Tag Archives: Baz Luhrmann

Music shows strike a chord with networks

As a childhood fan of The Monkees, I can vouch for the fact that TV series about the music business are nothing new. But there’s no question that the current success of Fox US’s hip-hop drama Empire has inspired an unprecedented array of music-related scripted shows. So this week’s column takes a look at the writers who are riding the crest of this compositional wave.

Star: After the success of Empire, the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels is planning another music-based scripted show. Working alongside Tom Donaghy, he is making Star, a series about three girls who form a band and their rise to the top. Like Empire, Star is for Fox, at which Daniels has an overall deal. Daniels is good at doing diversity. His band will comprise one white girl, one black girl and one mixed-race girl (half white/half black). There is also a transgender black/Latino central character called Cotton. Donaghy, meanwhile, is a playwright who is also known for having worked on The Mentalist and for creating ABC’s The Whole Truth.

Vinyl

Vinyl has just started airing on HBO (February 14) to pretty good reviews. Based on an idea by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, it tells the story of Richie Finestra, a record executive in the 1970s, played by Bobby Cannavale. The story credit goes to Jagger, Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter, who also wrote the screenplay with George Mastras. As you’d expect with a project of this calibre, the writers are TV royalty. Winter, for example, was creator, writer, and executive producer of Boardwalk Empire, having previously worked on The Sopranos and written The Wolf of Wall Street. Mastras worked on all five seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad and is also the author of a novel, Fidali’s Way. There are already reports that Winter wants to do a second season.

The Breaks has just been greenlit as a series by Viacom pay TV channel VH1, having debuted strongly as a TV movie in January. Based on the Dan Charnas book The Big Payback, it’s a history of the hip-hop business. The series story is being developed by Charnas and Seith Mann, with the latter writing, directing and executive producing. Mann’s credits include The Wire, The Walking Dead and Homeland. The story follows three young friends seeking to establish themselves as hip-hop artists in New York City in 1990.

Vital Signs is the new series Apple is reported to be making with rap legend and Beats Music co-founder Andre Young, better known as Dr Dre. The show will be a semi-autobiographical “dark drama.” Apple and Dr Dre have not yet commented on the nascent project, which means it is too early to know who will write it. One option might be Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, the Oscar-nominated duo who wrote the screenplay for NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton – though both are embroiled in other projects. Berloff, for example, is writing Sleepless Night, a movie starring Jamie Foxx, whike Herman has been working on the Scarlett Johansson movie Ghost in the Shell.

Roadies

Roadies is a comedy from Showtime that, as its name suggests, goes backstage with a group of roadies. Directed by Cameron Crowe, the show will give an insider’s look at “the reckless, romantic, funny and often poignant lives of a committed group of roadies who live for music and the de facto family they’ve formed along the way. The music-infused ensemble comedy series chronicles the rock world through the eyes of music’s unsung heroes.” Crowe is a writer/director, mainly known for films such as Jerry Maguire and We Bought a Zoo. Less well known is the fact that he’s a huge music aficionado. After leaving college, Crowe worked for Rolling Stone, where he interviewed the likes of Dylan, Bowie and Clapton. His second film, Almost Famous, was about a teen music journalist who goes on the road with a band in the early 1970s.

New Edition project: Viacom-owned BET is making a miniseries based on the 1980s R&B heartthrobs New Edition – marking the network’s first scripted music-focused TV movie. A three-parter, the show has the backing of five of the band’s members, but not the most famous of the group, Bobby Brown. The film will chronicle New Edition’s beginnings in Boston’s Orchard Park Projects to success with tracks like Candy Girl and Cool It Now. The script is being written by Abdul Williams, who previously wrote the movie Lottery Ticket (which included Ice Cube in the cast).

Nashville

Nashville deserves a mention, even though it predates Empire by a few years. Now up to its fourth season, the show centres on the rivalry between country queen Rayna James and rising star Juliette Barnes. The show was created by Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award in 1992 for the Thelma & Louise screenplay. Until Nashville, she mostly worked in movies, writing films such as Something to Talk About, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad Money. For season four, Khouri stepped back from writing but has directed some episodes. Writing was shared among a team of 10 writers, with the opening episode penned by Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ulin. The final episode, which will air this spring, is set to be written by Taylor Hamra, who was also involved in the recent TNT reboot of oil-industry soap Dallas.

