Tag Archives: Hans Rosenfeldt

End of a Saga

As the final season of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) arrives in the UK, actors Sofia Helin and Thure Lindhardt, creator Hans Rosenfeldt and head writer Camilla Ahlgren reflect on the success of the internationally acclaimed series.

Swedish detective Saga Norén, portrayed on screen for seven years by Sofia Helin, has become one of television’s most iconic police officers. At once brilliant, straight-talking and socially awkward, she has become a figurehead of the Nordic noir wave that has captivated audiences since The Bridge first aired in 2011.

Yet it could have all been so very different. Had the writers not had a change of heart during those early days plotting season one, Saga would not have survived to see season two.

“In very early drafts, Saga died in episode nine,” series creator Hans Rosenfeldt reveals. “She was stabbed. It was actually one of our exec producers who said very early on that wasn’t going to happen, so we changed it.”

Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing and it is fascinating now to think how the series might have panned out had its lead character been killed off so early on. But thankfully the producers gave her a stay of execution – one that has continued to the end of season four and the show’s finale.

Viewers in Sweden and Denmark already know the fates of Saga and her Danish police partner Henrik Sabroe, played by Thure Lindhardt, as the eight-episode final run debuted in Scandinavia earlier this year. And now British viewers have the chance to see how it ends, with season four launching tonight on BBC2, having been promoted from the traditional Saturday night slot reserved for non-English drama on BBC4.

The start of The Bridge season four sees Saga in prison

Centring on what’s described as heart-stopping concluding case that tests the detectives’ special relationship to its limits both professionally and personally, season four opens when the body of a woman is found close to the titular Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden. It is found to be that of the head of the Danish immigration board. But since Saga has been jailed for the murder of her mother, Henrik must investigate the case with his new partner Jonas (Mikael Birkkjaer).

As is usually the case with Scandinavian dramas, contemporary themes loom large in the new season of The Bridge, which this time focuses on issues of identity.

“We always work with a double story – it’s a crime story and we also want to say something about our society,” explains head writer Camilla Ahlgren. “That’s why this season, with identity, we found we could apply it to Saga and Henrik’s characters.

Helin picks up: “Saga wonders, ‘Why do I live? What do I do here and who am I?’ I have a sense that taking away her police identity makes her go onto very shaky ground. That was a really interesting path to take.”

The story will also look at the effect of immigration on both Sweden and Denmark, conceived as it was at the height of the European refugee crisis that contributed to the Øresund bridge being changed from an open road to a strict border between the two countries.

“This is fiction, but we like to see what we can find to talk about in our society,” Ahlgren says. “Now with the bridge and a border that we’re not used to, that’s how it all started. We still have to show our ID when we go from Denmark to Sweden and it’s a very weird thing to do for me. You shouldn’t have to do that, in my opinion, but that’s how it is right now.”

Thure Lindhardt joined the cast as Henrik Sabroe in season three

Broadcasters in Scandinavia are keen that contemporary series have something to say about modern society, an attitude that Rosenfeldt says can add depth to the story and characters on screen.

“When we started to write season four, everything was about the refugee crisis in Sweden and Denmark, so it was obvious we had to touch it,” he says. “There are going to be a lot of topics in there across eight hours, but we started with that one because it was so obvious that, if we were going to do a cross-border thing for the fourth time, we couldn’t just ignore the fact the bridge has a slightly different meaning today than it had in 2011 when it was a road to freedom and Europe. Now it’s actually a border.”

Produced by Filmlance International in Sweden and Nimbus Film in Denmark, the drama is distributed worldwide by Endemol Shine International and has been remade in six territories, most recently via a copro between Singapore and Malaysia.

And the story that runs through season four, in which viewers will discover more about Saga and Henrik’s backgrounds, also contributed to the decision to end The Bridge at its peak, rather than continuing to bring the characters back and risk devaluing the success of the show.

“There are very few series that actually create a peak in season five, six or seven,” Rosenfeldt says. “They tend to go the other way. So we said let’s not be one of those shows where people say, ‘Oh, The Bridge is still on. I loved the first ones.’ Let’s not be that series. Let’s make four really good shows and then say this is it, this is the story we have to tell. Not everything has to go on forever.”

Following the departure of Saga’s original Danish partner Martin (played by Kim Bodnia) in season two, Lindhardt joined the cast in season three. “I wasn’t really worried [about joining the show],” he says. “I got this script and I read this character and immediately I wanted to play that part. My outlook was more how to interpret this character who was so brilliantly written.

Helin and Lindhardt film scenes for the show’s final outing

“I was pretty lucky that no one knew who Saga’s new partner was, so I had nine great months where I could work privately, creating the character without having to answer any questions about how it was to follow someone else.”

That was also partly down to the writers, who initially set Saga up with strong-willed detective Hanne Thomsen (Kirsten Olesen), whose relationship with Saga immediately became hostile. Henrik was introduced concurrently with a mysterious storyline relating to his wife and children, and was only partnered with Saga several episodes into the story.

“A lot of people thought she actually got a female partner but didn’t like her, which is away from how she was with a male character who liked her,” says Rosenfeldt, who is also the creator of ITV thriller Marcella. “So I think we tricked people there and they got interested in Henrik for other reasons and then, oh, he’s a cop as well. It eased the transition to not have him there in the first scene together with Saga.”

Though both Henrik and Saga return for season four, one noticeable change is the fact the main investigation is set in Denmark, rather than in Sweden’s Malmö as it has been for the previous three seasons, which meant a new police station setting for the cast and crew.

“But the biggest change, what we’ve never done before, is we left the city for this small village that we see at the very end. We’ve never done that before because we’re not big fans of nature,” Rosenfeldt jokes, with a nod towards the series’ trademark dark and brooding city landscapes. “It’s pretty, it’s green and has trees and you can see squirrels. But it was a really depressing village. So that’s a big set for us, a big change – a completely new location but also nature.”

So long to the city and so long to The Bridge. Saying goodbye to the series was “emotional, not difficult,” Helin adds. “I’m happy with the ending and kind of relieved and content. So I feel happy but a bit of separation sadness from friends and colleagues.

“I’m not sad because I can talk to her at any minute,” she says of her character. “For anyone else, they have to see the series from the beginning. I was so satisfied with the brilliant ending so I’m not sad, I’m proud.”

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Braving the storm

 Marcella returns for a second season with the creative team behind the ITV drama promising darker and more challenging times ahead for the eponymous detective. DQ finds out more.

The first season of high-concept thriller Marcella, created by Hans Rosenfeldt and Nicola Larder and starring Anna Friel as the titular character, scattered some Scandi magic over UK broadcaster ITV’s schedule and globally via Netflix. Attracting an average 25% audience share and 6.8 million viewers, the show did the business for its network and its producer, Buccaneer Media, and is now returning for season two on February 19.

Rosenfeldt says that when he first started to work on the original show, he didn’t think beyond season one; the story had to be wrapped up and satisfying just in case the drama didn’t have a life beyond that first season. An obvious challenge when approaching the second season, therefore, was to deliver the ingredients that struck a chord with the audience the first time round, but to present them in a way that feels fresh.

The second season of Marcella sees Anna Friel return as the London detective

“We liked a lot from season one,” says Rosenfeldt, best known as the creator of Nordic noir smash hit The Bridge. “We are keeping the multi-plot and are dipping into London in different places with different characters and keeping the idea that, at first, you don’t really know how they’re connected to our case or our protagonist.”

