Tag Archives: Below the Surface

Surface tension

Terror comes to Copenhagen when a group of people are taken hostage aboard a subway train. DQ chats to the creator and producer of Danish drama Gidseltagningen (Below the Surface).

Drama series can be years in the making – yet the team behind Danish hostage series
Gidseltagningen (Below the Surface) went from idea to air in just over a year.

The show’s debut on Discovery Networks-owned Kanal 5 earlier this month was the culmination of a remarkable journey for creator/director Kaspar Barfoed and producer Morten Kjems Hytten Juhl, who came together to bring to life a premise that had already been pitched to the network.

Kaspar Barfoed

SAM Productions – set up by writers Soren Sveistrup (The Killing) and Adam Price (Borgen) plus producer Meta Louise Foldager Sorensen (A Royal Affair) – had taken the idea of a drama following a hostage situation in Copenhagen to the channel in fall 2015, before Sorensen approached Barfoed to develop the story.

“There were no stops, we just kept moving,” Barfoed tells DQ. “We developed the idea for two or three months, then we got a writers room up and running and started writing the episodes. We went straight into pre-production and started shooting in September 2016, so it was 12 months from the idea to shooting.”

Set across eight days, the eight-part series sees a terror task force led by Philip Norgaard (played by Johannes Lassen) and Louise Falk (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) attempt to rescue 15 people who are being held hostage on a subway train.

Reporter Naja Toft (Paprika Steen) acts as a go-between with the hostages and police as the savvy captors bait the press with information about the pasts of each of their hostages. And as a media frenzy erupts, the country becomes divided over whether to negotiate with terrorists.

Below the Surface is produced by SAM for Kanal 5 and Germany’s ZDF Neo, which will air the series this autumn. StudioCanal holds distribution rights.

“The main dilemma is the fact that in Denmark, we don’t pay ransom for hostages – it’s just the law,” explains Barfoed of the conundrum at the heart of the series. “We don’t want to encourage others to do it and we don’t want to pay terrorists, which is a great concept – except when it meets reality. It means we’re going to let people die over amounts of money, so we wanted to put that dilemma in front of people.

Below the Surface’s creators opted to focus on character more than action

“Then for the hostage takers, we thought you would use a journalist to let the public get to know these people and put faces on these hostages. Then let’s see if you can still keep that law. And also, perhaps rightly, the journalist feels she’s the one who can help these people, so it’s not just an evil journalist who wants to sell papers. It’s really difficult – it’s an insane dilemma. I don’t know the answer but we thought it would be interesting to ask those questions.”

Barfoed admits he was instantly drawn to the idea of a hostage drama, but adds that Below the Surface isn’t based on any specific real-life incident.

“Just hearing the word ‘hostage,’ there’s instantly a lot of drama that can grow from that. But our ambition was to look at who gets involved, who gets the phone call and what the dilemmas are. What are the tough choices someone has to make and, if you’re the one who gets taken as a hostage, what do you go through? That was really interesting and the more we talked to people, the more research we did, we found there was so much there.”

Barfoed spent several months outlining the story before linking up with four other writers, Astrid Oye, Per Daumiller, Lars K Andersen and Michael W Horsten. He then opened a writers room, which mapped out each individual episode.

Morten Kjems Hytten Juhl

“One person would go and write an outline, come back, we’d talk some more and then they would go home and write a draft,” he explains, adding that there would only be three writers in the room at a time. “We’d talk about it more and do another draft. That was the process. People in the room would change but typically it was three people beating out the story.”

With such a rapid schedule in place to get the series ready for Kanal 5’s spring schedule, lots of joined-up thinking was needed between Barfoed and producer Juhl.

This meant there were discussions from the outset about the scope of the series, how it would look and how they could maximise their modest budget.

“It could have been a totally high-end show or it could also be scaled down,” Juhl explains. “We found a reality in the middle somewhere. With the financing going on quickly, we had to develop the idea with flexibility in the budget. So we had to keep an open mind and constantly communicate, sometimes daily but always weekly.”

One key decision made early on was to build a Metro station, which would be used to complement the limited amount of location shooting the producers were able to do at a real underground station. But building the set also afforded the production team the chance to then construct the police base right on top.

“That’s quite a cheap thing to build because it’s not an actual police station, it’s more like a barracks, and it gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of shooting,” the producer says. “So with these two primary sets built and an idea that we should shoot half of the show there and the rest on location, that shaped a nice production design that we would work from.”

Other discussions had a more direct impact on the story, such as how many hostages there would be – and how many would be actors and how many would be non-speaking extras.

