After spending eight years playing detective Saga Norén in The Bridge, Swedish actor Sofia Helin’s next screen role will see her portray a princess fighting for her country during the Second World War. She tells DQ about finding her voice and playing a royal in Atlantic Crossing.
With the recent centenary of the armistice that brought an end to the First World War and the #MeToo campaign that is giving a voice to women around the world, there could not be a more pertinent time to tell the story of Atlantic Crossing.
The eight-part drama, based on a true story, charts Norwegian Crown Princess Märtha’s efforts to support her country during the Second World War. In April 1940, when Norway finds itself under attack from the Nazis, Märtha and her husband Olav are forced to separate. He flees to England with his father, the king, while Märtha and their three children, unable to return to Sweden, the place of her birth, undertake the hazardous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to seek refuge in the US at the invitation of President Franklin D Roosevelt (played by Twin Peaks star Kyle Maclachlan).
Märtha soon realises the president is in love with her, sparking gossip on both sides of the sea. But at a time when the US is unwilling to join the war, she uses her position to influence Roosevelt and enter the political scene.
Meanwhile, the drama also follows Olav, terrified of a Nazi conspiracy against his family and concerned by rumours of an affair between his wife and the US president. Will Märtha fight for her country or her marriage?
The NRK series, produced by Cinenord Drama and distributed by Beta Film, sees Märtha played by Sofia Helin, the Swedish actor who earned plaudits around the world for starring as Saga Norén in all four seasons of iconic Swedish/Danish crime drama Bron/Broen (The Bridge). With rehearsals taking place in Oslo, filming for Atlantic Crossing began in Prague last December.
Speaking to DQ from her home in Stockholm, Helin says the drama is “a very important story about a forgotten female hero,” whose role in the war effort was far greater than first thought.
“It’s also a story about a person who finds her own voice,” she continues, noting the drama’s similarities to her own life over the past 18 months as she has taken a leading role in Sweden’s MeToo movement, #tystnadtagning. In November 2017, more than 700 actors signed a manifesto calling for a change in the behaviour within the country’s film and television business, with similar protests springing up around other industries, including the legal, medical and journalism sectors.
“With Saga I’ve been very much in the spotlight when it comes to different issues, and I’ve always tried to talk about politics and my opinions. But this year has been crazy for me and many actors because of the MeToo movement,” Helin explains. “It’s been a different movement than in the rest of the world that I’m very proud of because it’s showed much more of a structure than just pointing a finger at one man at a time. I’ve been working very much with that. I had to raise my voice in a completely new way because of that, so it’s funny that I’m now going to do a story about a woman who has the same journey but in terms of politics, the war and nations. It’s also a drama and a romance, but the important thing for me is to tell the story of a woman who really did something for her country and for peace.”
Helin has been involved in the series for more than two years, working alongside executive producer Silje Hopland Eik and showrunner-director Alexander Eik to develop the previously untold story of Märtha’s bid to help her country through her relationship with Roosevelt. She was even by his side during his famous Look to Norway speech in September 1942, which is said to have inspired the Norwegian resistance against the German occupation and turned the tide of US public opinion regarding the war in Europe.
Meanwhile, Märtha’s own struggle sees her go from royal princess to refugee as she flees her adopted country and heads to America. “She didn’t know if she would see her husband again. He was in London, being bombed by the Germans. Going to the US wasn’t a little thing. It’s quite far away. Then she develops into an active person who fights for her country. That’s quite a journey,” Helin says of her character.
After playing Saga in The Bridge, the actor is relishing the opportunity to take on new roles and not be tied to a single production. She was originally set to star in Heder (Honour), a Swedish drama she co-created with fellow actors Alexandra Rapaport, Julia Dufvenius and Anja Lundqvist, but a scheduling clash meant she opted to stick with Atlantic Crossing, though she remains an executive producer on Heder.
“The hard thing has been to choose what to do,” Helin says of the new opportunities coming her way. “I have several different projects going on that I’m developing, and I can’t star in everything. There’s only a certain amount of time. But it’s been a very intense and fun time, and there’s also a sense of freedom to not be tied to a production. After eight years [working on The Bridge], it’s about time.
“The TV market has become something else since we started eight years ago – it’s exploded. There’s so much more to watch now than there was then. It’s opened so many doors, so I feel privileged and I have a lot of inspiration to do different projects. I’m going more and more into that world of developing things, and only starring in a few things.”
Helin believes producers now have a greater understanding of what actors can bring to a project, meaning on-screen personalities are increasingly creating their own series and playing a bigger role in development, rather than simply signing on several weeks before the start of filming.
Her extended involvement in Atlantic Crossing has also given her the chance to thoroughly research the period of history being dramatised – “I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to this now,” she jokes – while also facing the challenge of playing a princess. “I have to speak Norwegian, Swedish and English,” she reveals. “I’ve also been to a royal castle and have been rehearsing eating properly. I’m just a girl from the countryside, I can’t do anything like that! So I’ve been rehearsing how to eat, how to sit, how to speak, how to behave. It’s very challenging for me and the complete opposite of what I did with Saga.”
A fan of Netlix drama The Crown, Helin is relishing the chance to play royalty but doesn’t forget the importance of the message the drama is trying to send to viewers.
“She sacrificed something for her country,” the actor says of Märtha. “She fought for her country, for freedom, for democracy, for her family and she did something. Not to be greedy as a woman, but it’s so typical that all the men get the medals, the fame and the honour but the women get forgotten. It’s about time we start to tell the stories of women who did something in history.
“It’s also important that this story is about finding your voice,” Helin adds. “I have two older brothers so, as a little sister, it took time for me to find my own voice and to dare to speak out the way I do now. I think it’s something all women should do.”
Finnish comedy-drama Blind Donna sees its titular character embark on a search for love, and nothing – not even her blindness – will stop her. Producer Liisa Akimof and screenwriters Heikki Kujanpää and Mikko Reitala tell DQ about the “risky business” of marrying comedy and disability.
Though its title might suggest otherwise, Finnish comedy-drama Blind Donna is not just about a woman who has lost her sight. Instead, Donna’s blindness is very much a side story to the main focus of the 10-part series – her search for love.
The story opens with Donna, played by sighted actor Alina Tomnikov (wearing contact lenses), on the morning after a party she hosted with her husband. When she discovers certain objects are missing around their house, she realises he has left her. Refusing to be overcome with sadness, she decides to find the man of her dreams. Meanwhile, her best friend Mira (Essi Hellen) does everything she can to help, but usually only succeeds in ruining everything.
“The series is not about being blind. It’s about looking for love,” explains Mikko Reitala, who wrote the series with director Heikki Kujanpää. “In our first episode, Donna is living together with her partner but he suddenly leaves and Donna is left alone in her house for the first time blind – she wasn’t born blind. But despite all her problems and her grief, she wants to find a new man. Even if she has to live in darkness, she doesn’t give up.”
One early scene involves Donna attempting to ward off two Good Samaritans as they try to help her across a busy road, while we also see her in nightclubs and on dates as she pursues the perfect man.
“Actually, her main flaw is not blindness but that she’s too over-confident,” Reitala says, noting the lead character’s determination to be independent, despite the scrapes and embarrassing situations in which she finds herself.
Kujanpää adds: “Her blindness is symbolic, of course, but it also has lots of possibilities for comedy. It’s a risky business but we’re not laughing at her.”
The writers spent five years developing the series, produced by Production House for Finland’s YLE and Norway’s NRK, before its debut in January this year. Having known each other for more than 30 years since they both studied as actors, Reitala and Kujanpää brainstormed the story and pieced together the outline before producer Liisa Akimof joined the project four years ago when a first draft was already in place.
“In Nordic countries and Europe, we have a peaceful democracy for the most part and gender equality,” Kujanpää notes. “That’s potent for comedy writers because young girls [Donna in this case] can do whatever they like, and that’s good. They can go to a bar looking for sex. But then we had to raise the stakes – she’s blind.”
The series was originally planned as 12 half-hour episodes, later reduced to 10. To get a sense of how to film it, the team produced a 12-minute pilot in summer 2016 to determine what viewers should see when they watch the drama from Donna’s perspective – should it be a black screen, or something else?
“We didn’t want people to feel pity for her – this is not a social drama,” Akimof says. “So we also tested the aesthetic of the show to make it a little bit easier to watch so the audience can feel the romantic comedy.”
Using Donna’s perspective was one way director Kujanpää sought to inject humour into series. “People are used to the point-of-view technique, so when you do it with a blind person, there’s some irony in it,” he notes. “It’s funny.”
One of the ways the show reminds the audience of Donna’s blindness is by literally keeping viewers in the dark at the start of each episode, opening to a black screen with only audio to tell them what’s going on.
Filming for the series took place in Helsinki, where the production team secured the use of a large house that they rented for the duration of the five-month shoot, which also doubled as a production base. “Then we just searched for certain locations we needed in the series, but basically we were in this old house with different rooms and a beautiful garden,” says Akimof. “It was perfect.”
The creators of the €1.4million (US$1.65m) series, which was also backed by the Finnish Film Foundation, now hope Blind Donna will travel internationally, either in its original form or as a format. The series was screened in February at the Berlin International Film Festival and is distributed by YLE.
“We really believe our concept is understood everywhere. It’s universal,” Kujanpää concludes. “This kind of comedy takes corny elements of the romantic comedy genre but we make it this way mainly because of our main character. That’s what comedy has to do to be good – it has to be full of embarrassment.”
Norwegian period drama Lykkeland (State of Happiness) dramatises the true story of the country’s oil boom in 1969. Writer Mette B Bølstad and executive producer Synnøve Hørsdal tell DQ about the origins of the series and how they avoided it becoming a history lesson.
A short stroll between offices located on the banks of the Akerselva, which runs through the Norwegian capital of Oslo, proved fortuitous for screenwriter Mette M Bølstad. Before lunch, she had finished working for Monster Scripted on NRK drama Nobel, for which she would later win the best TV drama script award at the Goteborg Film Festival. After lunch, she made the quick walk next door to Maipo Film, where she agreed to write long-gestating series Lykkeland (State of Happiness).
That was in spring 2015. Three years later, Lykkeland is among the hottest new dramas coming out of Scandinavia, having scooped two awards at the inaugural Canneseries event in April this year – best music and best screenplay, with writer Bølstad again picking up the prize.