Larder executive produces the series alongside Rosenfeldt and Buccaneer Media founder Tony Wood, with Cineflix Rights distributing the drama. She says defining the show’s USP was a key conversation when they embarked on season two, adding: “What we realised is that Marcella will have to go through an absolute storm emotionally and psychologically as she did in season one, and that she will also be investigating a serial killer. That is part of our brand.”

Larder says the case under investigation will be linked to Marcella because that is also part of the show’s DNA. “In some people’s eyes, that’s coincidence but for us it’s part of our brand,” she adds. “As long as we have good, exciting material which makes Marcella fight harder to get justice, I don’t think our audience will care that there was a personal connection to the crime last time too.”

As is typically the case for sequels, season two will be darker, more challenging and editorially bolder, as the story bar had already been set high in season one. The headline from ITV when talking about bringing the show back was that they were interested in Marcella’s character-defining blackouts or ‘fugue attacks.’ Rosenfeldt says: “We needed to do something with them. We couldn’t just have them appearing again and causing her trouble. What we’re doing this time is we’re digging further into the reasons why she’s having them.”

Writer Hans Rosenfeldt attends a readthrough

With his responsibilities on The Bridge now wrapped up following a fourth and final season that debuted in Denmark and Sweden last month, Rosenfeldt has written seven out of eight episodes while The Bridge co-writer Camilla Ahlgren takes one. He has also moved to London, is writing later drafts in English and has factored in a longer lead time for scripts.

“I’ve written shorter scripts this time around,” says Rosenfeldt. “Last time they were a bit long and we had to make choices in the edit to lose things. They were perfectly good and would’ve been great, but time didn’t allow it. This time we get more of what’s actually there on the screen, which is really good.”

Having set up the show in season one, director Charles Martin has come back to work on this new run, which has helped with the continuity of tone and style. However, a delay in getting season two greenlit meant many of Martin’s previous creative team weren’t available, so he had to assemble a new one.

“The important thing was not to try to reinvent the wheel but to make something that inhabits the same universe,” the director says. “We used a different camera but we used the same lenses.”

Nigel Planer (left) and Keith Allen also appear in the drama

Martin already had a template for the show. “The story here is reasonably heightened and, therefore, I didn’t want to do anything too arty. I wanted to do something that had its own look but didn’t feel artificial or forced. I wanted to do something quite straight because what’s not straight here is the story.”

One of Martin’s biggest challenges was that while season one was shot in the autumn, this time they were shooting in the height of summer. “We wanted to make sure the series remained saturated with colour, so there was a richness to it,” adds Larder. “We also pulled many antisocial hours on the unit to get as much night as we could. There’s an element of voyeurism to the shooting style, so even if you’re in a bright London square, there’s a danger to it because of how it’s filmed. Reviewing it in the edit, you don’t notice it’s seasonally different.”

Every noir needs an iconic coat or jumper, and the change in seasons impacted Marcella’s choice of attire, with the detective usually clad in her distinctive parka. “We chose the coat in season one because we wanted Marcella to have a really immediately identifiable silhouette in any dark shady place because we were going to be picking her out at night,” says Larder. “In a practical sense, we needed our actress to be warm. Then, in turn, it became something she worked with, performed with.” This season Marcella’s coat is different but, apparently, just as good.

While initially Rosenfeldt wasn’t looking much further than making season one a hit, he says this time he’s already thinking about season three. “We are setting up for season three at the end of two,” he says. “Season two will still be a very good standalone but, if season three happens, we know exactly what we want to do with it.”

The term ‘difficult second album’ is well known in the music industry and similarly in TV there’s always going to be pressure to live up to the success of the first season. “Our ambition wasn’t to just do what we did before, but to better it,” says Larder. “We wanted to embrace the bravery we had in season one when there weren’t half as many expectations. What I think I’m most proud of is that the storytelling is even stronger and what Marcella goes through is even more surprising. So we’ve not lost our boldness. Boldness is our brand.”

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A busy August in Edinburgh

Aidan Turner of Poldark fame was among And Then There Were None's star-studded cast
Aidan Turner of Poldark fame was among And Then There Were None’s star-studded cast

It’s been a busy end to August in terms of commissions and acquisitions. In the UK, the BBC has been especially active, taking advantage of the Edinburgh International Television Festival (EITF) as a platform for announcing or discussing new developments.

One of its most high-profile announcements is a deal with Agatha Christie Productions that will see seven Agatha Christie novels adapted for TV over the next four years. This follows an earlier announcement that it would be making The Witness for the Prosecution, with a cast led by Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborough, Kim Cattrall, David Haig, Billy Howle and Monica Dolan.

The first of the novels to be adapted under the seven-book deal will be Ordeal by Innocence. Other titles so far confirmed include Death Comes as the End and The ABC Murders, which focuses a race against time to stop a serial killer who is on the loose in 1930s Britain.

Commenting on the deal, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “These new commissions continue BBC1’s special relationship as the home of Agatha Christie in the UK. Our combined creative ambition to reinvent Christie’s novels for a modern audience promises to bring event television of the highest quality to a new generation enjoyed by fans old and new.”

The decision to plan so far ahead came after the success of And Then There Were None for BBC1 in 2015. That adaptation was written by Sarah Phelps, who is also working on the next two Christie projects. Further writers will be announced in due course.

Agatha Christie Ltd boss Hilary Strong
Agatha Christie Ltd boss Hilary Strong

Hilary Strong, CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, said: “And Then There Were None was a highlight of the 2015 BBC1 Christmas schedule, and we are truly delighted to be building on the success of that show, first with The Witness for the Prosecution, and then with adaptations of seven more iconic Agatha Christie titles. What Sarah Phelps brought to And Then There Were None was a new way of interpreting Christie for a modern audience, and Agatha Christie Ltd is thrilled to be bringing this psychologically rich, visceral and contemporary sensibility to more classic Christie titles for a new generation of fans.”

The Witness for the Prosecution is a Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions’ drama for BBC1, in association with A+E Networks and RLJ Entertainment’s development arm, Acorn Media Enterprises. RLJE’s streaming service, Acorn TV, is the US coproduction partner and will premiere the adaptation in the US. A+E Networks holds rest-of-world distribution rights to The Witness for the Prosecution, and will launch it at the Mipcom market in October.

Alongside the Christie announcement, the BBC’s Moore used the EITF to unveil a range of other dramas. These include an adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s acclaimed young-adult novel Noughts and Crosses and a new six-part drama from Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) entitled Bodyguard.

There is also an Edinburgh-set drama called Trust Me, written by Dan Sefton, and a new series from Abi Morgan called The Split. This one examines the fast-paced circuit of high-powered female divorce lawyers, through the lens of three sisters – Hannah, Nina and the youngest, Rose.

The Luminaries
The Luminaries is being adapted for BBC2

Moore’s announcements for BBC1 were built upon by BBC2 controller Patrick Holland, who also announced plans for new scripted series at the festival. “I want BBC2 to be the place where the best creative talents can make their most original and exciting work, where authorship flourishes,” he commented.

