All posts by DQ

Six of the Best: Oriana Kujawka

The head of series development at Polish broadcaster TVN reveals her top half-dozen dramas, including a childhood favourite, an Israeli thriller and some award-winning US series.

4 Alternatywy Street
This is one of my childhood memories. There were only two programmes on TV and the whole family watched them – nobody had even dreamt of Netflix. A wonderful series from Stanislaw Bareja, 4 Alternatywy Street is a portrait of Poland in the 1980s, shown in a distorting mirror, but at the same time a hilarious metaphor for the world of that time. It’s about a block of flats and the people living in it, all different and distrustful of each other, and a janitor who becomes the self-proclaimed king of the whole building. When it was on, the streets of the cities were empty and fragments of dialogues entered the colloquial language. It is still repeated on various TV channels and continues to be funny.

Your Honor
It was a real shock to me when I watched this outstanding Israeli series at the Séries Mania Festival in Paris. Each scene was better than the last. I am sure that I will never forget it. A teenage son of a respected judge causes an accident and after only 15 minutes we know perfectly well that he’s in big trouble, and whatever he or his father does makes the situation even worse. There seems to be no good choice or solution for them. There is astonishing storytelling discipline, with not a single unnecessary shot, nor a single unnecessary word. Thrills guaranteed.

The Night Of
A crime story with a balance of humour and drama, The Night Of was thorough at picturing people. It keeps the viewer present and waiting until the very last scene, although it has quite a reasonable pace. You will remember the details of the scenes even after many years. There is no rush, just enough time to move away from the intrigue for a moment so that the viewer can stay with one of the characters outside the main plot, understand who they are and what drives them – a great inspiration for thinking about the motivations of characters.

Big Little Lies
Take everyday life, mix it with male aggression and a woman’s powerlessness, add problems with bringing up children and unfulfilled professional ambitions and you have what you need: a world-class series that keeps your attention from the first to the last shot. However, you’ll only be able to see the whole picture after watching every episode. Each female character has a beautiful coat, devoted partner and wise children. But underneath, there is a whole lot of poignancy, fighting among the parents and the worst secrets ever – a punishment for being a woman.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
There are no limits for Larry David’s jokes. What’s more, they are really great. Curb Your Enthusiasm has now aired for nine seasons, with a 10th on the way. And that, I hope, is not the last. It makes me laugh to tears – Larry and his friends who always offer advice and, of course, only plunge him deeper into trouble. I’m impressed with the precision of the scripts, as although much of the dialogue is improvised, I can see the iron structure of each episode and the whole series.

Politics with the beautiful smile of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I love this weird world, full of awkwardness and the realistic streams of dialogues. How well it is done! And although it is so close to us, it still maintains this perfect distance. Absurd life in a nutshell. An outstanding series.

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Speaking Frankie

Canadian period drama Frankie Drake Mysteries sees Lauren Lee Smith star as the titular Frankie, who sets up a detective agency with her friend Trudy Clarke (Chantel Riley). The show follows the city’s only female private detectives as they take on the cases the police don’t want to touch.

In this DQTV interview, Smith (This Life, The Listener) reveals how she accepted the role of Frankie after reading just five pages of the script and why she was drawn to starring in a show that is female-led both in front of and behind the camera.

She discusses how becoming a mother has changed her tastes in television and why she was looking to play a part in a more light-hearted and fun series when Frankie Drake Mysteries came along.

The actor also talks about how the role brought her out of her comfort zone, from learning to ride a motorbike to taking up boxing training, and why the series appeals to international audiences.

Frankie Drake Mysteries is produced by Shaftesbury in association with CBC and UKTV, and distributed by Kew Media Distribution.

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Bi the way

Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Appropriate Behaviour) co-writes, directs and stars in The Bisexual, a comedy-drama that offers a raw, funny and unapologetic take on the “last taboo” – bisexuality – and the prejudices, shame and comic misconceptions that surround it.

Akhavan, in her first television project, plays Leila, who has decided to take a break from her long-term relationship with her girlfriend and business partner Sadie (Maxine Peake). She then begins sleeping with men and comes out as bisexual to her gay friends, as the series explores the differences between dating men and women from the perspective of someone who is doing both.

In this DQTV interview, Akhavan talks about the personal story behind the concept for the series and explains why she wanted to see greater representation of bisexuals on screen.

She discusses her role behind the scenes and the female-led team she put together to make the six-part series, and outlines why she believes storytelling is seeing “a new wave” as viewers no longer want to see the same stories, narratives and faces time and time again.

Akhavan also opens up about the types of stories that interest her and how she is striving for greater diversity on screen.

The Bisexual is produced by Sister Pictures-owned Hootenanny for Channel 4 in the UK and Hulu in the US, and distributed by All3Media International.

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Educating on Informer

Character-driven thriller Informer tells the story of Raza, a young, second-generation Pakistani man from East London who is forced to go undercover in the fight against terror after being arrested.

The show follows the fall-out for Raza, his family and those around him as he works as an informer for a counter-terrorism officer.

In this DQTV interview, Sunetra Sarker, who plays Raza’s mother Sadia, discusses her character and explains why she was drawn to a script she says is layered with “loyalty and deception.”

Executive producer Nic Brown also talks about why the series focuses on the war on terror at street level, and the decision to set the story in an unfamiliar London not usually seen on screen.

