Tag Archives: Netflix

Ego trip

Named best TV fiction production at Austria’s Romy awards in May, Freud takes viewers into gothic 1890s Vienna where a young Sigmund Freud, eager to make his name as a progressive psychoanalyst, joins a psychic and an inspector to solve a string of bloody mysteries.

In this DQTV interview, showrunner Marvin Kren and executive producer Moritz Polter introduce the German-language series and reveal how Freud, trying to write his own history, confronts a dark conspiracy that will influence the entire Hapsburg Empire.

They discuss how they dramatised the real-life figure, who was a brave and revolutionary thinker but also someone who had a dark side and was addicted to cocaine. Kren and Polter also talk about the challenge of representing Freud’s theories through the eight-part drama without diving into detailed explanations, and discuss casting Robert Finster in the lead role.

Frued is produced by Bavaria Fiction and Satel Film for Austrian broadcaster ORF and Netflix.

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Black storytelling matters

As Netflix launches a curated collection of programming dedicated to the Black Lives Matters movement, DQ highlights some of the featured series.

Netflix has launched a specially selected collection of programming under the Black Lives Matter banner. In a Tweet announcing the move, the streamer wrote: “When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we also mean ‘Black storytelling matters.’

“With an understanding that our commitment to true, systemic change will take time, we’re starting by highlighting powerful and complex narratives about the Black experience.

“When you log on to Netflix today, you will see a carefully curated list of titles that only begin to tell the complex and layered stories about racial injustice and Blackness in America.”

It comes as anti-racism protests continue to take place around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Here, DQ highlights some of the series featured in the list, which can be viewed in full here.

When They See Us
From: US
Starring: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jermone, Marquis Rodriguez, Justin Cunningham, Jovan Adept, Chris Chalk, Freddy Miyares, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kylie Bunbury
Launched: 2019
A winner among this year’s prestigious Peabody Awards, this raw and hard-hitting miniseries from creator and director Ava Duvernay dramatises real events that took place in the spring of 1989, when five boys of colour were arrested, interrogated and coerced into confessing to the vicious attack of a woman in Central Park. After being convicted of various charges, they were awarded a settlement for wrongful conviction in 2014.
• See also: Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us, in which the talkshow host interviews the cast and creative team behind the miniseries, as well as the real people involved in the story.

Dear White People
From: US
Starring: Logan Browning, Brandon P Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Marque Richardson
Launched: 2017
Created by Justin Simien and based on his film of the same name, this comedy drama follows several black students as they navigate life at an Ivy League college where racial tensions bubble just below the surface.

Self Made
From: US
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo, Kevin Carroll, Blair Underwood
Launched: 2020
This miniseries chronicles the life of Madam CJ Walker, an African American washerwoman who rose from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire.

Seven Seconds
From: US
Starring: Clare-Hope Ashitey, Regina King, Beau Knapp
Launched: 2018
Created and exec produced by showrunner Veena Sud, who developed the US version of Danish drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing), this series centres on the death of a 15-year-old African American boy in Jersey City and the search for the truth after a police cover-up.

She’s Gotta Have It
From: US
Starring: DeWanda Wise, Anthony Ramos, Lyriq Bent, Cleo Anthony, Chyna Layne, Margot Bingham
Launched: 2017
This comedy drama was created by film director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman) and based on his 1986 film of the same name. Lee also directed all 19 episodes of the series, which revolves around an artist who struggles to stay true to herself and her dreams while juggling three lovers.

Undercover
From: UK
Starring: Sophie Okonedo, Adrian Lester, Dennis Haysbert
Launched: 2016
Originally commissioned by the BBC, this six-part drama sees Okonedo play a London lawyer who tries to stop an innocent man’s execution in the US, unaware her husband is hiding a 20-year-old secret with links to the case.

Pose
From: US
Starring: MJ Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angel Bismark Curiel, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross
Launched: 2018
This FX series from creators Steven Canals, Brad Fulchuck and Ryan Murphy is set in 1987 New York. It looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society: the rise of the luxury, Trump-era universe, the downtown social and literary scene and ball culture. At its launch, the series assembled the largest ever cast of transgender actors in series-regular roles.

Orange is the New Black
From: US
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Kate Mulgrew, Danielle Brooks, SSascha Polanco, Selenis Leyva, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Taryn Manning, Jackie Cruz, Adrienne C Moore, Laura Prepon
Launched: 2013
Concluding last year after seven seasons, this ensemble drama initially followed privileged New Yorker Piper Chapman (Schilling) after she was sent to a women’s prison. But over the course of the series, each episode’s flashbacks would reveal the backstory or relevant character traits of numerous inmates and guards. Storylines include a prison protest and subsequent riot following the death of black inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), as well as others highlighting corruption, privatisation of the prison system, overcrowding, guard brutality, racial discrimination and prisoner safety.

Luke Cage
From: US
Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Justin Swain, Sean Ringgold
Launched: 2016
Arguably the standout entry from Netflix’s original Marvel series, the comic book drama follows the titular ex-con with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin as he fights to clear his name and save his neighbourhood from crime and corruption.

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Discussing Delhi

In December 2012, a female physiotherapist was beaten, raped, tortured and murdered by a gang of six men in Delhi, India. Netflix miniseries Delhi Crime dramatises the manhunt that followed from the point of view of the female police officer who led the investigation.

In this DQTV interview, director Richie Mehta and producer Pooja Kohli discuss the impact of the incident in India and how the series was developed using documents and personal accounts related to the police case.

They also talk about how the series paints a picture of Indian society and outline the landscape of Indian drama and Delhi Crime’s place within it.

Delhi Crime is produced by Golden Karavan and Ivanhoe Pictures for Netflix.

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Off the rails

Orphan Black co-creator Graeme Manson brings DQ aboard his latest project, Snowpiercer, in which humanity’s last survivors live on a train that continually travels around a frozen planet Earth.

While Korean director Bong Joon-ho and his black comedy film Parasite have enjoyed a triumphant 12 months, from winning the Palme d’Or in Cannes to claiming Best Picture at the Oscars, a television adaptation of one of his earlier movies has been picking up steam.

Three-and-a-half years after TNT first ordered a pilot for a series based on Bong’s 2013 film Snowpiercer, the 10-part first season of the show of the same name is set to launch on the US cable network and around the world on Netflix. A second season has already been commissioned and is close to completion.

Set seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer finds the last 3,000 survivors on Earth living on the titular perpetually moving train, which endlessly circles the globe. Inside its 1,001 cars unfold class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival.

While viewers isolating at home amid the coronavirus pandemic might identify with the feeling of claustrophobia that is shared among some of the train’s passengers, the devastation of the Earth and its permanent, man-made winter plays into fears about real-world climate change and how the planet is changing. It’s certainly a theme that showrunner Graeme Manson was keen to highlight, long before Covid-19 put society under lockdown.

Graeme Manson

“We are in a climate crisis and that is the fabric of the show. The backdrop is we destroyed the world with our own avarice and the last survivors of that world have gotten on this perpetually moving, existential train that can’t stop or we all perish,” he tells DQ from Vancouver, his home town and also where the series is filmed.

“Within the backdrop of climate change that underlies everything, there are also deep stories of migration, immigration, detention and class structure, the have-nots, political deception and the lies of a 1% holding on to all the power and the leverage of production and sustenance.”

The rules of the world of Snowpiercer are easily identifiable by the structure of the train, with the wealthy elite inhabiting the front end – dining-room discussions are punctured by complaints about faulty saunas – while an underclass has been created at the ‘tail,’ a series of cars at the rear that has become home to the swathes of people who fought their way onto the train just as it was starting its journey.

It’s in the tail that we first meet Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), a leader and a revolutionary who is also the last homicide detective on Earth. When a murder takes place on board the train, the formidable head of hospitality Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) persuades him to leave the tail and solve the case.

Produced by Tomorrow Studios and CJ Entertainment, which was behind the original film, the show’s cast includes Alison Wright, Mickey Sumner, Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Roberto Urbina, Sheila Vand and Jaylin Fletcher. Bong is among the executive producers of the series, which is distributed internationally by ITV Studios.

It is Andre’s voice the audience hears first, as he narrates the opening section of episode one, a beautifully animated sequence that depicts the riots that accompanied Snowpiercer’s launch before segueing into live-action footage. The opening narration is a tool shared by different characters through the series, with each episode loosely following that individual.

“We have a very big cast so it’s hard to really feature a character, but the character that speaks in the beginning has something to say during the episode,” Manson explains. “That can be a first-class character or third-class character, or someone from the tail. It adds social perspective to the class structure on the train and is something we continued through the series. It turned out to be a pretty neat device.”

Snowpiercer stars Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly

Manson, best known for co-creating award-winning Canadian sci-fi thriller Orphan Black, admits to being a big fan of the original film, which mixes action and political allegory in a post-apocalyptic world. But when he pitched to run the series, taking over from initial showrunner Josh Friedman in February 2018, Manson returned to Le Transperceneige, the French graphic novel series that inspired the movie.

“They’re filled with philosophy, existentialism and bizarre and funny situations, with leaps of imagination,” he says. “More than anything, I thought the series should be very politically charged and it should, at its core, be an action-adventure story. That’s what we did – we tried to lean into the visual flair, the themes and the action of the movie and some of the wilderness and conceptual leaps of the graphic novels and combine those.

“One of the greatest things about the film was the sense of, ‘What the hell is this train?’ Whatever door you open, you were never sure what was on the other side. We kept the graphic novel idea that the train was 1,001 cars long so we could constantly open up doors on new cars and be amazed by what we found inside.”

Joining mid-development – Friedman developed the project and wrote the original pilot that was produced but later remade – Manson took the series in a new direction, stating he had a “very strong sense of what the show should be.” But his late arrival posed a challenge when he had to find a balance between what was already in place and how he wanted to take Snowpiercer forward.

With 13 casting deals secured, he had to figure out which characters to retain, before “a lot of phone calls and in-person meetings to convince at least half of them to take on new roles in the new world.” Manson then received a vote of confidence when he was given approval to rebuild the sets that would present the vision he shared with producing director James Hawes.

Diggs plays Andre Layton, a leader and a revolutionary who is also the world’s last homicide detective

As a showrunner, Manson says he feels most comfortable in the writers room. Working in LA for the first time, he brought with him some key members of his Orphan Black team, notably producing partner Mackenzie Donaldson and his “second in command” Aubrey Nealon.

“My process begins with doing a lot of research on the world. We did a lot of research on climate science, climate change; we talked to NASA climate scientists about what would the world do if it froze and went to -117 degrees,” he says, also noting the challenge of creating the “eternal engine” that powers the train. “A perpetual-motion machine doesn’t exist but here it is on screen, so it’s about how you talk around it or when you decide to delve into the science of what might make it run.

“We peeled back the science of how the engine works slowly over the course of a couple of seasons, but the advantage of showing your cards at that pace is our VFX team, our physical effects team and our production design and art departments all have ideas about how it might really work, and those ideas came into a collective model we could work towards. I’m not saying we solved perpetual motion, but our explanation might hold water.”

Orphan Black, a science-fiction series about a woman who discovers she is a clone, was similarly rooted in science. Manson says this keeps the series grounded and the characters realistic, until you take one step forward into imagination.

“For Snowpiercer, the world the characters left behind was this world, here and now in 2020. So although we’re then taken seven years into the future, their concerns are about the world they left behind,” he continues. “After seven years, they are at the point where some people would be casting off the ways of the old world, while some people would be holding on tighter to their religion or whatever it is that keeps them moving. Moving seven years into the future also keeps everybody’s grief very raw, and that emotion and undercurrent of loss is a big character driver on Snowpiercer.”

Connelly is Melanie Cavill, the train’s head of hospitality

To create the sets of the train and numerous carriages on a studio lot in Vancouver, season one production designer Barry Robison and his team partnered with outside engineers and designers to build a modular system that would allow them to build sections of the train on modified shipping containers, which could then be linked and moved around.

“We can put five or six cars together and you can walk a character down the train from one car to another,” Manson reveals. “They’re on rubber wheels or air bags, and there are grips outside every time the train is rolling along, making it bounce and weave, so you get this kinetic feeling inside the sets. Nobody’s faking a lurch – they’re real, because they do bounce, roll and move.

