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Job Description: Intimacy coordinator

Intimacy coordinator Vanessa Coffey discusses her role working on television series and how it has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Formerly a corporate lawyer, Vanessa Coffey is an intimacy coordinator with experience working in television, film and theatre.

Originally from Sydney and now living in Glasgow, her small-screen work includes Sky drama I Hate Suzie (pictured above), season two of War of the Worlds for Fox Networks Group and France’s Canal+, and Netflix series Fate: The Winx Saga.

Most recently, she contributed to the Directors UK guidelines titled Intimacy in the Time of Covid-19, a pandemic-focused update to the previously published Directing Nudity & Simulated Sex guidelines for directing intimate scenes. The advice aims to help directors create a safe working environment and offers a framework within which to create impactful and high-quality work.

Vanessa Coffey

How have new rules brought in during the pandemic affected your work?
It’s been really interesting that intimacy coordinators have been consulted on a lot of the guidance that’s been going out internationally. We’ve seen that from the Australian guidance, Nordic guidance and obviously here from Directors UK as well.
Producers have been looking a lot at that side of things, but they also recognise that part of an intimacy coordinator’s role is essentially about health and safety. I was consulted as part of that Directors UK guidance to think about how we can keep the performers safe but still get the content we need in terms of intimacy.

How has your work changed from what it was like pre-Covid?
A lot more preparation goes into the scenes, so we’re getting advance notice of scenes coming through. Where we might previously have had a fairly short lead time in the run-up to intimate content, now people are really starting to think about when it should be shot and the kind of preparation that needs to be done.
We’re seeing some scheduling changes, but also some really clear storyboarding and a lot of thought going into how we’re going to keep people safe, whether that’s through using lifelike dummies, actors’ real-life partners, or actors who can bubble before doing intimate scenes.

Are you seeing a reduction in the number of scenes that require that kind of intimacy because they’re potentially difficult to produce?
That’s definitely the way some productions have gone. I remember reading an article very early on about [Australian soap] Neighbours, for example, when they were doing cutaways with cameras so any time two actors looked like they were getting close in terms of proximity, you would then have the camera cut away to something else. So there was a hint of what was happening without actually showing it.
When [showing intimacy] is crucial to the storytelling, productions are trying to make the filming work as best as possible. In those cases, the scene might just be pushed to later in the schedule, so we can still shoot it but we’re going to shoot everything else first.

As production crews have been reduced, are you still able to be on set?
When I’ve had to go on set, I’ve been there in person. I did a consultation via phone, just talking through the methods and angles that person might want to use. But aside from that, it’s about being there in person, absolutely, because you want to make sure somebody knows you’re a presence they can rely on, who is usually in the same space with them.
If, for example, we need to call ‘cut’ for any reason or if something’s not working, I’ve got the ear of the director in that moment and we can discuss what needs to be done on the next take. It is essential the intimacy coordinator is in the same space as the director and the actors. Obviously, you have to wear a mask; you might have to wear a visor as well, but you are on the same monitor as the director, ideally.

Coffey cites Normal People as a drama series that handles intimate scenes adeptly

The role of the intimacy coordinator is a relatively new thing. How did you come to become involved in TV production?
It is a very new role and obviously we saw the rise of that following the #MeToo movement and everything that was happening with Harvey Weinstein in 2017. As a result, people started to think about what was needed to protect actors and productions from nefarious activities.
My background is as a corporate lawyer. I retrained as an actor and I was also trained in dance so I had these three things that didn’t really seem to relate to one another. Then suddenly this lightbulb moment came about when I was approached by an actor who said to me, ‘I’d really like your help looking at a contract. There’s a nudity rider here. I’d like you to have a look at it with me.’ We went through it and that person then said, ‘Actually, I’d really like you to come on set with me. Would that be OK? Because I’d like to make sure the production is adhering to what we’ve just spoken about there.’
I went on set with her not realising this was actually a role. It didn’t have a name to me at that point. It was just support I was providing for that actor. That was the start of things, and now the role is gaining more prominence, just as a result of it being seen as something necessary rather than just something desirable.

Are you noticing a shift in the way scenes are written and the way they’re handled on set?
You get the script a lot earlier, and the earlier you get the script, the earlier you can be involved in conversations around what’s going to happen with the script. As with any other head of department, you can be involved at a really early stage and start to shape the way it’s going to be shot.
You’ve also got a more senior woman behind the scenes. There has been a shift in that, definitely. [In the] early stages, it was much more about coming in on the day of [filming the specific scene]. We might have got a few days’ notice, but it wasn’t much. That has absolutely shifted, and hopefully it will continue to develop so that we are involved from the very early stages and can really start to plan and help with the storytelling, because the narrative is so crucial with intimate storytelling.
We ask actors to think about how they walk, how they move as a particular character, how they speak. But we don’t ever really talk to them about their intimate lives – and that is such a huge part of what we do as humans. Those conversations can happen really early. And when they do, it can help influence character choices.

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You, another show Coffey says gets its intimate scenes right

As we move into 2021 and this way of producing becomes more commonplace, how do you see it evolving?
With the Directors UK guidance, there are all sorts of things that are explored, from writing techniques to filming techniques. If we do get a vaccine [for Covid-19], people are still going to be thinking about how these scenes are written, why they’re there, and what the narrative is. Why is this particular moment crucial? Hopefully that will all be built in, so people like me can come in earlier to consult.

From a creative perspective, what are the main dos and don’ts of an intimate scene and what pitfalls do you see often?
It’s a mistake if people go in with a particular choreography in mind, and I say that as somebody who probably did that [in the past]. You have to be totally open to working with the people you’ve got in front of you and what they’re bringing to the role. That takes a little while to get used to.
You also have to think about positioning. You get very used to talking with the director about whether something should be shot in wide or close-up and what the different nudity levels are going to be for each of those kinds of shots.
The biggest pitfall I can think of is not having the conversation, not communicating about what’s necessary. I’m talking about blow-by-blow accounts of how long we’re holding a kiss, how many beats we’re holding a kiss, how many thrusts there are, what the quality of the thrust is, whether somebody is penetrating someone else when they have the particular line they’re due to say – so really breaking it down and speaking very openly and frankly about precisely what is happening for those actors in that moment. That’s the kind of creative thing you have to work with.

What would you say are some of the best examples of intimate scenes?
Normal People was a really good example. Every episode was beautiful, it was just really rich. I really liked Brave New World for the way the intimate scenes were managed on that show. It was gorgeous. You could tell the actors felt very safe. There was a lot of creativity.
I May Destroy You was also really gorgeous with what it was able to achieve. I think [creator and star] Michaela Coel is an incredible performer and writer. There was a real depth to that work and it was very dangerous to explore exactly what we’re talking about, which is consent.

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Who’s who

Acclaimed film director Luca Guadagnino discusses his first TV series, We Are Who We Are, a coming-of-age story about two American teenagers living on a US military base in Northern Italy.

Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino is best known for his 2017 feature Call Me By Your Name, the multiple Oscar and Bafta nominee that told the story of a relationship between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his professor father’s graduate assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer). His other credits include I Am Love, A Bigger Splash and Suspiria, a 2018 remake of the classic 1977 horror film.

For his first move into television, Guadagnino wrote and directed We Are Who We Are, a coming-of-age story about two American teenagers living on an American military base in Italy with their military and civilian parents.

Luca Guadagnino
(photo: Elena Ringo via CC)

Jack Dylan Grazer stars as shy and introverted 14-year-old Fraser, who moves from New York to a base in Veneto with his mothers, Sarah (Chloë Sevigny) and Maggie (Alice Braga), who are both in the US Army.

Jordan Kristine Seamón plays the seemingly bold and confident Caitlin, who has lived with her family on the base for several years and speaks Italian. Compared to her older brother Danny (Spence Moore II), Caitlin has a closer relationship with their father, Richard (Kid Cudi), and does not communicate well with her mother Jenny (Faith Alabi).

Caitlin is the lynchpin of her group of friends, which includes Britney (Francesca Scorsese), an outspoken, witty, sexually uninhibited girl; the cheerful and good-natured Craig (Corey Knight), a soldier in his 20s; Sam (Ben Taylor), Caitlin’s possessive boyfriend and Craig’s younger brother; Enrico (Sebastiano Pigazzi), a playful 18-year-old from Veneto who has a weak spot for Britney; and Valentina (Beatrice Barichella), an Italian girl.

Distributed by Fremantle, We Are Who We Are comes from The Apartment and Wildside together with Small Forward. Guadagnino created the story and wrote the scripts with Paolo Giordano and Francesca Manieri, and directed all eight episodes. It debuted in the US on HBO in September and on Sky Italia last month, and now arrives in the UK as a boxset on BBC3 this Sunday.

Here, Guadagnino reveals the origins of the project, how he is influenced by film “masters” and why he likes to improvise on set.

Development on We Are Who We Are began in January 2017, immediately after the success of Call Me By Your Name at the Sundance Film Festival…
The executive producer, Lorenzo Mieli, asked me whether I would be interested in doing a series on gender fluidity set in a typical American suburb. Broadly speaking, I’m not really attracted to what English speakers call ‘topics,’ i.e. sensitive subjects turned into narratives. But I found the idea of staging a US community intriguing. It was something that would spur me to come off the beaten track and explore new paths.

The initial idea was inspired by the life of US actor Amy Adams…
She had told me years ago she was the daughter of a US army soldier and was born and had spent her early life at the Ederle military complex in Vicenza. That memory somehow became a source of inspiration that led me to think, what if instead of depicting the American suburbs, which have become a stereotype of independent cinema, we conjured up a very specific community, like a group of soldiers stationed abroad with their families – a microcosm of military men and women who recreate their own America beyond the borders of their home country, for example in Italy. From this idea, a great partnership began with Francesca Manieri and Paolo Giordano, who had already begun working on a scenario before my involvement.

We Are Who We Are stars Jordan Kristine Seamón as Caitlin and Jack Dylan Grazer as Fraser

During development, Guadagnino wanted to focus on the characters and their behaviour in the way fellow director Maurice Pialat did for his own movies…
He was a director who, in contrast to the more opaque or minor figures of the cinema world, refused to be chained to the paradigms of the ‘reductio ad unum’ and instead celebrated freedom. For We Are Who We Are, I was not only influenced by his film To Our Loves, but also inspired by other wonderful works of his, like Under the Sun of Satan, a film based on the Georges Bernanos novel and which in 1987 earned him a Golden Palme at Cannes but was hissed by the audience, much to his chagrin. I like to think his disillusioned vision of the sacred or his ability to make it emerge in a world of corruption influenced parts of the narrative of this coming-of-age story, in particular the construction of characters like Danny.

Guadagnino describes the series as a film in eight acts…
With extreme patience, after some thorough research into the world of military bases and infinite meticulous work on the details, our gallery of characters vividly took shape – the kids, their families, the military microcosm.

Pialat isn’t the only cinematic “master” that inspired him…
With a view to the ensemble movies of masters like Demme, Altman, Rossellini or Fellini, in which every single character – even the smallest role – is so authentic that they would remain fixed in the collective imagination, we tried to give dignity to everyone without creating a hierarchy or order of importance of the characters.

Spence Moore II also stars in the coming-of-age story

Guadagnino says We Are Who We Are is a human comedy about how expats in a military complex live through their idiosyncrasies, desires and neuroses…
Some may think I painted a utopian microcosm but, in actual fact, I describe a world that reflects what we are today. Why limit ourselves to represent only the median of everything that goes on in the real world? Since I was a child, I’ve always instinctively refused this reading, this interpretation of life. If the series is political, it’s because it somehow opens our gaze on the other and gives a voice, with less sugar-coating than in the mainstream, to a multitude of characters who are quite invisible or underrepresented on the screen. Even two characters like Sarah and Maggie [Chloë Sevigny and Alice Braga], a same-sex married couple, experience some internal dynamics that could come across as unsettling for a certain progressive English-speaking audience.
I can imagine certain aspects of their characters and of their narrative arc could prove hard to understand or accept for some, because it’s difficult to imagine that a character who belongs to the minority LGBTQI community can express at once beauty and deep cynicism.

With this series, Guadagnino says he was able to constantly challenge himself…
I’m not interested in refining a single manner of filmmaking. Instead, I like to think of a film as a product of handicraft, a unique piece that cannot be replicated. For this reason, together with those who work with me, I constantly struggle over the details, over every aspect of the stage design. Sloppiness being my greatest fear, if one day I find I’m no longer interested in details, I’ll stop making films.

Chloe Sevigny as Sarah, one of Fraser’s two mothers

The director has learned to “leave the door open” to improvisation on set, which is why he also insists on having the scriptwriters present during filming…
When you’re there filming even the briefest scene, you can’t help asking yourself a thousand questions. You ask yourself questions as the director, and so do the actors, the prop handler and the set design, make-up and costume departments, and it’s important to capture ideas and keep them going round. In this sense, improvisation is absolutely welcome; we should always remember and accept that reality is always there and will take care of shaping a scene. At first, you never know the direction you’re taking, then your design gradually becomes more defined. And the more you manage to open yourself up to reality and go ahead, the better you understand what you’re doing.

Working in television, he followed the same creative process as with his films…
It’s not as if, because I have a career spanning 20 years, I can just film anything the next day and know exactly what I’m doing. Every time you direct a film, it’s something new, a rebirth. At first everything is out of focus, then gradually the contours start to appear, the shadows and outlines, and then you start seeing a little colour, you start distinguishing the individual shapes and, in the end, you obtain a full vision.

And he likes the show’s title…
It’s us, us together, ‘here and now’… and it was to subscribe as much as possible to this spirit that I betrayed my love for celluloid and returned to digital filming. I liked the idea of capturing, like in a mirror, a present capable of offering a glimmer of improvisation, of goings-on off screen, of childhood, of life.

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Playing Petra

Italian actor Paola Cortellesi speaks to DQ about her starring role in Petra, the Sky Italia detective drama based on the novels by Spanish author Alicia Giménez Bartlett.

The Italian city of Genoa serves as the backdrop to Petra, a detective drama based on the novels by Alicia Giménez Bartlett.

Paola Cortellesi (Don’t Stop Me Now, Like a Cat on a Highway) plays the title character, Petra Delicado, a twice-divorced police officer working a lonely desk job for the city’s prestigious criminal investigation squad until she is suddenly promoted to the front line and tasked with solving violent crimes and murders.

The four-part drama sees her partnered with Antonio Monte (Andrea Pennacchi), an old-fashioned and disillusioned policeman as they tackle four different cases and overcome their initial differences to form a formidable partnership.

Commissioned by Sky Italia, Petra is produced by Cattleya in association with Bartlebyfilm and distributed by ITV Studios. The series marks the first television project for director Maria Sole Tognazzi, who previously worked with Cortellesi on the 2003 film Passato Prossimo (Past Perfect).

