Tag Archives: Nebojsa Taraba

Must CEE TV

With a number of drama productions from Central and Eastern Europe drawing critical acclaim in recent years, DQ finds out what’s coming next from the region and why it’s ripe for a breakout international hit.

While Scandinavia, Israel, Germany and Spain have been among the hottest territories for drama in recent years, a number of ambitious productions both in front of and behind the camera mean series coming out of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) now demand closer attention.

Over the past decade, the region’s drama output has earned plaudits on the back of HBO Europe’s original production strategy, which has led to a number of notable series – Hořící Keř (Burning Bush, 2013) and Pustina (Wasteland, 2016) from the Czech Republic; Hungarian crime drama Aranyélet (Golden Life, 2015), based on Finnish series Helppo Elämä; Wataha (The Pack, 2014), Pakt (The Pact, 2015) and Ślepnąc od świateł (Blinded by the Lights, 2018) from Poland; and Romania’s Umbre (Shadows, 2014) and Hackerville (2018).

Earlier this year also saw the launch of the first HBO Adria series in the shape of Success, a Croatian drama about four strangers bound together by a violent event. But while HBO continues to ramp up its own activities, it is by no means the only company that is pushing the limits of the region’s creativity.

Czech drama series Pustina (Wasteland) aired on HBO Europe

One of the most ambitious projects coming out of CEE is The Pleasure Principle, which is billed as the first international production between three countries in the region – Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

The 10-hour series, produced by Apple Film Production and distributed by Beta Film, sees police investigators from each country work together after female body parts are discovered in Odessa, Warsaw and Prague, in a cross-border inquiry that leads to shady businessmen, lawyers for sale, corrupt politicians, professional killers and traces of a common past. Canal+ Poland, Czech Television and Russia’s Star Media are also on board the series.

Series producer and director Dariusz Jabłoński says it was his ambition to create a universal crime thriller using local talent and crew. Set across 10 days in the three cities, the project used different teams to make the drama in each country, all under the supervision of Jabłoński.

“We have wonderful roles for the greatest actors of every country and, after a very deep casting process that I personally attended, we have chosen the best actors. Nobody refused us,” he says. “Then we started to think about shooting. Usually, when you make films that take place in different countries, you use one crew. But we wanted to show the differences between these three countries and, because of that, we chose a more challenging path by using completely local crews.

“So every country is shot by a different DOP who created the lighting for their own city. Warsaw is rather grey, all steel and glass. Prague is more bourgeois, with yellow and beige. Odessa is green and blue like the sea. All of them came with a simple idea that was different from the others, so I didn’t have much to supervise to keep everything balanced.”

Poland’s Wataha (The Pack), another HBO Europe original

The team communicated in the common language of English across the 120-day shoot, with filming being completed in one country before moving to the next. “We didn’t make any compromise over quality. It was shot in 8K with two, sometimes four, cameras, cranes and every technical tool at our disposal,” Jabłoński says. “I hope this show will not only be exciting for the viewers but also present the technical facilities of our countries.”

Russian drama Storm, meanwhile, sees respected police detective Gradov turn to crime – and murder – to find the money to pay for his terminally ill wife’s medical treatment. When his colleague, Osokin, begins to suspect Gradov is behind a string of crimes, he becomes determined to expose him.

Produced and distributed by Yellow, Black and White (YBW) for streamer start.ru and directed by Boris Khlebnikov (An Ordinary Woman), the series focuses on a complex group of characters and the choices they make.

“It is a wholly original story that writer/director Natalia Meschaninova came up with,” explains YBW creative producer Irina Sosnovaya. “The goal we set with this story was to make a genre series that would thrill and entertain within the social context of contemporary Russia. As producers, we tried to give as much creative freedom to the talented crew as we could, not forcing them to stay within the boundaries of the genre but encouraging them to write a social drama we would be excited to follow.”

The rise of streaming platforms is fuelling the drama boom in the region, Sosnovaya says, with creators no longer bound by the restrictions of major TV channels. Daria Bondarenko, YBW’s head of international development, distribution and coproductions, picks up: “Digital services allow authors to be uncompromising, to be bold and to take risks without looking back, so that’s where the cream of Russian talent gravitates towards. Directors, writers and actors now work on the digital series with as much freedom as they allow.

Magdalena Cieślak

“Just 10 years ago, Russia was an unknown and unexplored market. Nowadays things have changed tremendously: we see more and more shows that travel globally, some of them awarded and recognised at prestigious TV festivals. Every new pickup of a Russian show outside our local market is a big success for the entire industry; it is the recognition that makes us noticeable as a film-producing country.”

