All posts by Gün Akyuz

Talking Turkey

Yazi Odasi is charting an alternative course in Turkey’s drama production sector to give scriptwriters greater freedom and creative control. Co-founder Kerem Deren reveals his vision.

Before Kerem Deren (pictured above) and Pinar Bulut came along, writers rooms were unheard of in Turkey’s prolific TV drama industry.

The two scriptwriters set up Yazi Odasi – which translates as ‘writers room’ – in 2014.

Individually and jointly, Deren and Bulut have been responsible for several high-profile dramas with major domestic and international fame. Top of the pile is Ezel, widely regarded as a game-changer in storytelling terms for Turkish drama. The thriller ran on Show TV and then ATV from 2009 to 2011, won several awards, sold worldwide and has been picked up for remakes by Fox Network Group and by Televisa for Latin America.

Close behind in terms of success is Suskunlar. The crime drama, which aired on Show TV in 2011, has been remade stateside as Game of Silence for NBC, which launched it last month.

There are other breakthroughs with Deren and Bulut’s names attached. 20 Dakika (20 Minutes), made by Ay Yapim for Star TV in 2013, was another boundary-pushing crime drama with a faster (more Western) pace of scriptwriting. It also earned lead actress Tuba Büyüküstün an International Emmy nomination.

Last year’s romantic drama Maral, for TV8, was the first to be created within Yazi Odasi’s present structure and there have been a handful of projects since, among them Uçurum (Abyss), hard-hitting drama on human trafficking that aired on ATV in 2015.

Ezel
Ezel, which ran from 2007 to 2009, is widely considered a game changer for Turkish drama

One would think that being a successful scriptwriter in what has now become the world’s second largest drama industry after the US, with exports worth up to US$300m, would carry some clout. But this isn’t the case, say Deren and Bulut, who believe Turkey’s drama production sector operates in a system that needs many changes.

The biggest issue for scriptwriters in Turkey concerns creative control and IP rights, they say, which reside with the broadcasters and producers, largely to the exclusion of writers, actors and other production talent.

“Yazi Odasi was set up because we wanted to have more creative control, a more organised say about the stuff that we get to write and how writers deal with producers,” says Deren. “In Turkey, the head of the production company usually decides everything. That’s basically the system here.”

Deren also says the country lacks a screenwriting culture. “A mentor relationship hasn’t really been cultivated in that sector, so there are very few of us and, as such, the good ones are always in work.”

But a project really starts with the writing, he stresses. “If it’s a TV series, you’re involved for, say, three years and it’s hours and hours of work. It’s good to have the project designed according to what the writer thinks. In our experience, that’s always beneficial to the show, and it works better than the system we have in Turkey right now.”

Turkey’s drama sector is dominated by a relatively narrow range of family-friendly serials and pumps out around 100 titles per year. However, it’s creaking under the strain of a ratings-driven primetime schedule that demands one feature-length drama episode per night from each of Turkey’s eight mainstream broadcasters. Some industry figures have been querying its sustainability.

For those involved in the production process, it means 15-hour days to deliver 120-plus pages of script each week for the duration of a series’ run. The demand from broadcasters is such that many shows are accepted by channels without scripts and go ahead without pilots.

Deren talks about a sector in creative crisis. Far from experimenting, the fierce competition and potential loss of ad revenues has made broadcasters risk-averse, with little scope for a wider range of storytelling and drama formats. The system is also creating a degree of self-censorship among writers and producers.

Suskunlar
Crime drama Suskunlar has been remade in the US for NBC as Game of Silence

While Turkish productions don’t formally use a showrunner system, Deren says they essentially follow the model in practice: “We were actually the showrunners on every show we did in the sense that we were really influential in deciding on things like the acting. The system wasn’t organised that way and we didn’t have the authority, but we were the ones practically running it, and that’s pretty much why we set up Yazi Odasi.

“I don’t know that we’re ‘pioneers,’ but we’re the only ones structurally and organisationally with a writers room,” Deren continues, adding that he expects his setup will be Turkey’s only one of its kind for at least a couple more years yet.

Yazi Odasi looks well placed to benefit from what is surely set to be an interesting period for Turkish drama. Netflix has just launched in the country and several broadcasters are lining up or revamping SVoD services, among them Star and Doğan’s BluTV.

Yazi Odasi has gone through an extensive preparation process in the last year-and-a-half, says Deren, recruiting aspiring writers through several workshops and a national scriptwriting competition.

That time was also spent explaining Yazi Odasi’s model to the sector. “In Turkey, production company heads are usually the leaders of every TV drama,” says Deren. “We are not used to a method where the creative team is behind the wheel. It is a symptomatic problem underlying the organisational troubles the sector is currently in. We believe Yazi Odasi is a cornerstone in overcoming these problems by placing the creator right in the middle of the creation process.”

Alongside Deren, Bulut and third scriptwriter Yiğit Değer Bengi, Yazi Odasi consists of a team of senior and junior writers, working on projects in four colour-coded writers rooms.