Based on the real events that changed a nation, Lykkeland is set in the summer of 1969 in the small Norwegian coastal town of Stavanger. International oil companies have been test-drilling for years, but nothing has been found and they are in the process of leaving. Phillips Petroleum, however, is contracted to drill a final hole – and on Christmas Eve 1969, the gas flare at the oil rig Ocean Viking is lit. The largest oil basin in history has been discovered, and everything is about to change.
“The story is about the oil that came to Norway,” Bølstad explains. “In a way, it’s about the beginning of modern society, so the characters are young, they’re in their early 20s. It’s a poor place. There’s not a lot of work. It’s going down. So it’s kind of like a treasure hunt in a Klondike town. It feels almost like an old Western.”
Lykkeland has been in development, in one form or another, for the best part of a decade, based on an idea by Maipo CEO Synnøve Hørsdal and Siv Rajendram Eliassen. But when Bølstad joined the project, it accelerated towards production. Filming wrapped in December last year at the end of a 105-day shoot and, after the first two episodes debuted in Cannes this month, it will launch on Norwegian broadcaster NRK this autumn. DR Sales is handling international distribution.
“We had talked about it and I was very interested in the subject matter, and also because I quite like doing television,” Bølstad says of joining the series, having worked with Hørsdal on various projects previously. “You know this is something you’re going to live with for three years, at least, so it needs to be something that’s appealing – and that has to be the subject matter, not the way in which you tell the story. That’s just the job. But I thought this was something I wanted to know about, so I could spend a lot of time on it. It was the combination of being at Maipo and working with something I wanted to do.”
The series follows the stories of four main characters – the town mayor’s secretary, a diver, an American lawyer and a woman from a deeply religious family – and how their lives are transformed, for better or worse, by the oil strike.
But Hørsdal plays down any descriptions of Lykkeland as Norway’s Mad Men, owing to its 1960s setting and fashion, noting that his series plays closer to the characters and the universal dilemmas they face.
“The main thing is that we don’t do anything that isn’t affected by the oil,” she says. “We don’t have scenes that are not linked to the oil. The main thing is that you don’t do a backdrop story – it’s not playing out in front of the coal miners’ strike. You need to be part of it. You need to move the world in that way.
“It was difficult to do young people like that and put them in important arenas without it being a construction. So that was quite a big job in the beginning. It was just getting them in the right place so it made sense, and then you could start telling the story.”
Set in the coastal town of Stavanger, it is a story specific to its setting and time. The series attempts to balance the family stories with what was happening in wider society during that period, without making it overly political and, most importantly, preventing the eight-part drama from becoming a history lesson.
“It is such an elegant way of having a drama in a historical setting without it being a history lesson or being too political,” says Hørsdal. “It is about the choices you make that matter, that your vote matters and it’s you as individuals who make the society you live in. It’s not someone else. Somewhere down there, this is the message. At this time, at that place, it was a bit easier to see that some of the choices they made had a tremendous impact on the rest of Norway. And different choices could have been made as well; things could have been really different.”
Around a third of the production was filmed on location in Stavanger, where the producers wanted to capture the unique landscapes and the town’s specific dialect. Further exterior and interior scenes were captured in Oslo and further afield in Belgium.
“It’s not a show that has one location we always go back to, so we jump quite a lot,” Hørsdal explains. “The line producer and the production manager spent two months working out the schedule. We have done TV before but nothing as big as this.”
Filming also took place on a real oil rig in a fjord close to Bergen, further up the coast, before it was to be taken away for recycling. Visual effects then placed it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“We had to change some of the crew because some of them had vertigo and it was tough to get up onto the rig,” Hørsdal reveals. “For me personally, shooting in Stavanger and the landscape where it actually took place was one of the biggest moments. I really felt like it was the real thing.”
Season one runs from 1969 until 1972, while a potential season two, which is already in development, is set to jump forward five years to 1977.
“Mette is already writing season two,” says Hørsdal, who envisions the series reaching the present day over five seasons. “She’s a fantastic writer to work with. She’s extremely good at taking a specific scene or setting and making it relevant to the characters.”
She adds: “We’re ready for season two. We started developing it quite a while ago. The way this drama is made is moulded. We can go into production quite quickly and we’re really ready to do another season. There’s lots more material.”
Former professional footballer John Carew teams up with Ane Dahl Torp to star in Norwegian drama Heimebane (Home Ground). They join the creative team behind the project to discuss the series, which centres on an ambitious female coach breaking into the men’s game.
Ane Dahl Torp is one of the most famous actors in Norway, having starred in series such as Kodenavn Hunter (Code Name Hunter) and Okkupert (Occupied). But she nearly turned down the lead role in local drama Heimebane (Home Ground).
She was in line to play Helena Mikkelsen, the coach of a successful women’s football team who leaves her job to become the first female coach of a Norwegian top-division men’s side. Ambitious and determined, Helena was drawn as a character willing to put a few noses out of joint to prove that women are just as good as men. To some, she wasn’t very nice.
Then in between casting meetings, the scripts were changed and Helena was rewritten to be more likeable. In turn, she was more deferential in the way she spoke, a move Torp says “totally ruined” the character.
“It upset me so bad I was shaking because I felt some man has read this and felt, ‘I don’t like her,’” she says. “Somebody has read this and said they don’t like her or I don’t believe in her or understand her, and it upset me so bad. For the first time in my life, I thought maybe men don’t like me if I don’t act like I want them to like me. So I took it personally, the whole rewriting.
“I didn’t know if they were going to offer me the part but I didn’t want it anymore. They ruined my dream, which is not so important, but more importantly they ruined the wonderful character for the audience. When you have a character I believe could really have a say and an impact, they killed her. So it was terrible.”
However, it was Torp’s reaction that earned her the part and forced the production to rethink the changes and revert to the original characterisation of Helena.
“When I came up with the idea, I thought we needed a woman who was going to go into this club and say, ‘I know you don’t believe me because I’m a woman but I’m the right person for this job.’ That was a key scene in the first episode, and that also informed a lot about her character,” series creator Johan Fasting explains. “She needs to be driven, ambitious and not take any compromises.
“But if you write a character like that, some people reading won’t like her because she’s unlikeable in many respects. So many of the first feedbacks we got on the scripts were she’s not likeable and you should make her more likeable. That didn’t sound like the show we were making but we tried this and softened her. It never felt right and luckily when we were casting, Ane came in and said, ‘This is bullshit, I don’t want to do this.’ We thought, ‘She’s right, what are we doing?’ We went back and said, ‘This is the character, and if that’s not the character, that’s not the show.’ And we were allowed to make the show we wanted to make.”
In the series, viewers follow Helena’s journey into a man’s world where she is not respected or listened to and attempts to overcome the ingrained bias against her.
The biggest challenge for Torp, however, was to throw herself into the world of football, as she admits she wasn’t previously a fan. To help her become immersed in the sport, she spent a lot of time at her local club, Vålerenga IF, where she would spend days watching training and talking to the players and staff – even walking out of the tunnel with the players when they played a pre-season friendly against Manchester United last summer.
“It was really fun to dive into a new universe because so many people are interested in it,” she says. “And where I live, football is a very big part of the culture. My husband is also a fan of the local team and when you walk around everybody has these flags outside. I’ve hated it but now I have the supporters’ gear. It’s definitely a job to get to love football when you don’t.”
Torp’s co-star John Carew is no stranger to football, having played professionally in Norway, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France and the UK across a 15-year career that saw him make more than 90 appearances for Norway’s national team. So was he wary of taking his first major acting role in a drama about a world he knows more intimately than most?
“It’s much more than about football,” he says of the 10-part series, which is coproduced by Motlys and public broadcaster NRK and distributed by DR Sales. “It’s more about my personal life and my story within the story, which makes the most impact for me.”
Carew plays Michael Ellingsen, a player who is facing up to the end of his career and the issues that come with it, such as his ageing body and the fact he is no longer the darling of the dressing room, with younger superstars fighting for the limelight.
“He has a lot of things to deal with but if I can’t do this, I should forget about my acting career,” he says. “I was in the changing room every day for 20 years, and every year there were one or two players who were at the end of their career. I was always seeing how they would deal with certain things that changed in their life. I have a lot of football friends who couldn’t deal with it and ended up with alcohol and drug problems, no money left and broken marriages. And it’s all related to not being able to cope. So it was very possible for me to put myself in this situation.”
There are no aliens, time travel or high-concept elements to the series, but Torp still describes Heimebane as a science-fiction series, as the central premise – a woman leading a men’s football team – is yet to happen in the real world.
“It can happen at any time but today it’s science fiction,” she says. “Also it’s very rare to see a female character in film or television who has professional problems and not personal problems. You hardly see that in fiction and it’s very important for the audience to see this.”
Development on Heimebane first began in 2014, with filming taking place last year. But when executive producer Yngve Sæther first approached producer Vilje Kathrine Hagen and Fasting about making a series about a football club and its coach, they were both hesitant.
“We love Friday Night Lights and we’re not going to do it better than that, so why do it?” says Hagen of his initial reaction, referring to the seminal NBC series about a high-school American football team. But as a writer, Fasting has always put women in the lead so they started to imagine a football series with a female coach in charge.
“Then it suddenly became an interesting story,” Hagen adds. “I’m not interested in football at all so, for me, this is not a show about football. It’s about a woman going into a man’s world. Football is an interesting setting because I feel the development of female coaches is so far behind. So if we wanted to tell this story, it was perfect to put it into a football arena.”
Fasting put together a traditional writers room to flesh out the season, bringing together three other writers and a couple of consultants to help break down the plotlines. He would then write through each script before filming began.
He also worked alongside lead director Arild Andresen, who shot the first two episodes, to set the style of the series, which they agreed should be authentic and visceral, with lots of energy.
“What’s strong about Johan’s writing is not only that he writes great dialogue, but he’s quite selective about his descriptions so that they feel relevant and inspiring and give me ideas,” Andresen says. “He writes in a very visual way but he’s very precise and very selective, so what’s in the script matters, which you can tell as a reader.”