Sarker also discusses how television drama is becoming more representative and the “refreshing” types of stories and characters now being portrayed on screen.

Informer is produced by Neal Street Productions for BBC1 and Amazon Prime Video and distributed by All3Media International.

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Hearing The Cry

Four-parter The Cry is a psychological drama set between Scotland and Australia, chronicling the collapse of a marriage in the aftermath of an unbearable tragedy.

Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who) plays Joanna, a struggling new mother who falls into a state of despair when her baby is abducted from a small coastal town in Australia. Together with her husband Alistair (Ewan Leslie), they must come to terms with what has happened under increasing public scrutiny.

In this DQTV interview, Coleman reveals why she was intrigued by the journey of Joanna, a flawed character who is by no means presented as a hero and is finding it difficult to cope with her newborn baby.

Executive producer Claire Mundell, creative director of producer Synchronicity Films, also talks about why four-part dramas are so in vogue at broadcasters like the BBC and explains why the short-run format can help turn a TV series into an event.

The Cry is produced by Synchronicity Films for BBC1 and distributed by DRG.

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Inside Mr Inbetween

Based on 2005 hitman mockumentary The Magician, Mr Inbetween stars Scott Ryan as criminal-for-hire Ray Shoesmith: a father, ex-husband, boyfriend and best friend who must juggle his personal commitments with being a contract killer.

In this DQTV interview, Ryan and director Nash Edgerton talk about the long road to Mr Inbetween and their approach to making it like a feature film.

Speaking at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, they also talk about creating the character of Ray and how the story structure lends itself to television.

The six-episode season, written by Ryan and directed by Edgerton, also stars Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak, Brooke Satchwell, Jackson Tozer, Nicholas Cassim, Chika Yasumura and Matt Nable.

The series debuted in the US on FX and on Foxtel in Australia in September and has been renewed for a second season to air next year.

Mr Inbetween was shot in Australia and produced by Blue-Tongue Films and Jungle Entertainment in association with FX Productions, Screen Australia and Create NSW. Ryan, Edgerton and Jason Burrows are executive producers and Michele Bennett is producer. The series is sold internationally by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

Click here to read DQ’s interview with director Edgerton.

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Pier pressure

Alex Pina and Esther Martinez Lobato, the creators of Spanish mystery La Embarcadero (The Pier), discuss making the series – their follow-up to 2017 breakout hit La Casa de Papel (Money Heist).

Álvaro Morte, the star of Spanish breakout drama La casa de papel (Money Heist), reunites with writers Alex Pina and Ester Martinez Lobato for polygamous mystery drama El Embarcadero (The Pier).

The eight-part series tells the story of high-profile architect Álexandra (Verónica Sánchez) who, shattered by the suicide of her husband Oscar, discovers he had been leading a double life with another woman, Veronica (Irene Arcos), and their child.

Alex Pina

Knowing she will either go insane or get to the bottom of the mystery, Álexandra approaches Veronica. At first she wants to tell her about Oscar’s death, but instead she decides to befriend her under a false identity to find out why Oscar, though sincere in his love for Álexandra, lived this lie. What really happened that fatal night when his life was taken?

El Embarcadero is a Movistar+ original series produced in collaboration with Atresmedia and Vancouver Media. It is distributed internationally by Beta Film and will debut in Spain in 2019.

Here, creators and writers Pina and Lobato tell DQ about developing the series, their collaborative writing process and reuniting with Morte.

How would you describe The Pier?
Lobato: It’s an emotional thriller, where the questions asked by the protagonist, Alexandra, provoke a radical change in her life, in her way of thinking and feeling and, above all, as a woman. She dares to make the same trip her late husband made in search of answers, of something that makes her understand why Oscar was with another woman. This makes her go on a fascinating journey of personal improvement where she frees herself from prejudices.

What were the origins of the series? Why was this a story you wanted to tell?
Pina: We wanted to tell a character-driven story, as we always do. On this occasion, it’s different from a thriller, crime or prison genre – from any other genre, really. The actors suffer because they have the camera on almost all the time – it’s a series that does not let them lie. We wanted to look at the psychology of someone who faces two milestones that happen in her life as a tsunami – the death of her husband, whom she adored, and the revelation that he had another relationship.
Lobato: The challenge was to change the prism, the filter and the perspective, and to write these wonderful characters without judging them. It has not been easy. On the contrary: it has been very complicated to make them speak, to feel, with emotions that are vaguely different from those we are used to every day and in every corner.

How was the show developed with Movistar+?
Lobato: It was a very easy working process. Everyone involved was supportive. The help of creatives and producers has been fundamental. Nobody knew that it would be as difficult and stimulating to embark on this project, but they still did it and joined our work.

The Pier sees a woman uncover her husband’s double life after his death

Why did you decide to reunite Álvaro Morte after working together on La Casa de Papel?
Lobato: Álvaro has two or three million powerful reasons to be involved in any project. He has something that is very difficult to find, and that is a personal virtue beyond technique, talent or its acting qualities: he is capable of whitening everything. With his look and his lips, the tricky and complicated phrases are simply nicer. It was essential for the project to find someone who could be a ‘white-eyed’ polygamist – someone who really transmitted a love story with two women that would overcome him in a real way, without having the smallest doubts when you saw him. Álvaro is that person.

