All posts by DQ

Talking Valk

Comprising three feature-length dramas, Van Der Valk follows detective Piet Van der Valk in and around the city of Amsterdam as he investigates a series of high-profile cases.

Filmed entirely on location in the Dutch capital, Van Der Valk stars Marc Warren in the title role alongside Maimie McCoy, Luke Allen-Gale, Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Darrell D’Silva and Emma Fielding.

The series is based on the books by Nicholas Freeling and comes after previous TV adaptations in the 1970s and 90s.

In this DQTV interview, Warren (Mad Dogs, Safe) and writer Chris Murray (Lewis, Midsomer Murders) reveal the origins of this contemporary reboot, Warren’s approach to the role and how they wanted to characterise the location.

Van Der Valk is produced by Company Pictures and NL Film for ITV, ARD and Masterpiece, with All3Media International distributing.

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Six of the Best: Noel Hedges

The executive VP of acquisitions at producer/distributor Entertainment One selects a mixture of historical dramas, US series and a classic workplace comedy.

This Life
A game-changer for TV for a young audience. I remember watching this religiously in my last year of university and, as a crystal ball of the working life to come, it couldn’t have made me more excited: ‘Oh my god! We’re all going to be hanging around London with tough but important jobs, and following dreams of being artists or chefs, drinking and discovering ourselves in Clerkenwell!’ In reality, I went back to live with my parents upon graduating and worked in Manchester. But the dream’s still alive.

The Jewel in the Crown
In the era of high-end TV, many people forget it’s not a new thing. Granada was doing it back in the 1980s. I still watch this series now for its fascinating historical detail, the locations and the depth and richness of the script and characters – it really transports you into this world. While to modern tastes it might be the epitome of posho British drama, it’s a brilliant series on a scale that we think is only done today. In so many ways, this was a real ballsy adaptation of a heavy set of novels that paid off in spades.

What exactly was this about again? Were they dead or not? I just loved the turns this series took. That it could go anywhere, and mostly did, really appealed to me and created a fantasy that felt grounded but really, really wasn’t. The polar bear, the underground bunker, the timer, the smoke monster – it became all so crazy but happened at a pace that drew you in and then you’d have these lovely emotional moments with characters you really cared about. It was a series that took the viewer on an adventure, all over the world. Maybe they were just making it up day by day but, by the end, it worked for me.

I loved the way this series crept up on you and ended up a dark, cynical, abusive and addictive joy (like the people in the show). I haven’t revelled in a series this much in a long time. We binge on so much, we tell people what we’ve watched in the hope of keeping relevant, but it’s seldom we actually stop and discuss details on character, motivation, dramatic tension or dialogue. But we were rushing to talk about what/how/why happened in Succession (also pictured top). It wasn’t even action that shocked, but a sly look or a death-sentence line. There is so much to devour in this series.

The Lost Prince
I’m a sucker for anything about this period of British history, the beginning of the end of the age of deference before and after the First World War. Through a seldom-told story of the royal family, Stephen Poliakoff gave us a lesson on the end of empires and a truly heartbreaking depiction of an emotionally repressed family. Poliakoff runs hot and cold for me, but this story perfectly fitted his almost impressionist, stylised storytelling. It’s hugely inspiring for me in terms how to approach period drama and I defy anyone not to be crying at the end.

The IT Crowd
I didn’t even watch this when it was first on, but it’s now my go-to comedy whenever I’m travelling, permanently downloaded and forever re-watched. What I love is the absolute conviction of the performances versus the total surreal ridiculousness of events (Street Countdown? A fire… at a sea park?). I’ve never really thought about why I like it, so even writing this feels a bit wrong; it just makes me laugh out loud, over and over. And if a comedy can do that, it’s clearly found it’s groove. Comedy is like your own secret pleasure. You like it, so stuff anyone who doesn’t!

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Ones to Watch: Directors

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 directors to tune in for, from Steve McQueen (Small Axe) to Mira Nair (A Suitable Boy) and Tobias Lindholm (The Investigation).

20. Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir
In her native Iceland, Magnúsdóttir is a triple threat, known for her work as an actor, writer and director. With a 20-year career on screen, largely in feature films, she has written on series such as Stella Blómkvist. Last year, Magnúsdóttir wrote, directed and starred in Happily Never After, in which she plays a marriage counsellor who discovers her husband has been unfaithful.
Next up, she is co-directing The Minister, an Icelandic political drama that follows an unconventional politician who rises to become prime minister while hiding a mental health condition that will threaten the stability of his government.

19. Lenny Abrahamson
Nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 feature Room, Abrahamson was a key driving force behind one of the hit series of the year so far, BBC and Hulu drama Normal People (pictured top). Working alongside writer Sally Rooney and the team at Element Pictures, Abrahamson joined the development process from an early stage, helping to translate the sensibility and tone of Rooney’s novel to the screen. The plot follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Dublin’s Trinity College.
The series was released to no shortage of acclaim, and Abrahamson will be hoping lightning strikes twice when he and Element reunite with Rooney, the BBC and Hulu to bring her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, to television.

18. Claire McCarthy
McCarthy is currently lighting up Sunday nights on BBC1 with The Luminaries, a sumptuous period drama set in 1860s New Zealand at the height of the gold rush. Based on Eleanor Catton’s Booker prize-winning novel, it stars Eva Green, Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel in what is described as an epic story of love, murder and revenge, filmed against New Zealand’s stunning landscapes and a wholly realised frontier town set.
McCarthy’s previous credits include a number of short films, and she is also a writer and producer. Last year it was announced that McCarthy will be the lead director of forthcoming Sky Italia series Domina, which chronicles the power struggles of Ancient Rome from the perspective of women, in particular Livia Drusilla, who went on to become the most powerful woman in the world.

17. Tom Shankland
Shankland’s extensive CV includes such TV shows as Les Misérables, The City & The City, The Punisher, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, House of Cards, The Missing and Ripper Street. He now leads off eight-part BBC and Netflix drama The Serpent, which tells the remarkable story of how murderer Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) was captured.
As the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide to become Interpol’s most wanted man, with arrest warrants on three different continents. Jenna Coleman, Ellie Bamber and Billy Howle also star in the series, which was filmed on location in Thailand.

16. Andrew Haigh
The director of films such as Weekend, the Academy Award-nominated 45 Years and Lean on Pete, Haigh has also directed episodes of TV series including Looking and The OA. The North Water sees him take charge of an adaptation of Ian McGuire’s novel of the same name, which Haigh himself has reimagined for the screen.
The five-part thriller is set in the late 1850s and follows a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up to become the ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. The all-star cast boasts Colin Farrell, Jack O’Connell, Stephen Graham, Tom Courtenay and Peter Mullan.

15. Jorge Dorado
As the director of Spanish drama The Head, Dorado takes viewers inside a claustrophobic, time-hopping horror thriller set deep in the isolated, frozen wilderness of Antarctica. Filmed inside a studio and on an oil rig in Tenerife, as well as on the ice-covered landscapes of Iceland, the series begins as the summer crew of scientific research station Polaris VI depart, leaving 10 people to continue working through the long, dark winter. But six months later, the summer crew return to find seven dead bodies, two people missing and just one survivor – who may be a murderer.

14. Michaela Coel
Having dazzled audiences with her performances in The Aliens, Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising, Bafta winner Coel is also well known as a creative force off screen. She created, wrote and starred in breakout comedy Chewing Gum, and repeats the act in I May Destroy You, which is currently airing on the BBC and HBO.
She also co-directs I May Destroy You with Sam Miller (Rellik, Luther), helping to give the show its fly-on-the-wall style as viewers follow Coel’s character, burgeoning writer Arabella. The series is described as a fearless, frank and provocative series that explores the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how the distinction between liberation and exploitation is made.

13. Mikael Marcimain
Swedish director Marcimain’s last TV show, Danish miniseries Liberty, was set in Tanzania in the late 1980s and followed a group of Scandinavian expats as they struggle to adapt to a new culture, exploring what happens when the idealism that brought them to Africa turns to corruption, lies and deceit.
He returns to the period for his next project, Jakten på en mördare (The Hunt for a Killer), a true crime drama focusing on the murder of 10-year-old Helen Nilsson in southern Sweden in March 1989. The series follows the journey of two police officers who lead an investigation into Helen’s death and, against all odds, find her killer.

12. Isabel Coixet
Spain’s Goya Awards are its equivalent of the Oscars, celebrating the best in film. So with seven Goyas to her name, it’s not an overstatement to describe Coixet as one of the country’s leading filmmakers. Now she has turned her attention to television by writing and directing HBO Europe’s eight-part series Foodie Love.
Launching in the US this month following its release across Europe, it follows two 30-somethings after they meet on a foodie mobile dating app and then embark on a gastronomic journey, learning about each other through the mediums of jamón, ramen and fine dining from around the world.

(photo: Assafshuster)

11. Daniel Syrkin
Russian-born Syrkin grew up in Israel, where he has established a directing career with credits including film Out of Sight (earning him the Israeli Academy Award for best director) and TV dramas The Gordin Cell, Mossad 101 and miniseries Stockholm.
His next directing project is Tehran, an Israeli espionage thriller from Fauda writer Moshe Zonder, which tells the story of a a Mossad agent who goes deep undercover on a dangerous mission in Tehran, placing her and everyone around her in jeopardy. The series will air on Israel’s Kan 11 and was recently acquired for worldwide release by Apple TV+.

10. Eduard Cortés
Spanish director Cortes has screen credits stretching back over 30 years, with recent TV work including Merlí, Ángel o demonio and Hay alguoien ahí. He is now helming what is described as the most expensive Spanish series to date, Diem Quien Soy (Tell Me Who I Am).
Taking viewers back through the 20th century and some of its most important historical events, from the country’s civil war and the Second World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the show is based on Julia Navarro’s novel. It follows these events through the eyes of Amelia Garayoa (Irene Escolar), a woman trapped by contradictions, who will make mistakes for which she may never quite finish paying. Moved by her ideals, she is able to leave her life behind to fight for freedom. Filming on the Movistar+ drama took place in more than 300 locations and featured over 3,000 extras.