The show aims to present a realistic look at a hostage situation

“That was very important because we could then write for a specific number of speaking parts, so that we didn’t deliver a script only to be told you can’t do this and you can’t do that,” says Barfoed.

“From the first arc, we knew what the beats would be. We also knew which characters we wanted to focus on in each episode. Each one has a main character we focus on, who is then a less important character in the rest of the show, so along the way you get to know the whole ensemble more. We do have a few characters in the police we get to know, but the deep character studies are with the hostages, because they are in a situation where it makes sense to reflect on who they are and how they ended up there. The thought that you could be on the train that day is something we can all relate to – those who are caught there are just unlucky. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Barfoed’s duties weren’t confined to the writers room, however: he also directed the first two episodes, with Christian E Christiansen and Roni Ezra helming later instalments. And rather than create a series full of overblown action sequences, Barfoed says character took centre stage, with the belief that the inherent drama of a hostage situation would be entertaining on its own merits.

“We just needed to make the characters engaging,” he says. “It has a lot of pace but we never wanted to Hollywood it up. We wanted it to feel realistic. We got really good directors to do the following episodes so I didn’t want to lead them too much. I wanted to give them the opportunity to do it themselves. Obviously we talked a lot and they saw the rushes, so they had a pretty good idea of how we shot it. We kept the crew as much as we could all the way through, so it was actually a pretty smooth transition when we changed directors and DPs.

“The basic stylistic approach is that there are two worlds – right next to each other, separated by height. But they have completely different looks and paces. It’s a dungeon down there, it’s in Copenhagen where we’re building a metro right now. And upstairs is where the negotiators and investigators work, so they want a lot of light and a place where they can move around quickly and talk to everyone. It lends itself to lots of contrasts.”

Designed as a closed-ended series, Below the Surface could return with a new challenge facing the terror task department and its main characters. But should it not get a second season, Barfoed hopes the show will leave its mark.

“We hope it will be something that is perceived as having more substance than a standard crime thriller,” he says. “It goes into the psychology of people caught up in this and takes a realistic approach to what would happen.”

And with other hostage dramas on air and in development, including Ransom and Embassy Down, it looks set to lead a new wave of crime series on television.

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Our friends in the frozen north

Nordic drama has made its mark on the international stage over the last few years. But what’s coming next? A good source of information is the Nordisk Film & TV Fund, which provides regular updates on shows in development, production and distribution. So this week we look at some of the latest developments from the region.

next-summerNext Summer: Bob Film is remaking Norwegian comedy Next Summer for Kanal5/Discovery in Sweden. The original version aired on TVNorge/Discovery and was one of the country’s most popular local TV dramas. The Swedish remake, which will air in 2017, centres on a man who shares a summer house with his wife and in-laws in Stockholm’s archipelago. Bob Film also remade the Finnish drama Nurses for TV4 Sweden. That show, known locally as Syrror, launched on October 19, attracting an audience of one million. It’s part of wider trend of local Nordic adaptations that also includes Gåsmamman and Black Widows. Bob Film is also working with Sweetwater on a crime drama called Missing (Saknad) for CMore and TV4, which focuses on the investigation into the murder of a young girl in a Swedish Bible-belt town.

Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family): Nordisk Film & TV Fond has just allocated a total of NOK9.4m (US$1.14m) to a slate of new film and TV projects. One of them is season two of The Bonus Family, a comedy drama about a recomposed family and the complications that go with it. Season one is due to air on SVT in 2017, as well as on NRK, YLE, RUV and DR. Season two, granted NOK2.4m (US$290,000), started filming in September and will continue until February 2017.

downshifters_1Downshifters: This Finnish series has just secured a French sales rep (ACE Entertainment) while Sweden’s Anagram has optioned remake rights for its own market. The 10-part comedy from Yellow Film & TV has been generating a good buzz since it launched on OTT service Elisa in late 2015. More recently, it aired on YLE2 and established itself as the second most watched programme. The series tells the story of a couple who face financial problems and are forced to cut down on their extravagant lifestyle. A second series, Upshifters, will launch on Elisa in December 2016.