Filming took place both in the studio and on location in Norway capital Oslo, and the town of Ulsteinvik in the West, picked both for its stunning location among the fjords, surrounded by mountains, and its inhabitants’ passion for football. Match scenes were filmed at Ulsteinvik’s stadium and authenticity was particularly important as the show was set inside the real Norwegian Premier League, using real clubs and real players, though the club led by Torp’s Helena is fictional.
“There are so many expectations about how to show football in a believable way,” Andresen adds. “People are so used to watching games on television, so we had to invent our own language and make it character-driven more than sports-driven. It’s a lot about what you’re not showing and what you’re focusing on, and which story about which characters you’re telling at that moment. The football pitch is the stage where this specific story is taking place.”
The stage is now set for a second season, which was ordered by broadcaster NRK before season one debuted in March. Season two is already lined up for a January 2019 debut.
“The world [of this show] lends itself really well to several seasons,” Fasting concludes. “Every season would just follow a new football season and there are millions of stories – you can never run out of inspirational stories. I could just keep going.”
Television held its own at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world as an array of talent and some stunning new shows landed in Germany for Berlinale’s fourth annual Drama Series Days. DQ was in town to find out more.
For those in the television industry, the chance to rub shoulders with A-list movie stars might once have seemed a pipe dream. But for anyone who attended the Berlin International Film Festival this week, that dream was very much a reality.
Now in its fourth year, Berlinale’s Drama Series Days has established itself as one of the premier television events around the world as the German capital rolls out the red carpet for stars of the big screen – and small.
To find yourself caught up in a maelstrom of photographers’ flash bulbs and screaming and cheering fans might not be an unusual event at a film festival. But to then peer over the barriers and find the stars of Australian drama Picnic at Hanging Rock posing for the cameras is proof that television is now assured of the same reverence as cinema. And for good reason. The talent the industry is able to attract is of a level never seen before in terms of movie stars signing up for longer-form storytelling. The productions themselves are also worthy of acclaim, with the word ‘cinematic’ a staple adjective regularly dished out to describe the scale of dramas now on screen.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, which will air on Foxtel in Australia later this year and is distributed by FremantleMedia, is a case in point. Game of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer turns in a standout performance as Hester Appleyard, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school that faces tragedy when three pupils disappear during a picnic at the titular rock. The series also pops with colour and visual flair thanks to director Larysa Kondracki, making it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Weir’s celebrated 1975 film adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel, which also serves as the source of the television reimagining.
The six-part miniseries – there will be no sequel that goes beyond the book, delegates in Berlin were told – was one of seven screenings that took place as part of the Berlinale Series programme, highlighting some of the biggest new dramas from around the world.
Others included Israeli psychological thriller Sleeping Bears, written and directed by Keren Magalit (Yellow Peppers, The A Word), and Bad Banks. The latter is described as a six-part Machiavellian thriller set in the ruthless world of international finance and the stock market. Produced by Letterbox Filmproduktion and Iris Production for ZDF (Germany) and Arte (France), it has already been picked up by HBO Europe, Walter Presents UK, RTÉ in Ireland, Sundance TV Iberia and RTP in Portugal ahead of its debut next month.
Two new Scandinavian dramas were also selected. Heimebane (Home Ground) tackles gender issues as a female football coach becomes the first woman to take charge of a men’s team in the Norwegian premier league. Already commissioned for a second season by NRK, it stars Ane Dahl Torp and former footballer John Carew, well known to fans in Europe after playing for sides including Valencia and Aston Villa, as well as the Norway national team.
Meanwhile, amid talk of Scandi broadcasters losing interest in what the rest of the world calls Nordic noir, one show is set to push new boundaries at Danish net DR. Known for its original series including Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen and Broen (The Bridge), DR’s forthcoming drama Liberty stands out as something totally different for the channel. It also marks a rare book adaptation to land on the network.
Based on Jakob Ejersbo’s novel, it follows a group of Scandinavian expats living and working in Tanzania, and explores themes of corruption, identity, morals and friendship. Hollywood actor Connie Nielsen joined fellow cast members including Carsten Bjørnlund plus creator Asger Leth and director Mikael Marcimain on the red carpet in Berlin.
The Berlinale official selection was completed by two new US series, showcasing the vast range of storytelling television now affords. The Looming Tower, debuting next month on US streamer Hulu and showcased in Berlin by European partner Amazon, is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Lawrence Wright. The story traces the rising threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and how the rivalry between the FBI and CIA at that time may have set the path for tragedy on 9/11.
Stars Jeff Daniels, Ali Soufan, Peter Sarsgaard and showrunner Dan Futterman (pictured top) were in Germany to promote the show, which injects reality into a Homeland-style political thriller.
At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is The Terror, AMC’s take on the true story of the crews of two British Royal Navy ships that attempt to discover the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s. This isn’t just another historical drama, however. Faced with treacherous conditions, limited resources and a fear of the unknown, the crew members are pushed to the brink of extinction as they face all kinds of dangers, from both human and otherworldly sources.
The mix of horror and the supernatural, coupled with the eerie Arctic landscapes, certainly makes this show one to watch, with co-showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh promising to reward viewers through the 10-part series, which features Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander) among the ensemble cast.
The strength of the drama on show this week in Berlin and the number of small-screen stars descending upon the city were proof of television’s strength at an event usually revered as one of the most prestigious film festivals on the international circuit. With more film talent on both sides of the camera now championing the opportunities offered by longform storytelling, and the chance to develop characters across more than a two-hour period, coupled with television’s new openness to genre and plot, expect to see television play an even greater role in at Berlinale in 2019.
Norwegian drama Monster takes the hunt for a serial killer to the northernmost part of the country. Producer Lasse Greve Alsos tells DQ six things we need to know about the show, which is produced by broadcaster NRK and distributed by DRG. International buyers include US premium cable channel Starz, SBS in Australia, Russia’s Spike and Canal Plus in France.
1. The title is based on a quote from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said whoever fights monsters should see to it that they do not become a monster in the process. Knowing this, you then understand it’s not so much about the serial killer our two detectives – local police officer Hedda Gilbert and young hotshot detective Joel Dreyer – are trying to catch, but about the detectives themselves. They’re on the hunt for a serial killer but it becomes more about them – particularly Hedda, as this is happening in her home town and the hunt becomes personal. By episode three, when more brutal murders are discovered, their investigation starts to spin out of control.
2. I was working in the NRK drama department and we were looking for some family friendly series. Then [Monster creator] Hans Christian Storrøsten walked through my door with the draft for the first episode. It was well written but not what we were looking for. Three weeks later, he came back with episode two. It was even better. So I gave him some money to write episode three, which he returned with a month later. We were all sold. It was the best project, and we just had to cancel our ideas about making a family friendly show. But because he was a newcomer, I thought I needed a director who could do this with him. We made a list of directors we would approach and Anne Sewitsky [Homesick] was at the top
3. Hans wrote the scripts in a very particular way; it was like reading a book. We liked the atmosphere he’d created but he wrote that everything takes place in the woods. We were looking for locations all over the north that fitted his scripts and we loved the roughness of the location, despite the lack of trees that were in the script. What we discovered with Anne was that actually this open landscape gives the drama a different sense of claustrophobia – there’s nowhere to hide. We liked the feeling of going the opposite way to the original intentions.
4. Norwegian actor Jakob Oftebro, who plays Joel, is a big star in both Norway and Denmark. He studied in Denmark so he speaks Danish fluently as well. Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes (Hedda) is a newcomer. We took a lot of time casting her role. We knew we would see a lot of Hedda in this show so we needed someone we wouldn’t be bored by, and you could watch Ingvild over and over again. I think she will be a really big star in Norway.
5. The biggest challenge of the series was the logistics of getting to our location. It’s as far away from Oslo as Italy is, so it was hard and both time- and money-consuming. We filmed in September to December 2015 and February to April 2016. In September winter can arrive early, so when we first arrived the local people told us we might have two or three days where we couldn’t leave the hotel because there would be a white-out. That would mean we couldn’t drive our cars to locations because the road would be blocked with snow. But we had some luck and were very well prepared. The day after shooting finished, the snow came.
6. We’ve preserved the core values of Nordic noir. A lot of people in Scandinavian countries now want to move on from Nordic noir but one of the things we wanted to do was speak to those core values, use them and go further, because there is so much good in the genre. It’s full of psychology and atmosphere and these are perfect for TV drama. Why abandon them? And as our head of drama pitched it, it also has the most incredible nude scene you will ever see, but it has nothing to do with sex – it’s about two old men fighting.
Ten years after Forbrydelsen (The Killing) first aired and with the final season of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) starting next month, Nordic crime drama has dominated the international landscape for a decade. But what does the future hold for the genre and where will those who make it go next?
The impact of Nordic noir has changed the landscape of television drama forever. It gave audiences around the world a taste for serialised TV beyond what comes out of the US, and spawned thousands of imitations, including high-profile Hollywood remakes such as AMC’s version of The Killing (based on Denmark’s Forbrydelsen) and FX’s version of The Bridge (originally Swedish/Danish drama Bron/Broen).
But in an industry that prides itself on ingenuity, the region does not want to be seen as resting on its laurels. In the small town of Lubeck, northern Germany, the film festival Nordic Film Days recently showcased the latest attempts to reboot the crime genre.
“We were nervous about the reviews,” says Bjorn Ekeberg, writer of Grenseland, TV2 Norway’s new series about an Oslo cop who goes to visit his home town only to find his family is implicated in a local murder. But much to Ekeberg’s delight, the reviews were very positive. One newspaper gave it a top rating, though the title of the review read: “Makes you forget you’re watching Nordic noir,” underlining the point not only that audiences at home are sometimes harder to please than foreign ones, but also that the backlash against genre is significant
Ekeberg, who had worked on Valkyrien, another hit from Norway, believes audiences and reviewers received Grenseland well because they were not merely watching a crime series. It’s a “family drama at its core,” he says. “The crime story is the ‘wrapping,’ so to speak.” This twist on the genre was noticed by Sky Deutschland and Netflix, which have bought the rights to air the eight-part series.
Innan vi dör (Before We Die) experiments with a different narrative style from what viewers are used to in Nordic crime. In the series from Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, detective Hanna Svensson discovers a new threat from a restructuring of power in Stockholm’s underworld.
But the story does not start with a spectacular murder that is then investigated over 10 episodes, a structure familiar to many crime drama viewers. “This is different,” says director Simon Kaijser. “It’s not relying one on question – who did it? – It’s relying on constant tension.”
