Tag Archives: FLX

Parental guidance

Swedish comedy-drama Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family) became an instant hit when it debuted on SVT this year. With a third season already commissioned, co-creators Clara and Felix Herngren reveal how the series was inspired by their own relationship and why they think it can repeat its success overseas.

In Sweden – surely one of the most politically correct countries in the world – it’s no longer appropriate to say ‘step dad’ or ‘step mum’ because the phrases are seen to have negative connotations. So the term ‘bonus dad’ or ‘bonus mum’ has become common parlance.

Bonusfamiljen collaborators (L to R) Clara, Felix and Moa Herngren

Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family) is a Swedish comedy-drama that follows four characters who have gone through separations as they start new relationships with new partners and all the challenges this entails, from moving in together, coping with exes, raising each other’s kids, having new kids and so on.

Clara Herngren had the idea for the show, which launched earlier this year, when she found herself in this situation with husband and co-creator Felix Herngren, a famous Swedish comedian, actor and director, whose company, FLX, also produced the series.

Finding the pressures of sharing two families immensely challenging, Clara went to see a therapist and this eventually inspired her to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition: to become a therapist herself.

Overwhelmed by the number of people in bonus families who came to see her with the same problems she had faced, she soon realised it was a subject that resonated. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have to do a TV series about this,” she recalls, speaking at the Berlin Prix Europa festival, where The Bonus Family was nominated in the best drama series category. “I’d spent so long looking for the perfect drama and here it was, right in front of me.”

With Felix directing and collaborating with Calle Marthin and Moa Herngren (his sister), who is also in a bonus family, they formed a writers’ room and set to work. The result is a beautifully executed bitter-sweet comedy that opens a window on modern family life.

At the centre are Lisa and Patrik (played by Vera Vitali and Erik Johansson), a couple who both have children from previous relationships and now live together to create their own family. Viewers also meet their exes, played by Petra Mede and Fredrik Hallgren, and Lisa and Patrick’s therapists, played by Johan Ulveson and Ann Petrén.

Bonusfamiljen looks at the complexities of modern family life post divorce

It has proved very popular on Sweden’s public broadcaster, SVT. Such shows usually get between 700,000 to 800,000 viewers but Bonusfamiljen drew around a million, closer to the expected ratings of crime shows that traditionally are more popular in Sweden. Netflix distributes the series, which returns for a second season in January, to more than 100 countries outside of Scandinavia.

Making Bonusfamiljen, which is filmed in Sundbyberg, just outside of Stockholm, created a new set of issues for the husband-and-wife team. “We tried to work together once and we fought immediately, so we promised each other not to work together again,” admits Felix, but this time the process was different and turned out to be therapeutic. “This had a healing effect, because we could talk about someone else’s relationship that was exactly like ours, but not ours,” he continues. “From being a bit horrifying at first, it went to being something we talked about every minute; when we were waking up, eating breakfast, until late at night.”

“We get into character, we scream, we cry,” says Clara. “Felix was almost crying sometimes when he directed as it was so close to our real lives. Talking about these characters and asking, ‘Why did you feel like that?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’ I think gave both of us a better understanding of each other.”

Bonusfamiljen is set to be adapted in the US by NBC

Like all great ideas in the TV industry, Bonusfamiljen will get the remake treatment. NBC, which aired Welcome to Sweden (another FLX production, from US comedian Greg Poehler, about his experiences of moving to his Swedish girlfriend’s homeland) is developing an English-language version. It will be written and executive produced by David Walpert, (who has worked on series such as New Girl and Will & Grace). In Europe, the remake rights have also been sold into Germany and France.

The success of Bonusfamiljen abroad will also be interesting in the context of the region’s most famous export, Scandi noir. Can Swedish comedy travel in the same way that crime shows such as Wallander, Beck and Arne Dahl have?

“Not pure Swedish comedy,” says Felix, “because it’s too local, but a mixture between the two, drama and comedy, could work abroad I think.” He certainly knows this area, as he is very well known in Sweden for Solsidan (The Sunny Side), a series he starred in and co-created that revolves around Alex (played by Felix) and his partner who are expecting their first child as they move to Alex’s childhood home.

He has also had success with the film The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared, which he directed, and its sequel. Both were coproduced by Netflix, which streams the films outside of Scandinavia and Germany.

His next directing project, Enkelstöten (The Simple Heist), about two middle-aged women who pull off a bank raid, is in the vein of Breaking Bad, where the most unlikely of heroes enters the crime world.

Swapping the male leads of the original 80s Swedish series and an earlier book on which it is based, The Simple Heist taps into how gender roles have changed over the years, in the same way Bonusfamiljen explores how family life is changing.

The show brought an impressive one million views to SVT

“Comedy that circles around how humans are, how families and relationships work, can travel quite well,” Felix believes.

Clara, meanwhile, is too busy with her real bonus family and the upcoming third season of the series, which will begin filming in April and air in 2019, to worry about success overseas. “I have no time and fall asleep by nine o’clock immediately,” she says. Besides, she was never a big fan of Scandi noir: “You don’t need murders and stuff like that; everyday life between people is so interesting.”

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Flipping the script

A doctor and a teacher approaching retirement decide to secure their futures by robbing a bank in Swedish comedy drama Enkelstöten. Executive producer Pontus Edgren tells DQ about the decision to swap men for women in the lead roles.