Holland’s headline drama announcement was MotherFatherSon, from author and screenwriter Tom Rob Smith (Child 44). This is an eight-part thriller that “sits at the intersections of police, politics and the press,” according to the BBC. “It is as much a family saga as it is a savage, unflinching study of power and how even the mightiest of empires can be in peril when a family turns on each other.”

Holland also greenlit The Luminaries, a six-part drama from Working Title Television based on the novel by Eleanor Catton. A 19th-century tale of adventure, set on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the boom years of the 1860s gold rush, The Luminaries is a story of love, murder and revenge, as men and women travelled the world to make their fortunes.

Catton, who will adapt her own novel for television, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries. She said: “Learning to write for television has been a bit like learning a new musical instrument: the melody is more or less the same, but absolutely everything else is different. I’m having enormous fun, learning every day, and I’m just so excited to see the world of the novel created in the flesh.”

Filming on the six-parter will begin in 2017, taking place in and around New Zealand.

Anna Friel in Marcella
Anna Friel in Marcella

While the BBC dominated the drama announcements at the EITF, ITV also used the event to reveal that there will be a second season of crime drama Marcella, written by The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt and starring Anna Friel. Produced by Buccaneer Media, the first season of the show was a top-rated drama on ITV, achieving an average of 6.8 million viewers across its run.

Commenting on the recommission, Rosenfeldt said: “I was delighted at the reaction to the first season and am thrilled to be revisiting Marcella for ITV. In the second season, the audience will get the opportunity to spend more time in her world, exploring some of the characters and getting to know them better.”

Other interesting stories as the industry gears up for autumn include the news that Amazon has acquired Australian drama The Kettering Incident from BBC Worldwide for its Prime Video service. The show was co-created by writer Victoria Madden and producer Vincent Sheehan was shot entirely in Tasmania. The eight-episode series tells the story of a doctor who returns to her hometown years after the disappearance of one of her friends.

The Kettering Incident
The Kettering Incident has been picked up by Amazon

In mainland Europe, Telecinco Spain has ordered a local version of hit Turkish series The End. Produced originally by Ay Yapim, the new version will be called El Accidente and will be the third local version of the show in Europe after remakes in Russia and the Netherlands.

The show, which was also piloted in the US, tells the story of a woman investigating her husband’s death in a plane crash, only to discover that he wasn’t on the flight. It is distributed by Eccho Rights, which has also sold the original to 50 countries.

In the US, premium pay TV channel Starz has renewed Survivor’s Remorse for a fourth season. The show has had a particularly strong third season having been paired in the schedule with Starz hit series Power. Across all platforms, it now draws around 2.9 million viewers per episode.

“We are thrilled to renew Survivor’s Remorse for a fourth season,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik. “Critics have consistently called it one of the smartest and funniest comedies on TV, and we are delighted to see audiences embracing the characters and the storyline with that same enthusiasm. Mike O’Malley and his tremendously talented team of writers and actors boldly tackle today’s most pressing issues, from race, class, sex and politics to love and loss, but with such a deft touch that nothing ever feels heavy-handed.”

The End has sold across the world
The End has sold across the world

In other news, ProSiebenSat.1-owned Studio71 is producing a live-action series inspired by the Battlefield video game franchise that will launch on Verizon’s Go90 platform. Rush: Inspired by Battlefield will stream on the mobile service from September 20.

The Battlefield franchise, developed by EA Dice and published by Electronic Arts, has amassed more than 60 million players since launching in 2002. “Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment today and there is a huge appetite for content inspired by video games,” said Studio 71 president Dan Weinstein.

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Women re-energise crime drama

Marcella
Anna Friel in ITV’s Marcella, which looks set to get a second season

In honour of ITV’s Brit noir series Marcella, DQ looks at some of the women detectives who have helped reinvigorate a genre that used to be the preserve of cantankerous middle-aged men.

When ITV launched the excellent Prime Suspect in 1991, female coppers were still a novelty on UK television. But these days it seems as though the entire police system is in the hands of no-nonsense women taking on a world of desensitised or deranged male bastards.

When they aren’t dealing with criminals, they generally have to contend with the fact that their husbands and colleagues are also a) psychotic, b) philanderers or c) perversely obstructive.

 Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley
Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley

For the most part, the female cop formula seems to be working, with little indication as yet that the UK audience is getting bored by it.

Despite its various structural flaws, ITV’s Marcella, starring Anna Friel, has just finished its eight-part run with a solid audience of around five million and looks like a decent bet for a season two renewal.

Other female cops who have secured a strong fanbase include DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) in Broadchurch, Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley, DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) in Line of Duty and Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in The Fall, which returns for a third season this year.

And it doesn’t end there. Other female crimefighters include the cast of Channel 4’s No Offence and Detectives Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey in ITV’s Scott & Bailey. The latter, which starred Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones, finished this April.

Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge
Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge

Without exception, all of these shows have achieved good to great ratings. Sometimes this is down to the writing, but more often than not it feels as though the real secret of their success is the quality of the female leads. All of the above shows have been graced with exceptional acting performances that make you stay loyal even if the wider production starts to lose its direction.

Based on IMDb scores, Marcella doesn’t actually fare that well, scoring 7.1. This is probably a reflection of the gaps in the plot, which caused a lot of angst on social media platforms like Twitter. Much stronger are shows like Happy Valley, Broadchurch, The Fall and Line of Duty, which achieved scores in the 8.3 to 8.5 range.

Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses
Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in France Télévisions’ Witnesses

With the general success of female cops, it’s no surprise that ITV is going back to its Prime Suspect franchise with Tennison. This show, from Lynda La Plante, imagines the central character, Jane Tennison, as a young woman starting out on her career. Set in Hackney in the 1970s, it recreates a world where women police constables are treated with suspicion by their male colleagues.

The female cop theme is not, of course, restricted to the UK. It has played a big part in the emergence of Nordic noir as a global force. Writer Hans Rosenfeldt, who gaves us Marcella, previously introduced us to Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in his acclaimed Danish/Swedish copro The Bridge. And this then gave rise to UK/France copro The Tunnel, where viewers have been beguiled by feisty French cop Elise Wassermann (Clemence Poesy).

Equally important has been Danish broadcaster DR’s The Killing, which saw Sofie Grabol playing DI Sarah Lund. This was adapted for the US, where Grabol’s role was played by Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden.

Charlotte Lindholm in ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort, set in Hanover
Charlotte Lindholm in ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort, set in Hanover

In France, meanwhile, audiences on public broadcaster France Télévisions have recently been introduced to Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses (Les Temoins). More mainstream is Candice Renoir, about a French police commandant, played by Cecile Bois, who solves crimes in the South of France. The show has also secured a number of sales around Europe.

The US, of course, has never been afraid to place female cops on the frontline – think back to Cagney & Lacey or Angie Dickinson as Sergeant ‘Pepper’ Anderson in Police Woman. More recently the mantle of number one tough female cop has been taken up by Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) in NBC’s long-running procedural Law & Order: SVU. The character of Benson has appeared in 385 episodes of the show and risen to become commanding officer of the SVU division.

Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue
Jennifer Lopez plays an single-mother NYPD cop in Shades of Blue

Angie Harmon, as Jane Rizzoli in TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, is another who deserves to be given a medal for services to the TV industry. Among the new female cops is Harlee Santos, a single-mother NYPD detective played by Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue.

Countries where female cops are not so prominent include Germany and Italy, where the chaps still get to solve most crimes. But even here there are a few exceptions.

