceive it as a TV drama?
Honestly, it didn’t take a huge amount of work to conceive Secrets as a drama series. The book is superbly plotted. Once you start reading, you really can’t put it down; and it’s complex, so the six episodes just seemed to fall out of the pages. The characters, particularly Agatha, are also deeply compelling. I’ve done lots of adaptations and this one lent itself to the process very easily.

What are the keys to adapting a psychological thriller for TV?
In making a thriller, you enter into a pact with the viewers to keep them on the edge of their seats, to dish out the adrenaline, the voyeurism, the paranoia. We have definitely tried to do that, but you also want the viewers to be embedded in the worlds and the worries of the characters, to care for them and believe in them.
The challenge is to toggle between those two modes in a way that can’t be seen or felt but which draws you ever more deeply into the story. In The Secrets She Keeps, we are trying to also talk about the social fabric and the corrosive effect narcissism and greed are having on our lives.
We are trying to draw out the real connection between these two women, these two mothers, who seem on the surface to be inhabiting different universes. For me, that is the key – to say something worthwhile at the same time as completely surprising and entertaining your audience.

Carmichael (right) is best known for playing Lady Edith in Downton Abbey

Have any plot points or characters been added or removed in the adaptation process?
Class is central to this story, yet Australia likes to think of itself as a relatively classless society. The truth is a lot more complicated. Social class might be more disguised than it is in the UK, but it is certainly there. Setting Secrets in Sydney meant making a myriad of subtle but important changes to reflect this authentically.
In addition, the novel is perhaps more interested in Agatha and her actions than in ‘yummy mummy’ Meghan. We wanted a true dual narrative, so we built more complexity into Meghan’s work and marriage to give her more of an inner life.
We also wanted the two women to have some key things in common, despite the class divide, so we made Meghan the product of a blended family as well. Meghan and Agatha were both unhappy growing up with stepfathers. This fuels their willingness to take drastic action to protect their own children.

What makes the series stand out as a domestic noir and how did you achieve this?
Based on a true story, the crime at the heart of The Secrets She Keeps is not the standard thriller fare of murder or rape. The story is set almost entirely in two very distinct domestic spheres and tells of an unlikely friendship, how each woman has a secret and the lengths to which she will go to keep it. We hope the audience will be totally carried along by the twists and turns of the story, and there are many nods to the thriller genre, but there is also a truthful exploration of these worlds, these marriages and the protagonists’ hopes for the future.

How did you identify the writers and what do they bring to the project?
Sarah Walker [lead writer] and Jonathan Gavin were obvious choices for us. They have both written smart, accessible, female-skewing dramas. We thought they’d make a terrific combination. It was also fascinating to have Michael Robotham in the writers room while two such able writers dissected the novel and rebuilt it for television. He found it surprisingly thrilling.

Where was the series filmed and how did you use locations in the story?
We filmed in Sydney, where trains run from one side of the city to the other, taking Agatha from her grimy flat in the down-at-heel western suburbs, across the glittering harbour, to Meghan’s world of the spacious, leafy Northern suburbs.
They meet in the local supermarket where Agatha works, a remnant of gentrification, barely hanging on in the face of competition from the big supermarket chains up the road. Meghan’s mothers’ group meets in the gorgeous local park for lattes and yoga, their prams like an expensive flock of enormous birds. It’s where Agatha, newly confident of Meghan’s friendship, tries awkwardly to join in.
Agatha has a consolation place in a deep green glen in Tunks Park, dominated by a post-war bridge high above it, while her mother lives in Katoomba in a modest house that backs onto the spectacular escarpment of the Blue Mountains.
We are trying to show the myriad aspects of Sydney, not just the ridiculous beauty the world usually sees.

What challenges did you face in production and how did you overcome them?
In Australia, we shoot about seven minutes of drama a day to meet our budgets. Trying to make world-class fiction at that speed is terrifying – there’s no room for error. Our best weapon is preparation. Lingo believes in resourcing development as well as possible, supporting our writers and directors ahead of the shoot, to ensure we can all make the most of every precious minute once production begins. I think Laura was shocked at the pace to begin with, but she got into the swing of it and went on the ride.

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The word on Worzel

Iconic literary scarecrow Worzel Gummidge is returning to television in a pair of hour-long episodes written and directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook. The Office and Detectorists star tells DQ about becoming Worzel and adapting Barbara Euphan Todd’s novels.