“One of the real joys is the idea you never know what’s on the other side of the door. As Layton moves up the train, his eyes just grow wider at what they have up there. We have this amazing set called the Nightcar, which is the exact geographic centre of the train, and it’s essentially the train cabaret and brothel, run by Lena Hall’s character Miss Audrey, who gets to have fabulous musical numbers in this very exotic lounge car.”

One idea retained from the original pilot is known as the sub-train, a small cable car that sits beneath the carriages in-between the wheels and allows people – usually train employees – to travel quickly up and down Snowpiercer without having to pass through its hundreds of cars.

“It’s a narrative necessity,” Manson admits. “With 1,001 cars, the train is approximately 10 miles long. It’s something we talked about a lot and, when things are cut together, you begin to understand what is forgivable in terms of train geography. The more important thing is that the class geography and the design tells you where you are. The tail is like a jail, third class is like turn-of-the-century working-class tenements, second class is a little academia and a bit professional and then first class is like a Roman court or Las Vegas.”

The 1,001-carriage train encompasses the various classes of society

With the show filmed entirely in studios, VFX has been added to create the hazardous world beyond the train, particularly on the few occasions passengers do venture outside. Blue-screen technology is otherwise limited to windows and long shots of train corridors.

The coronavirus pandemic shut down post-production on season two in March with just a week left to go, but having long since wrapped on season one, the show is finally set to debut on TNT this Sunday before the first two episodes drop on Netflix on May 25. Each episode will then arrive on the streamer the day after its US premiere.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Manson says. “I’ve never been in a situation where you’re this deep into something you’ve spent two years on and it’s yet to air. But it’s even longer for the actors.

“It’s a very different world [from Orphan Black]. It’s a darker world by a shade, but one thing it does have in common is there’s a lot of heart in the show. It doesn’t actually take itself too seriously. We’re a perpetually moving train that’s 1,001 cars long. I like shows where you can be put through the wringer and on the edge of your seat through a drama and then go, ‘Wait a minute!’ A slightly ludicrous and existential premise are the most satisfying to make real and visceral.”

And as for what is coming down the line in season two, Manson jokes: “We’re definitely a train show. We’re on that train. We open up a little bit, but it’s still very much a train show.”

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Learning Lines

British star Angela Griffin tells DQ about her role in Netflix mystery thriller White Lines, in which a woman seeks the truth about her brother’s death in Ibiza 20 years ago, written by La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) creator Álex Pina.

Despite TV production having been largely shut down in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic, actor Angela Griffin has had a lot of work to do in recent weeks and months.

As well as starring in one episode of ITV’s Isolation Stories, which told four short stories about people isolated at home during the health crisis, Griffin is also part of the cast of Dun Breedin’, a YouTube comedy-drama created by fellow actor Julie Graham (Benidorm, Penance) that introduces a group of female friends at various stages of the menopause.

Unlike Isolation Stories, Dun Breedin’ isn’t set during the lockdown, but both series were filmed remotely over the last few weeks, with actors and their family members tasked with filming individual scenes at home.

Both series stand in stark contrast to former Coronation Street star Griffin’s latest project, which pairs an intriguing murder mystery with Ibiza’s all-night parties and idyllic backdrops. The Spanish island is the setting for Netflix series White Lines, which will be released tomorrow and comes from showrunner Álex Pina, the writer behind hit Spanish drama La Casa de Papel (Money Heist).

When the body of a legendary Manchester DJ is discovered 20 years after his mysterious disappearance from Ibiza, his sister returns to the beautiful island to find out what happened. Her investigation leads her through a thrilling world of dance clubs, lies and cover-ups, forcing her to confront the darker sides of her own character in a place where people live life on the edge.

Angela Griffin as Anna in White Lines, Netflix’s new Ibiza-set drama

Produced by Left Bank Pictures (The Crown) and Pina’s Vancouver Media, it stars an eclectic cast of UK and Spanish talent, in a series that bounces between the English and Spanish languages.

Laura Haddock plays Zoe, who is looking for answers about the death if her brother Axel (Tom Rhys Harries). Also starring are Daniel Mays, Laurence Fox and Angela Griffin as Marcus, David and Anna respectively, Axel’s friends who stayed in Ibiza and now face uncomfortable questions from Zoe. Meanwhile, Marta Milans, Juan Diego Botto, Nuno Lopes, Pedro Casablanc and Belén López play members of the powerful Calafat family, who run many of Ibiza’s clubs, benefit from its illegal drug trade and own the land where Axel’s body was discovered.

As Anna, Griffin portrays one of the original foursome who went from Manchester to Ibiza in 1996. Anna also became romantically involved with Marcus, with the pair eventually marrying. “The friendship of the four was incredibly close,” Griffin tells DQ. “They were 20-year-olds who believed they could do anything, be anyone, go anywhere – and they did. Arriving in Ibiza in 1996, they completely and utterly rinsed it for everything they could, and Marcus and Anna stayed together, got married and had children.”

Twenty years later, as Zoe lands in Ibiza, the three remaining friends are all grown up but their lives have gone in different directions. David is now a spiritual leader, while Anna and Marcus have split up.

“Anna grew up and became a bit more sophisticated and refined. She’s got a business brain; she wanted more,” Griffin explains. “Marcus is still exactly the same person who walked onto the island in 1996. He’s still wearing the same kind of clothes, DJing at the same clubs, taking the same drugs and dealing the same drugs, and she grew out of him, so they divorced. But they’ve still got the children.

The series follows Laura Haddock’s Zoe as she investigates her brother’s death

“Anna is a strange creature. On the outside, you would look at her and think, ‘She’s so lovely, warm and nice and seems to want to facilitate everything. She’s really helpful.’ But she doesn’t live with her children, they live with Marcus.

“She’s unapologetic about that. She’s not a mother who misses them all the time. She runs sex clubs; she runs very expensive, high-class sex parties. She’s a purveyor of pleasure and she absolutely loves it. She loves the fact everyone adores her. She wants everyone to adore her, including Marcus. Even though they’ve split up, she still keeps him on the end of a piece of string.

“So there’s an edge to Anna that you cannot quite put your finger on. That’s the same for a lot of characters Álex Pina creates. They’re always layered; there’s always something going on underneath. As you go from episodes one to 10, the characters all get stripped back and you find out who they really are and what they really want.”

While the first three episodes of the series lay the foundations of the central mystery, with flashbacks recounting some of Axel and the young friends’ early exploits, it’s clear that many of the characters are keeping secrets about what happened to him all those years ago. As revelations come to the surface, White Lines promises to be a rollercoaster ride typical of Pina, who continues to grip viewers into the fourth season of Money Heist.

“The Spanish way of writing, like La Casa, there’s a lot more passion there,” Griffin says of Pina’s scripts. “I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing, but the emotion is absolutely out there. I do feel with British writing it’s sometimes more reserved. With this, it’s there. It moves along, it’s so pacy. There are so many shocking moments, so many funny moments and moving moments. It was a real pleasure to work on. I do think Álex is a genius character creator – he manages to work through character but have incredible plots too. He’s very clever.”

Alongside the British actors are Spanish stars including Nuno Lopez and Marta Milans

Filming took place last summer in Ibiza, fellow Balearic island Majorca, and Madrid and Almería in mainland Spain. Griffin didn’t get to visit the real Ibiza, with the majority of her scenes shot in Madrid and Majorca.

“We shot a lot of the interiors in Madrid. Because Majorca and Ibiza are very busy, in July and August we moved to Madrid, as everyone there moves out because it’s so hot. All the locals take that time off. It was very interesting shooting in 40-degree heat,” says the actor, whose other credits include Canadian detective drama The Detail.

The international nature of the story and its cast means White Lines is likely to resonate with Netflix’s global audience, while Griffin describes the series as a multigenerational story that will appeal to viewers young and old.

“There are a lot of young characters and it’s very much about a debauched lifestyle. That’s always a hit on Netflix,” she says. “It skews quite young, so it appeals to them. But 1996 in Manchester, I was there. I did it, and I’m watching those [flashback] scenes with nostalgia. They’ve very cleverly appealed to a really wide age range with the fact we have got people from absolutely everywhere. We’ve got Spanish movie stars. So you’re appealing to a massive audience there.

“But it’s not as manipulative as that. Álex wrote a story he believed in and it happens to appeal to everyone. I don’t think you can plan that sometimes. Money Heist was made for Spanish TV and it’s just taken the world by storm. You just don’t know what’s going to hit.”

Thoughts of a potential second season are on hold while most countries around the world continue to pause filming until the pandemic subsides. But Griffin says Pina already has ideas of where the show could go.

“As long as the viewers enjoy it and demand it, hopefully when the world does whatever it’s doing, we’ll come out the other end and we’ll be in Madrid and Majorca shooting season two,” she adds.

“You can expect the unexpected from Álex Pina. He is the king of plots and the king of stories. He will make you laugh, he will make you cry and it will never be what you think it’s going to be. You will cry at things that should be funny and you will laugh at things that should be upsetting. He turns everything on its head and every character on their head.”

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Still Magnificent

In 2016, audiences were introduced to the Medici family, the renowned banking dynasty, in Renaissance Florence.

Medici: Masters of Florence saw Richard Madden (Bodyguard) star as Cosimo de Medici as he succeeds his father Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman) as the head of the bank, the richest in Europe at the time, as he fights to preserve his honour.

Season two, Medici: The Magnificent, is set two generations later, telling the story of Cosimo’s grandson Lorenzo de Medici (Daniel Sharman). Now season three continues Lorenzo’s story, focusing on the Pazzi conspiracy that saw an attempt to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano, orchestrated by the Pazzi family, led by Jacopo (Sean Bean).

In this DQTV interview, Big Light Productions CEO Frank Spotnitz and creative director Emily Feller discuss their partnership with Rome-based Lux Vide to produce the series and how it mixes a variety of genres, from historical and family drama to muder mystery and conspiracy thriller.

Medici is produced by Lux Vide and Big Light Productions for Rai in Italy and Netflix.

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All that jazz

Pitch-perfect music meets Parisian drama in a Netflix series about an American jazz club in the French capital. Writer Jack Thorne and star Joanna Kulig invite DQ to The Eddy.

The story of how Bafta-winning writer Jack Thorne and Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle came to partner on The Eddy, a television series about an American jazz club in Paris, begins in LA several months before Chazelle would burst onto the Hollywood scene.

Thorne was there to attend a workshop when his agent suggested he speak to an up-and-coming director about his next project and sent over his latest film to watch, which turned out to be Whiplash, the 2014 music drama about the relationship between a young jazz drummer and his abusive bandleader that scored Chazelle an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. He would later win a directing statuette in 2017 for La La Land.

After watching Whiplash, “I went, ‘Jesus Christ, this guy is incredible,’” Thorne recalls. “Then I discovered Alan Poul was involved, who had made Six Feet Under, The Newsroom and, most importantly for me, My So-Called Life, and [songwriter and composer] Glen Ballard [was also involved]. It was just one of those crazy things. I went in and met them, they had two pages of what they wanted to do – an American jazz club in Paris – and they had all the music.”

Jack Thorne

At that time, Thorne was writing international crime thriller The Last Panthers, which was originally set in Paris but later moved to Marseille. His love of the French capital and his father’s experience as a town planner meant he had an “obsession” with the city’s ring road and how it had created inclusive and exclusive places, leading him to want to tell a story that reflects the multicultural, multi-class melting pot of Paris.

“I used to be a teacher and was in London at the time they were closing the Aylesbury Estate, and I became very aware of how many people were campaigning to stay, even though it wasn’t the nicest block of flats in the world,” he explains.

“But they were aware of being shunted out of London. It feels interesting to look at who the people are who live on the edge of that [in Paris], and jazz is a very good form to explore that with. I talked about all those things, they read The Last Panthers and, thankfully, they hired me. It was a long development process, during which time Damien became a superstar.”