What was your writing process? Was this different to your other series?
Pina: The hardest process in this series was to know what story we wanted to tell. When you work on a genre project, you are constantly protected by the effect, of whatever kind. You change the emotional sequences to sequences with pistols, bombs and police investigations. We came from that genre, and we had never faced something so profoundly mundane as telling the story of a simple infidelity. But of course, a ‘simple infidelity’ did not fit us. And there began the problems with the tonality – where to set the focus, how to make transgression with a tagline so common or unsurprising as “when the husband dies we discover that he had a mistress.” We looked at each other for weeks until we found a direction for the series. After that, the writing went like a shot.

What is the visual style or tone of the series and how did you achieve this?
Pina: We always search for a project that has a powerful and inherent identity that is consistent with the narrative style and where the content and is complemented in an organic way. In this case it was the emotions and the feeling. We thought about summer movies, the kind of movies that remind you of holidays, bicycles, beaches and sunsets. And that was the idea in origin – a stylised and scenic reality in the background and a few close-ups so that the emotion of the character somehow breaks the barriers of the screen.

The series features Álvaro Morte, who also worked with its writers on Money Heist

What do locations including Valencia and Albufera bring to the atmosphere of the series?
Lobato: They provide an identity. The landscape of the Albufera is very particular, even emotionally, and the contrast with Valencia was perfect, since the city offered us a vertical landscape compared to the horizontality of the Albufera and its beaches. In Valencia there are buildings, there is height, there is an identity thanks to the architecture of Calatrava. It is a city well known in Spain but little portrayed in fiction despite having a very marked idiosyncrasy, with its own character, food and wildlife. All this is reflected in the series and gives it a very special flavour and a sense of reality and beauty at the same time, which is very interesting for us. We always look for the idea of contrast in the series – what you are and what you want to become, the town and the city, what is good and what they say is wrong. We find this duality in Valencia and the Albufera.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during development or filming, and how did you overcome them?
: The feeling of summer and the reflection of the landscapes of Albufera are things we fell in love with from the start. It’s this area where the rice fields remain flooded for several weeks and look like mirrors that border the sky – or so we thought. When we got to film, we found the weather does not understand schedules. The first few days of filming, the team was waiting for the sun to come out, for the clouds to pass and we kept asking ourselves, ‘Why is it not hot in May?’ Also, because summer weather started later this year, farmers didn’t flood the rice fields on schedule. And we couldn’t shoot all the landscapes you will see in the first section of the series until a week later than planned. The start was an absolute disaster.

What has your reaction been to the success of La Dasa de Papel since its launch on Netflix?
Lobato: We were baffled at the beginning and very thankful later for all the affection and the interest. Money Heist was designed by a few creatives who had left their previous jobs to try to be independent. We wanted to make a very small project in a simple way; we wanted to cross lines we couldn’t cross in previous projects, in terms of narrative and structure without any intermediaries. We did it, closed it and then we left. And then Netflix came and took the series to places in the world where we had not imagined it would be able to fit into the people’s lives. But there it is. It became very big in the end. This allows us to continue here, and that the idea of quitting our jobs was not crazy, it was an opportunity.

What’s your next project?
Lobato: Right now we have three on the table: White Lines, with Left Bank, and Money Heist 3 and Sky Red with Netflix. There are some others. Maybe, after the calm of The Pier, for me, the time has come to take up the guns and return to action.

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Class act

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Syfy series Deadly Class is set against the backdrop of late-1980s counter culture and tells the story of a teenager who is recruited into an elite private school filled with children of crime families and affluent lawbreakers.

In a show described as a “coming-of-age journey full of ancient mystery and teen angst,” high school has never been so dangerous.

The series stars Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange), Benjamin Wadsworth (Teen Wolf), Lana Condor (X-Men: Apocalypse), Maria Gabriela de Faria (Yo Soy Franky), Luke Tennie (Shock and Awe), Liam James (The Killing) and Michel Duval (Queen of the South).

In this DQTV video, Deadly Class co-creator and series executive producer Rick Remender introduces this “high school for assassins” and remarks on the appetite viewers have for new ideas and stories.

He also talks about the “creative golden age” in television, which is allowing audiences to take a deeper dive into characters, and partnering on the project with fellow executive producers The Russo Brothers (Avengers: Infinity War).

Deadly Class is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Universal Cable Productions for Syfy, based on the Image Comics graphic novel by Remender and Wes Craig. It is distributed by Sony.

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Seeing double

Counterpart creator Justin Marks picks out a key scene from the Starz spy drama’s opening episode that sets the tone for the rest of the show, which is currently in production on its second season.

Counterpart always came from this desire to do a show steeped in the feeling of the great Cold War spy thrillers that I grew up with. Whether that was Graham Green or John le Carré, the kind of spy thrillers that rely on mysterious meetings on park benches and people speaking in code; spies living these very fractured lives where it’s less about how they carry on as a spy than how they betray people who they really form close friendships with.

But I knew I didn’t want to do a story that was just a Cold War thriller. I feel like we’ve seen them. As someone who comes from science fiction, I wanted to find a way to sprinkle a little sci-fi on the top. The idea was to do a Berlin Wall thriller where the wall was more of a metaphysical construct – a divide between two worlds, two realities that were once identical but have since split off in both small and large ways.