One of the UK’s best-known comedy actors, Mackenzie Crook made his name in Ricky Gervais’s seminal workplace mockumentary The Office before taking on roles in Skins, Game of Thrones and Britannia, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

More recently, the Bafta-winning writer has become equally known for his work behind the scenes, writing and directing acclaimed comedy Detectorists, in which he and Toby Jones starred as a pair of eccentric metal detectorists.

Crook is now once again combining writing, directing and acting in his latest project, a modern-day adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s classic Worzel Gummidge novels, which first introduced the walking, talking scarecrow that was previously brought to life by Jon Pertwee between 1979 and 1981.

Mackenzie Crook

Commissioned by BBC1 in the UK, Crook’s adaptation comprises two episodes, each an hour long. The first, The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook, sees Susan and John, new arrivals to the town, first encounter Worzel Gummidge, the scarecrow of Ten Acre Field. In the second episode, The Green Man, the titular character arrives in Scatterbrook and is unhappy to discover Worzel has been mixing with humans.

Worzel Gummidge is a Leopard Pictures production in association with Treasure Trove, Lola Entertainment and Pidgeon Entertainment, with Kew Media Distribution handling international sales. Kristian Smith (Detectorists), Lisa Thomas, Patrick D Pidgeon and Eric S Rollman executive produce.

Here, Crook tells DQ about his approach to adapting the novels, juggling writing and directing duties and getting into character.

What is your relationship with the Worzel Gummidge novels?
Before being approached by Leopard Pictures, I hadn’t read the novels or seen any of the earlier Worzel Gummidge TV series. As children, my sisters and I were discouraged from watching commercial TV so I missed out on a lot of my friends’ favourite shows. I read the cartoon strip in Look-in Magazine, but that was as far as my relationship with Worzel went.

Why did you want to adapt them?
It felt like an evolution from Detectorists: stories connected to the landscape and the myth and lore of the countryside but with a whole new layer of magic realism.

How was the project developed with Leopard Pictures and the BBC?
Kristian Smith, MD of Leopard Pictures, came to me when Leopard secured the rights to the novels and asked if I was interested in getting involved. Soon after I began to read the books, an idea of a new interpretation began to occur and I could picture the world and the tone almost immediately. Even before the books, Barbara Euphan Todd wrote Worzel Gummidge radio scripts for BBC Children’s Hour, and the first television adaptation was on the BBC in 1953. So it felt right to bring it home.

Crook was in the make-up chair at 05.00 every day to transform into Worzel Gummidge

Were you always keen to write and direct the films, as well as star in them?
Yes, I had a very clear idea of how everything should look and the rhythm of the dialogue and jokes, so directing as well was a natural choice.

What has been your writing process in adapting two novels for the films?
Our films take their themes and characters from several of the books, rather than being direct adaptations. There are 10 Worzel Gummidge books, which I read, noting down the appealing storylines and developing our plots from there.

How do we first meet Worzel in the series and how would you describe him as a character?
We first meet Worzel in his beloved Ten Acre Field doing what he does best. I stuck quite closely to the beginning of the first novel. Worzel is kind and funny, prone to mood swings, naive in some ways and wise in others. He’s concerned about the plight of the countryside around him and feels a responsibility to help.

What was your experience of directing yourself?
I’m usually uncomfortable watching myself on screen but with Gummidge it’s somehow easier because I’m very fond of him and he’s so much fun to play. I asked our producer, Georgie Fallon, to keep an eye on my performance and give me notes.

How did writing, directing and acting for Worzel Gummidge compare with your similar roles on Detectorists?
This was a bit more gruelling, as I was on screen for so much of it. Added to which, the lengthy prosthetics application meant starting three hours before everyone else.

The actor, writer and director rose to prominence as Gareth Keenan in The Office

What challenges did you face in the writing or production stage?
The scripts are set 90% outdoors in a blazing hot summer. It rained for the first nine days of the shoot, including on the days we shot the big village fete scene. That was disheartening at the time but, through the magic of lighting, editing, grading and so on, it all looks as though it was shot in glorious weather.

How involved were you in Worzel’s look and what considerations were involved?
It was his look that came to me first. Before I even began writing, I started sketching his costume and turnip head. I knew I wanted him in an old military redcoat that I imagined he found in a long-forgotten soldier’s trunk at the back of a barn. I didn’t want his clothes to be stuffed but rather just hung on his wooden frame, so that when his coat blows open you can see right through.
He needed to be the right balance of scary and appealing. His job is to scare, so he had to appear alarming at first, but we very quickly warm to him when we hear him speak and see his smile.

