Tag Archives: Modus

Pitch black

Swedish noir Modus is back for a second season, with a cast that now includes Kim Cattrall as the US president. DQ visits the Stockholm set to find out why this drama has global appeal.

TV drama doesn’t get any more glamorous than this. We are crouching in Stygian semi-darkness beside the monitor in a dingy corridor at the Swedish Defence Ministry in Stockholm. We can barely see our hands in front of our faces.

To add to the sense of doom and gloom, the windows are blacked out. Suddenly, with no warning, out of the gloaming come marching two very scary-looking, thickset heavies in smart suits wielding machine guns. They are clearly not here to sing Happy Birthday to anyone.

Unsurprisingly, this is the set of a Nordic noir offering – and this one is literally noir.

Melinda Kinnaman and Henrik Norlén return to lead the cast

Ever since the magnetic Danish crime story Forbrydelsen (The Killing) broke through internationally, winning a Bafta in the UK in 2011, and was immediately followed by the overseas success of series such as Borgen, The Bridge, Beck and the Swedish version of Wallander, Scandi dramas have been drawing huge and passionate audiences everywhere.

DQ is in Stockholm observing the filming of the newest such series to make waves globally. We are watching the white-knuckle denouement of the second season of Swedish drama Modus. Broadcast last year, the first season made a major impact around the world.

Its co-star Henrik Norlen, who has also appeared in such well-regarded Scandi dramas as Beck, Stockholm East, My Skinny Sister and Hotel, takes a break between scenes of this intense series to consider why Nordic noir has struck such an international chord.

“I think it’s because there is a lot going on behind these characters. They’re not just policeman or criminal profilers – they are also people. They have great depth.

“You get to go inside their head and see what they’re thinking. These dramas are also a bit darker than British or American series. It is a tradition in Nordic countries of telling stories that are dark, mystic and pagan.

“People from all over the world used to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means Abba and Volvo.’ Now they come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means The Killing, The Bridge and Modus.’ Of course, Modus is better than all of them!”

In the second season of Modus the leading duo are an item

Tobias Åström, the line producer on Modus, chips in: “In the past at television trade fairs, the only thing people wanted to see at the Swedish stall was what meatballs we had. Now they come up and ask, ‘What programme can you give me?’”

The second season of Modus is an eight-part adaptation by the Emmy-winning Danish screenwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe of Madam President, the novel by the bestselling Norwegian crime author (and former Minister of Justice) Anne Holt.

Holt’s work coheres with the sepulchral prevailing mood of Nordic Noir. As the British crime writer Val McDermid has observed, “Anne Holt is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.”

In this gripping season, intuitive Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik (played by Melinda Kinnaman, My Life as a Dog) and compassionate detective Chief Ingvar Nymann (Norlén), both returning from season one, are now an item.

But the pair, who made a big splash when they first appeared together in the widely acclaimed first season, have little time to enjoy their life together as they are immediately plunged into another life-or-death investigation. They have to scramble when the first ever female US President, Helen Tyler (Kim Cattrall, Sex & the City), is kidnapped during a state visit to Sweden.

As the US and Swedish authorities struggle to rescue the president and indulge in a bitter blame game, Inger is reluctantly forced to work closely with her former mentor, the Machiavellian FBI director Warren Schifford (Greg Wise, The Crown). When the details of their troubled shared past slowly start to emerge, Inger’s entire mental stability is put at risk.

Melinda Kinnaman returns as Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik

A coproduction from SVoD platform C More, TV4 Sweden, Miso Film Sweden and FremantleMedia International, the second season of Modus makes for a compelling tale of revenge, recrimination and retribution. It is due to premiere on C More later this year before airing on TV4.

British actor Wise is delighted to be dipping his toe into Nordic noir for the first time with Modus. He says what distinguishes this kind of piece is its willingness to treat its audience with respect. “What I’ve really enjoyed about working on this drama is the time spent developing the story and the characters,” he says.

“Very often, programme makers rush through their storytelling because they don’t trust the audience to get it. Things have to happen very fast – cut, cut, cut. Those productions imagine that we are the MTV generation and have memories like goldfish.”

But, continues the actor, who has also had leading roles in such memorable British dramas as Sense and Sensibility, The Outcast, Cranford and Madame Bovary, “viewers of Scandi dramas are really given time to invest in their relationship with the characters. They are allowed a proper glimpse into another world. It’s like the slow food revolution” – only in television.

International audiences are also attracted by the strangeness of the universe conjured up by shows such as Modus. Cecilia Bornebusch, the show’s production designer, comments: “It’s more exciting as a viewer if you don’t really understand what’s going on and you have to read between the lines. It’s more enticing than your own language because it seems exotic.

“Also, I think in Scandinavia we are very good at portraying relationships. We have never had great problems with war, so we have had other things to write about, like relationship difficulties. That’s in our blood.”

Like all the best Scandi dramas, Modus depicts a heightened world. Åström, who has also worked on The Bridge and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reflects: “As in fairytales, in Nordic noir you draw on things from the margins. Normal people are greyer than the characters in drama. So when you tell a story in a drama, you can make it more colourful than real life.”

But, he adds with a smile, “Of course, in reality Sweden is not that dangerous a place. It does not have a serial killer hiding in every bush. Have you ever been to Ystad, where Wallander is set? It’s so quiet in reality. If that drama were true, there would be no one left in that town!”