Yazi Odasi’s uphill battle seems to be paying off and it now has several Turkish drama projects in the pipeline, as well as two international shows.

20 Dakika
20 Dakika, a fast-paced, boundary pushing crime drama

The Turkish programmes include an as-yet-untitled romcom for Star TV to broadcast in June. Together with prodco Limon Yapim, Yazi Odasi is also developing a comedy detective series based on Peyami Safa’s books about fictional detective Cingöz Recai. No channel has been confirmed but the project is expected to be ready by September. Also in the works is a romantic comedy set in the music industry, which Yazi Odasi is developing together with prodco Sureç Yapim and is currently discussing with Fox TV.

Deren says the three projects share common ground: “Their inspirational source is local and their appeal is global. We firmly believe strong local origins, a fresh dramatic structure and good writing that reflects human concerns everywhere in the world means good drama.”

Yazi Odasi is also well underway with its next ambition – securing international partnerships. It has two projects in the early development stages with as-yet-undisclosed US partners, with Deren describing one as “our Trojan horse, something we believe will change the way TV dramas are structured in Turkey.” He expects it to come to fruition in a year’s time.

“Turkish broadcasters and producers are not taking the necessary risks to develop a wider range of storytelling,” Deren continues. “I don’t think this is going to change without some international injection from other parties and other distribution. That’s the only way to counteract it, and that’s about to happen.

“What our sector deems risky, we find full of opportunities. We want to tell these untold stories simply because if you build them well, they make great cinema. We want to break the creative barriers that keep these great stories unappreciated.”

The Yazi Odasi team intend their setup to become much more than just a base for new projects. “We want to take some crucial steps not just for us but for the whole sector,” says Deren. “The first is to create and maintain an international hub between creators, and between production companies and creators.

“It is very hard for even an established Turkish screenwriter to access the global network. We carefully craft our contracts ensuring our writers’ artistic freedom, always looking out to project their rights. We attend festivals and seminars to create a network our screenwriters will benefit from. We take on the work of agents only for Turkish screenwriters, so that we can represent them in a way that is both to their advantage and always has an eye on international communication.”

Another critical step is education, adds Deren. “We’re constantly setting up workshops to that end. This year these workshops will be international, allowing creators from everywhere to get together and spread the seeds of global alliance.

“The basic idea is this: we, as screenwriters, have a lot of good stories to tell but not the venues where they can be heard. We want them heard all over the world.”

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Bigger and better

Steve November, drama director at ITV, promises a bigger drama slate over the next two years and wants to make the channel the ‘place of choice’ for established producers and fresh talent alike.

Now that juggernaut period drama Downton Abbey has come to an end – the final sixth season bowed out with just under nine million viewers, while a one-off Christmas Day special drew almost seven million – the Sunday 21.00 slot has opened up opportunities for ITV to cast its net wider for new dramas.

Steve November, director of drama, is not actively seeking to replace the Edwardian drama with more period pieces. Instead, he has identified a growing viewer appetite for contemporary stories. “We’ve approached it saying we’ve no idea what the new Downton is going to be,” he says. “It’s going to be a show that captures the public’s imagination… that viewers fall in love with over several series. But whether that’s a contemporary show or a period show, or even a Sunday night show, we don’t know.”

Steve November
Steve November

The commercial broadcaster, which turned 60 last September, has to make its broad, mainstream content mission appeal to rapidly shifting viewer patterns, yet “it’s always, always popular mainstream,” says November. “That’s unashamedly what we are and want to be, but of the highest quality. There’s absolutely no disconnect between popular and the highest quality, so it’s aiming to be as broad in our appeal as we can be, accessible to everybody, but delivering something unexpected, something fresh, and real truths so that when you come to ITV you get what you want but you also get something more.”

ITV also relies on big returning shows to collectively build its drama brand. These programmes represent the majority of its drama output, “but we can’t have a schedule that’s only familiar,” says November. “We need to be constantly offering new things that are moving the ITV experience forward, evolving it, developing it. So it is a constant mix.”

In fact, post-Downton, this year ITV will swing much more in favour of new dramas, says November. “It’s going to look like quite a new and fresh schedule and we hope a portion of those dramas will be returners, but there’s always room for the new.”

November says ITV’s drama strategy is built around a “collective vision” for the channel. Alongside his five-strong commissioning team, “viewers can dictate as much as we do where the market is going, what they’d like to see, and we’re trying to predict and supply that,” he says. “So it’s about responding to many things around us, to what viewers seem to be wanting, to what other channels are doing, to our brand and identity and how we can evolve that. This is 60 years of history to work with so it’s a very purposeful redefining and evolving of the brand that’s so well established.”

Jekyll and Hyde failed to meet expectations
Jekyll and Hyde failed to meet expectations

But with global multiplatform players now providing increasingly credible alternatives outlets to producers and viewers, ITV needs to open up its range. “We’re in a very, very competitive market for ideas nowadays,” says November. “Obviously the opportunities for UK writers and producers to be taking their ideas abroad or to new competitors in the market, to be working with players like Amazon and Netflix, mean that in order to get those fresh new takes, we have to be very proactive and make sure that we are, as far as possible, the best place and the place of choice for writers and producers to work.”