Spanish author Giménez Bartlett originally introduced Petra in 1996 novel Ritos de Muerte (Death Rites), which was published in Italy in 2002 as Riti di Morte. The character has gone on to feature in more than 10 novels.

Here, Cortellesi speaks to DQ about the series, playing Petra and filming in Genoa.

Paola Cortellesei as Petra in the Sky Italia series of the same name

Can you introduce us to Petra?
Petra is a police inspector but she works in the archives. Since she’s a very private and self-sufficient person, that job suits her – but then suddenly, to replace a colleague, she’s catapulted on to a murder case. That’s when her path begins as an investigator on Genoa’s Homicide Squad.

She is described as an unconventional heroine. Why is this?
Because she’s so far from the usual roles – mother, wife, spouse, sister, confidante – traditionally played by women, both in fiction and in real life. In the past, she conformed to a certain feminine stereotype, but it was too constricting. Now she’s a maverick, free from ties and conventions. She says what she thinks and, above all, she doesn’t care a bit what others think of her.

How does the series show both her professional and personal lives? How does one affect the other?
Petra’s extreme life choices have made her incapable of compromise. That stance is not helpful at work, where she continually comes up against hostility, and is even less so in her personal life, where she hardly relates to anybody – except, of course, for the special partnership she develops with her deputy, Antonio Monte.

What can you tell us about the series and the cases Petra becomes involved with?
The complex investigations Petra and her deputy untangle are compelling and often affect them personally. In the course of their work, the two continually confront their own beliefs and prejudices, so the cases turn into a chance to ‘investigate’ their own complicated lives. In the series, like in the novels, their relationship gradually deepens until it becomes a solid bond. For me, the beauty of the story lies in their unique relationship.

How do you think viewers will feel about her as they watch the show unfold?
Petra is a character you can fall in love with, but it’s not certain she’ll return the affection. She has many internal conflicts and never reacts as expected.

The drama is set in the Italian port city of Genoa

Why were you attracted to the role?
I love Petra because she’s an unusual female character, at least compared to how we usually see women portrayed in our country. Petra is a lone wolf, without attachments; she lives her sexuality freely, shuns the bonds of love and doesn’t care about pleasing anybody. At times, she’s downright off-putting, but she also has a great sense of humour. We’re already used to seeing all these characteristics in male figures, but in a woman they’re still unusual – and, for many, even unacceptable.

Were you familiar with the character from Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s novels?
I didn’t know the novels so when they proposed this project, I started reading them and I fell madly in love. I became a huge fan of Alicia and her wonderful stories.

Did you base your performance on the books or bring your own style?
The novels are so rich in detail that by reading them I was able to completely get inside every aspect of Petra’s character. I used those traits to interpret the stories adapted for the series. As she’s a fictional character and is never described physically in the novels, I think readers have imagined her in their own different ways. But now she’s taken my form, so for sure there’s something of me, though I tried not to stray in any way from the author’s description.

What was it like working with director Maria Sole Tognazzi?
Working with Maria Sole is a true gift. She has the strength of a commander and the sensitivity of a sister. She loves the acting profession and sees to every detail. We’ve known each other for 20 years, since I had the pleasure of being cast in her first film, and now we get to work together again. Being directed by her is a privilege.

How is Genoa used as the backdrop to the show?
I think it was a brilliant idea to set the series in Genoa. It is a northern port city, with so many varied landscapes and social contrasts. Its qualities are not that different from the Barcelona described in the novels. Of course, I already knew Genoa, but I’d never had the opportunity to stay for long. With Petra, I was able to explore it, enjoy its beauty, and really get to know those who live there. It’s so full of surprises that you end up feeling you can’t ever know it enough, that you always want to know even more.

Cortellesei was drawn to playing a character she describes as ‘unusual’ and ‘off-putting’

What was it like filming the series?
It was great. I was lucky enough to work with great artists and an exceptional crew. We shared the cold winter nights, the beauty of Genoa in spring and the sweltering heat of summer in Rome, the fatigue of the action scenes and the emotions of the most intimate moments. On set, it’s like a family – you participate in the lives of others and put your own life out there. It was an unforgettable experience for me.

What was your most memorable scene?
It’s tough to choose, but one certainly comes to mind in the second episode, Dog Day, when Antonio Monte has an emotional breakdown and goes to Petra for solace. Andrea Pennacchi’s interpretation was so heart-wrenching that we all actually felt sorry to see him in such pain!

What was your biggest challenge?
Finding the precise tone, the right ‘temperature’ to interpret an ‘unloveable’ character in a loveable way, a woman so full of contradictions and so apparently disagreeable. That was definitely the biggest challenge.

Why do you think audiences are drawn to complex characters such as Petra?
Because she always does the unexpected. Or at least that’s the reason I fell in love with the character when reading the novels.

Italian drama has become hugely popular around the world. Why might international audiences tune in to Petra?
I hope because they grasp the original and unusual aspects of this series: the complexity of the characters, the unique atmosphere, the snappy and witty dialogue, and the beauty of Genoa, which is still seen so rarely in films.

What are you working on next?
I’ve just finished a comedy I worked on as both screenwriter and actress. It’s the sequel to a comedy we did three years ago, which was a great success. It’s about relationships between opposite social classes and how they just can’t last. It’s titled As a Cat on a Highway – you know, what could possibly have a shorter life expectancy than that?

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Dog days

Premiering in Sweden on C More and TV4 last month and among the competition entries at the recent edition of French television festival Canneseries, Swedish drama Top Dog follows what happens when an ambitious lawyer and an ex-con form an unlikely partnership.

From the producers of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Top Dog focuses primarily on the clash between Stockholm business attorney Emily Jansson and Södertälje ex-con Teddy Maksumic. Jansson is an aspiring ‘Top Dog’ who wants to make her way up in the firm, whie Maksumic wants to get out of the mafia.

To achieve her goal, Emily has to find Philip, the kidnapped son of her firm’s most important client. Meanwhile, to leave his old life behind, Teddy has to find Philip’s kidnapper. Their paths cross on their respective missions, leading to an unorthodox collaboration and a highly unusual friendship.

In this DQTV interview, actors Josefin Asplund (Emily) and Alexej Manvelov (Teddy) open up about their characters and making the series. Manvelov reveals why playing Teddy is a role he has dreamed of since he started acting, while Asplund recalls the moment she found out she had won the part of Emily.

They also discuss how the show’s writers switched traditional male and female characteristics between the characters, and ponder the popularity of Nordic noir.

Top Dog is produced by Filmlance for Sweden’s C More and TV4 and Germany’s ZDF, and is distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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Great Lake

Writer Roman Kantor and actor Kirill Käro tell DQ about Netflix Russian original To the Lake, a sci-fi thriller about a group of people who risk their lives – and humanity – when a terrifying plague threatens to end civilisation.

Eight-part Russian thriller To the Lake posits a world where a terrifying plague is threatening to end civilisation, following a group of people as they risk their lives in a brutal struggle to survive.

Launching worldwide last month as a Netflix Original, the series stars Mariana Spivak (Loveless), Kirill Käro (Better than Us, The Sniffer) and Anna Mikhalkova (An Ordinary Woman) and comes from Moscow-based 1-2-3 Production. It is directed by Pavel Kostomarov and produced by Valeriy Fedorovich and Evgeniy Nikishov.

Here, scriptwriter Roman Kantor and star Käro tell DQ more about the series and how Russian drama is breaking out on the international stage.

Roman Kantor

What are the origins of the series?
Kantor: To the Lake is based on Jana Vagner’s novel Vongozero, which started as a series of LiveJournal posts in 2010. Back then, she didn’t conceive of it as a novel; it was a journey she took against the backdrop of a major international news story about an outbreak of a new and lethal disease.
Gradually, these posts attracted readers and online fans, and eventually it developed into a novel. Various companies and TV channels had been planning to adapt it for the screen, until the rights were eventually passed to the producers of To the Lake – and they invited me to start the story afresh. I started developing the script from scratch along with the producers and Russian TV channel TV-3.

Did you take any inspiration from other series or films?
Kantor: My main source of inspiration was Russian films that are standard-bearers for a uniquely Russian approach to science fiction, such as Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Konstantin Lopushansky’s films. However, I was particularly influenced by the Russian cinematography of the past 20 or 30 years, specifically motifs from films by Aleksey Balabanov, Andrey Zvyagintsev and Boris Khlebnikov.
In a sense, To the Lake is a kaleidoscope of various characters and stories that have been circulating in Russia’s artistic space in recent years. We actually chose the music in a similar way – the soundtrack to the series is largely popular Russian music that’s mostly unknown in the West. We also tried to combine various layers of Russian culture, both popular and high.

How did you try to make the series unique compared with other shows in the genre?
Kantor: From the start, I knew that what made the novel Vongozero special was its realism and psychological accuracy. It’s less about the virus than it is about relationships between people, which are the main source of dramatic tension. To the Lake has no guys in bright yellow protective gear, wandering zombies or other tropes of the genre that audiences have come to expect. I wanted to rework the genre on Russian soil, so that it didn’t look like a straight borrowing but rather a genuine reconceptualisation of the genre, with Russian sources and Russian characters.

What were the main themes you wanted to include?
Kantor: The virus is itself a metaphor for a society on the brink of collapse. In To the Lake, we imagined what would happen if all the interpersonal tension there is right now, all the buried grievances and conflicts, suddenly began to make itself known in the context of some sort of catastrophe. That could be war or political upheaval, but an epidemic is an even more interesting metaphor.
The series is our study of how people should behave if they want to survive a disaster, of the conflicts they’ll face and the compromises they’ll have to reach in order to feel unified again. The series suggests that the single best survival tactic is to aim for solidarity and unity, while the only outlet for egotism should be altruism.

To the Lake, conceived before the coronavirus pandemic, centres on a global plague

How do you compare the show to current events, where the whole world is battling a virus, though not on the scale of the virus in the series?
Kantor: When we were writing this series, almost six years ago now, the thought that this kind of thing could actually happen in one way or another didn’t cross our minds. That said, while preparing to start writing, I read a great deal of literature and popular-science articles about epidemics, and even back then, I was horrified. Never before has humankind faced the kind of epidemiological risks it’s facing now, given increasing population density, the development of transportation networks and the connectedness of the entire inhabited world.
Of course, if you compare To the Lake and what has actually happened, our virus is far more lethal than Covid-19, but [Covid-19’s] relatively low fatality rate actually played a nasty trick on us: it was because it seemed relatively benign that scientists and the international community didn’t respond as quickly and ruthlessly as they should have done. If they had, many lives could have been saved.

Kirill Käro

Kirill, tell us about your character, Sergey.
Käro: He is an ordinary, average kind of person who finds himself in a horrendously difficult situation he can’t find a way out of. Sergey is not strong or determined. He generally doesn’t make decisions: other people do that for him. He even leaves his family behind – not because he decides to do it, but because his wife Ira finds a condom in his pocket that was planted there by his new mistress, Anna.
The series opens with an act of heroism he performs: he saves all his family members, bringing his past and his present together in the process. But in doing so, he condemns himself to the misery of attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. Throughout the series, he goes backwards and forwards between his two women and his two children, his birth son and his adopted son. Even worse, they end up stuck with Sergey’s dad, whom Sergey detests, and the family of his neighbour.
Against the backdrop of a global catastrophe, Sergey has to come to terms with his own catastrophe. He has to try to save his family and himself as part of that family – he has to save his love.

Why were you drawn to playing the character?
Käro: Sergey is an ordinary person who doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Insane, extraordinary circumstances force him to become a hero, although he’s no hero and never will be, as he continues to prove. That’s what drew me to him.

Roman, what is your writing process?
Kantor: Sometimes I write scripts alone, and sometimes with other writers, but there’s never more than one or two of us. In the case of To the Lake, I wrote the pilot episode and the second episode myself. Once the project was off the ground, I was joined by my co-author Aleksey Karaulov. We wrote four episodes together, and the others I worked on alone.

Pavel Kostomarov

How did you work with director Pavel Kostomarov to bring the series to life?
Kantor: Pavel really contributed a lot to the script, including new plotlines and overarching themes. We did a painstaking job with the script: practically every episode had 10 or sometimes even 15 drafts. Next, we’d hold read-throughs with the actors, using their improvisation as inspiration for changes to the dialogue. On the plus side, we’d then film everything almost exactly as written, sometimes without altering so much as a single line.
Käro: I always try to make sure I’m in dialogue with directors, listening to them, taking their points on board, making suggestions or sharing my doubts. That’s how Pavel and I did it, too. He observed all the actors closely and worked with them patiently to get the results he wanted. We really were a creative team – a gang!

What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Kantor: While we were working on the scripts, the hardest thing was to keep a balance between the drama of the characters’ relationships on one hand and the thrills and spills of the genre on the other. We tried to fuse these elements to stop them getting in each other’s way, so that there’d be something for every viewer and so audiences could really form a relationship with the characters.
As for the production stage, Pavel insisted on the series looking as realistic as possible, and that was the source of the main obstacles we faced during filming. Almost everything was filmed on location, not in studios. In many of the scenes shot in cars, for example, the actors were actually driving the cars at the time.
Pavel also prefers to avoid obvious artificial lighting and over-saturation, and filming everything while there was still natural light was always a bit of a challenge. During Russian winters, the days are very short, which is one of the reasons why pretty much everyone prefers not to shoot exteriors at that time of year.
Karö: The series was shot in extreme weather conditions, but that proved to be the least challenging part for us. We were warmly dressed, the trailers were well heated and we even had foot warmers – thanks to our lovely wardrobe supervisors!
A far bigger challenge was to make all the twists and turns of the plot seem warranted. It’s one brutal scene after another. Just when the characters think they’ve dealt with an issue, another one pops up. Roman and the guys from 1-2-3 Production never let up.

Much of the series was shot amid extreme weather conditions

How was the series affected by Covid-19?
Kantor: Filming had finished long before the pandemic began, but Covid-19 did have an interesting impact on what happened to the series post-release. To the Lake came out in Russia before anyone had heard of Covid-19, and attracted some viewers and fans but didn’t generate a great deal of excitement.
When the first wave of the pandemic hit, though, To the Lake started garnering more viewers. It got picked up by a new audience who, in different circumstances, would never have watched it or even heard about it. Then, articles and posts started appearing about the links between the series and what was going on in real life. So one way or another, it became a sort of commentary on current events, although it wasn’t originally intended that way, and eventually became something of a phenomenon.
Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the second season of To the Lake, which we’re currently developing and writing. After all, global pandemics used to seem like something from sci-fi or the olden days, but Covid-19 is most definitely going to be part of our history. Many generations are going to grow up with the knowledge and memory of the times we’re living through. This period is going to make its mark on the cultural and public consciousness.