On one level, Howard Silk (played by JK Simmons) is a meek and humble cog in the wheel of a very large bureaucratic enterprise, with shadings of those in movies like Brazil or Metropolis, who then learns that not only is there another side of himself, but this other side has grown quite differently over the last few decades. However, both of these men, while appearing to be different, actually share quite a lot. That’s what became most interesting for us as writers. It was not about how different we could make these two versions but how different they could be while still maintaining the same moral compass, the same flaws that have just manifested in different ways. At its heart, that’s what Counterpart is about.

Justin Marks (centre) on the Counterpart set

A very important moment in the show’s first episode is when Howard and his counterpart, who we call Howard Prime, from the other world, first get a chance to be alone together. In his apartment, after all the spy tradecraft has been talked about, they’re really just killing time.

We’re very proud of our action sequences and the intricacies of our plot. We worked hard to make it work and make it make sense. But the reason we worked so hard was so we could get it out of the way and let this show ultimately be about giving opportunities for two versions of the same self to sit in the same room and sniff each other’s asses for some period of time, get to know each other and study the similarities and differences between them.

One of the things that I find so interesting about the concept of Counterpart is that we all possess our own secrets and memories and our own ways of seeing things. How both relieving and also terrifying it must be to find there’s someone else who knows all those secrets and memories. So how do you keep secrets from someone who knows all of your secrets, in a world that’s all about secrets?

What starts to happen in that scene is Howard and Howard Prime start to explore each other. They start to talk about a bully their brother-in-law reminded them of, and we see by the way they talk about him that they had the same memory. But – and this is key to the philosophy of the show – I don’t believe memories exist in isolation. We treat memories as things that are being approached from the present. So we impose upon our memories the needs of our present, which means Howard Prime is going to extract from a memory a very different lesson to the one the main Howard will.

The series sees JK Simmons (Whiplash) play two versions of one man

Howard is a nice guy and has been run over throughout his whole life, and sees the bullying experience as another obstacle in the road to be endured, while Howard Prime simply sees the bully as ‘that asshole.’ That’s where you start to see the cracks between them. Everything about this show is laid out in that scene. The things they share and the slight differences that are going to get so much bigger over time, and yet they’re always going to have this rubber band that brings them back to the same centre.

It also presented for us and JK Simmons an incredible challenge in how to execute it and how to make it feel human and really portray it to an audience. These are two versions of the same self sitting there, but they feel like two completely different people when JK inhabits those bodies. The hope when you watch the show is you really do let go of, ‘How did they do it?’ and you just see it as there must be two JKs out there, doing two things; you stop wondering about the magic trick and start letting go. It’s about being able to explore another side of yourself. It’s not about the magic trick of putting one actor on screen with himself.

JK is a very inside-out kind of actor. We work hard to construct elaborate and detailed biographies for our characters on this show, and he was given access to all this information. He knew what made one version of one self different from the other, which is a key story that has not really been fully revealed yet. Certainly when you’re dropped into the world in the first episode, you don’t really have that specific answer of what made him like this and the other one like that. But JK knew the answer, so he was able to build his performance with that in his head.

A second season of the drama is in the works

What he does – and it’s really amazing to see it happen – is he can show up on set and, just by the way he’s holding his body, you know exactly who he’s playing. In the case of Howard, he slumps his shoulders and has a slower gait and a more defeated feeling. In the case of Howard Prime, it’s in the eyes. He looks around the world like a predator looking for his next prey, spotting the weakness of the person he’s in the scene with, whereas Howard recognises weakness but forgives it. When they’re interacting with each other, you see that starting to happen.

If I had it my way, JK and JK would be in every scene together. It’s just I wouldn’t survive and nor would the entire production, given the sheer obstacles to producing scenes like that. It takes a lot of time – you have multiple split screens set up, you have your strategy for how you’re shooting a scene and how you’re going to shoot two versions of the same person together. It’s a very difficult thing, made easier by having great actors, but it’s a time-consuming process.

This scene with two JKs took almost two days to film. On a television schedule, that is a nightmare. You cannot shoot an episode where one scene takes two days. So we pick and choose our moments, and we want them to grow separately and observe things so they can eventually come back together and share what they’ve learned – and they do in some very big ways.

Counterpart is produced by Gilbert Films, Anonymous Content and MRC and distributed by Sony Pictures Television. The series launches in the UK on StarzPlay on September 28.

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On patrol

In US network drama The Rookie, Nathan Fillion plays John Nolan, who takes a fresh start in life by pursuing his dream of becoming a LAPD officer.

As the force’s oldest rookie, he’s considered a walking mid-life crisis. But if he can use his life experience, determination and sense of humour to give him an edge, he might just make a success of it.

The series also stars Alyssa Diaz, Richard T Jones, Titus Makin, Mercedes Mason, Melissa O’Neil, Afton Williamson and Eric Winter.

In this DQTV video, former Castle actor Fillion and showrunner Alexi Hawley reveal the origins of the series, which is based on the real-life story of the oldest rookie in the LAPD.

They talk about how Nolan fits in with the ensemble of supporting characters, the central theme of starting over and why they believe the drama will appeal to viewers of all ages.

The pair also detail how they pitched the series to ABC, which handed the show a straight-to-series order.

The Rookie is coproduced by Entertainment One (eOne) and ABC Studios for ABC, and distributed by eOne.