The bigger challenge for all broadcasters, he notes, “is keeping people watching scheduled live TV, keeping our viewers, making drama and programming generally that demands attention from viewers.”

A development at ITV last autumn was the return of drama to early peak on Sundays with the launch of Jekyll and Hyde at 18.30 in late October. The 10-part period drama from in-house production arm ITV Studios caused a stir among some viewers for content deemed unsuitable for younger children. But November insists the show was right for the slot and that “most importantly” it was “doing something quite different to other shows at that time, particularly those on the BBC.”

The end of Downton Abbey has left ITV with a hole to fill
The end of Downton Abbey has left ITV with a hole to fill in its 2016 drama line-up

It might have been different, but Jekyll and Hyde ultimately failed to achieve what ITV wanted, with creator Charlie Higson announcing on Twitter in early January that it would not be back for a second season. “It was a grand adventure while it lasted,” he wrote.

ITV plans to increase its drama output in each of the next two years, says November. The channel has already lined up a varied slate of new series, including Victoria (8×60’, pictured top) from Mammoth Screen (Poldark, Endeavour), focusing on the early life of the British monarch. It also marks the screenwriting debut of novelist and producer Daisy Goodwin.

November says his drama commissioning team is committed to fostering new writing talent. “We’re all feeling pressure in that you can’t wait for the traditionally successful names. But it’s exciting for us and it’s incumbent on the business to create opportunities for talent,” he says, citing Chris Lunt, whose first 21.00 drama commission was crime miniseries Prey, which returned for a second season before Christmas; and Daisy Coulam, who got her first authored show on ITV with Grantchester. “Good writing is good writing and we pride ourselves as a team on judging writing solely on its quality, not on who wrote it. We’d love to hear from new talent across the board, it’s exciting.”

However, ITV continues to mine its back-catalogue for returnables. After 12 years off air, Cold Feet is being revived as a new eight-part series, while Tennison is a prequel to Lynda La Plante’s iconic crime drama Prime Suspect, which starred Helen Mirren and ran to seven series. The six-part latter, written by La Plante and coproduced by Noho Film and Television and La Plante Global, is being lined up to coincide with this year’s 25th anniversary of the launch of Prime Suspect.

“Of course, we’ve got to balance that with the absolutely new and the fresh. We can’t load our schedule with old brands and old IP,” comments November. “It’ll be very selected shows that we think have got a real chance of a genuine new life.”

The original Cold Feet
The original Cold Feet, the cast of which is reuniting for a revival this year

Dramas on this year’s slate appear to fulfil that mission. Adding to Cold Feet and Tennison are several from ITV Studios, including the 12-part warrior drama Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands and eight-part historical drama Jericho (both now on air) and four-parter Tutankhamun. The latter follows the discovery of the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh and stars Max Irons and Sam Neill.

External commissions include crime drama Marcella from Buccaneer Media, written by Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge) and starring Anna Friel; three-part drama Doctor Thorne, Julian Fellowes’ next project for ITV after Downton, adapted from Anthony Trollope’s book series and made by Hat Trick Productions; and The Halcyon (8×60’) from Left Bank Pictures, a drama set in a five-star London hotel in wartime 1940.

Hillbilly Television will also produce six-parter The Level, about a police officer leading a double life, while CPL Productions is behind 80s-set Brief Encounters.

The slate also includes several new single dramas, like Churchill’s Secret, produced by Tinopolis-owned Daybreak Pictures and starring Michael Gambon as Sir Winston Churchill and Lindsay Duncan as Clementine Churchill.

While ITV’s peaktime drama commissions are not slot-driven, November says the common denominator is “21.00 primetime, post-watershed drama. Even if you’re talking about a two-hour piece drama like Endeavour that might start at 20.00, we still want it to have a 21.00 emotional and narrative sensibility. It’s got to fit that taste and tone.”

In particular, November highlights “a real desire and hunger for contemporary at the moment.” ITV has commissioned several new period pieces and the exec says he is looking for a “light, bright, exciting contemporary hit” to balance with these, pointing enviously at BBC1’s Doctor Foster. “I wish we had that show. Big, romantic thrillers and family relationship dramas are real priorities for us at the moment.”

Jericho is airing now
Jericho is airing now

ITV remains entirely focused on commissioning for British viewers. “The international aspect can bring funding, talent and all the other parts of the equation. But first and foremost I only want to look at shows that are going to work for our audience in the UK on their UK broadcast,” November adds.

The drama director says ITV’s licence fees are very competitive and realistic against the backdrop of rising budgets, typically ranging between £500,000 (US$745,700) and £800,000-plus per hour, depending on the show.

“Excitingly for me and hopefully for producers, our commitment to drama remains absolutely solid and is, in fact, growing,” November says. “We have more hours in 2016 than we had in 2015, and it will be the same again in 2017. In 2017 we’re looking at a schedule with plenty of opportunity and a real commitment to drama, knowing that’s what we need to drive our brand and viewers.”