The Rain: News of this Danish show has been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks. Produced by Miso Film (Dicte, 1864, Acquitted), The Rain is a dystopian drama commissioned by Netflix. The series is set in Copenhagen 10 years after a biological catastrophe that wipes out most of the population in Scandinavia and sees two young siblings embark on a search for safety. Guided only by their father’s notebook about the virus and the hazards of this new world, they start a dangerous journey through the country and join up with a group of other young survivors. Miso has had a busy few months, with the second season of Acquitted recently launching on TV2 in Norway.

midnight-sunMidnight Sun: This Swedish/French crime show recently debuted to 1.39 million viewers (38.1% share) on SVT1 in the Sunday 21.00 slot. According to the channel, this performance is comparable with The Bridge (Bron/Broen). Midnight Sun also trended at number two on Twitter – and online viewers, which are still to be added to the count, could pass 200,000. The show also secured strong reviews in the Swedish media, with five stars out of five in Aftonbladet. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Midnight Sun will premiere on RUV on December 5. DR, NRK and MTV3 are likely to air the show, which is distributed internationally by StudioCanal, in early 2017.

nobelNobel: Trapped and Nobel were among 26 European fiction TV series selected for the Prix Europa Media awards last month. Trapped, an Icelandic crime show, won Best European TV Series while Nobel, a Norwegian political/war drama, won Best European TV Movie/Miniseries. Nobel was described as “a precisely crafted original script, perfectly executed and directed, that takes the viewer on a journey into a world of lies, betrayal, mistrust and political games.” Produced by Monster Scripted for NRK, Nobel secured 800,000 viewers for its first episode across NRK1 and NRK streaming service NRK.TV. Both Trapped and Nobel were supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Nobel was directed by Per Olav Sørensen, who also directed The Heavy Water War.

heartless-emilie-claraHeartless: In a recent interview with The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, SVoD service Walter Presents’ curator Walter Iuzzolino said 25-30% of the platform’s shows are from Scandinavia. In terms of titles doing well, he mentioned Heartless: “Our curated programme goes way beyond the tradition of Nordic Noir that has been established by the BBC. I would say that 30% of our audience is 16 to 34, the rest 35-plus. The sexy Danish vampire series Heartless, for example, was a huge hit among 16-24s. Normally I hate fantasy and sci-fi but it’s elegant, poetic, cleverly done and an interesting portrayal of a family –  a sort of vampire version of The Legacy. It was a huge success, pushed only by word of mouth.”

Watchdog: At last month’s Mipcom market in Cannes, ZDF Enterprises announced an exclusive first-look rights deal for all scripted content from the Finnish producer Fisher King. Matti Halonen, Fisher King MD and producer, said: “ZDF Enterprises is a well-established company that can give a lot of support to a smaller player like Fisher King.” The first joint project that ZDFE is working on is the upcoming political thriller series Watchdog. Set in present-day Helsinki, The Hague and London, it’s described as an adrenaline trip into the heart of European justice policy and security regulations concerning source protection and privacy insurance. Fisher King is also behind Bordertown, which is represented worldwide by Federation Entertainment and has been sold to Sky Deutschland and CanalPlay France, while English-language series Crypted is also in its pipeline.

Deadwind: Paris-based financing and distribution boutique About Premium Content (APC) recently picked up Finnish crime drama Deadwind. The 12-part series is about a detective in her 30s who is trying to get over her husband’s death when she discovers the body of a young woman on a construction site. At Mipcom, APC launched Norwegian drama thriller Valkyrien, which is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK. It also distributes another Norwegian show, the youth-oriented Young & Promising, which was recently sold to the UK, Germany and France and has a US deal is in negotiation.

Dan Sommerdahl: This autumn it was announced that Nikolaj Scherfig (The Bridge) would be co-creator/head-writer on Dan Sommerdahl, a new series based on Danish author Anna Grue’s bestselling book series. Distributor Dynamic Television (Trapped) is pre-selling the series on behalf of Germany’s NDF and Denmark’s Nordisk Film. TV2 Denmark is attached and a German broadcaster will soon be announced. Scherfig said the project is different from classic Scandi noir: “It is a tight, clean crime series reflecting on life outside cities understanding how modernity and social development affect life in the province.” Klaus Zimmermann, Dynamic co-MD, told nordicfilmandtvnews.com: “NDF originally acquired the rights to the books and wanted to make it in the tradition of a German crime series with German actors for an international market. But then we felt it made more sense to make it as an original Danish show with a Danish writer and Danish actors. It’s simply the right way to tell the story.”

Hassel-Ola-Rapace_small-1Hassel: Speaking to the Nordisk Film & TV Fond about Viaplay’s strategy for coproducing original content for the Nordic region, CEO Jonas Karlén said upcoming original Nordic scripted series on Viaplay include Swedish Dicks, Svartsjön/Black Lake, Hassel, Our Time Is Now and Occupied season two. Hassel is a Nordic noir starring Ola Rapace as the iconic detective created by author Olov Svedelid. The show is produced by Nice Drama in coproduction with Beta Film, which handles global sales, and is due to launch in late 2017.

springtideSpring Tide: Eight brand new Nordic TV dramas have been selected for The Lübeck Festival’s Nordic Film Days. “TV drama is the big new thing. It was time for us to open up our festival to TV series, as Germans are so fond of Nordic noir,” said the festival’s long-time artistic director Linde Fröhlich. Shows to be introduced include Splitting Up Together (DK), Living with my Ex (FI), Trapped (IS), Nobel (NO), and Modus, Hashtag and Spring Tide (SE). The latter crime drama, based on the novel by Rolf and Cilla Börjlind, is about two cops who come together to solve the murder of a pregnant woman. The show is distributed internationally by Endemol Shine International.