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Six of the Best: Victoria Madden

The writer and co-creator of Australian drama The Kettering Incident and forthcoming supernatural thriller The Gloaming picks her six favourite dramas, which include a blend of science fiction, crime and Scandi noir.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
I remember, thinking back to my childhood, how much I enjoyed shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Doctor Who. Probably my favourite was Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with all the frightening creatures out in the night. I really enjoyed the dynamic between newspaper reporter Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Tony never believed Kolchak and I’d be yelling at the TV – ‘I saw it too, Vincenzo!’ But they had a genuine respect for each other. As an adult, I would watch The X-Files and I could definitely see where that show’s creator, Chris Carter, got his inspiration from.

Hill Street Blues
In my 20s and starting to write myself, I was attracted to Hill Street Blues (also pictured above) – basically all of Steven Bochco’s shows. He was a genius, and shows like Hill Street, NYPD Blue and LA Law really changed the landscape of TV. They had long-running storylines where characters developed, rather than resetting each week as the TV model was then. You always wanted to be part of the team, whatever the show. I believe this series changed the way we told stories on TV from that point on.

Life on Mars
This show was a total game-changer for me as a writer. I was working in London on The Bill when Life on Mars was being made and I had done a ton of crime shows up until then. The hybrid of crime, time-travel and mystery elements was fantastic and opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre-blending. I used it as a reference and inspiration for The Kettering Incident, even though they are completely different shows.

This is another British series that has influenced me a lot when it comes to blending the supernatural with crime. Lesley Sharp is one of my all-time favourite actresses and she shines in this. It used to genuinely scare the crap out of me. I am thrilled that I now have Stephen Volk, the creator and writer, as a friend on Facebook. I’m a nerd like that.

Twin Peaks
It is hard to pick one show when we get to the massive change in TV coming out of the US in the 1990s, with the introduction of HBO and the rise of the showrunner model, but I have to go to one of my most revered idols – David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Lynch and Mark Frost created a truly original, unique and luscious TV series with a mix of dreamscape, horror, comedy and soap, and showed the power of a single question: who killed Laura Palmer? The soundtrack was perfect as well.

Forbrydelsen (The Killing)
My final choice is Forbrydelsen (The Killing). I have long been drawn to Scandi shows like Unit One, The Eagle and Wallander, but Denmark’s The Killing brought together a complex female lead with multiple storylines over 20 episodes. This was the first time I genuinely binged on a show, and though I had writing deadlines of my own, I would still be up at 02.00 watching ‘just one more.’ It also paved the way for other great Scandi series like Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Borgen, which I also love. It even made me want one of Sarah Lund (Sophie Gråbøl)’s jumpers!

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Killing it

As US espionage thriller Killing Eve lands in the UK, DQ hears from lead writer and executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge about refreshing the genre, infusing drama with comedy and the joy of writing.

“She’s utterly unique,” actor Fiona Shaw says of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (pictured above), the actor and writer behind British comedy drama Fleabag and US spy thriller Killing Eve. “It’s fantastic to have someone who is a master of language writing television. It’s wonderful – not just a master of narrative or a master of seeing things, but a master of words. It’s just great fun to read [her scripts] and be allowed to play it.”

Cue an act of faux embarrassment and modesty from Waller-Bridge, as Shaw, who stars in Killing Eve as MI6 head Carolyn Martens, talks about the writer while sitting beside her at a Bafta screening of the British-made US drama, which launched in April this year on BBC America but has now travelled back across the Atlantic to BBC1, where it debuts this Saturday. The full six-episode boxset will be released on BBC VoD service iPlayer immediately after the first episode has aired.

Waller-Bridge should be used to receiving plaudits after her award-winning adaptation of her own stage play, Fleabag, saw her become one of the most in-demand talents in the UK. But it was Sally Woodward Gentle who, after much persistence, managed to secure the writer to adapt Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas for television as Killing Eve.

The series, which is now filming its second season, follows Eve (Emmy-nominated Sandra Oh), a bored, whip-smart MI5 security officer whose desk job doesn’t fulfil her fantasies of being a spy. Her life changes, however, when she enters into an epic game of cat and mouse with Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. The series sees them go head-to-head in a chase across Europe that is in equal parts funny, smart and action-packed.

Killing Eve stars Jodie Comer (left) and Sandra Oh take a break from filming

Sid Gentle Films produces, with Woodward Gentle, Waller-Bridge and Lee Morris executive producing. Endeavor Content distributes the series internationally, with other buyers including HBO Europe, Israel’s Hot and TVNZ in New Zealand.

In her own words, Waller-Bridge discusses the challenge of refreshing the spy genre, infusing drama with her own brand of comedy and the joy of writing.

Comedy isn’t just about telling jokes but about presenting characters in unexpected situations…
My role in life as well as in writing is to never let it get too heavy. I think people fall in love with characters who make them laugh, and comedy is such a huge part of surprising people. I always want to be surprised and a joke always surprises me, especially in a murderous drama.

The writer was forced to be creative when coming up with insults, with Eve calling MI5 boss Frank Haleton (Darren Boyd) a ‘dickswab’…
I was thinking really hard about what to call Darren Boyd. You write those things because you’re not allowed to say really rude words. BBC America said, ‘Unfortunately you can’t say that,’ but that forces you to be more creative sometimes, and ‘dickswab’ was that. I looked it up and it turns out someone’s name is Dick Swab.