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Behind the scenes of EST’s Broken Pieces

Spearheaded by its latest hit, Star TV drama Broken Pieces, Endemol Shine Turkey is successfully changing drama production models in the country. Gün Akyuz reports.

It’s early June and the final day of shooting is underway for the last episode of Broken Pieces (aka Paramparça), Endemol Shine Turkey (EST)’s hit drama production for Star TV. The location is an imposing Ottoman villa in Kandilli on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, one of three main sets used by the Istanbul-based production.

The family drama, in which two baby girls are mistakenly switched at birth in hospital and then unknowingly raised by each other’s families, develops into a tense romance between the wealthy father of one of the girls and the lower-class single mother of the other, as the girls’ real parentage is discovered following a DNA test.

From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay
From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay

It topped the Turkish 2014/15 television season, racking up impressive domestic audiences as well as stirring significant international interest. Launched on Star TV in December 2014, the drama overtook ATV’s hit series Karadayi – the country’s leading drama of the previous three seasons – increasing its ratings episode after episode. The season ended on June 29, averaging a 22.5% share and 9.2% rating of all viewers (five years-plus) across its run – more than double Star TV’s channel share average (10%). The series has been recommissioned for a second season.

Remarkably, it’s also EST’s first local Turkish drama production – the first of three to launch in 2014/15 – and with it the company has opened up a new path for production methods and business models in Turkey.

“Even though Endemol Shine Turkey was an established brand and production company, we had no track record in drama production. With the success of Broken Pieces we have been approached by more (as yet undisclosed) channels to work together on our upcoming projects,” say Gökhan Tatarer, EST MD and producer of the series.

EST entered into drama production in 2014 following the appointment of Hülya Vural to lead the company’s drama business, explains Tatarer. Vural was joined by Özlem Yurtsever, whom Tatarer describes as one of the best executive producers in Turkey.

“Marina Williams, COO of international operations at Endemol Shine Group, supported our ambitions and opened the door for us to have the financial support of the group,” he says. “We started to discuss our long-term projects with talent from different fields of the industry, optioning and licensing scripts. The belief Star TV had in the project has also been key in its genesis.

“We’ve had two other dramas launch this year – Sparrow Palace, for Star TV, and Overturn for ATV. But it was Broken Pieces’ story that appealed to viewers most and became a hit.”

Underscoring the singularly competitive nature of the TV market EST is navigating, ‘dizis’ (or Turkish dramas) dominate the primetime schedules, and the country’s eight main free-to-air nets launch around 100 titles between them every season. Up to 25% of these are cancelled within four weeks of launch. Around 50 new series launched in the 2014/15 season, between September and May, and more than half of them (28) were cancelled, explains Nilüfer Küyel, EST’s head of acquisitions and format development.

Tatarer: 'We’re working with high-calibre casts and directors who are not only successful in Turkey but are also acknowledged in other territories'
Tatarer: ‘We’re working with high-calibre casts and directors who are not only successful in Turkey but are also acknowledged in other territories’

Broken Pieces is a high-profile, big-budget production, starring leading Turkish actors Erkan Petekkaya (Dila, Time Goes By) and Nurgul Yeşilçay (Love and Punishment, Ivy Mansion) as central characters Cihan and Gulseren. The scriptwriter is Yıldız Tunç (1001 Nights) and Cevdet Mercan (Asi, Gönülçelen) is the director. EST producers for the drama include Tatarer, EST commercial director Hakan Eren, executive producer Özlem Yurtsever, EST head of drama Vural and line producer Selma Yücel.

A total of 130 people worked on the production, alongside 30 regular actors and a further 10 to 20 in supporting roles – plus up to 300 extras and 27 locations per episode, says Yurtsever. In addition to the three main locations, including Gulseren’s house and Cihan’s villa (the one on the Bosphorus), there are a further 14 fixed sets, plus locations from restaurants, parks, shops and hospitals to a jail. The season finale included 18 extra locations.

Vural says the drama’s success is down to the story’s “simple yet very universal dilemma encouraging the viewer to put themselves in the position of our protagonists, and question what they themselves would do.”

She continues: “It is a story about family, so all viewers can relate emotionally. The fast-paced story is a completely new approach, as Turkish dramas traditionally have a much slower tempo. In addition, our principal cast is very popular and has great on–screen chemistry. This, combined with a fantastically collaborative production, keeps everyone motivated.”

The development of Broken Pieces was initially funded by EST, and production began once the show was commissioned by Star TV. “Here in Turkey it is usual for production companies to finance initially, with remuneration from the broadcaster after the series has aired,” says Eren. Meanwhile, Turkish distributor Global Agency came on board early on with minimum guarantees.

However, EST’s international corporate structure and financial backing from the Endemol Shine Group gave the company a head start, allowing it to take a risk with a high-end production, which is unusual in Turkey, says Eren. “Being part of the larger group meant we were able to create long-term business plans, and our vision set an example for many others in the Turkish market,” he adds.