Why do you think the series has proven so popular with viewers around the world?
Kantor: There are a few things going on here. The first is this unexpected overlap with the lived experience of people across the world. The epidemic is everywhere, in every country; it’s what people across the globe are thinking about, and the source of the fears they’re struggling with.
Secondly, the series has characters who audiences have really taken to their hearts. My sense is that the characters turned out genuinely quite universal, despite being very Russian. Audiences have been able to relate to them and feel a sense of connection to them.
Our series is also unlike most other works in its genre, and it’s precisely that sense of difference and alterity that draws audiences. To the Lake is different in many ways, including the attention it pays to the characters’ psyches and their inner worlds, which is characteristic of Russian literature and of people’s conceptions of it outside of Russia.

Work is underway on a second season of the Russian Netflix original

Russian dramas are starting to break out internationally. How do you think Russian drama has evolved?
Kantor: Russian TV series production has really taken off in the past five or six years. Before then, it would have been difficult to imagine Russian series going global and appearing on international streaming platforms, but now that’s more and more common.
There are a few factors at play. One of the big things is that we now have a group of people – screenwriters, directors, cinematographers and producers – who, through their work with advertising, video production, documentary films and feature films, have achieved a degree of mastery they’ve used to create high-end contemporary TV series.
While Russian dramas might initially have tried to imitate or straightforwardly copy American dramas and popular formats, there’s now a trend for original works that actually reflect our country’s culture and its focus on the human psyche.
Karö: I’ve starred in Sniffer, Better than Us and To the Lake. They have quite a lot in common. While these shows depict fantastical situations, they’re also about people –  human nature and human problems. And each of these projects has a unique national atmosphere and colour to it. They’re different genres, but all have dramatic stories at their heart. I guess that’s what’s made them popular worldwide.
What you’d glean about Russian drama from these series is that the stories are getting more rough, depressing and hopeless. But the fact is there are all sorts of interesting films and series being made in Russia, in all genres.

What are you working on next?
Kantor: I’m currently working hard on the second season of To the Lake, which is about to go into pre-production. I also have several major TV series in development.
Karö: I’m working on a series called Passengers. It’s a story about a taxi driver who’s not really a person anymore: he helps dead souls come to terms with the issues that are holding them on Earth. They’re his passengers. He helps them find crossing points, and tries to uncover their hidden secrets, life traumas, and all the pain and grudges that are stopping them finding peace. Although our new series has quite the metaphysical side to it, it’s still about people and their mundane problems.

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Keep dreaming

Paulo Halm and Rosane Svartman, the creators of Brazilian telenovela Totalmente Demais (Total Dreamer), discuss making the 130-hour series about a young girl who looks to escape her simple life by entering a modelling competition.

Described as a modern fairy tale, Brazilian telenovela Totalmente Demais (Total Dreamer) tells the story of a girl from a humble background who finds an opportunity to change her life and that of her family by entering a modelling contest – but winning it and becoming a star will be harder than she thought.

Elisa (played by Marina Ruy Barbosa) runs away from the home she shares with her mother and abusive stepfather to Rio de Janeiro, where she is robbed of all her money. Stuck on the streets, she meets Jonatas and begins selling flowers in bars and restaurants. But when she is introduced to Arthur, the owner of a modelling agency, he vows to turn her into a successful model. Meanwhile, Elisa starts working for Carolina, a ruthless magazine editor. Elisa is in love with Arthur, but she discovers that he is in love with Elisa.

With a running time of 130 hours, Globo’s romantic comedy takes its inspiration from George Bernard Shaw’s classic play Pygmalion as Elisa aims to achieve her dreams against all odds.

Written by Paulo Halm and Rosane Svartman and directed by Luiz Henrique Rios, the show’s cast also includes Felipe Simas (Jonatas), Fábio Assunçao (Arthur) and Juliana Paes (Carolina).

Here, Halm and Svartman tell DQ about creating the series, setting the story in opposing worlds and ensuring they have enough twists and turns for the long-running drama.

Total Dreamer creators Paulo Halm and Rosana Svartman

What are the origins of Total Dreamer?
Svartman: The inspiration comes from a mixture of classics from our repertoire and current issues that catch our attention. Every writer needs to seek what is latent in society, what people want to debate or would like to see and be inspired by, but that they haven’t realised yet.
Total Dreamer mixes the myth of Pygmalion, where the creator falls in love with the creature; a bit of Dangerous Liaisons, the classic by Pierre Chordelos de Laclos; and current issues and topics such as pedophilia, urban violence, prejudice, fashion, fame and overcoming difficulties through sport. The telenovela has a light tone, mixing drama, humour and romance. A telenovela can and should deal with any subject; you only need to know the right tone to enable dialog with the viewer.

How was the telenovela developed with Globo?
Svartman: Once the pre-synopsis I wrote was approved with the main plot outlines, Paulo and I developed a synopsis with the main turns of the story and arc of the characters, as well as secondary plots. The cast, set design, costumes, the tone of photography – everything inspires us and helps us to write. The rest of the writing team joined us after we had four written blocks of six episodes each. The script team always bring new ideas and contribute to the creation of stories for the secondary characters.

Why were you drawn to the idea of a modern fairy tale?
Svartman: A fairy tale is a story of transformation and overcoming adversity. We wanted our heroine to be a character who also had defects, unlike a typical princess. We wanted her to be, above all, a fighter, a heroine who achieves her goals and overcomes her challenges through effort and merit. We also wanted her to have an important love story, of course, but not just that.

L-R: Fábio Assunçao as Arthur, Marina Ruy Barbosa as Elisa and Felipe Simas as Jonatas

What other themes run through the story?
Halm: A telenovela is made up of several dramatic nuclei that interact with the main plot but with some independence. This allows us to talk about different experiences of transformation and overcoming, reinforcing our main premise. Some of these themes are dramatic, like the story of Wesley, Jonatas’ brother, who becomes a paraplegic after an accident and ends up becoming a para-athlete.
Others are light and humorous, like the trajectory of Hugo, a lovely and loving character who everyone treats as a loser. He is in love with Carolina, who rejects him and even humiliates him, and afterwards he is abandoned by his new wife. He dreams of winning the lottery, which actually occurs, but after becoming a millionaire, he remains the upright and pure man he has always been.
In addition, through our parallel plots, we talk about issues such as homophobia, parental abuse, the difficulty of adopting a child in a country where so many orphans are without the slightest prospect of having a family, and about fame.

The series blends dark social realism as Elisa faces trouble at home with her mother and stepfather and lighter drama that introduces Arturo and Carolina and Total Dreamer magazine. How do these worlds stand against each other in the story?
Halm: It is characteristic of fables to juxtapose a gloomy, oppressive environment with another reality – one that is more solar, joyful and magical. Total Dreamer, like most telenovelas, uses this archetype to build a contemporary narrative, fanciful but with both feet stuck in reality.
In addition, the path of overcoming and transformation is intrinsically linked to the process of social and economic ascension. Elisa and Jonatas both face getting out of precarious conditions, professionally and financially, and not by a stroke of magic but through work, honesty and perseverance. Social ascension is probably, along with fulfilment in love, the desire of the vast majority of telenovela viewers. The idea of achieving these goals in an honest way, without renouncing one’s principles, keeps alive the common hope of a better life.

Juliana Paes plays ruthless magazine editor Carolina

How do we follow Elisa through the series? Should our sympathy and support always lie with her in the hope her dreams come true?
Svartman: Just like all of us, Elisa does not always get it right. She is not perfect and often makes rash judgements and wrong choices. She is naive, for example, in believing that her mother wants to leave her stepfather, a paedophile. Our empathy comes from knowing her motivations and understanding that she learns from her mistakes.

What is your writing process?
Halm: Rosane and I work together and write each sentence of the text, sitting side by side at the computer. We are building the plots, developing the characters and then doing the scenes and dialogue ‘live,’ each one incarnating and giving voice to the characters in a very fun and dynamic way, although we are terrible actors. It’s crazy for people who have seen us work in our office.
Both Rosane and I have children so we prefer to work outside the home, in an office that later ends up becoming a writers room. We work with a team of writers of different origins and backgrounds. This team has accompanied us since our 2014 series Malhação Sonhos and includes Fabrício Santiago, a talented writer from the Vidigal community who writes wonderful characters; Cláudia Sardinha, a feminist with vast pop culture knowledge, the ideal person to write characters from the world of fashion as well as young couples; and Felipe Cabral, an LGBTQ advocate who was fundamental for scenes with the fashionista characters. Fabrício, Claudinha and Felipe are also actors – Claudia and Felipe even participated in the telenovela – which also helps a lot in the construction of the characters.
We also had veteran writers like Mario Vianna, with his sophisticated and corrosive humour, and Charles Peixoto, one of the most talented and experienced screenwriters at Globo, with a parallel and renowned career as a poet, who helped us by supervising the scripts.
With this team of talent, it was very pleasant to work. We made and distributed the cue sheets among the writers so they would make a first draft of the scenes, which we would then rewrite for the final scripts.

The Greek mythological figure of Pygmalion is among the show’s inspirations

How do you ensure you have enough story to fill 130 hours of television?
Svartman: The more turns there are in the synopsis phase, the better. The biggest problem of a telenovela is having what is commonly called ‘belly,’ which is when the main plot doesn’t seem to advance. We already knew what the main and secondary plot twists would be. The secret is to plan well and seek strong secondary stories that can sustain the show if the main plot needs to move more slowly.

How did you work with the director on the visual style of the show?
Halm: The look of the telenovela was created together with director Luiz Henrique Rios and other team members, such as photographer João Tristão, scenographer May Martins, costume designer Rô Gonçalves and the editor-in-chief, Paulo Maia, among others, who are among the talents we’ve been working with since Malhação Sonhos.
This continuity and intimacy generate a visual identity that characterises our work. Both Rosane and I are also directors ourselves and we know the audiovisual language, the visual construction of a scene, the decoupage, the rhythm of the editing, the importance of the colours of the scenery and costumes. Always respecting the creative command of Luiz and of the other partners, we contribute whenever necessary to recreate our text in the best possible way.

Why might the show also appeal to international viewers?
Svartman: The international appeal comes from Total Dreamer being a good story well told, which sounds obvious, but it’s not. The marriage of talented actors, an inspired director with a team in tune, and a passionately written script doesn’t always happen – I speak from experience. In addition, it’s a story that has ingredients that allow for reflection, but it also inspires and invites fantasy. In a world with many problems, this invitation is often all we need. Through Elisa’s adventures, disasters and victories, the viewer has the opportunity to leave this world for a while, and even to reflect on it later.

Are telenovelas as popular as ever in Brazil or are shorter series becoming more common?
Svartman: Telenovelas remain very popular, as audience numbers prove, even amid the fragmentation of content, platforms and screens. In addition, we can already observe the influence of melodrama, one of the pillars of the telenovela, on serialised series.

How is Brazilian drama changing as it becomes more popular around the world?
Svartman: The first Brazilian telenovela, by Walter Forster, was aired in 1951 and its great novelty was a kiss on the mouth! Today, it is almost impossible to see a telenovela episode without a kiss. Besides, [in telenovelas of the past] there were no secondary stories, the pace of the narrative was much slower, the episodes were shorter and there were no scenes filmed outside the studio.
Telenovelas have always adapted to their greatest transforming agent: the audience. And this audience is global. At the same time, due to the industrial pace of a telenovela, every creative chain is based on the writer. The writing is the beginning of everything, and once the telenovela begins, any interference or change takes time, hence the power of the writer.
In addition, telenovela writers are increasingly influenced by what happens in the world, and it is their sensitivity that dictates the narratives. A telenovela writer is not alienated from the world in an ivory tower, so it is through them that the changes in the telenovela, whose format is always being updated, occur.

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Series to Watch: November 2020

DQ checks out the upcoming schedules to pick out 10 new dramas to watch this November, from Netflix’s first original Egyptian drama to a new thriller from the creator of Big Little Lies and a Swedish real-life crime story.

Paranormal
From: Egypt
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Ahmed Amin, Razane Jammal and Ayah Samaha
Air date: November 5
The streamer’s first original Egyptian series, this Arabic drama introduces Dr Refaat Ismail (Amin, pictured), a cynical Haematologist with a dark sense of humour who goes through a “journey of doubt” as his world is turned upside down after his lifelong scientific convictions are questioned. Refaat is accompanied by his university colleague, Maggie McKillop (Jammal), as they enter the paranormal world and try to save their loved ones from the immense danger that surrounds them. The story is based on the thriller novel series of the same name by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik.

The South Westerlies
From: Ireland
Original broadcasters: Acorn TV, RTÉ
Starring: Orla Brady, Eileen Walsh, Patrick Bergin, Steve Wall, Ger Ryan and Sorcha Cusack
Air date: November 9 on Acorn TV in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Launched in Ireland on RTÉ in September.
Kate Ryan (Brady, pictured) is a single working mum and environmental consultant in Dublin who is keen on earning a highly prized promotion. However, this requires her to return to the town she’s avoided for 15 years, where she has a complicated history and old secrets that she wants to keep firmly under wraps. Kate decides to go undercover to quell opposition to her company’s offshore wind farm, but her past with the town threatens to expose more than her hidden mission.

The Crown (S4)
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Tobias Menzies, Josh O’Connor, Erin Doherty, Emerald Fennell, Gillian Anderson, Emma Corrin, Marion Bailey, Georgie Glen, Tom Byrne, Angue Imrie and Charles Dance
Air date: November 15
By now, you’ve either been watching The Crown or you haven’t. Regardless, season four covers a pivotal period of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, as the divisive politics of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher (Anderson, pictured), come into play. Meanwhile, the romance between Prince Charles (O’Connor) and Lady Diana Spencer (Corrin) may be just the fairytale the public need.

Jakten på en mördare (Hunt for a Killer)
From: Sweden
Original broadcaster: SVT
Starring: Anders Beckman, Lotten Roos, Håkan Bengtsson, Rasmus Troedsson, Christian Fex and Lars Schilken
Air date: November 15
Based on the real murder of 10-year-old Helén Nilsson in Hörby in 1989, a case that went unsolved for 16 years, this six-part series tells the story of police officers Per-Åke Åkesson (Beckman) and Monica Olhed (Roos), who led an investigation team that solved numerous homicides in southern Sweden and eventually found Helén’s killer.

Small Axe
From: UK
Original broadcasters: BBC, Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Kenyah Sandy, Sharlene Whyte, Daniel Francis, Naomi Ackie, Sheyi Cole, Jonathan Jules, John Boyega and Steve Toussaint
Air date: November 15 in the UK on BBC1, November 20 on Amazon Prime
From Oscar- and Bafta-winning director Steve McQueen, Small Axe is a collection of five films set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, each telling a story involving London’s West Indian community, showing how their lives have been shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination.
Mangrove (pictured top) centres on the owner of a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill; Lovers Rock is the fictional story of young love at a blues party in 1980; Education is the coming-of-age story of 12-year-old Kingsley, who is fascinated by astronauts and rockets; Alex Wheatle follows the true story of the eponymous award-winning writer; and Red, White & Blue (left) is the true story of Leroy Logan, a young forensic scientist driven to realise a childhood ambition of becoming a police officer.