Shifting west of Russia, TVP1 series Our Century marks the first period drama to come from producer Endemol Shine Poland (ESP). Based on the book by Albena Grabowska, it follows the fortunes of the multi-generational Winny family, woven through the most dramatic events of the 20th century.

Magdalena Cieślak, head of scripted at ESP, says she and her fellow creative producer on the show, Małgosia Retei, “were immediately taken by the story when we read the three-part novel back in 2016.”

She continues: “It was nearly a thousand pages of gripping literature, which we believed could serve as the basis for a great script. It took us some time, though, to convince the broadcaster, as period dramas seemed a very costly and risky genre at that time. What helped us was the involvement of one of the best Polish screenwriters, Ilona Łepkowska, who supervised the script development and ensured the project we pitched to TVP1 was outstanding in terms of storytelling.”

Other talent involved includes director Piotr Trzaskalski, DOP Witold Płóciennik and actors Kinga Preis, Jan Wieczorkowski and Olaf Lubaszenko.

The story begins in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War and ends in modern times, covering almost 100 years of Polish history. Against this backdrop plays the story of one family whose lives are full of hidden secrets, passion, love, sacrifice and complicated relationships.

Certain book characters were cut to allow for greater focus on some of the more distinctive family members, while new scenes were created for the adaptation, which blends drama and tragedy with touches of comedy and some fantastical, dreamlike sequences that relate to one character’s ability to see the future.

Our Century is the first period drama from producer Endemol Shine Poland

Cieślak says shows like Our Century feed Poland’s current demand for homegrown series while also showcasing the “outstanding” quality achievable by the local production industry.

“Polish viewers prefer local stories and 80% of the dramas on air are created and produced locally,” she adds. “To find new ideas that will entrance the audience, we need to invest in local talent, beginning with script writing and development. Over the last two years, we have also seen more book adaptations making it to screen, so we are watching the publishing market very closely and searching for adaptation opportunities.”

Over in Croatia, the third and final season of Novine (The Paper), made by producer Drugi Plan for local broadcaster HRT and Israeli distributor Keshet International, is currently in production. Set in a busy newspaper office, the series presents a cocktail of political corruption, power struggles, crime and betrayal, with its characters navigating the blurred lines of morality and integrity. After exploring the media in season one and politics in season two, season three moves to the judiciary.

“If we take into consideration the size of the country and its capacity in terms of cinematography, and a specific language, we can say that Croatian high-end drama production is doing really well in European and even global terms,” says Nebojsa Taraba, producer of The Paper and creative director at Drugi Plan. “The Paper is globally available on Netflix, and HBO aired its first series from the Adria region this year, Success, which is also produced by us.

“There’s a lot being done in neighbouring Serbia – supposedly there are as many as 20 projects in different stages of pre-production and production, so high-end series are going through a real renaissance in the region.”

Nebojsa Taraba

When it comes to stories that will attract an audience, “there are no rules,” Taraba states. “People simply like strong stories they can relate to, regardless of the genre. People also like stories with some kind of social involvement and message. Luckily for us, or maybe unfortunately for us, the entire region of south-eastern Europe has many such stories, whether we tell them ourselves or someone else comes over and tells our stories. The best example of [the latter] is Chernobyl.”

Series like Chernobyl – made by the UK’s Sister Pictures for Sky Atlantic and HBO and focusing on the 1986 nuclear disaster – demonstrate that success can be found in unearthing previously unknown stories that are ripe for dramatisation or setting a fictional story against a specific historical backdrop. Germany has created several successful dramas fitting this description, including Babylon Berlin, the Deutschland series and Ku’Damm 56.

The makers of Czech drama Dukla 61 took a similar approach to history after discovering the true story of a mining tragedy that led to the deaths of 108 people. The two-part miniseries, set in 1961, takes place in the town of Havířov, home to the Dukla mine. It focuses on the Šlachta family, with father Milan and son Petr working in the mine, where the highest-quality coal is a commodity sought at any cost.

Blending family drama and disaster epic, Dukla 61 was inspired by a single line in a book. The project was then developed and produced by Czech Television.

“There was a book with a short sentence about some disaster that was in 1961; there was just one sentence that they brought in many miners,” says Czech TV creative producer Michal Reitler. “We started researching and realised nobody knew about this disaster. We focused on this for six months and then we developed the scripts.”

Director David Ondříček picks up: “The main reason why it’s so successful is that it has a great screenplay and is very authentic in tone and has a lot of emotions. We tried to tell a story without words, especially towards the end.”