Modus also employs another of Scandinavia’s great resources: its pellucid natural light. Bornebusch observes: “The Nordic light is wonderful. The light in Southern Europe is earthier, whereas we are influenced by the snow and the winter. It’s always so dark here – that’s why we like bright colours.”

In addition, the drama makes tremendous use of its Swedish backdrops. Wise remarks: “One of the really appealing things about Modus is that it shows the world how beautiful Stockholm is. It’s a stunning city. But it’s also a place full of secret tunnels that people have forgotten about.”

The city’s duality mirrors a key theme in this season: the contrast between our private and public faces. Holt has written several more novels about Inger, and the production team are eager to make further series tracking this fascinating and complex character.

But, equally, they are well aware that the best way to maintain the audience’s interest is to keep Modus fresh.

“If we made another season,” Åström concludes, “we would want to make sure that we could add something to it. We wouldn’t want to just keep milking the same cow and producing the same milk.

“We would want to make a new flavour – like banana!”

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Super Swede

Swedish actor Alexandra Rapaport tells DQ about starring in long-running crime drama Morden i Sandhamn and how she is enjoying being on both sides of the camera on returning thriller Gåsmamman.

Starring in three of Sweden’s biggest dramas, it’s no wonder Alexandra Rapaport has a schedule that befits one of Sweden’s most acclaimed actors.

She made her name in dramas such as Kronprinsessan (The Crown Princess) and Drottningoffret (Those In Power), and appeared in European crime drama The Team alongside Lars Mikkelsen.

But more recently she has been headlining crime series Morden i Sandhamn (The Sandhamn Murders), Modus and Gåsmamman.

The latter, which first aired on Discovery Networks Sweden’s flagship Kanal 5 in spring 2016, sees Rapaport play mother-of-three Sonja, who is drawn into the criminal underworld when she is forced to pay her murdered husband’s debt.

In the forthcoming second season, which debuts on February 2, Sonja and her family have secretly returned to Sweden after being on the run.

Gåsmamman’s second season debuts on Kanal 5 in Sweden next month

The 10-episode run also stars Tommy Körberg, Anja Lundqvist, Ivan Mathias Peterson, Grynet Molvig, Lisette Pagler, Shebly Niavarani and Ulf Friberg, plus new cast members Allan Svensson and Morgan Alling.

Set in Stockholm, it is directed by Richard Holm and produced by Birgitta Wännström for Endemol Sweden in coproduction with Discovery Networks Sweden and SVoD platform CMore. The writers are Camilla Ahlgren and Martin Asphaug.

The story is based on Dutch drama Penoza, which aired on NPO3 in the Netherlands for four seasons, and Rapaport immediately fell in love with the crime thriller after Wännström approached her with the idea of adapting it.

“It’s my baby,” says the actor. “The producer contacted me with this idea and we pitched it to Kanal 5 and got it. We found the best director and we started doing it.

“It’s a great show because it’s such a strong and powerful story. Everything happens really fast and it has a big drive forward every season. It’s a really good story.

“It has this big drama, crime, thrills and a lot of humour. You get a very warm feeling when you see it. Season one was a huge success and it got great reviews. It was so special for me.”

Rapaport also stars in crime series Morden i Sandhamn

Viewers were just as entranced by Gåsmamman as Rapaport, with the first episode breaking Kanal 5 records. Some 725,000 people tuned in, making it the highest-rated Swedish drama since Vänner & Fiender, which drew around 427,000 people in 1998.

But Rapport’s love of the show runs especially deep, as she is also an executive producer on the series.

“I love it,” she says, adding that work has already begun on a potential third season of the series. “I’m involved in casting, script writing and editing – everything in both seasons. I’m really putting my nose in everything and I love it. It’s the first time as an actor I’ve got to sit in different chairs at the same time. It’s really fulfilling. I want to use my knowledge. I like thinking about character and story, but I want to be in front of the camera, not directing.”

Last year was a busy one for the actor, filming season two of Gåsmamman at the same time as production began on four new films in the long-running Morden i Sandhamn series.

The detective drama, based on Viveca Sten’s series of novels of the same name, sees Rapaport play Nora Linde, a summer guest on the Stockholm archipelago of Sandhamn who partners with Detective Thomas Andreasson (Jakob Cedergren) to solve a number of grisly murders.

Rapaport (far right) poses with her fellow Modus cast and creative team

Filming is taking place in two blocks – first between August and October 2016 and then from May to June this year – and the new films will premiere first on CMore and then on TV4 in spring 2018.

The first two films are based on Sten’s novels I Maktens Skugga (In the Shadow of Power) and I Sanningens Namn (In the Name of Truth). The series is produced by Filmlance International, together with TV4, German broadcaster ZDF and distributor ZDF Enterprises.

“It’s really popular – people love it!” Rapaport enthuses. “In Denmark, Germany and Finland, it’s one of the biggest Nordic TV series. It’s crazy. Nordic Noir is now Scandi Blue Sky – it’s not raining!

“People like the characters, and the murder plots are scary but not creepy. It’s a family series because we have this expression, ‘cosy thriller.’ We always show the water and it’s a nice environment, the light and the summer. You can almost taste the salt from the ocean. It has a bit of everything. It’s the opposite of The Bridge – how it looks, smell and tastes.”

Morden i Sandham first aired in 2010, with the first five stories being split into three parts. Now the four latest instalments will play out as 90-minute films.