Big Sky
From: US
Original broadcaster: ABC
Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Kylie Bunbury, Brian Geraghty, Dedee Pfeiffer, Natalie Alyn Lind, Jade Pettyjohn, Jesse James Keitel, Valerie Mahaffey, John Carroll Lynch and Ryan Phillippe
Air date: November 17
A thriller from David E Kelley (Big Little Lies) and based on the books by CJ Box, Big Sky follows private detectives Cassie Dewell and Cody Hoyt as they join forces with the latter’s estranged wife and ex-cop, Jenny Hoyt, to search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway in Montana. But when they discover these are not the only girls who have disappeared in the area, they must race against the clock to stop the killer before another woman is taken.

No Man’s Land
From: France, Israel
Original broadcasters: Hulu, Arte
Starring: Félix Moati, Mélanie Thierry, Souheila Yacoub, Dean Ridge, James Krishna Floyd, James Purefoy, Jo Ben Ayed, Roda Canioglu and Simon Harrison
Air date: November 18 on Hulu
In this drama set against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, young Frenchman Antoine (Moati) goes in search of his estranged sister, who is presumed dead. While unravelling the mystery, Antoine ends up joining forces with a unit of Kurdish female fighters and travels with them in ISIS-occupied territory. Antoine’s journey sees him cross paths with adventurers and anarchists, spies and innocent victims, and provides a unique look at the tragic events in Syria and the way they affect the entire world.

Black Narcissus
From: UK/US
Original broadcasters: FX, BBC
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Alessandro Nivola, Aisling Franciosi, Diana Rigg, Jim Broadbent, Rosie Cavaliero, Karen Bryson, Patsy Ferran, Nila Aalia, Kulvinder Ghir, Chaneil Kular, Dipika Kunwar, Gina McKee, Soumil Malla and Gianni Gonsalves
Air date: November 23 on FX in the US; December on the BBC in the UK
Based on Rumer Godden’s novel and set during the latter years of British rule in India, Black Narcissus focuses on ambitious young nun Sister Clodagh (Arterton, pictured) as she heads a mission to a remote part of the Himalayas. The palace of Mopu has been donated by General Toda Rai, who hopes the Sisters of St Faith will rid the ‘House of Women’ of unhappy memories connected to his late sister, Srimati. Although Clodagh ignores the warnings of the general’s raffish agent Mr Dean, isolation and illness soon take their toll, with the haunting atmosphere of the palace particularly affecting volatile Sister Ruth. As past and present collide, the arrival of the young General Dilip Rai is the catalyst for an explosion of repressed desires that may end in a fatal confrontation.

The Flight Attendant
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO Max
Starring: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Rosie Perez, Zosia Mamet, Michelle Gomez, TR Knight, Colin Woodell, Merle Dandridge, Griffin Matthews and Nolan Gerard Funk
Air date: November 26
This eight-episode limited series sees a flight attendant (Cuoco, pictured) wake up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened. The dark comedic thriller is based on the novel of the same name by Chris Bohjalian.

30 Monedas (30 Coins)
From: Spain
Original broadcaster: HBO Europe
Starring: Eduard Fernández, Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Megan Montaner
Air date: November 29
From director Álex de La Iglesia, 30 Coins is set in a world where nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted. Father Vergara (Fernández, pictured) is an exorcist, boxer and ex-convict who is exiled by the church to be the priest of a remote town in Spain. He wants to forget and be forgotten, but his enemies will soon find him. Strange things begin to happen, and an unlikely task force of Mayor Paco (Silvestre) and local vet Elena (Montaner) seek the truth, while reality is distorted by a cursed coin which is at the heart of a global conspiracy.

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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.

Adam Price
Known in his native Denmark for shows such as 30-something comedy drama Nikolaj og Julie, Price (also pictured top) burst onto the international scene with Bafta-winning political series Borgen and then Ride Upon the Storm, in which he tackled the subject of religion. His latest project, Netflix’s Ragnarok, imagines a battle between good and evil in a small Norwegian town.

Suvi Mansnerus, a producer from Finland’s YLE Drama, says: “I have always looked forward to his productions, ever since Borgen. His touch magically drives the story and his characters are the ones you love and hate at the same time but, no matter what, you stay on their side.”

(photo: Bafta/Jonathan Birch)

John Logan
An Oscar-nominated screenwriter for films including Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo, American writer Logan has an enviable CV that also includes Any Given Sunday, Star Trek: Nemesis and James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre. In television, he created and wrote fantasy horror series Penny Dreadful, and is also behind its return to television this year in the form of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.

The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming creator Victoria Madden says: “I have a writer crush on John Logan. His body of work is consistently brilliant, with Penny Dreadful being one of my all-time favourite shows – I am totally hanging for City of Angels. But his whole body of work is incredible. I imagine one day I might sit in a writers room with him. But if not, I’d be happy to make the coffee.”

Brit Marling
American actor and writer Marling is known for films such as Another Earth and The East, but broke into television with Netflix mystery drama The OA, which she created with Zal Batmanglij. Marling also starred in the show as Prairie Johnson, who reappears following her disappearance seven years earlier, now calling herself ‘The OA’ and with her sight restored, having previously been blind.

The head of development and coproductions at Ukraine’s Film UA, Kateryna Vyshnevska, says: “I was heartbroken when The OA was cancelled. There are few writers who can conceive a whole new world in their heads and then deliver it convincingly so that it feels both real and like nothing we’ve seen in the real world.”

Russell T Davies
Twenty-one years after his seminal drama Queer as Folk first aired, Davies has cemented his status as one of television’s most in-demand writers. Responsible for bringing back Doctor Who in 2005, his other credits include Casanova, Cumcumber, A Very English Scandal and dystopian family drama Years & Years. His next project is Boys, which charts the joy and heartbreak of four friends during the 1980s.

Big Light Productions creative director Emily Feller says: “Years & Years was ambitious, entertaining and engaging. Russell creates characters I just want to be friends with, hang out with and listen to all the time. I love his writing.”

Laurie Nunn
Nunn is the creator of Netflix teen drama Sex Education, which follows Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward high-school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). The setup sees Otis and friend Maeve start a sex clinic at school to capitalise on his talent for sex advice, though it is through the superbly cast ensemble of characters that the show is able to tackle a variety of subjects in both a serious and frequently hilarious fashion.

Lingo Pictures MD Helen Bowden (The Slap, Lambs of God) says: “Laurie Nunn has done a brilliant job of season two. She manages to make a surface of comedy explore much deeper issues. There’s nowhere she won’t go, and her characters are just divine. It’s an irresistible watch.”

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Ones to Watch: Writers

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 writers to tune in for, from Moshe Zonder (Tehran) to Suzan-Lori Parks (Genius: Aretha) and Chris Van Dusen (Bridgerton).

20. Måns Mårlind
One of the original creators of acclaimed crime drama The Bridge, Swedish writer Mårlind followed that series with Midnight Sun, the story of a French detective sent to the very north of Sweden to solve a brutal murder. Now he has created Shadowplay, a series set in a lawless Berlin in 1946 where an American cop arrives to build a police force in the chaotic aftermath of the way. His mission is to take down the Al Capone of the broken city, but he also undertakes a personal crusade to find his missing brother.

19. Jeb Stuart
Stuart is the writer two of the biggest action films of the 1980s and 90s, Die Hard and The Fugitive. Now working on something completely different, he has penned Netflix animated drama The Liberator. Based on real events, it tells the story of Second World War infantry commander Felix ‘Shotgun’ Sparks, who led the members of the 157th Infantry Battalion of the 45th Division, an integrated group of white cowboys, Mexican Americans and Native soldiers drawn from across the West. For more than 500 days, they led a group of American soldiers from Italy to France to the liberation of Dachau.

18. Anna Symon
Symon penned episodes of period drama Indian Summers before writing three-part miniseries Mrs Wilson and mystery drama Deep Water. Next up is The Essex Serpent, an adaptation of Sarah Perry’s novel for Apple TV+. It tells the story of newly widowed Cora, who leaves Victorian London to escape an abusive relationship and lands in a small village where a mythical creature known as the Essex Serpent is said to have returned.

(photo: Rodrigo Fernandez)

17. Niccolò Ammaniti
The novelist, screenwriter and director (also pictured top) is following up his Sky Italia series Il Miracolo (The Miracle) by adapting his own novel, Anna, for the same broadcaster. The dystopian story is set in a world ravaged by a virus that kills adults but spares children, as a teenager sets off in search of her kidnapped brother with the instructions left by her mother acting as her survival guide.

16. Kate Ashfield
Recognisable to television and film fans for her acting roles, which include Shaun of the Dead, A Confession, Line of Duty and Life, Ashfield also has a burgeoning career as a writer. Her first writing credit was British series Born to Kill, which she now follows up with Finnish drama Huone 301 (Man in Room 301). It tells the story of the Kurtti family, whose lives change irrevocably one fateful night. Years later, the secrets of that night start to unravel on a family vacation in Greece, pushing their family ties to the limit.

15. Misha Green
Green’s first screen credits came with biker series Sons of Anarchy, before writing jobs on Heroes, Spartacus, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and Helix. She went on to create Underground, the Civil War-era drama about a group of slaves fighting for freedom on an underground railway, before penning one of this year’s biggest series, HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Based on Matt Ruff’s novel, the show blends horror and science fiction with the real-life terrors of the 1950s Jim Crow era as Atticus Freeman partners with friend Letitia and his uncle George to travel across America in search of his missing father.

14. Moshe Zonder
As one of the writers of Fauda, Zonder was behind an action-packed thriller that has become one of the biggest hits to come out of Israel. The writer has now penned Tehran, which is airing globally on Apple TV+ . The story follows a Mossad agent who goes deep undercover on a dangerous mission in Tehran that places her and everyone around her in dire jeopardy.

13. Virginie Brac
Brac began her career as a novelist before moving into television, writing on crime drama Engrenages (Spiral) and creating Insoupçonnable, the French adaptation of British thriller The Fall. Her next series is Cheyenne & Lola, a 10-part drama that sees Cheyenne, recently released from prison, cross paths with Lola, a Parisian woman who has arrived in the north of France to move in with her lover. When Cheyenne witnesses Lola kill her lover’s wife, she assumes she will be blamed for the killing and so the pair form a ruthless duo.

(photo: Paulina Szafranska)

12. Esther Gerritsen
Considered one of the best contemporary novelists in the Netherlands, Gerritsen is now building her reputation as a screenwriter. Beginning with 2014 coming-of-age drama Nena and 2018 comedy-drama Dorst, she then partnered with actors Carice van Houten and Halina Reijn on Instinct last year. Now she partners with the latter pair again as lead writer on Red Light. Recently premiering at French festival Canneseries ahead of its domestic debut early next year, the series follows three women with completely different backgrounds – a prostitute, a well-known soprano and a cop – whose lives unexpectedly intertwine.

11. Tom Edge
Edge wrote for comedies Threesome, Pramface and Lovesick before scripting feature-length drama The Last Dragonslayer. More recently, he has worked on royal drama The Crown and adapted three of JK Rowling’s Strike novels – The Silkworm, Career of Evil and Lethal White – for the BBC. He’s now working on two new projects for the broadcaster: submarine thriller Vigil and You Don’t Know Me, a four-part adaptation of Imran Mahmood’s novel about a man who faces a murder trial but insists he is innocent.

10. Suzan-Lori Parks
Playwright, screenwriter, musician and novelist Parks is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog. She is currently showrunning the third season of National Geographic anthology series Genius, which will chronicle the life of iconic singer Aretha Franklin and was due to air earlier this year but has been delayed by the pandemic.

9.Gjermund S Eriksen
Mammon and For Life creator Eriksen is tackling the world of right-wing extremism in his next series, Furia. Set in an idyllic Norwegian town, the show sees a shocking killing lead a male police officer to an undercover female officer as she infiltrates a nationalistic subculture, leading them to uncover a horrifying underworld of hatred and a terrorist plot that stretches from Norway to the heart of Europe.

8. Angela Pell
Film and TV screenwriter Pell’s first feature, the award-winning Snow Cake, starred Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. She later penned Sky Playhouse drama Gifted, featuring Rhys Ifans. Her next project, Close to Me, boasts a cast that includes Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston. Based on the novel by Amanda Reynolds, it is the story of Jo Harding, a woman who seems to have it all. But following a fall, an entire year suddenly vanishes from Jo’s memory. As she struggles to piece events together, she discovers her life wasn’t quite as perfect as she imagined and that someone will do all they can to keep a terrible secret from her.

7. Sarah Solemani
As an actor, Solemani has credits in films and TV series including Inside No 9, No Offence, Bridget Jones’s Baby, The Five, The Wrong Mans and Him & Her. As a writer, she has worked on HBO’s Barry and penned an episode of Sky Arts’ Urban Myths strand, and is now behind four-part BBC drama Ridley Road. Adapted from the novel by Jo Bloom and inspired by the struggle of the 62 Group, Ridley Road focuses on a coalition of Jewish men who stood up to rising neo-Nazism in post-war Britain. The thriller sees a woman reject her middle-class life to join the fight against fascism, risking everything for her beliefs and the man she loves.

6. Aaron Guzikowski
Guzikowski is behind one of the most ambitious and thought-provoking series of the year. His science-fiction thriller Raised by Wolves, which debuted on HBO Max to critical acclaim and has been renewed for a second season, centres on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet. As the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous task. Guzikowski’s previous credits include films Contraband, Prisoners and Papillon and TV series The Red Road.

5. Emily Mortimer
An actor whose screen career has included roles in feature film Mary Poppins Returns and TV series The Newsroom, Mortimer first wrote for the small screen when she partnered with best friend Dolly Wells on Sky comedy-drama Doll & Em, about an actor who hires her best friend as her assistant. Mortimer has now adapted Nancy Mitford novel The Pursuit of Love as a three-part miniseries for the BBC and Amazon. The period drama follows the adventures and misadventures of the charismatic and fearless Linda Radlett and her best friend and cousin, Fanny Logan, who are on the hunt for the ideal husband. However, their friendship is put to the test when Fanny settles for a steady life and Linda decides to follow her heart – to increasingly wild and outrageous places.

4.Chris Van Dusen
A long-time writer and producer with Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, Van Dusen has worked on Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and The Catch. He is now creator and showrunner of Bridgerton, Shondaland’s first Netflix series, which is set in Regency London. Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family, makes her society debut hoping to find true love. When she meets the highly desirable and rebellious Duke of Hastings, both proclaim they want nothing to do with each other – yet they find themselves drawn together in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society’s expectations for their future.