EST has not revealed the production’s budget, but per-episode costs for higher-end local Turkish drama can range from anything between €300,000 (US$333,460) and €500,000 per episode (as is the case with period drama).

Broken-Pieces-on-set-1With the production company bearing all the risk of funding at least three or four episodes before making a return, prodcos without financial backing – and whose productions could be cancelled after four weeks – struggle to survive, explains Küyel. “The upside in this business model comes from international distribution,” she notes.

Broken Pieces director Mercan, who joined the project once the script was developed, agrees, welcoming foreign investment in Turkish drama as an important development: “It has a pioneering effect. The Turkish production industry has done well so far and equals EST’s production values, but the fact that a global company is investing in our market will have an effect over the coming years.”

In another first, EST also signed exclusive deals with the leading talent involved, both on and off screen. “This was something completely new in the Turkish market as other companies only do project-based deals,” says Tatarer.

The drama was one of only a small crop of series produced in 2014/15 with a wide appeal across Turkey’s audience demographics. As well as its success among the overall audience, Broken Pieces pulled in ad-friendly ABC1 20-plus viewers (the main shoppers, generally higher educated and earning higher income), picking up a 23% share and 10% rating among this group.

It’s something that’s increasingly difficult to pull off nowadays, following changes to Turkey’s audience ratings system that have increased viewer representation in rural areas. It has been argued that content is increasingly reflecting the changes at the expense of being able to pull in more metropolitan ABC1 viewer and, by extension, international audiences.

Yet Global Agency had already sold Broken Pieces to 13-plus territories before the end of its first season, which “proves there is a market for locally produced high-quality drama with a high-end budget that can travel,” says Eren. “Ultimately it’s all about universal stories told with flair and passion.”

Broken-Pieces-on-set-11Mercan says the fact that the drama actually reflects Turkey’s diverse demography could also be a reason for its success: “The show portrays two different worlds: one the upper-middle-class milieu of the lead male character; the other the more down-to-earth, lower-class neighbourhood of the lead female, both embedded in the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul.

“They share similarities in terms of family life, parenthood and culture. The interaction and dialogue between these two worlds is what makes the series successful.

“The project ends touching the audience and asking the question, ‘What if it were me?’ That’s always in our minds, whether it’s for domestic or international broadcast, and perhaps that’s also a reason for its international success.”

What is less apparent to Turkish or international viewers is that Broken Pieces is adapted from the South Korean drama Autumn in My Heart, an early example of the now global Korean drama wave. The 16-parter ran for one season on KBS2 in 2000, giving rise to the drama trilogy Endless Love, which aired until 2006.

Broken Pieces scriptwriter Tunç says EST approached her to draft the script after it had acquired the adaptation rights of Autumn in My Heart. “I was on board from the very beginning, working closely with the executive producers at EST and Star TV, developing and modifying the story for the Turkish audience’s needs, tastes and expectations,” she says.

The story, Tunç continues, “explores a very universal dilemma over parenthood – is the parent the person who raised the child, or the one who gave birth? In terms of characters, the key element is that they come from totally different backgrounds.”

Tunç’s adaptation unfolds in a very different way to the original Korean version, which focused on the children who were switched at birth. “We explore the chaos that engulfs both families while also developing a love story,” she explains. “It’s an affair that, within Turkish culture, would typically be frowned upon as both characters were married and would never have met had their children not been mixed up at birth. Although theirs is a forbidden love, the characters’ authenticity, honesty and kindness have made them sympathetic to viewers, who can identify and empathise with their situation and the decisions they make.”

Broken-Pieces-on-set-5Like Vural, Tunç believes the atypically fast-paced script has contributed to the show’s success. “Broken Pieces is a family saga that leaves audiences gripped as the relationship between the father, mother and children develops. This fast-paced story is filled with an emotional conflict that keeps the audience enthralled at the end of each episode,” she says.

Turkish drama stands out for the length of its episodes – 90 to 120 minutes each – and the pace of production, with the average project pumping out the equivalent of a movie
a week.

With Broken Pieces episodes coming in at 120 minutes, “we decided to create and edit the story as if there were two episodes in one,” explains Tunç. “This was a huge challenge creatively, as we had to include several plots and storylines. It was especially tough at the beginning, as the characters did not know each other. We had to find the perfect sequence to intertwine the two families coming from very different social backgrounds.”

Mercan adds: “We’re doing something very different from the rest of the world. In one week we produce 120 minutes, which is something incredible. It’s very good practice, as you learn to be fast. That’s also true for the scriptwriters, who have to write around 100 pages a week.

“There is no way there won’t be some kind of slip or mistake in the acting, writing and directing at this pace. So what is important is the milieu we create on set, especially the harmony between the actors and directors, which makes our style different to the rest of the world. And we do it to a movie-quality level of production.”

From a scriptwriting perspective, Tunç says the main challenge for season one was the sheer volume of scripts required, with the opening run comprising 31 episodes. She adds: “When we began to shoot, we were already writing the fifth show, which is quite a luxury in Turkey and allowed us time to perfect each episode. We also have an extremely talented cast. All the actors are dedicated to the project and their belief has helped make it a success.”