Sandra Oh was destined to play Eve and nothing would stop Waller-Bridge from getting the Grey’s Anatomy star…
Sally [Woodward Gentle] heard from her agent several times that Sandra wasn’t available and I looked at Sally and said, ‘I’m just going to do it one more time.’ It was an operation. I wrote a long email about why it had to be Sandra, and from the moment she came into our imaginations as Eve, it couldn’t be anybody else.
Then we had a Skype call, which was really strange because the moment we pressed video on Skype, we were wearing exactly the same outfit. So it was like, ‘This is happening.’

Comer (Doctor Foster) plays assassin Villanelle

The series’ heightened take on the spy genre comes more from who Villanelle is than Waller-Bridge’s desire to play with the rules…
It was more about what’s inside Villanelle, that she’s designing her own life. She’d be like, ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’m riding a motorbike.’ It’s not about looking at Villanelle being cool, it’s about her feeling cool and that’s what’s feeding her, or feeling like she’s living the life she wants to live.
She can have sex with anyone she wants and she does; she can have a motorbike and she’ll eat a tiny sandwich on a hillside because she can. She’s kind of in the ‘Villanelle’ movie of her life. She’s not entirely sure who she is and she’s constantly trying to play different people, but without insecurity, which I think is what’s fun about her. She goes, ‘I’m going to climb a drainpipe in a weird see-through blouse,’ not because that makes the show sexy but because Villanelle says, ‘That’s what I’m going to do and nobody’s going to stop me.’ It was mainly through her playing around. She cracks herself up.

But taking on such well-trodden ground as the espionage thriller meant the writer wasn’t afraid to freshen things up…
When I’m trying to write something, there’s a time when I feel like I want to see something, and it comes out as, ‘I want to see Fiona Shaw do that.’ It can be as simple as that – to have these amazing actors do or say something surprisingly funny. It keeps coming back to doing something surprising.
So many of the tropes work and parts of the genre fit together so well for a reason, because they work and they fell good. So it’s not that you completely discard them, it’s about how you freshen them up to feel surprising again.

The source material offered the chance to create a series with two lead characters…
Luke Jennings introduced these characters and their world so vividly that you’ve got two shows in one. You’ve got the office drama with Eve, the accessible character who you think you know, and then all these details come out and you reveal this everywoman to be something more extraordinary.
On the flip side, you have this extraordinary woman [Villanelle] who you’re slowly revealing has a need to be normal, and that feels like two stories that would otherwise have been separate. Suddenly you have two heroines and two villains at the same time.

Oh’s Eve is an MI5 officer who has become bored of her desk job

The series generated a lot of buzz in the US for its LGBT representation, though Waller-Bridge says this was part of the creative process and not a political point…
It’s purely from character point of view – the idea that these two women just became obsessed with each other in every possible way. That was exciting, new, nuanced and real. It was a different kind of passion and it just felt very natural to the characters. The moment Eve knows Villanelle exists, a switch is turned on in her that hasn’t been turned on before. The first time they meet is the moment they fall in love, and that was a very natural, normal story point for us. They’re just women who adore each other, who are attracted to each other. There’s a sexual power play between the two that isn’t for anyone else, it’s just for them. It’s all about what happens between these two and how it effects them.

Waller-Bridge says the joy in writing Killing Eve was the faith shown in her to do it in the first place, and the freedom she was given to write the story she wanted to tell…
When I’d written Fleabag as a play, it was a monologue and it was ostensibly a comedy but then Sally came along and said, ‘Espionage thriller – go!’ [The joy is] that moment when you go, ‘Yeah alright, fuck it, I’ll try that.’ That moment of faith and ‘please break the rules’ coming from the very beginning – and then the challenge is to break the rules. It wasn’t like I was working within parameters, and BBC America was behind that as well.
The real joy comes when you’ve cast it and you’re starting to see these characters come to life. You get the rushes, you see what they’ve filmed that day, you’re on set and see the actors fill in the cracks and then you’re just like, ‘They’re not just in our heads anymore.’
Killing Eve had been in our hearts for so long and then you see the characters walking and talking, and then you get to carry on writing for them and building that relationship. I remember so many plot twists that happened over my kitchen table with Sandra talking about, ‘What if she did this, what if she did that?’ Then you’re completely aligned with everyone like that. It’s the best.

To reach this point in her career, Waller-Bridge found the fun in writing, surrounding herself with people – her “family” – who push and support her.
I went to drama school, left and nothing happened for ages. And in that gap of nothing happening, I met a director called Vicky Jones [The One], who became my best friend, and we just decided we wanted to do stuff for fun on the side of failing as actors and directors.
So we started our theatre company [DryWhite], producing work. And it was stuff we were doing for fun that took on a life of its own. It was Vicky who eventually said, ‘Just write a play,’ and so then I did – that was Fleabag. Then after Fleabag, I said to her, ‘You write a fucking play.’ And that did brilliantly well too.
That has been a huge part for me, finding your people who want to push you and you can push in return and that’s your gift to each other. It’s so lonely, so hard and so competitive comparing yourself to other people. So if you can find people you have fun with, if you crash and burn, you’ve got someone to say, ‘We’re going down together.’ You build your family and start working with the same people again.
I met Jenny Robins, the producer, doing Killing Eve. We bonded and continue to work together. [Director] Harry Bradbear worked on Fleabag and set this show up. Just build your family.

