Tag Archives: Één

Twelve not out

Flemish drama De Twaalf (The Twelve) presents a fresh twist on crime drama by exploring a court case from the viewpoint of the jury. DQ investigates the making of the series with producer Peter Bouckaert and co-writer Bert Van Dael.

The role of a jury in a criminal court is to determine the fate of the accused and whether they are guilty or innocent of the offences they have been accused of. But how the members of a jury collectively come to their decision – and how the case might affect their personal lives – is rarely explored, owing to differing rules around the world that can often mean jurors are forbidden from discussing the deliberation process and other parts of their experience.

Producer Peter Bouckaert

Flemish drama De Twaalf (The Twelve) now aims to shed more light on the experience of those in court and examine how the issues they learn about might impact their own lives.

Described as a character-driven crime mystery, the 10-part series revolves around the jury for a murder trial, with respected headmistress Frida Palmers standing accused of a double killing. It follows several members of the jury – and others linked to the trial – as they face a difficult decision deciding her fate, while their own lives become affected by what they hear in court.

Commissioned by Belgian broadcaster Één and produced by Eyeworks Film, The Twelve comes from writers Bert Van Dael and Sanne Nuyens. The director is Wouter Bouvijn.

Development on the show began four years ago when Van Dael and Nuyens met producer Peter Bouckaert to discuss their idea for a crime drama centring on a jury. Having previously worked together on supernatural crime drama Hotel Beau Séjour, about a criminal investigation, they were keen to delve into the lives of jurors and discover how it feels to be an ordinary person who suddenly finds someone else’s fate in their hands.

The main perspective of the series then emerged when they began interviewing real-life jurors about their experiences. “What really struck us was when a woman told us she had a really dominant, jealous husband and, while on the jury, she started to see traits of her husband in the defendant. She was thinking that if she stayed with her husband, she might end up in the same position [as the victim in the case],” Van Dael says. “It was interesting for us to see how your private life may or may not affect your judgement. So we wanted to develop the private lives of these characters and see how they would judge a defendant.”

The Twelve writers Sanne Nuyens and Bert Van Dael

Though jurors are meant to remain impartial at all times, Bouckaert says the idea that their views will always be coloured by their own lives and experiences is key to the drama.

“We’re following people who were, by fate, selected for this trial. They go through a very intense experience together and get to know each other after being perfect strangers. The fact they are isolated in a bubble for three weeks makes them reflect on what’s happening in their own life, and that’s actually the core of the series,” he says.

“The series is a combination of a slice of quite universal characters coping with different things in life that are very recognisable for a lot of people, and a detective murder-mystery story. Through the eyes of the jury members, you hear all the testimonials, which constantly make you change your mind and make you doubt a lot of things. The combination of those two elements is what makes The Twelve stand out.”

After a year of intense research, Van Dael and Nuyens spent two years writing the scripts, which are based on a blend of research and their own personal experiences, leading to a mix of people from all walks of society coming together to sit on the jury. The characters are all introduced in episode one, while viewers will find out more about them across the whole series and eventually learn how their personal lives influence their behaviour within the deliberation room.

The writers also worked hard to balance the evidence, with prosecutors portraying the accused as a monster and her defence team pushing a different side to the story.

The series will debut later this year on Belgian net Één

“In post-production, we always do an in-house test screening for some of our colleagues who have been working on other projects and don’t have the same knowledge of it, to see if they know what it’s about and everything’s clear,” Bouckaert explains. “So we did this test screening and, by the final episodes, everyone who had seen it was as divided as the jury.

“We do offer satisfaction in a quite original way in the last episode – not by presenting a white rabbit out of a hat. You see how the jury comes to a decision and how group dynamics work, and you understand why the decision is the only right decision. We also show what really happened.

“But, for us, it’s not about whether the jury makes the right decision. It’s about how 12 people who don’t know each other make the best possible judgement, which is a bit influenced by what happens in their personal lives.”

One early decision the writers had to make was whether they should tell the stories of all 12 jury members. They soon opted to focus on six, but found that trying to force the story into a predetermined format – looking at one juror each week, for example – wouldn’t work.

“At the end, we had a sense of what made The Twelve unique, but it was something we had to gradually discover for ourselves,” Van Dael explains. “It must feel natural, believable, emotional and also recognisable to people. Those were important words for us. In the editing process and in shooting, it was something we had to find. You didn’t always know why something didn’t work, but your gut instinct would say why it didn’t and we had to work around it.”