3. Abby Ajayi
Ajayi began her career on BBC serial dramas including EastEnders, Doctors and Holby City before moving to the US to work on series such as the Viola Davis-fronted How to Get Away With Murder and Four Weddings & a Funeral, the series based on the classic British film. Back in the UK, she has created Riches, an ITV series that introduces Stephen Richards, a successful and smart businessman. When he suffers a stroke, Stephen’s children are set to collide as secrets and lies come to the surface, while his business empire hangs in the balance.

2. Irvine Welsh
The Scottish author is best known for writing Trainspotting, the iconic novel that was brought to the screen in 1996. He’s now working on two TV projects. The first, Crime, is an adaptation of his own book set in Edinburgh and telling the story of a detective who is investigating the disappearance of a schoolgirl while battling his own personal demons. Welsh has also partnered with American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis to co-create American Tabloid, a series based on US tabloid culture that follows staff and events at a weekly publication where political correctness, morals and ethics are left firmly at the door.

1. Sigal Avin
Israeli-American writer and director Avin first wrote for the stage before turning her hand to telenovelas in Israel and then creating dramedy Mythological Ex, which was adapted by US network CBS as The Ex List. Known for comedies such as Bilti Hafich (Irreversible), which was also remade in the US, Avin is taking a different approach with her latest series, Losing Alice. Inspired by Faust’s tale, the psychological neo-noir show follows a film director who becomes obsessed with a young femme fatale and ultimately surrenders her moral integrity to achieve power, success and relevance.

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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.

Jessica Hobbs
The New Zealand director (pictured, right, alongside The Split star Nicola Walker and above with Meera Syal) helmed numerous episodes of Australian teen drama Heartbreak High and worked on shows such as The Slap and Rake before moving to the UK, where she has overseen episodes Broadchurch and River. She subsequently directed Apple Tree Yard and The Split for the BBC, and recently steered two episodes of Netflix royal drama The Crown (season three).

Lingo Pictures MD Helen Bowden (The Slap, Lambs of God) says: “I’m biased – she’s a friend and a fellow Kiwi – but Jessica Hobbs’ episode of The Crown, Moondust, about the midlife crisis brought on in Prince Philip by the Moon Landing, was beautifully directed. The performance she got from Tobias Menzies [as Prince Philip] generated in me such a complex mix of empathy and disgust at his bizarre privilege that I was thrilled. She’s also done other terrific work on The Split, Broadchurch, Apple Tree Yard and, of course, the original version of The Slap, which I produced. Definitely one to watch.”

Richie Mehta
Mehta is the writer/director behind Delhi Crime, an Indian miniseries that dramatises the police investigation into a real gang rape that took place in the Indian capital in 2012. Mehta used real reports to write the scripts and then oversaw the series behind the camera. Netflix picked up Delhi Crime for worldwide distribution after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sunder Aron of India-based Locomotive Global Inc describes Mehta as “a very talented writer/director,” adding: “The series was based on the terrible and true 2012 gang rape case in India that shook the nation and the world. He really did an exceptional job on researching thoroughly and then carefully weaving the various threads of character and story. The series is especially well made, and Richie’s vision was instrumental in pulling off this nuanced treatment of a very difficult subject.”

Nicole Kassell
Known for her 2004 feature The Woodsman, Kassell (pictured with actor Louis Gossett Jr) has since worked on numerous TV series, among them The Killing, The Following, The Leftovers and The Americans. Last year she directed three episodes of Watchmen, HBO’s dystopian vigilante drama created by Damon Lindelof and based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Victoria Madden, creator of Australian dramas The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming, says: “I’m a big fan of Nicole Kassell. Firstly, I know how tough a path it is for female directors, so I respect her for that, but I really respect her work and career choices. I loved The Woodsman, and Watchmen is phenomenal. She was much more than a director in Watchmen, and that is exciting. Her work is riveting to watch. She is one director whose career I follow and look forward to seeing what she does next.”

Sam Esmail
Esmail is the writer and director behind hacker thriller Mr Robot, which concluded last year on USA Network after four seasons. He was also the creative lead behind Homecoming, the Amazing Prime Video original series starring Julia Roberts (pictured alongside Esmail) and based on the podcast of the same name.

Kateryna Vyshnevska, head of development and coproductions at Ukraine’s Film UA, says: “I think both Mr Robot and Homecoming are stellar in terms of direction. Even in this golden age of drama, it’s not often that you see art and craft so seamlessly married. His work is highly stylised yet everything serves a purpose. Just go and watch, and be ready for some paranoia!”

Christian Schwochow
German director Schwochow was once a reporter for French and German television before moving into filmmaking, with television credits to his name including A Dangerous Fortune, German History X, Bad Banks and, most recently, an episode of The Crown’s third season.

Story Films writer-director Dave Nath (The Interrogation of Tony Martin) says: “He perfectly blends performance with beautiful imagery in The Crown, and makes Charles Dance [as Louis Mountbatten] feel like Satan.”

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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.

Cillian Murphy
Murphy has enjoyed a film career that boasts appearances in Inception, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Batman Begins and Dunkirk. The Irish actor’s first TV series was 2001’s The Way We Live Now, but he is perhaps known best known for starring as aspirational gangster Thomas Shelby in Steven Knight’s cult BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders (pictured).

Big Light Productions creative director Emily Feller says: “His performance in Peaky Blinders is so captivating, he is the main reason I tune in most weeks. He has a stillness about him on screen that makes you lean forwards and want more.”

Sandra Oh
For 10 seasons and more than 200 episodes, Sandra Oh was best known as Dr Cristina Yang in Shonda Rhimes’ evergreen medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The actor has also had a celebrated film career, with credits including Sideways and Under the Tuscan Sun, but it is as Eve Polastri, the unconventional spy and general thorn-in-the-side of assassin Villanelle in BBC America’s Killing Eve (pictured), that she has won worldwide acclaim, not to mention a best actress Golden Globe in 2019.

Suvi Mansnerus, a producer for Finland’s YLE Drama, says: “Legendary Sandra Oh! She makes you speechless and, at the same time, makes you want to shout out how good she is. Interesting, precise and adorable,  she totally connects with the story and she never lets you down. I loved her in Grey’s Anatomy and love her even more after her role in Killing Eve. Like Shonda Rhimes, who I also adore, has said: ‘She treats dialogue like notes of music – every word must be played, every syllable correctly toned. She’s always been an extraordinary actor.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

Cynthia Erivo
Recently nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of abolitionist Harriet Tubman in feature film Harriet, British actor Erivo started her screen career in episodes of Chewing Gum and Mr Selfridge before starring this year in HBO’s Stephen King adaptation The Outsider (pictured) and portraying singing legend Aretha Franklin in the third season of National Geographic anthology franchise Genius. She is also an acclaimed stage actor, winning a Tony Award and a Grammy for her performance in Broadway musical The Color Purple.

Lingo Pictures MD Helen Bowden (The Slap, Lambs of God) says: “It would be easy for the characterisation of Holly Gibney in The Outsider to tip into the absurd, but Cynthia Erivo inhabits her in a totally credible way. She is complex, authentic and very appealing. I love the show but I absolutely love her.”

Jharrel Jerome
A rising star after three seasons of Stephen King crime drama Mr Mercedes, 22-year-old Jerome achieved greater prominence with his extraordinarily powerful, Emmy-winning performance in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us (pictured), in which he played one of five young men falsely accused and then prosecuted on charges relating to the rape and assault of a woman in New York’s Central Park.

Victoria Madden, creator of Australian dramas The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming, says: “I’m fascinated by the work of Jharrel Jerome. He is utterly compelling in When They See Us. His bewildered, lost and vulnerable Korey Wise was achingly honest and raw. We are watching a major star in the making.”

Alessandro Borghi
Italian actor Borghi is among the main cast of mafia drama Suburra, played opposite Patrick Dempsey in financial thriller Devils and recently starred as a victim of police brutality in On My Skin (pictured), for which he won Italy’s David di Donatello award for best actor in 2018.

Kateryna Vyshnevska, head of development and coproductions at Ukraine’s Film UA, says: “You might have seen him in Suburra and most recently in Devils, but also do check out On My Skin: The Last Seven Days of Stefano Cucchi, an Italian Netflix original. His range and ability to transform are quite astonishing. I stalk him on Instagram.”

 

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Crime wave

Screenwriter José Junior reveals how he created two hard-hitting crime dramas for Brazilian streamer Globoplay: Anti-Kidnapping Unit and Dissident Archangel.

In the face of international competition from the likes of Netflix and HBO, Brazilian streamer Globoplay is ramping up its original content with a raft of homegrown series designed to keep viewers hooked on local stories.

In 10-part police thriller Arcanjo Renegado (Dissident Archangel, pictured above), a Special Operations Battalion sergeant sets out for revenge after one of his friends is tragically injured during a high-risk operation, leading him into conflict with some of the country’s most powerful politicians.

Similarly thrilling is five-part miniseries A Divisão (Anti-Kidnapping Unit). Set in 1990s Rio de Janeiro, the show is based on the true story of a group of police officers put together to fight a wave of kidnappings and save the city from criminals and corrupt police officers.

Produced and distributed by Globo, both series come from screenwriter José Junior, who tells DQ about his personal interest in the shows’ subject matter, his writing process and filming in Rio’s favelas.

José Junior

What were the origins of these shows?
Anti-Kidnapping Unit was based on the story of three policemen who ended the wave of kidnapping in Rio in the late 1990s. One of them co-created the series and worked on it as a consultant and screenwriter. We talked a lot because he had to remove any ethical or moral concerns so we could access the true story, and he was profoundly professional. To create this type of narrative, you need to have confidence in whoever tells you the story.
In the case of Dissident Archangel, I had a remarkably close relationship for many years with Rio’s BOPE [Battalion of Special Operations] police. It also helped me to have their confidence to tell the stories that are part of the series. I gathered the stories they told me along with others I knew relating to politics and business.

Why did you become interested in writing about the police?
These are stories that are part of my experience. Twenty-seven years ago, I founded an NGO called AfroReggae, which works to take people out of drug trafficking, mediating conflicts and wars between factions, in addition to offering opportunities to young people from different favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

Who are the main characters?
The main characters are people who, in some way, are protagonists of the violent social chaos in Rio. In the city, there are several social protagonists – they include police, journalists, community and social leaders, and politicians. Our focus is to give prominence to these real characters, to make space for black actors and to show places in Rio that have never been shown.

How did the actors prepare?
Initially, the actors’ preparation took place remotely. I recommended several series for them to watch. Then there was another, more profound, step, especially for those playing politicians, police and others: the work with the consultants. When diving into these projects, the actors want to do their best for their characters. They feel comfortable with us because they know my story and [they learn from] the consultants.

Dissident Archangel focuses on a Special Operations Battalion sergeant’s revenge mission

How would you describe your writing process?
I am currently involved in six projects that speak to each other but are quite different. I always try to watch myself to make sure I don’t adopt similar characters, plots or locations. This is particularly important for me so I can work on themes linked to subjects such as politics, public security, favelas, racism, gender and diversity without repeating the same formula.

How have you worked with the directors to create the visual styles for both shows?
The best way for you to bring the real world to the screen is to show reality. Of course, there is a lot of work involved in art direction and scenography, but what impressed me the most visually was when there were no visual changes to the locations. They were already ready for us, and I, as a creator, know what I want.
I have a history of living in a deflagrated area, working with the police and also living in Rio de Janeiro itself – before founding the NGO, I was a taxi driver. During the pandemic, I went to several locations. I filmed and took pictures and sent them to the writers to indicate what I was talking about. I made a point of going to see them in real life; I do not believe in the creative process of just searching Google and using books. When you want to show more reality and you want people to feel this truth, you must go to the field.

Where were the series filmed and what locations were used?
Anti-Kidnapping Unit was filmed in Vila Vintém, a favela on the west side of Rio. The residents became our partners so we could use that location. We also recorded at Piscinão de Ramos and Complexo da Maré, another favela. We did scenes at the Guanabara Palace, the seat of political power in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and we used some other locations around the city.
For Dissident Archangel, we recorded at Complexo da Maré, Morro do Timbau, Baixa de Sapateiro and Piscinão de Ramos, among other locations in the city. With both series, the priority was to show a Rio that has not seen in other films or national or international series.

Anti-Kidnapping Unit is set in 1990s Rio de Janeiro

Why do you think both series can attract viewers in Brazil and around the world?
I think people are interested in understanding a little about social pragmatism, whether for good or for bad. There are already streaming platforms with series from various locations around the world, as there is global curiosity, especially when talking about Rio de Janeiro.
Rio has always aroused interest, and now we have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and show what happens there.

How has your work been affected by the pandemic?
If there were no pandemic, we would have already delivered a series called Betinho, about the greatest social activist in the history of Brazil. In addition, we would have the second season of Dissident Archangel ready. What we did was speed up the script process for other series we are working on. Altogether, there are six projects, all in partnership with Globoplay and Multishow.

How is Brazilian drama evolving locally and internationally?
Today there are projects from Brazil on global streaming platforms that have had an excellent response. At this moment, we have great possibilities to perform even better, both nationally and internationally, with Globoplay content. Through these products, we seek to show what happens in society.
Brazilian content has great potential to stand out. This was supposed to have happened previously, with the presence of great actors in works that have travelled abroad, like Fernanda Montenegro, who is an icon in Brazil. We have to take bigger steps and the path has to be through digital content platforms.

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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.

Exit
From Norwegian broadcaster NRK, this dramatic tragicomedy (also pictured above) is based on true stories from the country’s financial world. It follows four friends in their 30s who try to escape the stresses and pressures of their everyday lives through drugs, prostitutes and other morally challenging outlets. Writer/director Østen Karlsen (Dag) is behind the show.

YLE drama producer Suvi Mansnerus says: “This is such a cool show. Well done Norway! The first impression is that is this just all about the guys messing around. But because of the great script and the production, the main question behind this is all about the emptiness of people’s lives. When we have all the money and power in our hands, where do we go from there?”

The Paradise
This crime drama is set within a Finnish expat community in the Spanish town of Fuengirola, where a Finnish police investigator is sent to investigate the disappearance of two Finns, leading her to link up with the local police as more crimes are uncovered.

Sunder Aron of India-based Locomotive Global Inc says: “I’ve seen early episodes of this Finnish-Spanish series created by Matti Lane. I love that it is basically a new spin on Scandi noir, taking the Finns to the Costa del Sol for murder and crime. The lead Spanish detective seems more like a Scandinavian character himself, and this gives the series an interesting tinge.”

Delhi Crime
Based on the real case of a gang rape that took place in 2012, this Indian miniseries debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, before it was acquired by Netflix. Written and directed by Richie Mehta, it follows the police investigation to find the group of men responsible for the rape and assault of a woman, who later died from her injuries, and the assault of her male friend on a bus.