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Running Narcos

Crime drama Narcos burst onto Netflix in 2015 with huge popular and critical acclaim, with the first two seasons of the bilingual drama following the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Last year’s season three picked up after Escobar’s death, tracking the DEA’s investigation into the infamous Cali Cartel.

Returning later this year, season four follows a brand new story under the title Narcos: Mexico, focusing on the illegal drug trade in the country. The first three seasons were largely set in Colombia.

In this DQTV interview, Narcos showrunner Eric Newman discusses the challenges of making the Netflix drama, the impact of binge-watching and the legacy Narcos has created for bilingual shows.

Narcos: Mexico is produced by Gaumont Television for Netflix. Newman, José Padilha, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard are the executive producers.

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Out of Office

Tom Clancy’s literary hero Jack Ryan has been seen on screen before, notably in movies, with Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all having portrayed the character.

Now, Ryan is set for television for the first time – in a 10-part series for Amazon Prime Video.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan sees John Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place) step into the title role as a desk-bound CIA analyst who is on the trail of a terrorist network, only to find himself thrown into the field for the first time.

In this DQTV interview, co-showrunners Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Graham Roland (Lost) talk about why the novels lend themselves more to television than cinema and how they brought together several story strands into one 10-part series.

They also talk about casting Krasinski as Ryan and how they strived to bring authenticity to the series.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its August 31 launch in more than 200 countries, is produced by Paramount Television, Cuse’s Genre Arts, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and David Ellison’s Skydance Television.

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Taking flight

US drama Manifest sees the passengers of Montego Air flight 828 land safely after a turbulent but seemingly routine flight, only to discover that the world has aged five years while they have been in the air.

While their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on, the passengers are now given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds.

In this DQTV interview, creator and showrunner Jeff Rake discusses how he first conceived the idea for this mystery event series more than a decade ago.

He reveals what drives the show forward: the mystery at the heart of the story, a relationship drama and a procedural element each week.

Rake also talks about developing and casting the ensemble drama, his partnership with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis and the scramble to assemble the best talent during  pilot season.

Manifest is produced by Warner Bros Television and Compari Entertainment for NBC and is distributed by Warner Bros International Television Distribution.

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Digital magic

James David Hattin, founder, creative director and senior visual effects supervisor of LA-based VFX Legion, discusses the company’s television work and reveals his pride over the hundreds of visual effects that go unnoticed by viewers of ABC political drama Scandal.

James David Hattin

While visual effects tend to be thought of as the digital magic behind TV shows and films featuring futuristic worlds and alien invaders, in truth you’d be hard-pressed to find any dramatic series or movie that doesn’t rely on computer-generated imagery to create a seamless real-world environment.

If you’ve watched episodic television shows, such as Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Madam Secretary, Suits, El Chapo, The Catch or any one of dozens of dramatic TV series and movies, then you haven’t seen VFX Legion’s work – which we consider a testament to our LA studio’s mastery of its craft.

Digital effects play an essential role in the production of visual stories for every genre. Practical footage inherently presents numerous issues that only creative digital solutions can address, such as matching lighting, eliminating reflections and shadows, retouching, and removing rigs.

Dramas that unfold in the real world also go way beyond using visual effects for clean-ups and continuity, augmenting real-world footage with computer-generated photorealistic environments, set extensions, explosions, digitally populated scenes and other effects that would be impossible, impractical or too expensive to shoot on a set or on location.

The amount of photorealistic digital effects that stand in for practical footage has steadily increased over the years. Episodic television shows and films are tapping their potential to provide cost-effective alternatives to location shoots and ‘dynamic’ shots, as well as an economical means of expanding the physical boundaries of storylines.

Studios with the ability to create computer-generated imagery that’s indistinguishable from practical footage, and the experience needed to meet the challenge of short deadlines while optimising budgets, are seeing an uptick in the quantity and complexity of work for content that is rooted in reality.

ABC’s Scandal, a political thriller created by Shonda Rhimes that recently concluded after seven seasons, is one example of a dramatic show that evolved the role of digital effects in its production. Filmed in LA but set in Washington DC, the series was an ideal candidate for the meticulously detailed environments that our studio specialises in producing.

Rhimes’ production company Shondaland contacted us during the fifth season when it was clear that the weekly episodic television show’s tight production schedule demanded more visual effects. Legion had earned a reputation as a company with a cost-effective approach to creating complex, quality effects for high-profile TV series, handling large shot counts and dealing with last-minute revisions and tight budgets, while hitting daunting deadlines with time to spare.

Legion handled every facet of the visual effects process for Scandal’s last 50 episodes. As creative director and senior VFX supervisor, I worked closely with our management team, guiding our end-to-end process from pre-production meetings, establishing shot lists, developing concepts, scheduling and budgeting to shot design, on-set supervision and supervising our artists through each stage of the production process.

In this shot, everything is CGI but the actors and the steps

One of the most challenging computer-generated sequences created for Scandal was the replication of the White House’s Truman Balcony. We were provided with some existing assets, which we saw for the first time, and tasked with delivering 60 shots a week later, along with elevating the quality of the show’s visual effects.

It’s not unusual for us to receive upwards of 100 shots in a week and turn them around in five to seven days. We customised a sophisticated pipeline tailored to Scandal’s production and broke down our collective of artists into teams based on their areas of expertise, creating the efficient workforce and fluid workflow needed to keep up with the show’s fast-paced schedule.

