Tag Archives: Crime

Head case

French crime drama Kepler(s) tackles themes of mental health and the Calais migrant crisis in the story of a police officer secretly struggling with multiple personality disorder who is sent to investigate the murder of a student in the port town. DQ meets the writers and producers.

There aren’t many school projects that get developed into a six-part series, are commissioned by a national broadcaster and then screened at an international television festival. Yet that’s the journey travelled by Kepler(s), the first television series from French writing partners Jean-Yves Arnaud and Yoann Legave.

In their previous lives, Legave was a journalist while Arnaud worked for NGOs. But five years ago, having moved into making short films and writing, respectively, they applied to go back to their studies and subsequently began a project to create a television series.

Kepler(s) follows the discovery of a student’s body in a migrant camp

That series was Kepler(s) and when they were introduced to EVS Productions’ Caroline Solanillas and Laurent Cevccaldi, they were given the chance to write a pilot.

“It’s crazy,” admits Legave, “but the project is crazy and it’s quite complicated, with multiple personalities and the location of the show in Calais, which is really politically hardcore at the moment.”

Solanillas says she thought the script was well written and, in particular, she was drawn to the contemporary themes that laid the foundations for a crime drama. “We like projects that focus on real topics of our world and Calais is one of these topics,” she says. “No one in France talks about it so we are the first and only series that is about migrants and refugees. Calais is a real place with all these people. It’s also a very cinematographic place.”

The titular Kepler, played by Marc Lavoine, is a cop who suffers from multiple personalities. Posted in Calais, he tries to put his life back together with his wife and daughter. But when the body of a young student is found in a migrant camp, Kepler is paired up with a young local cop named Alice, who is both his guide and a witness to his downfall.

Kepler’s different personalities are dramatised inside a dark room

During the series, which is commissioned by France 2 and distributed by France Télévisions, Kepler will uncover some truths about how refugees are exploited by a city that doesn’t want them but uses them anyway. The story also confronts themes of madness as Kepler attempts to control the ‘passengers’ in his head.

“We loved the idea that he was treating them like we treat the refugees – we need them but we imprison them,” Legave explains. “With what’s going on politically there, we think it goes well with this case.”

Kepler has three additional personalities that all clamour for control. The inspiration for the character came from the real-life case of Billy Milligan, a US citizen who was acquitted of several charges of rape after claiming insanity due to multiple personality disorder.

On screen, Kepler’s different personalities are dramatised inside a dark room, where each personality is personified by a different actor. “When a passenger takes control of the body, there’s a big black room with just light on in it and whoever is under the light has control of the body,” Legave explains. “We used that to write the show and make people understand what was going on in his head.

Marc Lavoine plays a cop who suffers from multiple personality disorder

“When it’s in his head, the different personalities are played by different actors and then Martin, who plays Kepler, found really subtle ways to indicate to the viewers which one he was when the character is out in the real world.”

It is through the eyes of Alice, Kepler’s new partner, played by Sofia Essaïdi, that viewers discover and come to terms with his condition. She’s not the only one with suspicions about Kepler’s behaviour of his reasons for being in Calais, however.

“What we found interesting about Alice is she’s a young cop, she moves to Calais and it’s a really hard situation for her,” says Legave. “We talked to cops there, NGOs, refugees and tried to have a feeling for every situation. At the beginning, she’s exhausted with the situation, with her work and as the show progresses, she will discover his madness.”

Arnaud adds: “All the cops in Calais wonder what he has done to be in Calais. It’s not a promotion, so they keep wondering what he’s done. They discover an operation has gone wrong in Paris, but they don’t know exactly what’s happened and why he’s in Calais.”

Writing together, Arnaud and Legave would individually describe how they each saw a scene before they began to write the dialogue, splitting episodes between them and then coming back to share and discuss their work together. The first two episodes were developed with broadcaster France 2 over 10 months before the show was greenlit. The next four scripts were written in just four months before shooting took place in Dunkirk and Calais between September and December 2017.

