Tag Archives: Jarmo Lampela

Welcome to Paradise

Nordic noir collides with the sunny Mediterranean in Finnish-Spanish drama Paratiisi (The Paradise), a crime series inspired by a community of Finns living on the Costa del Sol.

The story of how Fuengirola, a town on Spain’s sun-soaked Costa del Sol, became home to a vibrant Finnish community begins with the 1976 Olympics. Looking for a warm weather destination to prepare for the event during the cold and dark winter months, Finnish athletes began training there – and in the subsequent years, thousands of their compatriots followed in their footsteps.

Riitta Havukainen plays veteran police detective Hilkka Mäntämäki

In this corner of southern Europe, one area of Fuengirola, Los Pacos, is now home to a Finnish school, shops and roads, with signs in both Finnish and Spanish. It also provides the perfect backdrop to a new drama set in this unique neighbourhood.

Paratiisi (The Paradise) introduces 60-year-old police officer Hilkka Mäntämäki (played by Riitta Havukainen), a senior criminal investigator from Oulu who travels to Spain to investigate the disappearance of a Finnish family. At home she is struggling to cope with her husband, Aarne, who is suffering from dementia, so the opportunity to travel gives her a chance to escape her problems. But following a spate of crimes, she becomes drawn into solving them alongside the Spanish police and soon discovers a connection with Detective Andrés Villanueva (Fran Perea).

Ran Tellem

Jarmo Lampela, head of drama at Finnish broadcaster YLE, and David Troncoso, formerly an exec at Spain’s Mediapro Studio, were thinking of creating a story involving Finland and Spain when they discovered Fuengirola and thought it would be the ideal setting for a drama, bringing together the best elements of Nordic noir and the Mediterranean. Writer Matti Laine, Lampela and Ran Tellem, head of international content development at Mediapro Studio, then spent time in Spain to discover what that story might be.

“We had two really interesting visits when we first started,” Tellem recalls. “First we went to see the head of police and we asked them, ‘Is there anything happening in Fuengirola with the Finnish community?’ He says, ‘Yeah, there’s lots of problems. There is drinking problems, drugs, violence.’ Then we went to meet the woman in charge of the local Finnish newspaper. We told her we heard there’s lots of problems but she says, ‘No, it’s paradise.’

“So that was the beginning of a story that talks about a very unique community. It’s almost like a little Finland in a place that doesn’t look like Finland and that has completely different temperature, not just weather wise but also in the way that people act and interact.”

From early on, themes of memory became a thread through the drama, from Aarne’s memory loss to the question of when you move to a new country, what do you take with you or leave behind. What do you try to forget?

Director Marja Pyykkö on set

“It’s the metaphor of the whole show – a person trying to cling to his memories, but they’re fading away,” Tellem says. “All of us that have ageing fathers and mothers can relate to that. The origin of the story, for me, it resembled what the kibbutz is in Israel: a very small, closed community where horrible things can happen, and nobody knows what’s happening. That’s why the story connected really well because that little community was also the little community in a small town in northern Finland. This is where the story came from.”

After several writing conferences, Laine wrote the scripts first in English and then, when they were locked down, they were translated into Finnish and Spanish. Part of the series also uses English as a common language between Hilkka and Fran.

“It was really interesting when we had our first meeting in Malaga,” Laine says. “I had never met Ran or David and I was so totally nervous about how it was going to work. I couldn’t eat. It was amazing, because after two hours, we were all working together. We did a lot of drafts and Ran especially gave me feedback all the time which made my work much easier.”

Matti Laine

The backdrop provides an interesting culture clash, something that also drew director Marja Pyykkö to the project. “All of us who live in the northern countries, there’s a little Spanish person living inside of us,” she jokes. “What was really special was the mixture of languages, but also a mixture of rhythm. There’s a cliche about the Spanish – hot tempered, fast-speaking people – and the calm Finnish people, but there are so many similarities you can find within the story.”