Russian series Storm was made for streamer start.ru

The creative team credit the movement of film writers, directors and producers to the small screen with advancing the Czech drama industry, with Ondříček noting that television was considered a “dirty word” just a decade ago. “It was a filmmakers’ community, but it’s changed a lot,” he says.

Reitler adds: “It helps that money is coming to development first, so we can work with writers and then decide what we will produce. There becomes a system of how to develop scripts, how to find the right authors and how to work with them to find a way to tell a story that is understandable locally and globally.

“Everyone asks us if there will be a new Czech wave like in film in the 1960s. We can feel something in the air but we don’t know what it is. There are a lot of new producers. Our generation of directors is in good shape. We’ll see. I can feel that we try to make very authentic and very good-quality shows.”

As streaming platforms mature and creative talent find new places to tell their stories, there is ambition in the region to see its series go on to become as globally popular as projects from other countries. But as ever, financing looms large as the inevitable barrier to the most epic projects getting off the ground.

“The challenges we face are not of a creative but a financial nature,” says Taraba, noting that a Croatian series might cost six or seven times less than one produced in neighbouring Italy or Austria. “It is only financial restrictions, or the low intensity of production, that can stop the creative momentum of the Croatian and the regional market right now. For the price of an episode of an average drama series in the UK or Germany, you can produce an entire season of a series in the range of The Paper in Croatia.”

Croatian drama The Paper airs on HRT and is also available on Netflix

On making The Pleasure Principle, Jabłoński adds: “We used all the resources from Eastern Europe and we had to combine them because no single broadcaster was able to finance this show. So thanks to this combination, each of our partners got the show for their own exploitation, but we controlled everything to deliver a good show not only for our audience but the international audience.

“This is a trial to check if this combination will bring the quality that will make a difference and break the glass ceiling we experience as filmmakers from Eastern Europe because we feel we’re not able yet to make international audiences excited. I hope that will change.”

With the quality of drama and ambitious storytelling coming out of the region, coupled with the continuing demand for series worldwide, Central and Eastern Europe is well placed to smash that glass ceiling and become the latest global drama hotspot.

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Read all about it

Croatian drama The Paper goes behind the headlines to root out corruption and scandal in the media. DQ chats to creator and producer Nebojsa Taraba about this controversial new series.

Known for their frenetic atmosphere, it’s little wonder newsrooms make exciting settings for television drama.

From HBO’s The Newsroom and the fifth season of The Wire to BBC drama State of Play and scenes set inside the Daily Planet during Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, newspaper offices can provide plenty of drama and intrigue as journalists race to get their latest scoop.

Nebojsa
Nebojsa Taraba

However, it’s arguable none have been more controversial or provocative than new Croatian series The Paper, which debuts on October 16 on HRT1.

The 12-part series is described as a dark cocktail of political corruption, power struggles, crime and betrayal as it looks at the role of the media in society.

The story follows Mario Kardum, an influential and politically conservative building contractor from a powerful family, who buys a left-liberalist newspaper in deep financial trouble with two underlying, questionable motives. First, he wants to keep the investigation of someone close to him as the perpetrator of a high-profile hit-and-run out of the news. Second, he wants to coerce the paper into writing favourably about the presidential candidate he is backing.

But in this highly charged workplace, Kardum is not the only person with dubious morals, potentially damaging secrets, misguided loyalties and selfish motivations. While some fight to maintain the paper’s editorial integrity, others are overwhelmed by their own corrupt connections. Whatever side of the fence they fall on, all of them have their own secrets, personal demons to fight and their own agendas to meet, which powerfully affect their moral compass.

Created by Ivica Djikic, Nebojsa Taraba and Miodrag Sila and directed by Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner Dalibor Matanic, The Paper seeks to examine the relationships between the media, government, the church and law enforcement, as well as the powerful social elite and their corporations.

And it is exactly this reason that the series is only now making its debut. As Taraba explains: “The management at HRT weren’t very happy with our series. We had a very strange political situation, where for the last eight or nine months we have had a right-wing government that was very close to the Catholic Church. Our TV series wasn’t something they would like to see.”

However, the fact it was picked up by distributor Keshet International meant HRT couldn’t delay broadcast any more.

“The fact we got Keshet as a distributor – everyone knows about Homeland [Keshet distributes the original Israeli format on which this show is based],” Taraba says. “So it was big news and the broadcaster said they couldn’t wait to show it any more.

“We don’t mean to be controversial. We just wanted to show what’s wrong with today’s media. We realised you can get everything from the media today but facts – lots of emotions, lots of impressions – and it confuses people. It makes people incapable of analysing what’s really going on. We decided to go to the source and shine a light on the mechanisms that manipulate the media.”