The Eddy, which launches worldwide on Netflix on May 8 following its world premiere at Berlinale in February, is set in a vibrant multicultural neighbourhood of modern-day Paris, where Elliot Udo (André Holland), a once-celebrated jazz pianist in New York, is now the co-owner of the struggling titular club. Managing the house band fronted by on-off girlfriend Maja (Joanna Kulig), he learns that business partner Farid (Tahar Rahim) may be involved in questionable practices, while secrets come to light that have also been hidden from Farid’s wife Amira (Leïla Bekhti).

When Elliot’s troubled teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) suddenly arrives in Paris to live with him, his personal and professional worlds quickly start to unravel as he confronts his past, fighting to save the club and protect those closest to him.

Chazelle is the lead director, alongside Poul, Houda Benyamina (Divines) and Laïla Marrakchi (Le Bureau des Légendes), while The Eddy’s band is composed of real-life musicians Randy Kerber, Ludovic Louis, Lada Obradovic, Jowee Omicil and Damian Nueva Cortes.

Damien Chazelle (left) with The Eddy star André Holland

As you might expect of a series set in a jazz club, music is a constant presence, from the house band performing on stage in front of a packed crowd to numerous characters spending a moment in contemplation tickling the ivories at home.

Each episode is also focused on a single character, so in the writers room, Thorne found himself asking three questions: what is the character arc, how does that impact Elliot and what’s the song?

“Glen and Randy wrote 60 songs together, so we had this raft of stuff to choose between and it was case of what song speaks to the story you’re trying to tell,” Thorne says. “With episode one, it’s about The Eddy, so the song ‘The Eddy’ felt right. Then it was about breaking it down into pieces so you could see this song being discovered, and that becomes the story of the episode, in some ways, as everything else goes along.”

Throughout, however, Elliot is at the centre of the story and the world of The Eddy, with his relationship with daughter Julie also at the core of the eight-episode series. “But like in jazz, it had to be democratic. It had to have space for everyone to have their moment and for us to get an understanding of them,” the writer continues.

“The question when creating the character of Elliot was why would someone be in Paris and why would they be running a jazz club? He became a jazz musician in exile and then the question became in exile from what? Everything built from that and his selfishness and his myopia. And then, hopefully, through the show you see those scales falling away as this becomes a coming-of-age story for him and his daughter, which grew through the writing process.”

Another notable quality about The Eddy is the way the characters, many of whom are not native French speakers, bounce between languages.

Holland plays club owner Elliott, while Joanna Kulig is Maja, singer in The Eddy’s house band

“The thing we always stuck to was that when people are at their most emotional, they tend to speak their own language, because that’s our basest means of communication,” Thorne says. “We were constantly analysing what language is important and when. Elliot’s French is good but he speaks with an American accent. Julie’s French is not very good, she’s learning, but she’s got a very good brain and is picking it up very quickly. In the band, Jude [Nueva] is Cuban, so he speaks French and English with an inflection. Katrina [Obradovic] is Croatian. Everyone comes from different places – this is a boiling pot of seeing how everyone works together.”

Language was also a big factor for Kulig, who plays Maja, Elliot’s on-off girlfriend and the singer of The Eddy’s house band. The Polish actor faced speaking and singing in French and English, something she says was “a huge experiment” that pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Kulig first met Chazelle and auditioned for the role in LA in 2019 when she was part of the Oscar campaign for Polish historical drama Zimna wojna (Cold War), about a musical director who discovers a young singer (played by Kulig) and their subsequent love story.

Matters were complicated by the fact she was due to give birth just two days later, but she met Chazelle in Santa Monica and talked about The Eddy for two-and-a-half hours. Then, on her due date, she met Ballard and Kerber for a music audition, while her husband, writer and director Maciej Bochniak, waited outside in the car with her suitcase ready to race to the hospital.

Kulig won the role, and a week later, on Valentine’s Day, she gave birth to baby Jan. Days after that, she was at the Oscar ceremony, and a further week on, preparations for The Eddy began.

Kulig’s character was reimagined to better suit the Polish actor

“When Jan was five weeks old, I came back to Warsaw. They sent a music coach from LA and we worked for three weeks, and later we went to Paris and spent six months together,” Kulig says. “It was one huge adventure – an Oscar campaign, then the baby and working with Damien Chazelle. I’m super proud because this project wasn’t easy. It was my dream but it was hard too. There was the live music, a lot of different cultures and different languages.”

Maja wasn’t originally Polish, with the character at one point an American called Kelly. But Kulig’s performance in Cold War saw the character changed to fit the actor. “I was super happy because this project was being developed for many years but they didn’t have the finances. Then Netflix gave them the money for this very artistic project, and they were very happy that it would be possible to show a large audience this art-house and jazz project. I jumped in at the last moment, which is why I was really lucky.”

Having lived with Elliot in New York, Maja follows him to Paris, but she soon begins to struggle with life in France. “They have a difficult relationship because Elliot is introverted and Maja wants to talk about feelings,” Kulig explains.

“She loves him very much. But when we meet them, she’s quite depressed. They have a very hard relationship. The communication is hard. Step by step, she becomes stronger and more independent, and she doesn’t want to be in this kind of relationship, so we see her progress through the series. Her episode is number five, so this is the moment when she changes and decides to be stronger and more in control of her life.”

Filmed on location in Paris, production called for Kulig to spend many hours on stage, having learned all the shows’ songs by heart. Sometimes she would have to sing quietly if dialogue was being recorded inside the club while the band was performing, before raising the volume when she was in front of the camera.

Alan Poul, one of the show’s directors, in conversation with Holland

“We had to concentrate a lot,” she admits. “We always did one song on one day – I don’t know how many times I sang each song, but Cold War was always 25 takes, so I knew this process. It was very interesting having jazz musicians acting because we had three cameras in a documentary style so we could be more free. They were great actors – they have something about them, they’re open to new things. We connected and we became The Eddy band. I had my own band!”

As for working with Chazelle, Kulig says she sometimes found improvising tough but describes the director as very gentle and sensitive. “He had a good connection with his musicians, they’ve known each other for years. And he knows all the shots. He knew how the series would look.

“I enjoyed it because you have to leave your comfort zone and use different areas of your brain. It’s scary, but what was interesting on this project was all the actors had different comfort zones. For André, it was working with European directors and singing; for me, it was the language; and for the musicians, it was how to act. All of us found different areas scary but we were together and we shared our feelings. It’s something special.”

The diversity on screen was replicated in the writers room, where Thorne was joined by Rachel De-Lahay, with whom he had worked on Kiri, while Netflix suggested he bring in Hamid Hlioua (Cannabis), whom execs at the streamer felt could speak to the French-Arabic experience. Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Secret Diary of a Call Girl) also joined alongside Phillip Howze (Mindhunter).

“Rebecca’s amazing and she also has a sense of Eastern Europe. Then Philip, who is an African-American writer, was incredibly vital because there were questions about the identity of Elliot and Julie that I was really struggling with, and Philip brought that perspective to it,” Thorne says. “We had that boiling pot of music and directors and we needed writers who were also reflective of that, rather than us attempting to tell it without that complexity.”

Music is a constant presence in the series, from the house band to characters playing at home

Thorne describes location-hunting across Paris with Chazelle as “amazing,” with the creative duo learning more about their characters through the places they would live and work, while Poul was a constant sounding board for ideas. Thorne also did a lot of work with Ballard, discussing how the live music would interact with the story.

However, he says his biggest challenge was finding Elliot’s path through the series. “We had all these different elements – a crime story, which I wanted to be a minor story where we still had space to tell the character journeys; we had music that had to play a huge role, and there were going to be long takes of live music; and this idea of each character helming an episode – so it was like, ‘How do we find the space to tell Elliot’s story well?’”

Thorne, who wrote the first season of BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials, is now working on the fantasy drama’s second season, based on Philip Pullman’s A Subtle Knife, while he is also “thinking seriously” about the potential third instalment, based on Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass.

But given the chance, he would return for an encore of The Eddy. “I still think there’s more story to tell, I hope, but it’s a strange old show! I really hope people watch it,” he says. “Netflix took a big chance on us because it is a bit different. It isn’t conventional in how it draws viewers in, so it all depends on metrics. I’d really like to do more of it.

And how does it compare to his previous series, which are often deeply rooted in social realism, such as the This Is England series, National Treasure, Kiri and The Accident? “I see this as social realism too, but it’s got music in it,” he adds. “No one breaks into song at any point. This is just the story of musicians in Paris. And Paris, I think, is fascinating. I hope that’s enough.”

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Intimate relations

Having worked on series including Sex Education, Gentleman Jack and Normal People, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien explains why television’s approach to sex scenes has to change.

It’s impossible to imagine a sword fight or a battle scene being filmed without actors spending many hours choreographing and rehearsing the action in detail beforehand. Similarly, a dance routine would also be the subject of meticulous planning before being recorded.

Ita O’Brien

So, why is the way sex scenes are filmed only now coming under greater scrutiny? For the past few years, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien (pictured top on set) has spearheaded a shift in the industry and led a new approach to intimacy on screen, one that invites greater communication and transparency during filming, puts in place a structure that allows for agreement and consent between actors and directors and that allows time for intimate scenes to be choreographed clearly.

“In the past, there wasn’t a sense of bringing a professional structure to the intimate work,” she explains, speaking during a keynote session at the Berlinale Series Market in February. “If you had a fight, you certainly wouldn’t just say, ‘Okay, we’ll hand you the swords and then just go for it.’ That wouldn’t be reasonable as you’re in severe danger of an injury happening. So you make sure a stunt coordinator or a fight director is there; they teach techniques and they choreograph the fight content. They will have spoken to the director and made sure they’re serving the director’s vision. If there’s a dance, of course, you’re not going to just talk about it and then throw the people on and say, ‘Right, just do the tango.’ You’re going to have a choreographer, who’s going to listen to the director, hear their vision, choreograph clearly and then make sure you create a scene that serves the storytelling.”

It’s that approach that O’Brien is now bringing to intimate content, having worked on series such as Sex Education, Normal People, Gangs of London, Bulletproof, Pennyworth, Gentleman Jack and Watchmen.

From the moment producers identify an intimate scene, as they might for a fight or a dance, she will speak to the director to hear what they want from that particular moment. The director will speak to the actors about degree of nudity or sexual content, and once that’s happened, she will then speak with the actors to discover if they have any concerns.

O’Brien’s work on Sex Education saw her tackle a particularly tricky scene

“I’m making sure I’m listening to those concerns, sharing that with the production and making sure everything’s put in place to make that actor feel autonomous and powered, and really happy to be serving that director’s vision,” she explains. “I’ll then go and connect with the wardrobe department, speaking to them about what genitalia coverings, modesty garments or other coverings need to be put in place. Then, if I haven’t already worked on set, I’ll speak to the first AD [assistant director], making sure that we’re collaborating and running a closed set with the best practice possible.

“When we come to the day on set, we rehearse the scene really clearly. I’ll have spoken to the second AD, making sure there’s time and space for that rehearsal. And that’s a shift in the industry as well. When I started, my first two programmes were Sex Education and Gentleman Jack. People said to me, ‘Oh, you’ll never have time for rehearsal.’ But of course, you’d never say that about a fight or a dance. So it’s the same now for intimate content; you make time to rehearse.”

Providing time for rehearsals means greater efficiency on set as the scenes then become repeatable and the actors are more comfortable with what they’re doing, which means “they can make a way better sex scene because they’re really happy with what the content is going to be, so they can act their socks off,” O’Brien says, adding that she also ensures actors are happy after filming has taken place, offering several points through the process where they can see their work before the rest of the world does.

The BBC’s adaptation of the novel Normal People

“It’s about creating a scene that honours the director’s vision, honours the writing and allows the actors to be empowered and happy with the work that they have done.”

O’Brien’s work, through her company Intimacy on Set, is now spreading across Europe, having shared her guidelines in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France. And across the board, it’s change that is desperately needed.