One is Charlotte Lindholm, a detective in the Hanover-set production of ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort. She has been played by Maria Furtwangler since 2002, making her something of a German TV icon. Italy, meanwhile, gave us Donna Detective, in which Detective Lisa Milani (played by Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere) requests a desk job in a small town outside of Rome in order to spend more time with her family. As luck would have it, she gets called back to assist with a major case and is placed in charge of an entire investigative squad in the capital.

The Fall Stella-Gibson
Gillian Anderson returns for a third season of The Fall this year

The clear message from all of the above is that female cops have reinvigorated the detective genre, creating a new kind of character-based complexity around ideas like work-family balance, competing in what is perceived to be a man’s world, tackling problems from a female perspective and demonstrating skill sets that run counter to traditional assumptions.

What’s missing, perhaps, is a black or Asian female lead. There have been fleeting sightings (in US shows like Southland, The Wire, Rogue and Deception). But as yet there is nothing comparable to the breakthrough made by Idris Elba in BBC hit series Luther.

Given the recent strength of British broadcasters in the female cop genre, this is an area where they should really bite the bullet.

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London calling: Bringing Scandi noir to the capital

The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt brings Scandi style to the streets of London in crime drama Marcella. DQ meets the cast and crew.

On a bright and sunny day in central London, light pours into the Serious Crime Unit office.

Ten floors above a bustling Tube station, the room is filled with banks of desks, each one covered with its own computer and piles of paper. Police officers who glance up from their monitors can enjoy unimpeded views of the capital through the panoramic windows.

But there’s work to do. On one side of the room, two whiteboards are covered with photographs and information relating to a group of murder victims. Images taken from the blood-stained crime scenes leave little to the imagination.

Hans Rosenfeldt Photo: Albin Olsson
Hans Rosenfeldt (photo by Albin Olsson)

Welcome to the world of Marcella, an eight-part drama currently airing on ITV that marks The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt’s first foray into English-language series.

Anna Friel stars as the eponymous detective who returns to the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Squad when her husband (played by Nicholas Pinnock) suddenly leaves her.

Eleven years after she gave up her fast-tracked police career to marry and start a family, she throws herself back into her work and, after a spate of murders, finds herself on the case of a serial killer that first struck in 2005.

The cast also includes Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael, plus Ian Puleston-Davies, Nina Susanna, Ray Panthaki, Jamie Bamber, Sinead Cusack, Patrick Baladi and Harry Lloyd.

Produced by Buccaneer Media, Marcella is executive produced by co-creators Rosenfeldt and Nicola Larder alongside Tony Wood. Cineflix Rights is distributing the series internationally and has secured a deal with Netflix that will see the series air worldwide on the SVoD platform.

As a big fan of The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen), Friel says she was excited to join a “unique” production that isn’t simply a remake of an existing Scandinavian drama. “It was changing the mould and the shape by taking a Scandi writer, putting him in England and letting him give his take on London,” she tells DQ during a break from filming at the fictional police station.

Carrying the series as the title character, who Friel admits is in almost every scene, might have led to the actor feeling under pressure – but she says she hasn’t had time to stop and take stock during the intense shoot.

“For 13 hours a day I’m thinking like Marcella, so it’s made me a bit depressed at certain times because there’s quite a lot on her shoulders,” she explains, “but it’s only a certain time in your life, and my daughter Gracie always pulls me out of that because I go home and I’m mummy and that’s real life.”

Discussing her character, Friel continues: “I love watching strong female leads but I also like the human side, that we’re all delicate and fractured. Most cops are mavericks in what they do but they’re also human. Marcella’s incredibly fractured. We all use a bit of our own life to make it true and believable, but I’m really sane compared with Marcella.”

From left: Anna Friel and Charles Pinnock receive direction from Charles Martin
From left: Anna Friel and Nicholas Pinnock receive direction from Charles Martin

Friel was well placed to star in a drama from a Swedish writer, having previously worked in Scandinavia on Norwegian historical drama The Heavy Water War (aka Kampen om tungtvannet or The Saboteurs).

“That was one of the biggest things that drew me to this – they had a work ethic I’d never seen before,” she recalls. “It was very tight and really well thought out; very concentrated and focused. I liked that a lot.”

American Odyssey and Pushing Daisies star Friel was the “first and only choice” to play Marcella, according to executive producer Larder, who created the character before seeking out Rosenfeldt to bring her story to life.

“I’d worked with her before and I knew she gives a lot of herself to her roles,” Larder says. “She’s a method actor and I knew I wanted someone to lay themselves bare in the process. Marcella is very raw and very visceral and I wanted someone brave like Anna to go there. She does that pretty much every day.”

Larder – who was a development executive on the first season of The Tunnel, the Anglo-French adaptation of The Bridge – describes Marcella as “amazingly complicated,” a detective who failed to detect the collapse of her marriage and is now headlong in an emotional spin while trying to catch a serial killer.

TwoDetectives

“I like the idea of a mistrustful central female protagonist whose actions the audience should always understand, if not like,” she adds. “That’s real life – it’s not always black and white. We can be great people who sometimes act irrationally, unsympathetically or selfishly. Marcella has a reality to her. She’s not defined by being a detective or a mother, she’s defined by both – she’s just not been able to do both simultaneously.

“There are big question marks over Marcella’s character and what she’s capable of from the beginning. We run with that and we enjoy it.”

From the slow-boiled character studies of Broadchurch to the harsh Icelandic setting of Fortitude, every new crime drama in the UK in recent years seemingly can’t escape being described as a British take on the immensely popular Nordic noir genre.

But Marcella goes one further, taking Rosenfeldt and placing him in a London-set show designed for a British audience. “We are not imitating Scandinavian noir, we are taking a Scandinavian writer out of his comfort zone and setting him free,” Larder insists. “But we’re aware of our audience. We need to deliver for a British audience that loves character.

“At its heart, Marcella is an emotionally guided thriller and all Tony and I do is support Hans’s vision. When you’ve got a whole load of brilliant, clever and emotional British actors on top of his Swedish words, you get this beautiful creative fusion.”

Friel during a cast reading for the show
Friel during a cast reading for the show

Having written three seasons of The Bridge – a fourth (and possibly final) is under discussion – Rosenfeldt says he was keen to put Swedish detective Saga Norén (played by Sofia Helin) to one side and work with a new central character. “I’ve been writing Saga for so long so it was fun for me to do something else. I know Saga so well – it’s nice to meet someone new,” he explains.

For his first English-language series, Rosenfeldt wrote the first three episodes in Swedish before they were translated into English. For episodes four, five and six, he gave notes in English, before writing the last two in English with the help of a script editor.

But, as Friel found out when she read the finished articles, the writer enjoys giving actors room to contribute to their own character’s development beyond what’s on the page. “It’s quite intimidating following Saga because she’s such a great character,” she says. “I wanted to know how much of Saga was written on the page and how much it was (Helin) who brought it to the script. (Rosenfeldt) said it was a blend of both and there are gaps for me to inhabit her. That was a bit scary.”

Rosenfeldt explains: “When you read my scripts, it might seem like there’s not much in them, but that’s how I write. I don’t like writing stage directions, I don’t write emotions and I try to keep away from exposition, in terms of both plot and emotion. So it’s quite a strict script, which gives the actors a lot of room. When they’re really good, like Sofia and Anna, they do miracles with it.”