Big Light Productions creative director Emily Feller says: “Rarely does a drama brilliantly keep you gripped to the story, introduce you to a place you don’t know and still have something incredibly important to say about the world. “Delhi Crime managed all of these with intelligent direction, utterly engaging performances and high production values on a relatively low budget.”

Beforeigners
Created by Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad (Lilyhammer), this Norwegian series takes place at the dawn of a new phenomenon, when people from three historical periods – the Stone Age, the Viking era and the late 1800s – suddenly return. A couple of years later, Alfhildr, from the Viking age, is teamed up with burnt-out police officer Lars Haaland as part of the police department’s integration programme. While investigating the murder of a woman with Stone Age tattoos, Lars and Alfhildr make unexpected discoveries.

Kateryna Vyshnevska, head of development and copros at Ukraine’s Film UA, says: “HBO Nordics’ drama is expertly crafted, as you expect from HBO. They don’t do mediocre. Beforeigners tackles big issues while managing to be funny and balancing on the right side of absurd. It feels distinctly Nordic, too.”

Undercover
A young undercover cop infiltrates a powerful criminal organisation and finds himself caught in a web of violence, treachery and temptation in this Belgian drama co-commissioned by Eén and Netflix. It stars Tom Waes, Anna Drijver, Frank Lammers and Elise Schaap.

Story Films writer-director Dave Nath (The Interrogation of Tony Martin) says: “Belgian Bob and Dutch Kim pose as a married couple at a holiday campsite to snare one of Europe’s biggest drug dealers! It is original and gripping.”

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Perry’s world

Writer, director, producer and actor Tyler Perry talks about breaking into the TV industry, how he prepared to restart filming amid the pandemic and television’s power to change the world.

To describe Tyler Perry as anything other than prolific would be an understatement. Since 1998, the award-winning writer, director, actor and producer has been responsible for 1,275 episodes of television, 22 feature films and 20 plays – writing all of them and directing most of them.

His TV dramas include dramas Sistas, The Oval, The Haves & The Have Nots and Ruthless, alongside comedies Bruh, House of Payne and Assisted Living. In film, meanwhile, Perry has been behind such titles as Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which was based on his play of the same name and introduced the character of Madea (pictured above), a grandmother played by Perry who has gone on to star in numerous films of her own.

Tyler Perry

Last year, Perry also opened Tyler Perry Studios, a 330-acre facility housing 12 sound stages that was built at Fort McPherson, a former Confederate army base in Atlanta.

Speaking during a keynote on the first day of Mipcom Online+ this week, Perry discussed his rise in the media industry, how he returned to filming amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the power of TV to change the world in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the Black Lives Matters movement.

Perry says his mother was his inspiration after a difficult childhood…
My mother, who passed in 2009, is still my North Star when I think about compassion, when I think about giving, when I think about love. She was just a wonderfully impressive woman.
Growing up in a household where there was tremendous sadness and abuse – she was abused by her husband, and me by my father – having to endure all of that was a very tough upbringing. But had it not been for her love, her kindness, her taking me to church and her keeping me in faith and constantly showing me hope, I don’t know where I would be. Every time I think about her, I smile with just how much hope and resilience she had in life.

But he found an escape route through television…
People ask me how I write so much content. It’s because in trauma, I developed this place to go in my brain to escape to these different worlds. Inside these worlds, I could actually stay there for hours, which is how I write now. I can still tap into that place in my brain that creates these worlds.
Growing up as a kid, it was certainly television that helped create a lot of those worlds for me. One of my favourite shows is Gilligan’s Island. I loved this show on so many levels. I remember being a kid, thinking there were little people that actually lived inside the television.

House of Payne, Perry’s first TV series

It was Oprah Winfrey who inspired him to start writing…
I wrote my first play after watching Oprah, when she said it was cathartic to write things down. I started journalling when I was about 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t start writing young but my imagination was created then to create these worlds.

It was “beyond difficult” to get his first play onto the stage…
That’s what I tell everybody who has a dream: don’t let anything deter you. Trying to get my first show up, I put it up on stage and [almost] nobody showed up. But out of the 30 people there, there was somebody who wanted to invest [in it]. So for about seven or eight years, it became a flop over and over again in every city. Then in 1998, it hit. It changed everything. The audience showed up and that was one of the defining moments in my career.
From 1998 until 2004, I was doing about 360 to 380 performances a year of the live shows. There was no break and no time. These shows were sold out everywhere, from LA to Chicago to New York. I wanted to figure out how to continue to feed this need of these people, my people, this audience who were so hungry for content and hungry to see themselves and wanting to laugh. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try a film. That way I don’t have to be in all the theatres.’ And from there I went into television.

Perry’s drama seres The Haves & The Have Nots

Perry sees television as an opportunity to invest in characters and relationships over a long period of time…
From the first show I did, which was House of Payne, I got to know the characters and they got to live very long lives. That show is now approaching 200 episodes. These characters have long lives and existences. They ran parallel for 14 years with people’s actual lives of raising children. To see this extended family and blended family live and now their children are having children – that’s what I love about episodic television. The characters get to live; they have a much broader and longer arc and you really get to know them.

Being an actor has helped to inform his writing and directing…
The acting definitely helps me in directing actors because I understand what they deal with, how they deal with it and what they need to get to certain areas and certain scenes. The acting definitely informs the director. Every director should take an acting class or two just to understand what an actor goes through. Editing also helped me to understand that. Spending hours and hours in edit rooms has allowed me to cut down hours and hours in my day of shooting.

Melissa L Williams in Ruthless, which debuted earlier this year

Now he owns Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, a journey that began when he understood the value of owning property…
My father built houses when I was a kid. The guy he worked for would give him $800 for his work and he would be so happy to get it. But I watched the guy sell the house for $80,000. I always wanted to be the guy who owned the house. Ownership was key and important to me. During the first years of production, I realised how much money I was wasting in renting so, very early on, I started buying everything. Pretty soon I had a huge amount of everything you needed to make television and films except the building. So then I bought a studio.
My first studio was this little box, maybe 4,000 to 5,000 square feet. I thought I had everything I needed and it was all going to work. Then the first time the cast and crew showed up, I realised I didn’t have enough space. From there, I borrowed another studio and then ended up in the one that I’m in now, which was once a Confederate army base.
This very land was where Confederate soldiers plotted and planned how to keep black people enslaved, and now I own it. There are still streets here that are named after Confederate generals and soldiers that are being taken down as I’ve erected monuments to black people like Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson and Whoopi Goldberg. Their names are on sound stages on the same land. It just speaks to a lot of the hope of what this country has become and can continue to be if people would just open the doors and push forward.

Perry’s comedy-drama Sistas, which launched last year

Owning his own studio, with living quarters for cast and crew, allowed Perry to be among the first producers in the US to get back into production following the Covid-19 shutdown…
Eighty-two episodes of my four series are all in the can for 2021. I employed this model of bringing everybody together and sequestering them here on the property for two weeks at a time and with rigorous testing every three days, but also wearing masks and face shields.
To have a crew member who was on another movie at the top of the pandemic’s beginning in America die was very sobering to all of us who had worked with him and spent time with him. So I knew I had to do everything I could and go above and beyond to make sure the cast and crew were safe, especially because black and brown people are the ones who are dying most from the disease.
I could go and just be on an island until this thing passes, but what would happen to the hundreds of people who work for me? To be able to take those people and find a way to get us all through safely, because I was living right there beside them day in, day out, it’s a wonderful thing.
Our evenings were really good. We had we had four food trucks, we had an open-bar truck that opened every night after we wrapped and we had movies out on the lawn. We had yoga and workouts and classes. It was really fun, so much so that all the cast were asking, ‘Can we come back next year?’ I’m like, ‘If there’s a vaccine, it’s over. This is over.’ So we’ll see what happens.

After the killing of George Floyd earlier this year and with the Black Lives Matter movement having spread around the world, Perry looks to the past to see how the power of television can change the world…
What made the civil rights movement so powerful were the images from television. That is television at its best, when you can take that image and show it to the world and effect change. That is exactly what happened with George Floyd’s horrific murder. The very visual of watching it played out in real time spoke to every human being on this planet who had a heart, who said, ‘Listen, this is not right.’ That is the power of this business. That is the power of an actor, of a writer, of a news anchor. That is the power of television. When it’s used in the right way and for the right thing, it can change the world.
I have to hold on to our history of this country. I have to hold on to the fact that we came here in slave ships, that we were enslaved. I have to hold on to the fact there were coloured and white water fountains, these injustices that we have gotten past. As I look to the future of all the things we still have to fight our way through, I look at how much heavy lifting has already been done. If I ignored the history, the future would look very dim. But I know there have been changes.

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Secrets and lies

Swedish crime writer Camilla Läckberg tells DQ about writing her first television series, Lyckoviken, in which a police officer is drawn into a murder investigation after returning to her home town.

Tales of forbidden love, betrayal and a murder mystery unfold in a modern soap created by Swedish crime writer Camilla Läckberg, who writes for television for the first time.

Lyckoviken is set in the fictional town of Hammarvik, where police officer Johanna (Disa Östrand) returns for her mother’s funeral. Johanna plans to stay for just a few days, but when a young woman’s body is found in a car boot at the bottom of the sea, she is drawn into the search for a killer that brings back memories of an unsolved tragedy 18 years earlier.

Matters are complicated by the appearance of Danne (Martin Stenmarck), Johanna’s childhood sweetheart who is now married to her former best friend, Pernilla (Linda Santiago).

The series, which debuts on Nordic streamer Viaplay and Sweden’s TV3 on October 20, is produced by Nordisk Film & TV in coproduction with Film i Väst. Läckberg writes with Lovisa Löwhagen and Jessika Jankert, with Peter Lindmark, Åsa Kalmér and Andreas Lindergård directing. Eccho Rights distributes the series under the title Hammarvik.

Here, Läckberg tells DQ about moving into television and why the series will appeal to fans of Nordic noir.

Camilla Läckberg

What are the origins of the project?
Growing up, I loved all kinds of soap operas. But for the past 15 years, they have not been made in Sweden. I missed really good soap operas, so I decided to make one myself.

What kind of town is Hammarvik?
Hammarvik is a very typical Swedish small town. There are so many towns like it in Sweden.

Who are some of the key characters and how do we follow them through the story?
The main characters are Danne and Johanna. They have an unfinished love story and are also connected by the disappearance of Danne’s sister, Madeleine, when they were all teenagers.

What themes does the show touch on?
The series gives the opportunity to discuss a lot of themes, such as jealousy, greed, teenage pregnancy, peer pressure and domestic violence.

Why were you drawn to writing for TV for the first time?
I’m an avid fan of watching TV series and movies, and I love to try different styles of storytelling.

What is your writing process, and did you work with a writers room or other writers to write the scripts?
I started by creating the characters, the universe and the big plotlines. After that, we included some excellent screenwriters, but I have been part of the writers room through the entire process.

What were the benefits or disadvantages of writing for TV compared to writing a novel?
When I write my novels, I have more freedom – and I don’t have to consider that a scene may be too expensive, for example. I have learned to stay away from scenes taking place on water, and those that involve children or animals!

Lyckoviken stars Disa Östrand and Martin Stenmarck

How involved have you been throughout the project?
I have been very involved through the whole process. This is a very heartfelt project on my part, and I absolutely adore Hammarvik and its inhabitants.

How did you work with the directors and actors before and during production?
I have worked very closely with the producers and have been fully informed the whole way, including when it came to casting, for example. I have also met with the team and visited the set. I even make a small appearance in the show.

What challenges have you faced?
Having to ‘kill your darlings’ is always a challenge when writing for TV or film – when plotlines and characters have to be omitted. It always hurts, but I have learned what is necessary.

Your novels were previously adapted for The Fjällbacka Murders. What was your experience working on that series and how did it shape your involvement on Hammarvik?
I learned a lot through the adaptions of my Fjällbacka Murders series, an experience that has been extremely useful in creating this drama for television.

The series, set in the fictional town of Hammarvik, has already been renewed for S2

Why do you think global audiences have become such fans of Nordic crime series? Does Hammarvik play to the style of Nordic noir?
I think fans of Nordic noir will love Hammarvik. It’s extremely Swedish/Nordic and there seems to be a huge fascination with our little neck of the woods in the world.

Two seasons of Hammarvik have been commissioned. What can you tell us about where the story leads?
Oh, we have very good things coming in seasons to come. Stay tuned…

Do you plan to write more television, return to books, or both?
I have recently started a production company with Alexander and Baker Karim – Bad Flamingo Studios – and we are currently in production on our first movie, Glacier, starring Lena Endre and Alexander Karim. I am producing the film and have also written the script.

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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 Crown
The Netflix drama entered its third season late last year, with Golden Globe winner Olivia Colman (above) replacing Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II.
Despite the real-life troubles facing the British monarchy, The Crown still has the power to dazzle, thanks to Peter Morgan’s captivating storytelling and its dazzling production values. The show is due to end with season five, which will see Imelda Staunton take over as the queen.

Lingo Pictures MD Helen Bowden (The Slap, Lambs of God) says: “I watched season three of The Crown with my 91-year-old mother on the farm in New Zealand over Christmas, savouring one episode a night. Being nearly the same age as the Queen, and most definitely not a monarchist, mum lived through many of the events but with an entirely different perspective. We both felt it was beautifully told, full of surprising narrative and with lots of subtle performances. The craft on show was superb – everything from the scripts to the score was a triumph. It was such a gift to bond over.”

Bafta-winning writer and director Dave Nath (The Interrogation of Tony Martin) adds: “Every episode feels like a movie. It is beautifully directed, with exceptional performances from Jason Watkins [as Harold Wilson] and Josh O’Connor [Prince Charles].”

Sex Education
Netflix’s teen comedy-drama may channel the look of a US high school, but the British series deftly balances serious topics such as sexual assault, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections with laugh-out-loud entertainment.

Alice Birch, co-writer of BBC and Hulu drama Normal People, says: “I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a gorgeous show. I just wish I’d had that show when I was 14 or 15. It feels radical, telling young people they might be able to enjoy sex and have a healthy attitude towards it. The writing is so light and idiosyncratic. It feels like a really interesting voice.”

Ray Donovan
The long-running Showtime series, which first aired in 2013, introduced Liev Schreiber (pictured) as the eponymous Donovan, a fixer for rich and famous people who want to cover up numerous misdeeds.

Sara Johnsen, the award-winning writer of Norwegian drama 22 Juli
(22 July), says: “For the last few months I have been watching Ray Donovan with great pleasure. It’s entertaining with great characters, and wonderful actors to portray them.”

Big Little Lies
Across two seasons, this acclaimed and award-winning drama took viewers to Monterey, California, where five women become embroiled in a murder investigation. David E Kelley created the series, based on Liane Moriarty’s novel, with an all-star cast featuring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz and, in season two, Meryl Streep.