(photo: WME)

9. Karena Evans
As an actor, Canadian Evans has appeared in series such as Mary Kills People. As an award-winning director, she has shot music videos for Drake and Coldplay, while also building a TV slate including Swipe Night and Snowfall. Now, she is the pilot director for upcoming Starz drama P-Valley.
Based on showrunner Katori Hall’s stage play, the story unfolds deep in the Mississippi Delta, home to a little-strip-club-that-could and the big characters who come through its doors – the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned.

8. Yann Demange
French director Demange has shot episodes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Dead Set, Criminal Justice and Top Boy. His next project, Lovecraft Country, takes him to the US for a story that blends real-life racism with the terrifying monsters ripped straight from the horror stories created by novelist HP Lovecraft.
Demange directs the first episode of the HBO series, which is based on Matt Ruff’s novel. Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his uncle George (Courtney B Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael K Williams).

7. Eva Husson
Husson directs the first three episodes in the second season of Amazon Prime Video’s returning thriller Hanna. The standout scene from those opening instalments comes in episode two, when Hanna seeks information about a company involved in training young girls as elite killers. Volunteering for a drug trial, Hanna takes a dangerous trip, with memories of her isolated life coming back to haunt her in mesmerising style.
French director and writer Husson has also directed films Girls of the Sun and Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story).

6. Tobias Lindholm
Lindholm, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of films A Hijacking, A War and The Hunt and TV drama Mindhunter, is behind six-part crime drama The Investigation. The series explores the aftermath of the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, focusing on Copenhagen Police and its head of homicide Jens Møller and how the department’s methodical, unusual and technical work led them to solving the murder.
The series is produced for TV2 Denmark, Sweden’s SVT and Nordic streamer Viaplay, with the BBC also picking it up. Lindholm has also worked on Danish dramas Follow the Money and Borgen.

5. Lucia Puenzo
Writer/director Puenzo made her directing debut with 2007 feature XXY, which she also wrote. She is now lead director and showrunner of Chilean drama La Jauría (The Pack), which is set to become one of Amazon’s first Latin American original series.
The story concerns the disappearance of a young girl who unwittingly becomes the centre of a police investigation. The girl’s disappearance exposes a deadly online game that recruits men to commit acts of aggression toward women, brought to light when a video of her assault goes viral.

4. Anthony Hemingway
Since making his directorial debut with an episode of Justice in 2006, US director Hemingway has helmed episodes of series including Power, Underground, American Crime Story, Treme and The Wire.
His latest challenge was to bring the story of Aretha Franklin to TV in the third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Genius. Set to premiere later this year, the series sees Cynthia Erivo in the title role as the drama chronicles Franklin’s rise from young gospel singer to the Queen of Soul. Hemingway is the producing director on the series, working alongside showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks.

3. Mira Nair
Internationally acclaimed director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) is behind the BBC’s forthcoming adaptation of Vikram Seth novel A Suitable Boy, marking the first time she has directed television.
Across six episodes, the story follows university student Lata (Tanya Maniktala), who is coming of age in North India in 1951 at the same time as the country is carving out its own identity as an independent nation. Lata’s mother is determined to find her a husband – a suitable boy – but Lata, torn between family duty and the excitement of romance, embarks on her own epic journey of love and self-discovery.

2. Stacie Passon
Passon’s credits include Transparent, The Path, Billions, House of Cards and American Gods. For her next project, Passon is directing Sky drama Little Birds. The series transports viewers back to 1950s Tangier, which serves as the bright and bold backdrop to the story of a New York heiress who becomes intoxicated by the vibrancy of this international melting pot. Not your average period drama, Little Birds is based on the erotic vignettes of Anais Nin.

1. Steve McQueen
Best known for his Oscar-winning 2013 feature film 12 Years a Slave, McQueen comes to TV with his forthcoming series Small Axe. An anthology of five films, Small Axe was created and directed by McQueen, with each entry telling a personal story about London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
Described by BBC director of content Charlotte Moore as “an extraordinary and visceral piece of work,” two of the films – Mangrove and Lovers Rock – have been produced as feature-length films and were selected for the 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen also co-wrote them with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland, respectively. The three other films are called Alec Wheatle, Education and Red, White & Blue.

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In the Shadows

Written by mother-and-daughter team Kirsti Manninen and Katri Manninen, Shadow Lines is a period spy thriller that transports viewers to 1950s Helsinki, the hottest spot in the Cold War, where CIA and KGB agents vie for control of Finland.

Helena, a student freshly returned from the US, is recruited by her godfather to join a top-secret Finnish task force in its ongoing missions: preventing the two global powerhouses meddling in the presidential election and keeping their homeland independent.

But as she begins to discover the truth about her past, Helena’s personal and professional lives collide. With long-kept secrets and political agendas coming to a head, the team must overcome lies and distrust if they have any chance of succeeding.

Directed by AJ Annila and Alli Haapasalo, the 10-part first season of the mixed-language (Finnish/English/Russian) series was first broadcast in October 2019. A second season is now in development, while the series has recently been picked up by international broadcasters including Sundance Now in the US, Canada and UK; SBS in Australia; Viasat World’s Epic Drama Channel across Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics and CIS; RTP2 in Portugal; Proximus in Belgium; AMC’s Sundance TV in Spain; and RTS and UPC in Switzerland.

In this DQTV interview, actors Emmi Parviainen (Helena) and Olavi Uusivirta (Julius) introduce their characters and the setting of the story, and reveal how the writers have blended fact and fiction.

They also talk about what makes the series visually ambitious and outline some of the challenges they faced, from boxing training and learning Russian to playing the piano.

Shadow Lines is produced by Zodiak Finland for Finnish streaming service Elisa Viidhe and distributed by APC. A second season is in development.

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Running the show

Showrunners from some of the biggest dramas in the US come together to discuss their approach to the demanding role, how the industry is changing and how they seek to reflect current events and culture in their work.

While the role of the showrunner in television drama is spreading around the world as writers become more involved in the production side of making series, it is a title that still remains synonymous with the US industry.

Writers, creators, directors, producers, problem solvers – showrunners take the lead on all aspects of the series they are working on, making decisions on both the creative and business sides.

During the recent digital edition of Canada’s BANFF World Media Festival, six showrunners came together to share their experiences of working on series including Pose, Unorthodox, The Morning Show, Vida, Dead to Me and Little Fires Everywhere.

Showrunning means wearing a lot of hats…

Kerry Ehrin, showrunner and executive producer of AppleTV+’s The Morning Show: When I started showrunning, I remember texting Jason Katims, who I had worked with previously as a producer on Friday Night Lights, and he said, ‘Showrunning is basically like you live on an island by yourself. But no one comes to visit you except to complain.’
That’s my emotional definition of showrunning. It’s a creative management job. You have to wear two hats: you have to be able to access these incredibly vulnerable parts of yourself on cue, because there’s a schedule to keep up with; and you also have to be able to step away from that and be incredibly analytical and managerial. But essentially it’s a management job that also requires you to be incredibly creative.

Tanya Saracho, creator, showrunner and executive producer of Starz series Vida: I directed half of this [third] season and it just supported the showrunner job. I got told in the first year by an executive that I was responsible for every frame that I delivered. I took that really seriously. I never left set. It just stayed in my mind, so the directing part was just natural. And there was no middle woman to have to convince and pitch to.
It was faster, but it also allowed me to be in control and deliver every frame and just be responsible for that. Basically, you’re responsible for everything as a showrunner.

Steven Canals, co-creator and executive producer of FX’s Pose: When I think of showrunning or the showrunner, the first word that comes to mind is ‘visionary.’ What’s so important is that, as a showrunner, you’ve convinced a network and a studio that you have the goods to take this project across the finish line.
At every point, you always have to have that vision at the forefront [of your mind] and be able to clearly articulate that to all the individuals who are collaborating with you to help you get that project across the finish line.
The first season, I made a very concerted effort to be focused on the success of the series because we’ve never seen black and brown queer and trans people on television in this way before. Like most individuals from historically marginalised communities, whether you’re a person of colour or LGBTQ or a woman, you think if this show isn’t successful then you are somehow closing the door, at least in the eyes of all the gatekeepers in our industry, from all the other queer people of colour who have stories to tell as well.

Showrunners learn on the job…

Liz Feldman, creator, showrunner and executive producer of Netflix show Dead to Me (pictured top): Nobody just has the skills and the knowledge to be a showrunner. It’s 11 jobs in one – you learn as you go. First I gained the confidence to be the head writer, to be the person in the room who is being the arbiter of the tone. Then you learn how to be that shepherd on set. It is your vision and you have to keep to that steadfast.
I’ve made mistakes; I learned as I went. But for the most part, I don’t think, ‘I’m a woman in this job’ or ‘I’m a gay woman in this job.’ Somebody thought I could do this, and that somebody was me first. As long as I fake it until I make it, I’m going to keep trying. And it’s OK if sometimes I fail, as long as I get back up and lead with kindness and do my best.

Liz Tigelaar, showrunner, Little Fires Everywhere: I’ve had a lot of mentors. Sometimes a mentor was someone pulling me aside and being like, ‘You have to stop pitching the same thing three times.’ Sometimes it was in the form of tough love, sometimes it was in the form of a lot of compassion and support. Sometimes it was just in the form of hiring me again and again and having faith in me.
The first time I was a showrunner was on a show called Life Unexpected. I remember standing in the room, looking at the writers, staring at the board and being like, ‘Who’s gonna figure this out?’ I always think, ‘You invited everyone to this party – you better have a lot of food and drinks to serve.’ You’ve got to be ready to host.