Reuniting with Rosenfeldt is Henrik Georgsson, one of three directors alongside Charles Martin and Andrew Woodhead. Georgsson, who steers episodes seven and eight of Marcella, has previously overseen 16 hours of The Bridge as well as episodes of Wallander.

“It’s also the first time for me working in English and sometimes it’s hard when you’re talking about dialogue and discussing things with actors,” Georgsson says of his experience on Marcella. “The crews are a little bit bigger but it’s great to be filming in London.”

The series has been filmed in three blocks, with each director given the freedom to bring their own style to their episodes. “Mine is a focused style,” Georgsson says. “I’m trying to find what’s essential in the scene. The second block had more of a moving camera. I like pictures with a lot of depth. Actors sometimes stand by a wall but we don’t like that because you can’t get depth, and lighting is harder to do well, so we prefer to have people in the middle of the room.”

The production team made a point of keeping the cast clueless about Marcella’s final act and the killer’s real identity. “We wanted all our characters to act in the moment,” Larder says of the “big, bold puzzle” drama. “That’s the spirit of the piece – they’re not necessarily thinking ahead. They only learnt about some of the key reveals of the series in the final weeks of shooting. It means they’re focusing on the scene and what the character actually knows, rather than pre-empting what they know in the future. It gives a real freshness and immediacy and it keeps people on their toes.”

There were also challenges for the production team, most notably in filming across London and finding the right location for the main police station.

“We’re lucky enough to be on the 10th floor of a tower block, which means incidentally we’re exploring the city through our shots,” Larder says. “Once we found that location, it felt like we could radiate out from that. But we’re competing in a very fruitful time for drama in TV and film in a city that is overrun with film units. It’s been a big challenge.”

Production designer Max Gottlieb continues: “One of the key things was the police station and what it means to the story, but you also have to take into account every other police show and every other police station. The key thing was actually showing London, so that’s why we chose this location. Being so high up, you’re always seeing London in the background and you’ve got great shots of Marcella looking down at life.

“Real police stations are usually some form of blue, but we wanted to do something warm to make it more to do with Marcella. We used a lot of wood and it’s quite a creamy colour to give it that warmth.”

While she’s hopeful Marcella will get a second season in 2017, Larder is now keen to bring more European writers to the UK.

“I feel like the idea is boss right now,” she says. “I found an incredible talent in Hans who wanted to put his fresh authorship into the most favoured genre, crime. I want to continue to build relationships with writers with European and international prowess and keep challenging the market to keep giving those authors a voice outside of their home territories. That’s what I want to be doing.”

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Bigger and better

Steve November, drama director at ITV, promises a bigger drama slate over the next two years and wants to make the channel the ‘place of choice’ for established producers and fresh talent alike.

Now that juggernaut period drama Downton Abbey has come to an end – the final sixth season bowed out with just under nine million viewers, while a one-off Christmas Day special drew almost seven million – the Sunday 21.00 slot has opened up opportunities for ITV to cast its net wider for new dramas.

Steve November, director of drama, is not actively seeking to replace the Edwardian drama with more period pieces. Instead, he has identified a growing viewer appetite for contemporary stories. “We’ve approached it saying we’ve no idea what the new Downton is going to be,” he says. “It’s going to be a show that captures the public’s imagination… that viewers fall in love with over several series. But whether that’s a contemporary show or a period show, or even a Sunday night show, we don’t know.”

Steve November
Steve November

The commercial broadcaster, which turned 60 last September, has to make its broad, mainstream content mission appeal to rapidly shifting viewer patterns, yet “it’s always, always popular mainstream,” says November. “That’s unashamedly what we are and want to be, but of the highest quality. There’s absolutely no disconnect between popular and the highest quality, so it’s aiming to be as broad in our appeal as we can be, accessible to everybody, but delivering something unexpected, something fresh, and real truths so that when you come to ITV you get what you want but you also get something more.”

ITV also relies on big returning shows to collectively build its drama brand. These programmes represent the majority of its drama output, “but we can’t have a schedule that’s only familiar,” says November. “We need to be constantly offering new things that are moving the ITV experience forward, evolving it, developing it. So it is a constant mix.”

In fact, post-Downton, this year ITV will swing much more in favour of new dramas, says November. “It’s going to look like quite a new and fresh schedule and we hope a portion of those dramas will be returners, but there’s always room for the new.”

November says ITV’s drama strategy is built around a “collective vision” for the channel. Alongside his five-strong commissioning team, “viewers can dictate as much as we do where the market is going, what they’d like to see, and we’re trying to predict and supply that,” he says. “So it’s about responding to many things around us, to what viewers seem to be wanting, to what other channels are doing, to our brand and identity and how we can evolve that. This is 60 years of history to work with so it’s a very purposeful redefining and evolving of the brand that’s so well established.”

Jekyll and Hyde failed to meet expectations
Jekyll and Hyde failed to meet expectations

But with global multiplatform players now providing increasingly credible alternatives outlets to producers and viewers, ITV needs to open up its range. “We’re in a very, very competitive market for ideas nowadays,” says November. “Obviously the opportunities for UK writers and producers to be taking their ideas abroad or to new competitors in the market, to be working with players like Amazon and Netflix, mean that in order to get those fresh new takes, we have to be very proactive and make sure that we are, as far as possible, the best place and the place of choice for writers and producers to work.”

The bigger challenge for all broadcasters, he notes, “is keeping people watching scheduled live TV, keeping our viewers, making drama and programming generally that demands attention from viewers.”

A development at ITV last autumn was the return of drama to early peak on Sundays with the launch of Jekyll and Hyde at 18.30 in late October. The 10-part period drama from in-house production arm ITV Studios caused a stir among some viewers for content deemed unsuitable for younger children. But November insists the show was right for the slot and that “most importantly” it was “doing something quite different to other shows at that time, particularly those on the BBC.”

The end of Downton Abbey has left ITV with a hole to fill
The end of Downton Abbey has left ITV with a hole to fill in its 2016 drama line-up

It might have been different, but Jekyll and Hyde ultimately failed to achieve what ITV wanted, with creator Charlie Higson announcing on Twitter in early January that it would not be back for a second season. “It was a grand adventure while it lasted,” he wrote.

ITV plans to increase its drama output in each of the next two years, says November. The channel has already lined up a varied slate of new series, including Victoria (8×60’, pictured top) from Mammoth Screen (Poldark, Endeavour), focusing on the early life of the British monarch. It also marks the screenwriting debut of novelist and producer Daisy Goodwin.

November says his drama commissioning team is committed to fostering new writing talent. “We’re all feeling pressure in that you can’t wait for the traditionally successful names. But it’s exciting for us and it’s incumbent on the business to create opportunities for talent,” he says, citing Chris Lunt, whose first 21.00 drama commission was crime miniseries Prey, which returned for a second season before Christmas; and Daisy Coulam, who got her first authored show on ITV with Grantchester. “Good writing is good writing and we pride ourselves as a team on judging writing solely on its quality, not on who wrote it. We’d love to hear from new talent across the board, it’s exciting.”