Below the Surface: This is a new drama based on an idea by Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) – now principals in Studiocanal-backed firm SAM. The thriller series centres on an operation to rescue 15 hostages from a Copenhagen subway train. Price and Sveistrup said: “There is something both eerie and fascinating about [taking hostages] as a criminal act. The close and complex relationship between the hostage and hostage-taker immediately opens up strong character-development possibilities and can also put a number of highly topical issues about our time to the forefront, such as fear of terrorism.“ The eight-part series has received DKK14m (US$2.08m) in production support from the DFI’s Public Service Fund and will air on Kanal5/Discovery Networks.

skamSkam: Cult Norwegian youth series Shame (Skam) launched on NRK and was recently acquired by DR3 for Denmark. Danish newspaper Politiken called it “a youth series about high-school life that makes Norway cool for the first time.” Steffen Raastrup, director of DR3, said: “The series’ premise is that when you’re young, you should not be ashamed of who you are but stand up for yourself and deal with the fear that many feel during their formative teen years.”  Skam – which is now up to three seasons in Norway and is a strong performer on social media – has also been acquired by SVT in Sweden and RUV in Iceland.

Interference: This is an eight-part English- and French-language sci-fi thriller in development by Stockholm-based Palladium Fiction. Palladium, which is minority-controlled by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), is producing the show alongside Atlantique Productions. SPT is distributing the show internationally. The Palladium team was also behind the critically acclaimed drama Jordskott, and is now working on a second season of the show. Palladium is also developing an English-language project with UK writer/producer Nicola Larder.

Established in 1990 and based in Oslo, the Nordisk Film & TV Fonds primary purpose is to promote film and TV productions of high quality in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). It is funded by 17 partners: The Nordic Council of Ministers, five national film institutes/funds and 11 public service and private TV stations within the region. Its annual budget is approximately NOK100m.

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Mipcom showcases global writing talent

Malin Lagerlof
Malin Lagerlof

Mipcom, which takes place in Cannes between October 17 and 20, is not just a great platform for international drama – it’s also a useful showcase for writers from around the world.

At a time when the key players in the scripted TV business are increasingly willing to employ writers from beyond their home territory, it’s worth exploring the people behind the market’s headline dramas.

French distributor Wild Bunch TV, for example, will be in Cannes with three dramas including Israeli production Mama’s Angel. A 10-episode psychological drama that explores the dark underbelly of life in a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb after a child is murdered, it was screened in competition at Series Mania 2016 and was created by rising star Keren Weissman.

Called Malach Shel Ima in Hebrew, the show was produced by Black Sheep Productions and aired on Yes TV. Weissman’s first TV drama series, it has scored a decent 8.2 rating on IMDb. Speaking at Series Mania, Weissman said the show took four years to write and places a strong emphasis on emotive themes such as motherhood.

Also on the Wild Bunch slate a road trip-cum-love story Tytgat Chocolate, about a man and his mentally challenged co-workers at a chocolate factory. The seven-part Flemish series was written and directed by Marc Bryssinck and Filip Lenaerts and produced by deMENSEN for VRT. Of the two writers, Lenaerts has the longer track record in TV, having created 2011 documentary The Colony (about life in an isolated prison). Interestingly, Bryssinck is artistic director at Theatre Stap, a professional theatre company that works with people who have mental disabilities. Clearly this experience will have helped inform the VRT show.

Jesse McKeown
Jesse McKeown

Red Arrow International’s slate features a diverse range of drama titles including Farang, a Nordic drama made by Warner Bros for C More and TV4 in Sweden. This one tells the story of a former criminal eking out a shabby existence in Thailand having testified against some old friends in his home country, Sweden. An eight-part series starring Ola Rapace, this one is written by Malin Lagerlof, Veronica Zacco, Anders Sparring and Niklas Rockstrom.