The Get Down, which we discussed in a recent column, is a Baz Luhrmann music-driven drama that focuses on 1970s New York City: “broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped – dying.” It’s for Netflix, which says the six-part series is “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip hop, punk and disco – told through the lives and music of the South Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world… forever.” This is similar terrain to Vinyl, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out in comparison. Luhrmann’s creative team includes Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, hip-hop historian and writer Nelson George and writer Stephen Adly Guirgis. To date, Guirgis is best known as a playwright, having won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Between Riverside and Crazy. However, he does have a few screenwriting credits to his name, including an episode of NYPD Blue from 2002 and a couple of short-lived dramas called Big Apple (CBS) and UC: Undercover (NBC). He is also an actor, appearing in movies such as Birdman.

Stop! In the Name of Love is a four-part miniseries for the BBC that will incorporate numerous Motown songs (a la Mamma Mia). The UK drama follows six smart thirtysomething women as they deal with love, friendship, success and failure. The show is a joint venture between Tony Jordan (Dickensian, Life on Mars), Duncan Kenworthy (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Antenna Group MD and former president of NBCUniversal International Peter Smith, and music consultant and former chairman of Universal Music UK John Kennedy. Jordan, who is writing the series, says it will “offer something completely different from any other show on television. The music of Motown is iconic and mirrors the rich gamut of human emotion and experience as well as exploring universal themes that all cultures and ages can relate to. The musical arrangements and cutting-edge choreography will give us a uniquely modern take on a timeless genre of music.”

Mozart in the Jungle

Mozart in the Jungle is another show we’ve looked at recently following its Golden Globe triumph (Best Series – Music or Comedy). A quirky story of professional musicians working the New York concert circuit, Mozart is based on the memoir of an oboist called Blair Tindall. It was brought to the screen by a company called Picrow, with the pilot episode written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers. Once the show was commissioned as a 10-part series, a further eight people were credited with either writing scripts or providing stories. The most prominent names among these were John Strauss and Paul Weitz, the latter also directing a number of first season episodes. Season two, which was released on December 30 last year, involved some of the same writers but there were also five new additions – giving the show an ensemble feel both on and off the screen. Since we last wrote about the show, it has been give a third season.

Power isn’t quite a music series but it has strong music connections. Created and written by Courtney Kemp Agboh, the series follows James St. Patrick, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost is the owner of a popular New York nightclub – but also a major player in an illegal drug network. The show, which is produced by rapper Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson has aired for two series on Starz and was recently renewed by the network for a third.

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Netflix nurtures writing talent

Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is one of Netflix’s most recognisable titles

Earlier this week, SVoD platform Netflix announced the launch dates for a raft of scripted shows. Among them is season four of Orange is the New Black (OITNB), which will premiere on Friday June 17. With Netflix now in so many countries around the world, the series is likely to be one of the global TV highlights of the year.

Adapted from Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, this acutely observed comedy-drama tells the story of a 30-something PR executive who unexpectedly winds up in a women’s prison.

While no one really has a clue how the show does in terms of ratings, it is widely regarded as a success story for Netflix (based on fan adulation, critical acclaim and an 8.3 rating on IMDb).

The TV series is written by Jenji Kohan, whose career credits read like a millennial generation dinner-party discussion.

Jenji Kohan
Jenji Kohan

In the 1990s, she wrote a handful of episodes for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Boston Common, Mad About You and Sex and the City – though her biggest gig at the time was Tracey Takes On. Lift off came during the last decade when she had a lengthy association with Gilmore Girls, a brief flirtation with Will & Grace and, most significantly, created dark comedy Weeds, which ran for eight seasons (102 episodes) on premium pay TV network Showtime.

Weeds told the story of Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother of two boys who begins selling marijuana to support her family after her husband dies suddenly of a heart attack. As creator, writer and executive producer of that show, Kohan firmly established her reputation as one of the US market’s most talented comedy drama writers.

OITNB plays in a similar space – an area Kohan is clearly drawn to. In a 2013 interview, she said: “I’m always looking for those places where you can slam really disparate people up against one another, and they have to deal with each other. There are very few crossroads anymore. We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it’s a mosaic. There’s all these pieces, they’re next to each other but they’re not necessarily mixing. I’m looking for those spaces where people actually do mix – and prison just happens to be a terrific one.”

