Tag Archives: Fox Networks Group

Dangerous new world

An eclectic group of characters must face their own fears and flaws – as well as aliens – in The War of the Worlds, a modern update of HG Wells’ iconic story for France’s Canal+ and Fox Networks Group Europe and Africa.

For five seasons until 2013, British drama Misfits told the story of a group of young offenders brought together after they each gain superpowers following a strange electrical storm – ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.

Now, Misfits creator Howard Overman has applied the same concept to HG Wells’ classic 1897 story The War of the Worlds, in which aliens invade the Earth, leading to widespread devastation and destruction.

Howard Overman

Like the 2005 Tom Cruise movie of the same name, but in contrast to an upcoming BBC adaptation set at the time Wells first published the story, Overman has placed The War of the Worlds in the present day to ask his characters what they would be willing to do to survive.

The eight-part series begins when astronomers detect a transmission from another galaxy, confirming the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Within days, however, mankind is all but wiped out, with only pockets of humanity left in an eerily deserted world.

The drama follows the destinies of a handful of survivors, all dealing with the sudden exodus, the loss of their loved ones and all that once gave meaning to their lives as they try to understand the reasons behind this unfathomable invasion.

Described as a unique marriage of human drama and science fiction, the show uses Wells’ story as a starting point before Overman takes it in an entirely new direction to explore human emotion during an unprecedented event, asking how people’s relationships and circumstances change when they are faced with the end of the world.

“I wanted to explore the idea that, just like HG Wells’ aliens, humanity has an almost limitless capacity to destroy those it sees as inferior or different,” Overman says. “This new interpretation of Wells’ cult novel focuses on the subtleties of human relationships, between, say, parents and children, couples, or complete strangers. The alien attack and its repercussions bring out the characters’ deepest vulnerabilities as they try to navigate this dangerous new world.”

Intriguingly, for large parts of the series, the alien is out there but can only be seen through snatched glimpses, allowing viewers’ own minds to perceive the horror confronting the characters.

But there are also lighter moments, with the extreme events facing the planet also lending themselves to stories of love, courage and hope, as well as themes of prejudice, responsibility and guilt.

Elizabeth McGovern and Gabriel Byrne in Canal+ and Fox Networks Group’s War of the Worlds

“Throughout the episodes, the series juxtaposes these contrasting ideas as the characters become increasingly complex,” continues Overman, who produces with Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps (both Merlin, Atlantis). “Cinematic and full of the mystery and intrigue that are found in the best works of science fiction, this series is both character- and action-driven.

“Our War of the Worlds is essentially a story about humanity. If aliens were to attack tomorrow, and life as we know it were destroyed, what would we do to survive? What would it teach us about other people – and, above all, about ourselves?”

The bilingual series, with characters speaking English and French, was suitably shot on both sides of the English Channel, with two units simultaneously filming four episodes at once over a period of 16 weeks. Actors jumped between scenes from different episodes, while directors Gilles Coulier (De Dag) and Richard Clark (Versailles) guided and supported them to ensure continuity across all eight episodes.

Filming took place in the Welsh cities of Cardiff and Newport as well as in London, France’s Charleville-Mézières and the Alps. Real settings such as the International Research Institute for Radio Astronomy were also used for the drama, which is produced by Urban Myth Films in partnership with AGC Television and distributed by StudioCanal.

Among those battling the aliens are Gabriel Byrne, Elizabeth McGovern, Léa Drucker, Adel Bencherif, Stephen Campbell Moore, Natasha Little, Stéphane Caillard, Guillaume Gouix and Daisy Edgar Jones.

Overman’s version of the classic story unfolds in France and the UK

Byrne (The Usual Suspects) plays Bill Ward, a committed eminent neuroscientist who will do anything to win back the woman he loves, McGovern’s Helen Brown, Bill’s ex-wife whose long-held convictions are rocked by the out-of-this-world events.

Byrne agrees with Overman when he says aliens are not the main focus of the series, which instead tells the story of humans in extreme conditions and deprived of the comfort and safety they used to take for granted. “As a scientist, Bill tries to gather together all the indecipherable clues from another world, to try to come up with a solution,” he says of his character. “As a man, he does everything he can to get back together with his ex-wife, despite the chaos they are living in.”

Describing his role as “very physical and emotionally intense,” Byrne says the project was more challenging than he anticipated. “I had to adapt to the specifics of this series – the way it was filmed, mainly, with two teams working simultaneously. We were constantly switching from one to the other, going back and forth between film sets. Under those conditions, it’s a challenge to maintain continuity, both in action and emotion.”

As McGovern explains, the series opens when Bill is trying to repair his and Helen’s marriage, with the alien invasion then throwing them back together.