Pyykkö, who speaks Spanish, joined early in development so was able to offer notes and feedback to during the writing process. “I’ve done some crime stuff before, but really what’s in my interest is the character lines, to really be able to follow them emotionally,” says the director, whose credits include Finnish series Hooked and Onnela. “It was easy to find who Hilkka is but I also spent some time in Spain trying to find Andrés’ character, like why is he a policeman? What happened to him? Hilkka’s husband is fighting to hang on to his memories but then Andrés is fighting to forget something.

“To be able to rehearse [with the actors] was also very nice. We had time, first in Finland with the Finnish cast, then in Spain and then with a mixture rehearsing and going through the text, so that we really understood what we’re doing.”

At the centre of the story is Hilkka, who might ordinarily be an outsider in a foreign country but finds herself in somewhat familiar territory, surrounded by other Finns living on the other side of Europe.

Fran Perea, star of Los Serrano, as Detective Andrés Villanueva

“She’s struggling with family life. She really loves her work but it’s obviously taking too much of her time from her grown-up daughter and her husband and then she still has a flame inside her – she’s really energetic and there is a drive in her,” Pyykkö says.

Tellem continues: “There’s a lot of pain because we’re telling a story that isn’t told very often. We tell many stories about falling in love but we rarely tell a story where you untie your love, but not because you’ve fallen out of love but because that person is no longer the person you’re in love with.

“In the beginning of the story, Hilkka has left her career to take care of her husband, and she does that with a lot of respect and a lot of love and she knows it is her role. But after this becomes harder and harder and sometimes violent, she needs to make a decision, whether she is going to be her husband’s nurse or herself. It’s such a hard dilemma. It’s so painful but she has to go through that. That’s also the moment she’s coming back to life. It’s a dramatic tragedy, letting go. But in order to keep living, she has to do that.”

Paratiisi is set in the Finnish community on the Costa del Sol

Havukainen (Fakta homma, Harjunpää ja heimolaiset) was cast as Hilkka from the start, with Tellem and Laine immediately set on the actor. For the part of Andrés, a poster in Madrid of long-running Spanish series Los Serrano reminded Laine of the programme he watched as a teenager, in which Perea played Marcos Serrano Moreno, the writer’s “hero.”

“So I thought, ‘Where is Fran Perea these days?’” he says.

Perea, it transpired, has been a regular fixture on television since Los Serrano, a family drama that ended in 2008. But working on The Paradise was “one of the best experiences I have had,” the actor says, “because every day you had a challenge in front of you and you had to fight with that. It’s the best job you can have as an actor, because if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have work.”

Rehearsals, which he says are uncommon in Spain, were hugely valued because “we went through the whole season line by line, making little changes. When we were at the set, you only had to act and to enjoy. There was a lot of humour on set and in the show.”

The story sees detectives Andrés Villanueva and Hilkka Mäntämäki form a bond

While Hilkka is coming to terms with her husband’s health issues, Andrés is also struggling with a loss of his own. This means that despite their differences in age and culture, they are able to comfort each other, leading to friendship and a love affair.

“It’s a more mature relationship,” says Tellem. “Usually what we see in TV series is infatuation, where people push each other to the wall and take their clothes off but in real life, it’s much more complicated. Especially when you have many things happening in your life.”

Production was handled by Finland’s Matila Röhr Productions (MRP), with CEO and producer Marco Röhr admitting he was surprised how well the combined Finnish and Spanish crew worked together.

Marco Röhr

“We were using the Finnish way of working and we had really good crews in Spain and people adapted,” he says. “But of course, it’s all to do with the production management and the director. If they can run the show, I don’t see much of a difference working in Fuengirola or in Utsjoki, which is the most northern part of Finland. The whole show was so well prepared that actually, for us, it was quite easy.”

Working for YLE, with Laine providing the voice of the series and Pyykkö taking charge on set, meant there were also clear leaders at every step.

“It’s not a challenge working in two different countries because you’re working for a channel,” Tellem explains. “You have to accept they take the calls. It’s very clear you are working for somebody and you need to make the show the way they like it. There’s always an open discussion. You can always say what you want, you can always have an argument, you can always have a discussion. Then, at the last moment, they take the decision but you know your voice is heard.”