OITNB was an immediate hit when it launched in the US in July 2013, and also proved popular with European audiences. Its appeal was reflected during the 2014 award season, when the show was nominated for 12 Emmys and Kohan was named one of Time’s Most Influential People.

Weeds
Kohan previously met success with Weeds

The latter may seem a strange accolade for a TV writer, but there’s a general acknowledgement that the show moved the dial on how the LGBT community is portrayed on screen and perceived in wider society.

While OITNB remains her primary project, Kohan has an overall deal with Lionsgate TV (which backed her on both this show and Weeds). Under this arrangement she made a pilot called The Devil You Know for HBO.

Co-written by Kohan, Bruce Miller and Tracy Miller, the pilot was a provocative period drama set around the times of the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century New England. There’s not much in the public domain about the show but the lack of any additional news suggests it might not have got past the pilot stage – though there’s no confirmation of this. (Click here to see a video of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s James Marsden talking about his role in the programme.)

Among new Netflix drama titles that look interesting is Stranger Things, which premieres globally on July 15.

The Duffer twins
The Duffer twins, know for horror film Hidden, are showrunners on Stranger Things

In this eight-hour series, a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family, and local police search for answers, they are drawn into a mystery involving top-secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl. Set in 1980s Indiana, it stars movie icon Winona Ryder and is written by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer.

The Duffer twins are currently on a very rapid upwards trajectory. They first caught the industry’s attention in 2011 when, straight from college, they had numerous studios competing for their horror script Hidden. That was ultimately made into a movie by Warner Bros, released in September last year. In the meantime, they also became involved in M Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines, working on episodes five, six, nine and 10. With Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers will also be directing and showrunning.

Another new Netflix title sure to attract a lot of attention is Baz Luhrmann’s music-driven drama The Get Down, which focuses on 1970s New York City: “broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped – dying.”

Guirgis
Stephen Adly Guirgis

According to Netflix, the six-parter is “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco – told through the lives and music of the south Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world, forever.”

Luhrmann’s creative team includes Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, hip-hop historian and writer Nelson George and writer Stephen Adly Guirgis.

To date, Guirgis is best known as a playwright, having won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Between Riverside and Crazy. His involvement in this new project reflects a trend of stage writers moving to television.

However, he does have a few screenwriting credits to his name, including an episode of NYPD Blue from 2002 and a couple of short-lived dramas called Big Apple (CBS) and UC: Undercover (NBC). He is also an actor, having appeared in movies such as Birdman. A regular feature on Broadway, Guirgis’s intimate knowledge of New York is sure to be a big benefit to Luhrmann’s Netflix show.

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Max power

Maximilian: ''A captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages'
Maximilian: ”A captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages’

This week filming began on Maximilian, a lavish three-part period drama from MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF, budgeted at €15.5m (US$17.3m). The shoot is expected to take place over four months in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and will involve 60 castles, palaces, church naves and medieval streets, 3000 extras, 550 horses, 800 costumes and 100 suits of armour.

A 100-strong team has worked for months in a 4,000-square-metre hall in Vienna to construct and produce all sorts of set decorations, costumes, wigs, weapons and – for the two battle scenes – fake corpses.

At the heart of all this pomp and circumstance is what the producers call “a captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages.”

Amid the power politics of medieval Europe, the narrative focuses on the romance between Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian, the headstrong son of Emperor Frederick III.

Beta Film CEO Jan Mojto said: “The powerful relationship between Maximilian and Mary works its fascination through its contrasts: here the Austrian Middle Ages, there the Flemish Renaissance; here impoverished knights, there bustling commercial centres; here political calculations, there grand, genuine emotions. These are the conflicting poles that must be aligned. And I have no doubt that director Andreas Prochaska and his outstanding roster of Franco-German stars will carry this off splendidly.”

Maximilian writer Martin Ambrosch
Maximilian writer Martin Ambrosch

Not to be overlooked either is Martin Ambrosch, the Austrian screenwriter who was tasked with writing the script for Maximilian. Born in 1964, Ambrosch started his career writing movies such as Frank Novotony’s Nachtfalter, Valentin Hitz’s Kaltfront and Antonin Svoboda’s Spiele Leben.