“The fast pace is different to much of Scandi noir,” adds the show’s writer, Niklas Rockström. “Every scene is moving the story forward. In Wallander [a show for which Rockström also wrote episodes], the audience is always told how you get the information that then leads to the next scene. In Before We Die, we’re trying to jump to the next plot point. The Americans are good at that; we’re trying to use their way.”
Stella Blómkvist (pictured top) is the first original Icelandic show ordered by regional SVoD service Viaplay and was the most dramatic move away from the world of Nordic noir to be shown at Lubeck. “It’s noir,” says director Oskar Thor Axelsson, “but it’s not Scandi noir.”
The femme fatale character of Stella (who is based upon the heroine of a series of books by a mysterious and anonymous author rumoured to be part of Iceland’s political establishment), electronica soundtrack and neon visual style of the show give it an air of film noir on steroids rather than nordic noir’s naturalism. The world has its own rules that are not our reality. “You can get a crazy idea and throw it into the world and it will be fine, because that’s the world,” says Axelsson, a successful feature film director who also directed episodes of 2016 Icelandic hit Trapped.
Grenseland uses some of the familiar visual tropes of Nordic noir, such as beautiful shots of the forest on the border between Sweden and Norway, and thus eases the viewer into a world they are familiar with – but then gives them something different. Other shows, meanwhile, actively shun these tropes.
Before We Die does not make use of the famous aerial shots of lush Nordic landscapes or impressive settings (the classic example being the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen in The Bridge) that have come to define Nordic noir.
“We did not want to do that. The story is told from the point of view of the mother and son, shot on the ground, from their point of view,” says Kaijser, who is also a feature film director. Kaijser made the acclaimed film Stockholm East with producer Maria Nordenberg, who collaborated with him again on Before We Die.
Hassel, a Swedish series (also from Viaplay), is based on as series of pulp-fiction novels about a cop investigating serious crime in Stockholm. The books were adapted for the small screen in the 1980s and the recently rebooted version is very much in the trend of moving away from the visual style of Nordic noir.
“We have used a warmer colour palette, using reds instead of blues that form the colder world of Nordic noir,” says the show’s writer, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer. “Much of Hassel is shot on location, in particular around the bridges that connect the famous, beautiful old town of Stockholm to the less wealthy suburbs. Again, this is a statement that we are in a different world with different characters.”
“Hassel is not at home drinking scotch and listening to opera,” says director Amir Chamdin, a former musician and music video and feature film director. “He came from the streets, from the same neighbourhood as the bad guys. He’s not a desk cop, he’s a street cop. He’s going to be even badder than the bad guys to get the job done.” This also reflects Chamdin and Jansson-Schweizer’s influences, which include classic 70s films such as The French Connection and Mean Streets as well as the TV cop shows they fondly recall from their childhoods, such as Baretta and Kojak.
Chamdin’s musical background provides an exhilarating operatic rhythm to the show that is in obvious contrast to the moody, brooding and ethereal soundscapes of Nordic noir. Hassel’s hard-boiled titular character, played by Ola Rapace, is certainly taking cops in a new direction from the heroes and heroines of the genre. Symbolical of the changing of the guard, one of Rapace’s early career breaks was playing Wallander’s junior officers in the Swedish series, in which Krister Henriksson played the grouchy detective.
Ironically, however, the show is similar to traditional Nordic noir in that it reflects social issues in Sweden right now. “There’s a big debate going on that the police don’t get enough pay, so we tried to reflect that,” says Jansson-Schweizer. Chamdin adds: “They are not wealthy people. It’s not a fancy lifestyle, it’s a commitment. Cops are struggling, man.”
But not all crime shows screened at Lubeck were trying to escape the Nordic noir tradition. NRK’s Monster is instantly recognisable as pure Nordic noir – the atmospheric and beautiful Norwegian Tundra landscape, the missing girl, a lone female detective. Even the cinematography is done by Jørgen Johansson, who worked on the genre’s most iconic series, The Bridge and The Killing. But somehow the combined storytelling skills of writer Hans Christian Storroston and director Anne Sewitsky have created something completely new.
“We have to keep the strengths but also see where can we push the archetypes, push the conventions, push this art form into something new and figure out where we can go next,” says Storroston. International broadcasters were quick to snap up the rights to air Monster, with buyers including US cable channel Starz.
Crime drama from the Nordic region is certainly going through a transitional period. Some writers and directors are pushing at the familiar tropes of Nordic noir to come up with something new, whie others reject them completely. The level of creativity and experimentation on show at Lubeck makes it clear the Nordic industry is in rude health. It seems Scandi crime drama is on a thrilling journey that viewers from around the world will no doubt be keen to watch.
While some say young people are no longer watching TV, the global success of series like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars has turned that theory on its head. DQ explores how series are driving youth audiences back to the box.
Attracting elusive youth audiences has always been high on the TV industry’s to-do list. But as more and more youngsters turn their backs on traditional forms of viewing, the debate around how to win their attention has intensified.
Indeed, you very quickly get a sense of how serious the issue has become when you realise that Channel 4 in the UK – long regarded as a radical, alternative network – has an average viewer age of 55. In the US, The CW, AMC and FX all average 40-plus, despite being home to cross-generational favourites like The Flash, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story respectively.
From the perspective of scripted content, the first obvious question is whether TV drama can play a role in pulling young audiences back in the direction of traditional viewing platforms.
George Ormond, co-founder of indie producer The Forge and executive producer of C4’s school-set drama Ackley Bridge, believes so: “With Ackley Bridge, we set out to make a show that would attract a broad, multigenerational audience but would also bring the younger audience that is so hard to attract to linear TV.
“We did well on both counts. The show has lots of young fans that connected with it, but also the broader audience.”
Ackley Bridge is set in a multicultural school in Yorkshire, explains Ormond: “This felt like a great world to set a show in; contemporary, muscular, and unexplored on television. We wanted to make a show that would smack you between the eyes with surprising, untold stories that feel very modern.”
Key to ensuring younger audiences bought into the show was getting the right tone of voice, he adds. “We knew the show needed to offer something original: a strong premise and surprising, engaging and addictive stories that are outrageous and contemporary but unpatronising. It is sometimes provocative, always irreverent, never worthy. And it has heart.”
Another show that attempts to appeal to the youth demo as part of a broader audience is You Me Her, a romantic comedy that debuted on AT&T’s Audience Network in 2016 and has been renewed for a third season. In this case, the story revolves around Jack and Emma, a married, 30-something couple whose love for each other is being undermined by their fading sex life. To reinvigorate their relationship, they hire Izzy, a 25-year-old college student and part-time escort. The three develop romantic feelings for each other – creating the unfamiliar (for TV) dynamic of a polyamorous relationship.
Creator John Scott Shepherd says the life-stage difference between the older couple and Izzy gives the show “an interesting, schizophrenic feel,” adding: “It allows us to explore issues around relationship choices but also to see the world from Izzy’s younger perspective. She lives downtown and shares an apartment with her friend Nina. So the show is recognisable as a romcom but also appeals to a younger, progressive audience because it deals with sexuality and romance in a fluid way.”
You Me Her, which airs on Netflix outside the US, has built up a strong following on social media – which Shepherd believes is to do with the show’s authentic tone. “It fits with the younger generation’s belief that you should follow your bliss. It’s OK to live how you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone.”
While Ackley Bridge and You Me Her are examples of shows that are bringing down the average age of cross-demographic networks, many broadcasters choose to position youth dramas on channels specifically targeted at a younger audience. The classic example of this is Skins, an exuberant drama that ran for seven seasons from 2007 to 2013 on C4’s youth channel E4. But a more recent example is Clique, commissioned for the BBC’s online youth channel BBC3 and made by Skins producer Balloon Entertainment.
Balloon head of development Dave Evans says show creator Jess Brittain “wanted to write a show about female friendships and how they survive – or don’t survive – through major transitions. University can be an exhilarating time for change but it can also be a hard place to survive, to learn what you want to do.”
The show is a thriller, which is unusual, says Evans, because “university-set drama tends to sit in a comedic space – such Fresh Meat or Dear White People. But with Clique we wanted to hit the heart of the experience with more dramatic firepower.”
In terms of how you grab this audience’s attention, Evans says: “It’s about getting onto young people’s radar. Attention-grabbing scenes are useful in that if people are saying, ‘Oh wow did you see that bit when…’ or making animated GIFs, it’s more likely to hook in new viewers. That said, a young audience won’t stay unless the drama grabs them outside of all the flash and bang.”
Ironically, there are occasions when youth drama can have an ‘ageing up’ impact. German kids’ channel KIKA, for example, recently commissioned Five2Twelve (pictured top) as a way of appealing to a slightly older audience. Speaking to DQ, producer Marcus Roth says the show “plays in the 20.00 slot and deals with more mature editorial themes.”
Five2Twelve centres on five teenage boys who have all been in trouble with the police. “The courts give them one last chance to escape detention by sending them to a boot camp in the Bavarian Alps,” says director Niklas Weise. “Here they have to cope with the challenges of everyday life and learn how to get on with each other. Although most kids haven’t been on the wrong side of the law, they will recognise the issues.”
Like their counterparts, Weise and Roth say the biggest challenge is getting the language right – but that this also requires a supportive broadcaster. “The youth audience is quick to see anything fake or artificial, so you need to talk to them in a way that is authentic,” Weise adds. “But this also requires a broadcaster that is willing to support the vision you have for the project.”
While the success or failure of a youth drama generally comes down to the relatability of the story and characters, it also helps if the producer or broadcaster can give the audience a sense of ownership over the production. In the case of hit Nordic youth series Skam (Shame), for example, originating broadcaster NRK launched the show via its website, a move that helped the show build up a strong online community.
Here, the focus of the story was high-school students attempting to deal with classic teen issues. The first season, which premiered in September 2015, focused on relationship difficulties, loneliness, identity and belonging. Subsequent series have addressed feminism, eating disorders, sexual assault, homosexuality, mental health and cyberbullying.