Asked whether she has worked with an intimacy coordinator before, Swedish star Sofia Helin (The Bridge, Atlantic Crossing) responds: “Never. I can’t think about it. I can’t deal with it. It’s tense every time you have to cross your own borders in order to satisfy the director’s needs. So I haven’t dealt with it. It has been a part of my job that I don’t like, and with Ita’s technique, it could be a part of my job that I like. But the interesting thing is that when I’ve done scenes with a character who is in charge of her sexuality, then it’s never been horrible. But the other way around, it’s always horrible, and that’s more usual.”

Helin says on shows she has worked on, there has always been a very “concrete and direct” vision about how intimate scenes would be portrayed, leading to the moment where the actors are on set, the clock is ticking and the actor’s voice has been taken away. “What we as actors want to do is to tell the story, and we can almost do anything to tell the story,” she says, “especially when the team is there and the camera is on. You say ‘yes’ to almost anything just to serve the story. So that ‘no’ has to be listened to by someone [like O’Brien] who can step in and say, ‘No, no. We don’t do that.’”

Gentleman Jack was among the first dramas O’Brien was involved in

Likewise, director Soleen Yusef (Skylines, Deutschland 89) has never worked with intimacy guidelines in Germany, having planned her own guidelines up to this point. “I would feel more safe if I could handle it in a way that’s much more professional, because for me, I just improvise,” she says.

“We’re not just talking about intimacy that is very sweet. We’re talking about love and sexuality. I had to do a sexual assault, for example. They weren’t naked. But still, it was very difficult for me to do that. I always meet with the actors before and I ask different questions. How far do you want to go? What do you want to wear? Do you want to be completely naked? You need to be prepared. We also had a completely closed set. You have to just create an atmosphere for everybody who’s doing the scene to feel comfortable. For me as the director, I don’t want to go too far. I don’t want to hurt people.”

O’Brien says her work introduces a process of agreement and consent between actors, directors and others involved in the scene. A key principle is ensuring the actors are present in their mind and body so they can lay down boundaries they feel comfortable with and confident any concerns will be listened to.

“Very often you hear actors go, ‘In order to get through the sex scene I downed a bottle the vodka.’ When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I had several people from different places telling me that another practice is that the production will offer the actors valium in order to get through the sex scene, which is doing the absolute opposite of what we want,” she reveals. “We want them to be ultra present, so they can really be saying yes to what they’re happy with, to be autonomous, to not feel they’re being pushed past their own boundaries.

“That’s a shift in the industry. Before now, an actor who said no might have felt they were going to be considered a troublemaker, a pain in the ass, a diva and possibly wouldn’t get employed again.”

Sky1 action thriller Bulletproof

Often in sex scenes, actors are judged to have no chemistry with each other if the audience can sense a feeling of tension or awkwardness on screen. O’Brien believes audiences are left squirming in their seats when they can feel the actors are uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do. Her work now aims to ensure the actors are happy and in control, meaning audiences will remain engaged with the scene and the storytelling. She refers to an example in season one of Netflix drama Sex Education, where a fight between two male characters ends with them having oral sex and both actors had concerns about being asked to spit on the other person, whether for real or using a substitute substance.

“We’re creative people so it was about, ‘Where are we going to put the camera?’ Very quickly, we had one actor there, a camera there and a substance made up by the make-up department was spat on to a piece of paper by one actor. The other actor was filmed responding to receiving the spit and then you’re away,” she explains. “The director of the first block didn’t even know they hadn’t spat on to each other. So it’s trusting that to know that we can use body parts and we can be creative with where the camera is in order to tell the story while keeping the actors safe.”

Through her company, O’Brien is training up new intimacy coordinators through a series of programmes to ensure preparation for sex scenes is taken as seriously as a fight or a dance sequence. She is also keen to ensure training can be provided by people of all genders, sex and ethnicities.

“My intention is that whoever is acting feels like they’re represented,” she concludes. “If they have a request, I can help to honour that, so the person performing feels as safe and careful as possible.”

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All in the Mind

For two seasons, Netflix crime drama Mindhunter followed the investigators studying the damaged psyches of serial killers in an attempt to understand them and catch them, paving the way for the development of modern serial killer profiling.

Set in the 1970s, the show centres on FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they apply their groundbreaking behavioural analysis to hunting some of the most dangerous people in the US.

In this DQTV interview, McCallany discusses his character and the relationship Tench has with his partner Ford, describing them as more than partners but less than friends.

He also talks about what makes the show special: “visionary filmmaker” David Fincher’s role as director and executive producer, and the show’s source material – Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker.

McCallany also speaks about the show’s ambition to be as authentic as possible, believing that this makes Mindhunter stand apart from other series in the crime genre.

Mindhunter is produced by Denver and Delilah Productions and Fox 21 for Netflix.

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Fever pitch

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes turns his hand to the origins of football in his latest period drama, Netflix series The English Game. DQ discovers why it will appeal to fanatics and non-fans alike.

With the sporting calendar on hold around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic – seeing some teams resort to ‘playing’ each other via games of noughts and crosses on their Twitter accounts – football fans, at least, will soon be able to turn to the most unlikely of sources to get their fix: the man behind Downton Abbey.

Arriving on Netflix this Friday is six-part drama The English Game, written by Downton’s Oscar-winning creator Julian Fellowes. The miniseries promises to reveal the true story behind the origins of the world’s most popular sport, taking viewers back to the 1880s and the much rougher game that would eventually evolve into what the Americans call soccer.

This being penned by Fellowes – who so expertly explored class via Downton’s ‘upstairs/downstairs’ dynamic and treads in similar territory with newly launched ITV drama Belgravia – issues of class are integral to the storyline.

The story is one that Fellowes and co believe will be unfamiliar to the majority of those interested in football. It delves into how a game that was originally the preserve of the upper classes came to be dominated by the working man, with mill owners forming teams consisting of their employees.

The drama centres on two real-life football pioneers from opposite sides of the divide. Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft) is the captain of the Old Etonians football team, versed in the established, rough-and-tumble style of the game, while Scotsman Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie), brought south of the border by a mill owner, brings with him a fresh, passing-focused approach.

Kevin Guthrie plays working-class Scottish footballer Fergus Suter

For the former, football is a gentleman’s pastime, while Suter is among the first people to be paid solely for playing the game.

As you might have guessed, Kinnaird and Suter find themselves on a collision course as they prepare for an all-important match between their two very different teams that means so much more than just the result.

“I don’t think I could really be described as a big football fan,” Fellowes admits with a knowing smile, revealing that it was the class conflict behind the story that drew him to the project.

“I didn’t know that there was this class war at the beginning of the game. The fact that the working class essentially won it changed the shape of the game and gave it to the world. It appealed to me because it was a drama-in-miniature of what was happening in the whole of Western civilisation towards the end of the 19th century.”

It’s not just on the pitch that class is tackled in The English Game, with Fellowes detailing how he regularly uses group dining scenes to explore the issue. “There’s usually a dinner or a lunch or something in most of the things I do, because then you can tell so many stories simultaneously,” he explains.

Edward Holcroft is Arthur Kinnaird, captain of the upper-class Old Etonians team

During one such dinner in the show, some of the upper-class characters lament the fact that workers are being paid to play football. “They’re saying it’s not fair, but Kinnaird points out that none of the workers have ever eaten a dinner like the one they’ve just eaten; none of them have the time to practice that they have; none of them have two or three days a week off – or even the whole week – to do what they like, so is that a fair balance? And the answer is, of course, no.

“You can say that visually very easily in a very lavish dining room full of flowers and silver gilt. You don’t even have to put the whole thing into words.

“It’s two sides against each other, but on each side you have a guy who comes to see the other’s point of view. That’s really the arc of the show.”

Unlike Fellowes, executive producer Rory Aitken is very much a fan of the sport, but he was equally unaware of the tale behind its origins. “I didn’t know the story either. And I hadn’t seen anything like it on television, so I was as excited as anyone to delve into the history and discover it,” says the producer from 42, the UK-based prodco behind the show.

The project had initially been conceived as a feature film, but the creative team eventually decided that the many layers to the story made it more suited to the longer format of a miniseries.

Julian Fellowes (left) on location with Rory Aitken

“It’s notoriously hard to make any drama films about sports, because you can see amazing dramatic sports on television every weekend, pretty much every weekday now,” Aitken notes, speaking before the coronavirus-enforced sporting lockdown.

“So really to see how it plays out in a dramatic context, other than on the pitch, is something that we realised could work as a TV drama. And Julian is as much of a historian as a drama writer, and really understood that period and how to dramatise it.”

One of the main challenges of featuring sports in drama is realistically recreating the action on screen. To that end, the production faced the unusual task of finding cast members whose acting chops were matched by their footballing ability.

“Actually, a very surprising proportion of actors are very good at football. I don’t know what the reasons are, but there’s a very high proportion of actors who say they’re good at football,” Aitken jokes, “so it was part of the audition process.”

Thankfully, in Holcroft and Guthrie, The English Game found leads who could back up their words. “The audition process was mainly about the scene work, but I’m fortunate in that I was quietly confident in my ability,” says Guthrie, who reveals he was a youth player for Glasgow club Celtic.

Actors playing footballers had to go through a long period of training to shoot the match scenes

“So for sure there’s a background there, and I play football a lot, as a lot of actors do. We’re in and out of work, so that’s probably the reason why.

“The most challenging thing was actually dumbing the skills down a bit, as arrogant as that sounds – being able to make just passing the ball look difficult.”

Holcroft faced different physical requirements as the captain of the Old Etonians, whose version of football he describes as “more like a relaxed version of rugby.”

“There wasn’t a great deal of skill. When we did the audition process, I remember that it got down to about two or three of us for the role, and that’s the worst time for an actor, because it can either go so well or it can be crushing. And then I kept getting calls [from the casting team] in the next few days going, ‘Can we just find out – how good are you at football?’

“It really freaked me out, because I was thinking, ‘What if they want someone who’s professional?’ But actually, when we started, it was like, ‘Forget everything you know – forget all the football you’ve learned.’”

The English Game debuts on Netflix this Friday

With the cast in place, an intense and prolonged period of training was needed before the production could shoot the tightly choreographed match scenes. Football experts and historians were brought in, and the production team were allowed access to Manchester United’s Carrington training facility to fine-tune their preparations.

“They all had to train all of the moves that we had in the show. In some ways, that was the most challenging part of the shoot, because shooting footballers is slow and technical. It was months of training,” Aitken explains.

“Also, they weren’t only training all the moves, they were training to play in the style they would have played in the 1880s, which was incredibly different to how it is now. The equipment was different, the boots that they wore… In fact, only the Old Etonians had actual football boots – the workers played in their work boots.”

Describing training at Manchester United’s facilities as “exciting,” Aitken adds: “One of the trainers there is a football historian himself, so he immediately knew who everyone was [playing].”

The meticulous preparation apparently paid off. “When it came to filming, they were incredibly well drilled,” Aitken says. “There weren’t too many takes, and you’ve got to be precise because otherwise you’re filming everything 15 times.”

All this helps to realistically bring to life a story that Fellowes believes will appeal to both football fans and those with no real interest in the sport.

“You know, it’s true. I always say, when the stories are true, they have a kind of resonance,” the writer says.

Having clearly enjoyed delving into a different subject, who knows – maybe more sports-origin series will come from the Downton scribe. Bog snorkelling, anyone?

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Once upon a time in Vienna

Delve into the mind of Sigmund Freud as Austria’s ORF and Netflix partner for an eight-part series that sees the young doctor test out his unconventional theories while solving a murder conspiracy in 1890s Vienna.

Upon hearing the name Sigmund Freud, one might imagine a man with round, black-rimmed glasses and a neat, white beard, perhaps puffing on a cigar or sitting behind a desk, making notes while listening to a patient. For more than a century, the esteemed academic and neurologist, who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, has long influenced the medical world – and psychology and psychiatry in particular – with his theories on the unconscious, dreams, sexual behaviour and ego.

Now, 80 years after the doctor’s death, television viewers are to be given an insight into his early life in Freud, a thriller set against the backdrop of extravagant 1890s Vienna, famous for its decadence and the dark underbelly of its high society.