Rapaport jokes that she is nothing like the character she portrays in the books: “In the book she’s tall and blonde. I look exactly the opposite! People don’t mix us up. I’m doing my Nora and the book is a bit different and I just try to capture her personality. She is nosy but she’s a very nice, sensitive person. She’s nosy in a good way. My character in Gåsmamman is quite the opposite.

“It’s challenging to be that nice, calm and worthy. That’s not me at all! It’s really nice to come out here and live on this island. It’s an extended summer, even though I work hard.It’s a magical place to be. I love it.”

Teasing the new season, the actor says Nora’s will-they-won’t-they relationship with Thomas will deepen in the new run of films.

“We are certainly in love with each other but never get together. Maybe they will,” she teases. “They are soulmates. Everyone can see they fit together, but life pulls them in different directions. Are they going to get together or not? They are good friends as well. In this season, I have a new man and he’s jealous.”

Having established herself as one of Sweden’s leading actors and with a third season of Gåsmamman in the works, Rapaport’s future is as bright as the Sandhamn sunshine.

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The art of the twist

From Sophocles to Shakespeare and Agatha Christie to Arthur Conan Doyle, great thriller writers have distinguished themselves by their ability to shock and surprise audiences. It’s no different in the world of TV drama, where intriguing setups, sudden changes of direction and disguised denouements are key to keeping viewers engaged. We ask writers of recent hit shows how they hooked audiences and kept them off balance until the reveal.

The-Missing-s1-ep2-1The Missing
Jack Williams wrote the BBC1/Starz thriller The Missing alongside his brother, Harry. Across eight episodes, fans tried to work out the identity of the villain who snatched Tony Hughes’ son, Oliver.
Discussing their approach, Jack says: “For us it’s about not treating characters as villains – every character needs to be three-dimensional and have their own back stories. That way, no one stands out more than anyone else, making it possible for anyone to be the villain. And for us it’s often more important why someone did it, rather than who did it.”
Williams says he and his brother always try to “play fair” with their audience, but stresses it is important not to underestimate them: “Audiences are very smart, and assuming they won’t get something is always the first mistake. Assume your audience is smarter than you and then try your hardest to surprise them.”
However, he doesn’t believe it is necessary to have endless twists and turns to keep fans hooked: “As long as the characters and emotional journeys are compelling enough, that should carry you through. You have to earn every plot turn and twist – if we believe what the characters are doing, any twist is much more surprising.”
In The Missing, the story focuses on the possibility that Oliver has been taken by paedophiles, and maybe even exported as a child slave. In the end, though, it’s revealed he was the victim of a bizarre accident involving the owner of the hotel where he and his family had been staying.
“The hotel keeper wasn’t the most obvious villain – in all the newspaper polls, he was very low down on every list,” says Williams. “But eagle-eyed viewers had worked out that he shared a surname with the mayor Georges Deloix and started to realise around episode six he might be involved. What interested us about the hotel keeper is that he wasn’t an evil paedophile. He was a drunk and a coward who made a terrible mistake.”
Indeed, it is Tony’s deterioration that is the masterstroke of the story, meaning viewers didn’t over-obsess on the whodunnit resolution. “We always wanted all our characters to be interesting in their own right, and for the audience to care more about their journeys than the whodunnit. We liked the notion that everyone would immediately be hugely sympathetic to Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) – what he’s gone through is so awful and primal. But something like that would corrupt someone’s soul, and it was interesting for us to see how far that audience sympathy stayed with Tony as he went to darker and darker places.”
Asked about his favourite dramas, Williams picks out FX’s Fargo: “The first episode, when Martin Freeman’s character (Lester Nygaard) snaps and kills his wife with the hammer – it’s really well played and was very surprising. A brilliantly judged and executed moment.”

HumansHumans
Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley are the writers who adapted Swedish series Äkta Människor (Real Humans) for the English-speaking market. A hit for Channel 4 in the UK and US cable network AMC, the show imagines a world in which ordinary people own robot servants that look like attractive young humans (called Synths).
Thematically, the show explores what is means to be human. It also uses the Synth idea as a metaphor for issues like race and migration, analysing the way that mobs can come to distrust and abuse ‘the other.’
The plot centres on a small group of Synths capable of independent thought. The sentient Synths are pursued by a government agency that fears their potential. But there are other unexpected twists that take the story in different directions. For example, young policewoman Karen is revealed as one of the thinking Synths who regards herself as a freak experiment.
This, say Vincent and Brackley, is their favourite twist: “Karen’s reveal as a Synth is such an unexpected, odd and striking image. And (actress) Ruth Bradley’s performance is wonderful – very coolly shifting into eerie Synth mode.”
Finding out that Karen was a Synth was, however, only a partial reveal because her motive still wasn’t clear: “It provided mystery rather than conclusiveness. The fact she’s a Synth didn’t necessarily mean she was an antagonist, nor did the fact she was looking for the other Synths. It was only in the penultimate episode we finally found out what it meant to her and how she was going to react.”
Vincent and Brackley were in an interesting position because they were working with an existing format. They say: “We can’t take credit for several of the key twists in the show, as they were created by the brilliant Lars Lundstrom for the Swedish series. But we did a lot of moving around and additional reveals to keep the audience on their toes.
“We were also wary of trying to hang on to big twists and hooks for too long. It’s good to keep your powder dry for the finale, but it’s also good to blow some up at the beginning – and in the middle.”
The audience response has been hugely gratifying for the writers, but not just because of the plot: “What’s satisfying is that people seemed to be talking about artificial intelligence, technology and the future. We always wanted to spark debate and that was reflected in the show’s coverage in the media – there were lots of articles discussing moral and tech issues beyond the show’s content.”
In terms of twists from other shows, they say: “We remember watching
the first series of 24 together and being blown away when Nina Myers was revealed to be the mole and killing (main character) Jack Bauer’s wife. More recently, pretty much every death in Game of Thrones has had us on the edge of our seats. For a show that’s famous for the indiscriminate dispatching of characters, it’s amazing how they manage to make it a heart-stopping surprise every time they do.”