Suvi Mansnerus, a producer for YLE, says: “There were three partners [YLE, Mediapro Studio and MRP] and we had trust and commitment between us. Every time we were talking about the series we were on the same side and we had the same goal. So it was very clear for all of us what we are doing. Maybe there’s something about Finnish humour. Maybe some of us know about ‘Finnish weird’ and mostly we talk about it in comedies, but I think there’s some Finnish weird in The Paradise, and that comes from the comedy that Matti and Marja have put in the show.”

With YLE airing the series in Finland, Orange TV will carry it in Spain under the title Kosta. It’s a premise that could see the show return for several seasons – season two is in development though not formally confirmed – but one that also has the potential for worldwide remakes, set among ex-pats who create a slice of home in a new country.

“I definitely think they are many, many more stories that can be told,” Tellem concludes. “The Paradise is also a format. There are many communities like this around the world and we would love to tell their stories.”

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Diplomacy rules

The true story of a heroic diplomat’s actions in the face of General Pinochet’s Chilean revolution forms the bases for Finnish period drama Invisible Heroes. Writer Tarja Kylmä and YLE executive Liselott Forsman tell DQ about developing the series.

If the challenge for television executives in today’s crowded drama landscape is to find local stories that have the potential to resonate with international audiences, Finnish public broadcaster YLE is leading the way.

Currently in production is The Paradise, a crime drama set among the ex-pat Finnish community living in the Spanish town of Fuengirola, dubbed the Finnish capital of Spain. It is due to air on YLE this autumn.

Invisible Heroes is set in the middle of the Pinochet revolution in Chile

Before then, the network has earmarked a spring launch for Invisible Heroes, a political thriller set in Chile during General Pinochet’s military coup in 1973.

Inspired by true events, the story follows the remarkable exploits of Finnish diplomat Tapani Brotherus who, while working in secret, helped secure asylum in Europe for more than 2,000 Chilean citizens whose lives were under threat.

The cast is led by Pelle Heikkilä who stars as Brotherus, Ilkka Villi as fellow diplomat Ilkka Jaamala and Sophia Heikkilä as Lysa Brotherus. Mikael Persbrandt plays Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam, while Chilean actor Cristian Carvajal and Germany’s Sönke Möhring also appear.

It’s based on a story that was “hidden for 35 years,” says Finnish screenwriter Tarja Kylmä, until a documentary about Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam gave some clues to Brotherus’ actions. A book was then published about him in 2010, which caught the interest of YLE’s head of drama Jarmo Lampela.

“One day when I was cleaning snow out of my garden and he [Lampela] just arrived with a book and said, ‘Read this, it’s wonderful. If you like it you can write it,’” Kylmä recalls, speaking to DQ at Série Series in France last year. “I read it and it’s a wonderful story. I did some interviews and found some more interesting material that was not in the book, about this great love story between two youngsters, and then I started writing.”

Owing to the source material, the story was the perfect coproduction opportunity. Finland’s Kaiho Republic partnered with Parox in Chile, with YLE commissioning the drama in association with Chilevisión. Kylmä was also paired with a Chilean writer, Manuela Infante, who was able to help with research and add an authentic Chilean voice to the story, which mostly takes place in the South American country.

“I’m the main writer so I made the big decisions about the characters, but we did have different layers because she was writing the Chilean approach and I was writing the Finns and they had to meet all the time, so it was a very good collaboration,” Kylmä says. “I loved it. Manuela’s a theatre writer so she loved the very close collaboration.”

YLE’s head of drama Jarmo Lampela and writer Tarja Kylmä

The screenwriter travelled to Chile to outline the series with Infante in November 2017, discussing the central character of Brotherus and the decisions that led to actions. She describes him as an idealistic diplomat who heads to the capital, Santiago, to make trade deals. But when the coup begins, he has to make a quick decision about whether to help hundreds of refugees escape the country, eventually securing them safe passage to Finland and East Germany while acting against Finnish policy.