It’s a city where mysterious murders and political intrigue clash as the young psychoanalyst, played by Robert Finster, finds his revolutionary theories are met with strong opposition from his colleagues and wider Austrian society. But when he meets war veteran and policeman Alfred Kiss (Georg Freidrich) and notorious medium Fleur Salomé (Ella Rumpf), Freud unwittingly becomes part of an investigation into a murderous conspiracy.

The German-language series, coproduced by Austria’s ORF and global streamer Netflix, comes from writers Marvin Kren, who also directs, Benjamin Hessler and Stefan Brunner, all of whom were intrigued by the idea of placing a young Freud at the centre of a crime thriller.

“There’s this mysterious thing about Freud,” says Kren, who previously worked with Hessler on German gangster drama 4 Blocks. “I’m from Vienna; I was raised here and there’s no other city in Europe where Freud could have had his career because Vienna has a very strange culture and he’s a strange person.

Freud co-writer and director Marvin Kren (seated) with actors Robert Finster, Ella Rumpf and Georg Friedrich

“Viennese people are full of contrasts. They are funny and evil at the same time, and I think this is what kept Freud going in the search of the human soul, because of the Viennese soul. I was very interested to dig deep into Vienna at the end of the 19th century, to catch the atmosphere of this time.”

Acknowledging that Freud has now become something of a parody of himself – often being the subject of satirical cartoons or the source of sexual jokes – Hessler says the writers wanted to approach the psychoanalyst from a fresh perspective, presenting him as a hugely ambitious, revolutionary thinker at the start of his career.

“He was intensely conscious of himself, of the image he wanted to present to the world after [his death],” he says. “Even as a young man, he would imagine the house he was born in receiving a plaque saying ‘Freud was born here.’ He wanted to become a legend and he was very convinced he would. That’s an interesting character – but what was that character like before he achieved his goal?”

That Freud was hugely controlling over his image and perception might have proven to be a stumbling block to the writing team, as he destroyed all his work, letters and papers from the period on which the series focuses. But, in fact, this gave them some welcome creative freedom. So what was the young Freud actually like?

“Full of coke! He’s full of coke and not a person you want to trust,” says Kren. “He’s restless, he’s nervous, he’s full of instinct. He does everything to reach his goals but not because he is an egocentric person. He needs a position in Vienna because he doesn’t have a rich family behind him. That’s the person we start with – someone who fights for his ideas because he believes in them. And he needs people to believe in them to get recognition and money.”

Finster stars as a young Sigmund Freud

Freud is just one part of the show, however. Other key figures include Fleur Salomé, a necromancer and medium who enjoys the fineries of Viennese high society. She brings to the series a discussion of the occult and how it might blend or clash with Freud’s ideas about the subconscious. Then there’s the crime story and the introduction of Kiss, who discovers various murders around the city.

A less imaginitive show might use the premise of a tired and weary police officer, struggling to crack the case, reluctantly turning to an unlikely figure and their controversial methods to solve the killings. But the Freud writers were keen to avoid this “pedestrian” scenario.

“In that case, the revolutionary aspect would lie in the character of Kiss, who would be progressive enough to ask this crazy doctor, who talks about the subconscious, for help. That’s not what we wanted to do,” Hessler explains. “In our series, Freud sees an opportunity to achieve fame and recognition. He uses the situation more than Kiss tries to use him to solve the cases, and then a whole other dynamic takes over and it turns into something very different.”

Early footage of the series – produced by Satel Film and Bavaria Fiction and distributed by ZDF Enterprises – suggests a haunting, horror-tinged quality to the drama, which the writers say blends a historic backdrop with very modern storytelling, music and camera movements. “The whole world has their clichéd images of our city and we take all those images and do a crazy horror show with it,” Kren says. “We’ve made a new cocktail.”

Central to the look of the show has been production designer Verena Wagner (Willkommen Österreich), who was able to make use of far more material detailing Vienna in the 1890s than the writers could to uncover Freud’s life in the same period.

Set designer Verena Wagner (right) with production designer assistant Attila Plangger

“We found books that say Vienna was a very dark, rotten and dirty city and that brown was a very prominent colour – even houses were painted brown or dark grey,” she explains. “It must have been a completely different Vienna from the one we know now.”

Filming mostly took place in Prague, which doubled for Vienna, with the production team using the gothic Czech city’s castles and chateaus. Interiors, which were often exquisitely decorated, were built on sound stages, such as those for Freud’s flat and some of the larger Viennese homes.

“The time for sound stage usage was limited so we had to come up with ways for multiple uses of our sets,” Wagner says. “So Marvin and I talked about how people who lived in Vienna wanted to be individual but there was also a desire to be fashionable. They tried to be in with the crowd. So we took the first flat and just changed it a little bit each time for the others. We started with Freud’s flat, so there’s something of his home in every other flat. But if you watch the show, you will not recognise it. It’s in your subconscious!”

To write the series, Kren, Hessler and Brunner held several sessions together before splitting up to pen their individual episodes. Director Kren then left the writing group to begin pre-production.

“To call [having the director in the writers room] helpful would be underselling it,” Hessler says of Kren’s dual role. “The whole process relies on that. When we make up stuff together, I don’t think of Marvin as the director and potential enemy of the writer. He’s just my creative partner. Of course, his expertise and his knowledge of what is possible and what he wants to do is massively helpful and really guides the process.”

Freidrich as policeman Alfred Kiss

Kren also took the lead in discussions with ORF and Netflix, leaving the writers to be able to shape the series without interference. “Marvin is such a great creative partner because he knows my neurotic and sensitive writer’s soul and knows what to shield me from in the discussions he has and the limitations he’s fighting against,” Hessler adds.

While clashes between a public broadcaster in ORF and a global streaming platform such as Netflix might seem inevitable, Kren says both were extremely relaxed about the series, affording him “absolute creative freedom.” ORF’s intention to air Freud in primetime when it launches in Austria in the spring meant there were some discussions about the amount of sex and violence featured, and this will be reflected in slightly different edits for each. Netflix will then follow with its own worldwide roll-out.

As a director, Kren took some inspiration from his work on 4 Blocks, the German drama about a Lebanese crime family operating in Berlin that first aired on TNT Serie in 2017, taking an approach that allows him to work freely with the camera and the actors in a 360-degree setting.

“I don’t want to worry too much about lighting,” he jokes. “I just need the actors’ energy. I work with them for two months [before filming] with our acting coach, Giles Foreman, who has worked on five of my movies. He’s a big influence for me and my creative work and, with him, we develop all the important scenes and really dig deep into the heart of the characters and find combinations. We try to make ‘art explosions’ on the set.”

Kren also likes to work with new actors, something he has continued with Freud’s relatively unknown star Finster (My Brother’s Keeper). The director says Finster has brought a “certain dynamic” to the series, skilfully portraying both the light and dark shades of Freud’s complex personality. “It’s spectacular to watch,” he adds. “I’m very interested to see how people will react to him. He does a magnificent job.”

Ella Rumpf plays medium Fleur Salomé

The eight-episode series was shot across 86 days, with production wrapping in June. Wagner says her job was made trickier by the language barrier she faced in the Czech Republic, though the toughest moment came on the final day of shooting, when torrential rain twice postponed filming.

“You could not do anything. We were really dependent on the weather and it was raining cats and dogs,” she says. “We were filming in a canal and the water was rising. You can’t do anything about it and you feel helpless. The rest of the time, the preparation was wild and we had a tough schedule, but it was all really good. When it ended, I was really sad. Everything was great and you forget the bad things very quickly.”

In the writers room, the biggest challenges came at the start of development, when the trio considered how to bring explanations of Freud’s scientific theories into the drama as seamlessly as possible, without either leaving the audience confused or filling the script with clunky paragraphs of exposition.

“The subconscious, the id and the superego are ideas most people are thinly aware of, but many people aren’t aware of them at all,” Hessler says.

“What had to be achieved in the first episode was to explain that to the audience and have them understand what Freud’s theory is and what about it was so groundbreaking at the time. You can have him explain it in Freudian terms, which is very difficult to follow and quite boring and dry. In the end, I found a metaphorical way for him to explain it, so I was very happy.

“Another thing that turned out to be very complicated was Freud’s family structure, which was incredibly strange. He was married to his own sister-in-law – his wife’s brother was married to Freud’s sister – which isn’t something you see everyday and was quite difficult to reveal to the audience without it being explanatory.”

Kren in discussion with Finster and DOP Markus Nestroy

However, it is those complicated family dynamics that ground the series away from the central crime stories. “The show is very tense and there are a lot of dark, creepy moments. When he’s together with his family, you can breathe a little,” Kren notes.

Freud and his theories are no strangers to television drama. Other historical crime series, such as US series The Alienist and British-made Vienna Blood, have similarly explored the use of his theories to profile and track criminals, while Poirot’s David Suchet portrayed the psychoanalyst in a 1984 six-part BBC biopic.

However, ORF and Netflix’s show is the first to imagine how a revolutionary young Freud might have been received when he first began to pitch his new ideas and how 1890s Vienna might have reacted to him.

It also stands out because, as Kren concludes, “it’s made by Austrians. We Austrians breathe Freud from the first moments we walk on the Viennese streets. It’s here; it’s in our genes.”

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Stranger danger

The team behind Netflix thriller Safe reunite for The Stranger, based on Harlan Coben’s mystery novel. DQ visits the set to find out how they reworked the story for the screen.

A pretty, red-brick side road off Bolton town centre has, perhaps, never seen anything quite like it. Cameras, lights and lots of action for a fast-paced story of murder, intrigue and secrets that – most intriguingly – includes the first lady of comedy, Jennifer Saunders, in her first serious role.

This is the set of The Stranger, the latest Harlan Coben project with Red Production Company for Netflix, and once again the casting gives a hint at its ambition. While the team’s last project, Safe, had Dexter’s Michael C Hall as a suburban British dad whose life unravelled when his daughter went missing, The Stranger has a starry cast including Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran (pictured above with co-star Kadiff Kirwan), Stephen Rea, Anthony Head and Hannah John-Kamen.

Harlan Coben

Like Safe, it is set in a heightened world of suburbia where everyone lives in nice houses, and almost all of them have dark a secret. It’s a fascination of New Jersey-born writer Coben, who has sold 70 million copies of his page-turning mysteries set in a fictionalised version of his home state.

Secrets are once again at the centre of The Stranger, which debuts tomorrow and is the first of his Red coproductions (as well as Safe, they also made The Five with him for Sky) to be adapted from one of his books.

The character of the Stranger, a male in the book, is now played by young female Ant-Man & the Wasp star John-Kamen, who for the opening few episodes drops the truth on unwitting strangers. The first of them is solicitor Adam Price, played by The Hobbit actor Armitage, who is told his wife (played by Dervla Kirwan) faked a pregnancy.

The idea, says Coben, came from the discovery of places on the internet that sell fake pregnancy kits. “I read about this going on in the Dark Web and thought it was just incredible and it planted this seed in my head about what happened if you faked a pregnancy and people found out?” he says. “People think they are anonymous when they do things like this, but they are not.

“The Stranger comes into each of their lives and plants a seed that germinates into something really ugly and unexpected. Adam is an ordinary guy who is told this secret about his wife and by the end of episode one she has disappeared and he goes on this journey to discover what has happened to her.”

Richard Armitage and Hannah John-Kamen in The Stranger

It is a real action adventure for former Spooks star Armitage, who claims The Stranger is one of the few shows he’s made that he would actually want to watch. “I’ve been in lots of things where I’ve loved acting in it but it’s not the kind of thing I would watch at home, but this is exactly what I would watch,” he says. “It had a brilliant script, a brilliant cast and I get to do lots of action scenes. The whole thing was a no-brainer for me.”

Saunders plays Heidi, the second of the characters to be told a secret; this time about her daughter.

“It was strange at first, not to be playing a role for laughs,” says the actor and comedian, famed for starring in Absolutely Fabulous and her comedy partnership with Dawn French. “But once we started filming and I’d done the first take, I realised it was just like normal filming, only I didn’t have to try to make people laugh. In comedy, you are normally heading for a joke – and when the director says cut, you hope the crew will laugh. Hopefully they won’t in this.”