Describe the make-up and costume process you faced every day to get into character.
I was usually in the make-up chair by 5am, ready to start shooting at 8.30am. The prosthetic came in six separate pieces that were glued directly onto the skin and then painted with spirit-based dyes. The ‘rooty’ strands of the beard were added individually with every application. The costume, by comparison, was simple to put on and comfortable to wear. Underneath the coat and trousers, I wore a blue suit that was painted out in postproduction to create the hollow effect.

How might viewers compare this modern Worzel Gummidge with the Jon Pertwee series many will remember? 
Both series are very different interpretations of the books and, as such, I think they can happily co-exist without needing too much comparison.

Why do you think this character and his stories have stood the test of time? 
It’s a timeless and very simple premise for a story: lonely kids, away from home, find a secret – a magical friend who leads them into fun and adventures. Worzel’s charming mix of kindness, mischief, naivety and wisdom make him a scarecrow you want as your friend.

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Preserving Dignity

The first original drama commission from German streaming platform Joyn, eight-part political thriller Dignity recalls the tragic events around a German sect in Chile. DQ finds out more.

While dramatising real events can come with any number of creative hurdles, the team behind political thriller Dignity certainly faced some unique challenges in pulling together this German-Chilean drama.

Inspired by the true story of a German sect in Chile, the eight-part series focuses on Germanic cult Colonia Dignidad, which was established by former Nazi soldier Paul Schäfer and forged a four-decade history of torture, child abuse and murder within the walls of its vast compound.

Dignity marks the first original drama commission for German streaming platform Joyn, which co-commissioned the series with Chile’s Mega. It is produced by Story House Pictures in Germany and Chilean producer Invercine & Wood, with Red Arrow Studios International distributing worldwide.

Filming is currently underway in Germany and Chile, with the show launching on Joyn in December this year and on Mega in 2020.

Created by María Elena Wood and Patricio Pereira (Ramona), the series is written by Andreas Gutzeit (Sprite Sisters), Swantje Oppermann, Paula del Fierro and Enrique Videla (La jauría). Julio Jorquera and Nancy Rivas are directing the series, which stars Marcel Rodriguez, Götz Otto, Devid Striesow, Jennifer Ulrich, Antonia Zegers, Martina Klier and Nils Rovira-Muñoz.

Here, head writer and executive producer Gutzeit, who is also MD and chief creative officer of Story House, and Alex Fraser, exec VP of acquisitions and content investment at distributor Red Arrow Studios International, discuss their approach to dramatising this devastating real-life story for television and the challenges of pulling together a German-Chilean coproduction.

Andreas Gutzeit

What are the origins of the project?
Andreas Gutzeit: The original idea comes from our Chilean coproducing partners. The horrors that were committed inside this notorious German sect are still an unresolved chapter both in Chile and in Germany. This is not the first time this terrible story has been treated dramatically; there is a movie that attempted to shed light on it and, of course, there are numerous documentaries. However, Dignity is a series and the first German-Chilean coproduction that looks at Colonia Dignidad from both sides. This makes it very authentic and something of which we are very proud.

How did you begin to dramatise this real life story?
Gutzeit: The real story is so outrageous that we never considered making it more dramatic. Everything that happens in Dignity is based, to some extent, on true stories as they have unfolded over the 40 years of the enclave’s awful history; the abuse of children, both German and Chilean, the reign of terror that Paul Schäfer, in the name of some wicked interpretation of Christianity, subjected the settlers to alongside the torture of political dissidents of the Pinochet regime – all this happened and more.
From the beginning, we were interested in the effects this abhorrent system had on the families who came into contact with it. What we ended up with is the redemptive story of a family that was ripped apart and has to heal and forgive themselves in order to overcome evil.

What creative decisions were made to change the story for television?
Gutzeit: We used reality to inspire the drama and the most important decision was the creation of our main character, Leo Ramirez, played by Marcel Rodriguez. Leo is a young federal prosecutor who is tasked with bringing Paul Schäfer to justice. We gave Leo his own secret history with Colonia – 20 years ago, his younger brother Pedro died there under mysterious circumstances, and Leo was shipped off to Germany as compensation for his mother for having lost one son.
He became a lawyer and then returned to Chile after his mother died. That’s when he reluctantly takes on the mission to arrest Schäfer but, of course, he has to face his own demons in order to achieve this. With this decision, we painted ourselves in quite a corner, because we had to find an actor who was a great performer and, at the same time, fluent in both languages. It took us some time, but Marcel, who is German-Paraguayan, fits the bill perfectly.
Alex Fraser: What was initially striking about Dignity is that it’s based on a real story and explores the history of this mysterious cult but is underpinned by an emotional narrative of two fictional brothers being torn apart by the leader of Colonia Dignidad. The work of the detectives to uncover the truth, combined with one brother’s mission to capture the man who inflicted irreparable harm on his family, is also particularly compelling.