All of this was supported by fresh digital content that was published on the NRK website each day to maintain a connection with the audience. Other social media-savvy shows include Freeform’s cult youth drama Pretty Little Liars, as well as the aforementioned Ackley Bridge. “We did a big push on Snapchat,” says Ormond, “and ran a parallel, specially shot Snapchat strand that involved Snaps being released from characters at key points throughout each episode, as well as between episodes and in ad breaks.”
This raises another key question: how can digital media be harnessed in other ways? Komixx Entertainment has sought out youth source material in the digital realm. “With the explosion of digital platforms and social media, some social influencers now hold arguably more power than traditional celebrities,” says Andrew Cole-Bulgin, Komixx group chief creative officer and head of film and TV. “This is relevant for young-adult adaptations, as [viewers of these shows] are digital natives, having grown up with social media networks.”
This led Komixx to back The Kissing Booth, a feature-length Netflix commission based on a teen novel sensation by Beth Reekles. “Beth was 15 when she self-published this book but it went on to generate more than 19 million reads on [online storytelling community] Wattpad,” says Cole-Bulgin. “We optioned the book because we could see that her connection with and understanding of the audience would prove a great starting point for a television production.”
The decision to make the film for Netflix, rather than a TV network, is interesting. Broadcasters may want to reach youth audiences, but producers also need to take a view on what is best for the long-term prospects of their property. In the case of The Kissing Booth, “SVoD was an obvious choice for us because that was where the youth audience have been going,” says Cole-Bulgin. “If we had this particular property for a more traditional channel, I think we’d have lost a lot of the audience.”
While Komixx adapted a digitally self-published work with The Kissing Booth, there is – still – a market for youth series based on traditional book properties. Komixx has optioned the rights to adapt Robert Muchamore’s best-selling young adult novel series Cherub into a TV drama, while The CW in the US is airing an Archie Comics adaptation called Riverdale (see box).
Elsewhere, Eleventh Hour Films is embarking on an adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels, with UK broadcaster ITV as a partner. Jill Green, founder and CEO of the prodco, says: “Alex has a core audience of eight- to 15-year-olds but our aim is to reach as wide an audience as possible. We’re inspired by Stranger Things, which appealed to adults and kids.”
Reasons to feel positive about the project are varied, says Green: “The books have now sold 16 million copies worldwide. Alex Rider is known in more than 30 countries, and fans all over the world have been asking for a new dramatisation. There’s an official website and Anthony Horowitz has his own website and a Twitter platform where he engages with fans. It’s also worth noting that many 20- to 30-year-olds grew up with the books.”
Alex Rider has, in fact, had a previous outing as a movie in 2006. So why does it make sense to revive the franchise on the small screen? “TV now has the ambition, the scale, the technology and the budgets to do justice to Alex Rider,” says Green. “We’re writing it for a generation that thrives on box sets and binge-viewing.”
On the merits of free TV vs SVoD, Green adds: “We are very happy to be working with ITV but there’s no reason this series can’t go on to become a signature show on SVoD. A gripping story and great characters will always attract an audience. Whatever the platform, standout ideas and story come first.”
Riverdale Rundown The CW’s hit youth series Riverdale is based on Archie Comics characters originally created in the 1940s.
Show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a lifelong fan but he admits there were “a lot of discussions about how the show might work for a modern audience. We knew there was a lot of wish-fulfilment and aspiration attached to the central group of characters, but the real breakthrough came when we decided to add a mystery genre element to the show. There’s a darkness and subversiveness to the show that has appealed to audiences and differentiates it from One Tree Hill or Beverly Hills 90210.”
Key to getting the show right was casting, says Aguirre-Sacasa, to the extent that “we wouldn’t have made the show if we hadn’t got the perfect cast. Great casting is what connects the audience to the characters. You can aim for it, but it’s not easy to get right, and when you do it’s a kind of alchemy.”
Asked whether he takes social media into account, he says: “Everyone in TV is trying to do what they can to make their show stand out – but we didn’t specifically look for people with a large fanbase. The only cast member who really had that was Cole Sprouse (star of Zack & Cody, pictured above left in Riverdale) but he was in the show because he fought for, and is perfect as, Jughead Jones.”
The CW is known for its youthful profile, but Riverdale, which returns for a second season this autumn, sits slightly apart from some of its big-hitting network siblings because it’s not a superhero show. “I think the execs at the network recognise that it’s good to have all different kinds of shows for fans to get passionate about,” says Aguirre-Sacasa.
In terms of feeding that passion, he says youthful shows inevitably include a social media component. “We did some live tweeting involving the cast,and I think that gets the fans really excited. We also know – because the show airs on Netflix outside the US – that there’s a global fanbase for Riverdale who love the whole Americana, US high-school kind of world.”
Having already enjoyed life as short film and a kids’ TV show, the idea behind Martin Lund’s comedy drama Match has now evolved into a “grown-up” series. DQ chats to the writer, director and actor about finding the balance between high stakes and humour in a 15-minute running time.
It’s not unusual to see a writer doubling up as the director on their own show. Martin Lund takes things a step further, however, by adding a third spoke to his involvement in Norwegian shortform drama Match – he’s also one of its stars.
Lund plays one of two sports presenters who commentate on the life of Stian (Herbert Nordrum), a 20-something guy with 20-something guy problems. Though he can’t see them, the two onlookers are there to chat tactics, performance and foul-ups at every vital moment of his life.
Together, Stian and his commentators answer some of life’s most troubling questions. One episode sees Stian wake up next to a woman, played by Eline Grødal, whose name he can’t remember. Cue lots of desperate attempts by Stian to work out her identity, coupled with some wisecracking asides from the commentators.
The 20-part shortform series, which is due to air on Norway’s NRK, had its world premiere at Série Series in France this summer, and was also selected for the Séries Mania Coproduction Forum, which took place in April.
“Match started as a short film, Hjemmekamp [Home Game], I made in 2004 so it’s been a long journey,” Lund says. “It was about how hard it is to get up in the morning to reach work on time. It was really well received; I went to Sundance with it and that was fun. So that sparked the idea that it could work with all challenges in life. Then NRK was looking for a children’s show, so it made sense to make a show about this, called Kampen (The Games).”
Running for 26 episodes, The Games followed an 11-year-old who had to overcome such daily trials as getting to school on time and sending a text message to a girl – small events that can actually seem like a much bigger deal to those involved.
“When we were in the writing room, we had all these ideas that we came up with that we couldn’t use because it was a children’s show, so we thought it could work as a grown-up show as well,” Lund recalls. “So Match is more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. It’s also a bit more relationship-based. It was almost more difficult to make the grown-up version because the junior show was more basic, like sneaking out at night past bedtime. But the grown-up version needed some more psychological stuff and it felt unnatural not to go into dialogue [between characters] more. So it was a bit more complex to write and get the melody of the show.”
Lund wrote the series with Thorkild Schrumpf, and also directs with Liv Karin Dahlstrøm. It is produced by Ape&Bjørn and distributed by Red Arrow International.
From the outset, the key to the show was finding the right dynamic between Stian and the commentators, to ensure the latter didn’t simply serve as an outlet for exposition.
“The commentators demand a lot of attention; they are the voice of the main character so it was important to keep in mind that it has to be Stian who dictates the momentum of the episode and the situation he is in,” Lund explains. “What we struggled most with was if the commentators are saying something or driving the story forward, you don’t feel Stian is in charge. It doesn’t work. He has to be the frontrunner in this story, even though they are talking about and articulating everything.
“That’s been the most difficult part in both writing and directing because it’s so easy to lean on the jokes and guys in the booth just saying what is happening. I feel like we’ve been in this voiceover challenge throughout the whole thing. It’s very difficult to write.”
Lund describes Stian as an antihero, whose thoughts and insecurities are revealed through the commentators. “That’s the dynamic that works really well – him being really insecure and the sports lingo and sports references. I think most people are insecure in their everyday life but are trying not to be, so that makes it natural for me to write him as an uncertain character.”
If there’s a common theme throughout the 20 episodes, Lund says Match is ultimately a love story that straddles the line between comedy and drama. “It’s basically Stian and a girl’s ups and downs. Every episode is a new challenge for Stian. It doesn’t always directly concern her but she will be the reason for him to do something. She’s the big thing in this season overall.
“It’s a love story – that’s the drama that is underneath the story. One episode is about meeting her friends, another episode is about being at home with her parents and the challenges as they get to know each other.”
When it comes to writing and directing a series he also stars in, Lund admits: “I put it on myself.” But he praises co-director Dahlstøm and co-writer Schrumpf among the team he built around him. “It was all planned around me because I felt it had to be my voice, my song, my melody,” he says. “These people are very close to me – they’re friends as well so it was easy for me to explain [my ideas] or for them to contribute into this universe.”
Lund and Schrumpf spent a month in a writers room to develop the series before splitting off to write the scripts. “It was very much a show about finding one small idea that has a lot of facets to it. Remembering someone’s name could be an idea on the board. We spent a lot of time working out how to handle these types of situations, like how you go about figuring out someone’s name. If a big idea has a lot of strands, it meant we had a situation we could build this episode on – making her call you, Google your name, just talking like that and trying to build the narrative and drama around those ideas with forward momentum and funny jokes.”
On acting, he adds: “At first I was very self-conscious but I got used to it. I also liked the chance to see what worked and what didn’t. I learned a lot from doing the children’s show because that was the same, so this time I had a pretty long list of things I knew would work, how things should be played and what kind of reaction we should have.”
As the web opens up new possibilities for digital shortform content, it was a largely an analogue decision to keep the running time of Match episodes to 15 minutes. Lund had once written a 28-page script for an episode, which turned in to a 19-minute instalment on camera, but the show couldn’t find its feet at a traditional half-hour running time.
“We tried a lot of stuff in the studio just to see what we could and couldn’t do with it. Even then [at 19 minutes], we felt it was maybe a bit too long. So from there it was very natural to have two episodes in one half-hour running time.”
Lund is now working on a feature film called Psychobitch, but The Games has been sold to more than 40 countries and has a Canadian remake – YTV’s Game On. Despite the short-lived but similarly framed Pete Versus Life, which aired for two seasons on Channel 4, Lund believes Match has plenty of humour and drama to ensure the show heads into extra time.
Valkyrien tells the story of a respected physician who is desperately seeking a cure for his dying wife. When the hospital stops her treatment, he continues to work in secret, aided by a former patient at their illegal clinic deep beneath the streets of Oslo.