While fans of the book will have an idea of what happens, Coben, along with scriptwriter Danny Brocklehurst (Brassic, Clocking Off, Shameless) have made so many changes that they have created something almost completely different.

“I know a lot of writers don’t like their books to be changed, but I kind of love it,” says Coben. “It works if you trust the people you are working with. The book is still there but it’s a separate entity. The fun for me is seeing how things change.

The show features comic actor Jennifer Saunders’ first serious dramatic performance

“So for the character of the cop, Johanna, played by Siobhan Finneran, I created her and then Danny changed her a little bit and then Siobhan changed her a little bit too, so she’s taken off into whole areas I never could have expected.”

Coben is intimately involved with the process from beginning to end. It starts with him and Brocklehurst, alongside producers Nicola Schindler and Richard Fee, having an intense few days of storyboarding ideas. For this production, a whole new storyline involving teenagers – Adam’s kids, who just have small roles in the book – was created, while other characters are brought in that are completely new.

“Safe did really well among younger viewers and Netflix likes shows with a teenage story and I love a teenage story, so it was cool to bring them into it,” says Coben. “We’ve also brought in Adam’s dad, played by Anthony Head.”

In addition, the mysterious character of the Stranger not only changes sex from male to female but is also given her own complicated back story, while Rea’s retired cop, Martin Killane, a client of Adam’s, is also given a much more complete history.

Brocklehurst then goes away and writes the script, staying in regular contact with Coben. “I’d say it was a strange combination of a book adaptation and an original story,” says Brocklehurst. “The start and the end of the book are very similar [to the series] but a lot of the middle section is completely new.”

Dervla Kirwin is also among the Netflix series’ cast

The action has been transported from New Jersey to England – which means the lacrosse team is now a football one and there are fewer guns – but the story is universal. “As with Safe, you start with quite an ordinary domestic setup and an identifiable ordinary guy,” says Brocklehurst. “But things begin to unravel and you go to completely unexpected places.”

As with all Netflix shows, none of the production team have any idea how successful Safe was – only that they have been recommissioned and, as Netflix has optioned several of Coben’s books, they are hoping for more of the same.

All the writers can do is attempt to coax viewers into watching the next episode. “Of course, whoever you are doing any show for, you want to keep viewers watching. But when you do a show for Netflix, there is a real demand that viewers shouldn’t stop wanting to watch,” says Brocklehurst.

“It focuses you to have momentum building up throughout the episode and then these hooks at the end so that viewers feel like they have to watch the next one.”

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Lesson time

Netflix original series Sex Education follows Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward high-school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). In season one, Otis and his friend Maeve (Emma Mackey) set up a sex clinic at school to capitalise on his talent for dishing out sex advice.

In season two, Otis’s relationship with girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) progresses while he must also deal with his now-strained friendship with Maeve. Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school, while new kids come to town who will challenge the status quo.

The cast also includes Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, Aimee Lou Wood, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Chaneil Kular, Simone Ashley, Mimi Keene, Tanya Reynolds, Mikael Persbrandt, Jim Howick, Rakhee Thakrar, Samantha Spiro, James Purefoy and Alistair Petrie.

In this DQTV interview, executive producers Laurie Nunn, Ben Taylor and Jamie Campbell open up about the making of the show and bringing it back for a second run. Creator and writer Nunn reveals how she was brought the idea of putting a teenage sex therapist onto a school campus and then created the world of Moordale and its characters.

She also talks about how US teen series shaped the world of Sex Education, a vision shared with director Taylor, who wanted to create a “positive, warm school experience.”

The group also discuss bringing the cast together and the challenges of balancing so many characters’ stories, and tease the potential of future seasons.

Sex Education is produced by Eleven for Netflix.

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Bringing up Baby

Italian director Andrea De Sica has achieved global success with Netflix teen drama series Baby. He talks to DQ about the joys of working with a young creative team, what it’s like directing for Netflix and why he thinks the controversial series has been successful.

Set in Rome, Netflix’s Italian teen drama Baby tells the story of two teenage girls who lead double lives. By day, they are students at an elite high school; by night, they engage in prostitution. Premiering in November 2018, the show returned for a quick-turnaround second season last month.

Andrea De Sica

For director Andrea de Sica, Baby represents his first directing role on a drama series, following his directorial debut on 2016 film Children of the Night.

As well as featuring a young cast, much of Baby’s creative team and crew are also made up of young talent. The series was created by a collective of Italian screenwriters in their mid-20s, known as The Grams, and produced by brothers Marco and Nicola de Angelis.

Working with a largely young team proved useful for 37-year-old De Sica, who points out that his colleagues’ youthfulness meant they didn’t approach the series with a “typical Italian paternalistic approach.”

“There was no ‘Come on, I’ll show you the way.’ We were all in it together trying to figure it out,” he says, adding that even the composer behind the soundtrack was just 23.

“It was hard because it was my first series, but maybe that was a good thing because I didn’t have any orthodox methods. I did it my way. Everything was new and unexpected, and that was the best part about it. It was a totally spontaneous process of writing, directing and editing.”

Taking a new approach to directing was important for De Sica who, coming from an established family in the film industry, was determined not to be too heavily influenced by his roots and to make his work completely his own.

“I wanted to forget all the cinema references and directors in my life, which were very present in my first feature, and make Baby as fresh and direct as I could,” he says.

Baby focuses on a pair of high-school girls who engage in prostitution

But directing Baby was not a project De Sica could conquer alone, he adds, pointing out that the show’s themes also required a female voice to share directorial duties. This posed difficulties, however, as the controversial nature of the series made it hard to find someone willing to take it on.

“I couldn’t be the only director to do it, because Baby needed a woman too. It was impossible to direct it all by myself, but nobody else wanted to direct it. Everybody was saying, ‘You’re crazy!’ It was hard to find other directors, but at last we found one,” he says, referring to Anna Negri.

Netflix also provided the creative freedom De Sica desired for the project, which he says gave him a favourable working relationship with the streamer.

“I liked it a lot. First of all, the average age of the executives at Netflix is the same age as me, so we are at the same point in our lives. The second thing is the executives really know where they want to go, but at the same time know they should give you some freedom,” he says.

“They don’t interfere much, so we had our own rules and methods. They let us build this huge experiment, which was very risky but gave us much more freedom.”

De Sica on set with Baby leads Benedetta Porcaroli (left) and Alice Pagani

Although the show explores controversial and sensitive themes, De Sica praises it for giving a voice to women in a way that hasn’t been done before, which he believes is one of the reasons for its success.

“We speak about female teenagers differently from [how they’ve been spoken about] before in films and television. Females were often seduced and seen as objects; now they’re becoming active. They are proper protagonists of the story and have power in the environment that oppressed them. So it’s a sense of relief, I think, for the young female audiences that they finally they have their character, their heroine. And they are not necessarily good or bad, but something in between,” he says.

While De Sica says Italian audiences were very sceptical of Baby to begin with, he believes now is a good time to be working in TV in the country given the evolution the industry is currently experiencing, particularly with regard to the rise of SVoD services.

“It is a very good moment now in Italy because of this opening by the [SVoD] platforms for a younger generation of authors, screenwriters, directors and actors, while it is easier to make shows that do not normally feature in traditional Italian television,” he says.

“What I was pitching five years ago made people look at me like I was a Martian. Now, the industry is moving and we can build a new wave of films and series. I’m very optimistic about the next 10 years for me; I see lots of things that are possible to do.

“Other productions made by Netflix and similar platforms are also run by 30-something directors. There’s no longer the usual boundary that you have to be 50 to run a TV show, as there was 10 years ago in Italy. But it’s not just about age, it’s about the quality and themes that the projects are bringing up. We can do more experiments; we can go deeper and make shows that describe realities that maybe are very local but can travel the world, like Baby.”

So what’s next on the agenda for De Sica? Just ahead of the season two launch of Baby last month, the director announced plans to make a film based on Chiara Palazzolo’s Gothic novel Non Mi Uccidere, which translates as Don’t Kill Me.

Aimed at the same young audience as Baby, Non Mi Uccidere follows the story of 19-year-old Mirta who, along with her lover, dies from a drug overdose. Mirta is resurrected alone and learns that she must eat human beings in order to continue living.

De Sica is working alongside Baby creators The Grams on the project, with writer and producer Gianni Romoli, who acquired the rights to the book, also part of the writing team. Rome-based indie Vivo Film is producing.

But first, he is returning for the third and final season of Baby, which Netflix announced earlier this month with the promise that every secret in the series will be revealed.

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Butterfly effect

From the makers of Chernobyl comes Giri/Haji, a drama set between London and Tokyo that explores how a single murder affects two cities. DQ visits the set of the Netflix and BBC series.

It’s a freezing cold evening in central London, where news crews and bewildered passers-by mill around, wondering what has just happened. It is the aftermath of the Battle of Soho, the action-packed set piece that sees the multinational cast of Netflix and BBC2’s Giri/Haji taking up arms in an explosive bout of score-settling.

This violent reckoning is the climax of events set in motion by a single murder in London that shatters the fragile truce between Tokyo’s Yakuza gangs. Dispatched to investigate is careworn detective and family man Kenzo (Takehiro Hira), chosen because of the suspected involvement of his wayward brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka).

Once in the British capital, Kenzo is swept up into a dizzying world of uneasy alliances (with Kelly Macdonald’s lonely cop Sarah and rent boy Rodney, who actor Will Sharpe likens to “a peacock you find in a skip”) and dangerous foes (Charlie Creed-Miles’s remorseless British gangster Abbot and his weak-willed American ally Vickers, played by Justin Long). All will face the consequences of past decisions over the following eight episodes.

There’s a lot going on in Giri/Haji (which translates as Duty/Shame), from Bafta-nominated screenwriter Joe Barton (Humans). Blending Yakuza thriller and kitchen-sink drama, character study and even impressionistic animation, its very novelty proved irresistible to Macdonald, as did the opportunity to reunite with director A Child in Time director Julian Farino.

Giri Haji stars Kelly Macdonald and Kenzo Mori

“Julian phoned me up to ask if I’d read it,” she says. “I’d been told it was a Tokyo crime story that bleeds into London, but it’s so much more than that. It takes you off on unexpected tangents. The bonds that people share are unusual and it’s constantly surprising – all the more so, given Joe knew nothing about Japanese culture when he started, but that’s the confidence of youth, I guess!”

The initial concept was a loose one dating back almost a decade, inspired by Barton’s then-girlfriend taking a masters in forensic crime science and being intrigued by a middle-aged Japanese man sitting in silence at the back of the lecture hall. “It turned out he was a detective in the Tokyo police department,” says Barton. “There was something about that image that felt very cool and mysterious – it was an interesting protagonist for a high-end crime drama I might write in eight years time…”

Sister Pictures founder Jane Featherstone (Chernobyl) was intrigued, joining Barton to work up a script commissioned, then rejected, by another broadcaster. “I think they were afraid of how the Japanese element might land,” she says. “None of us know the answer to that yet, but both BBC and Netflix were excited by doing something a bit different. Netflix was keen to have something that worked in an emerging market like Japan, while the BBC, like all public service broadcasters, needs bold ideas to stand out more than ever.”

Those ideas are embodied by an opening 25 minutes featuring neither the English language nor anglophone actors. DQ finds the man required to carry much of those first scenes seeking sanctuary (and warmth) inside Soho Square’s Huguenot church. Largely unknown outside his native Japan, Takehiro Hira is excited about a role that could make his name internationally.

“Forty-something, family person, quite demanding parents – when I first read the script, Kenzo was me,” he muses. “Detective stories in Japan are usually black and white, but Kenzo has dark sides and personal baggage, which was so refreshing. I was giving a bit more than Julian wanted at first, so it was a wonderful challenge to learn to act more minimally than is usual on Japanese television.”

The show comes from Bafta-nominated screenwriter Joe Barton

Hira is supported by a stellar Japanese cast – not that the Giri/Haji team knew that while they were holding auditions. “We were completely ignorant!” laughs Farino, who split directing duties with Australian director Ben Chessell. “Masahiro Motoki [Yakuza boss Fukuhara] is one of Japan’s biggest movie stars and Yosuke is a huge name over there. I was struck by the unbelievable respect, precision and preparation of Japanese actors: they were word-perfect every time, which was humbling because not every British actor is like that.”