However, ITV continues to mine its back-catalogue for returnables. After 12 years off air, Cold Feet is being revived as a new eight-part series, while Tennison is a prequel to Lynda La Plante’s iconic crime drama Prime Suspect, which starred Helen Mirren and ran to seven series. The six-part latter, written by La Plante and coproduced by Noho Film and Television and La Plante Global, is being lined up to coincide with this year’s 25th anniversary of the launch of Prime Suspect.

“Of course, we’ve got to balance that with the absolutely new and the fresh. We can’t load our schedule with old brands and old IP,” comments November. “It’ll be very selected shows that we think have got a real chance of a genuine new life.”

The original Cold Feet
The original Cold Feet, the cast of which is reuniting for a revival this year

Dramas on this year’s slate appear to fulfil that mission. Adding to Cold Feet and Tennison are several from ITV Studios, including the 12-part warrior drama Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands and eight-part historical drama Jericho (both now on air) and four-parter Tutankhamun. The latter follows the discovery of the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh and stars Max Irons and Sam Neill.

External commissions include crime drama Marcella from Buccaneer Media, written by Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge) and starring Anna Friel; three-part drama Doctor Thorne, Julian Fellowes’ next project for ITV after Downton, adapted from Anthony Trollope’s book series and made by Hat Trick Productions; and The Halcyon (8×60’) from Left Bank Pictures, a drama set in a five-star London hotel in wartime 1940.

Hillbilly Television will also produce six-parter The Level, about a police officer leading a double life, while CPL Productions is behind 80s-set Brief Encounters.

The slate also includes several new single dramas, like Churchill’s Secret, produced by Tinopolis-owned Daybreak Pictures and starring Michael Gambon as Sir Winston Churchill and Lindsay Duncan as Clementine Churchill.

While ITV’s peaktime drama commissions are not slot-driven, November says the common denominator is “21.00 primetime, post-watershed drama. Even if you’re talking about a two-hour piece drama like Endeavour that might start at 20.00, we still want it to have a 21.00 emotional and narrative sensibility. It’s got to fit that taste and tone.”

In particular, November highlights “a real desire and hunger for contemporary at the moment.” ITV has commissioned several new period pieces and the exec says he is looking for a “light, bright, exciting contemporary hit” to balance with these, pointing enviously at BBC1’s Doctor Foster. “I wish we had that show. Big, romantic thrillers and family relationship dramas are real priorities for us at the moment.”

Jericho is airing now
Jericho is airing now

ITV remains entirely focused on commissioning for British viewers. “The international aspect can bring funding, talent and all the other parts of the equation. But first and foremost I only want to look at shows that are going to work for our audience in the UK on their UK broadcast,” November adds.

The drama director says ITV’s licence fees are very competitive and realistic against the backdrop of rising budgets, typically ranging between £500,000 (US$745,700) and £800,000-plus per hour, depending on the show.

“Excitingly for me and hopefully for producers, our commitment to drama remains absolutely solid and is, in fact, growing,” November says. “We have more hours in 2016 than we had in 2015, and it will be the same again in 2017. In 2017 we’re looking at a schedule with plenty of opportunity and a real commitment to drama, knowing that’s what we need to drive our brand and viewers.”

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Bridging the gap

Like a plot from Doctor Who, Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge has regenerated for its third season without its leading man. Michael Pickard hears how the cast and crew overcame this change to keep the hit series on track.

For fans of Bron/Broen – aka The Bridge – the relationship between leading characters Saga Norén and Martin Rohde has been the centrepiece of the compelling crime drama.

But after Kim Bodnia, who plays Danish detective Rohde, announced he was leaving the series after season two, the cast and crew faced the dilemma of whether they should replace him – and, if so, how they could do it.

And while everyone on the Danish/Swedish coproduction was forced to deal with the emotional impact of Bodnia’s decision, there was also the practical issue of writing out the show’s leading man.

“Kim Bodnia decided to leave the show in April or May and we were shooting in September and had already done the first four scripts with a storyline with him still in it,” explains series creator and writer Hans Rosenfeldt, who is currently working on his first UK series, Marcella, for ITV.

The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén
The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén

“That was a huge problem for us. But it forced us to think about what The Bridge could be without Saga and Martin. It gave us really good energy and a feeling that we could use it as a chance to see what new situations we could put Saga in and what a new could partner give her that Martin didn’t, as well as seeing other sides of her and a new relationship.”

To ensure Saga’s new partner, Henrik Saboe (played by Thure Lindhardt), wasn’t immediately compared to Martin, the show’s creators decided to delay introducing him until the second episode – a tactic Rosenfeldt describes as “a blessing in disguise.”

“We got a lot of good things out of it,” he continues. “We’d already planned the third season to be very much about Saga because Martin had huge personal stories in seasons one and two. So before this, we decided season three should be very much about Saga, her history and her backstory as her mother comes back to haunt her.”

Sofia Helin, who stars as Swedish detective Saga, describes Bodia’s departure as “a hard and difficult process. But when we accepted that, it was a gift because suddenly I had my character. She had failed at being a girlfriend and failed at being a friend, so she’s almost alone, and I could use that so much to put her in a very vulnerable place. Now I see it as a gift. It also gave us new energy. Suddenly we were on our toes. It was good.”

Launched in 2011 on Denmark’s DR and Sweden’s SVT, The Bridge opened with a body found on the Øresund Bridge, exactly on the border between Copenhagen and Malmö that links the two countries. Norén and Rohde were subsequently paired up to solve the case, a relationship that continued into season two, which aired in late-2013.

The-Bridge-s3-7
The third season follows detective Norén leading a new murder investigation

Following Bodnia’s decision to leave, the writers opted to leave Rohde languishing in prison at the beginning of season three as Norén teams up with a partner to solve a new spate of chilling murders after a Danish woman is found murdered on a Malmö construction site.

“It is a good place to start if you’ve never seen it before; you could easily start with season three,” says Rosenfeldt. “You quickly understand where Saga is, you don’t need the backstory, you don’t need to have seen Martin and she will get a new partner and things will develop from there. We don’t look back much. Season two was much more dependent on season one than this one is (on season two).”

One thing that does continue from previous seasons, however, is the show’s brooding visual style that mixes bleak landscapes with the often dark and grey skyline.

Producer Anders Landström says: “We’ve been working a lot with the style of the show. We started it on season one and have adjusted it over the series. Shooting in Scandinavia in the winter is very dark and grey so we go with that and try to do something really nice with it.”

Director Henrik Georgsson continues: “Our ideal time (to film) is November with no leaves on the trees. We don’t like anything that’s cute or picturesque. There’s no architecture from the 19th or early 20th century – only from 1930 onwards. It’s always glass, concrete or other hard materials.

“We try to make a cold world around the actors and characters. The visual world is very harsh and gloomy – in a good way, we think. We have a filming style; we don’t use wide angles close to the characters and a lot of the time we have things in the foreground and the camera is not high up, it’s always low. We think about it as if we’re doing cinema, not television, so we try to be cinematic. We try to make pictures for the screen rather than for the television.”

The-Bridge-s3-8
The Bridge is distributed by ZDF Enterprises, airing overseas on channels such as BBC4 in the UK

The new season also deals with contemporary themes and topics such as gender equality. One character is also a prominent video-blogger who records hate-filled rants in the opening episodes before being told her targets are later found dead.