“What I really loved about this project was Howard’s desire to talk about the destinies of ordinary people faced with a catastrophe that threatens life on Earth as we know it.” the Downton Abbey star explains. “He skilfully depicts our priorities, who we are, and the meaning of our relationships in a world that may be ending. That’s what I liked. He’s really interested in the characters. For me, that is far more fascinating than watching aliens from outer space attack us.”

Léa Drucker is among the French-speaking actors in the show, which brings the story into the present

Similarly, Drucker (Le Bureau des Légendes) was enticed by the opportunity to play an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. “I have never worked in sci-fi. I like the realistic approach – that’s how the directors wanted it. We’re not superheroes fighting aliens,” she says. “Of course, there’s a lot of action, but the whole story is very thoughtful.”

Her character, Catherine Durand, is a scientist working at an observatory in the Alps, a loner driven by a desire to discover something extraordinary. But when she’s plunged into a state of war, she’s completely overwhelmed.

To prepare for the series, Drucker studied archival footage and images of war, and also visited the Tate Britain gallery in London to look at photographs by renowned war photojournalist Don McCullin. “To me, The War of the Worlds is first and foremost about war,” she adds. “It’s a humanistic series, but also a very harsh series. The world it depicts is rough and brutal, and the aliens aren’t the only reason for it. These extraterrestrials force us to question who we are as humans.”

But while the spectacle of the alien invasion will undoubtedly take centre stage, it’s the challenges the characters face in a modern setting that the creators hope will focus the minds of viewers.

“I think this story is particularly relevant today,” says McGovern. “Because of climate change and all that’s happening in the world now, we’ve lost confidence in our dominant position. We live with this constant anxiety: Is life on Earth about to end? What does that mean for us? What does that mean for us as a species? What’s really important? What isn’t?

“By placing this contemporary reality in the imaginary context of science fiction, The War of the Worlds invites us to think about our lives and what they mean today.”

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Becoming Bruna

Maria Bopp, star of Brazilian series Me Chama De Bruna (Call Me Bruna), tells DQ how the drama is breaking boundaries and leading the charge for greater female representation in television.

For three seasons, Brazilian actor Maria Bopp has played the lead role in Me Chama De Bruna (Call Me Bruna), the true story of how a middle-class girl left home and became the most famous prostitute in São Paulo.

Based on the life of Raquel Pacheco (aka Bruna Surfistinha), the Portuguese-language series follows 17-year-old Raquel as she runs away from home and heads to the city, where she finds work at a high-end brothel. When she starts sharing her experiences online, she soon finds fame.

In season three, having been through the hardest time of her life, Bruna returns stronger and convinced that a life of prostitution can help her take charge of her destiny. But when a former classmate turned journalist gets in touch, her past comes back to haunt her.

Bopp reveals that when the real Bruna left home, her ambition wasn’t to become a prostitute. She simply wanted to leave her parents’ house, get a job and control her own future. “She chose this. It’s not an obvious choice, it’s not an easy choice and she paid a price for the illusion she created. We can see this in the series,” the actor says.

Maria Bopp as Bruna Surfistinha in Call Me Bruna

While viewers see Bruna find her way in life on screen, the drama also represented Bopp’s first steps in acting. Having studied for a film degree, with dreams of directing, Bopp had been working as a script supervisor before landing the part of Bruna in the Fox Latin America series. TV Zero and Fox Networks Group are the coproducers, with Fox Networks Group Content Distribution shopping the drama overseas.

“It’s great for me, as I think you can see through the series my evolution as an actress, because I’m learning to be an actress by doing it,” she says. “I started to study [acting] after Bruna season one – I hadn’t studied it before. I can see, and viewers can too, my evolution with Bruna. She is a very different character now compared with who she was in season one. You see this girl evolve into a more mature woman later in life and becoming more confident in herself and what she wants.”

Bopp says the launch of Me Chama De Bruna shocked audiences in a country that, “even though people don’t really believe it,” has a conservative society. “Bruna was really controversial. Sex and human sexuality are still taboo,” the actor notes. “Bruna was talking openly about it on the internet and telling how it changed her life for the better. She was empowered by it. I understand people may judge this or question it, but she was there putting her face in the world and talking about these things. That’s why it was a shock. She was like a slap in the face of Brazilian hypocrites.”

However, Bopp is also keen to point out that the show isn’t just about Bruna. “We have trans women, black women, women who worked with her in another brothel. These are really different women from different origins who do sex work for different reasons. But it’s a TV show – it can’t be considered a documentary.

Bopp says the show looks at prostitution in a “non-judgemental” way

“What we do is look at prostitution in a non-judgemental way. We see it in an honest way from a different point of view. We have been successful in humanising this character. She became really controversial in Brazil and people think she’s like a robot whose only talent is sex. But we show her pain and suffering, the good and bad sides of her life. It’s a complex series.”