Thanks in part to Giri/Haji’s intentionally slippery grasp of genre, finding the tone wasn’t straightforward. “I get a lot of scripts where I feel I’ve shot them before I’ve finished reading them,” says Farino. “This was the opposite, a genuine journey – it respects the audience from the off. By degrees, you define it. Everyone has scars and moral complexity, but the pleasures were too great to make it noirish and miserable, and I didn’t want it too verité, so we didn’t go handheld.

“I describe it as a few inches off the ground, slightly heightened. [DOP] David Odd and I had never shot on such wide lenses before; we felt like we were shooting a wide shot and close-up at the same time.”

Two months filming in Japan proved a challenge both linguistically and logistically, but Farino, speaking not a word of Japanese, thrived on the experience. “It was an absolute pleasure. When you’re directing, you’re trying to get the feeling for a scene rather than hanging on the dialogue, so it felt surprisingly natural. We felt we were seeing little pockets of Tokyo you wouldn’t usually see, trying not to do the neon lights thing. It felt more like downtown Manhattan than Tokyo in the movies: washed-out browns and greys,”

“Tokyo isn’t easy to film in,” Barton adds. “In the UK, you can shut down a street for a bit and annoy everyone, but in Japan you can’t disturb people. The permissions process meant you needed a lot of time to set everything up; just finding somewhere we could put cars on a pavement was an incredible challenge. But weirdly, they’re very relaxed about firearms. In the UK, guys follow you around and lock up the gun when you’re not using it. In Japan, we filmed a gunfight in this big house and there were guns everywhere – you’d go to the toilet and there’d be one left by the sink. One actor was allowed to take one home to practice.”

The target for Giri/Haji was to stand out in a crowded landscape and break new ground for British television. “Very little British drama easily lends itself to epic,” says Featherstone. “We struggle with that in this country, but Joe found this cultural connection freed us up to think in a slightly different way about storytelling. We wouldn’t have been so brave if had been a purely British story.”

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Interview technique

The stakes are high in Netflix’s international cat-and-mouse crime drama Criminal, with each episode comprising a single police interview. DQ interrogates the cast and creative team about the series.

If there’s a single series that demonstrates the scale of Netflix’s global ambitions, it might just be Criminal.

The crime drama has a unique premise in that each 45-minute episode takes place entirely during a police interrogation, focusing on the intense clash between detective and suspect, while the cameras are confined to the interview room, the adjoining observation room and the corridor that links them.

But what really makes the series stand out is that this 12-part procedural is set in four European countries, with three episodes each from the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Each batch is recorded in the local language, starring, written and directed by talent from the same country.

Produced by Idiotlamp Productions and launching on September 20, Criminal is overseen by British showrunners George Kay and Jim Field Smith, who wrote and directed the UK episodes, respectively, while also supervising the other countries’ creative teams.

Jim Field Smith (left) and David Tennant on the Criminal set

Kay developed the concept after enjoying the constraints of writing a monologue called Double Lesson for Channel 4’s First Cut strand, while also taking inspiration from an interview he watched with a man accused of killing his stepdaughter.

“During the interview, I changed my mind [about whether he was guilty] about three or four times,” he recalls. “Jim and I have worked together since school and we’ve always loved police stuff, true crime and crime drama, and then the show kind of built out of that.”

George Kay

Kay then wrote an initial script, but the premise – which goes against the grain by being extremely intimate rather than high-concept or lavish – meant it was tricky to find a home for the show. That’s where Netflix came in, with the streamer taking the potential scale of the show in a different direction by turning it into an international format.

“Initially, we were trepidatious,” Field Smith admits. “But it’s been the most amazing adventure.”

Although the project has been five years in the making, production moved at an incredible pace once Netflix came on board. Shooting began in January and wrapped in April, with each episode filmed over a week in the same studio set at the streamer’s production hub at Ciudad de la Tele, Madrid.

“We shot 12 hours of drama in four months,” Field Smith says. “That’s never happened ever, anywhere. So we went from this long period of trying to get the thing away to suddenly all guns blazing.”

Serving as a “pilot block” for the whole series, the English episodes were filmed first, featuring a core cast that includes Katherine Kelly, Lee Ingleby, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Rochenda Sandall and Shubham Saraf. Guest stars appearing in single episodes include David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour and Clare-Hope Ashitey. Kay wrote all three of the English instalments, with Field Smith behind the camera, each working with the heads of departments to create the world of the show.

Captain America’s Hayley Atwell guest stars in one of the UK-set episodes

That then became the model for the German, French and Spanish versions that would follow, each inheriting the rules, style and tone set out by the original.

They were led by writer/director Frederic Mermoud and writers Antonin Martin-Hilbert and Mathieu Missoffe from France; director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writers Bernd Lange and Sebastian Heeg from Germany; and Spanish director Mariano Barroso and writers Alejandro Hernández and Manuel Martín Cuenca.

The lure of Netflix and the short-term commitment of a limited series meant the project was able to snare some of each country’s top acting talent, such as Nathalie Baye from France, Germany’s Peter Kurth and Inma Cuesta and Emma Suárez from Spain, in addition to the aforementioned British talent.

“It’s almost like a sort of theatrical engagement,” Field Smith says. “How many opportunities do you get as actors, writers and directors to do a show where it’s entirely about the performance? Yes, there are all these ‘constraints,’ but those constraints are there to be embraced and, actually, actively encouraged. So we were able to say to David Tennant, for example, it’s essentially more of a theatrical play experience than it is a big drama where you might be shooting two or three days across several weeks and there’s a lot of sitting around and a lot of waiting. We told them, ‘We’re going to be shooting 12 pages a day, so you better come prepared.’”

Each of the show’s four batches was shot in Madrid (Spanish version pictured)

It was during the scriptwriting process that Kay and Field Smith began discussing the rules for the world that would become integral to the dynamics between the characters, their behaviour and the way the series would later be filmed.

They made an early decision that the corridor between the observation and interview rooms would be a safe space where characters could tell the truth. “So after being in this ‘theatre,’ they come out the door and would be able to say, ‘Oh, so and so’s getting on my nerves,’ or ‘I really think he did this.’ It’s just true feelings,” Kay says.

The use of CCTV footage or flashbacks and reconstructions was ruled out, while the duo were also keen to ensure the camera never left the set. “The strength of the show is that we are enclosed,” Field Smith notes. “One of the directors wanted to put the camera outside the window and see one of the detectives looking outside, but I said, ‘You can’t do it because you’ve immediately broken the rule of the space.’ So the rules emerged organically as we were making the show, rather than from us sitting down at the beginning with a list.”

Field Smith points to the second UK episode, in which Atwell plays a woman accused of murdering her sister’s boyfriend. The fact that there’s no physical evidence, crime scene photographs or any other visual aids pointing to her guilt, or otherwise, means viewers must rely on the conversation between the accused and the detective and work out themselves who is telling the truth.

The production was able to attract high-profile talent including Tennant (Doctor Who, Good Omens)

“That’s when the shows is at its strongest,” the director continues. “If you’re doing a standard crime drama, the interview room scenes are often used to get as much information as possible so we can get back out on the road and have a car chase. We’re the opposite. Our car chase is in the room; our pyrotechnics come from physicality and body language and a pen simply falling off the table. We’ve both done big, flashy shows and films, and it was a really fun challenge to go the other way.”

With four variations of Criminal, Kay and Field Smith had to be wary of customs and procedures that might be different from the way things work in a UK police station. But when the show is boiled down, each episode follows the same structure – a suspect brought in for questioning by police about a crime they may or may not have committed – no matter what country it’s set in.

“That was the nub of it. So as soon as we can cut to that, finding the truth about that suspect, the grammar of it [across different countries] became pretty similar,” Kay says. “To labour on the on the differences between them was not something we wanted to do for any dramatic reason. So it all became quite a universal story.”

Field Smith picks up: “We didn’t want it to be super-real because that would, in itself, not be interesting. So we created this slightly theatrical, slightly heightened environment. On a script level, the show is technically very accurate; but on a visual level, we wanted to create our own space. We tried not to get too bogged down in what a police station in Germany would look like.”

Lee Ingleby (Luther, Line of Duty) plays a detective in the UK episodes

UK actors Ingleby and Sandall are both aware of the dramatic tension police interview scenes can create, having both previously appeared in a series famed for its interrogations, BBC drama Line of Duty.

In Criminal, they play DI Tony Myerscough and DC Vanessa Warren, who each get the chance to put Tennant’s Dr Egdar Fallon and Atwell’s Stacey Doyle through the wringer in an attempt to get to the truth.

“I thought it was interesting how you don’t have any background. There are no flashbacks or preamble leading up to it – you get the information in that room,” Ingleby says. “And the writing, it’s very rare you get a scene that runs and runs – you get like two or three pages of the scene at the most. That was really thrilling for me.”

Filming in the interview room would take place in the morning, before the scene was reset to be shot from the perspective of those in the observation room.

“It’s very intense. That is the show,” says Sandall. “It’s in the third episode that you see Hugo Duffy [played by Mark Stanley] rehearsing what he’s going to do in the interview, so that feeling of immense pressure would be put on these characters because they are putting on a show. It added to the intensity of it.”

Rochenda Sandall (left), another former Line of Duty star, in Criminal

Owing to the nature of the format, the police investigations take centre stage, leaving little time for actors to develop their characters beyond their work persona. Even so, they have still managed to create power dynamics and even a hint at a romantic relationship between two officers.

“With Myerscough, I suppose he plays it by the book,” Ingleby says. “He’s very methodical compared to somebody like Paul Ottager [Pinnock], who throws the cat among the pigeons. He’s on fire in the room, but slightly less confident in his own skin.

“They’re a team and they work as a team. They have a routine. Some people, you know more about their personal life than others. But you have the work banter, which we thought was good to have going through it.”

The constraints of the series aren’t just limited to the set design or camera movements but the actors’ movements as well, with most of the sitting behind desks the majority of the time. “I do think there’s a real integrity in truth and stillness,” Sandall explains. “It’s a very brave choice to make but, as actors, obviously you’re paranoid, thinking, ‘Oh gosh, is this going to be interesting?’ But there’s a real truth in stillness. It’s a different format – it’s great.”

“I suppose at first, I thought, ‘How interesting can this be?’ But I enjoyed it,” Ingleby admits. “After the nerves of learning a massive amount of lines, you get into the rhythm. For that first week of filming, when it was Rochenda, Katherine and Hayley in the interview room, that was their world, this [observation room] was ours and then we’d swap it around for the next episode.”

Both actors are also excited by where Criminal could go beyond its first season, dreaming up new countries the show could be set in and even crossovers that could bring different countries into the same investigation.

“The ideas that could go beyond this season are huge. There is so much potential in the programme and crossovers,” Sandall adds.

With a format that carries inherent tension and the ambition to apply it to different countries, Criminal is a fascinating and thrilling exploration of the cat-and-mouse relationship between suspects and detectives, and one that Netflix has the capacity and resources to adapt across its global footprint in the years to come.

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Wild side

Spanish-language drama Wild District tells the story of a man who, raised as a guerrilla fighter in the Colombian jungle, escapes to Bogotá to start a new life with his estranged son.

However, he faces a new struggle to protect his family when he is tasked to go undercover and infiltrate a dangerous criminal organisation.

In this DQTV interview, series creator Cristian Conti talks more about the story at the heart of the Netflix series and how the action drama plays out over two seasons.

He also talks about the rise of non-English-language drama.

Wild District is produced by Dynamo for Netflix and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.

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Puppet masters

As Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance returns to the fantasy world first brought to life by Jim Henson’s 1982 feature film, DQ lifts the lid on the secrets behind making and working with the puppets that populate the land of Thra.

This is a cleaning job unlike any other. Deep in the crevices of a former kettle factory in the Berkshire countryside, the foam and latex features of an extraordinary turkey-faced monster is being wiped of snot.