Solanillas believes French broadcasters are becoming more ambitious with drama

“The difficult part was Calais and the political situation there,” Legave says of writing the series. “When we started writing the show, the Jungle [migrant camp] was at the centre of the show, but during the writing, the police broke it up. So we had to think about what we were doing and how to represent the city. Were we ignoring the fact they dismantled it or were we writing it like it is and making a bet that it will not change that much? Shooting there is complicated, too, because there are a lot of cops.”

“Everything in this show is complicated because there are a lot of scenes, a lot of action, a lot of different places and many characters,” admits Solanillas. “For us, it was the most ambitious show we have ever done. Everything was quite difficult.”

Solanillas says French broadcasters are becoming more ambitious, and the fact France 2 boarded Kepler(s) is proof the network is stepping out of its comfort zone.

Arnaud agrees that the show deals with subjects that aren’t a natural fit for the channel. “It’s one of the first times they’re doing this, especially taking place in Calais, which isn’t the sexiest place on Earth for a French broadcaster,” he adds. “They made the difference; the pilot script was just great. They read it and said they had to do it.”

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Indies bet heavily on book rights

Tony Marchant
Tony Marchant

In previous columns and features, DQ has explored the difficulty producers face in securing the services of top screenwriters.

One way of addressing this problem is to control the rights to strong source material. If you secure an option on a great novel, it’s an easier way of hooking a decent writer than going to them with an unproven idea.

Indie producer Bad Wolf, for example, was able to secure the services of the sought-after Jack Thorne by waving Philip Pullman’s fantasy epic His Dark Materials under his nose. And The Ink Factory reeled in David Farr by inviting him to make his mark on John Le Carré’s 1993 espionage novel The Night Manager.

Perhaps this is why we’re suddenly seeing so many book-rights deals bubbling to the surface. Last week, we referenced a couple of new examples in this column. And this week indie producer Dancing Ledge Productions has signed a deal with publisher HarperCollins for the TV rights to novels by Alistair Maclean, the legendary writer of books such as Guns of Navarone.

At the same time, the company announced that Tony Marchant (The Secret Agent) had come on board to adapt the first novel, San Andreas; a thriller set on board a torpedoed Second World War hospital ship as it attempts to make its way back across the North Atlantic to Scotland while a saboteur picks off crew members.

San Andreas
San Andreas is being adapted by Dancing Ledge Productions

Laurence Bowen, CEO of Dancing Ledge Productions, said: “We are lucky to be living and working in a golden age of television drama with a huge demand internationally for high-end adaptations and TV events that can be channel-defining. I doubt there are many bookshelves in the UK that don’t have at least one Alistair Maclean thriller, so the opportunity to work with HarperCollins to adapt a number of them for screen is incredibly exciting. If you then add a writer with the talent of Tony Marchant to the mix, we have a wonderful marriage of nail-biting action and emotional complexity.”

Under the terms of the arrangement, each novel will be structured as a four or six-part event miniseries that will build on Maclean’s trademark skill of creating thrilling adventure that appeals to hardcore fans and new audiences alike.

Katie Fulford, special projects director at HarperCollins Publishers, added: “Maclean is one of our most treasured authors. We’re committed to ensuring our heritage brands continue to grow and that we constantly seek new ways to tell these classic stories.”

Other new book-option deals along similar lines include Sid Gentle Films’ acquisition of the rights to Elizabeth Jane Howard’s acclaimed book series The Cazalet Chronicles, which is set between the 1930s and the 1950s and tells the story of three generations of the Cazalet family.

Elizabeth Jane Howard passed away in 2014
Elizabeth Jane Howard passed away in 2014

Explaining why she picked up the five Cazalet novels, Sid Gentle’s Sally Woodward Gentle said: “Elizabeth Jane Howard is an extraordinary writer, a highly skilled storyteller of understatement and deceptive simplicity. The novels are totally addictive with the ability to floor you with their turn of events. They are set in the middle of the 20th century but the themes of love, loss, repression, sex and family ties are shot through with 21st century resonance.”

