Tag Archives: Capa Drama

Liberté Égalité Nudité

Characters lose their privacy – and their clothes – in French drama Nu (Nude), set in a near-future France where a new law dictates that everyone must be naked. DQ chats to the cast and creative team behind the series about its unusual setting and the real-world issues at its heart.

Science-fiction series have dealt with a gamut of themes and visions of the future, from space travel and life-changing technologies to dystopian societies and alternative histories. But it’s hard to recall a show that posits a world in which everyone has been forced to discard their clothes and go about their lives stark naked.

That’s the very idea put forward in Nu (Nude), a 10×30′ French drama commissioned by OTT platform OCS. Set in 2026, it takes place in a world where a radical change in the law sees everyone living naked in a pacified and peaceful France.

So far so unlikely, yet the show’s premise was inspired by reality. Series creator Olivier Fox, a Parisian, lives close to where several people were shot during the November 2015 terrorist attack on the French capital – and on seeing the aftermath, when swathes of police and military officials decamped to the streets, he looked for a way to remove the threat of similar attacks in the future.

“Then I had the strange idea that everyone is naked, as a way to improve security and have less violence on the streets,” Fox tells DQ. “It was a way to take all the fear and anger away – this is the French response to violence. The US response was The Purge [a film franchise in which all crimes, including murder, are legal for one night a year].”

In this particular future, however, the UK remains fully clothed as a result of Brexit.

Satya Dusaugey plays a police officer who wakes from a coma to find nudity enforced by law

Of course, the fact everybody is naked is a metaphor for the issues at the heart of the series. How much do we need to know about everybody? How far would society go to protect itself from harm?

“For me, it’s about tolerance,” Fox says. “Do we have to know everything about everybody? Do we have to keep secrets? To avoid terrorism, we have to know everything about everybody and know what they do. Maybe if we were naked and if people could see everything, maybe there would be less violence. Maybe it would improve security.”

Fox shared his idea with Arnaud Figaret, a producer at Capa Drama (Versailles, Braquo), who backed the show. “I love it,” Figaret says of Nu’s concept. “We are always looking for writers who are thinking outside the box. This is really out of the box and that’s why it was exciting to do. But we wouldn’t have done it if it was just naked people; it was more interesting because it had meaning about dictatorship in French society. It had to make sense, otherwise it’s just showing people naked and we wouldn’t have lasted two episodes.”

Fox wrote the first draft of Nu in March 2016, with shooting beginning the following September in the town of Montévrain on the outskirts of Paris. The production schedule was completed in just 24 days, with up to 12 minutes of on-screen material recorded each day.

Featuring full nudity in every episode, it was always going to be a challenge to find a platform willing to broadcast the series, with traditional broadcasters such as TF1 and France Télévisions unlikely to greenlight such a programme. Thankfully, however, OCS opted to snap it up. The deal with the streamer gave the creative team total freedom to make the show they wanted, though it came with a modest budget of €100,000 per episode, which informed the tight filming schedule.

The idea for the show came to Olivier Fox after terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015

“If it was airing on a channel like TF1 or the BBC in primetime, the nudity would probably be a problem but OCS is an OTT platform that has subscribers who are watching Game of Thrones and stuff like that,” explains Figaret. “There’s no sex, just nudity. We didn’t want any because we didn’t want any confusion – it’s a regular show but they’re naked. There’s nothing that should make people feel uncomfortable. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to watch it. It’s not something that comes to you. You have to look for the show.”

If finding a broadcaster represented the first hurdle, the second must surely have been amassing a cast willing to bare all on camera. But while Fox admits he thought the prospect would be “impossible,” he adds: “We sent all the scripts to the agents and had a very good response from them. All the actors knew they would be naked. We had some well-known actors wanting to do it too, which was very surprising for us.”

Figaret picks up: “The quality of the writing meant people understood this show was not just about being naked. We thought it would be very difficult but we had actors who have been on stage and acted naked and didn’t mind doing it as long as it had some meaning. It was very strange but easy to cast. Everybody was just excited about doing something different.”

Taking up the lead roles are Satya Dusaugey and Malya Roman, who play police officers investigating the mystery at the centre of the story. In this new, nude world, tensions begin to rise with the discovery of a man found murdered – and fully clothed.