Modus-s1-2Modus
Modus is an eight-part thriller commissioned by Sweden’s TV4 from Miso Film. Based on books by crime author Anne Holt, the series is directed by Lise Siwe (The Bridge) and Mani Maserrat, and written by Emmy-winning Danish writers Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe.
The story centres on criminal psychologist and profiler Inger Johanne Vik and her detective partner. Vik is drawn into the investigation of a series of brutal murders in Stockholm after one of the killings is witnessed by her autistic daughter Stina. Vik discovers a connection between the case and a ruthless international network.
“Modus is about love and hate,” say co-writers Brostrøm and Thorsboe. “It is a dark, entangled contemporary tale about death and holy wrath.”
Brostrøm and Thorsboe are well-established writers, and for this reason have become wary of the genre’s cliches. For example, they try not to over-promise at the outset, despite the fact that producers often want a high-impact opening: “We try to hold back and not give away the story too quickly. There is always a risk for writers if they promise too much at the start of the story because it is difficult to keep on climbing towards the climax. In this case, the opening of the show involves a wedding, where we try to give the impression evil is coming, that something will happen.”
For similar reasons, Brostrøm and Thorsboe don’t over-emphasise the whodunnit or cliffhanger elements of the story. “We see this story more as a ‘whydunnit.’ This isn’t a story where everyone in the show could have done it… we wanted something with more realism. We learn the identity of the killer before the last episode but then explore the motives. This is a way of keeping the audience more involved in the structure of the story. They aren’t spending their whole time trying to guess the killer. We have questions at the end of each episode but not deadly cliffhangers.”
Having said this, they still feel all the usual pressures of trying to keep the audience on their toes: “You have to be like a magician, getting the audience to look at one hand as you do something with the other. There is a big twist near the end that we think will take the audience by surprise. Producers like to have twists.”
Writing a thriller based on existing novels has its own challenges, they admit. “On the whole it is not as hard as writing from scratch. But you have an obligation to the writer, the book and the fans, who you can’t cheat. At the same time, it needs to work for television. This story is actually drawn from three Holt novels.”
Brostrøm and Thorsboe add that there are advantages to working as a team: “We do a lot of talking about character and plot – we love to challenge each other and come up with ideas for crazy endings. In terms of how we work, there is always paper on the floor and the tables and pictures on the walls that help set the atmosphere.”

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ITV’s Endeavour pays off

Endeavour
Endeavour consistently attracts in excess of six millions viewers

Among the many different TV drama formats that exist on the international market, one that seems to work consistently well for the British TV audience is the feature-length story-of-the-week drama (circa 100 minutes) based around a recurring character. Examples over the years include Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, Cracker, Prime Suspect and Sherlock.

UK broadcasters don’t commission these shows in very big numbers, usually in batches of three to five on an annual basis. But the successful ones are so durable that, before you know it, there’s a huge library of episodes that can be repeated ad infinitum and sold to broadcasters around the world. Midsomer Murders, would you believe, now runs to 109 episodes, while Morse – starring the unforgettable John Thaw – racked up 33 episodes.

ITV’s Morse, of course, has given birth to a dynasty of dramas. After the initial series (based on the novels by Colin Dexter), ITV launched a franchise around his sidekick Lewis. And then it turned its attention to the adventures of the young Morse in series called Endeavour – written by Russell Lewis, whose many credits include Kavanagh QC, Sharpe, Hornblower and Marple.

When ITV first announced it was making a pilot of Endeavour in 2012, it would have been easy to complain about broadcaster risk-aversion. But the combination of Morse folklore and 1960s Oxford seemed a dead cert to succeed. And so it has proved – after attracting around 8.2 million viewers for the pilot, the first batch of four films in 2013 pulled in an average audience of around seven million.

Ratings have dipped slightly since then, but not enough to damage the franchise. In 2015, for example, the fourth series attracted an average of 6.3 million viewers and a 22% audience share – which is better than most dramas on British TV. So it’s no real surprise that ITV has just announced a new series will go into production in Spring 2016.

Commenting on the decision, ITV director of drama Steve November said: “We’re delighted with the audience’s reaction to Endeavour. It was an easy decision to recommission due to the quality of the scripts from Russell Lewis and the excellent production values from (producer Mammoth Screen).”

Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire’s performance in Happy Valley has won wide acclaim

While SVoD and pay TV platforms are currently in the golden age of drama experimentation, the success of Endeavour (when contrasted with ITV’s lacklustre ratings for Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands) is symptomatic of how difficult it is for mainstream commercial networks to be adventurous in their programming choices. This isn’t just an issue in the UK, but also in markets like the US, Germany and France, where there’s a clear difference in audience tastes between the established free networks and subscription TV.

Another positive point worth noting about Endeavour is that is distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVSGE). This means the show is a revenue generator twice over for ITV (unlike Downton Abbey, for example, which was distributed by NBC Universal).