The actors were kept in the dark over the verdict in the case at the heart of The Twelve

With the scripts in place, filming went like clockwork thanks to a strict schedule. “We couldn’t afford to not stick to the plan,” Bouckaert says. Keeping a balance between moving the court case forward while also learning something about a jury member was key to the production and was also an important consideration during the editing process. “It meant we didn’t stick to a fixed structure for each episode that we could repeat,” the producer continues. “Instead, it follows the flow of the characters and the crime story in a very natural way, keeping the balance between the different storylines and the complexities of the shoot, and those two elements came together in the editing process.”

During filming in the Belgian city of Ghent, the cast were left in the dark as to how the story would conclude and what verdict the jury would reach. To achieve that, the courtroom scenes weren’t recorded until the last two months of the six-month-long shoot, meaning all the deliberations came at the end, mirroring a real-life trial.

“That was a really good decision because, during filming, the actors really became their parts. So in the deliberation room, they were already their characters,” Van Dael recalls. “It was funny to see how they would argue over whether Frida did it or not, and they had all these clues. They disagreed and nobody knew the ending.”

While there are no current plans for a second season – The Twelve launches later this year in Belgium, with Federation Entertainment handling worldwide distribution – Bouckaert says a follow-up would most likely introduce new characters and a fresh murder case for them to deliberate over.

“It’s been a long ride. We have put a lot of effort and preparation into this series in the development and also in the shooting and post-production,” the producer adds. “There are a lot of characters and it’s a complex series to make. But we think we’ve managed to find a perfect balance between the very recognisable and universal personal stories of the jury members and the crime mystery. It’s what makes the show unique.”

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Drawing a blank

What do you do if you can’t trust anyone, least of all yourself?

That’s the dilemma at the heart of Tabula Rasa, a nine-part drama about a young woman with amnesia who is locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. A police officer believes she was the last person to see a man before he vanished, and won’t allow her release until he is found.

In order to solve the puzzle, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her recent past. The more she remembers, the more she starts to distrust not only the people around her, but also herself.

Showrunner Malin-Sarah Gozin and actor Veerle Baetens, who is also among the series’ writers, reveal the origins of the story and talk about how the show was developed.

Gozin also talks about her role on the Flemish-language show, why viewers are drawn to stories featuring unreliable narrators and plans to turn Tabula Rasa in to an anthology series.

Tabula Rasa is produced by Caviar for VRT-owned Één and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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VRT and the chocolate factory

Belgian producer De Mensen partnered with a unique theatre company to make heart-warming drama Tytgat Chocolat (Team Chocolate). Co-writer/director Filip Lenaerts and producer Pieter Van Huyck recall the origins of the series, which is an example of how television drama can break down disability barriers for actors.

Flemmish drama Tytgat Chocolat (Team Chocolate) follows one man’s journey across Europe to be reunited with the love of his life. But the inspiring story behind this heart-warming romantic comedy goes far beyond the plot, thanks to a unique partnership that brought together the cast and crew for an adventure both on and off screen.

The show centres on Jasper Vloemans, who works at chocolate manufacturer Tytgat Chocolate and falls in love with Tina, a woman from Kosovo. When she is suddenly deported back to her home country, Jasper and his friends set out off a road trip to find her.

But what distinguishes Team Chocolate from other series is that Jasper, played by Jelle Palmaerts, is a young man with Down’s syndrome, and the chocolate factory employs people with mental health issues and learning difficulties.

Filip Lenaerts (left) and Marc Bryssinck on set

Produced by De Mensen for Belgian public broadcaster VRT, the series was born from a partnership between De Mensen and Theater Stap, a Flanders-based theatre company for people with learning difficulties. Actors from the company play all the lead roles in the show.

The drama was first pitched in 2010, when documentary maker Filip Lenaerts began shooting a film at Theater Stap. He then partnered with the theatre’s creative director, Marc Bryssinck, to bring the acting troupe to the screen.

A short film called Lord of the Flies was produced, before Lenaerts and Bryssinck approached De Mensen with the idea for a scripted series. The duo were already in talks with VRT, so the development process was well underway by the time De Mensen came on board.

Producer Pieter Van Huyck recalls: “We do all kinds of genres, from very niche, bizarre comedy to broad romantic stuff and whodunnits. But we always try to find a unique angle or a unique reason to do the project. In this case, the reason was very obvious.

Team Chocolate was made with Theater Stap, which works with actors with learning difficulties

“To do something with these actors and believe in their talent and make a fully fledged scripted show – not to approach it as a social project but to make a high-quality scripted show – was a good story. When we started to work with these actors, immediately you could see their talents.”

Van Huyck notes that the cast sometimes had difficulty memorising a lot of text or needed help to understand a particular scene, but says they were all extremely talented when it came to showing a wide range of emotions.