Make your show with people who come from the community you’re representing…

Anna Winger, creator and executive producer of Netflix’s Unorthodox: It takes a village to make a TV show, and [as showrunner] you’re the mayor of the village. That’s how it feels to me. There are all these incredibly talented people working with me but, in the end, I’m in charge of delivering the show.
I make another show [trilogy Deutschland 83, 86 and 89] and I’ve never showrun a show that I wasn’t the creator of. In both cases, they are about very specific things, and most of the actors were from the community [the show is about]. I was working really intensely with people and really listening to people who knew more than I did about all kinds of details. I’m driven by a lot of curiosity, so part of the pleasure was to work with this amazing village of people.

Saracho: I’d only been here [in Hollywood] for three years and then I got this show, so I didn’t know you didn’t do a lot of stuff, like hire all Latinx writers. That made sense to me. But the first person we hired was my Latina casting director.
I need truth in everything, in every aspect of the story. The most important aspect is the cast, and that’s where you start. None of my actors are very experienced. We cast the net wide, especially for the queer characters in my show. You have to cast a net to the communities and really engage with the community you’re trying to represent.
The DNA of who made this was so important – the writers were all queer Latinas, especially in the last two years. The directors were Latina. It matters not just because you have skin in the game but because we keep each other honest. That was the key – stories about us, by us. That made the difference.

Jennifer Aniston (left) and Reese Witherspoon in The Morning Show

Series should reflect the times in which they are made…

Ehrin: Nina Simone famously said, ‘How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?’ That’s a given. People who do what we do, who are creative, we’re like a vessel that just takes stuff in, repurposes it and puts it back out as something creative.
There’s no doubt all of this [Covid-19, the death of George Floyd] is going to impact everything we all do. I’ve never lived in a year like this . It’s a huge year and important, scary, emotionally moving things are happening. Of course that’s going to enter all of our work.

Canals: The best art, the best work always reflects our humanity and is culturally relevant. Shows that specifically address issues around race, class, gender, sexual orientation and religion are important. I certainly always hope to accomplish this in my own work. There’s a way for us to find that intersection between education and entertainment.
I hope all the other showrunners out there, and certainly anyone who’s up and coming, will continue to keep their finger on the pulse of what the conversations are that need to be happening right now and allow that to fuel the work.
That said, I don’t know if all the work we create has to directly address what’s happening. My hope is that we don’t come out of this and then suddenly find that networks are flooded with shows about global pandemics. That’s not necessarily what we’re saying. But what are the ways within your work that you can address issues in a way that isn’t necessarily thumping your audience over the head with that message? We try to accomplish that, for example, in Pose, where we’re telling a very honest story about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Liz Feldman says her Netflix series Dead to Me came ‘from a very personal place’

Personal stories are universal stories…

Feldman: I created Dead to Me from a very personal place. It’s not an autobiographical story, but I honed in on very specific feelings that I was working through, and the way I do that as an artist is through writing.
Sometimes when we hone in on the most personal feelings, they tend to be incredibly universal. I intentionally keep the show slightly evergreen in terms of it not being a ‘ripped from the headlines’ kind of show – you’re not going to see Covid on the show. I don’t think anybody watches Dead to Me to see exactly what’s going on in that cultural or socio-political moment.
However, in this second season, I was really affected, as were all of the women in the writers room – and my writers room is all women except for one token guy – by the [cases of] child separation at the [US/Mexico] border. We wanted to tell a story about motherhood and what happens when you separate a child from their mother. Those are the kind of stories we’re going to continue to tell. In time, we probably will want to see specific stories about this moment of reckoning, upheaval and uprising for black and racial justice in this country. I think it’s our responsibility to hone into how we feel.

Winger: One of the pleasures of the way we work and of writers rooms is the collective conversation. I got into this late in life and I’m in it for the writers room. I love the conversation, I love the collaboration with other people – to have the privilege of being able to discuss what’s happening in the world through the filter of your work. How lucky are we to be able to make those projects and for them to reach the world?

Tigelaar: Little Fires Everywhere is the longest eight episodes of television I’ve ever made. It’s taken four-and-a-half years, so these conversations, societally and culturally, we’re having right now, I was fortunate enough to be having two years ago.
It’s not like you’re necessarily trying to be relevant. You can’t help but infuse everything that you personally are grappling with and seeing and trying to digest and process. That is going to come into the story. Then when you sit in a room with seven other people, you get what they’re grappling with, what they’re digesting and processing, and that’s where this beautiful work gets to intersect and happen.

Unorthodox, created and showrun by Deutschland 83’s Anna Winger

Leadership positions in television are becoming more inclusive and diverse…

Winger: Any of us who has the position to choose who’s hired, you’d better believe we’re thinking about inclusion. It’s not just about us being the leaders, it’s also about the next generation of people coming up working with us.
At the beginning, I was the only woman in the room. Now, it’s not just a question of women, it’s a question of everything, including people of colour and people of different sexual orientation and different identity. It’s changing in great ways.

Feldman: In my first job 25 years ago in a writers room, I was the only woman, and they had to hire a woman – it was a mandate. That was the only reason I was hired in the first place. Now I’m the woman who hires all the people in the room.
I’ve experienced the evolution and the progression of what happens when a woman is in charge, especially dealing with men and CIS men – you can pick up a vibe pretty quickly if they’re going to be able to handle having a female showrunner and boss. You just end up hiring people you feel that mutual respect for.

Canals: From a male perspective, what’s really important for men to acknowledge is that we all participate in a system that obviously privileges men and disadvantages women. So it is essential to think about the ways you work within the system and continue to benefit from it. Hopefully then, as a result, you’ll start to make certain choices on the projects that you’re working on, whether it’s hiring women – not because you feel like you need a token woman voice in your room, but because it’s important to have lots of different types of opinions and perspectives in a writers room – or, in the case of Pose, having a show that has a black trans woman as the centre of that narrative, or thinking about hiring practices and having female heads of departments.
The expectation is that women are going to be the ones to solve the problem, as if men are somehow removed from the conversation. It’s important that we participate, are absolutely part of creating this culture and are part of the solution as well.

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Series to Watch: July 2020

DQ checks out the upcoming schedules to pick out 10 new dramas to watch this July, from a Japanese horror to an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World.

Ju-On: Origins
From: Japan
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yuina Kuroshima, Ririka, Koki Osamura, Seiko Iwaido, Kai Inowaki, Tei Ryushin, Yuya Matsuura, Kaho Tsuchimura, Tokio Emoto, Nobuko Sendo, Kana Kurashina
Air date: July 3
This six-part series marks Netflix Japan’s first ever horror. Ju-On: Origins focuses on the true events that inspired the legendary film franchise (remade in the US as The Grudge), the beginning of the curse and the terror that befalls those who come into contact with it.

Hanna (S2)
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Esmé Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Dermot Mulroney
Air date: July 3
Based on the 2011 film of the same name, Hanna centres on a young woman who develops unparalleled skills and training during her isolated upbringing. Following her discovery at the end of season one, Hanna now knows she is not alone: the Utrax programme has produced a whole contingent of highly trained teenagers whose development is about to reach the lethal ‘second phase.’

Little Voice
From: US
Original broadcaster: AppleTV+
Starring: Brittany O’Grady, Sean Teale, Colton Ryan, Shalini Bathina, Kevin Valdez, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Chuck Cooper
Air date: July 10
From executive producers JJ Abrams, Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson, Little Voice is described as a love letter to the diverse musicality of New York. It follows Bess King (O’Grady), a uniquely talented performer struggling to fulfil her dreams while navigating rejection, love and complicated family issues. The coming-of-age drama features original music by Grammy and Tony Award nominee Bareilles.

From: US
Original broadcaster: Starz
Starring: Brandee Evans, Nicco Annan, Shannon Thornton, Elarica Johnson
Air date: July 12
Adapted by showrunner Katori Hall from her own stage play, P-Valley transports viewers to the Mississippi Delta to tell the story of a little-strip-club-that-could and the big characters who come through its doors – the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned. Trap music meets film noir in this lyrical and atmospheric series that asks what happens when small-town folk dream beyond the boundaries of the Piggly Wiggly and the pawnshop.

Brave New World
From: US
Original broadcaster: Peacock
Starring: Harry Lloyd, Jessica Brown Findlay, Alden Ehrenreich, Hannah John-Kamen, Kylie Bunbury, Sen Mitsuji, Demi Moore
Air date: July 15
Based on Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World imagines a utopian society that has achieved peace and stability through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, family, and history itself. As citizens of New London, Bernard Marx (Lloyd) and Lenina Crowne (Brown Findlay) embark on a vacation to the Savage Lands, where they become embroiled in a harrowing and violent rebellion. Rescued by John the Savage (Ehrenreich), they escape back to New London, where John’s arrival soon threatens to disrupt utopian harmony, leaving Bernard and Lenina to grapple with the repercussions.

From: US
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Daniel Sharman, Sebastian Armesto, Matt Stokoe, Lily Newmark, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Emily Coates, Billy Jenkins, Bella Dayne and Peter Mullan.
Air date: July 17
This reimagining of the Arthurian legend is based on book by executive producers Tom Wheeler (The Cape) and Frank Miller (Sin City), which tells the story through the eyes of Nimue (13 Reasons Why’s Langford, pictured top), a young woman with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the powerful (and tragic) Lady of the Lake. After her mother’s death, Nimue finds an unexpected partner in Arthur, a humble mercenary, in a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness
From: US
Original broadcaster: TNT
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans
Air date: July 19
Based on Caleb Carr’s novel, this follow-up to 2018’s The Alienist reunites ‘alienist’ Dr Laszlo Kreizler (Brühl), newspaper illustrator John Moore (Evans) and secretary-turned-detective Sara Howard (Fanning). Sara has now opened her own private detective agency and is leading the charge on a new case to find Ana Linares, the kidnapped infant daughter of the Spanish Consular. Their investigation leads them down a sinister path of murder and deceit, heading towards a dangerous and elusive killer.