“He’s told to send them away so he has to do it illegally. He might lose his job doing that so it’s a story about finding your voice and finding the courage in yourself,” Kylmä says. “After keeping them hidden from his government and Pinochet’s military forces, there’s another problem because what is he doing if he’s sending them safely to Europe? Is he making the resistance weaker? So there’s a dilemma in those people leaving. What is he doing to this country if he’s hiding them and sending them away? So it’s this battle inside him, while he’s also trying to protect his family from harm.”

The six-part series, which has been picked up for international distribution by Stockholm-based Eccho Rights, never strays far from the truth. In fact, the names of the characters are the names of real diplomats, many of whom had the chance to read the scripts. But as you might expect with any television drama, there are some fictional moments woven into the story. Kylmä says that after she completed her research, the real people involved became her characters to play with. “It has to be drama driven and not fact driven,” she notes. “It’s difficult [for the real people] when you know the wall wasn’t blue or something, but they accept it.”

Invisible Heroes is another entry into the increasingly popular trend for factual drama, alongside series such as Tokyo Trial, The Interrogation of Tony Martin and A Very English Scandal.

“It’s very important because we’re talking about refugees here and how to accept them in our country,” say Kylmä, noting the topicality of the subject. “It’s a problem for all of Europe, and suddenly we have something like this that happened in the 1970s. It’s the problems we are facing now. It’s a great trend because we can have distance but still wonder, ‘How would I have reacted in that situation? How could I have helped?’ We can face the questions in the present tense in drama.”

The period drama centres on Finnish diplomat Tapani Brotherus

The writing process took 18 months, beginning in January 2017. “It was fast. I researched and wrote, we made the outlines together [with Infante] and last spring was all out writing,” she continues. “This is like a film in six parts. I felt my role was a typical screenwriter. We cooperated with the directors — Mika Kurvinen and Alicia Scherson — and when filming started, we handed the baton to them.”

It was during trips to Chile that Kylmä was able to visit all the real locations featured in the story and grasp the mood of the country in the 1970s. There was also daily communication between Kylmä, Infante and producer Leonora González, who read scripts and gave notes. “With the time difference, you’re working two shifts because I work morning and afternoon in Finland and then the day starts in Chile and they start sending questions,” she reveals. “When I wake up in the morning there are more questions. The DOP is Finnish and the main director but the rest of the team is Chilean. So the director has been meeting them so he knows what’s going on.”

Scriptwriting also took more time as the story features dialogue in Finnish, Spanish, Swedish and German. Kylmä wrote in Finnish, Infante wrote in Spanish and then translations were made from one to another. Then the dialogue was edited to include all languages. “We have to be honest to the language they used. They didn’t speak English in 1973 Chile,” the writer adds.

Liselott Forsman, YLE’s executive producer of international projects, comes from a background of coproductions, having worked for the Swedish arm of YLE for many years. “We coproduced everything because we had such a small budget,” she says. “But it was very easy because the Nordics were there, and also with the Baltic countries we had natural European coproduction partners.”

But when she moved to the network’s Finnish department almost six years ago, “people told me it’s not possible to coproduce in Finnish. It’s easy when you’re Swedish. Then Danish dramas started to air in countries that had never heard the Danish language before,” she says. “That was really nice. Everything was getting more international, so in the past five years it has really been a booming thing. It would have been much more difficult [to make Invisible Heroes] five years ago but now it’s exactly what everyone wants to do.”

The drama was copoduced by Finland’s Kaiho Republic and Parox in Chile

Forsman says YLE’s Lampela, who speaks Spanish, was keen to find a Spanish-language project, while Parox proved to be an exciting partner, owing to the advancing television production cultures in both Chile and Finland.

“Of course there are language problems but nothing major,” she says of production. “Things have changed in Latin America, and one thing is the acting. Usually in melodramas, the acting was very different, it was not as naturalistic as we are used to in the Nordics. Now when you put actors from two cultures together you have to find the right way.”

Liisa Penttilä-Asikainen, executive producer at Kaiho Republic, adds: “Creating a series with such a global cast, and production teams from countries as different as Finland and Chile of course had its challenges. But the amazing story that we are telling brought everyone together and the input of such a culturally diverse creative group really aided us in bringing this extraordinary series of events back to life.”

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