Mammoth Screen’s involvement is also interesting. An ITV-owned production company, Mammoth Screen has developed the kind of track record that would make it very tempting to back if it were a horse. Aside from Endeavour, it has also made Poldark, And Then There Were None and Black Work in recent times. All of that must make ITV feel pretty confident about the prospects for upcoming series Victoria – also produced by Mammoth Screen.

Still in the UK, this week saw the return of Happy Valley, from Red Production for BBC1 and written by Sally Wainwright. The first series is widely regarded as one of the best British dramas of the last few years – so there was some anxiety that the second series might prove to be a let down. However, the new run has started incredibly strongly, attracting 6.5 million viewers for its first episode, the highest for the show so far.

The X-Files
The X-Files’ debut on Channel 5 in the UK brought in 3.35 million viewers

Not only that, the second series is drawing critical acclaim. IMDb’s rating of 9.2 puts the show right up among the best dramas in the business, while The Daily Telegraph was also effusive in its praise. In a five-star review, the paper said: “The plot is already full of suspense and possibilities. Performances were uniformly excellent. Sarah Lancashire was charismatic: fast-talking and teak-tough at work, bursting into tears of anguish when she got home. The cast additions were promisingly classy, too.”

Another strong performance in the UK came from the reboot of Fox US’s iconic series The X-Files, which is airing on Channel 5. The first episode of the six-part show attracted 3.35 million, the highest launch of any US drama on the channel since 2009. In the US, meanwhile, episode four of the new X-Files attracted 8.3 million viewers, very similar to the previous episode’s figure.

Another series that deserves some credit for its remarkable consistency is The CW’s highest-rated show, The Flash. Over the course of a 23-episode first season, the show averaged 3.84 million. Season two started slightly softer, around the 3.5 million mark, but has got stronger as the series has progressed. Now on episode 13, it has just recorded a season high of 3.96m viewers and its highest share of 18- to 49-year-olds to date.

Flash
The Flash continues to draw strong audiences for The CW

The Flash is based on the DC Comics character and is part of a much broader alliance between The CW and DC that is working incredibly well. At the time of writing, The CW’s number-two show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (which launched in January), while number three is fellow DC-based show Arrow. The CW, it should be noted, is 50% owned by Warner Bros, which also owns DC.

Linking all three shows are writer/producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, who were also both involved in CBS’s reboot of DC’s Supergirl. CBS owns the other 50% of The CW, creating another nice link back into the extension of the DC franchise.

Finally, on the programme acquisition front, UK channel BBC4 has acquired Nordic Noir drama Modus from FremantleMedia International. Commenting on the Miso Films-produced drama, Cassian Harrison, editor of BBC Four, said: “BBC Four continues to bring the very best international drama to its audience. With its gripping storyline and rich, complex characters, Modus is a clever, entertaining Saturday night treat.”

Jamie Lynn, FMI exec VP of sales and distribution for EMEA, said the BBC4 pick-up would help boost his company’s international sales effort on the show: “BBC4 is recognised by the international broadcast community for its quality foreign drama and has landed and launched some of the industry’s biggest Scandi titles in its Saturday night slot, all which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. This prestigious slot has become a beacon, and when searching for the next big non-English language hit, the international world looks here.”

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Modus: Is the TV4 drama Nordic Noir’s next big hit?

DQ travels to Stockholm to speak to the cast and creatives behind Modus, a new thriller hoping to change the landscape of the Swedish crime genre.

It’s a sunny September day beside Ladugårdslandsviken, a boat-lined bay in the centre of Stockholm, as DQ arrives in the Swedish capital for the launch of Modus.

The eight-part series tells the story of a psychologist, Inger Johanne Vik, who becomes involved in the police hunt for the murderer of a female bishop. She later learns that her daughter witnessed another murder and that the two killings are connected as part of a spate of hate crimes, and unwittingly puts herself and her family in danger.

Based on Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not), it is the first series produced by Miso Film’s Swedish base, led by Sandra Harms, and airs on TV4. The show is distributed by FremantleMedia International.

TV4’s head of drama Josefine Tengblad, who was previously an executive producer for the commercial network before starting her new role in April, has been looking for the channel’s next big drama for four years and had many projects in development, but she says it was clear this was the right show to bring to air.

Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik
Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik

“This is eight episodes of one story. TV4 hasn’t done that in eight years,” Tengblad says. “It’s mostly been 90-minute dramas. Wallander and Beck have been huge brands for us and have been a great success. But I felt that we needed to step into this area. We have to do these series because that’s the future. We’re really ready for it now and the audience is ready.

“It’s harder as a commercial channel, of course. We have commercial breaks and people are more used to getting something a bit easier. It’s important to get the best team behind and in front of the camera and then to get something that has quality storytelling. It’s interesting to see how the audience will react because it’s so important. This will open doors for future projects.”

Judging by the ratings for the show’s debut this week, it’s a risk that could pay off. The first episode drew 1.22 million viewers to TV4 at 21.00, scoring a 36.4% audience share – making it TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years (Inkognito debuted to 1.28 million viewers in January 2013).

Producer Harms says of the show’s format: “It’s told from a different angle. Our main character is not a policewoman, she’s a profiler and psychologist. So we tell stories about people, not about the investigation. We decided to limit the number of scenes during the investigation as much as we could so we didn’t get the obvious police series that we’ve seen a lot in Swedish television.