From: Germany
Original broadcaster: ZDF
Starring: Emily Kusche, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Alexander Scheer, Roland Møller, Laura Tonke, Annika Kuhl, Adrian Grünewald, Urs Rechn, Marc Benjamin, Tim Bülow, Linda Stockfleth
Air date: July 23
From Christian Alvart, the creator of Netflix series Dogs of Berlin, this topical series mixes coming-of-age drama with pandemic thriller to tell the story of a group of islanders fighting, falling, loving and hating, all while being confronted with a fatal virus.

A Suitable Boy
From: UK
Original broadcaster: BBC
Starring: Ishaan Khatter, Tabu, Tanya Maniktala
Air date: July TBC
Andrew Davies (War & Peace) adapts Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name, telling the story of spirited university student Lata (Maniktala), who is growing up in North India in 1951 at the same time as the country is carving out its own identity as an independent nation. Lata’s mother is determined to find her a husband but, torn between family duty and the excitement of romance, Lata embarks on her own, epic journey of love and self-discovery.

Between Two Worlds
From: Australia
Original broadcaster: Seven Network
Starring: Phillip Quast, Hermione Norris, Sara Wiseman, Aaron Jeffrey, Tom Dalzell, Melanie Jarnson, Megan Hajjar
Air date: July TBC
Business tycoon Phillip Walford (Quast) enjoys a tempestuous marriage with wife Cate (Norris) in this melodrama. Through a twist of fate, their dark and murky relationship collides with the seemingly disconnected world of a widow and her children, leading to the exposure of destructive secrets in a series where nothing is as it seems.

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Ego trip

Named best TV fiction production at Austria’s Romy awards in May, Freud takes viewers into gothic 1890s Vienna where a young Sigmund Freud, eager to make his name as a progressive psychoanalyst, joins a psychic and an inspector to solve a string of bloody mysteries.

In this DQTV interview, showrunner Marvin Kren and executive producer Moritz Polter introduce the German-language series and reveal how Freud, trying to write his own history, confronts a dark conspiracy that will influence the entire Hapsburg Empire.

They discuss how they dramatised the real-life figure, who was a brave and revolutionary thinker but also someone who had a dark side and was addicted to cocaine. Kren and Polter also talk about the challenge of representing Freud’s theories through the eight-part drama without diving into detailed explanations, and discuss casting Robert Finster in the lead role.

Frued is produced by Bavaria Fiction and Satel Film for Austrian broadcaster ORF and Netflix.

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Rewind: Maja Salvador

Award-winning Filipina actor Maja Salvador looks back on making four seasons of revenge drama Wildflower, which aired for more than 250 episodes on ABS-CBN in the Philippines between 2017 and 2018.

In a celebration of the finest drama series produced across Asia over the last five years, Maja Salvador was named best actress at the first Asia Content Awards in October 2019.

The ceremony, held in South Korea’s Busan, showcased series from across Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia, among many others.

Salvador won her first best actress award at the event for playing the lead character in Wildflower, a Philippine TV series that ran for four seasons on ABS-CBN from 2017 to 2018.

Set in a small town ruled by a political family, the series follows Lily Cruz (Salvador) as she takes on a new identity to seek vengeance for her parents’ deaths. Now known as Ivy Aguas, she orchestrates a plan that is made complicated by romance and a family that will do whatever it takes to stay in power.

The series has also aired overseas, including in Madagascar and French-speaking New Caledonia, Polynesia and Réunion. Here, Salvador looks back on making the show, carrying a character over 250 episodes and dangling from a helicopter.

Maja Salvador played the  lead character in Wildflower for four seasons

Introduce us to the story of Wildflower.
Wildflower revolves around Lily Cruz/Ivy Aguas, a feisty and smart woman thirsty for justice because of the murder of her father and assault on her mother. Lily/Ivy wants to exact revenge against the Ardiente clan, the powerful political dynasty behind her family’s fate.

How would you describe your character?
She’s wild – everything that Lily Cruz and her alter ego do is extreme. Her ideas about exacting revenge are out of this world.

How does she evolve over the four seasons?
In season one, viewers saw her journey and struggles since she was young, including the death of a family member and how she was almost raped. Viewers also witnessed how she got out of that misery when someone took her in and cared for her. A lot of things happened in her life and so, because of pain, anger and love, my character wanted revenge.

How did you land the part?
It wasn’t originally meant for me, but ABS-CBN’s RSB Unit [a unit in the entertainment production division] called and said they wanted to pitch a story to me. So I met with them and, after they pitched, I said yes to the project because I found the story very interesting. It was my first time doing a TV series that was intensely wild because of the character I played. Wildflower just had everything, from fiery confrontations to explosive action.
Why were you attracted to the role?
The story was a huge factor because it was just riveting. Also, I felt that it was something fresh that hadn’t been done in the Philippines before.

Salvador with her best actress gong at the Asia Content Awards

What were the biggest challenges you faced?
The action scenes were really challenging. As much as possible, I try to do my own stunts when I’m confident that I can execute them. I did a scene in Wildflower where I had to dangle from a helicopter and it went viral online because it hooked audiences.
Another challenge was how my character ‘attacked’ scenes, and how to ensure she gripped viewers until the season finale.

Wildflower filmed more than 250 episodes – how did you find the schedule?
My handler and the management made sure my schedule was achievable. Whenever I do a TV series, the bulk of my time is dedicated to it because we shoot almost every day, so during that time, my priority was Wildflower. I didn’t do any other projects.

Why do you think Wildflower also appealed to foreign audiences?
It all boils down to the story and how my character embodied the empowered woman. I’ve encountered feedback from foreign viewers who said they felt like Ivy Aguas/Lily Cruz was their alter ego. They looked up to her because she was fearless and strong.

How do you look back on your time making the series?
The big scenes that had explosive revelations were really memorable. I always felt excited when my character had scenes that were pivotal in her development, because that required me to display emotions that I had never felt in real life, since I haven’t experienced most of the struggles that Ivy Aguas/Lily Cruz had.

What kind of roles appeal to you?
I’m open to playing any role, but what I look for is the character’s depth and personality. I’m captivated when a character’s personal struggles make the role complex and fuel and engrossing story.

What are you working on now?
I get movie offers but I’m working on an ABS-CBN TV mystery drama series called The Killer Bride and that’s my priority right now.

How do you think Philippine drama is evolving? Are there more opportunities for you as an actor?
We’re adapting quickly to the international landscape. In fact, ABS-CBN has pursued collaborations with international producers, so that’s very exciting.
In terms of opportunities, it’s a big ‘yes’ because of social media. Also, a lot of ABS-CBN TV series are available in foreign territories, so there’s a huge possibility for me to be recognised and to be given a chance to work with foreign actors or collaborate with foreign producers. Our writers, directors and producers in the Philippines are incredibly talented – I think the work that they make will shine and hopefully draw the attention it deserves.

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DQ Recommends: Drama directors

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which directors working in the drama business have caught their eye and why.

Jacob Verbruggen
Belgian director Verbruggen is known for television work including Code 37, The Fall, The Bridge, London Spy, House of Cards, Black Mirror and The Alienist.

UKTV drama commissioner Philippa Collie Cousins says: “Currently, I am dissecting his work on The Fall. His lighting is beautiful, yet subtle. He knows where to put the camera to bring out both character and the purpose of the scene. Scenes begin in the middle and leave before the end.
“There is always a large cast on any police-based show, and I think the mastery of a director shines through on some of the minor characters and backgrounds. Here, minor characters enter and leave the frame with ease and deliver their lines so naturally.”

Louise Hooper
Hooper has had a busy couple of years, helming ITV dramas Cheat and Flesh & Blood. She has also directed episodes of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Cold Feet and Vera.

Royal Television Society CEO Theresa Wise says: “Louise Hooper has a remarkable eye for visual clues to the plot. One of my favourite moments in Flesh & Blood is when Imelda Staunton’s character is being interviewed by the police about the suspicious death of another character. She passes the police a plate of biscuits. The biscuits are gloriously twee – custard creams and artificially coloured fondant fancies. They were a marvellous metaphor for Imelda’s character, Mary – the prying, repressed neighbour.”

Ben Taylor
Taylor (pictured top with actor Gillian Anderson) has directed episodes of Cardinal Burns, Cuckoo and Catastrophe, as well as Divorce and Year of the Rabbit. He is also lead director on Netflix’s Sex Education.

Red Arrow Studios International’s exec VP of commercial strategy for scripted, Carlo Dusi, says: “With his work in setting up the original season of Sex Education, Ben Taylor created an entirely fresh world for the show like no other we had seen on TV before, using the natural beauty of South Wales to magic up a reality somewhere between rural UK and undefined North America.
“The combination of period design elements within an otherwise contemporary setting also helped turn the microcosm of the show into a universal reality, and the visual style guide and tone that Taylor achieved with season one are now fully set up for imitation for years to come.”

(photo: Sundance Institute)

Augustine Frizzell
An actor, writer and producer, Frizzell has also built a directing career on the back of short films I Was a Teenage Girl and Minor Setback, feature Never Goin’ Back, and TV series Europhia and Sweetbitter.

APC Studios co-CEO Emmanuelle Guilbart praises Frizzell’s handling of the pilot episode of HBO’s Euphoria, about the experiences of a group of high-school students, recognising it as “a series whose success owes a lot to its arresting visual style.”

Johan Renck
Buccaneer Media joint CEO Tony Wood has loved Mark Mylod’s work on Succession, but adds: “Johan Renck’s work on Chernobyl was truly outstanding.”