The process of turning around scripts every week is supported by the production team, including two other writers and an assistant helping put together 90-page scripts each week. “The schedule allows us the opportunity to revise the story several times before filming,” says Tunç.

“In Turkey, programming is 70% dedicated to drama series, so it’s a priority to create and expand our local scripted projects,” observes Tatarer. “There is a high demand for drama programming, but it can be difficult to meet broadcasters’ demand for large volumes, as there is a limited pool of local writers, directors and actors. So we would like to focus on the very best projects. We value quality rather than quantity.”

EST’s main goal, says Tatarer, “is to produce local content that can travel because we are part of an international group. That is why we are working with high-calibre casts and directors who are not only successful in Turkey but are also acknowledged in other territories. We look for scriptwriters who can deliver stories for local audiences but with international appeal.”

Meanwhile, scriptwriting for the second season of Broken Pieces resumed in late July, and season two launched on Star TV in mid-September, returning to its Monday primetime slot. “We are focusing on a brand new story with different plots and huge surprises for the viewer,” says Tunç.

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The new black: Nordic noir’s unstoppable rise

As the popularity of Nordic noir shows no sign of waning, DQ asks Scandinavian drama’s key players where they plan to take the genre next.

Ever since the massive global hit that was The Killing, Scandinavian drama has been punching above its weight, winning over critics and viewers internationally as well as influencing its European neighbours.

The latest Nordic noir success story is Sweden’s The Fat and the Angry (Ettor och nollor), which scooped another international award for the region when it picked up best non-English-language drama at the inaugural C21 Drama Awards last November. It came a close second earlier in the year at the Seoul Drama Awards with a Silver Bird gong in the TV movies category.

Wikander: 'We’re approached by broadcasters and international producers in a way we’ve never seen before'
Wikander: ‘We’re approached by broadcasters and international producers in a way we’ve never seen before’

Based on true events in Gothenburg’s criminal underworld, the two-part show, which premiered locally in Sweden in February 2014, joins a long list of award-winning Nordic dramas with international careers, including Lilyhammer, The Killing, Wallander, Borgen and The Bridge – as well as Mammon, which has been the subject of speculation about a BBC remake.

The Fat and the Angry highlights an important feature of Scandinavian dramas: coproduction. Made by Göta Film and Swedish pubcaster SVT, its partners included Finnish pubcaster YLE and Swedish film prodco Film i Väst.

With a few exceptions, Scandinavian drama’s international partnerships came out of necessity, says SVT head of drama Christian Wikander. “The hourly cost for drama has gone up, which means we’re all searching for new money, and this drove the producers and the broadcasters to reach out and broaden the network.”

If anyone can find success with this approach, it’s the Scandinavians, as Liselott Forsman, executive producer of international drama projects at YLE, explains: “We’ve been coproducing since 1959. It’s really good for Nordic drama that we have subsidy methods and two important funds within the Nordic countries.” One of these is the Nordisk Film and TV Fond, where Forsman sits on the board.

“There’s much to be gained by having a lot of smaller funding and regional funding contributions, even though they don’t pay very much,” agrees Stefan Baron, executive drama producer at Nice Drama. Baron left SVT in 2014 after 21 years to join MTG-owned Nice Entertainment Group, where he’s now an exec producer heading up international coproductions. “The trick is to not have too many partners at the script stage,” he says. “When you have a couple of scripts, then you bring in distributors and coproducers from around the world.”

Beyond the region, Nordic drama’s international appeal has grown thanks to increasingly sophisticated, social media-savvy audiences and their expanding tastes, says Wikander – adding that this has also helped prise open the door to the UK, a notoriously closed market for subtitled, non-Anglo Saxon fare.

“I think audiences are very well educated and used to all kinds of storylines, plots, dramaturgy and also language,” says the SVT man. “Because social media is so borderless, we share so much in our personal networks – and one proof of that is the success of Nordic drama on BBC4. Ten years ago, if someone had told me two million Brits would sit down to watch a subtitled drama, I wouldn’t have believed them.

“The fantastic upside for all of us working in Scandinavia today is that we’re approached by broadcasters and international producers in a way we’ve never seen before, and that’s a great opportunity for us.”

SVT is Scandinavia’s largest drama commissioner and producer, with an annual output of four longform drama series (10×60’/10×45’) and four miniseries (3×60’) across crime, family drama and comedy, on a budget of around SEK320m (US$46.6m).

Around half its output is coproduced, largely with its longstanding Nordic partners such as DR, NRK and YLE. But it has also attracted a growing band of Europeans and North Americans interested in remake rights to shows like The Bridge, and ‘hubot’ drama Real Humans, with Shine-owned Kudos’s remake of the latter, simply called Humans, now airing on the UK’s Channel 4 and AMC in the US.