Here, actor Pål Sverre Hagen and head writer and director Erick Richter Strand talk about the origins of the show and why they were attracted to it.
Strand also reveals the writing process behind the drama and how he juggled his writing and directing duties.
Valkyrien is is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK, and is distributed by About Premium Content. Streaming service Walter Presents has acquired the show for the US and UK.
Norway’s NRK is blending medical drama with thriller in Valkyrien, which sees a doctor fighting to save his dying wife beneath the streets of Oslo. DQ catches up with writer/director Erik Richter Strand.
As plot lines go, it certainly catches your attention. “It’s about a doctor trying to find a cure for his dying wife – while everyone thinks she’s dead,” says Erik Richter Strand of Norwegian drama Valkyrien.
The eight-part drama, due to air on NRK in early 2017, focuses on Ravn (Sven Nordin), a respected physician who is desperately trying to save the life of his wife Vilma (Pia Halvorsen). But when the hospital ends her treatment, he continues working at a secret underground facility, aided by corrupt civil defence man Leif (Pål Sverre Hagen), who is also a doomsday prepper and a former patient of Ravn.
Writer/director Strand (pictured instructing actors above) says the show – produced by Tordenfilm and distributed by About Premium Content – combines a medical drama that, at its heart, is about life and death, with thriller elements to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It has already been picked up by UK VoD service Walter Presents and will have its world premiere at C21’s International Drama Summit later this month.
Central to the story is its main location, from which the show also takes its name. “The name comes from an abandoned metro station in Oslo – Valkyrien Square station,” explains Strand. “It was shut down in 1985 – you won’t know it’s there unless you know about it. That station became the setting for our series. The main character has a dark secret he needs to protect and there’s something unsettling about the setting being underground, right under your feet.
“Once you get the idea of doing it that way, it really lifts everything. Everything is heightened and falls into place at the same time. It has this great name and a feeling of secrets and suspense. We shot inside the station but once you go through the doors [to Ravn’s chambers], the interior was filmed in a studio. We worked hard to keep the illusion of everything happening underground. We also shot in real locations around Oslo – we got access to places and locations people won’t have visited. It’s not ‘postcard’ Oslo! Putting it all together to create a seamless universe was something we spent a long time on.”
Shooting took place over 110 days from August 2015 to April this year, with Strand directing every episode. However, he was often jumping back and forth between the writers room as the early footage revealed how the characters were developing on screen.
“I love it because you can write about things you’re already shooting and you can adapt,” he says. “I also feel it’s the best way to get the most out of time and budget constraints. It gives us room to place resources where we need them most. But it’s a delicate balance between enjoying that creative freedom and feeding the production office and crew members, who want to have a shooting schedule.”
“I do continue to write throughout shooting but it’s good for everybody to have major decisions made long before you start shooting. It’s all about time. Writing and directing are two full-time jobs, so doing them together is something you want to line up as parallel as possible, but it’s also very fulfilling.”
Though the basic premise of the show – a doctor secretly treating his wife – was set up before he joined the series, Strand’s vision was supported by writers Thomas Seeberg Torjussen, Bjørn Ekeberg and Kathrine Valen Zeiner, who each supported the ‘voice’ of the show.
“I hope viewers will be intrigued,” Strand adds. “It doesn’t just stroke viewers in the direction of their fur. It sometimes goes the opposite way. We’re challenging the viewers with Leif and his desire to live outside the system, but with Ravn and his wife it’s also a contemporary love story.”
Nordic drama has made its mark on the international stage over the last few years. But what’s coming next? A good source of information is the Nordisk Film & TV Fund, which provides regular updates on shows in development, production and distribution. So this week we look at some of the latest developments from the region.
Next Summer: Bob Film is remaking Norwegian comedy Next Summer for Kanal5/Discovery in Sweden. The original version aired on TVNorge/Discovery and was one of the country’s most popular local TV dramas. The Swedish remake, which will air in 2017, centres on a man who shares a summer house with his wife and in-laws in Stockholm’s archipelago. Bob Film also remade the Finnish drama Nurses for TV4 Sweden. That show, known locally as Syrror, launched on October 19, attracting an audience of one million. It’s part of wider trend of local Nordic adaptations that also includes Gåsmamman and Black Widows. Bob Film is also working with Sweetwater on a crime drama called Missing (Saknad) for CMore and TV4, which focuses on the investigation into the murder of a young girl in a Swedish Bible-belt town.
Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family): Nordisk Film & TV Fond has just allocated a total of NOK9.4m (US$1.14m) to a slate of new film and TV projects. One of them is season two of The Bonus Family, a comedy drama about a recomposed family and the complications that go with it. Season one is due to air on SVT in 2017, as well as on NRK, YLE, RUV and DR. Season two, granted NOK2.4m (US$290,000), started filming in September and will continue until February 2017.
Downshifters: This Finnish series has just secured a French sales rep (ACE Entertainment) while Sweden’s Anagram has optioned remake rights for its own market. The 10-part comedy from Yellow Film & TV has been generating a good buzz since it launched on OTT service Elisa in late 2015. More recently, it aired on YLE2 and established itself as the second most watched programme. The series tells the story of a couple who face financial problems and are forced to cut down on their extravagant lifestyle. A second series, Upshifters, will launch on Elisa in December 2016.
The Rain: News of this Danish show has been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks. Produced by Miso Film (Dicte, 1864, Acquitted), The Rain is a dystopian drama commissioned by Netflix. The series is set in Copenhagen 10 years after a biological catastrophe that wipes out most of the population in Scandinavia and sees two young siblings embark on a search for safety. Guided only by their father’s notebook about the virus and the hazards of this new world, they start a dangerous journey through the country and join up with a group of other young survivors. Miso has had a busy few months, with the second season of Acquitted recently launching on TV2 in Norway.
Midnight Sun: This Swedish/French crime show recently debuted to 1.39 million viewers (38.1% share) on SVT1 in the Sunday 21.00 slot. According to the channel, this performance is comparable with The Bridge (Bron/Broen). Midnight Sun also trended at number two on Twitter – and online viewers, which are still to be added to the count, could pass 200,000. The show also secured strong reviews in the Swedish media, with five stars out of five in Aftonbladet. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Midnight Sun will premiere on RUV on December 5. DR, NRK and MTV3 are likely to air the show, which is distributed internationally by StudioCanal, in early 2017.
Nobel: Trapped and Nobel were among 26 European fiction TV series selected for the Prix Europa Media awards last month. Trapped, an Icelandic crime show, won Best European TV Series while Nobel, a Norwegian political/war drama, won Best European TV Movie/Miniseries. Nobel was described as “a precisely crafted original script, perfectly executed and directed, that takes the viewer on a journey into a world of lies, betrayal, mistrust and political games.” Produced by Monster Scripted for NRK, Nobel secured 800,000 viewers for its first episode across NRK1 and NRK streaming service NRK.TV. Both Trapped and Nobel were supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Nobel was directed by Per Olav Sørensen, who also directed The Heavy Water War.
Heartless: In a recent interview with The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, SVoD service Walter Presents’ curator Walter Iuzzolino said 25-30% of the platform’s shows are from Scandinavia. In terms of titles doing well, he mentioned Heartless: “Our curated programme goes way beyond the tradition of Nordic Noir that has been established by the BBC. I would say that 30% of our audience is 16 to 34, the rest 35-plus. The sexy Danish vampire series Heartless, for example, was a huge hit among 16-24s. Normally I hate fantasy and sci-fi but it’s elegant, poetic, cleverly done and an interesting portrayal of a family – a sort of vampire version of The Legacy. It was a huge success, pushed only by word of mouth.”
Watchdog: At last month’s Mipcom market in Cannes, ZDF Enterprises announced an exclusive first-look rights deal for all scripted content from the Finnish producer Fisher King. Matti Halonen, Fisher King MD and producer, said: “ZDF Enterprises is a well-established company that can give a lot of support to a smaller player like Fisher King.” The first joint project that ZDFE is working on is the upcoming political thriller series Watchdog. Set in present-day Helsinki, The Hague and London, it’s described as an adrenaline trip into the heart of European justice policy and security regulations concerning source protection and privacy insurance. Fisher King is also behind Bordertown, which is represented worldwide by Federation Entertainment and has been sold to Sky Deutschland and CanalPlay France, while English-language series Crypted is also in its pipeline.
Deadwind: Paris-based financing and distribution boutique About Premium Content (APC) recently picked up Finnish crime drama Deadwind. The 12-part series is about a detective in her 30s who is trying to get over her husband’s death when she discovers the body of a young woman on a construction site. At Mipcom, APC launched Norwegian drama thriller Valkyrien, which is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK. It also distributes another Norwegian show, the youth-oriented Young & Promising, which was recently sold to the UK, Germany and France and has a US deal is in negotiation.
Dan Sommerdahl: This autumn it was announced that Nikolaj Scherfig (The Bridge) would be co-creator/head-writer on Dan Sommerdahl, a new series based on Danish author Anna Grue’s bestselling book series. Distributor Dynamic Television (Trapped) is pre-selling the series on behalf of Germany’s NDF and Denmark’s Nordisk Film. TV2 Denmark is attached and a German broadcaster will soon be announced. Scherfig said the project is different from classic Scandi noir: “It is a tight, clean crime series reflecting on life outside cities understanding how modernity and social development affect life in the province.” Klaus Zimmermann, Dynamic co-MD, told nordicfilmandtvnews.com: “NDF originally acquired the rights to the books and wanted to make it in the tradition of a German crime series with German actors for an international market. But then we felt it made more sense to make it as an original Danish show with a Danish writer and Danish actors. It’s simply the right way to tell the story.”
Hassel: Speaking to the Nordisk Film & TV Fond about Viaplay’s strategy for coproducing original content for the Nordic region, CEO Jonas Karlén said upcoming original Nordic scripted series on Viaplay include Swedish Dicks, Svartsjön/Black Lake, Hassel, Our Time Is Now and Occupied season two. Hassel is a Nordic noir starring Ola Rapace as the iconic detective created by author Olov Svedelid. The show is produced by Nice Drama in coproduction with Beta Film, which handles global sales, and is due to launch in late 2017.