Renck’s other credits include European crime drama The Last Panthers, plus Bloodline, Bates Motel, Vikings, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

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Blood ties

Secrets and lies are exposed in ITV drama Flesh & Blood, which introduces widowed mother Vivien and her three grown-up children, Helen, Jake and Natalie.

When Vivien introduces her new relationship with Mark, the siblings start to question his intentions towards their mother, while also facing up to their own long-held grudges and complicated personal lives as they head towards tragedy.

The series stars Francesca Annis as Vivien, with Mark played by Stephen Rea. Claudie Blakley (Manhunt) is Helen, Russell Tovey (Years & Years) plays Jake and Lydia Leonard (Gentleman Jack) is Natalie.

In this DQTV interview, executive producer Kate Bartlett, writer and executive producer Sarah Williams and director Louise Hooper discuss making the series and describe how they injected a thriller plot into this family drama.

They also talk about the themes of trust at the heart of the story, how Imelda Staunton’s character Mary grew from minor character to an integral piece of the puzzle, and their search for the perfect filming locations.

Flesh & Blood is produced by Silverprint Pictures for ITV and distributed by ITV Studios.

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Black storytelling matters

As Netflix launches a curated collection of programming dedicated to the Black Lives Matters movement, DQ highlights some of the featured series.

Netflix has launched a specially selected collection of programming under the Black Lives Matter banner. In a Tweet announcing the move, the streamer wrote: “When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we also mean ‘Black storytelling matters.’

“With an understanding that our commitment to true, systemic change will take time, we’re starting by highlighting powerful and complex narratives about the Black experience.

“When you log on to Netflix today, you will see a carefully curated list of titles that only begin to tell the complex and layered stories about racial injustice and Blackness in America.”

It comes as anti-racism protests continue to take place around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Here, DQ highlights some of the series featured in the list, which can be viewed in full here.

When They See Us
From: US
Starring: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jermone, Marquis Rodriguez, Justin Cunningham, Jovan Adept, Chris Chalk, Freddy Miyares, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kylie Bunbury
Launched: 2019
A winner among this year’s prestigious Peabody Awards, this raw and hard-hitting miniseries from creator and director Ava Duvernay dramatises real events that took place in the spring of 1989, when five boys of colour were arrested, interrogated and coerced into confessing to the vicious attack of a woman in Central Park. After being convicted of various charges, they were awarded a settlement for wrongful conviction in 2014.
• See also: Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us, in which the talkshow host interviews the cast and creative team behind the miniseries, as well as the real people involved in the story.

Dear White People
From: US
Starring: Logan Browning, Brandon P Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Marque Richardson
Launched: 2017
Created by Justin Simien and based on his film of the same name, this comedy drama follows several black students as they navigate life at an Ivy League college where racial tensions bubble just below the surface.

Self Made
From: US
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo, Kevin Carroll, Blair Underwood
Launched: 2020
This miniseries chronicles the life of Madam CJ Walker, an African American washerwoman who rose from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire.

Seven Seconds
From: US
Starring: Clare-Hope Ashitey, Regina King, Beau Knapp
Launched: 2018
Created and exec produced by showrunner Veena Sud, who developed the US version of Danish drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing), this series centres on the death of a 15-year-old African American boy in Jersey City and the search for the truth after a police cover-up.

She’s Gotta Have It
From: US
Starring: DeWanda Wise, Anthony Ramos, Lyriq Bent, Cleo Anthony, Chyna Layne, Margot Bingham
Launched: 2017
This comedy drama was created by film director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman) and based on his 1986 film of the same name. Lee also directed all 19 episodes of the series, which revolves around an artist who struggles to stay true to herself and her dreams while juggling three lovers.

From: UK
Starring: Sophie Okonedo, Adrian Lester, Dennis Haysbert
Launched: 2016
Originally commissioned by the BBC, this six-part drama sees Okonedo play a London lawyer who tries to stop an innocent man’s execution in the US, unaware her husband is hiding a 20-year-old secret with links to the case.

From: US
Starring: MJ Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angel Bismark Curiel, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross
Launched: 2018
This FX series from creators Steven Canals, Brad Fulchuck and Ryan Murphy is set in 1987 New York. It looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society: the rise of the luxury, Trump-era universe, the downtown social and literary scene and ball culture. At its launch, the series assembled the largest ever cast of transgender actors in series-regular roles.

Orange is the New Black
From: US
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Kate Mulgrew, Danielle Brooks, SSascha Polanco, Selenis Leyva, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Taryn Manning, Jackie Cruz, Adrienne C Moore, Laura Prepon
Launched: 2013
Concluding last year after seven seasons, this ensemble drama initially followed privileged New Yorker Piper Chapman (Schilling) after she was sent to a women’s prison. But over the course of the series, each episode’s flashbacks would reveal the backstory or relevant character traits of numerous inmates and guards. Storylines include a prison protest and subsequent riot following the death of black inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), as well as others highlighting corruption, privatisation of the prison system, overcrowding, guard brutality, racial discrimination and prisoner safety.

Luke Cage
From: US
Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Justin Swain, Sean Ringgold
Launched: 2016
Arguably the standout entry from Netflix’s original Marvel series, the comic book drama follows the titular ex-con with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin as he fights to clear his name and save his neighbourhood from crime and corruption.

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DQ Recommends: Drama writers

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which writers are crafting the most compelling scripts and complex characters in today’s drama series.

Amit Cohen

Ron Leshem and Amit Cohen
Leshem has written Israeli dramas Euphoria and The Gordin Cell, as well as their US remakes, Eurphoria and Allegiance, respectively. Cohen’s credits also include The Gordin Cell and Allegiance, while the pair have also partnered on thriller No Man’s Land.

Red Arrow Studios International’s exec VP of commercial strategy, scripted, Carlo Dusi, says: “Not only are Leshem and Cohen both incredible creators in their own right – Ron with Euphoria as well as recent feature Incitement to his name, and Amit as co-creator of False Flag – but their creative partnership continues to go from strength to strength, and this year saw them follow their brilliant Gordin Cell with No Man’s Land for Hulu and the miniseries Valley of Tears, set in Israel.
“Always masterful at combining gripping entertainment with real insight into world politics, as well as a deep understanding of the human psyche, Leshem and Cohen consistently deliver work that engages, challenges and stimulates debate. I can’t wait to see what they are going to do next.

James Graham

Jeff Pope and James Graham
Pope has become known for factual dramas such as Mrs Biggs, Cilla, Little Boy Blue, Hatton Garden and A Confession, about a detective’s pursuit of a murderer that ultimately ends his career. Graham, meanwhile, is a playwright who has come to prominence on TV for single drama Brexit: The Uncivil War and three-parter Quiz (pictured top), based on his own play about the infamous ‘coughing’ scandal on UK gameshow Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.

Royal Television Society CEO Theresa Wise says: “I am a massive Jeff Pope and James Graham fan. And I am a bit of a sucker for fact-based drama. Jeff and James’ understated, evidence-based approach to the fact-based drama genre draws me in every time. I loved Quiz by James Graham and also A Confession by Jeff Pope. The pacing on A Confession was masterful as the slow, inexorable build-up to the unthinkable for the main character, Stephen Fulcher, unfolded.”

Harry (left) and Jack Williams

Harry and Jack Williams
The writers behind UK production company Two Brothers Pictures have become known for compelling thrillers such as The Missing, Liar, The Widow, One of Us and Baptiste.

UKTV drama commissioner Philippa Collie Cousins says: “Liar season two was a triumph. Jack and Harry constructed an ever-surprising story to be the equal and better of season one. It kept you guessing, revealing twists and turns so all the ground from season one was stripped away. It was masterclass in suspense making you question whether you can believe your own eyes or anybody in this drama – gripping and taut.
“I have heard it said they had to film the final episode of Liar before they had actually finished the script, and then had to spend time writing to and earning the ending they had already written. If that is the case, I think they are geniuses, and this gives us a new way to write a series. In fact, Stendhal and Dickens have both written this way. Well done Jack and Harry for bringing it to television.

Daisy Haggard

Jesse Armstrong, Daisy Haggard and Laura Solon
Armstrong, co-creator of popular British comedy Peep Show, has risen to new heights with HBO drama Successsion, while Haggard and Solon co-wrote dark comedy drama Back to Life, in which Haggard also starred.

Buccaneer Media joint CEO Tony Wood says: “Firstly, Jesse Armstrong’s Succession puts him right at the top. To place such theatricality and dark humour in a drama driven by such incisive political and moral dilemmas is utterly superb.
“Second, Daisy Haggard and Laura Solon’s Back to Life was a revelation. It was recommended to me and I watched almost all of it in one sitting. The dexterity in subtly drawing a picture of stoicism, emotional collapse and a character looking so deeply into the darkness while trying to maintain optimism was a fantastic piece of writing.”

Sally Wainwright

Sally Wainwright
Wainwright has won multiple Bafta Awards for hit series including Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax, Scott & Bailey and Gentleman Jack.

APC Studios co-CEO Emmanuelle Guilbart says: “She has a unique capacity to craft beautiful and uniquely authentic series while exploring different genres each time. From Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley to Gentleman Jack, she never fails to impress.”

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DQ Recommends: Drama actors

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which actors they believe are delivering the most mesmerising performances in contemporary drama series.

Laura Linney
While better known for her acting work in films such as The Truman Show, The Life of David Gale, The Savages and Kinsey, Linney is no stranger to television. Early appearances in Tales of the City and Law & Order have been followed by roles in comedy Frasier, historical miniseries John Adams, breakout series The Big C and, more recently, Netflix drama Ozark.