Gustaffson: Bigger appetite for Nordic  drama has caused a bottleneck
Gustaffson: Bigger appetite for Nordic drama has ’caused a bottleneck’

Piodor Gustaffson, co-founder and producer of independent production company Another Park Film, and former drama commissioning editor at SVT, says that despite smaller budgets and limited development funds in the region, he’s noticed an overall increase in the quality of drama series over the last few years. “That’s about competing with not only the rest of the world but also your neighbours, as well as occasionally using the same talent,” he says.

At SVT, Gustaffson pushed for a broader range of drama output, leading to projects such as The Bridge and Real Humans. Meanwhile, Baron greenlit Nice’s family drama Thicker Than Water. The show aired in spring 2014 to a million-plus viewers, selling internationally via Germany’s ZDFE. A second season is now in the pipeline.

There’s widespread agreement that Nordic noir has opened doors for Scandinavian producers, themselves refusing to have their output pigeonholed as simply Nordic noir. With crime at its core, the programming stretches far beyond into an exploration of society and human motivations, offering a strong identification with and empathy for characters along the way. It also embraces other genres such as suspense and mystery, and fish-out-of-water crime comedy. And now producers are moving into new areas, exemplified by DR’s family inheritance drama The Legacy.

“Of course it’s about crime – it’s Nordic noir – but it’s always been character-focused,” says Jonas Allen, producer and co-founder of Danish prodco Miso Film. “We care about the characters. It’s not only about fascination with them, but also identifying with the characters, and I think that’s the basic core to all the shows.”

Now majority-owned by FremantleMedia, Miso Film counts local hits such as Those Who Kill and Dicte for TV2 Denmark, as well as the historical drama 1864 for DR, among its productions. Crime reporter series Dicte (10×45’) returned for a successful second run last autumn, with a third season now in development. It includes TV4 Sweden and TV2 Norway as coproducers, and received support from regional Danish regional funds, the EU’s MEDIA programme and DFI’s Public Service Fund.

Forsman: 'It’s our duty to tell all our audiences something about what’s happening in society today'
Forsman: ‘It’s our duty to tell all our audiences something about what’s happening in society today’

For Scandinavia’s public broadcasters, at least, another quintessential ingredient of Nordic drama is how it reflects society. “It’s our duty to tell all our audiences something about what’s happening in society today. It’s imperative that we entertain, but we should always enrich at a deeper level, too,” says Forsman.

Even though Nordic drama appears gloomy and dark, Forsman says one of the reasons Danish drama travels so well is that the characters care about each other. “You can feel it within 10 seconds of watching. You have to have a lot of empathy, no matter how harsh the subject.”

YLE Drama’s latest show is the thriller Tellus, scripted and directed by JP Siili. The 6×50’ drama deals with a group of eco-terrorists, exploring an “important ethical question” of how far individuals will go to fight for their ideals, according to Forsman.

NRK and SVT are coproducers and ZDFE is distributing it internationally outside of Scandinavia, making it “a typical Nordic coproduction,” Forsman adds. The drama opened to 27% shares on YLE1 in the autumn, continuing on 25%, with a second season greenlit before the final episode aired in December.

Pubcaster NRK’s latest traditional Nordic noir, Eyewitness (Øyenvitne, pictured top), which debuted on NRK1 last autumn, is also imbued with socio-cultural commentary. “It’s been a real success among critics and audiences,” says NRK head of drama Ivar Køhn, who’s also the current chair of the Nordisk Film and TV Fund.

It was scripted and directed by Jarl Emsell Larsen who, as the original father of Nordic noir in Norway, has 30 years of TV drama under his belt. “For the last 15 years he’s been really into social drama, when he discovered he could make crime and talk about society and also make it popular,” Køhn says of the director.

Eyewitness follows two adolescent boys who meet secretly in a forest, where they witness a violent murder. The story follows the events that build after they fail to report the crime to the police. It has already sold internationally in both finished (including to Germany) and scripted format forms.

Struggle for Life, 'the opposite of a fish-out-of-water story'
Struggle for Life, ‘the opposite of a fish-out-of-water story’

But NRK is also keen to evolve its drama. Its ‘Nordic humour noir’ show Struggle for Life (Kampen for tilværelsen) “is not so much a ‘fish out of water’ story as a ‘tigers in silent waters’ one – the complete opposite,” says Køhn.

Following in the mould of series like Welcome to Sweden and Lilyhammer, Struggle for Life centres on a Pole who travels to Norway in search of his father. Although a linguist, he can only find work as a carpenter, which exposes him to a Norwegian middle-class life of self-made problems.

“It’s a really original story and a brave one for us,” says Køhn. The project was completely controlled by scriptwriters, and co-written by Erlend Loe, Per Schreiner and Bjørn Olaf Johannessen – “some of the most exciting writers we have in Norway,” says Køhn. NRK has greenlit two seasons of the eight-part comedy drama.

Miso Film is also evolving the Nordic noir genre. “It’s one of the things going on right now,” says co-founder Allen. “A lot of creatives who we’re dealing with are looking for and trying to tell new stories.”

One of its latest offerings is NOK65m (US$8.8m)-budget mystery drama Acquitted (Frikjent) (10×45’), made for TV2 Norway and launched in March this year. The project, which received NOK10m funding from the Nordisk Film and TV Fund, became TV2’s biggest drama premiere, pulling in a 46.6% share of its 20-49s target group and a 38.8% overall share (12 years-plus).