Spring Tide: Eight brand new Nordic TV dramas have been selected for The Lübeck Festival’s Nordic Film Days. “TV drama is the big new thing. It was time for us to open up our festival to TV series, as Germans are so fond of Nordic noir,” said the festival’s long-time artistic director Linde Fröhlich. Shows to be introduced include Splitting Up Together (DK), Living with my Ex (FI), Trapped (IS), Nobel (NO), and Modus, Hashtag and Spring Tide (SE). The latter crime drama, based on the novel by Rolf and Cilla Börjlind, is about two cops who come together to solve the murder of a pregnant woman. The show is distributed internationally by Endemol Shine International.
Below the Surface: This is a new drama based on an idea by Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) – now principals in Studiocanal-backed firm SAM. The thriller series centres on an operation to rescue 15 hostages from a Copenhagen subway train. Price and Sveistrup said: “There is something both eerie and fascinating about [taking hostages] as a criminal act. The close and complex relationship between the hostage and hostage-taker immediately opens up strong character-development possibilities and can also put a number of highly topical issues about our time to the forefront, such as fear of terrorism.“ The eight-part series has received DKK14m (US$2.08m) in production support from the DFI’s Public Service Fund and will air on Kanal5/Discovery Networks.
Skam: Cult Norwegian youth series Shame (Skam) launched on NRK and was recently acquired by DR3 for Denmark. Danish newspaper Politiken called it “a youth series about high-school life that makes Norway cool for the first time.” Steffen Raastrup, director of DR3, said: “The series’ premise is that when you’re young, you should not be ashamed of who you are but stand up for yourself and deal with the fear that many feel during their formative teen years.” Skam – which is now up to three seasons in Norway and is a strong performer on social media – has also been acquired by SVT in Sweden and RUV in Iceland.
Interference: This is an eight-part English- and French-language sci-fi thriller in development by Stockholm-based Palladium Fiction. Palladium, which is minority-controlled by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), is producing the show alongside Atlantique Productions. SPT is distributing the show internationally. The Palladium team was also behind the critically acclaimed drama Jordskott, and is now working on a second season of the show. Palladium is also developing an English-language project with UK writer/producer Nicola Larder.
Established in 1990 and based in Oslo, the Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s primary purpose is to promote film and TV productions of high quality in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). It is funded by 17 partners: The Nordic Council of Ministers, five national film institutes/funds and 11 public service and private TV stations within the region. Its annual budget is approximately NOK100m.
Norwegian public broadcaster NRK is making strides reaching young audiences with a host of online dramas. As part of DQ’s Digital Drama Season, Julie Andem tells Michael Pickard how Shame (aka Skam) is reaching out to teenage viewers.
The Edinburgh International Television Festival this week witnessed a no-holds-barred attack on mainstream media’s failure to grasp youth culture as viewers increasingly move online.
Vice Media CEO Shane Smith warned that broadcasters face extinction as they have failed to connect with young audiences or focus on the content they want to watch, opening the door to digital competitors.
It won’t have been news to executives gathered in the Scottish capital that traditional broadcasters face an uphill battle to win back viewers (of any age) lost to the world of anytime, anywhere viewing.
But some networks are fighting to reclaim this lost audience. One in particular, Norway’s NRK, has taken steps to target teenagers with a number of shows that appeal directly to them and the issues they face.
Among them is Shame (aka Skam), which returns for its third season this autumn. Described as a mix between a traditional drama and a blog, it follows a cast of teenage characters as they navigate life at home and at school. Drawing parallels to British teen drama Skins, each season of Shame centres on a different main character, telling their story from their perspective.
Individual scenes from the web series, lasting up to three minutes, are broadcast daily at different times on p3.no, before they are compiled into longer 15- to 25-minute episodes every Friday. It also airs on linear TV on NRK3 and is distributed internationally by Beta Film.
In season one, Shame centres on 16-year-old Eva and her friends Chris, Sana, Vilde and Noora, who are all first-year students at Hartvig Nissen High School. The series follows the girls through their Russ celebration planning, heartbreak, parties and all the challenges young people face as they begin high school.
Creator Julie Andem had previously made shows for NRK, including Girls, which was aimed at girls aged seven to 12. It was such a big success that the broadcaster asked her if she could write a show for a slightly older audience, specifically 16-year-old girls.
“That audience wasn’t watching NRK at the time, they were only watching Netflix and HBO and big international drama series,” she explains. “We did five or six months of research, conducting interviews and reading articles and trying to understand who they were. Also, because we knew this production would be low budget, we couldn’t really compete with Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, which we knew they were already following. But [the research gave us] an advantage – now we know who they are, the culture they grew up in, what they watched on television when they were children, where they go on holiday and what they eat for dinner. We know all about Norwegian culture.”
Norwegian teenagers watch a lot of video online, and almost never tune into terrestrial TV, Andem’s research found. They also watch a lot of different shows and happily turn over if something doesn’t grab their attention within the first few minutes.
“So we knew we had to make something that would catch their attention quickly and something that they thought of as true,” she says. “It had to have truth and honesty about their own culture, something they hadn’t seen anywhere before and couldn’t get anywhere else. They had to relate to it and identify with it more than any other series. So that’s what we tried to do.”
The writing process began with the creation of nine characters, each with their own story that speaks to contemporary teens. Andem also leant on the personalities of the actors to bring the characters to life.
“Every character has a specific task,” she explains. “They have something they are supposed to learn. So when I found in the research what sort of topics the target group needed or wanted to know more about, I created characters that would [reflect them] on screen.”
Andem says the best part about writing online drama is the lack of time limits, allowing for episodes to be 14 minutes or 40 minutes long and everything in between. And because the show is set in real-time, storylines set on the first day of school or on Christmas Day are released on those exact days.
“That’s both a challenge and a lot of fun because you have to be up to date on what’s happening in the beginning of the season,” the writer/director admits. “You have to know when schools have holidays and you have to write that in the storyline at that exact time.”
To make matters more complicated, the characters can also be followed across social media, extending the character relationships across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and via text messages.
“Nothing will ever happen on Instagram that has consequences for the storyline, so you don’t have to follow them,” Andem adds, “but it’s a good way to give them more of the characters without necessarily putting it in the story. Viewers can get closer to the characters because they follow them and can comment on their pictures.
“It’s a lot of work, but the audience love it and it’s very good promotion – on social media it spreads on its own. We have 10 or 11 different Instagram accounts for the different characters, and most of them have thousands of followers.”
The use of social media and the real-time setting gives Shame the authenticity and realism it set out to achieve, but Andem is also quick to point out that the show is still a drama at its heart – and striking a balance between realism and drama is one of her trickiest tasks.
“Since Girls, we’ve always had one rule – there is no rule. We do the best for the scene and we do it as simply as possible. We don’t try to overdo it. Shame has a lot of social realism but we also have a lot of humour. Some scenes we shoot more in a sitcom way to get the humour out. Then other scenes we just follow the characters closely like in a documentary.”
With nine lead characters to follow, it might seem like it would make sense for Shame’s current ninth season to be its last. But Andem says that, with characters coming and going all the time, it would be easy to take the series further.
The show’s creator is convinced that heading online is the best way to serve teenage audiences, though the viewing figures suggest it’s not 16-year-old girls tuning into the daily scenes and weekly episodes as they drop.
“The target group is girls aged 16 and in Norway there’s around 60,000 of those. We had 1.3 million viewers at one point in season two, so more and more people were watching it,” she reveals. “It’s almost like a blog combined with a drama series. We reveal it scene by scene, not episode by episode. It’s a different way of following and a different way of watching television. But I have to create a lot of cliffhangers!”
As the popularity of Nordic noir shows no sign of waning, DQ asks Scandinavian drama’s key players where they plan to take the genre next.
Ever since the massive global hit that was The Killing, Scandinavian drama has been punching above its weight, winning over critics and viewers internationally as well as influencing its European neighbours.
The latest Nordic noir success story is Sweden’s The Fat and the Angry (Ettor och nollor), which scooped another international award for the region when it picked up best non-English-language drama at the inaugural C21 Drama Awards last November. It came a close second earlier in the year at the Seoul Drama Awards with a Silver Bird gong in the TV movies category.
Based on true events in Gothenburg’s criminal underworld, the two-part show, which premiered locally in Sweden in February 2014, joins a long list of award-winning Nordic dramas with international careers, including Lilyhammer, The Killing, Wallander, Borgen and The Bridge – as well as Mammon, which has been the subject of speculation about a BBC remake.
The Fat and the Angry highlights an important feature of Scandinavian dramas: coproduction. Made by Göta Film and Swedish pubcaster SVT, its partners included Finnish pubcaster YLE and Swedish film prodco Film i Väst.
With a few exceptions, Scandinavian drama’s international partnerships came out of necessity, says SVT head of drama Christian Wikander. “The hourly cost for drama has gone up, which means we’re all searching for new money, and this drove the producers and the broadcasters to reach out and broaden the network.”
If anyone can find success with this approach, it’s the Scandinavians, as Liselott Forsman, executive producer of international drama projects at YLE, explains: “We’ve been coproducing since 1959. It’s really good for Nordic drama that we have subsidy methods and two important funds within the Nordic countries.” One of these is the Nordisk Film and TV Fond, where Forsman sits on the board.
“There’s much to be gained by having a lot of smaller funding and regional funding contributions, even though they don’t pay very much,” agrees Stefan Baron, executive drama producer at Nice Drama. Baron left SVT in 2014 after 21 years to join MTG-owned Nice Entertainment Group, where he’s now an exec producer heading up international coproductions. “The trick is to not have too many partners at the script stage,” he says. “When you have a couple of scripts, then you bring in distributors and coproducers from around the world.”
Beyond the region, Nordic drama’s international appeal has grown thanks to increasingly sophisticated, social media-savvy audiences and their expanding tastes, says Wikander – adding that this has also helped prise open the door to the UK, a notoriously closed market for subtitled, non-Anglo Saxon fare.
“I think audiences are very well educated and used to all kinds of storylines, plots, dramaturgy and also language,” says the SVT man. “Because social media is so borderless, we share so much in our personal networks – and one proof of that is the success of Nordic drama on BBC4. Ten years ago, if someone had told me two million Brits would sit down to watch a subtitled drama, I wouldn’t have believed them.