“We really focused on the characters rather than the investigation. That’s also a challenge because in the first two episodes, the main character is still not involved so we have to push the story in different ways. From episode three, she gets into the investigation.”

Integral to the project are Danish writing duo Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe (Unit One, The Team), who embarked on their first ever adaptation with Modus.

Brostrøm says: “Josefine and Sandra called us and introduced us to the book. Sandra then came to Copenhagen and it was a perfect match between us.

Modus is TV4's biggest drama launch in more than two years
Modus is TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years

“We were afraid of doing an adaptation in the beginning – it’s a private room you enter between the novel writer and her readers. It’s a difficult place to be, so we talked about it a lot. But we were fascinated to get under the skin of another writer and develop it from there. We were also in a place where we thought it would be nice to do something different and have a new challenge. It was important that we had the right team, and the four of us were a perfect match from the beginning.”

Thorsboe says he and Brostrøm were interested in twisting the crime genre by creating a “whydunnit,” rather than a traditional ‘whodunnit.’ They then drafted an outline of the entire story. “That’s really important,” he says. “Then we split up and had big battles about who wrote the best scenes!”

Brostrøm, who is now writing season two of European crime drama The Team with Thorsboe, continues: “But we agree about the whole story and the storyline, and we discuss the scenes. When it comes to the writing, we have to sit alone. We’ve been working together for 15 years. In the beginning, we wrote on the same computer, line by line. But eventually we built up another way of working because when you’re together that many hours, you have to find freedom in your own writing.

“Sometimes you can kill it if you keep talking about it – you just have to write and see what comes up in the moment. That’s why we’ve balanced it that way, and it works very well for us.

“We spend so much time talking and outlining but when it comes to the writing, we split up. Afterwards we read what each other has been writing and we discuss it and we argue again!”

The pair often rewrote scenes as they found the characters developing through different drafts and meetings with Tengblad and Harms, but all four creatives worked closely with concept director Lisa Siwe and director Mani Maserrat throughout the process to bring their shared vision of the series to air.

The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)
The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)

Siwe (The Bridge), who directed the first four episodes, says she found the project interesting from the moment she read the script: “I liked the characters and the fact it was a character-based story. For me, it always starts with character. It also has a strong and complex woman as the main character and it was political. It had so many aspects – it was not only a crime story, it was also about family. This was something new. The characters and the families were as exciting as the crime story.”

Speaking about Modus’s tone, Siwe says she wanted it to have a sense of heightened reality – believable but not necessarily realistic. “I wanted it to feel like a feature, realistic in its emotions and full of contrast in the colours, from light and dark to the city and the forest and the story,” she explains.

“Together with the set designer and cinematographer, we wrote a bible for what we were going to make. In Sweden we often do very realistic dramas but I wanted this to be in a universe of its own. We had such a great team. There was so much love in this project, in front of the camera and behind. Everyone felt they were doing something important.”

For co-director Mani Maserrat, who took charge of episodes five to eight, the show was a chance to develop his skills behind the camera. “I usually work with handheld cameras so because Lisa started it, it was a great experience to be forced to use American cinematic filmmaking techniques, using a dolly and wide shots,” he says. “Now I will continue to explore. I feel like I’ve developed as a director.”

Discussions are now taking place to decide which of Holt’s novels – there are five in the Vik series – could be adapted next if a second season is greenlit. One thing’s for sure, though – crime is still the genre of choice for viewers in Scandinavia.

“Crime still works so well,” says Tengblad. “We try to push it and make new types of crime series. In this series, you leave the police station and it’s more about what’s happening to the characters. You feel the audience wants that, and that’s super exciting for us.”

Harms adds: “This is a really big investment and let’s hope it goes really well because we really want TV4 as a commissioner for quality drama. SVT is doing it too but we need one more.”

The fact that Modus isn’t your typical crime drama was a big draw for many members of the cast. Melinda Kinnaman (Ørnen), who plays Inger Johanne Vik, says she had previously avoided police stories. “When I heard about it, I thought it sounded like another Swedish crime series. But when I learnt more about the ambition of the show and how the scriptwriters wanted to make every character rich and complex, I wanted to do it,” she explains.

“These scriptwriters are so good at not saying too much. You don’t understand exactly what each character is. As in real life, we’re all full of contradictions and they really captured that. Sometimes Swedish TV is more simplified and you don’t have that, so it’s very special. TV can be really fast. Here it felt like everybody wanted it to be as good as possible. The most important thing was to ensure the show was really good quality, and I think we managed it.”

In the series, Kinnaman’s Vik partners with police officer Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlén) to find the murderer. While Norlén has played lots of policeman, he says Modus was very different from what he had done before.

“This was new for me,” he says. “I like to think he’s a policeman but he’s in a thriller. That’s the difference with this kind of role. I also liked that we were doing one book for eight episodes. Usually we do 90 minutes for one book. In this series you really get to know the families and then there’s a murder and you see how it affects them. It’s very unusual. And it’s a nice world of characters that they’ve built.

The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop
The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop

“When I watch series like The Wire, I like to get to know people. I’d like to see more of that in Sweden, not just one case per episode.”

Married actors Cecilia Nilsson (Morden) and Krister Henriksson (Wallander) reprise their personal relationship as the Bishop and her husband. Henriksson signed on having previously worked with Tengblad. “Josefine was the producer of the Wallander movies and I like to work with people who I like, who I have confidence in, and I have a great confidence in her,” he says. “When she became the head of TV4 drama, she asked me about this show and, without reading the script, I said I would do it because of her. I saw the first episode and I don’t regret it.