Dignity stars stars Marcel Rodriguez (left) as Leo Ramirez

How was the series developed with Joyn and Mega?
Gutzeit: This was an entirely producer-driven project and the partners only came on board after we had all the scripts written. Joyn and Mega gave general notes but let us creatives drive the process. We are very grateful for the trust they placed in us.

How has Red Arrow Studios International been involved in the creative side?
Fraser: We looked at the scripts at an early stage and have been closely involved in reviewing the series during the editing process. With the outstanding creative power behind the series, we left the casting decisions in their hands and are thrilled with the talent they lined up.

How would you describe the writing process?
Gutzeit: The project came to us in Germany with a pilot script from Paula del Fiero and Enrique Videla. We almost wanted to decline it because this first draft was very much focused on the Chilean side of the story. However, our coproducers understood that including German elements of the story, such as the thinly veiled support of Colonia Dignidad by certain quarters of the German political establishment, would make it a much more interesting story.
I went to Chile and we discussed the overall arc of the series and even rudimentarily plotted out a number of the episodes. I then wrote a new pilot script based on our work in Santiago. My very talented writing partner, Swantje Oppermann, then joined the effort and, together with Paula and Enrique, we wrote episodes two to four. Swantje and I finished the second half of the series and we wanted to make sure we got it right, so we hired one of Germany’s best script doctoring teams, Robert Krause and Florian Puchert, who gave all eight episodes the fastest once-over I have ever seen – two days per episode – and then we finally had what we think are some very powerful scripts.

Alex Fraser

How did you decide to approach some of the more sensitive topics in the story?
Gutzeit: We were painfully aware that the sexual abuse of children is an especially tough subject matter to approach. We made sure to convey the horror without showing it. However, the old adage of letting the viewer fill in the blanks needed to constantly be checked, because the images you create in viewers’ minds can be just as overwhelming as what you show on camera.

What is the visual style of the series?
Gutzeit: Our director, Julio Jorquera, found a very special look for Dignity. The combination of the powerful imagery of Southern Chile, with the snow-covered Andes in almost every exterior shot, and the claustrophobic, almost stifling interiors of a Germanic sect are a unique juxtaposition.

Where was the series filmed and how were real locations used?
Gutzeit: Our Chilean partners managed to convince the Germans who still live in Villa Baviera, as Colonia Dignidad is called today, to allow us to shoot in the enclave. We filmed in Schäfer’s actual residence, the so-called ‘Freihaus’ where many of the crimes took place, the watchtower that still exists, and the school and the private quarters where many of the colonists lived.
It was a unique situation, especially for the actors, who were thankful and, at the same time, intimidated. All of them came to me after the shoot and said that there was no better preparation for their work than meeting the people of Villa Baviera and really immersing themselves in this terrifying world that Paul Schäfer created.

What were the biggest challenges bringing together a German-Chilean story for TV?
Gutzeit: Working across different cultures, both in storytelling and in physical production, brings its own sets of challenges. Each side does it slightly differently and that can really make things difficult, even though creatively everybody agrees. In the end, we all thought telling this story was worth every challenge.

The series dramatises the true story of Colonia Dignidad, a German-Chilean colony in the South American country that played host to numerous atrocities

What was your experience like on set?
Gutzeit: Its a very strange feeling when you stand in the middle of rural Chile and think we could also have recorded this image in the German Alps. Chile is an absolutely spectacular location and watching the German actors, who had quite tough roles to fill out, was amazing – they bravely dove into this terrible part of history.
Shooting inside the enclave was a bit strange, as everything still looks just like it did when the events we dramatise occurred. Meeting the German settlers who still live there and don’t hesitate to tell you their personal stories was also a very intense experience.

How is this story still affecting people today?
Gutzeit: Colonia Dignidad still has an unresolved legacy in both countries. Victims are still struggling to be heard and very few have been compensated for what has been done to them. Some of the German settlers still live there but, of course, their history still haunts them. Some settlers have returned to Germany and live in poverty.

