Tag Archives: Nordic noir

Beside the seaside

As hit Danish drama Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel) returns for a fourth season, creators and writers Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad reveal the inspiration behind this blue-sky period drama.

If there’s one series that can banish the bleak landscapes and murderous storylines commonly associated with Nordic noir, it could well be Danish period drama Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel).

The show, which mixes comedy and drama set against the picturesque scenery of the Jutland coast, launched in 2014 and transported viewers back to 1928 as the lives of rich holidaymakers and hotel staff melded together for one long, carefree summer filled with hope, secrets and showdowns.

According to local broadcaster TV2, Badehotellet is the most watched Danish drama over the last 10 years, securing an average share of 63%. Hopes are high that the series, which also airs on TV2 in Norway, TV 4 in Sweden, YLE in Finland and Greece’s ERT, can repeat this success when season four debuts on January 23.

The story picks up in the summer of 1931, when things have changed at the Badehotellet. The hotel manager, Mrs Andersen, has caught an illness and leaves her daily duties in the hands of Fie as their well-known, loyal guests – as well as first-timers – are about to arrive at the hotel to enjoy another summer vacation away from ongoing global crises.

Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad

The show is written by married couple Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad, who are behind some of the best-known dramas in Denmark, most notably Lykke (Happiness) and Krøniken (Better Times). Thorsboe has written more than 200 television episodes, while Lundblad has previously worked as a script consultant for Danish public broadcaster DR.

Badehotellet is produced by SF Film Production in coproduction with Nitrat Film and Thorsboe & Lundblad, and distributed by TV2 Productions & Rights.

Here Thorsboe and Lundblad tell DQ about the origins of the series, why they enjoy writing together and why the series is an antidote to Scandinavian noir.

Where did the idea for Badehotellet come from?
We were inspired by the time when the world turned from the Roaring Twenties through the Wall Street crash and depression and suddenly faced another devastating war. To some degree, we found the time mirroring the time we’re living in now. We were intrigued by the clash between involvement and denial.
Looking for a not-too-costly, original historic location, which could house an upstairs-downstairs story, we got the idea that an exclusive seaside hotel, the likes of which surfaced in large numbers along the coasts of Europe during those years, could be a wonderful setting.
Before common people even knew what the word holiday meant, rich people went out to the sun and beach each summer, staying at seaside hotels where young local girls waited on them – the same hotel, same guests for up to five or six weeks, a lovely ‘summer family,’ a clash between town and country, guests and maids. And everyone was most concerned with private problems, without noticing the outside world was heading for disaster.

How was the story developed for TV2?
We pitched our idea to TV2, who immediately liked it and ordered a detailed treatment with a description of style, genre, the level of acting and the presentation of the leading characters. Based on the script of the first episode, TV2 chose to speed up and our producer, Michael Bille Frandsen, was asked to line up the production with ourselves as coproducers. Filming started less than a year after our first meeting with TV2.

How would you describe your writing process?
We have a year cycle. When we have finished the previous season’s final episode in post-production, we start to develop a new season, typically in January. We use a couple of months to find the main arcs, before we begin to develop and write each episode. It takes five weeks per episode. The first three weeks are used on storyline, the fourth week on structure and the last on dialogue. Here we often have audio recordings of improvisations, when they spontaneously appear during storylining. From May, the production of the first three scripts begins. We are currently watching dailies and are available for the director, while during the summer and fall we continue writing the last four of seven scripts.

What do you enjoy about working together to write the show, as opposed to working alone?
We’re married and this is our way to spend some time together. Seriously: it’s natural for us to work this way. We’ve done it for more than 20 years and, before that, we’d both co-worked with other writers for years. For us, it’s more of a talking process than a writing one. With five to six plotlines per episode, there is much to keep track of, much time spend to find the flow.

How did you settle on the show’s visual style and tone?
We wanted the pictorial expression to reflect summer, light and colour – quite the opposite of Scandinavian noir. The genre should be a mix of drama and comedy, tears and laughter. We were inspired by Room with a View and Gosford Park, and perhaps most of all Jean Renoir’s 1938 masterpiece The Rules of the Game, with lots of dialogue at a high rate and a clear contrast in the level of play between the guests from the bourgeoisie and the regular, local maids.