Rosenfeldt says Scandinavian broadcasters demand these storylines outside the main plot. “It’s a requirement from our broadcasters that we should have something called the second story,” he explains. “When we pitch it, we say ‘this is what happens to our characters, this is the plot,’ but then they also want to know why it should be shown in 2015 and not five years ago or five years from now. And you always have to have an answer for that, which is good because it makes it very contemporary.”

With distributor ZDF Enterprises sending the series around the world, including to the UK where BBC4 launched season three this month, The Bridge is a bonafide international hit. But what’s behind its global appeal?

“We’re quite fortunate that we have done good stuff for a while and the rest of the world has caught up to us doing it,” Rosenfeldt says. “We have a long tradition of crime storytelling, both in books and films. We are and have been very good with characters. Plotting is the easy part of a crime show; it’s the characters you carry with you after the show and we’re quite good at creating compelling characters in Sweden and Denmark.

“I also think we are looked upon as a little eccentric. We don’t have curtains for our windows. Saga is quite free about her sex life, there’s her leather trousers, her Porsche. Maybe this isn’t so much the case in England, but I know that in Germany they love our crime shows and novels because there’s an image of us as the perfect society from the 1960s and 1970s where social security works perfectly and no one has to suffer. But those crime series show us that’s not really true. It’s another side of the story. It’s not the elks and small houses and everybody’s not jumping along singing happy tunes. It’s not Pippy Longstocking.”

Indeed, Cassian Harrison, channel editor of BBC4, says The Bridge is one of the most successful foreign-language series ever to appear on the channel.

The-Bridge-s3-9
It is not yet known if the series will get a fourth run

“It’s an incredibly successful drama series worldwide and has done incredibly well for us here in the UK as well,” he says. “We’re incredibly proud of The Bridge and of being able to show it on BBC4. It’s a series on which we are only but one of many partners – (the others being) Filmlance International, Nimbus and ZDF.

“The Bridge is one of the most successful foreign-language dramas we’ve had on BBC4 and it’s been one of the real unique calling cards of the channel. Since 2006 when we started to run foreign-language dramas, particularly on Saturday nights, we’ve had some brilliant properties – Arne Dahl, The Young Montalbano, Hostages, 1864, The Bridge. Next year we’ve got some stunning new series, including a really brilliant thriller from Iceland.”

So can fans look forward to crossing The Bridge once again for a fourth season? Rosenfeldt says this has not yet been confirmed but believes the show can run and run.

“We can go on as long as we think we can do slightly better than or as good as the last season,” he says. “So we have to come up with stories worth telling and find the best way of telling them. From my point of view, we can do it for as long as it feels fun.”

A fourth outing is also likely to depend on Helin’s commitment to the show. “I have a hard time seeing The Bridge without Saga,” Rosenfeldt adds. “We managed to stay alive losing one of our main characters. I think it would be very hard to lose the other one as well.”

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The only way is unscripted: Tony Wood pushes the boundaries

The Only Way Is Essex co-creator Tony Wood tells Michael Pickard how he tries to push the boundaries of drama, with or without a script.

Tony Wood has always created TV programmes with stories. A former producer of long-running UK soaps Coronation Street and Hollyoaks, he’s well versed in combining multiple characters with interwoven plots to create maximum drama.

But now he’s doing it without the script.

Wood was integral to the development of ITV unscripted drama The Only Way is Essex (Towie, main image) – and his latest series, Desi Rascals, is currently airing its second season on Sky1.

Tony Wood: 'There are plenty of different ways of unlocking stories and it doesn’t mean one is any more valid than another'
Tony Wood: ‘There are plenty of different ways of unlocking stories and it doesn’t mean one is any more valid than another’

The show, which Wood created with Gurinder Chadha, follows the real-life drama of a group of multi-generational British Asians. The cast also interacts with fans in real time on social media, with each episode incorporating their online reactions to the events on screen.

Wood says his desire to create the TV equivalent of a social media network was the impulse behind both Towie and Desi Rascals.

“I was also becoming increasingly interested in how people react in an unmediated way when you confront them with circumstance,” he explains. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought Desi was a world we didn’t see on British TV. So Gurinder and I collided into the idea that we should just put a camera on this community and post-produce it in quite an intrusive way, and play it back to them and see how they react. That was the general notion.

“Beyond that was the sense of looking at the black and minority ethnic (BME) debate that exists. People weren’t really giving BME communities a chance to tell their own stories. So at the heart of Desi is the fact that we ask them what they want to do, we don’t tell them what to do, so you end up engaged in a different cultural debate.”

For the ongoing second season of Desi Rascals, filming for all eight episodes is taking place across just four weeks, with each episode being shot in just three days. As the show is aired weekly, the producers and editors have plenty of time to build stories from their footage.

Wood says: “It’s important it’s for real, because I might as well make a (scripted) drama if it isn’t for real. It would be better performed. But then in the edit suite you take a dramatist’s eye to it and you start to make properly subjective editorial decisions. You take a partisan view on who’s driving a scene or who’s the most interesting person.

“Unlike a scripted piece where you have a clear focus, frequently in these shows you might have 30 minutes’ worth of material that you’ll reduce to two or three minutes, so you have to get a sense of what happened and then of how people felt about what happened.”

Desi Rascals is currently airing on Sky1
Desi Rascals is currently airing on Sky1

Ex-Lime Pictures creative director Wood fell into unscripted programming when he was asked to create a UK version of hit US series Laguna Beach for MTV. He then partnered with All3Media’s Ruth Wrigley, who worked on the first three seasons of Big Brother, to create Towie.

Wood says that beyond the chance to work with non-actors – an opportunity he found “really exciting” – he was also becoming more interested in the changing form of television.

“For a lot of my career, I’ve felt we’ve been too straitjacketed by not being able to have a conversation about form, so it became an exciting proposition,” he says.

“Towie was interesting to do because we wanted something where you weren’t quite sure (what it was). All the pre-publicity said it was real but we very deliberately post-produced it in a way that made you feel it couldn’t possibly be real.

“Running through the whole thing was a series of contradictions and paradoxes. That was partly to lock into the Twitter generation, where marketing had shifted. You were no longer telling the maximum number of people ‘this is great.’ Essentially, you’re starting a fight. You’re telling viewers one thing, making it look like another, and then you’re creating a debate that causes them all to gain a sense of ownership of their point of view, before getting them to look again more deeply. That was the intention. It was great that people didn’t quite know what to make of it, that was deliberate.”

But does unscripted drama sit alongside its scripted counterpart, or should this emerging genre be held at arm’s length? Wood says the two can exist side by side, and again suggests TV drama has been stuck in a rigid structure for too long.

“I think it sits quite comfortably with scripted drama. Whether that’s the case for the broadcasters yet remains to be seen,” he says. “It sits comfortably because it’s all about telling stories, and if there are tales to be told that might be psychologically interesting, even in their trashiness, I think that has value.

“There are plenty of different ways of unlocking stories and it doesn’t mean one is any more valid than another. It’s just that we’re locked into traditional structures of how we’ve told stories and we’re snobbish about it. Maybe we censor too much. They’re different types of programming but they’re all television.”

Wood also believes unscripted drama has been wrongly tarred by its most successful series’ reputations for being brash and tacky.

“I think there’s a real misconception of what this is as a genre because only Towie and Made in Chelsea have properly flourished,” he says. “All we’re really doing is confronting an individual with a set of circumstances, seeing how they react and using a drama style edit to augment emotion. It’s as simple as that. We’ve been painted into a corner by the success of a couple of brands.”