The initial shots of this second-floor portico faced the East Lawn and Washington Monument. The rest of the set was built on a stage and didn’t require any visual effects. However, after we developed our 3D model of the White House, cameras were moved into new angles to capture a wide shot of the iconic building and reveal the never-before-seen first-floor portico. Legion expanded on the original effects with new shots of views created digitally from various vantage points that provided the director of photography with the assets he required.

By season six, we had established a close working relationship with Scandal’s production team and were given access to the full scope of information needed to contain the budget. This ‘big picture’ perspective enabled us to apply a broader range of technical solutions and suggest alternatives, such as limiting practical shots of views that might be prohibitively expensive, or proposing digital effects that could provide a more cost-effective approach to achieving their end.

The Lincoln Memorial statue has been added into the background for this scene

Our on-set team, Matt Lynn, Legion’s VFX supervisor, and on-set coordinator Matt Noren, were at the shoot communicating with the camera crew, scenic department, the DOP and the director, ensuring that we had all of the data needed to produce visual effects that aligned with the production specs and seamlessly matched the live-action footage.

Visual effects sequences were created both on sets and at the studio. Some exteriors, such as the Lafayette Park set extension, were shot at a local college where we set up huge green screens, which we later replaced with computer-generated images.

While Scandal isn’t set in a radical dystopian future, Legion’s crafting of digital environments with the accuracy and realism of live footage presented its own set of complex challenges. Any variations from the real world are so subtle that viewers assume the show was shot entirely in DC and the surrounding area. Actually, the LA-based cast of Scandal made only a handful of outings to film in the nation’s capital over the three seasons when VFX Legion handled the show’s visual effects, which was a significant reduction over previous years. The majority of the series relied on digital effects that transported the live action to virtual DC environments.

Although we don’t always want to reveal the magic behind the scenes, sometimes it’s fun for the Great Oz to poke his head out from behind the curtain and say hello.

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ABC’s Whiskey chaser

Whiskey Cavalier, due to air on US network ABC in 2019, is described as a high-octane action comedy-drama that follows the adventures of a tough-but-tender FBI agent.

Scott Foley (Scandal) plays Will Chase (codename: Whiskey Cavalier), who is assigned to work with CIA operative Francesca ‘Frankie’ Trowbridge (codename: Fiery Tribune), played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan. Together they lead an inter-agency team of flawed, funny and heroic spies who periodically save the world while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.

In this DQTV interview, series creator Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City) reveals why he wanted to build a show around long-time friend Foley and discusses the films that have inspired his love of action comedy.

He also explains how the show balances serialised and episodic elements, and explains why he was convinced to continue filming the show on location in Europe.

Whiskey Cavalier is produced and distributed by Warner Bros Television.

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Up in arms

Swedish political thriller Ingen utan skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) stars Jens Hultén as former arms dealer Robert Kastell, who is on an impassioned mission for revenge.

Having spent 30 years in exile after his escape from the corrupt Swedish weapons trade, Robert suffers a personal tragedy that he blames on the industry he left behind. However, his quest for revenge is thrown off course when he discovers he is a father and must protect his daughter.

With the help of a journalist, Robert must change his approach to bring down the man, and the industry, that took so much from him.

In this DQTV interview, Hultén and executive producer Helena Danielsson discuss the moral dilemmas at the heart of the series and what it says about contemporary Swedish society.

They also talk about how they have tried to push the boundaries of the Nordic noir genre that has proved so popular around the world.

Ingen utan skuld is produced by Brain Academy for Viaplay and distributed by Eccho Rights.

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A taste of Sweetbitter

Based on the novel by Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter tells the story of 22-year-old Tess who, shortly after arriving in New York City, lands a job at a celebrated downtown restaurant.

Swiftly introduced to the world of drugs, alcohol, love, lust, dive bars and fine dining, she learns to navigate the chaotically alluring yet punishing life she has stumbled upon in this coming-of-age comedy drama.

In this DQTV video, creator and executive producer Danler talks about the “endless” possibilities of adapting her own novel for television.

Members of the cast, including Purnell, Caitlin Fitzgerald (Simone), Paul Sparks (Howard) and Eden Epstein (Ari), also discuss the authenticity of the series, complicated female characters and the challenges of striking a unique tone with a half-hour comedy drama.

Sweetbitter is produced by Plan B Entertainment for Starz, which holds distribution rights to the six-part series.

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Virtual insanity

Six-part drama Kiss Me First is an innovative thriller that combines live action with computer-generated virtual reality sequences.

The series moves between the real and animated worlds as it tells the story of Leila (Tallulah Haddon), who stumbles across Red Pill, a secret paradise hidden on the edges of her favourite computer game.

There she meets hedonistic, impulsive and insatiable Tess (Simona Brown). But when a member of the group mysteriously disappears, Leila begins to suspect this digital Eden isn’t the paradise its creator claimed it to be.

In this DQTV interview, executive producers Bryan Elsley (Skins) and Melanie Stokes talk about how they adapted Lottie Moggach’s debut novel for television, including updating the book’s chatroom settings for modern-day VR technology.

They also discuss the challenges of making television drama, such as a lack of risk-taking by broadcasters and the prohibitive cost of making high-end series.

Kiss Me First is produced by Kindle Entertainment and Balloon Entertainment for Channel 4 and Netflix.

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