Red Arrow Studios International’s exec VP of commercial strategy, scripted, Carlo Dusi, says: “From her early explosion on our TV screens in the original Tales of The City in 1993, through her award-winning turn in the pre-peak TV The Big C in 2010, to her return as an older but not necessarily wiser Mary-Ann Singleton in the Netflix Tales of The City reboot last year, Laura Linney has never ceased to surprise us with her versatility and bottomless understanding of the human condition.
“And yet, her increasingly nasty turn as Wendy Byrd in Netflix’s Ozark has successfully shocked us all again, and the way in which Linney makes season three of the show her own is nothing short of spectacular.”

Siobhan Finneran
For more than 30 years, Finneran has been a constant presence in British film and TV, starting with roles in feature Rita, Sue and Bob Too and long-running soap Coronation Street. More recently, she has starred in Downton Abbey, The Syndicate, Benidorm, Cold Feet, A Confession and The Stranger.

Royal Television Society CEO Theresa Wise says: “I am a huge fan of Siobhan Finneran. I have seen her recently in The Stranger – a completely addictive Harlan Coben show on Netflix – A Confession, Happy Valley, Cold Feet and The Widow. The list goes on.
“She is likeable, even when she isn’t. She is every woman, but needs to cope in extraordinary circumstances. She is often a cop, who I would want on my case, or a mother in tragic bereavement, unable to process the grief around her daughter’s death. Most of all, I love and envy her gorgeous hair. In another life, I would have Siobhan Finneran’s barnet!”

Gillian Anderson
Since her breakout role as Dana Scully in sci-fi classic The X-Files, Anderson has starred in adaptations of Charles Dickens duo  Bleak House and Great Expectations, as well as Hannibal, War & Peace, The Fall, American Gods and, most recently, Netflix teen comedy Sex Education. She is also set to play Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming fourth season of Netflix royalty drama The Crown.

UKTV drama commissioner Philippa Collie Cousins says: “Gillian Anderson’s performance as Stella Gibson in BBC drama The Fall harkens back to her X-Files character Dana Scully. She is internal and reserved but, in reality, a bubbling cauldron of passion. And as a female sheriff, she has a desire for justice, to right wrongs and to bring a killer to justice. Her intelligence shines out, as does her ability to lead, but her aloneness as a professional woman is touching and very real.
‘Her costume as Stella is beautifully observed, fitted and very feminine. The weight and texture of the clothing is very well chosen, and I love her 1950s-style, sleekly coiffured hair. She dominates the screen with both beauty and intelligence. My only critique is that she often looks sexualised rather than sexually in control.”

Zendaya, Reese Witherspoon and Jared Harris
“Three performers have been extraordinary for me recently,” says Tony Wood, joint CEO of producer Buccaneer Media. “Firstly, Zendaya in HBO drama Euphoria. I couldn’t take my eyes off her; her insouciance thinly masking a personality running out of resource, while the insight in her eyes betrays a multitude of thoughts.
“Then there is Reese Witherspoon in both Big Little Lies and The Morning Show. It’s just so enjoyable watching performances of such precision. She never disappoints – every gesture and expression always conveys so much more than the moment demands. In all the movie star performances we now see on TV, I think hers are probably the best.
“Finally, Jared Harris [pictured] probably produced the standout performance of the year in Chernobyl. Faultless.”

Olivia Colman
An Oscar winner in 2019 for The Favourite, Colman inherited the role of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix series The Crown, taking over from Claire Foy. She has also starred in Fleabag, Les Misérables, Broadchurch, The Night Manager and Peep Show.

APC Studios co-CEO Emmanuelle Guilbart says: “Between polar opposite roles in Fleabag and The Crown, she has had two very memorable turns on TV this year.”

Discussing Delhi

In December 2012, a female physiotherapist was beaten, raped, tortured and murdered by a gang of six men in Delhi, India. Netflix miniseries Delhi Crime dramatises the manhunt that followed from the point of view of the female police officer who led the investigation.

In this DQTV interview, director Richie Mehta and producer Pooja Kohli discuss the impact of the incident in India and how the series was developed using documents and personal accounts related to the police case.

They also talk about how the series paints a picture of Indian society and outline the landscape of Indian drama and Delhi Crime’s place within it.

Delhi Crime is produced by Golden Karavan and Ivanhoe Pictures for Netflix.

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DQ Recommends: Non-English-language drama

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which non-English-language series they’re currently watching and recommending.

Delhi Crime
Based on true events, this seven-part Hindi-language Netflix series dramatises the police manhunt that took place after a woman was beaten, raped and tortured during an attack in Delhi in December 2012. She later died from her injuries.

Red Arrow Studios International’s exec VP of commercial strategy for scripted, Carlo Dusi, says: “Richie Mehta’s original crime show for Netflix India is such a vibrant and accurate reconstruction of the gruesome rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus that, as a viewer, you feel transported to the smells and colours of the Indian metropolis on every viewing.
“Every character comes to life in a real and fully rounded way, in a show that never exploits its real-life subject matter and chooses instead to celebrate the humanity of those who fought for the truth.”

Our Boys and Baron Noir
“It’s a tie between the truly bold and masterfully written American-Israeli drama Our Boys and Baron Noir, a gripping French series that exposes the dark heart of politics through an embattled MP’s career,” says Emmanuelle Guilbart, co-CEO of APC Studios, of his current favourite dramas of the moment.

HBO’s Our Boys (pictured) is another series based on real events, this time in the summer of 2014, when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas militants, before the burned body of a Palestinian teenager was found in a forest, leading to weeks of riots in Jerusalem.

Dubbed France’s House of Cards, Baron Noir is a French political thriller about one politician’s thirst for revenge against his enemies. The series first debuted on Canal+ in 2016 and has aired three seasons.

Happily Married and Exit
“Two very different shows have got under my skin,” says Tony Wood, founder and CEO of producer Buccaneer. “The French-Canadian comedy drama Happily Married is an absurd chronicle of two couples taken to the edge of their moral compass and back again with a retained warmth and endless curiosity. It’s rare to find a comedy that travels as well as this one beyond its own language.”

Wood’s other recommendation is Exit (pictured), the Norwegian drama by the “brilliant” Øystein Karlsen that is based on true stories of the country’s financial world. “It’s a worthy addition to a canon of work including the blinding Dag,” says the producer. “A wild assault on the senses, handled with the emotional dexterity always seen in Karlsen’s work, it has echoes of The Wolf of Wolf Street and inspires empathy in spite of an entirely dispassionate view of its characters. It’s a sensation in Norway and it’s not hard to see why.”

This Danish series is based on Elsebeth Egholm’s novels about the title character. It debuted on TV2 Denmark in 2013.

UKTV drama commissioner Philippa Collie Cousins says: “The hit series stars Iben Hjejle as Dicte, a reporter who gets divorced and moves from big-city Copenhagen back to her home town of Aarhus. She soon finds herself side by side, and often at odds, with the local police as she races to get to the bottom of various crimes. Every two episodes focus on one crime, while Dicte’s life – from romantic tribulations to navigating life as a single mum with a teenage daughter – entertains in the background. It was a big hit in Denmark and it is really compelling lighter viewing, but not froth.”

Babylon Berlin
This standout German drama takes place in 1920s Berlin, where police inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) is on a secret mission to dismantle an extortion ring. It is based on the novels by Volker Kutscher and recreates the city in stunning detail, with a score to match.

Royal Television Society CEO Theresa Wise says: “I have just finished season three of Babylon Berlin. It is a quirky but unflinching look at Berlin between the wars. This period feels like it has been less explored by television than, say, the world wars. It has a light touch, while exploring the economic desperation of Germany during that period through the main characters.”

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DQ Recommends: English-language drama

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which English-language series they’re currently watching and recommending.

The Morning Show
The flagship series of AppleTV+ when the subscription service launched in 2019, this show paired Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon as the hosts of a morning news programme. Told from the perspective of their characters, two complicated women navigating a minefield of high-pressured jobs and crises in their personal and professional lives, the series examines the power dynamics between men and women, and women and women, in the workplace.

Carlo Dusi, exec VP of commercial strategy, scripted, at Red Arrow Studios International, says: “Despite some rather mixed reviews on release, Apple’s The Morning Show delivered gripping drama, phenomenal acting, and constantly surprising plot twists, all the while capturing the #MeToo spirit like no other show on our screens and offering an intelligent and multi-layered point of view into gender politics in the workplace, all of which makes it essential viewing for our times.”

HBO’s latest critical success, Succession charts the turbulent fortunes of media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his four children as they battle for control of one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. The series, which won the 2019 Emmy for best drama series, blends dramatic and acerbic writing to examine themes of power, politics, money and family.

Emmanuelle Guilbart, co-CEO of APC Studios, says: “This isn’t the most original suggestion since the series has already gained much deserved hype and acclaim, but if there’s any chance you haven’t seen it yet then now is the time. It’s a brilliantly executed show and a great example of a series that makes you love and root for bad people. Unbelievable is also a really worthwhile series. This topical show is a renewal of the true crime genre and a sensitive exploration of the complexities of sexual assault.”

The Fall
A psychological thriller that pits a talented female detective, played by Gillian Anderson, against Jamie Dornan’s serial killer who is stalking his victims in and around Belfast. The BBC series ran for three season between 2013 and 2016.

Philippa Collie Cousins, drama commissioner for UKTV, says of the series: “I couldn’t watch The Fall on transmission – it scared me too much. I waited until all three seasons had finished and then devoured it over 10 days. It seems to take three ingredients at their rawest. Firstly, it really convinces you that it is based on genuine police detection and the effort to catch the Belfast strangler and his weird MO are scary because they are twisted enough to be real-life. It makes an effort in its dialogue to create genuine depth of character and the casting is pure 1950s with two movie stars playing the leads.
“Alan Cubitt’s writing is just superb. He crafts the perfect triangle of character, thriller and motive. Motives are given to both the criminal (Dornan) and those investigating the crime (Anderson). It is Stella Gibson’s humanity pitted against Paul Spector’s lack of humanity that provides the cat-and-mouse motor. However, it is always rooted, but rooted in such a complicated personal landscape that, season by season, episode by episode, you as the audience play the psychiatrist, stripping them down layer by layer until you feel that you know both of them so well. This Hitchcockian touch is masterly. As a fresh study of a woman in a male environment, it is a modern classic.”