What impact do you hope the series will have with viewers?
Gutzeit: We have created a powerful thriller which is engaging and deeply emotional, fast-moving and entertaining – ingredients that should not be missing from great TV today. At its centre are archaic themes of family, brotherhood, sin and redemption. Our viewers will enter a strange place that will pull them deeper and deeper into its secrets and, without knowing it, our audience will look at a real story that you could not make up.

Why might this story appeal to international audiences?
Fraser: While the history of Colonia Dignidad is well known in Germany and Chile, the global awareness of the cult and its links with both Nazism and the dictatorship of General Pinochet is very limited, so this series will give international audiences the chance to learn more about this haunting part of history for the first time. Colonia Dignidad is also still a highly relevant subject because, while the cult was first established in the 1970s, it affected people who are still alive and living with the consequences today, fighting for justice and recognition in 2019.

Why are true stories currently proving to be such popular material for television shows with creators and audiences?
Fraser: It’s easy for audiences to connect with subjects and storylines knowing they are grounded in real events and history. You can always dismiss fantasy storylines and detach yourself from them, but when you know what you are watching is based on real events, it becomes all the more real and captivating.

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Capturing Catherine

Having won multiple awards for playing royalty on screen, Helen Mirren reigns once again in four-part miniseries Catherine the Great.

Providing a glimpse into the world of one of the most powerful female monarchs in history, the drama focuses on Catherine’s passionate affair with general Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke), overcoming their adversaries to build Russia’s reputation as one of the great European powers of the 18th century.

In this DQTV video, writer Nigel Williams talks about how he first discovered the story of Catherine the Great and reuniting with Mirren after their 2005 Emmy-winning historical drama Elizabeth I.

He also discusses his adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, writing period dramas and his tips for aspiring writers.

Catherine the Great is produced by Origin Pictures and New Pictures for Sky Atlantic and HBO and distributed by NBCUniversal International Television Distribution.

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Michaud’s methods

Canadian series Victor Lessard is described as a fast-paced psychological thriller that tells the story of a determined detective on the hunt for the culprits of some unspeakable crimes.

The series comes from writer Martin Michaud, who has adapted his own crime novels to bring it to the screen.

In this DQTV interview, Michaud reveals more about the titular character, who isn’t afraid to break the law to capture those he suspects of wrongdoing.

He also talks about how he has been inspired by Swedish writer Henning Mankell, the author behind the Wallander series, and how Montreal becomes a character in Victor Lessard.

Michaud also discusses how he separates his roles as novelist and screenwriter, and the challenges that come having both roles.

Victor Lessard is produced by Pixcom Productions for Québecor Média and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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Six of the Best: Christina Jennings

The CEO of Canadian producer Shaftesbury (Departure, Murdoch Mysteries) picks some classic comedies alongside a star-filled mystery and a dystopian nightmare.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show
This series broke all sorts of ground when it was first launched in 1970. Imagine a show back then where the lead was a single (never married), working, 30-something woman and an openly gay character was part of the ensemble. At the time, Mary Tyler Moore was up against so many series that portrayed women as housewives. There was something so hopeful about the character of Mary – you knew somehow that she would find a way to make things better. Mary Tyler Moore led the way for so many others to follow – Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex & the City and Lena Dunham’s Hannah in Girls being just two examples.

Gilmore Girls
I watched this series after its initial airing, bingeing it over several months with my daughter. What an experience – mother and daughter both hooked on the same TV show. Its appeal to both older and younger demos was brilliant, making it the perfect co-view. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue is amazing, and the characters of Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) are so authentic and relatable. The series is timeless. The multi-generation family dynamics are very real. The small town is, in and of itself, an important element to the series’ success – a town where there were no murders and no one was abused or kidnapped. Then and now, it’s very successful counter-programming.

Revenge
Some might describe Revenge as a guilty pleasure, but it was such smart television with a fascinating female lead at the centre. The plotting was intricate and full of twists, and the series arc was very clear. The creators were able to keep all the balls in the air and the viewer never lost track of the story. There is no question Revenge was a soap, but part of its success was that it was played seriously with very strong acting. Several of the key actors – including star Emily VanCamp – were Canadian.

Big Little Lies
As I write, I have not watched season two yet. But season one was tremendous. It was very much event television and it seemed everyone I know was watching it all at the same time, especially women. It was appointment viewing. No one wanted to fall behind in the conversation around the show. Going into the series, I was already a fan of Liane Moriarty’s book. Jean-Marc Vallée was such an interesting choice as director and he directed it beautifully. David Kelly’s adaptation was also very smart. And the cast? Amazing.