Lagerlof is a well-established writer whose recent credits include SVT miniseries Bibliotekstjuven and Wallander – Saknaden, a 2013 production from Yellow Bird. Prior to her success in TV, she made a name for herself in theatre and film production. Zacco is a more recent addition to the industry but has several episodes of Thicker than Water under her belt. Rockstrom, who also worked on Thicker than Water, is now involved with a new SVT project called Before We Die. Sparring’s most recent major credit, meanwhile, was the kids animation series Rita & Krokodille.

Red Arrow is also at the market with The Romeo Section: Assassins, a Vancouver-set espionage thriller that aired on CBC. The blurb says: “To his university, Professor Wolfgang McGee is a gifted academic. To his country, he is the spymaster behind the Romeo Section, a secret ring of intelligence operatives that infiltrate some of the world’s deadliest criminal networks.”

Chris Haddock
Chris Haddock

This one is written by a trio that includes Jesse McKeown, Chris Haddock and Stephen E. Miller. McKeown is a well-established writer whose recent credits include 19-2, Rogue, Republic of Doyle and Da Vinci’s City Hall. Larger-than-life figure Haddock was the creator and showrunner of the latter show and also showruns the new title being marketed by Red Arrow. In fact, he has previously been profiled by DQ – click here to check it out. Interestingly, Miller is better known as an actor (with a long string of credits). This is his first outing as a writer, except for a single episode of Da Vinci’s Inquest, a precursor to Da Vinci’s City Hall that was also created and written by Haddock.

StudioCanal’s big push at the market is Midnight Sun, a Canal+/SVT coproduction. Created by Måns Mårlind and Bjorn Stein, StudioCanal calls it “a high-concept thriller set in a small mining community in remote northern Sweden where a series of brutal murders conceal a secret conspiracy.” Due to air later this year, the series received the Audience Award at SeriesMania in April.

Mårlind and Stein, of course, are best known for crime series Bron, which has aired in 160 countries and has been remade in the US as The Bridge and the UK  as The Tunnel. They started working together at Stockholm-based production company Camp David where they directed commercials for major brands including Nike, UNICEF, Toyota, Reebok, Scandinavian Airlines, and IKEA. After this they began alternating between commercials and feature films, helming Underworld: Awakening, starring Kate Beckinsale. In more recent times their focus has been on high-end TV drama.

Bjorn Stein (left) and Måns Marlind
Bjorn Stein (left) and Måns Marlind

Sticking with the Scandinavians, StudioCanal will also present Below the Surface, a crime thriller for Denmark’s Kanal 5 from SAM Productions. In this story, 15 people on a subway train beneath Copenhagen are taken hostage by three armed men. A terror taskforce is dispatched to rescue them and a reporter acts as go-between with the police as the captors bait the press with information about each hostage’s past.

Kasper Barfoed is creator, head writer and concept director of the show. Until now, Barfoed had been best known as a director, having previously been a child actor. His previous directorial credits include Dicte and Those Who Kill. His only previous writing credit is 2015 movie Sommeren ’92, set against the Danish football team’s successful campaign in the 1992 European Championships.

From the UK, StudioCanal has Crazyhead, a new comedy-horror series from Bafta winner Howard Overman (Misfits). The six-part series is produced by Urban Myth Films for Channel 4 in association with Netflix. It follows “Amy and Raquel as they navigate their way through the choppy waters of their early 20s while kicking the ass of some seriously gnarly demons.”

Ortega
Sebastian Ortega

RAI Com, the sales arm of Italian pubcaster RAI, is also heading to Cannes with a strong slate of dramas. One key title is crime series Non Uccidere (Close Murders), which is entering its second season. The story focuses on a female crime fighter, Valeria Ferro of the Turin Homicide Squad, and her battle against domestic and community-based violence. It was directed by Giuseppe Gagliardi and created by Claudio Corbucci, whose previous TV series credits include La Squadra. For the last few years, he has been more focused on movies and TV movies.

Dori Media Group, meanwhile, has high hopes for crime drama El Marginal, a 2016 Grand Prix winner at Séries Mania. El Marginal is a coproduction from Underground Producciones and TV Publica Argentina and was created by Sebastian Ortega.

It tells the story of Miguel Dimarco, “an ex-cop who enters prison under a false identity as a convict. His mission is to infiltrate a gang of prisoners who have kidnapped the daughter of a prominent judge. Miguel must discover the whereabouts of the girl and help set her free. He meets the objective but someone betrays him, leaving him behind bars with no witnesses who know his true identity.”

Ortega is a well-established writer/producer on the Argentinian scene and has been closely associated with commercial channel Telefe since 2008 (though this title is for TPA, not Telefe). Big hits during his career have included Lalola, Los Exitosos Pells and Graduates. Ortega’s shows generally score well with international buyers, so El Marginal is also likely to attract a lot of attention.

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