Here, former journalist Taraba walks DQ through The Paper’s development process and reveals plans to keep the show going for three seasons.

with director Dalibor Matanić
Taraba (left) on set with director Dalibor Matanić (right)

How did the development process begin?
Development began four years ago. We realised we don’t know who is behind the media and whether they are hiding important information. But it’s not just in Croatia, it’s happening all over the world. The lies, the manipulation, the wrong information [impacting how people vote]. It’s the same in the US; Fox News and other outlets have lost their main focus of being an important democratic tool. There is no democracy without a free and uncontrolled media – it’s impossible.

Why did you decide to set the series in a newsroom?
The newspaper, for us, is the biggest symbol of media. No matter whether people are saying newspapers are disappearing or being overtaken by electronic media, they are still a symbol of the media. This, along with the fact we come from that background, meant it was natural to set the series in a newsroom.
We just wanted to look very deeply at that little universe. Journalists have an enormous responsibility, but they are people like us. They have everyday problems, they have families, they have existential issues – everything else that makes their job even more difficult. And at the same time, that’s often when they are under most pressure. We just wanted to go one step further than the usual picture of a newsroom.
We really tried to avoid using journalist stereotypes. We have the atmosphere of a newsroom but it’s not so fast or crowded [as a newsroom would have been in the past]. Most things happen in the office of the owner or the editor. The newsroom has lost its power and energy. That’s something we wanted to emphasise.

Where did filming take place and how did the locations influence the look of the show?
We filmed in Rijeka. It’s on the north coast but it’s far away from other cities. It used to be a shipyard and was partly built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There are also big skyscrapers from socialist times. It’s a very visually interesting space and also brings a certain Scandinavian atmosphere. The director then brought some looks from the beginning of the 1970s with the location.
This is the first time that something has been filed in Rijeka, which was also strange for us because it’s a beautiful city. [When most people picture Croatia] they see this beautiful Mediterranean spot with palm trees and Renaissance churches like you see in Dalmatia. But in Rijeka all the cranes from the shipyards and reservoirs are close to these beautiful Venetian and Austro-Hungarian buildings.

How much research did you do for the series?
In 2006/07, Ivica [Djikic] was the editor of Rijeka’s daily newspaper when it was taken over by a local tycoon. It was the last independent daily newspaper and, after the takeover, it struggled to be an independent voice. It’s almost exactly what we are describing in our TV series. But we have tried to avoid any other connections with reality. We used certain elements but we concentrated on the mechanisms – how politics on one side and big money on the other are taking control of media to [achieve] their goals. We tell that story from the inside.

The series was mostly filmed in
The series was mostly filmed in Rijeka

How would you describe the writing process?
For each episode, Ivica wrote a synopsis. After that we included the director and had help from a script doctor, Tena Stivicic – one of the best young theatre writers [whose play 3 Winters was performed in London in 2014]. We had a team of six of us who worked on the final drafts of the scripts. It wasn’t a writers room in a real sense but, before we started to shoot, we all confirmed the final drafts. It was a long process. It took us almost a year to finish and polish the scripts.

What was the biggest challenge during production?
Production was tough, considering the budget is 10 times less than it would be for the same kind of production in the UK. We had little more than €1m (US$1.1m) for the whole series but that put us in a situation where we had to be quite rational. All the exteriors were filmed in Rijeka but the newsroom was set inside a former daily newspaper in Zagreb. Rijeka was a big challenge because we shot there in February. It’s a very rainy town but this February broke all records for rain! We had 31 shooting days in Rijeka and for 28 it was raining. It was very difficult but it also gave us the atmosphere we needed. The people of Rijeka were very welcoming – sometimes we had to stop traffic but they were OK with it. They are beautiful people and the city is going to be European Capital of Culture in 2020. So the show is promotion for them in that sense. It was a bit exhausting but we really enjoyed it. We were filming for 95 days in total.

What are your plans for the show beyond season one?
We created it as a trilogy. The first part is about media so it’s set in a newspaper office, but we follow the same characters through all three seasons. The second season follows politics more because the main bad guy becomes president, and the final season is about him facing justice. Hopefully the first one will be successful enough that HRT will let us continue. So far we’ve had very good reviews.

What do you hope viewers will take from the series?
We just want people to think about the story and how media is so important for us. We need [the media] to give us the facts. We have elections every four years and we have to know the consequences of the previous election. We have to understand our own decisions and we have to prepare for the next election. Without the help of the media, we can’t do that. We are confused, we are afraid. That’s why we need the media – someone who will bring us the facts. We really hope that after watching our series, people will understand the importance of a free and independent media. A society that considers itself a free democracy cannot exist without a free media.

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