Me Chama De Bruna also serves as an example of how screen roles are progressing for women in Brazil, where Bopp says things are changing but “in slow steps.” She continues: “In other parts of the world, we can see this movement getting more effective, faster than Brazil. I think we are getting there, but slowly. I wish we had more different and complex roles for women that didn’t require being naked, to be honest.

“Our stories were told by men for a really long time. Now, not only are we in the leading roles, we are also producers behind the camera. This sends the message that we can be anything and we are complex figures – not only the passive wife or the sexy nurse or the prostitute. Bruna is a great role because we can show different sides of her, whereas usually prostitutes are shown as victims. I think it’s encouraging.”

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State of play

Fox Networks Group’s first regional scripted commission for Europe and Africa, Deep State is a contemporary, international espionage thriller.

It tells the story of an ex-spy, played by Mark Strong, who is brought back into the field to avenge the death of his son. He finds himself grappling with his personal and professional lives – and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy between governments and big business.

In this DQTV interview, Strong and creator and showrunner Matthew Parkhill discuss making the series and explain how they put a family drama at the heart of a global conspiracy.

Parkhill also describes how real-world events influenced his writing process and his role as a showrunner. They also talk about the merits of film and television and why they now don’t differentiate between the two.

Deep State, which launches on April 5, is produced by Endor Productions for Fox Networks Group Europe and Africa and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

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¡Viva España!

Without much noise or fanfare, Spain has been steadily building a reputation as one of the hottest producers of scripted drama, with homegrown series finding fans around the world. DQ takes an in-depth look at the wave of new series coming out of the country.

Spanish drama may not attract as much attention as Nordic noir or the ‘Korean wave,’ but there’s no question the country’s scripted series are now enjoying decent levels of profile around the world. And with significant increases in content investment from free-to-air (FTA) channels, pay TV and SVoD platforms, Spain’s storytellers are poised to deliver a new wave of diverse and ambitious shows to the international market.

One of the first firms to identify the potential of Spanish drama was German distributor Beta Film, which was responsible for the international roll-outs of Gran Hotel and Velvet, two exquisite period pieces produced by Bambú Producciones for FTA network Antena 3.

According to Beta Film executive VP for acquisitions and sales Christian Gockel, the success of the Bambú/Antena 3 partnership convinced his company to board two new productions from the same stable: Morocco – Love in Times of War and Farinia – Snow on the Atlantic. “They have raised the bar yet again by taking the unique blend of romance and drama we know so well from Velvet,” he says.

Morocco, says Gockel, is set in war-torn Spanish Morocco in the 1920s, where a group of nurses look after troops. Farinia, meanwhile, “centres on a fisherman who becomes a wealthy smuggler by providing South American cartels a gateway to Europe.”

Farinia is a good indicator of how Antena 3 – the dominant force in FTA drama – has diversified its slate in recent times. The channel also launched Vis a Vis (pictured above), a female-prison drama produced by Mediapro drama label Globomedia. Distributed by Mediapro sales arm Imagina under the title Locked Up, that show broke into the English-speaking market, airing on Channel 4 in the UK and on foreign-language SVoD service Walter Presents.

Gran Hotel was produced by Bambú Producciones for Antena 3

Walter Presents also picked up fellow Antena 3/Globomedia drama Pulsaciones (Lifeline). The psychological thriller is about a surgeon who unravels a medical scandal after suffering a heart attack and having strange nightmares when he receives a donor heart. “Last year, Locked Up exploded onto the international scene, heralding a renaissance in Spanish scripted excellence,” says Walter Presents curator Walter Iuzzolino. “This year they’ve done it again. Lifeline is a thriller with shock narrative twists and epic cliffhanger endings.”

The growing appeal of Antena 3-commissioned drama to the global market is further underlined by a deal that will see Netflix air miniseries The Cathedral of the Sea around the world. Based on Ildefonso Falcones’ bestselling novel and produced by leading Spanish prodco Diagonal, the story takes place in 14th century Barcelona during the Inquisition.

Explaining his remit, Antena 3 senior VP for drama Nacho Manubens says: “Although we produce sporadically for our other channels [laSexta, Neox], we mainly focus on Antena 3. We commission more than 600 hours of TV per year, with 120 primetime hours and 500 daytime hours. We have a range of genres, since our audiences demand variety and innovation. In thrillers we have had hits with Bajo Sospecha, Mar De Plastico and Vis a Vis. In period dramas we have had El Tiempo Entre Costuras and Velvet. These are both lines we will continue exploring.”

Antena 3 has developed a reputation for edgy shows – something Manubens wants to maintain. “We cannot take risks in every show we produce, but we try to keep making shows that push the envelope like we did with Casa De Papel [aka The Money Heist, the latest show from Via a Vis creator Alex Pina].”