Scripted by two female writers, Siv Rajendram Eliassen (Varg Veum) and Anna Bache-Wiig, the drama is inspired by a real rape and murder case in Norway. “They were very interested in the character, and it was always about finding out about the man who was acquitted, why he came back to his hometown, what he was looking for, and the forces that drove him back. That’s the core of the development of the show,” says Allen.

SVT’s Wikander, too, is keen for producers not to come to him with the next The Bridge. “I think we need to be brave. Take Real Humans, for instance – that’s an example of being brave, and for a public broadcaster today that’s extremely important,” he says.

C21 Drama Award-winning The Fat and the Angry
C21 Drama Award-winning The Fat and the Angry

“We need to try out new stuff but, of course, without abandoning the established crime formats. We’re going to see a third and probably fourth season of The Bridge, but we need to balance that with bravery, and we’ve started a lot from scratch, finding stories relevant to a Swedish audience because that’s our mission. When you have that mission, you can then go into the international market, but not as a first step.”

One of SVT’s newest dramas, Jordskott (10×60’), takes the pubcaster in yet another new direction. It’s made by established Swedish commercials prodco Palladium, which formed new division Palladium Fiction, headed by producer Filip Hammarström, for its first TV drama. The show, which launched on Monday February 16, opened to 1.6 million viewers and has since averaged 1.4 million so far across its debut run.

The story follows a detective who returns to her small home town to work on the case of a missing boy, 10 years after her own daughter disappeared, and tries to find links between the two mysterious incidents. Wikander calls it a “Nordic crime meets mystery” drama.

After four years developing the idea, Palladium brought a 10-minute tape to SVT. “If they hadn’t had that 10 minutes, we would have said no, because the company had never produced a drama series before,” says Wikander.

The UK’s ITV Studios came in on the project very early, he adds, making it possible to take it to the next level of production, and is distributing the series worldwide. Finland’s Kinoproduktion is also a coproducer and the series has been pre-bought by YLE, TV2 Norway and Iceland’s RUV.

“The biggest difference of the last two to three years has been an increase in the amount spent on development, alongside international companies investing in or acquiring Nordic companies and increased budgets at the TV channels. More projects are now very well developed even before they reach the commissioning editors,” notes Another Park’s Gustaffson.

SVT has upped its development budget to help develop more new projects, a challenge many countries without the US-style showrunner/writers room approach face. “The best writers are occupied so we also need to focus also on the writers beneath them and on finding ways to get them together with producers to lift them,” Wikander explains.

Another Park is currently busy developing a number of (as yet undisclosed) film and TV projects across a range of genres, working with top writing talent. “We will go out to the market when we’re ready,” Gustaffson says. “We wanted to have that freedom when we created the company. But, obviously, we would also be open to start earlier with some partners if we shared the same vision at the development stage.”

However, Gustaffson says a key challenge for Nordic drama is the “limit to how much Swedish-language drama the local market can finance and consume.”

He adds: “There’s a bigger appetite for Nordic and Swedish drama than what TV stations commission, and that’s caused a bottleneck. A lot of interesting projects will come out of the increase in development money but this won’t result in more Swedish-language drama series – and it could mean some of the top talent start to write for companies in other countries because what they develop here won’t be financed.”

Yet Scandinavian producers remain unfazed by growing international competition in foreign-language drama from countries such as France, Spain, Israel and Turkey. Rather, they see greater potential synergies developing.

NRK is no stranger to global partnerships. It was the first Scandinavian broadcaster to strike out when it joined forces with new entrant Netflix to coproduce the crime comedy series Lilyhammer by Rubicon TV, which premiered in early 2012. Season three of the drama returned on flagship NRK1 last October, with the broadcaster this time taking a leaf out of Netflix’s book by also making the entire series available straight away on its online streaming service. Meanwhile, HBO Europe picked up remake rights to NRK’s six-part thriller Mammon.

“We were all taken and shaken by Netflix and House of Cards, when the whole series was made available on day one, while Netflix rose extremely quickly to around 650,000 subscribers in Sweden,” says Wikander. “But that has now levelled out, and one of the reasons for that – not unique to Netflix – is that 98% of its catalogue is old titles. The audience has now gone through it, and an output of four new titles a year, whether you’re a broadcaster like us or a Netflix, is too little to keep a subscriber audience with you.”

There’s another reason why distribution platforms like Netflix and HBO make interesting bedfellows: they can do niche drama, because ultimately they can aggregate lots of smaller audiences, says YLE’s Forsman. “In other countries where we have really strong public service companies with good audience shares and very well-educated audiences, we can do that too,” she notes.

“It’s really great to see channels like France’s Canal+ doing the same,” adds Forsman. “They want their drama to have deep characters and to speak about society in a new way, to be brave, risky and so on – all imperatives for public service broadcasters. We could have written the same words, yet they’re a commercial broadcaster.”

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