Suvi Mansnerus, a producer from Finland’s YLE Drama, says: “When Big Little Lies launched in 2017, it really made an impact with beautiful storytelling and its smooth and deep style.
“Well written and directed, and with high production values, it keeps you in its hands from the beginning until the very end. It is both entertaining and deep, and the characters are all built with a lovely human touch, including irritating elements.”

The Outsider
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this HBO drama stars Ben Mendelsohn (pictured) as a detective charged with finding the murderer of a young boy, only to discover the prime suspect has a compelling alibi.

Sunder Aron of India-based Locomotive Global Inc says: “I started watching this recently and have enjoyed it immensely. It’s a terrific, atmospheric, supernatural mystery show. I’ve not read the original novel, but I have really taken to the careful, slow treatment of the material, which is a little different from the other more recent film adaptations of King’s books. The story is creeping and seeping into my senses like any good horror/thriller/mystery should. It’s like True Detective with a supernatural bend.”

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Tricks of the trade

Filmmaker Michelle Latimer and executive producer Jennifer Kawaja tell DQ about bringing Canadian supernatural drama Trickster to the screen and discuss the importance of Indigenous storytelling.

Eden Robinson’s novel Son of a Trickster comes to television in a six-part supernatural drama commissioned by Canada’s CBC.

Trickster stars Joel Oulette as Jared, an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family above water, holding down an after-school job and selling ecstasy to support his partying mum, Maggie (Crystle Lightning), who self-medicates an undiagnosed mental illness, and his unemployable dad, Phil (Craig Lauzon), and his new girlfriend. But when Jared starts seeing strange things – talking ravens, doppelgängers, skin monsters – his already chaotic life is turned upside down.

The series was created by Tony Elliott (Orphan Black) and filmmaker Michelle Latimer, with the latter also directing all six episodes. Sienna Films and Streel Films produce the show, while international sales are handled by Abacus Media Rights.

Here, Sienna Films executive producer Jennifer Kawaja and Streel Films executive producer Latimer tell DQ about adapting Robinson’s novel, bringing its supernatural elements to the screen and their commitment to working with Indigenous talent in front and behind the camera.

Trickster stars Joel Oulette and Anna Lambe on set

What were the origins of the series?
Kawaja: While visiting her parents’ home in Thunder Bay over a Thanksgiving holiday trip in 2017, Michelle read Eden’s Son of a Trickster and immediately knew she wanted to option it. However, when Michelle enquired about the rights to make a film or television show based on the novel, she found herself competing with bigger production houses for the rights, which caused her some frustration as an Indigenous creator trying to option an Indigenous work.
Michelle brought that up with me over dinner, and I offered Sienna Films’ partnership to help secure the rights. Michelle’s company Streel and Sienna entered into a 50/50 partnership with a commitment to prioritise meaningful Indigenous participation in front of and behind the camera, in every aspect of production.

How was it developed with the CBC?
Kawaja: We were worried that no one would want to develop it because while it was a very relatable family drama with supernatural elements, it was also filled with swearing and hard-living characters. But we had interest immediately, because none of it feels gratuitous and people fall in love with the characters as soon as they read the books. CBC approached us when they heard we had the rights. The process was swift, with Michelle and co-creator Tony Elliott collaborating on the first two scripts in fall 2018 and the series greenlit in spring 2019 in advance of a fall 2019 shoot.

Do Eden Robinson’s novels lend themselves to a screen adaptation?
Latimer: The novels are really incredible, with characters you immediately love and empathise with – even if their behaviour is difficult – and these beautiful and authentic relationships are the heart of the TV series. Eden immediately said, “I wrote the book; you make the show.” She was fully happy for us to make the television series our own. We did take it to some different places than the book and we hope that fans of the book love where we’ve gone.

Why was this a story you wanted to tell on television?
Latimer: I personally never saw my community represented on television when I was younger. For Trickster, I wanted young people to see a contemporary representation of themselves, and an ongoing series felt like the best way to reach that audience and to give Eden’s books, which are complex and intricate, the time they needed to be realised.
I wanted to say some things about colonisation and how it has affected families intergenerationally. I recently saw [Netflix’s Norwegian series] Ragnarok and thought there were similarities. Although it has an entirely different sociopolitical context, it was great to watch that interplay of family drama and the supernatural.

Creator and director Michelle Latimer makes herself heard during filming

What was the writing process behind the series?
Kawaja: The writing room took place in early spring 2019 and, in addition to Michelle and Tony, included co-executive producer Penny E Gummerson, consulting producers Zoe Leigh Hopkins, Shane Belcourt and Danis Goulet, creative consultant Chris Roberts and story editor Amber-Sekowan Daniels.
Latimer: Like on many serialised shows with short seasons, the room was fairly short and creatively intense, and then a lot of writing continued outside the room as well. We tried to ensure the environment felt collaborative and that we built a space where everyone could be heard. Because we had two scripts completed when the room began, we were focused on building from that point to the end of the season, and it was really inspiring to work with so many great writing minds on figuring that out and on drafting the scripts, which we then worked on as a complete season to ensure everything felt like the same voice.

How did you want to present the supernatural elements of the story?
Latimer: The origins of the supernatural elements in Eden’s books are in traditional Indigenous mythologies, so we always wanted to pay homage to those stories and traditions in how we were bringing those things to the screen – in the writing and then visually once we got into production, special effects and VFX.
The show is a great mix of coming-of-age and fantasy – it’s funny, poignant and irreverent, even romantic, while also having suspense and scares. It also tries to resonate the importance of the land to Indigenous communities and the struggle over the land that is taking place with resource extraction and how it is dividing communities.

Indigenous representation has been key to the project both in front of and behind the camera

What is the visual style of the series?
Latimer: The visual style is very influenced by transformational body horror. I love David Cronenberg and also David Lynch, so there are definitely overtones of both in the visual style of the series. I wanted to make sure I honoured Cronenberg, so we included posters for his films The Brood and Videodrome in the set design as well as homages to his work in how some of the transformational scenes look.

Where was the series filmed and how did you use locations in the story?
Kawaja: The show was filmed almost entirely on location, with only a handful of key interior sets built in a studio. Filming began in Kitimat and Kitamaat Village, British Columbia, for five days. We were honoured to be welcomed and hosted by the local community and by the Haisla Nation into their territory. We then continued for the majority of the shoot in Northern Ontario, with shooting in North Bay, Astorville, Redbridge, Powassan, Mattawa, Nipissing and Callander, with the participation of the Nipissing First Nation, Mattawa Nipissing Métis and Antoine First Nation.
With carefully selected shooting locations and the use of ‘plate shots’ – location shots without any characters or action in them – and establishing shots taken on location in British Columbia, the Northern Ontario locations are able to match the novel’s gorgeous Kitamaat location.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in development or production?
Latimer: The biggest challenge on Trickster was probably in post-production, when Covid-19 shut down the industry and the world. We were lucky we were well into post and it was possible to continue – albeit with a lot of adjustments – and we have so much empathy for productions that were shut down during their shoot or in prep.
We did all the sound work via the internet and the same with the VFX, which was really difficult. The sound was done in passes and then fixes were done in separate passes as well because only one person could go into the studio at a time. The VFX folks at Rocket Science started to look grey because they never left their basements!

Latimer (left) and Lambe have a chat between takes

How do you intend to continue the Trickster story beyond season one?
Latimer: Luckily, we have two more books from Eden to continue to inspire us in new directions. I am just in the midst of finishing detailed outlines for all six episodes, drawing from the work done in the season two room and from the books, and now the scriptwriting will begin. In season two, Jared finds himself in a big city but slowly the drama draws him back to Kitamaat Village.

Tell us about your commitment to Indigenous participation.
Latimer: The source material has almost completely Indigenous main characters and we wanted the series to have the same. Everyone was on the same page about that from day one. I was really committed to giving new actors a chance to shine and to show the breadth and diversity of Indigenous acting talent. I could not have asked for a better, more talented group of actors who embodied the characters.
We took a two-pronged approach to crewing. The first was to recruit Indigenous crew members with film and television experience to work in as many departments as possible, and the second was to create meaningful, paid training and mentorship opportunities on the production to provide barrier-free opportunities for emerging Indigenous crew and artists to gain experience and exposure to a large-scale television production. We used a significant amount of money from the production budget to finance the programme, and hope, in future seasons, to involve external financing so that we can continue and grow the programme.

What more needs to be done to ensure true representation in front of and behind the camera?
Latimer: Trickster marks the first time an Indigenous book has been adapted with an Indigenous team for the CBC, which is shocking, but we give them credit because they trusted us with this material, which is fairly provocative. I hope there is power given to more creators – power to have a real voice.
Everyone wants diversity, and now everyone is looking around for diverse artists to make that happen. But it’s hard to do all that work on top of making your own art, and we need to see more than hiring diversity and emerging mentorship programmes. Where we need to work towards is having more diverse creators and showrunners who have actual control – copyright and ownership. We are at the phase now where lots of Indigenous people are behind the camera making work that’s globally recognised. We’re ready for that next phase.

Why would the series appeal to audiences around the world?
Latimer: This is a show about family relationships and growing up, with all its surprises and heartbreaks. That’s universal, whatever community or country you come from. Telling that story through genre, through fantasy, is a tradition that has sustained through from classical literature to today – it works on us all, viscerally. This show takes that tradition and puts its own spin on it, from an Indigenous perspective.

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Wood work

Hair and make-up designers Gregor Eckstein and Jeanette Latzelsberger discuss creating styles for multiple time periods in German drama Das Geheimnis des Totenwaldes (Dark Woods), which is inspired by the real-life search for a missing woman.

At a time where true crime penetrates all genres of television comes German drama Das Geheimnis des Totenwaldes (Dark Woods), the story of the search for a missing woman in Lower Saxony that is inspired by one of the most infamous crimes in post-war German history.

In the summer of 1989, Barbara Neder (Silke Bodenbender), the sister of high-ranking police officer Thomas Bethge (Matthias Brandt), disappears shortly after two couples have been murdered in nearby woodlands. Hans Lingner, an artist and gun enthusiast living on the edge of the forest, is quickly put under suspicion.

But the links between the earlier murder cases and Barbara’s disappearance are not initially picked up by the investigators. Instead, the police begin to suspect Barbara’s husband Robert (Nicholas Ofczarek).

As a Hamburg police officer, Bethge is not allowed to investigate a crime in Lower Saxony, so he so seeks support from colleagues Anne Back (Karoline Schuch) and Frank Behringer (Andreas Lust). His quest for justice continues long after his retirement as he and his team eventually, through painstaking and meticulous research, track down a suspected serial killer.

Produced by Bavaria Fiction and ConradFilm for German public broadcaster Das Erste and distributed by Global Screen, the six-part series is directed by Sven Bohse (Ku’damm 56 & 59) and written by Stefan Kolditz (Generation War).

Here, hair and make-up designers Gregor Eckstein and Jeanette Latzelsberger offer an insight into their roles on the series, how they developed styles for different time periods and the way their department is changing as television drama becomes increasingly ambitious.

Jeanette Latzelsberger applies some finishing touches to actor August Wittgenstein

How did you join the series?
Eckstein: The director, Sven Bohse, contacted us as he had previously worked with us on other projects and knew that we had vast experience with hair and make-up, which had to be implemented within a short filming period.

What were your initial thoughts on how hair and make-up would play a role in the series?
Latzelsberger: We knew we would have to be extremely creative to show the style of the various periods in which the series is shot. We chose to use specific wigs and hairpieces to make it possible in the schedule to shoot one scene representing the 1980s and then another scene set in 2013.

How did you develop different styles and looks for the show?
Eckstein: After speaking with the actors and the director, we were able to create styles for how each character should look, which included using prosthetics designed to visually represent the passage of time.

What styles or trends were you particularly inspired by?
Latzelsberger: We were inspired by contemporary magazines and books to incorporate the typical style for these times, and used original historical characters in our designs, always keeping in mind to ‘tailor’ these to the actor.

Did you want to recreate the exact look of the time period or did you bring in styles from other periods as well?
Latzelsberger: We have stayed as close as possible to the style of the time so that the viewer really feels they are seeing a true reflection of each period.

Dark Woods unfolds across different time periods, meaning a lot of work for hair and make-up

How was your work affected by the time jumps that take place in the series?
Eckstein: That was a big focus in our planning, because we have to age the actors and try to fit the changes of the make-up and wigs of each period to fit with the shooting schedule. Sometimes it was not possible that all the actors could be ‘aged’ at the same time, so we had to work closely with the director, the production team and the cameras and mutually decide which scene to start with, so that the actors would be ready in time.

Who were the main characters you worked with and how did hair and make-up contribute to bringing them to life on screen?
Eckstein: The main actor, Matthias Brandt, was a great challenge for us as he had to be in the make-up chair 25 times for two to three hours. We glued on nine prosthetic pieces, a wig and a moustache. That’s not easy for us or the actor, but as soon as the make-up was on, he was zoned in to the period. It was the same with Jenny Schily and all the other actors.

How did you work with other departments to create the overall look of the characters and the series?
Latzelsberger: We worked closely with the costume department, production team and the director to get everything worked into the filming schedule. We also worked very closely with the camera department, who were on hand to help with prosthetics and wigs to ensure they used the correct lighting to achieve the best effects.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Latzelsberger: Firstly, it was to get all 11 actors’ hair and make-up looking right in time for filming each scene, so we could begin to produce the wigs, hairpieces and prosthetics required for each of them. This was a huge amount of work and we only had six weeks to prepare everything. On one particular day, we had to age nine actors for one scene, so we decided together with the director, production and the director of photography to shoot the takes in a specific order and style of framing to get everyone ready in time.

A six-part drama, Dark Woods is produced for German public broadcaster Das Erste

What lessons did you learn from the series that you would pass on to other hair and make-up designers?
Eckstein: We wouldn’t recommend shooting a film with lot of prosthetics in a very hot summer! We started to shoot this series at the end of July last year, but we shot most of the heavy ageing scenes towards the end of the shoot in the fall. Hair and make-up is a team effort, it’s never a solo show, so it’s crucial to work closely with DOP, director, costume and production. It was challenging to get everything right in the time we had available, which meant four months of hard work for our make-up and hair department.

As television drama becomes more cinematic and ambitious, how is your role changing?
Eckstein: It’s challenging. When shooting in 4K, we can’t hide wig laces or prosthetic lines so easily. In addition, we have less time now than we did some years ago to perfect the hair and make-up. However, the right light and camera position supports us in achieving a professional look.

What is something surprising or unexpected about working in hair and make-up design in television that people might not know?
Latzelsberger: We have very long days, but it is a lot of fun, and a drama series like Dark Woods really allows us to do our job well. Sometimes when doing the make-up and hair for the actors, less is more. Often the best make-up is when you don’t actually notice it. The audience is spoilt with good effects, CGI and make-up from Hollywood blockbusters. Given our time and budget, we try to replicate that in the best possible way.