Sé Quién Eres (I Know Who You Are) was a hit for Mediaset España

Public broadcaster RTVE and Mediaset Espana, owner of commercial networks TeleCinco and Cuatro, have also upped their scripted game. For RTVE, key titles have been El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) and Isabel, produced by Onza Partners/Cliffhanger and Diagonal respectively. Isabel, one of several royal-themed shows on the market, ran for three seasons and travelled well internationally. Buoyed by its success, RTVE also made a foray into English-language drama with Reinas (Queens), about the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I.

Mediaset España, meanwhile, had a hit with Sé Quién Eres (I Know Who You Are), a Filmax production about a charismatic university lecturer’s possible involvement in his niece’s murder. The show was bought by several networks, including the influential BBC4 – its first Spanish acquisition – with head of BBC programme acquisitions Sue Deeks calling it “the dramatic equivalent of a page-turning thriller.” Mediaset España’s increased investment in event series has also seen it back Forgive Me God, an eight-part miniseries about a nun battling delinquency and the drug trade.

Alongside the increased ambition among FTA channels, there are also new opportunities in the pay TV and SVoD arenas, according to Pilar Blasco, MD of Endemol Shine Iberia, a division that includes Diagonal. “Spain has always been a strong market for local original scripted programming and this has enabled us to build an industry of creative writers, showrunners and directors,” she says. “The big game-changer, however, has been increased commissioning of Spanish productions from the likes of Movistar+, Netflix, HBO and Amazon. As a result, the Spanish drama industry is flourishing with higher budgets that tell more daring stories from a broader range of genres.”

The most high-profile example of Blasco’s point is Telefónica’s decision to invest €70m (US$84m) a year in scripted series for its pay TV platform Movistar+. According to Domingo Corral, head of original programming at Movistar+, the plan is to launch 11 original series a year, initially for SVoD customers. The emphasis will be on “Spanish-language series dealing with Spanish stories created by Spanish talent,” he says.

Movistar+ drama La Zona is set four years after a nuclear accident

Titles include La Zona, a story set in northern Spain four years after a nuclear accident. Also coming soon is La Peste, set in 16th century Sevilla against the backdrop of a plague. Movistar+ has also done a deal with Bambú for a spin-off from Madrid fashion-store series Velvet, which ended on Antena 3 after four seasons. The new series, Velvet Collection, will take the story forward to the 1960s and relocate to Barcelona.

At first sight, Corral’s insistence on super-charged Spanish series seems like it will limit their international appeal. But he takes the view that “great storytelling and characters have universal appeal.” Besides, he adds, Movistar+ series will have 50-minute episodes, rather than the 70 minutes typical to Spain. This will make them a better fit for the global market. Also, Movistar+ has spared no expense on talent, pulling in writers and directors from the country’s admired cinema scene.

Beta Film is continuing its relationship with the Velvet franchise and is also distributing La Zona, says Gockel. “We believe La Zona is one of the most exciting shows coming from Spain this year. It’s an innovative eco-crime thriller with a high budget that will catch viewers around the globe.”

About Premium Content has picked up rights to eight-part mob thriller Gigantes, while Sky Vision has secured global rights to La Peste, which is budgeted at €10m for six episodes. Sky Vision MD Jane Millichip gives an upbeat assessment of Movistar+’s shows: “With La Peste, they have assembled an incredible team with a proven track record. The partnership of Alberto Rodriguez and Rafael Cobos has delivered a deeply engaging story that delivers a thriller of scale, a pungent sense of the past and a modernity that will satisfy audiences.”

Big-budget series La Peste is being distributed by Sky Vision

Movistar+’s investment in drama is especially timely given the growing competition. In April, Netflix launched Las Chicas del Cable, another sumptuous period piece from the Bambú stable that tells the story of four young women working for Spain’s national telephone company in the 1920s.

Also muscling in on the Spanish market is Fox Networks Group (FNG), which has just done a deal with Mediapro’s Globomedia that will see future series of Via a Vis air on its pay TV networks, rather than on broadcaster Antena 3. This is Fox’s first foray into original scripted series, with Vera Pereira, exec VP of FNG Iberia, saying it “will give us greater visibility and relevance in the market.”

Success in scripted formats is also contributing to Spain’s creative revival, with Star-Crossed (The CW), Red Band Society (Fox) and The Mysteries of Laura (NBC) all reimagined for the US market. Televisa USA is also teaming with Lantica Media to produce an English-language Gran Hotel, while Lionsgate has been linked to a US adaptation of Bambú’s Velvet.

The final dimension to the Spanish market’s new dynamism relates to the ambition of the producers. Bambú is part of StudioCanal and has coproduced time-travel drama Refugiados (Refugees) with BBC Worldwide. Diagonal, meanwhile, sees projects like The Cathedral of the Sea as a new phase. “It is a huge leap for the company as it moves into international coproductions,” observes Blasco. “It’s an ambitious project that would never have been commissioned without the support of Netflix.”