Returning to his notion of TV programmes as social networks, Wood predicts that unscripted drama will “expand massively” as online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube branch further into original programming.

“Any show that operates in the way ours have should sit somewhere with social networks so I wonder if they will flourish on the conventional, traditional broadcasters,” he says. “I guess it’s a commercial decision for them, but anything that converges those screens properly has got a massive future.”

Wood is working on Marcella with Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge (pictured)
Wood is working on Marcella with Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge (pictured)

Wood hasn’t completely shed his scripted roots, however. In 2013, he partnered with Cineflix Media to launch Buccaneer Media, which aims to produce scripted programming for broadcasters worldwide.

Then in June this year, ITV and Buccaneer announced new crime drama Marcella, which is written by Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge).

Described as a Scandinavian noir set in London, Marcella follows the eponymous police detective returning to work after a 12-year career break during which she got married and raised a family. But with her marriage at an end and her daughter away at boarding school, she must overcome the challenges in her personal life to deal with a spate of killings that echo a number of unsolved murders committed a decade earlier.

Wood executive produces the eight-part series with Rosenfeldt and co-creator Nicola Larder.

“It’s going well,” Wood says of the show, which is still in the writing stage. “We’ve had five different writers room weeks with Hans and it’s been a real joy to create the plot and colour in the characters after that.

“As with all the Scandi shows, it’s an incredibly full plot. In the past 10 years we’ve undersold narrative in British TV drama a little bit, so to sit there with a master storyteller, and for us to try to work out the narrative in such intense detail, has just been brilliant and a real lesson. You realise The Bridge was not an accident.

“Hans is quite brilliant. With every draft that comes in, the level of detail – sometimes that you haven’t discussed with him – is just extraordinary. It’s interesting because he writes the plot and characters emerge through it.

“With someone like Saga in The Bridge, for example, you can see how she emerged in that process. Watching our characters emerge, I can see that Hans writes the story so he feels secure in what he’s telling. With every draft the characters become more intense and surprising. I can see how he got to a character as dynamic as Saga.”

When it comes to drama, it’s clear Wood is constantly looking to push the boundaries and structures of television, with or without a script.

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Building on The Bridge: Filmlance’s Lars Blomgren on Nordic drama

As the third, ‘best yet’ season of international smash hit The Bridge approaches, Lars Blomgren of coproducer Filmlance explains why the Nordic drama has travelled so well, and reveals the other upcoming dramas on his firm’s slate.

On air in more than 150 countries and providing the inspiration for two international adaptations, it’s hard to deny the impact Nordic noir thriller The Bridge (aka Bron/Broen, pictured above) has had on television screens around the world.

So when the series’ executive producer says the forthcoming third season is the best yet, plenty of viewers are bound to get very excited.

A third season of The Bridge is on the way
A third season of The Bridge is on the way

The Swedish/Danish coproduction, created by Hans Rosenfeldt, saw detectives from both countries unite to solve a grisly murder after the discovery of a body on the Øresund Bridge, which connects the two nations.

Produced by Sweden’s Filmlance and Denmark’s Nimbus Film, it first aired on Denmark’s DR and SVT in Sweden in 2011, and its sequel followed in 2013.

This autumn, viewers can look forward to the third instalment. Plot details are a closely guarded secret, but Filmlance MD Lars Blomgren says there is plenty to be excited about.

“When I look at the third season of The Bridge, it’s just brilliant,” he says. “It’s the best season ever. In the first two seasons of The Bridge, you saw things from (Danish detective) Martin’s side. We changed it for the third season and had the focus on (Swedish cop) Saga.

“Sofia Helin (who plays Saga) is giving the performance of a lifetime. It’s one of the best performances I have ever seen.

“We have always tried to keep a balance between how complicated the case is and keeping the audience’s attention. The producers and writer Hans Rosenfeldt are a fantastic team.”

The international success of The Bridge led to two remakes – The Bridge on US cable network FX, which transplants the action to the US-Mexico border, and The Tunnel, a UK/French coproduction that centres on the Channel Tunnel.

The former was cancelled last year after two seasons, while The Tunnel is set to return for a second season – called The Tunnel: Debris – in early in 2016 on Sky Atlantic and Canal+.

Blomgren says the new run of The Tunnel “looks brilliant. I’m really happy and proud.” However, he is disappointed that the US remake didn’t get another season.

“One of the best things about the show was they made a late decision to switch the location of the story from the Canada-US border to the Mexico-US border,” he explains. “It took their show in a completely different direction to ours and it meant they didn’t really compete with us. It was one of the few shows in the US that was politically relevant. I think they were really close to picking up a third season.

Filmlance is currently producing the latest instalment in the Arne Dahl series
Filmlance is currently producing the latest instalment in the Arne Dahl series

“The Bridge is the perfect remake model. I’m not in favour of cross-border series because often there’s less depth to the story. But if you take two neighbours, you will always be in conflict and have close relationships. Wherever you put this, it could work. There’s room for a Hispanic version – the question is where you make it.”

With competition for scripted hits more fierce than ever, dramas are being seen as the way to build a brand. And the cheapest way to do this is with returning series. No wonder, then, that with four returning dramas on its slate in 2015, it’s been an “unprecedented” year at Filmlance.

As well as The Bridge, the Stockholm-based company is also back with Beck, its long-running TV movie franchise based on the detective novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

Filmlance is also producing season five of Morden i Sandhamn (aka Murder in Sandhamn), the TV4 crime drama based on the books by Viveca Sten and described as “Midsomer Murders on an archipelago,” as well as the latest instalment in the Arne Dahl series, another crime adaptation.

“It’s easier to get a second season than a new series on air,” says Blomgren. “All over the world, with binge-watching and changing consumer habits, it’s almost like the audience doesn’t want to commit to a new series unless there’s a second season.

“Follow-up seasons are becoming more important and it takes time to build a brand. If they’re good, you fall in love with the characters and want to hang out with them more. Currently, it’s so much more difficult to start from scratch and create a new universe. With The Bridge, it’s easier to talk about the reasons for changes in the new season than talk about something completely new. You can do major changes and still retain the same level of quality.”

Will there be a fourth season of The Bridge? “I think there’s going to be more,” Blomgren says. “If you look at the Scandinavian market, there’s a lot of talk about Scandi noir, but the most expensive stuff travels. I don’t think any broadcaster would say ‘we don’t want to do more than three seasons.’ As long as you can keep the same quality and keep the same passion, then I think it’s fine.”

One new series on the books at Filmlance is Spring Tide (aka Springfloden), which began production last month. Based on the opening novel in a new trilogy penned by Arne Dahl writers Rolf Börjlind and Cilla Börjlind, the first 10×45’ series will air on SVT in March 2016. The other titles, Den tredje rösten (The Third Voice) and Svart gryning (Black Dawn), will also be adapted for television, Blomgren says.

He adds: “80% of primetime television is local now – high-end drama that’s local. That’s the thing that travels too.

“It’s very difficult for new scripted projects to break out as it’s easier to order another season. Some countries also prefer to adapt. They see scripted formats as the same as entertainment formats.

“It’s a great time for drama. People are also opening up to subtitles. We have to be grateful to The Killing (aka Danish crime drama Forbrydelsen). Without it, there’s no The Bridge.”

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