From 2001 to 2011 he was a writer, and later head writer, of crime drama SOKO Kitzbühel, for which he wrote more than 35 episodes. More recently, he wrote the pilot and eight episodes of ARD’s Das Glück Dieser Erde and a series of coproduced TV movies for ZDF/ORF under the Spuren des Bösen (Anatomy of Evil) banner.

The Spuren des Bösen films were directed by Prochaska (referenced above as director of Maximilian). The same writer/director duo then worked together on Sarajevo, an Austrian feature about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event that is generally regarded as having triggered World War One.

The film received good reviews, including a broadly positive analysis by The Hollywood Reporter.

Maximilian is arguably Ambrosch and Prochaska’s biggest challenge to date, but they have certainly proved themselves capable of handling epic content. It will be interesting to see if the end result is able to travel as well internationally as other recent German-backed successes such as Generation War and Deutschland 83.

Ripper Street's fourth season is in production
Ripper Street’s fourth season is in production

Production has also begun on season four of Victorian-era detective drama Ripper Street. The show was axed after two seasons on the BBC in the UK, but was subsequently revived by Amazon, which has also committed to a fifth season.

Ripper Street was created by Richard Warlow, who is also the lead writer on the series. Explaining the project’s appeal, he told the show’s US broadcaster BBC America: “It was all to do with trying to create a different kind of period show in a different kind of period London, where we could tell thriller stories instead of a drama. I hope we’re still a drama, but we’re essentially a police thriller in a world where I hope people haven’t seen a police thriller before.”

Represented by Curtis Brown, Warlow worked as a development executive at Pathe and DNA Films before getting his first break as a screenwriter with the original screenplay Three Mile Horizon, optioned to Paramount Pictures.

His other TV credits include writing on all three seasons of Mistresses, as well as showrunning its second and third series . In terms of upcoming projects, he is currently working on a new series for TXTV Ltd entitled The Boiling House and is adapting Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety for Fox/DNA.

Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow is adapting Hilary Mantel's novel A Place of Greater Safety
Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow is adapting Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety

The latter, which tells the story of The French Revolution, is being developed for the BBC, which is presumably hoping for the same sort of success it has seen with fellow Mantel adaptation Wolf Hall.

Amazon, meanwhile, has confirmed that the second season of its transgender comedy Transparent will be streamed from December 4. The show is the creation of Jill Soloway, whose previous credits include Six Feet Under. One interesting fact about the new run is that there is a transgender female writer, classical pianist Our Lady J, on the team.

Although the first season of the show was widely acclaimed by both mainstream critics and the transgender community, Soloway had previously made it clear she wanted a transgender female writer on board to help with the show’s authenticity.

Speaking at a New York Festival last year, she said: “No matter what we did, we were always going to be ‘otherising’ Maura (the central character) in some way. And in the same way where I wouldn’t want a man to say, ‘I can have a writers room full of men and we can write women just fine,’ I can’t say that I can create a show about a trans woman and not have a trans woman writing for me.”

With a marked absence of transgender writers in the business, Our Lady J was selected at the end of 2014 from a number of writers who submitted short stories to the Transparent team.

Transparent now has a transgender writer on its writing team
Transparent now has a transgender writer on its writing team

Describing herself as a “post-religious” gospel singer, Our Lady J announced her involvement in the show via social media: “I’ll be taking the next year off from touring to dedicate my life to the Pfefferman’s as staff writer for season two of #transparenttv. Thank you for having faith in me, @jillsoloway. The world is beginning to see us as we have seen ourselves.”

Meanwhile, it was reported this week that there is going to be a nine-day mid-production shutdown on Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down so that additional work can be done on scripts. The production, from Sony Pictures, is currently four episodes through what will be a 13-hour series.

Set in 1970s New York, the show was created by Lurhmann and Shawn Ryan and includes Jaden Smith in its cast. While Lurhmann is an example of film talent shifting to TV, Ryan is a veteran of the small screen. He was creator and showrunner of The Shield and The Chicago Code and co-creator of Last Resort. He is also used to working with marquee talent, having partnered David Mamet on covert-ops action series The Unit.

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