Velvet Collection follows on from Velvet

Another leading Spanish producer, DLO, recently became part of the Banijay network and has also picked up a commission from Movistar+ — a series based on Julia Navarro’s best-selling historical novel Dime Quien Soy. In a similar vein, Lagardère Active-owned producer Boomerang is well-known for El Tiempo Entre Costuras (The Time in Between), a 2013 hit for Antena 3 that went on to sell into 75 territories. Now the company has identified Latin America as a key expansion opportunity and is working on a brace of series for broadcasters in Chile. Bambú is also building its profile in Latin America, via a development deal with Televisa in Mexico.

Mediapro is also involved in an eclectic mix of domestic and international series. It coproduced English-language drama The Young Pope and is working on Paradise, a Finnish-Spanish copro that takes place in a Spanish village on the Costa del Sol with a large Finnish community. Other projects include The Head, a copro with Sweden’s Dramacorp in which 10 scientists, trapped in a laboratory at the South Pole, realise one is a killer. “We are also working with DirecTV Latin America on El Fútbol no es Así, a crime series set in the world of Spanish football,” says Mediapro head of content Javier Mendez.

While Mendez welcomes the influx of pay TV drama funding, he says a key opportunity for Mediapro is the international market – especially in light of the fact it has a distribution arm, Imagina. “Series like Narcos show it is possible to find great stories that have the ability to travel all over the world,” he explains. “Increasingly, our strategy is to back good stories regardless of where they come from, because there is a huge appetite for drama around the world.”

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Raising the Flag

Five ordinary people are accused of a high-stakes kidnapping in False Flag, the latest hit series to come out of Israel. As the thriller is rolled out around the world, DQ chats to producer Maria Feldman and writer Amit Cohen about weaving this tangled web of secrets and lies.

It was in October 2015 that Fox Networks Group (FNG) secured a landmark deal for the latest buzzworthy show to come out of Israel, a drama called Kfulmin (False Flag).

That agreement with distributor Keshet International afforded Fox global rights to the eight-part series across 127 countries around the world.

Maria Feldman

It marked the first ever Israeli drama to be picked up by FNG and, in fact, was the first time FNG had ever acquired a non-English-language series on a global scale.

Now, almost two years later, the series is finally being rolled out around the world. It debuts on Fox UK on July 31.

The gripping espionage thriller opens as breaking-news broadcasts screen CCTV footage of the Iranian minister of defence being abducted from his hotel room during a secret visit to Moscow. The identities of the five kidnappers are also made public – Israelis with dual nationalities who are reportedly part of the country’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

The seemingly ordinary citizens accused of being the kidnappers are stunned to find themselves named in the daring plot, and their attempts at denial are all in vain as the publicity turns their lives upside down and sweeps them up a wave of public attention.

The daring series is inspired by the true events surrounding the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official, in Dubai in 2010. Producer Maria Feldman had been thinking about creating a show about Mossad when newspaper coverage of al-Mabhouh’s death was accompanied by the passport photos of Mossad agents linked to the incident.

“Then I said, ‘What if those people were not Mossad agents but just real people who got up one morning and were being accused of being Mossad agents?’” she recalls. “So that’s how it started.”

Angel Bonanni plays Sean Tilson in the drama about a group of people accused of a high-profile kidnapping

To develop the story, Feldman partnered with journalist Amit Cohen and together they took their idea to Israeli broadcaster Keshet. This first meeting took place in 2010, not long after the real assassination and five years before the long-gestating series would finally air.

“It was a long project,” Cohen admits. “I was a journalist at the time as the Palestinian correspondent for a big newspaper in Israel and I covered the assassination as part of my work. When Maria approached me with [the idea for False Flag], I admit I didn’t see the drama in it . Only after talking to her and understanding what she had in mind did I start to see the potential.”

Development progressed once they decided to use the kidnapping as the starting point of the story, rather than the story itself, and Cohen wrote every episode himself.

“The writing was the easy part,” he jokes. “Maria and I sat together for meeting after meeting to break the story and to make sure we had completely written characters that made an ensemble. Each one acts differently but is part of a bigger puzzle, and at some point the director [Oded Raskin] came in to give his input. We took our time to make sure we were completely happy with it. The director said at the end that this was a show he would want to watch, and that’s how we treated it. We wanted to do something we would love to sit in the living room and watch, even if someone else made it.”

Amit Cohen

From the outset, False Flag was a story about characters, and Cohen recalls delivering an eight-page outline to the broadcaster that largely focused on the ensemble cast. Throughout the development process, they and the story remained the same as the writer set out their motivations and desires, with each one reflecting a different strand of Israeli society.

“We wanted to talk about aspects of our society,” Cohen explains. “But when it came to adding the thriller elements, we didn’t want it to feel extravagant – this is why it takes some time before people die or before we see a gun in the show. Keshet bought into the story right from the beginning but they wanted to make sure we had enough [story for the series]. They thought we had a great starting point but wanted to see if we could hold the audience and have three revelations in each episode, not necessarily related to the plot.