“It’s a new genre. Wallander and Beck were more or less three hours with all the commercials. This is just one hour (per episode). And that’s quite new. It’s not crime, it’s more of a thriller.”

Nilsson, who will appear in SVT drama Springfloden (Spring Tide) in 2016, adds: “There is an interesting underlying story that will reveal itself. Anne is a fantastic writer and her spirit is very well taken care of in the series.”

Fellow cast members Simon J Berger (Torka aldrin tårar utan handskar), who plays Vik’s ex-husband Isak Aronson, and Alexandra Rapaport (Ulrika Sjöberg) both felt the script was too good to turn down.

“I thought it was another Nordic crime show but then when I read it, I realised it was a drama, a thriller. Both that genre, which interests me, and the quality of the script really made me keen on doing it,” Berger says. “It’s got a lovely quality and both the team and the cast are absolutely amazing. The plot is not just the case and then some drama scenes sprinkled on top. Here the drama storylines are the plot and among those plotlines there’s also the case.”

Rapaport (Morden i Sandhamn) adds: “It’s a great script and all of us had discussions with Lisa about our characters to develop them so that we’re not just a function, we’re real people in the series.”

Based on a book by a Norwegian writer, written by Danish writers and produced by a Swedish production company for a Swedish broadcaster, Modus is a truly Scandinavian production. And with the demand for a new thriller to follow the success of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Modus might just be what the international television market has been waiting for.


 

Anne Holt
Anne Holt

Holt’s life of crime

As one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime novelists, Anne Holt admits she was reluctant to allow a new television adaptation of one of her books and was waiting for the right team to come along.

With Miso Film and TV4 behind Modus, she thinks she’s found it – and the author likes what she’s seen so far.

“I really love it,” she tells DQ. “I’ve seen the first six chapters and I’m very impressed, both when it comes to the script – they’ve taken care of my universe in a very respectful way but still managed to convert it into a TV series in a fantastic way – and the actors.”

In particular, Holt speaks warmly of scriptwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe and says she was happy to leave her story in their hands, staying in the background during production.

“I love Peter and Mai’s earlier series,” she says. “You can’t argue with success. They have three Emmys – they know what they’re doing. The producer Sandra Harms made enquiries with several Swedish scriptwriters and was just not satisfied with them, so then she said, ‘Let’s try to go for the best.’

“Peter and Mai were somewhat reluctant to do Modus – they never do adaptations – but they’ve done an excellent job. I know a lot of authors who have had their work adapted and they all seem a bit unsatisfied afterwards. They feel something is lost or wrong. But this story has gained something.”

With her background working for Norwegian broadcaster NRK and as a police officer, lawyer and journalist – not to mention a short spell as minister for justice – Holt’s novels feature plots rooted in problems with society, such as Modus’s exploration of hate crime.

“As a writer I’m always asked if I have profited from the fact I’ve covered so many areas in my working life, but I make up my people. They’re not based on real people,” she explains. “My strength is probably that I’ve lived for a long time and I’ve met a lot of people, spoken to a lot of people and read a lot of newspapers. My position as a crime writer in Scandinavia has made it easier to do research because I can pick up the phone and call anyone.

“I was in the police force for two years and made some connections there, so if I need to know what the inside of a police car looks like, they can show me. That’s a benefit, but otherwise life experience is what inspires me and gives me my main advantage as a writer.

“My main goal is always to write a story that is entertaining. I write suspense, but it’s no fun for me or the reader if it doesn’t reflect my political engagement. My latest book is about extremism. I’ve written about child abuse, racism, everything.”

The BBC is adapting another of Holt’s novels, 1222, which features police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen, the author’s most prolific character. But would she ever write an original story for television?

“I’m too old to learn new skills. Why should I write TV when they do such an excellent job? I should stick with what has given me quite a comfortable life for the last 25 years.”

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Just what the doctors ordered

Suranne Jones in Doctor Foster
Suranne Jones in Doctor Foster

This week’s standout drama is Doctor Foster, a five-part thriller produced by Drama Republic for BBC1 in the UK. Although a number of critics have questioned the show’s “uninspiring” title, there’s a general consensus that Mike Bartlett’s script is a sophisticated look at marital suspicion and the corrosive impact of jealousy.

The Independent said: “The first instalment of the five-parter charted Dr Foster’s (Suranne Jones) growing suspicion that her husband Simon (Bertie Carvel) was having an affair. The old green-eyed monster is a common topic in a relationship-focused show, but Mike Bartlett’s (The Town) naturalistic script, brilliantly delivered by Jones and Carvel, was close to the bone.”

The Daily Telegraph’s assessment was also upbeat: “When I saw the title of new drama Doctor Foster, I must confess my stony cold critic’s heart sank. Not another medical drama. Don’t tell me: maverick surgeon fighting the system while saving lives, yes? Thankfully, it turned out to be an edgy nail-biter that rather reminded me of the hit drama Happy Valley. This was tensely intriguing fare. It was reminiscent of Fatal Attraction from the wronged wife’s point of view or the domestic noir novels that have been all the rage since (Gillian Flynn’s) Gone Girl.”

The viewers seem to have shared the critics’ opinion. Episode one, airing at 21.00 on Wednesday night, attracted an audience of 6.1 million (29.4%), well ahead of the 4.2 million slot average.