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Mountain mystery

Based on real events, Russian thriller Pereval Dyatlova (Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident) posits what happened when nine students set out on a ski trek in 1959 and were never seen again.

In January 1959, nine students set out on a ski trek across the icy Ural Mountains — but they never reach their destination. When their bodies are discovered a month later, Soviet investigators are left puzzled by what might have happened to them.

Their tent was cut open from the inside, they are found in their underwear spread around the camp, some are even partially mangled. Whom or what did they run from? Why did they die, and how?

Valeriy Fedorovich

Based on the declassified files of the real case, Russian series Pereval Dyatlova (Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident) follows KGB major Oleg as he arrives in the province to conduct a strictly confidential inquiry. Troubled by his past as a Second World War veteran, he has a sixth sense, and death seems to follow him around as he digs deeper into the mysterious incident. With the help of Katya, the local medical examiner, Oleg is hell-bent on finding the truth.

But the more he learns, the more it becomes clear: the reason the students died will never see the light of day. No one can ever know what really happened, except him.

Starring Pyotr Fyodorov, Aleksey Bardukov, Ivan Mulin and Mariya Lugovaya, the eight-part series is produced by 1-2-3 Productions for Russian OTT service Premier, with Beta Film distributing the series worldwide. Valeriy Fedorovich and Evgeniy Nikishov are producers and directors on the series, which is written by Ilya Kulikov.

Here, Fedorovich and Nikishov discuss the mythology behind the show, why the story continues to fascinate people and the drama’s neo-noir style.

How would you describe the series?
Fedorovich: Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a mystery thriller based on the true story about a group of tourists who died under mysterious and tragic circumstances in the Ural Mountains in 1959.
Nikishov: This story became the subject of many books, documentaries and feature films, both within and outside of Russia. There are many theories about these events. People even went so far as to blame aliens, the KGB or the FBI. Even to this day, no book, article, or TV programme has managed to solve the mystery completely.

Evgeniy Nikishov

What were the origins of the project?
Nikishov: It all started with Ilya Kulikov, an acclaimed Russian scriptwriter known for his work on Russian TV series Chernobyl: Exclusion Zone, sci-fi action movie The Blackout and many other successful projects such as Glukhar and VIP Cop. Thanks to the helpful Russian law enforcement officials, Ilya got access to unique documents such as the criminal case of the Dyatlov Group, detailing the investigation process and the results of additional investigations conducted in recent years.
Fedorovich: Since everybody in Russia knows this story, any programmes or news about it quickly attract a lot of attention. Ilya is no exception. He has always been interested in it as well. When he showed us the scripts for the first two episodes, we were utterly amazed.

How did you work with Kulikov to develop the scripts?
Nikishov: We have known Ilya for more than 10 years now. Together, we have written many screenplays and released a large number of shows. As for Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident, Ilya wrote the scripts for all the episodes and then we met again and asked him some questions. He explained certain choices, elaborating on the details in the script. It was all quick and easy; we did not have to make many drafts. After that, we adapted the screenplay in line with the production process.

What did you know about the true events that inspired the series? Why does this story continue to intrigue people?
Fedorovich: Everyone in Russia knows this story and the numerous theories about it, and so do we. Evgeniy and I spent lots of time trying to understand why people still talk about it. There were many mysterious deaths in the history of the Soviet Union that could have turned into myths. So why did this particular one become a collective myth? This question was the impetus for us to produce the series.
Nikishov: At its core, this story is about people seeking freedom. These people tried to free themselves from the oversight of the Communist Party by going on a hike within the world of wild nature. Hiking used to help people to forget the fear they lived in. Besides, in these extreme conditions they could test themselves and their comrades. After all, hiking is a dangerous adventure, where your companions need to be your most trusted friends.
As Russian singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky once sang in his Song about a Friend: ‘Haul your buddy up to the mountains, risk it / Just don’t leave him alone, by himself / Let him be tied to one line with you / There, you will find out who he really is.’
By stepping on this difficult and sincere path to freedom, the young men and women escaped into the untamed wilderness of the fierce Ural winter. There they lost their way and met a mysterious demise. It is a story about a failed escape, and that might be the main reason why the mythos became so popular in Russia.
Fedorovich: We are convinced this story will also arouse interest outside of Russia and our show will have great commercial success internationally.

Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident focuses on the infamous mystery surrounding the deaths nine Russian hikers in February 1959

Why did you think these real events would make an interesting series?
Fedorovich: Many details in this story contradict each other, which makes it quite difficult to explain the events rationally. Therefore, there are many different theories about it, but each one has its own blind spots.

How did your research inform the show?
Fedorovich: Many people felt like they were obliged to provide us with another book on the case once they heard we were working on this project – even our fellow filmmakers, who told us they knew exactly what had happened!
Nikishov: In order to explore the spirit of that time, we researched an enormous amount of documentary materials and compiled all the information on the events – detailed biographies of every member of the group, the photos from their cameras, the notes from their diaries and the detailed reports of the search team. Afterwards, every production department head received all the details.

How much is real and how much is fiction?
Fedorovich: All the characters and events are real. Only Oleg Kostin, the KGB special investigator and main character, and his social circle are fictional.
Nikishov: Although we tried to follow the information from the documents and the diaries, sometimes we had to speculate. For example, there is a popular theory that Igor Dyatlov and Zina Kolmogorova were romantically involved. The only evidence for this theory was her photo under Dyatlov’s passport, which was found after his death. Nevertheless, we decided to use this theory in order to enhance the drama.

How was it developed with the broadcaster?
Fedorovich: OTT platform Premier is our delegated partner, which automatically means full creative freedom. Premier has always been interested in producing bold and original projects; ambitious, spectacular shows of high quality that would stand out surprise viewers. That is what this series is all about.

What visual style did you create for the series?
Fedorovich: We chose the classic neo-noir look. However, we also wanted the visuals to be different from other modern shows in this style. In the beginning, we studied a ton of photos from the 1950s, taking every nuance into consideration, including the colours. For instance, take a look at a Time magazine issue from 1959 and pay special attention to the colour palettes. These were not dictated solely by fashion, but rather by the technical limitations that formed the visual style of that time.
Nikishov: In order to make the show more attractive for the modern audience, we watched modern movies set in that time and found out that some of them had been shot using 16mm film. When Pavel Kostomarov, the creative producer of our project and an extremely gifted, award-winning cinematographer, heard about our intention to use 16mm, he literally laughed at us.
This was not only because there is only one post-production laboratory in Russia capable of processing this kind of film, but also because other technical difficulties would arise from the decision and the cost would be tremendous. Despite all that, we decided to work with 16mm and we are very happy with our decision.

The eight-part series was made for Russian OTT platform Premier

Do you have a particular way of working together behind the camera?
Nikishov: We have been working together for a long time now and find common ground quite easily. We have one simple rule: if we both like the take, we stay with it, but if one of us has any questions, we discuss it with the crew again. We were also very lucky with Pavel. He developed the project alongside us and performed many different functions on set. He would even shovel snow. He was our advisor and our mentor.

Where was it filmed and how do the locations reflect the story?
Nikishov: We filmed the pilot episode in the town of Kirovsk in the Murmansk region. It is beyond the Arctic Circle, 1,819km away from Moscow. The main part of the filming took place in the Altai Mountains, far away from big cities and civilisation and 3,667km away from Moscow. We also filmed near St Petersburg and Vyborg, as well as in and around Moscow. We chose those places in accordance with the demands of the production.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Nikishov: We needed locations with enough snow, which were not easy to find, since the winter was not snowy in Russia this year. We even had to postpone the filming.

How did you battle the freezing conditions on the set? How did this affect the way the series was filmed?
Fedorovich: Russian people don’t fear the cold! But honestly, there weren’t many particularly cold days. However, the cold affected our equipment sometimes.

How did you decide to end the story? What conclusions do you leave the audience with – or is the story still shrouded in mystery?
Fedorovich: We will give our explanation of the mystery. The investigator will tell the audience his version of the events, and then the audience will see our recreation of what happened to the Dyatlov group.
Nikishov: As the investigation progresses, our main character gradually rejects certain theories due to their inconsistencies. You can view this series as a corpus of knowledge about the Dyatlov Pass incident, and the ending to the story is like a cherry on top.

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Series to Watch: October 2020

DQ checks out the upcoming schedules to pick out 10 new dramas to watch this October, from Disney’s take on the space race to a Hulu horror anthology and a Swedish small-town thriller.

Monsterland
From: US
Original broadcaster: Hulu
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Jonathan Tucker, Charlie Tahan, Nicole Beharie, Hamish Linklater, Marquis Rodriguez, Bill Camp, Michael Hsu Rosen, Taylor Schilling, Roberta Colindrez, Adria Arjona, Trieu Tran, Kelly Marie Tran, Mike Colter, Adepero Oduye
Air date: October 2
Encounters with mermaids, fallen angels and other strange beasts drive broken people to desperate acts in this horror-tinged anthology series, which is created by Mary Laws (The Neon Demon, Succession, Preacher) and based on the collection of stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters.

The Good Lord Bird
From: US
Original broadcaster: Showtime
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Joshua Caleb Johnson
Air date: October 4
Also airing: Sky (UK), Stan (Australia)
Adapted from the novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird spotlights the complicated racial, religious and gender roles that make up the American identity. Told from the point of view of Onion (Johnson), it follows an enslaved boy who becomes a member of Brown’s motley family of abolitionist soldiers and eventually finds himself participating in the famous 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry.

Top Dog
From: Sweden
Original broadcaster: C More/TV4 Sweden
Starring: Josefin Asplund, Alexej Manvelov, Gustav Lindh, Peter Gardiner, Christian Hillborg, Joel Spira, Kardo Razzazi, Mahmut Suvakci, Bekzod Kuliev, Amanda Ooms, Lina Englund, Felice Jankell
Air date: October 7 on C More, October 18 on TV4
Also airing: ZDFneo (Germany), ShowJet (Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), Edel, iTunes, Amazon EU, Google Ireland
Based on Jens Lapidus’s novels, this Swedish series revolves around business lawyer Emily Jansson (Asplund) and former criminal Teddy Maksumic (Manvelov). Emily is an aspiring so-called ‘top dog’ who is struggling to advance at the law firm. Teddy is a new underdog who decides to leave the mafia. A mysterious disappearance causes their paths to cross, bringing unforeseen consequences.

Trickster
From: Canada
Original broadcaster: CBC
Starring: Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, Kalani Queypo, Anna Lambe, Nathan Alexis, Georgine Lightning, Craig Lauzon, Joel Thomas Hynes
Air date: October 7
Also airing: SyFy (UK), NITV and SBS On Demand (Australia), Globoplay (Brazil), KinoPoisk (Russia)
Jared (Oulette) is an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family above water. But when he starts seeing strange things – talking ravens, doppelgängers, skin monsters – his already chaotic life is turned upside down. It turns out he’s inherited magical abilities from his mother, and from someone Jared never even knew existed – his real father, Wade. Jared’s mum hid the truth from him because Wade is not just any dad, he’s also the mythical Trickster – and Wade’s reason for suddenly showing up in his son’s life is centuries in the making. Wade has come back to determine if Jared has inherited his magic, because only one Trickster can exist at a time. The series is based on the book trilogy by Eden Robinson.

The Haunting of Bly Manor
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Rahul Kohli, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller
Air date: October 9
From The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy comes the next chapter of Netflix’s The Haunting of… anthology series, set in 1980s England. After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry Wingrave (Thomas) hires a young American nanny (Pedretti) to care for his orphaned niece and nephew (Smith and Ainsworth), who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Eve) and housekeeper Mrs Grose (Miller). But all is not as it seems at the manor, and centuries of dark secrets of love and loss are waiting to be unearthed in this chilling gothic romance. At Bly Manor, dead doesn’t mean gone.

The Right Stuff
From: US
Original broadcaster: Disney+
Starring: Patrick J Adams, Jake McDorman, Colin O’Donoghue, James Lafferty, Aaron Staton, Michael Trotter, Micah Stock
Air date: October 9
This eight-episode show, based on the book by Tom Wolfe, tells the story of the Mercury 7, America’s first astronauts, and the early days of the US Space Program. At the height of the Cold War in 1959, newly formed NASA is given the monumental task of putting man in space as seven military test pilots are plucked from obscurity and forged into heroes before they achieve a single heroic act.

Helstrom
From: US
Original broadcaster: Hulu
Starring: Tom Austen, Sydney Lemmon, Elizabeth Marvel, Robert Wisdom, Ariana Guerra, June Carryl, Alain Uy
Air date: October 16
A Hulu original, Helstrom follows the complicated dynamic between Daimon (Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Lemmon), the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer, as they track down the worst of humanity, each with their own attitude and skills. The 10-part series comes from Marvel Television and is based on the Marvel Comics characters Daimon and Satana Hellstrom.

Beartown
From: Sweden
Original broadcaster: HBO Europe
Starring: Ulf Stenberg, Aliette Opheim, Tobias Zilliacus, Miriam Ingrid, Oliver Dufaker
Air date: October 18
The small community of Beartown is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees surrounding it, but with the junior ice hockey team having a shot at winning the national semi-finals, all the dreams of the locals now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. This heavy burden becomes the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatised and a town in turmoil as accusations travel through Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. The five-part drama is based on the novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove).

The Undoing
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant
Air date: October 25 (Delayed from May 10)
Also airing: Sky (UK), Fox (Australia)
Grace and Jonathan Fraser (Kidman and Grant) are living the only life they ever wanted for themselves until, overnight, a chasm opens in their existence, with a violent death and a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child (Noah Jupe) and her family. Created by David E Kelley (Big Little Lies), The Undoing is directed by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager).

Shadowplay
From: Sweden/Germany
Original broadcasters: ZDF (Germany), Viaplay (Scandinavia), Canal+ (France)
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Michael C Hall, Logan Marshall-Green, Nina Hoss, Tuppence Middleton, Male Emde, Sebastian Koch, Maximilian Ehrenreich, Anne Ratte-Polle, Ivan Gvera, Benjamin Sadler, Cloe Heinrich
Air date: October 30 (ZDF)
From Swedish writer/director Måns Marlind (The Bridge) comes period action thriller Shadowplay (also pictured top), in which New York cop Max McLaughlin (Kitsch) arrives in war-torn Berlin in 1946 to set up a police unit in the American occupation zone. Supported by German policewoman Elsie (Nina Hoss), their aim is to bring down the ‘Engelmacher’ (Sebastian Koch), the Al Capone of post-war Berlin. But Max also wants to confront his brother Moritz (Logan Marshall-Green), who is waging a deadly private war against escaped Nazi criminals.

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