The show follows the upstairs-downstairs style, with the hotel’s wealthy guests juxtaposed against its staff

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
We had a thorough casting process and are very happy to have so many of the best Danish actors. Among these are Bodil Jørgensen, Lars Ranthe, Bjarne Henriksen, Anette Støvelbæk, Anne Louise Hassing and Jens Jacob Tychsen. Foreign viewers will recognise actors from The Killing, Borgen, Unit One and Better Times. Compared with their roles in those drama series, it’s a pleasure to see these actors express Badehotellet’s more colourful characters. But it is equally important to mention that this is an ensemble series. It is without any doubt that the entire cast has a large share in the show’s success.

Are your scripts very descriptive or do you allow the director and actors lots of room to bring their own thoughts to the series?
We belong to the tradition in which the script is pretty thorough and rather detailed. In our experience, this gives the director and the actors a comfort to bring their own creativity into the process. They do not change the script, but redeem it wonderfully with their talent.

Where is the series filmed and how do you use locations in the script?
The majority of the location has been made on set. We’ve built a seaside hotel in the studio, both exterior and particularly interior sets with bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen and maids’ rooms, among others. In each episode, we supplement the set by shooting scenes by the sea and beach on the west coast of Jutland, where the fictional hotel is located in the story. Gradually more locations have been added, including a small farmhouse nearby, a train station, a police station, a shipowners’ building and a grocery store. But at least 80% of the action takes place on set, which is so lifelike that the audience experience it as a real hotel.

What are the biggest challenges when writing the show?
Without a doubt it is to get all the characters in play in each episode. It’s also a challenge to weave each episode’s five or six plotlines effortlessly between each other within the 45-minute running time.

Work on season five is already underway

Now in season four, why has the show proven so popular?
We think it has something to do with the mix between drama and comedy. There are very funny scenes followed by touching ones – like in life, you could say. The audience is taken by the characters and their struggle, funny or sad. And, as it should be in a period series, the characters’ problems are also contemporary. They speak from their time straight into ours. We hope the short answer is that the series is entertaining.

What do you enjoy most about writing Badehotellet?
Working with lots of enthusiastic and talented people on set and behind the scenes. With so much joy on set, working hard [is a pleasure]. This is maybe the best explanation for the success of the series.

How has the role of a television writer changed in Denmark and do you enjoy other parts of the production process?
Over the past 25 years, TV series in Denmark have become increasingly writer-driven, inspired by the US. As far as we know, however, Badehotellet is the only Danish show in which the creators and authors are also coproducers with ultimate responsibility for the series’ content and artistic style.

What are you working on next?
Season five of Badehotellet.

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Channel 4 looks to set subs standard with 4 World Drama

One of the team behind Channel 4 and Global Series Network’s forthcoming subtitled series service 4 World Drama tells DQ why viewers can get excited about foreign-language drama.

This autumn will see a first in the UK as the collaboration of public service broadcaster Channel 4 and a collection of industry veterans known as Global Series Network (GSN) launch the subtitled series destination 4 World Drama.

Available free to viewers through digital hub All 4 via funding from advertising and sponsorship, 4 World Drama (working title) is a testament to the surge in popularity of subtitled drama in the UK – heralded in 2006 with the unexpected success of French crime drama Spiral on BBC4, and driven three years later with the channel’s first transmission of the original Swedish version of Nordic Noir drama Wallander.

Channel 4 will also offer an opportunity for selected titles to gain greater exposure by appearing on digital channel More4, which currently hosts foreign-language dramas such as political thriller Mammon and multi-lingual Second World War miniseries The Saboteurs.

Previously the niche preserve of late-night movies, or very occasional series on BBC2 and C4, subtitled drama is now an established (and growing) part of the UK’s TV landscape.

Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane in The Tunnel
Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane in The Tunnel

The Killing, The Bridge (as The Tunnel) and the aforementioned Wallander have all – with varying degrees of success – been remade into thoughtfully adapted English-language versions, as has movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but the originals are still commonly held to be superior.