When it comes to adaptations, there are a few techniques you might expect to see when a novel is being prepared for the screen. The story will be tightened or expanded to suit the number of episodes and, consequently, new characters might be added, or existing ones omitted altogether.

In the case of forthcoming Swedish series Enkelstöten (A Simple Heist), however, two women take the lead in roles that were originally written as men. Based on a book by Tomas Arvidsson, it follows a teacher and a doctor who decide to rob a bank.

It was first translated to the screen in a 1980 miniseries, which faithfully adapted the story. But in a new six-part series airing this autumn on TV4, those lead roles have been switched and aged up, as two women in their 60s decide to carry out the heist.

Pontus Edgren

The plot centres on Jenny Bengtsson and Cecilia Svensson, who enjoy a middle-class life in the Swedish town of Kalmar. But with retirement approaching and their bank accounts somewhat lacking, they decide to rob a bank in Stockholm.

The series follows the duo as they weigh up the pros and cons of the bank job, eventually deciding to go through with it, and goes on to detail the heist itself and the aftermath.

But as changing the lead characters might suggest, A Simple Heist isn’t exactly a traditional adaptation.

“We’ve taken basic core elements of the story but to a great extent we have created a new story,” executive producer Pontus Edgren says. “It’s still about a teacher and a doctor who feel that life has been unfair to them. One has gone through a divorce and doesn’t get much out of it economically, and the other has invested her money very badly and her husband doesn’t know that the money with which they were supposed to buy a house in France has virtually gone. They also have big demands on them, from parents and students to patients and their bosses, so they’re squeezed from many different positions.

“All that is similar to the basic story, but there’s a new element in our first episode where the doctor has a patient who’s a criminal and she tells him he’s going to die soon from cancer, so he confides in her that he was going to commit a bank robbery in Stockholm – and says she should do it. Of course, she says she can’t do it because she’s a 58-year-old doctor, but he says that’s exactly why she should do it – because she’s never going to get caught. That’s how it starts.”

It’s a story that is personal to Edgren, MD and co-founder of producer FLX, as Arvidsson is a family friend. The exec is also a native of the town in south-east Sweden where the story plays out.

From the outset three years ago, when FLX picked up rights for the series, women were at its heart. TV4 immediately liked the premise, and placed a commission a year later. The series had its world premiere at Série Series earlier in 2017.

A Simple Heist centres on a pair of 60-somethings who decide to rob a Stockholm bank

“For this specific series, we really wanted to build the story first, to really set something up that had a good driving force forward and with the twists and turns viewers would find exciting and suspenseful to watch,” Edgren explains. “Then we added a layer of comedy in the script and in the direction too. The original story, about two people with an academic background who become criminals, is set up for comedy and the actors were very carefully picked because they have a great track record of doing great comedy but they are also great actors. They’re not comedians, they’re just actors who can handle comedy.”

However, the actors who came to fill the leading roles, Lotta Tele (Jenny) and Sissela Kyle (Cecilia), weren’t originally in line for the show. “In the very beginning, when we first started looking at having female leads, we looked at them being around 40, but we couldn’t find exactly the right dynamic between the two so we moved up the age and changed the premise a bit to explain why they decided to commit this crime. Then we found them quite quickly.

“We knew Sissela and Lotta very well. Sissela, particularly, has done a lot of comedy and has proven herself to be a great comedic actor. Lotta has more recently gone into that genre and is perfect for this. They’re quite different characters.

“The part Lotte plays is more careful and reluctant; she’s not the one who’s driving this. She’s very hesitant and against the idea in the first episode, whereas Sissela’s character is the driving force. She’s the doctor who gets the idea from her patient. They’ve known each other since they were kids and Sissela is the one with the energy and the drive. It was perfect for what they’re good at. It’s a very good dynamic between the two.”

The show stars Lotta Tele as Jenny and Sissela Kyle as Cecilia

The limited budgets available in Sweden mean productions are largely filmed in and around Stockholm. But for A Simple Heist, the production team was keen to film as much as possible on location in Kalmar, a five-hour drive from the capital.

“When you produce drama or comedy in Sweden, too often you have to stay around Stockholm because you don’t have the finances to leave the area,” says Edgren, who notes that external shooting on location was combined with interior shots in Stockholm. “So that was a challenge to us because we wanted to stay true to the story. This small town is also an important element of the story. People know each other and what they’re up to; people gossip and talk and you’re never really alone. It’s much more difficult to hide things from others and that’s an important part of the story, so that’s why it takes place in a small town.”

As Nordic noir continues to evolve, A Simple Heist stands out as another example of how the region is pushing beyond the gritty, grisly crime dramas that viewers around the world have come to know and love. FremantleMedia International is selling the six-parter globally.

“With lots of brutal murders, trafficking and paedophiles [in Nordic noir], the international audience might get a horrific view of how we’re actually coping here [in Scandinavia],” Edgren says, “so I think, from a very general standpoint, if we can show ourselves and show the world that we can also make lighter series with hope and joy, that’s what motivates us. The combination of comedy and suspense is great if you can manage it.”

All six episodes of the show have now been delivered to TV4, ahead of its launch later this autumn. This is unlikely to be the last time viewers will meet Jenny and Cecilia, however. “TV4 believes very strongly in this series and has commissioned development for season two,” Edgren adds. “We’re going to start writing after the summer. We’re hopeful there will be opportunities for them to commit crimes again!”

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