“We had things we thought could leave until the end but Keshet said, ‘No, you have to reveal it in episode three or episode one.’ You need a very quick sale or viewers will get bored, and it improved the show because it forced us to find more secrets or make our mechanism more efficient. It really helped.”

Beyond the central plot, Cohen was keen to ensure the concept of a ‘false flag’ – a modern term describing a covert action carried out to appear as if other groups or individuals were responsible – ran throughout the series.

“We use this intelligence jargon as a theme where you see something but you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is right,” he explains, pointing to a scene at the start of episode one when a man and boy are playing with guns. “You think are they assassins but no, they’re father and son and the son is going to the army. So we played with this theme throughout the show – you think you know something, you think you know someone and then we change it. It was how we built secrets during the show. It’s an important part of the show’s DNA. We didn’t want the secrets to be too exaggerated. We wanted it to be ordinary secrets, like someone having an affair. The first part was to find the secrets, and then we had to figure out how to reveal them along the show.”

Ania Bukstein’s role in False Flag led to a part in Game of Thrones

The revelations come thick and fast during the series, produced by Tender Productions, as the audience is left on edge wondering how the events will play out and whether the central characters really are just ordinary citizens or whether there’s more to their involvement in the kidnapping plot than it appears at first.

“The audience follows our lead in uncovering who is innocent and who is not, and they get a pay-off in each episode when we reveal certain things that are true,” Cohen says. “We were really nervous about it, I have to admit, because there was a question about whether the audience would follow something with so many characters and so many secrets, not only for the plot but emotionally as well. But Keshet decided to go all the way with it.”

From a production point of view, Feldman says the biggest challenge was telling a story from five different perspectives, with the number of locations and additional characters associated with the main ensemble.

Cohen interjects: “In many cases, the writer wants to write whatever he wants and then the producer and the director tell him he can’t do it, particularly in Israel with the low production budgets we have. But on False Flag it was the other way around. I tried to be economic; I tried to write scenes that weren’t expensive. In one scene we have an explosion, so I wrote that it happens on the horizon and we see it from a distance. But they said, ‘Don’t write it cheaply, write it the way you want.’ Shooting at the airport is expensive and I asked if we could do it. They just said, ‘Write it how you want it and we’ll find a way’ – and Maria found a way. All of us were really emotionally invested in the story and the way it looked.”

Magi Azarzar plays a character caught up in the drama on her wedding day

Casting did present another challenge, however, as Feldman and Cohen sought to avoid hiring big-name talent in order to keep the series grounded. The five central characters comprise Ishai Golan as Ben Rephael, a chemist and family man; Magi Azarzar as Natalie Alfassia, a bride-to-be who sees her face on the news just hours before her wedding; Ania Bukstein as kindergarten teacher Asia Brinditch, the one alleged kidnapper who revels in the immediate media attention; Angel Bonanni as Sean Tilson, who is flying home from a trip to India when he is informed of his new-found notoriety, leading to a suspicious mid-flight haircut; and Orna Salinger as Emma Lipman, a Briton who has just gained Israeli citizenship and has a link to Raphael.

“Almost all the actors who weren’t big names became really famous after the show, and Ania has now been in Game of Thrones [playing priestess Kinvara in season six],” reveals Feldman, describing casting as a “complicated” task. “We had to find the best actor for each role and then we needed to see that they could work as an ensemble. It was a very difficult process but the ensemble works great.”

Two years since False Flag aired to record viewing numbers on Keshet in Israel, Feldman says development on a second season featuring the same investigators hunting new suspects is well underway. Shooting is set to begin soon for an early 2018 release.

With its debut on Fox around the world imminent, the series looks set to become the next global hit from a country that has previously launched Hatufim (Prisoners of War, later adapted as Homeland), BeTipul (In Treatment), Fauda and Hostages to critical and popular acclaim.

Feldman puts the global success of Israeli drama down to their focus on stories and characters, while Cohen adds: “They feel very realistic and very grounded – this is something the Israeli audience demands. They want to see themselves and their families, so it forces writers, producers and directors to do something that appeals to most people. The fact we can’t use a lot of action or car chases [because of low budgets] forces us to put our focus on characters, stories and plot.”

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US studios extend int’l footprint

Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick
Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick

About two years ago, the international scripted TV business started to express its concern that there was a shortage of US procedural dramas coming on to the market. With the trend towards limited series and increased emphasis on superhero/sci-fi, buyers in markets like France and Germany feared a gap.

A number of companies said they would address the shortfall, including NBCUniversal International Studios (NBCUIS), which formed a partnership with RTL (Germany) and TF1 (France) with the intention of creating US-style procedural dramas. This week, they delivered on their promise by greenlighting Gone, a 12-part series based on Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick.