“Their acting style is very true and that was something that touched us, so we knew something would be possible,” he continues. “With Marc and Filip, from the start it was very logical for them to make a story about what the actors find important in real life, which is to be independent, to find true love, to make their own decisions and to have relationships. This is the true subject and also what is going on in the lives of these people. That’s why they really understood the script.”

That a Belgian drama would be set in a chocolate factory seemed like a no-brainer to co-writer and co-director Lenaerts. “We had almost no doubt about the chocolate factory,” he says. “We started to discuss it and it’s a bittersweet story so it’s like chocolate, and it’s a Belgian product. We thought it’s a nice thing and, more specifically, we have Belgian truffles in the show that a lot of people know from their childhood. It’s a very Flemish thing.”

Pieter Van Huyck speaking at the show’s premiere

Lenaerts describes writing the series with Bryssinck as a very collaborative affair. Indeed, they sat together every day to pen the scripts, starting in February 2014 and working for about 12 months.

“Since Mark and I are unexperienced drama writers, it took a long time because we had to learn how it worked technically,” says Lenaerts, who filmed Belgian science series De Herontdekking van de Wereld. “So we didn’t write it with the production in mind. We were not thinking about whether something would be too difficult or too expensive. We just wrote what we liked, which made it quite a difficult shoot because we had lots of different and complex scenes and different actors. So it was quite hard work for us for a few months.”

Pre-production began in March 2015 and Lenaerts and Bryssinck were separated for a few months. “Mark was working with the actors and rehearsing and I was finishing the scripts, the location-hunting and the casting,” Lenaerts says. “Then in May 2015, the circus started. We went on the road until mid-September.”

Rehearsals began with rough versions of the script, which was then polished several times to incorporate the actors’ own improvisations.

“This process was repeated several times and there were two advantages,” Van Huyck says. “You recreate a true and feasible story because part of it is coming out of these people’s hearts, minds and lives. Secondly, it enables you to check which scenes are difficult to play and should be adapted. So that prepared us for the shoot, and during shooting the tempo was a little bit slower. We shot fewer scenes per day, but not too [few], because we wanted to treat them as real actors. We also had a budget, which was limited of course, but we had extra people on set to take care of the actors, to assist them and comfort them. Marc, who is very experienced in working with these guys, was around all the time.”

The plot centres on a man’s search for the love of his life

The seven-part series, which debuted on VRT-owned Één in September, was shot entirely on location. “We don’t have the budget to construct very good-looking, expensive studio sets, except for series that are commissioned directly for more than one season, because [with those] we can spread the cost,” Van Huyck explains. “So for a one-off like Team Chocolate, we just didn’t have the budget. We tried to find the right locations and everything was shot in Belgium.”

Lenaerts admis that working on the series felt like he was back in film school, as he had to dispense with his documentary background. But he says preparation was key to staying afloat – adding that, in any case, drama and documentaries aren’t too dissimilar. “You have to tell a story so they’re not that different in essence,” he continues. “Being a director on this huge film set, I just tried to react very intuitively. When I got hundreds of questions, I really tried to give quick answers. I was also surrounded by experienced people. I learned a lot.

“In Team Chocolate, on a Flemish level, almost all the most famous actors are in the series, even for small parts. Often Theater Stap had worked with them before on a theatre stage, so when they heard those guys were making a drama series for television, they were very enthusiastic to join. So the Theater Stap guys were surrounded by great actors and were pushed a little bit. The Theater Stap actors were also challenging our other actors because they were so powerful sometimes. I was really proud of how they did it.”

Team Chocolate was screened at C21 Media’s Content London in 2016 and was also part of the line-up at Series Mania earlier this year. Wild Bunch is handling international sales of the series, which Van Huyck surmises as a “touching show that is feasible for everybody to watch.”

Wild Bunch is the international distributor of Team Chocolate

He continues: “This is really for a broad audience, to watch with the whole family – the parents, the kids, the grandparents, even the pets! This is not edgy stuff, it has nothing to do with pay TV stuff, but I still think a lot of people can like this show. When you start watching this show, you need a few minutes to see these actors but very quickly you forget they’re different and you just see characters, characters you really believe in. That’s something to be proud of.”

The producer also believes the series should encourage others to work with actors who may have disabilities, in whatever form.

“We hope it encourages other people in other countries to try to create their own show with actors who are different,” he adds. “We really think it’s a beautiful way to tell their story without patronising them or approaching something as a social project. They should be treated as real actors and, if you give them that opportunity, their performance is really amazing.”

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