Sent to investigate is Roman’s Lucie, a young inspector who teams up with her ex-partner, Frank Fish (Dusaugey), who has just woken up from an eight-year coma that began when everyone was still wearing clothes. A Fish out of water, you might say.

The series was shot in just 24 days

Nu is Roman’s first television role, something she describes as “very scary but a great experience.” She admits she found the idea of the show “a bit crazy” but loved Fox’s scripts. “I thought it was an unusual way to show naked bodies on TV and not in a sexual way,” she says.

In the series, sold internationally by Newen Distribution, Lucie is a supporter of France’s new ‘transparency’ laws – an attitude that puts her at odds with Frank, who is struggling to adjust to his new world.

“At first she really thinks it will help society and make a better world,” Roman says. “But as the story goes, she realises it’s not that easy or true or real. So she realises that it’s not as good as she thought. There are many questions in this. How far are you willing to go for the truth and transparency? Myself, I think a world where everybody is naked would be awful. I like my privacy.”

In contrast to Lucie, Frank was a man who, until his accident, enjoyed power and loved nobody but himself, Dusaugey says. “Then he’s completely lost in this new world. He wants to go back to his life before. He doesn’t want to adapt to this new society.

“Lucie is the opposite of him. She’s very authentic and honest. She wants to know the truth and thinks this new society is the truth. These two characters are going to change but in two different directions.”

No prizes for guessing what ‘vetements non’ means

Dusaugey says the first moments on set were “difficult, but after 10 minutes you forget it,” adding that after three weeks, it was “boring” to see naked bodies. “What I learned on this show was it’s not sexual. The body is not very exciting for me. I like that there’s clothing in the world. You have something to take off when you are with your girlfriend. It’s not very nice to see every day. After several days, to be naked was like wearing a costume.”

Roman agrees the first scene on camera was awkward, but adds: “Everybody was so kind and respectful so everybody was like, ‘OK, I’m going naked.’ It was easy to forget my own body but difficult to act natural in front of my naked partners. It was crazy but fun.”

Looking back, Roman says there is one scene that was particularly memorable: “I was in a forest naked and I was very cold. It was raining and that moment will stay in my head for the rest of my life. If there’s one image I’ll keep, it’s me looking at myself naked in the middle of the woods.”

Fox is under no illusions that Nu, which launches this Thursday, will stand apart from anything else on television. “It’s so different from anything else we have seen,” he concludes. “You see all the operations during the investigation but they’re naked. But what we tried to do was make a real show with real story and real characters. It’s something you have never seen before.”

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Palace life

As Versailles concludes after three seasons, executive producer Claude Chelli and costume designer Madeline Fontaine discuss the making of the lavish French historical drama.

For three seasons, French historical drama Versailles captivated viewers around the world with its daring mix of passion, power and betrayal, all set within the court of King Louis XIV.

The English-language series introduced the 28-year-old king of France, who commissioned the most beautiful palace in Europe, which came to serve as the king’s gilded prison — keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. As the Canal+  series progressed — the 10-part third and final season begins tonight in the UK on BBC2 — it exposed the dark underbelly of power as the monarch struggled to retain control of his palace and his people.

The concept of Versailles, created by David Wolstencroft and Simon Mirren, took more than four years to develop, executive producer Claude Chelli recalls, as coproducers Capa Drama, Zodiak Fiction and Incendo sought to bring together a broadcaster and coproducers to assemble the financing.

The 10-part final season of Versailles begins tonight in the UK on BBC2

“It was a big project with a big budget,” he says. “The first season is always difficult to find your mark; you don’t know what’s necessary or what’s superfluous. But after that, the second season was very nice and the third season felt like home.”

That success was reaped not only in France but around the world, as the series drew viewers in the UK, US (Ovation and Netflix), Scandinavia (C More) and elsewhere following deals with distributor Banijay Rights.

“It’s very surprising because France is a small country as far as drama is concerned, so we never expect things to go that wide. It was an incredible surprise,” Chelli admits. “Of course, we put a lot of money, effort and time into gathering talent but the reception from everywhere else is amazing.

“We know on a show like that, we’re not only working for France. It’s a €30m [US$30m] show so we need Europe at least; we need the world. But we’re very impressed by the reception in America and the work and effort that Ovation put in to support a show like this. We’re very proud of the show.”