Gone, which will be broadcast in late 2017/early 2018, tells the story of Kit Lannigan, survivor of a child abduction case and Frank Booth, the FBI agent who rescued her. Determined never to fall victim again, Kick trains in martial arts and the use of firearms.

She finds her calling when Booth persuades her to join a task force dedicated to solving abductions and missing persons cases. Paired with former army intelligence officer John Bishop, Kick brings her unique understanding of the mind of a predator to the team.

Gone will be executive produced by Matt Lopez, JoAnn Alfano and Sara Colleton. All episodes will be written, cast and produced in the US.

Hilary Bevan Jones
Hilary Bevan Jones

RTL and TF1 will broadcast and distribute the series in their territories (German and French respectively) and NBCUniversal International Distribution will license rights for the US and the rest of the world on behalf of the partnership.

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUIS, said: “We are all delighted to be moving forward so quickly on our first series. In Gone, Matt Lopez has created a fascinating character who we believe will connect with procedural audiences around the world. We are assembling a first-rate production team and look forward to future series with our partners.”

Fabrice Bailly, head of programmes and acquisition TF1 Group, said: “The collaborative relationship represents a new way of working, for both studios and European broadcasters, to achieve high-quality procedural dramas.”

Joerg Graf, exec VP of production and acquisition at RTL Deutschland, added: “TF1 and NBCUniversal International Studios share our view that tailor-made formats will meet the need of our viewers for high-quality crime dramas.”

While the project is a welcome development, one point of interest is that Gone’s 12-episode run is still shorter than a standard US procedural. The first season of Fox’s Lethal Weapon, for example, is 18 episodes, while ABC’s Quantico has received 22-episode orders in seasons one and two. So a 12-episode order still leaves open a questions over the volume of new procedural episodes such cross-border alliances can bring to market.

Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons
Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons

Another interesting story this week is the announcement that Fox Networks Group (FNG) Europe and Africa has commissioned its first original drama in the region. While it isn’t a procedural like Gone, it does illustrate the increasing level of US studio engagement in the international market (in our last column, we also reported how HBO Europe is increasing its slate of original dramas).

Called The Nine, the new FNG show is created by Matthew Parkhill and Simon Maxwell (American Odyssey) and produced by Hilary Bevan Jones (Close To The Enemy, State of Play). An eight-hour drama, it tells the story of an ex-spy “who is brought back into the game to avenge the death of his son, only to find himself at the heart of a covert intelligence war and a conspiracy to profit from spreading chaos throughout the Middle East.”

Maxwell and Parkhill said: “We wanted to tell a story set against the backdrop of our dangerous and uncertain times. The Nine unfolds through the eyes of a man caught between two versions of himself, the past and the present. The genre of an espionage thriller gives us the perfect opportunity to mix his personal story with the turbulence of an ever-changing geo-political landscape.”

UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel
UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel

The project was commissioned by Jeff Ford, senior VP of content development, and Sara Johnson, VP scripted drama for FNG, Europe and Africa, and will go into pre-production in the new year.

“Following the success we’ve had with our Fox global content, we made a commitment to develop drama for this region that has the potential to be a success worldwide,” said Ford.

Another story that showcases the increasing international clout of the US studios’ production operations is the news that Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with Chinese streaming service iQIYI on a three-part Mandarin-language drama. The partners will create a new version of Chosen, a Crackle original that has aired for four seasons.

SPT’s Playmaker Media is producing with support from Screen NSW and the show will be shot entirely in Australia. Production begins in the spring with a launch due at the end of 2017.

The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series
The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series

The past week has also seen a number of production and development announcements flowing out of C21’s Content London event. For example, ITV Studios-owned indie Big Talk Productions confirmed that it is remaking sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, with Luther creator Neil Cross attached to the project.

Also, screenwriter/director Tony Grisoni revealed that he is developing a drama set against the 1943 Allied liberation of Sicily, with UK broadcaster Channel 4 paying for script development.

In the US, meanwhile, Thunderbird Entertainment has teamed up with David Salzman (Dallas) to develop a TV series based on Faye Kellerman’s Decker-Lazarus series of mystery novels.

The initial development process will focus on The Ritual Bath, the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series. The story follows a tough LAPD detective and a widowed mother of two who witnesses a brutal crime and becomes embroiled in solving it.

Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie
Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie

Also in the US, Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, a tween/teen series based on the 2003 cult movie of the same name. Originally ordered straight-to-series, the show was given a rapid second season order of 13 episodes and has been attracting an average of around 1.4 million viewers.

The third season, which will go into production in 2017, will have 20 episodes, suggesting Nickelodeon is very happy with the show. School of Rock was the first series order for Paramount TV and is the first to go to a third season. The studio has also enjoyed success with Epix show Berlin Station and USA Network’s Shooter.