The show had a couple of things in its favour that might explain this high figure. The first is that its lead actress, Suranne Jones, is well known to the British public through previous roles in shows such as Coronation Street and Scott & Bailey. The second is that the show followed BBC1’s mega-hit The Great British Bake-Off (which attracted in excess of nine million viewers at 20.00). Nevertheless, the first episode has probably done enough to retain a large proportion of its audience for episode two.

ITV's Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes, has returned for a seventh season
ITV’s Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes, has returned for a seventh season

By coincidence, the UK also saw the return of Buffalo Pictures’ long-running drama series Doc Martin this week. A gentle comedy about a high-flying London doctor who goes to live in a small village in Cornwall, the show is now in its seventh season and appears to be as popular as ever. The first episode of the new eight-part run, which comes after a two-year absence, attracted 5.9 million viewers.

While this is down on season six, it is still significantly ahead of ITV’s slot average over the past year. If there is a downside to the show, it’s that it has a pretty old audience. But Doc Martin’s return will be welcomed by the numerous networks around the world that have acquired or adapted it.

Anyone following the TV trades over the last few weeks will have noticed that RTL-owned FremantleMedia has been busy snapping up production companies around Europe. The most high-profile examples are Fontaram in France and Wildside in Italy, with the latter currently making The Young Pope for HBO, Sky and Canal+.

Fremantle will undoubtedly be hoping its new acquisitions can have the same kind of impact as Nordic indie Miso Film, an earlier acquisition that is enjoying a lot of success both in its home market and internationally. It was Miso, for example, that produced Acquitted, a Norwegian thriller that has been a massive hit across the Scandinavian market. Acquitted was also selected to open the Festival de la Fiction TV de La Rochelle, which runs from September 9 to 13 in France.

Explaining why it was chosen, Carole Villevet, head of the festival’s European selection, said: “Acquitted is an excellent series with top writing, directing and acting talents. Our goal this year is to focus on Europe and to platform European shows that have had great ratings nationwide. Acquitted is therefore a perfect choice for our prestigious opening slot.”

The early signs aren't good for Fox's Minority Report
The early signs aren’t good for Fox’s Minority Report, based on the 2002 film

Miso also produced Danish period drama 1864, which sold internationally to broadcasters such as BBC4 in the UK. And now its fledging Swedish production base is launching Modus, a thriller based on Anne Holt’s bestselling novel Fear Not for commercial broadcaster TV4. An eight-hour limited series, Modus follows psychologist and profiler Inger Johanne Vik as she investigates a series of brutal murders. FremantleMedia International will launch it at Mipcom.

In the US, the TV industry is on the cusp of its all-important fall season. Dates have now been set for shows – some of which will have crashed and burned by Christmas. It’s impossible to know at this stage which shows will live or die, but one that already has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it is Fox’s Minority Report, which premieres on Monday September 21 at 21.00. When it was first announced, the show’s heritage as a spin-off of a Steven Spielberg film (starring Tom Cruise) created a lot of buzz. But since then there’s been a steady drip of less positive sentiment.

One issue is that the TV series turns the film’s concept on its head. In the movie, the story is about trying to stop pre-crime policing – a system under which arrests are made on the basis of clairvoyant predictions. But in the TV series, the goal seems to be to bring pre-crime policing back, a plot direction that has got the geek community chattering.

Then there was a feeling that the trailer released at San Diego Comic Con this summer wasn’t especially encouraging, with the show coming off more clichéd than conspiratorial. The tone, which should have been dark and gritty, was like a sci-fi procedural mash-up. Concerns about the direction of the series seem to be confirmed by reviewers who have seen the first episode.

Deadline was especially scathing, calling the show “predictable and surprisingly plodding. With opportunistic politicians, tacky tech, promotion-grabbing cops, air-bound assassination attempts and paranoia galore, the over-explained show tripwires itself from the beginning. Minority Report is a connect-the-dots drama masquerading as a creaky procedural. And, legacy or not, it will have a hard time breaking through even though it is one of the first shows up to the plate this fall.”

TVLine is also unsure of the show’s prospects on a network that has a reputation for not taking any prisoners: “With no Bradley Cooper-like cameo (this refers to the Limitless TV series coming up) from Tom Cruise to give this TV adaptation an implicit movie-star endorsement, Minority Report will sink or swim based on word of mouth. Given the sci-fi-er’s bumpy road to fruition (a lot of reshooting took place over summer), its future is, at best, unpredictable.”

Forbes also has a review of the first episode, which essentially accuses the TV adaptation of lacking ambition.

Fox is giving Minority Report the best possible chance by airing it directly after the new season of Gotham. So it should become clear pretty quickly whether the show stands any chance of survival.

The first episode of The X-Files reboot will premiere at Mipcom next month
The first episode of The X-Files reboot will premiere at Mipcom next month

Finally, one show certain to launch with a bang is the new-look version of The X-Files. This week Reed Midem, the organiser of Cannes-based TV market Mipcom, revealed that the first episode of the Fox reboot will be given a world premiere at the market on October 6.

“The return of this iconic series underlines the current demand for storytelling at its best,” said Laurine Garaude, director of TV at Reed Midem. “We are delighted that Fox has chosen MIipcom for the world premiere of the return of The X-Files, one of several high-profile series being showcased exclusively at Mipcom.”

The X-Files was a huge international hit the first time round and is expected to do just as well in its new form.

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