A three-part drama commissioned by ITV in the UK and US cable channel AMC, Quiz dramatises the notorious ‘coughing’ incident that took place on the UK version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2001, when former army officer Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, were accused of cheating their way to winning the gameshow.

Theresa Wise, CEO of the Royal Television Society, says: “The show I have loved recently is Quiz. Apart from feeling like a mischievous inside track into telly-land, it combined immense humanity, humour and pathos. I am a bit of a quiz addict, like many Brits, so it is immensely relatable. Plus, give me a good court room scene or scenes and you’ve got me.

Sex Education, Back to Life and more…
Tony Wood, founder and co-CEO of producer Buccaneer, says: “This has been the year of Chernobyl, Fleabag season two and a brilliant season of Line of Duty. I’d also thoroughly recommend Sex Education [pictured] and Back to Life. Both these shows were brilliantly insightful about character and the emotions that confront them. They constantly surprised and created visceral reaction that lingered long beyond the programme.”

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Riding high

More than a decade after Alex Rider first appeared on the big screen in Stormbreaker, the teen spy is transitioning to television in a series named after the character.

Created by author Anthony Horowitz, the eight-part drama is based on the second Alex Rider novel, Point Blanc, and sees Alex discover his late uncle was a spy who had been secretly training him his whole life. Then when clandestine MI6 offshoot The Department calls Alex up, the reluctant spy is sent undercover to the Point Blanc Academy, deep in the French Alps, where he must uncover the sinister truth behind this exclusive boarding school.

In this DQTV interview, Horowitz and Jill Green, CEO of Eleventh Hour Films, recall the unique genesis of the project, which was fully financed by Sony Pictures Television before a broadcaster had come on board.

The husband-and-wife team also talk about how the series blends action and adventure with a coming-of-age story, and why Horowitz didn’t want to adapt his own novels, with Guy Burt (The Bletchley Circle) stepping in to write the scripts.

Alex Rider is produced by Eleventh Hour Films and Sony Pictures Television, which also distributes the series.

Buyers include Amazon Prime Video (UK), Viaplay (Sweden, Denmark and Norway), Movistar+ (Spain), Kinopoisk HD (Russia), Nova (Greece), DSmart (Turkey), StarzPlay across the Middle East and North Africa, Showmax across sub-Saharan Africa, TVNZ (New Zealand), Sony Liv (India), Korea Telecom (South Korea) and U-Next (Japan). Sony-owned AXN will broadcast Alex Rider in multiple European territories, including Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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Series to Watch: June 2020

DQ checks out the upcoming schedules to pick out 10 new dramas to watch this June, from the small-screen debut of teen spy Alex Rider to a survival thriller set in Antarctica.

Rita (S5)
From: Denmark
Original broadcasters: CMore, TV2 and Netflix
Starring: Mille Dinesen, Lise Baastrup, Carsten Bjørnlund
Air date: June 1 in Denmark
This Danish comedy-drama about an unconventional and politically incorrect teacher ran for four seasons until 2017, with Netflix coproducing seasons three and four, and now returns for a fifth and final season. At the start of a new school year, Rita (Dinesen) and Hjørdis (Baastrup) have started their own school but chaos still reigns.

Alex Rider
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video (UK) and more worldwide
Starring: Otto Farrant, Stephen Dillane, Vicky McClure, Brenock O’Connor, Ronkẹ Adékọluẹ́jọ́, Ace Bhattii, Marli Siu, Andrew Buchan
Air date: From June 4
Bringing Anthony Horowitz’s teen spy Alex Rider to television, the series sees Rider discover he has been secretly trained as a spy by his late uncle. He is subsequently sent undercover to a remote boarding school called Point Blanc, where he uncovers a sinister plot.

From: US
Original broadcaster: Cinemax
Starring: James Alexander, Rolanda Marais, Ed Stoppard, Sandi Schultz, Brendon Daniels, Trix Vivier, Thapelo Mokoena, Sisanda Henna
Air date: June 5
Shot entirely in South Africa, Trackers is an adaptation of Deon Meyer’s crime novel of the same name. It interweaves three stories in what is billed as an action-packed thriller covering the length and breadth of the country, explosively colliding in Cape Town in a violent conspiracy involving organised crime, smuggled diamonds, state security, black rhinos, the CIA and an international terrorist plot.

El Presidente
From: Latin America
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Karla Souza, Andrés Parra, Paulina Gaitán
Air date: June 5
El Presidente dramatises the story of the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal, unfolding against the backdrop of cities across Latin America, the US and Europe. The dramedy explores the sports scandal that rocked the world through the story of Sergio Jadue, a small‐time Chilean football club president who rose from obscurity to become a key player in a US$150m bribery conspiracy at the hand of the infamous president of the Argentine football association, Julio Grondona.

I May Destroy You
From: UK
Original broadcasters: BBC and HBO
Starring: Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia, Paapa Essiedu, Marouane Zotti, Aml Ameen, Adam James, Sarah Niles, Ann Akin, Harriet Webb, Ellie James, Franc Ashman, Karan Gill, Natalie Walter, Samson Ajewole
Air date: June 7 on HBO, June 8 on BBC1
This half-hour series is executive produced, co-directed, written by and stars Coel. It’s described as a fearless, frank and provocative show exploring the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how, in the new landscape of dating and relationships, we make the distinction between liberation and exploitation.

From: Denmark
Original broadcasters: TV2 in Denmark, CMore in Sweden
Starring: Sebastian Jessen, Andreas Jessen, Lars Mikkelsen, Henning Jensen, Laura Drasbæk, Thomas Levin, Henrik Noël Olesen, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Susanne Storm
Air date: June 11 on CMore
A Danish series launching in Sweden ahead of its domestic debut, Blodsbröder (Alfa in Denmark) is a crime drama created by brothers Mehdi and Milad Avaz. In the show, newly graduated stockbroker Adam sets out to form the country’s largest drug cartel after getting a taste for power and quick money in the criminal world. But standing in his way is his own brother, Jacob – a police officer and a member of the anti-narcotics squad – setting the siblings on a collision course.

The Woods
From: Poland
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Grzegorz Damięcki, Agnieszka Grochowska, Wiktoria Filus, Hubert Miłkowski
Air date: June 12
Netflix’s second Polish original series is based on the novel by Harlan Coben, the author and writer behind fellow Netflix duo Safe and The Stranger. The Woods unfolds over two time spans as it tells the story of Warsaw prosecutor Pawel Kopiński, who is still grieving the loss of his sister 25 years earlier, when she walked into the woods at a summer camp and was never seen again. Now, the discovery of a homicide victim – a boy who vanished with Pawel’s sister – reveals evidence that links him to her disappearance. As Pawel begins to hope that his sister could still be alive, dangerous secrets from his family’s past threaten to tear apart everything he has been trying to hold together.

The Head
From: Spain
Original broadcasters: Orange TV Spain, HBO Asia, Hulu Japan
Starring: Katharine O’Donnelly, Tomoisha Yamashita, Álvaro Morte, John Lynch, Alexandre Willaume, Laura Bach, Sandra Andreis, Amelia Hoy, Chris Reilly, Richard Sammel, Tom Lawrence
Air date: June 12 in Spain
A mostly English-language survival thriller set in Antarctica, The Head follows events after 10 people are left in an isolated mobile science laboratory for six months during the dark winter. When a fresh team arrives at the start of summer, they discover seven dead, two missing and one survivor, who tells the story of what happened – but could also be the murderer.

Perry Mason
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tatiana Maslany, John Lithgow
Air date: June 21
Created by Erie Stanley Gardner, the character of Perry Mason has previously appeared in three iterations, most notably a CBS series in the 1950s and 60s, a revival in the 1970s and a string of TV movies on NBC between 1985 and 1995. In this new version set in 1931 LA, Rhys plays the fictional criminal defence lawyer, who takes on a child kidnapping case that reveals the truth about a fractured city and offers a pathway to personal redemption.

Dark (S3)
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Kaoline Eichhorn, Louis Hofmann, Jördis Triebel, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Tamar Pelzig
Air date: June 27
The supernatural saga concludes with this third and final instalment. The German drama (also pictured top) began with the disappearance of two young children, an event that exposes the double lives and fractured relationships among four families, featuring a twist that ties events in the present day to those that took place in 1986.

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Agent secrets

When a series of bombings and cyber attacks hit Stockholm, the Swedish Secret Service, SÄPO, struggles to find the organisation responsible. Meanwhile, having just returned home after years of Navy SEAL training, Carl Hamilton rejoins SÄPO’s elite black-ops division while also being identified as a possible suspect.

Swedish 10-part drama Agent Hamilton follows the eponymous spy and agent Kristin Ek as they discover there are darker forces at work, with an organisation taking advantage of fake news, xenophobia and terrorism in order to turn a profit. As loyalties are put to the test, Hamilton is forced to choose what future is best for his country.

In this DQTV interview, star Jakob Oftebro, who plays Hamilton, and director Erik Leijonborg reveal how Jan Gillou’s literary agent was given a modern update for the series, which introduces viewers to the character by following him on his first mission.

Oftebro talks about how the series shows both the professional and personal aspects of his character, while Leijonborg discusses the filming techniques he used to play with the drama’s visual style.

Agent Hamilton is produced by Dramacorp Pampas Studios and Kärnfilm in coproduction with TV4, C-More, Beta Film and ZDF, in association with ZDF Enterprises.