Woodward Gentle has already proved that the books-as-bait model can work with SS-GB, a series for the BBC that is just coming to market. Based on Len Deighton’s novel, it has been adapted by James Bond writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis.

One of the indies we talked about in last week’s column was Buccaneer, which joined forces with author Rose Tremain. And Buccaneer is back in the news this week following a deal with Trainspotting creator Irvine Welsh to bring his novel Crime to TV.

This setup is slightly different from some of the other examples because it comes with a screenwriter attached, Welsh’s longtime collaborator Dean Cavanagh. Where it resembles the other deals, however, is in the way that strong source material can help producers build a talent package that interests broadcasters.

Irvine Welsh
Irvine Welsh

In this case, for example, actor Dougray Scott has come on board to star in and executive produce the six-part project: “When I read Irvine Welsh for the first time I knew I was in the company of a unique and utterly brilliant voice. After finishing the novel Crime, I knew it was a story that I just had to help bring to the screen.”

There’s another book-based story of interest this week. BBC2 in the UK has just announced that it is adapting Ian McGuire’s Man Booker-longlisted whaling novel The North Water in partnership with See-Saw Films. In this case, Andrew Haigh has come on board to turn the story into a six-part mystery/survival drama.

The North Water tells the story of a disgraced former army surgeon who signs on as a ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. On board, he meets Henry Drax, an amoral harpooner. Hoping to escape his past, the doctor instead finds himself trapped on board with a murderous psychopath.

Haigh’s involvement is an example of the new fluidity that exists in the TV business. Until now, he has been best known as a movie screenwriter – first with Weekend and then with 45 Years, which enjoyed a lot of positive feedback on the festival circuit in 2015/2016.

So the combination of a strong core story, a proven production team (See-Saw’s TV credits include Top of the Lake) and an emerging filmwriting talent was enough to attract BBC2, thus circumventing the issue of chasing overworked TV A-Listers.

Andrew Haigh
Andrew Haigh

Elsewhere, DQ’s parent publication C21 reports this week that TV2 Denmark, Nordisk Film Production, NDF Germany and distributor Dynamic Television have greenlit a crime drama based on the Dan Sommerdahl crime novel franchise by Anna Grue (books again!). For this project, The Bridge’s co-creator Nikolaj Scherfig has been signed up to act as head writer.

Described as a family-oriented take on the Nordic noir genre, the series centres on a detective who solves murder cases in a coastal town. It goes into production in summer 2017.

Dynamic Television VP of coproductions and acquisitions Jan Bennemann said there’s “huge demand right now for Scandinavian crime drama with a blue-sky procedural element. Dan Sommerdahl expands upon this with a very likeable main character and an overall lighter tone, making it an ideal fit for a wider audience.”

Seven books out of a planned 12-part franchise have so far been published, and the agreement with the author includes expanding the property and its characters – raising the prospect of a long-running franchise.

Nikolaj Scherfig
Nikolaj Scherfig

Scherfig’s comments underline the way the right project can lure in-demand writers. He said Dan Sommerdahl is the first in a line of projects that offered to him with “something different to the classic Scandic noir genre: a tight, clean crime series reflecting on life outside cities, understanding how modernity and social development affect provincial life.”

Away from the world of book rights, other interesting stories this week include the news that US network NBC has picked up the rights to adapt a time-travel crime drama from Argentina’s Telefe. The original 2011 series was called Un Año Para Recordar (A Year to Remember). It tells the story of a female detective who goes back in time after accidentally killing her husband.

The writer/producer signed up to oversee the adaptation is Michael Foley, whose most recent credit is the ABC/Shondaland series How To Get Away With Murder. Prior to that, Foley was involved in productions such as Revenge and Unforgettable.

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