The Handmaid’s Tale
I read Margaret Atwood’s book many years ago and I watched the movie directed by Volker Schlöndorff. It was good, but when I heard Hulu had commissioned the book as a 10-part series and Elisabeth Moss was going to play the lead, I couldn’t wait. It had been a long time since I literally rushed home to watch each episode of a series as it aired on television. Watching this series in the past couple of years has been chilling. How prescient was Atwood? The oppressive, misogynistic Gilead up against our current world politics is more chilling now than when she wrote the book in 1985. It was so interesting to watch this series with my 19-year-old daughter, who had not read the book but could see the frightening parallels between fiction and reality. The casting, the look, the writing – everything is first class.

Chernobyl
Everyone I knew was talking about this show, so I had to watch it. And it was indeed amazing television. I lived during the time of this horrific event. I had seen the photos of the abandoned town of Pripyat, which has literally been consumed by nature. But that was all I knew. In watching Chernobyl (also pictured top), I was truly gripped by the telling of what happened the night of the nuclear disaster and the story of the people who had to deal with the explosion and its aftermath. The emotion was huge. I was fascinated by what had happened that night to cause such a disaster. The writing, the direction and the acting were all excellent. The art direction was spectacular in the recreation of the place.

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Simple Pleasures

Eastern European crime drama The Pleasure Principle opens with the murder of three young women in three different cities — Odessa, Warsaw and Prague.

As three separate police investigations begin, it soon becomes clear the murders are linked, leading Ukrainian militia captain Serhij, Polish superintendent Maria and experienced Czech detective Viktor to work together to find the serial killer.

In this DQTV interview, series director Dariusz Jablonski talks about making one of the first high-end dramas in the region, working with local talent and crew in each of the three countries.

He also discusses his directorial style and the challenge of ensuring continuity throughout the shoot.

The Pleasure Principle is produced by Apple Film Production for Canal+ Poland, Czech TV and Star Media in Ukraine, with Germany’s Beta Film distributing.

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Making a Murderer

Described as a contemporary remake of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M, one of cinema’s all-time classics, Austrian drama M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M – A City Hunts A Murderer) sees people from across society become embroiled in the hunt for a child killer.

In this DQTV interview, writer/director David Schalko and producer John Lueftner reveal their ambitions behind turning Lang’s movie into a six-part series and how it has been updated to reflect modern society.

They also discuss the writing process and overseeing production of a series featuring 130 characters.

Set and filmed in Vienna, M – A City Hunts A Murderer is produced by Superfilm for Austria’s ORF and RTL’s TV Now in Germany, and distributed by Beta Film.

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Butcher’s cut

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, The Master Butchers Singing Club follows German butcher Fidelis Waldvogel as he starts a new life with his wife and child in Argus, North Dakota, where he sets up shop and founds a singing club that becomes the epicentre of the local émigré community.

In this DQTV interview, star Jonas Nay (Deutschland 83/86) and producer Sarah Kirkegaard talk about how the miniseries has been adapted from Louise Erdrich’s novel and why it speaks to one of the most important issues in modern society.

Nay also discusses the casting process and how he tackled Fidelis’s Southern German dialect.

The Master Butchers Singing Club is produced by Moovie, Constantin Television, SWR and ARD Degeto for Das Erste, and distributed by Global Screen.

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Taming Savages

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.

Director Rebecca Zlotowski on the Savages set

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.

Sabri Louatah

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.

The villainous Nazir in the show’s pivotal wedding scene

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.

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Artistic masterpiece

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.

Femke Wolting

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.

Undone’s unusual look is achieved with rotoscoped 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.

Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk is among the main cast

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.

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Murder in the family

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.

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Wild side

Spanish-language drama Wild District tells the story of a man who, raised as a guerrilla fighter in the Colombian jungle, escapes to Bogotá to start a new life with his estranged son.

However, he faces a new struggle to protect his family when he is tasked to go undercover and infiltrate a dangerous criminal organisation.

In this DQTV interview, series creator Cristian Conti talks more about the story at the heart of the Netflix series and how the action drama plays out over two seasons.

He also talks about the rise of non-English-language drama.

Wild District is produced by Dynamo for Netflix and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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Point of no return

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.

Prisoner No 1 executive producer Marcel Ferrer

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.

Erik Hayser as Carmelo Alvarado

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.

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