It is the messier side of creating a mythical world of dictatorial evil puppets. The puss –made from a mixture of slime and breakfast cereal Weetabix – cakes the features of an evil Skeksis called The Collector who not only favours murder and intrigue but also has a tendency to leave snot all over himself, his food and his friends. He is one of the terrifying baddies in an ambitious new Netflix series based on Jim Henson’s seminal 1982 film The Dark Crystal.

“The snot can get disgusting and start to smell,” admits Toby Froud, design supervisor for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, when he meets DQ at the Henson Studios creature workshop at the company’s enormous Langley Studios in London. “We have to clean all of the puppets as much as we can. We check their heads daily and strip them down and put them back together again.”

Froud, alongside executive producer Lisa Henson, is Dark Crystal family and has garnered cult status as the baby from the 1986 film Labyrinth, which featured David Bowie. While Henson is carrying forward the work of her father Jim – the legend behind The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Labyrinth – by producing this epic series for The Jim Henson Company, Froud is working with his parents, who helped create the original Dark Crystal world.

L-R: Lisa Henson Brian Froud and Wendy Froud

His concept artist father Brian envisaged Dark Crystal’s mythological land of Thra with Jim; its landscape is based on his own home in Dartmoor. A book Brian wrote to accompany the film, delving deep into the myths only touched on in the original story, has served as the bible for the new series.

Froud’s mother Wendy is also on board. She helped create the original puppets (and met Brian on the set of the original film) and the pair are working behind the scenes with their son for the series, which will go deeper into this mythical world of kind-hearted Gelflings who can share dreams with each other, evil Skeksis who drain the life force out of other beings and cheeky little Podlings who hate being washed.

While the film was set at the end of the Gelfling civilisation, with the small, friendly creatures almost all murdered by the Skeksis, the 10-part series is set generations earlier, before the epic battle to come. It focuses on three main Gelflings – Rian, Deet and Bria – who all learn that something has gone wrong in the world they know. The Dark Crystal, the source of all life on Thra, which is controlled by the power-hungry Skeksis, is malfunctioning. Separately, they hear about the desperate measures the Skeksis have taken to retain their hold on Thra.

Recreating the world of The Dark Crystal has been a long-held dream for Henson. “I’ve been wanting to do something with this for around 15 years,” she says. “It has been a great passion of mine. The original movie was such a complete fantasy world; it felt like there was a reality to it, a history.’

Design supervisor Toby Froud working on a puppet head

While filmmaking has moved on so much since the original movie was made, the ethos of the series has been to stick to what is essentially a very sophisticated version of the ancient art form of puppetry. “This is pure puppetry,” insists Henson. “I want people to get excited about puppetry again. The characters are animated from within and that gives a real unity and authenticity to their performances, which makes it different from computer animation.”

To create such a physical world is some undertaking. These puppets eat, they get messy, they fight. All their tools and weapons have been created to be particularly light, while their chairs, houses, tables, food and plates are all puppet-sized.

More than 150 puppets, which have fibreglass structures surrounded by foam and latex, have been created for the show. “Live action from real puppets is something that pushes the whole production,” says Froud. “Creating them all has been a lot of work and it is a constant process. If the puppets get knocked about, they have to be re-skinned and we also re-skin the different heads onto the skull structure to give us more characters. Trying to keep track of all the puppets is one of the hardest things to do.”

In addition, 72 sets have been created, from ornate dining rooms to dank caves, all four feet off of the ground to allow the puppeteers to stand below the set floor with their hands, covered by the puppets, in the air.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance focuses on various types of creature, including the large and power-hungry Skeksis

“It can get pretty crowded on set,” says Neil Sterenberg, puppeteer for the show’s hero Rian as well as a Skeksis called The Scroll Keeper. “It takes three people to operate each puppet. The lead puppeteer operates the mouth and main body movements. Another puppeteer operates the eyes and ears via a monitor while a third puppeteer works the other hand of the puppet.

“It takes a lot of manpower to make these puppets work; the whole thing is like an iceberg. When you might have four or five puppets on the set together in a scene, you’ve got at least 10 people working underneath them. But we do have a monitor close to us so we can see what we are doing.

“It is like working in a painting because the sets are so stunning. Rian has a wind machine that follows him everywhere. He’s sat around a real fire – there were fire extinguishers everywhere – and seeing the natural light frame his face is just magical.”

Being a Skeksis, which is large enough to have two puppeteers crouched inside it, is an entirely different challenge. It can take 20 minutes just to get in place. “It is like performing in a duvet,” says Sterenberg. “It can get extremely hot in there and you can only do it for an hour at a time. It is particularly challenging because you have no vision at all of what is going on; you have to depend on a monitor to show you where you are going and what you look like.”

Gelflings, meanwhile, are small and kind-hearted

For scenes featuring both Gelflings and Skeksis, the staging is even more complicated. The flooring for the Skeksis is two feet lower – which is why you won’t see many full-length scenes with them all together. That is where CGI has been brought in – for full-length action scenes, action that shows the puppets running and also, on occasion, for hiding puppeteers.

The Dark Crystal film was a hit from the start and, for many fans, the return to this world — the series drops this Friday – is a landmark event. The top-notch cast, all fans of the original, includes Sigourney Weaver, Helena Bonham Carter, Nathalie Emmanuel, Mark Hamill, Lena Headey, Taron Egerton, Eddie Izzard, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Alicia Vikander and Natalie Dormer.

For puppeteers like Sterenberg, who has previously worked on Star Wars, the return to the world of Jim Henson is nothing less than a dream come true. “The Dark Crystal is a film I would watch over and over again,” he says. “I was inspired by the beauty and artistry of the puppetry to enter the business. Even now, when I am in a room full of Skeksis, I think, ‘How did this happen to me?’ To be in something that inspired me is incredible.”

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Dark thoughts

The first German original drama commissioned by Netflix, Dark is a family saga with a supernatural twist, set in a town where the disappearance of two children exposes the double lives and fractured relationships of four families.

A success on its launch in 2017, the show’s second season landed on Netflix in June this year.

In this DQTV interview, co-creator, writer and director Boran bo Odar talks about the journey he and his showrunning partner Jantje Friese took to bring the series to television.

He also discusses the creative process behind the show, his surprise at Dark’s popularity and how they overcame writers’ block during development of season two.

Bo Odar also touches on the changing role of directors in television and explains why he’s happy the small screen puts writers into focus.

Dark is produced by Widemann & Berg for Netflix.

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Being Berlin

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) became one of the most talked-about series in the world when it dropped on Netflix. DQ speaks to star Pedro Alonso about the unprecedented success of the Spanish thriller and the fate of his character, Berlin.

When Netflix announced early last year that Spanish heist thriller La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) had become its most watched non-English-language series ever, the chance to bring the show back for another outing was unsurprisingly too great to pass over.

The story, originally intended as a limited series told over two parts, followed the attempts of the mysterious Professor and his handpicked gang of criminals and thieves to infiltrate Spain’s Royal Mint and escape with €2.4bn (US$2.65bn).

Before the first footage of Parte 3 arrived, a familiar face was expected to be missing from the new season. Andrés de Fonollosa – better known by his codename, Berlin – was killed in the conclusion to the second part of the series – but his appearance in the trailer created fresh questions over the character’s role in the eight new episodes that were made available on Netflix worldwide last month.

When DQ meets Pedro Alonso, who plays Berlin, at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, the actor will not be drawn on his character’s involvement or any of the events that take place in season three. All that is known is that this time, rather than a bank heist, the group are out to rescue one of their own.

Pedro Alonso’s Berlin (centre) appears in the latest season of Money Heist despite his apparent death at the end of the third instalment

When Rio (Miguel Herrán) is captured, a distraught Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó) turns to the Professor (Álvaro Morte) for help. Armed with a bold new plan, they reunite the team to save him.

Before Netflix picked up Money Heist, which was created by Alex Piña (Vis a Vis) and first started airing on Spain’s Antena 3, there wasn’t even a plan for a third part. “It was basically a surprise. It didn’t do so well in Spain; it was average. It became a success with Netflix,” Alonso says of the show, whose first nine episodes launched on Antena 3 in May 2017, followed by a further six episodes in October that year. Money Heist was then acquired by Netflix, which edited and reformatted it, expanding it from 15 to 22 episodes that were also split across two parts. Part three was then commissioned by the streamer last year.

Nobody could have predicted the buzz around the series after it landed on the US streamer, says Alonso, describing it as an “incredible and amazing situation.” He continues: “If Alex had had the idea before, he would have created a formula to repeat it. It was amazing because the reception in Spain at the beginning was normal; the first chapter had a good reception but, after that, we went down with the public and the thing ended there. Then it went ‘boom’ in a really unexpected way.

“Today we are still seeing the size of the phenomenon. I have travelled for the whole year [promoting the show] and it’s difficult to put into perspective. We need more time to put into perspective what happened, but I am very thankful, for sure.”

The show launched on Spain’s Antena 3 before being picked up by Netflix

Berlin stands alone among the Professor’s motley crew as arguably the most sadistic, psychopathic criminal on the team. So it’s testament to the quality of Piña and co-writer Esther Martinez Lobato’s scripts that, by the end, viewers’ sympathies lay firmly with him as he went out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing himself to allow the rest of the Salvador Dali-masked gang to escape with the money.

“He’s a bad guy, he’s a sociopath, he’s dangerous but, on the other side, he’s honest, he’s funny and he’s authentic,” says Alonso, who has also starred in fellow Spanish dramas La Embajada (The Embassy), Grand Hotel and El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time). “He’s able to cross the door of taboos and do what he wants to. He does things that in ordinary life we cannot do. For me as an actor, it has something really exciting. It’s amazing for me to see the complicity the public has with him. I love working with these kinds of contradictions. When I am going to be a sweet guy, I am terrible. With Berlin, you can go deep with this kind of game and it’s a privilege to play him.”

Watching Money Heist, it’s difficult to imagine any other actor portraying Berlin, so it’s not surprising when Alonso reveals he played a part in shaping the character. He praises Piña for listening to the actors when they made suggestions and the directors for taking risks on set.

Álvaro Morte as the Professor, who leads the show’s band of thieves

“I remember one day I said to the first director, ‘I am going to improvise a bit. We can play safe with this role or take risks and provoke what will happen between the cast and the extras [who played the hostages].’ I pushed the expectations of Berlin as a character and when we opened this door, we began to enjoy it very much.”

Having been in the dark over his character’s fate when he signed on to the show, Alonso says one of the key revelations about Berlin and the Professor’s relationship was also something that developed during filming. “At the beginning, the Professor and I weren’t brothers. This was a conversation that started one day between Álvaro Morte and me. It was Álvaro who said we could be brothers. We rehearsed it and the energy was deeper, the possibilities were deeper and we mentioned it to the director. He said, ‘Forget it! Speak about it with the writers.’

“It was so clear to us that we said we were going to play it like we were brothers. Then this thing began to grow and one moment, they said, ‘OK, you are brothers.’ At the end of the season, I only said, ‘I love you little brother.’ But in this moment, all the crew were a family in some sense. This is proof of the surprises of the writing – but I didn’t know I was going to die.”

When it came to that final scene, all guns blazing as armed police finally infiltrate the Spanish Mint and chase down the thieves, “it was all very tense,” Alonso recalls, explaining that it was filmed at the end of an eight-month shoot. “As an actor, it was draining. It was very, very tough. There was no time to really think about how we would do the ending. We were suffocating; we were really drowning with all the extra work. I wish we would have had twice as long to do that scene, which we didn’t have unfortunately.”

However, Alonso believes the stress and strain of production on the ensemble cast brought them all together. “From the very beginning, it was very difficult to get along with each other. But we were all engaged,” he says. “We knew we had to cooperate, considering the job we had at hand. We’re all very different people but we were really enjoying it and having fun. It was very tough work, but engaging and fun. Then finally, at the end, love came out, so there was huge affection between all of us and everybody was very caring, and I think people felt that we all got along very well.”

With a fourth season of Money Heist now being geared up for production, bets are off as to Alonso’s continued involvement. “We had no expectations whatsoever that this was going to continue [this far], so I’m very happy, very thankful and grateful,” he adds. “We will see what happens next.”

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