“The fantastic upside for all of us working in Scandinavia today is that we’re approached by broadcasters and international producers in a way we’ve never seen before, and that’s a great opportunity for us.”
SVT is Scandinavia’s largest drama commissioner and producer, with an annual output of four longform drama series (10×60’/10×45’) and four miniseries (3×60’) across crime, family drama and comedy, on a budget of around SEK320m (US$46.6m).
Around half its output is coproduced, largely with its longstanding Nordic partners such as DR, NRK and YLE. But it has also attracted a growing band of Europeans and North Americans interested in remake rights to shows like The Bridge, and ‘hubot’ drama Real Humans, with Shine-owned Kudos’s remake of the latter, simply called Humans, now airing on the UK’s Channel 4 and AMC in the US.
Piodor Gustaffson, co-founder and producer of independent production company Another Park Film, and former drama commissioning editor at SVT, says that despite smaller budgets and limited development funds in the region, he’s noticed an overall increase in the quality of drama series over the last few years. “That’s about competing with not only the rest of the world but also your neighbours, as well as occasionally using the same talent,” he says.
At SVT, Gustaffson pushed for a broader range of drama output, leading to projects such as The Bridge and Real Humans. Meanwhile, Baron greenlit Nice’s family drama Thicker Than Water. The show aired in spring 2014 to a million-plus viewers, selling internationally via Germany’s ZDFE. A second season is now in the pipeline.
There’s widespread agreement that Nordic noir has opened doors for Scandinavian producers, themselves refusing to have their output pigeonholed as simply Nordic noir. With crime at its core, the programming stretches far beyond into an exploration of society and human motivations, offering a strong identification with and empathy for characters along the way. It also embraces other genres such as suspense and mystery, and fish-out-of-water crime comedy. And now producers are moving into new areas, exemplified by DR’s family inheritance drama The Legacy.
“Of course it’s about crime – it’s Nordic noir – but it’s always been character-focused,” says Jonas Allen, producer and co-founder of Danish prodco Miso Film. “We care about the characters. It’s not only about fascination with them, but also identifying with the characters, and I think that’s the basic core to all the shows.”
Now majority-owned by FremantleMedia, Miso Film counts local hits such as Those Who Kill and Dicte for TV2 Denmark, as well as the historical drama 1864 for DR, among its productions. Crime reporter series Dicte (10×45’) returned for a successful second run last autumn, with a third season now in development. It includes TV4 Sweden and TV2 Norway as coproducers, and received support from regional Danish regional funds, the EU’s MEDIA programme and DFI’s Public Service Fund.
For Scandinavia’s public broadcasters, at least, another quintessential ingredient of Nordic drama is how it reflects society. “It’s our duty to tell all our audiences something about what’s happening in society today. It’s imperative that we entertain, but we should always enrich at a deeper level, too,” says Forsman.
Even though Nordic drama appears gloomy and dark, Forsman says one of the reasons Danish drama travels so well is that the characters care about each other. “You can feel it within 10 seconds of watching. You have to have a lot of empathy, no matter how harsh the subject.”
YLE Drama’s latest show is the thriller Tellus, scripted and directed by JP Siili. The 6×50’ drama deals with a group of eco-terrorists, exploring an “important ethical question” of how far individuals will go to fight for their ideals, according to Forsman.
NRK and SVT are coproducers and ZDFE is distributing it internationally outside of Scandinavia, making it “a typical Nordic coproduction,” Forsman adds. The drama opened to 27% shares on YLE1 in the autumn, continuing on 25%, with a second season greenlit before the final episode aired in December.
Pubcaster NRK’s latest traditional Nordic noir, Eyewitness (Øyenvitne, pictured top), which debuted on NRK1 last autumn, is also imbued with socio-cultural commentary. “It’s been a real success among critics and audiences,” says NRK head of drama Ivar Køhn, who’s also the current chair of the Nordisk Film and TV Fund.
It was scripted and directed by Jarl Emsell Larsen who, as the original father of Nordic noir in Norway, has 30 years of TV drama under his belt. “For the last 15 years he’s been really into social drama, when he discovered he could make crime and talk about society and also make it popular,” Køhn says of the director.
Eyewitness follows two adolescent boys who meet secretly in a forest, where they witness a violent murder. The story follows the events that build after they fail to report the crime to the police. It has already sold internationally in both finished (including to Germany) and scripted format forms.
But NRK is also keen to evolve its drama. Its ‘Nordic humour noir’ show Struggle for Life (Kampen for tilværelsen) “is not so much a ‘fish out of water’ story as a ‘tigers in silent waters’ one – the complete opposite,” says Køhn.
Following in the mould of series like Welcome to Sweden and Lilyhammer, Struggle for Life centres on a Pole who travels to Norway in search of his father. Although a linguist, he can only find work as a carpenter, which exposes him to a Norwegian middle-class life of self-made problems.
“It’s a really original story and a brave one for us,” says Køhn. The project was completely controlled by scriptwriters, and co-written by Erlend Loe, Per Schreiner and Bjørn Olaf Johannessen – “some of the most exciting writers we have in Norway,” says Køhn. NRK has greenlit two seasons of the eight-part comedy drama.
Miso Film is also evolving the Nordic noir genre. “It’s one of the things going on right now,” says co-founder Allen. “A lot of creatives who we’re dealing with are looking for and trying to tell new stories.”
One of its latest offerings is NOK65m (US$8.8m)-budget mystery drama Acquitted (Frikjent) (10×45’), made for TV2 Norway and launched in March this year. The project, which received NOK10m funding from the Nordisk Film and TV Fund, became TV2’s biggest drama premiere, pulling in a 46.6% share of its 20-49s target group and a 38.8% overall share (12 years-plus).
Scripted by two female writers, Siv Rajendram Eliassen (Varg Veum) and Anna Bache-Wiig, the drama is inspired by a real rape and murder case in Norway. “They were very interested in the character, and it was always about finding out about the man who was acquitted, why he came back to his hometown, what he was looking for, and the forces that drove him back. That’s the core of the development of the show,” says Allen.
SVT’s Wikander, too, is keen for producers not to come to him with the next The Bridge. “I think we need to be brave. Take Real Humans, for instance – that’s an example of being brave, and for a public broadcaster today that’s extremely important,” he says.
“We need to try out new stuff but, of course, without abandoning the established crime formats. We’re going to see a third and probably fourth season of The Bridge, but we need to balance that with bravery, and we’ve started a lot from scratch, finding stories relevant to a Swedish audience because that’s our mission. When you have that mission, you can then go into the international market, but not as a first step.”
One of SVT’s newest dramas, Jordskott (10×60’), takes the pubcaster in yet another new direction. It’s made by established Swedish commercials prodco Palladium, which formed new division Palladium Fiction, headed by producer Filip Hammarström, for its first TV drama. The show, which launched on Monday February 16, opened to 1.6 million viewers and has since averaged 1.4 million so far across its debut run.
The story follows a detective who returns to her small home town to work on the case of a missing boy, 10 years after her own daughter disappeared, and tries to find links between the two mysterious incidents. Wikander calls it a “Nordic crime meets mystery” drama.
After four years developing the idea, Palladium brought a 10-minute tape to SVT. “If they hadn’t had that 10 minutes, we would have said no, because the company had never produced a drama series before,” says Wikander.
The UK’s ITV Studios came in on the project very early, he adds, making it possible to take it to the next level of production, and is distributing the series worldwide. Finland’s Kinoproduktion is also a coproducer and the series has been pre-bought by YLE, TV2 Norway and Iceland’s RUV.
“The biggest difference of the last two to three years has been an increase in the amount spent on development, alongside international companies investing in or acquiring Nordic companies and increased budgets at the TV channels. More projects are now very well developed even before they reach the commissioning editors,” notes Another Park’s Gustaffson.
SVT has upped its development budget to help develop more new projects, a challenge many countries without the US-style showrunner/writers room approach face. “The best writers are occupied so we also need to focus also on the writers beneath them and on finding ways to get them together with producers to lift them,” Wikander explains.
Another Park is currently busy developing a number of (as yet undisclosed) film and TV projects across a range of genres, working with top writing talent. “We will go out to the market when we’re ready,” Gustaffson says. “We wanted to have that freedom when we created the company. But, obviously, we would also be open to start earlier with some partners if we shared the same vision at the development stage.”
However, Gustaffson says a key challenge for Nordic drama is the “limit to how much Swedish-language drama the local market can finance and consume.”
He adds: “There’s a bigger appetite for Nordic and Swedish drama than what TV stations commission, and that’s caused a bottleneck. A lot of interesting projects will come out of the increase in development money but this won’t result in more Swedish-language drama series – and it could mean some of the top talent start to write for companies in other countries because what they develop here won’t be financed.”
Yet Scandinavian producers remain unfazed by growing international competition in foreign-language drama from countries such as France, Spain, Israel and Turkey. Rather, they see greater potential synergies developing.
NRK is no stranger to global partnerships. It was the first Scandinavian broadcaster to strike out when it joined forces with new entrant Netflix to coproduce the crime comedy series Lilyhammer by Rubicon TV, which premiered in early 2012. Season three of the drama returned on flagship NRK1 last October, with the broadcaster this time taking a leaf out of Netflix’s book by also making the entire series available straight away on its online streaming service. Meanwhile, HBO Europe picked up remake rights to NRK’s six-part thriller Mammon.
“We were all taken and shaken by Netflix and House of Cards, when the whole series was made available on day one, while Netflix rose extremely quickly to around 650,000 subscribers in Sweden,” says Wikander. “But that has now levelled out, and one of the reasons for that – not unique to Netflix – is that 98% of its catalogue is old titles. The audience has now gone through it, and an output of four new titles a year, whether you’re a broadcaster like us or a Netflix, is too little to keep a subscriber audience with you.”
There’s another reason why distribution platforms like Netflix and HBO make interesting bedfellows: they can do niche drama, because ultimately they can aggregate lots of smaller audiences, says YLE’s Forsman. “In other countries where we have really strong public service companies with good audience shares and very well-educated audiences, we can do that too,” she notes.
“It’s really great to see channels like France’s Canal+ doing the same,” adds Forsman. “They want their drama to have deep characters and to speak about society in a new way, to be brave, risky and so on – all imperatives for public service broadcasters. We could have written the same words, yet they’re a commercial broadcaster.”