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Turkish TV drama shows resilience

It has been a miserable year for Turkey – yet despite a military coup, suicide bombings and the fallout from the Syrian Civil War, the country has somehow kept on pumping out great TV drama in 2016.

Wings of Love
Wings of Love is doing well on Fox Turkey

A lot of this creativity will be on show at the Mipcom market in Cannes from October 17. For example, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has just announced an exclusive deal that will see it bring a slate of shows from one of Turkey’s leading drama producers, Ay Yapim, which is behind Ezel, Fatmagul, Forbidden Love, Karadayi, The End and more.

One of the most high-profile titles is Wings of Love (Bana Sevmeyi Anlat), which is achieving very strong ratings on Fox Turkey. The series premiered on August 22 and is currently number one on Friday nights. Also in the line-up is Brave and Beautiful (Cesur ve Güzel), set to premiere on Star TV later on this fall, with Turkish megastars Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Tuba Büyüküstün in the lead roles.

Another title in Eccho’s line-up is Insider (İçerde), which is loosely based on US movie The Departed. It debuted on Show TV on September 19 and proved a big ratings hit, also becoming the top-rated Turkish drama on IMDb with a score of 9.4. Gaining an audience share of almost 12%, Insider beat everything except for Orphan Flowers (Kirgin Cicekler), a popular ATV series that was launched in 2015 to great acclaim.

Karadayi
Fellow Ay Yapim drama Karadayi

With two more winter launches from Ay Yapim on the slate, Fredrik af Malmborg, MD of Eccho Rights, is understandably in bullish mood.

“We have been working closely with Ay Yapim ever since the global breakthrough of Turkish drama,” he said, “and we are very proud of the contribution we have made together in pushing the genre forward. Turkish drama is stronger than ever and Ay Yapim has always been a leader.”

Ay Yapim’s success on the international market isn’t just limited to completed show sales. It has also had success getting some of its formats away. A good example is The End, which was piloted in the US last year. More recently, the show has been greenlit for adaptation in four markets including Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. The latter version will be produced by Globomedia for broadcast on Telecinco in early 2017.

From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay
From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay

Eccho has also had notable recent successes with dramas from outside the Ay Yapim stable. For example, it recently sold Broken Pieces (Paramparça) to Swedish public broadcaster SVT. An Endemol Shine Turkey production for Star TV, Broken Pieces follows other Turkish dramas like The End onto SVT.

Eccho isn’t the only company to be heading for Cannes with Turkish drama in tow. Fox Networks Group is hosting an event on October 18 to highlight its Turkish drama slate, which runs to more than 700 hours. Among key titles is Pastel Film Production’s That is My Life (O Hayat Benim), which has already been sold to broadcasters in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia.

As in many markets, September to October is an important time of year in terms of new title launches on domestic TV. Aside from the aforementioned Insider, shows attracting attention include Black White (Siyah Beyaz) and You Are My Country (Vatanim Sensin).

The latter, produced by O3 Medya, is a big-budget period drama set just after the First World War. It tells the story of an army officer who is torn between loyalty to his country and the welfare of his family. Already sold to Croatia (a big fan of Turkish drama), the show is expected to prove popular with Mipcom buyers.

In terms of trends in Turkish drama this year, it seems as though some Western influences are creeping in. While Turkish viewers still tend to favour action, romance and historical drama, one of the most intriguing shows of the year was psychological thriller 46 Yok Olan, which aired on Star TV earlier this year.

O Hayat Benim
That is My Life has sold across the world

The series focuses on a professor of molecular biology who is trying to find a cure for his comatose sister. After trying a new potion on himself first, he releases an alter-ego that he cannot control and that seeks revenge for his father’s death and his sister’s illness.

While 46 Yok Olan didn’t draw huge ratings for Star, it did attract a fair amount of critical acclaim. So it will be interesting to see if it appeals to international buyers. The show is being marketed by Global Agency under the simplified title 46.

While a lot of attention in the next few weeks will be focused on Turkish drama exports, another story of significance is that SVoD platform Netflix has just launched a dedicated service in Turkey, with a fully localised user interface and local programming.

Signalling the seriousness of its ambition for the market, Netflix has also signed a deal with mobile provider Vodafone and is already working with Turkish TV manufacturer Vestel.

46
46 Yok Olan met critical acclaim

Commenting on the news, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said: “Turkish people are great storytellers with their hugely popular and internationally recognised Turkish dramas, and Netflix aims to become one of [the industry’s] most vocal ambassadors. We’re delighted to offer a more localised Netflix in Turkey that will continue to grow with both our Netflix Original titles and licensed content.”

Although it is too early to tell what kind of local uptake the service will get, it could provide a useful revenue source for creators of Turkish drama. Shows that will appear on Netflix in Turkey include Leyla and Mecnun, Suskunlar (Game of Silence), Karadayı, Ezel, Kurt Seyit & Şura, The Revival: Ertuğrul and Filinta.

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