Not only has the Nordic Noir genre blossomed in the UK, its international cousins (Italy’s Inspector Montalbano and Belgium’s Cordon) and various European political (Borgen, pictured top), historical (1864) and supernatural (The Returned) dramas have also attracted appreciative audiences.

The success of subtitled drama has been attributed to a number of factors. Back in 2012, then-BBC4 controller Richard Klein said: “Most of this drama has got pretty mainstream appeal, it just happens to be in Swedish or Danish. One of the reasons they work is because they’re quite soapy – there’s a lot of domestic goings-on, as well as the police and procedural stuff. You’re drawn into the domestic lives of the people and see the long-term consequences of events.”

Aided by the success of the series and movies such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Headhunters, Wallander and The Killing, onscreen talent has crossed borders, with the likes of Michael Nyqvist (Mission Impossible 4), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and Sofie Grabol (Fortitude) all gaining international recognition.

So this is the fertile territory that 4 World Drama is hoping to capitalise upon, and indeed expand, as the GSN team – Jason Thorp (previously Fox UK), Walter Iuzzolino (Betty) and Jo McGrath (Tiger Aspect/Channel 4) – have sourced series from the ‘traditional’ suppliers of Western Europe but are also ranging much further afield to include Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia and South Korea.

Thorp says: “The concept is to broaden the already sizeable audience for non-US and UK fare by showcasing the best drama from all over the world. This isn’t just about Nordic crime drama; there are a plethora of world-class shows already out there that simply would not see the light of day in the UK.”

Italy's Inspector Montalbano
Italy’s Inspector Montalbano

At this stage, the closest comparator is the US SVoD service MHz Choice, which relaunches this fall. It will boast a line-up of titles familiar to UK viewers but also many less well-known series from the past 30 years, including crime thrillers Ornen – The Eagle (Denmark 2004-2006), Johan Falk (Sweden, 1999-present) and La Piviora – Octopus (Italy, 1984).

Other genres in the MHz offering include classic drama such as the Italian adaptation of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, the German comedy Turkish for Beginners and the Altamanesque French series Paris.

Channel 4 is naturally keeping 4 World’s programme offering under wraps pre-launch, but we may speculate that content, at least initially, will bear some resemblance to that of MHz Choice, led by the detective genre.

At this stage it’s unclear how far back 4 World intends to go in its line-up, or whether it will hew to contemporary titles from the nineties onwards.

If successful, the eventual aim is for GSN is to try to replicate the model of its Channel 4 partnership and launch in territories across the globe – either as subscription VoD or free VoD.

Thorp comments: “Although all eyes are currently on the UK, there are plans afoot to launch in a number of other territories very quickly. The idea behind World Drama is certainly one that can travel. Almost every territory in the world airs US and UK drama but, with a few exceptions, there tends to be a somewhat blinkered view when it comes to drama from other parts of the globe.

“I think there is a lack of awareness about the quality of content available. The writing talent is there and, with the planet getting a whole lot smaller, the learning curves across other parts of the production process are much steeper than they used to be. The quality of the finished product we are seeing from many territories is excellent.”

Expectations for 4 World Drama will be high, as (with the odd exception) subtitled drama shown in the UK has raised the bar in terms of quality and audience appreciation and loyalty.

Thorp says: “We’re delighted to be in partnership with Channel 4. It’s key that we have the widest audience exposure possible, as we are not aiming to deliver a niche, art-house service.”

He adds: “We’re not kidding ourselves. It will be tough to effectively break new genres but we believe the sheer quality of the material will garner significant press support and the brand and promotional power of Channel 4 gives us a great head start.

“Being a VoD box-set service is also key. The serialised nature of many of the shows mean binge-viewing will deliver the majority of our eyeballs and we are afforded the flexibility to deliver various types of formats, from a 2×90′ miniseries to a 20×30′ comedy drama. It’s very liberating.”

As for the future? “In the long term, subject to success, we hope to be stepping into the coproduction and deficit-financing space once we have enough scale. First, though, we need to turn a few heads in the UK.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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