Though ultimately necessary to bring the various financial pieces together, Versailles didn’t start out as an English-language series. Indeed, it was originally in French, but the switch was done to bring in the money to build the budget the show demanded.

Big-budget drama Versailles’ international success caught its makers by surprise

“So we switched from French to English very early on in order to get that money,” Chelli says. “We also knew we were going to be criticised in France, but that doesn’t really matter because the show is more powerful. Everyone understood why we needed to do it in English.

“Because we knew we had to gather the best talent in France, we knew we couldn’t cut corners to save money. We knew we had to have great costumes and that Madeline [Fontaine, costume designer] would dress the last extra at the end of the road the same way she would dress the main cast.”

Money was also required to build and dress the sets. “Ultimately nothing of the 17th century is left in France because if you go to Versailles, nothing is 17th century. Marie Antoinette came after Louis XV and hated the decor and the furniture and curtains, so she destroyed everything and changed it. So we knew we had to recreate the 17th century. That’s when we decided to build the sets because they’re very specific. And we had to create all the costumes. That was the biggest challenge.”

But why make a series about Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, at all? For those not au fait with French history, Chelli describes the monarch as a major influence across every artistic department.

The costume choices for Versailles involved a great deal of in-depth research by Madeline Fontaine

“He invented dance, he invented music, he invented cooking, basically,” he notes. “He invented architecture, the French garden. He made war with almost everyone and built castles. But also, what’s interesting about Louis XIV is that the origins of the French Revolution are there behind his actions. He spent so much money on war and building castles that the people of Paris and France were starving. It took some time for the people to revolt but the germs of the French revolution are in the third season. That’s what’s interesting about Louis XIV – it’s both the beginning of a new world and the end of the ancient world.”

When it came to creating the elegant gowns, outfits and dresses worn by the cast, costume designer Madeline Fontaine says that it was imperative she knew as much about the period as possible.

“Then, of course, after that, each character and the place they have in society is very important for the colours of every outfit,” she explains. “You also have to know how far we are from reality and be able to create the atmosphere of the period — to take the audience to the period and not to take them away. That’s the challenge anyway.”

Fontaine’s research covers the period’s history, its paintings and key pieces of writing, which she compiles to inform her own impressions of the time the series recreates. “My job is the interpretation of this information,” she continues, “and then you give the public your interpretation of your feeling of the period. It’s very interesting. I like this moment and once you go into the information, you can find what you need to make it.”

Fontaine was careful that characters’ costume changes evolved in stages

The key to Fontaine’s role, however, was not how many different outfits she could design for the characters — which were key to viewers’ understanding of their role in the series — but how they could evolve by changing smaller pieces rather than the entire costume.

“The public has to follow the characters, so if they change [their costumes] too much, that becomes more difficult,” she says. “So we can change different pieces of the outfit. For the extras we had 200 outfits, with three or four pieces for each one. Then you have to find the fabric for each of them, so it was a very big undertaking.”

Having worked across both television and film, with credits including Amélie and Jackie, Fontaine describes the process as the same, though the rhythm is decidedly different.

“On movies, you have the script from the very beginning and most of the time it doesn’t change so much and you have a schedule so you can prioritise what you need and save some things for later,” the designer reveals.

Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, had a huge impact on the arts

“Here we have the stories pretty late and we shoot cross blocks, so everything has to be ready at the same time. We don’t have so much flexibility. We have to be ready much more quickly than on a movie, and we shoot quickly too. So if you forget something, it’s done, it’s too late! It puts pressure on the workshop because everything has to be ready for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Fontaine won a Bafta in 2017 for her work on Jackie, a film about Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of her husband John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

“It was a real surprise and recognition of my work from British costume designers meant a lot to me,” she adds. “The challenge with any period project is to make it true, so the challenge is the same. You just have to do it the best you can all the time. That’s how we work.”

Capa Drama will follow Versailles with Netflix’s second original French drama, Osmosis, which follows in the footsteps of Marseille and is due to launch later this year. The eight-episode series is set in a near-future Paris in which a dating app called Osmosis can find anybody’s true love.

With so much contemporary drama on French television, creating new landscapes — rooted in the past or thrown into the future — is one way to give creators free rein to tell their stories. “For artistic reasons, you have to invent a whole new world,” Chelli adds. “Osmosis is sci-fi but it’s the same thing as Versailles — you have to invent a new world. As a producer, it’s the really exciting side of things.”

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