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Strange lands

Taku Kato, the director of Japanese film A Stranger in Shanghai, discusses making the single drama for broadcaster NHK, filming in China, and appealing to international audiences.

Set in 1921, Japanese feature-length drama A Stranger in Shanghai follows the story of writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa as he visits Shanghai as a newspaper correspondent.

Having grown up reading classic Chinese novels as a child, what Akutagawa discovers is not the utopia he had imagined. Instead, he is shocked by the military scuffles, Western and Japanese occupation and the local residents living in abject poverty. From intellectual revolutionaries to courtesans surviving in the back alleys, each encounter affects him in unexpected ways.

Based on the exploits of the real-life Akutagawa, a prominent Japanese novelist and writer of short stories, the drama is produced by NHK and distributed by NHK Enterprises.

Here, director Taku Kato, whose credits include Kurara: The Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter, tells DQ about making the drama.

Tell us about the story of A Stranger in Shanghai.
Taku Kato: One hundred years ago, Japanese novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa visited the Chinese city of Shanghai during a period of turmoil. This was the first trip overseas for the 29-year-old writer, who had already gained renown in Japan for his novel Rashomon, which later became an Akira Kurosawa film.
Shanghai was unprecedented in world history as a city where the occidental and oriental mixed. For Akutagawa, who had been fascinated with China from a young age, every aspect of the society and people he saw there exceeded his imagination.
As he observes China during this tumultuous time, the novelist’s heart and mind gradually transform while his relationship with a deaf-mute boy deepens.

Taku Kato

What attracted you to the project?
More than anything, it was the question, ‘What is China?’ Answering that question means more than talking about Chinese history in terms of political or military aspects; it means encountering Chinese people and culture.
Although there was a deep rift between Japan and China at the beginning of the 20th century, many Japanese people visited and wrote about China as if drawn by the magical power of the city of Shanghai. Akutagawa was one of these people.
Shanghai Yuki [A Report on the Journey of Shanghai], the travel journal that Akutagawa wrote detailing his visit to China, presents a mixture of emotions towards China — deep affection, understanding and also disappointment. That Akutagawa was able to express such emotions in this travel journal was due to his deeply held respect for Chinese culture.
Moreover, his natural genius as a novelist enabled him to depict the Chinese people with delicate precision. Distancing himself from political and military issues, Akutagawa showed China as it truly was, and I feel that his perspective then is extremely relevant for us today, 100 years later, in understanding Chinese and other cultures.
I was also very attracted to the idea of depicting China in the early 1920s using 8K ultra-high definition. Shanghai at that time was a city like a chimera. While the splendour of the Qing Dynasty still remained, the corruption of the revolutionary period was in control behind the scenes. I thought the Shanghai of 100 years ago depicted in 8K would be fresh and captivating.
Another huge attraction was the opportunity to collaborate with the Chinese filmmaking industry. Initially, I envisioned having a few more scenes in Japan, but ultimately virtually all of the scenes were shot in Shanghai.
Working with staff and actors from the Chinese filmmaking industry, which is continuing to develop, was highly stimulating and I believe we were able to create universal and valuable content through working together.

How was the project developed?
I began thinking about this project in 2010, around the time relations between Japan and China were really bad because of the Senkaku islands dispute. In Akutagawa’s time, Japan-China relations were also very tense, but I found Akutagawa’s approach of distancing himself from political aspects and focusing on Chinese culture  to be highly intellectual.
Our scriptwriter, Aya Watanabe, is one of Japan’s most outstanding writers, but the question of whether a travel journal could be translated into a drama was quite a difficult one. By piecing together several of Akutagawa’s novels and essays and introducing a young deaf-mute male prostitute named Lele as a key character, Aya was able to create a story.
The script was very beautiful – the word choice, the flow of scenes – but even Aya was unable to envision how the imagery would turn out, and when she came to see the project being shot on location in Shanghai, she was startled by the imagery we were producing. Inspiring each other as we created this drama was a very enjoyable experience.

How does the series use the classic ‘fish out of water’ premise of Akutagawa arriving in China?
A sensitive person such as [the real] Akutagawa would have felt out of place when faced with rapidly advancing modernisation. He did not feel comfortable with major trends in society. We regard the estrangement between society and Akutagawa as having made him anxious, eventually leading him to choose suicide [he took his own life in 1927, aged 35].
The word ‘Stranger’ in the title of this drama naturally refers to the fact Akutagawa was a foreigner visiting China, but it also implies that he was a stranger to the times.
In Shanghai Yuki, Akutagawa describes the occidentalism appearing in Shanghai as being a “fish out of water.” In the unprecedented city of Shanghai, everything was unknown. The sense of discomfort towards the times, that something was not quite right, is an experience shared by many people today who feel anxious about the rapidly changing world and unseen world of the future.
An important theme of the project was drawing to the surface Akutagawa’s sense of distance from the times as a stranger, and lead actor Ryuhei Matsuda was able to depict this with wonderful balance.

Ryuhei Matsuda as Ryunosuke Akutagawa in A Stranger in Shanghai

How did you prepare for production?
For the sets, our Japanese production designer drew images. Based on these, the sets were created jointly with the design team in China.
For character styling, Chinese staff created both costumes and make-up based on images drawn by our character visual director.
With regard to direction, scripts were prepared with Japanese and Chinese text printed side-by-side. Sketches and shot lists were written in, but we did not use storyboards. However, I don’t think many of the staff actually looked at these scripts.
As is almost always the case when working with an international team, the staff were able to instantly gauge the aim and level of production from the images appearing on the monitor. This is an interesting aspect of producing projects with a multinational team.

Where was the series filmed? How did you recreate 1920s Shanghai?
All of the Chinese scenes were filmed at two studios in Shanghai over a 16-day period. The Japanese scenes were shot in Tokyo in one day.
The Shanghai studios have streetscapes and buildings from various periods, which we decorated to suit our needs. Our production designer is Japanese but graduated from a Chinese university and has a very deep understanding and respect for Chinese culture, so was able to recreate Shanghai in 1921 working in cooperation with the Chinese team.
We referred to a great deal of historical material. Japanese and Chinese researchers kindly provided us with photographs and material relating to the relevant period and answered any questions we had.
We also intentionally incorporated many furnishings and clothing designs evocative of the Qing Dynasty. It was important to show the contrast between the Chinese culture that Akutagawa loved and Westernisation, so we took especial care in balancing this mixture.

How did you work with the actors on set? Did it involve lots of preparation or rehearsals?
A major part of directing is arranging art and lighting crew as well as extras and other peripheral staff so that the actors can move naturally. Within the worldview presented by the director, it is the actors who possess the skills to constantly enthral and surprise us.
Naturally, I provide direction with regard to the story flow, but the performances created are entirely the work of the actors. If you are not satisfied by an actor’s performance, it is the worldview presented by the director that is at fault.
The reason that all the scenes for this drama were shot at studios was that this made it possible for us to create a certain worldview. The main character, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, always walked the streets of Shanghai as a stranger, while Takashi Okabe, in the role of Shiro Murata, blends into the Shanghai streetscape with astonishing acting skills – despite the fact that he cannot speak Chinese and had not even been to China before filming this drama.
Virtually all of the Chinese actors were selected through auditions. They used their own imagination and skills to weave performances based on the script within the worldview created by the sets. We used a filming style of rehearsing each scene first, followed by actual filming. The costumes provided by our character visual director were also tremendously helpful in assisting the actors to immerse themselves into their characters.
Watching through the monitors, even the Japanese staff who don’t speak Chinese were deeply impressed by the Chinese actors’ expressive abilities. The characters of Lele, the deaf-mute boy, and Yulan actually have no lines. The fact Japanese viewers are also able to deeply empathise with these two characters’ feelings is because of these actors’ extraordinary expressive abilities.

Taku Kato is also known for his work on Kurara: The Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter

What was the biggest challenge you faced making the series?
The drama was filmed almost entirely in China, and in 8K at that, and everything was a first-time experience for us. In that sense, we too were ‘strangers.’
I have filmed dramas in Europe numerous times, but if a team comprising people from different cultures can create imagery together, they can gain mutual understanding and give birth to new creativity as while inspiring and stimulating each other.
However, for this project, the number of Chinese staff was much higher than the number of Japanese staff – 200 Chinese staff to 30 Japanese. I thought it would be overwhelming, but the filming process was enjoyable throughout.

Why will the story appeal to viewers?
Akutagawa’s Shanghai Yuki is a travel journal, so the drama tells the story of a journey. The irresistible feeling of excitement and stimulation at crossing borders and encountering different cultures is something that has probably been preprogrammed into humankind.
Akutagawa the traveller discovered small things and endeavoured to imagine what lay deep within different cultures. This is surely something everyone has experienced.
China, in the past and today, is a mysterious country. One of the attractions of this drama is that it enables viewers to experience China from a traveller’s perspective. The Communist Party of China led by Xi Jinping today was born 100 years ago in the home of a young man called Li Renjie (Li Hanjun), whom Akutagawa met.

How is Japanese drama evolving towards international audiences?
I am always tremendously inspired by dramas from outside Japan. Producing dramas that translate internationally is probably about creating stories featuring issues with which people across national borders can identify, while emphasising the unique characteristics of each region.
International award-winning films Parasite and Shoplifters depict cultural aspects and customs particular to South Korea and Japan respectively, but these stories are set against backgrounds of social disparity and division — problems common throughout the world.
In Japanese drama production, however, there are few producers taking on the challenge of such genres. Although there are constrictions imposed by budgets and client orientation, more than anything, I think there is a lack of awareness with regard to connecting with international markets.
From the start, A Stranger in Shanghai was intended for broadcasting on NHK World Japan, because the subject matter was of interest to people around the world and was depicted from a uniquely Japanese perspective. If this drama does draw the interest of viewers around the world, it is because China is a subject that draws the interest and curiosity of the world.

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