Tag Archives: Ovation

Palace life

As Versailles concludes after three seasons, executive producer Claude Chelli and costume designer Madeline Fontaine discuss the making of the lavish French historical drama.

For three seasons, French historical drama Versailles captivated viewers around the world with its daring mix of passion, power and betrayal, all set within the court of King Louis XIV.

The English-language series introduced the 28-year-old king of France, who commissioned the most beautiful palace in Europe, which came to serve as the king’s gilded prison — keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. As the Canal+  series progressed — the 10-part third and final season begins tonight in the UK on BBC2 — it exposed the dark underbelly of power as the monarch struggled to retain control of his palace and his people.

The concept of Versailles, created by David Wolstencroft and Simon Mirren, took more than four years to develop, executive producer Claude Chelli recalls, as coproducers Capa Drama, Zodiak Fiction and Incendo sought to bring together a broadcaster and coproducers to assemble the financing.

The 10-part final season of Versailles begins tonight in the UK on BBC2

“It was a big project with a big budget,” he says. “The first season is always difficult to find your mark; you don’t know what’s necessary or what’s superfluous. But after that, the second season was very nice and the third season felt like home.”

That success was reaped not only in France but around the world, as the series drew viewers in the UK, US (Ovation and Netflix), Scandinavia (C More) and elsewhere following deals with distributor Banijay Rights.

“It’s very surprising because France is a small country as far as drama is concerned, so we never expect things to go that wide. It was an incredible surprise,” Chelli admits. “Of course, we put a lot of money, effort and time into gathering talent but the reception from everywhere else is amazing.

“We know on a show like that, we’re not only working for France. It’s a €30m [US$30m] show so we need Europe at least; we need the world. But we’re very impressed by the reception in America and the work and effort that Ovation put in to support a show like this. We’re very proud of the show.”

Though ultimately necessary to bring the various financial pieces together, Versailles didn’t start out as an English-language series. Indeed, it was originally in French, but the switch was done to bring in the money to build the budget the show demanded.

Big-budget drama Versailles’ international success caught its makers by surprise

“So we switched from French to English very early on in order to get that money,” Chelli says. “We also knew we were going to be criticised in France, but that doesn’t really matter because the show is more powerful. Everyone understood why we needed to do it in English.

“Because we knew we had to gather the best talent in France, we knew we couldn’t cut corners to save money. We knew we had to have great costumes and that Madeline [Fontaine, costume designer] would dress the last extra at the end of the road the same way she would dress the main cast.”

Money was also required to build and dress the sets. “Ultimately nothing of the 17th century is left in France because if you go to Versailles, nothing is 17th century. Marie Antoinette came after Louis XV and hated the decor and the furniture and curtains, so she destroyed everything and changed it. So we knew we had to recreate the 17th century. That’s when we decided to build the sets because they’re very specific. And we had to create all the costumes. That was the biggest challenge.”

But why make a series about Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, at all? For those not au fait with French history, Chelli describes the monarch as a major influence across every artistic department.

The costume choices for Versailles involved a great deal of in-depth research by Madeline Fontaine

“He invented dance, he invented music, he invented cooking, basically,” he notes. “He invented architecture, the French garden. He made war with almost everyone and built castles. But also, what’s interesting about Louis XIV is that the origins of the French Revolution are there behind his actions. He spent so much money on war and building castles that the people of Paris and France were starving. It took some time for the people to revolt but the germs of the French revolution are in the third season. That’s what’s interesting about Louis XIV – it’s both the beginning of a new world and the end of the ancient world.”

When it came to creating the elegant gowns, outfits and dresses worn by the cast, costume designer Madeline Fontaine says that it was imperative she knew as much about the period as possible.

“Then, of course, after that, each character and the place they have in society is very important for the colours of every outfit,” she explains. “You also have to know how far we are from reality and be able to create the atmosphere of the period — to take the audience to the period and not to take them away. That’s the challenge anyway.”

Fontaine’s research covers the period’s history, its paintings and key pieces of writing, which she compiles to inform her own impressions of the time the series recreates. “My job is the interpretation of this information,” she continues, “and then you give the public your interpretation of your feeling of the period. It’s very interesting. I like this moment and once you go into the information, you can find what you need to make it.”

Fontaine was careful that characters’ costume changes evolved in stages

The key to Fontaine’s role, however, was not how many different outfits she could design for the characters — which were key to viewers’ understanding of their role in the series — but how they could evolve by changing smaller pieces rather than the entire costume.

“The public has to follow the characters, so if they change [their costumes] too much, that becomes more difficult,” she says. “So we can change different pieces of the outfit. For the extras we had 200 outfits, with three or four pieces for each one. Then you have to find the fabric for each of them, so it was a very big undertaking.”

Having worked across both television and film, with credits including Amélie and Jackie, Fontaine describes the process as the same, though the rhythm is decidedly different.

“On movies, you have the script from the very beginning and most of the time it doesn’t change so much and you have a schedule so you can prioritise what you need and save some things for later,” the designer reveals.

Louis XIV, played by George Blagden, had a huge impact on the arts

“Here we have the stories pretty late and we shoot cross blocks, so everything has to be ready at the same time. We don’t have so much flexibility. We have to be ready much more quickly than on a movie, and we shoot quickly too. So if you forget something, it’s done, it’s too late! It puts pressure on the workshop because everything has to be ready for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Fontaine won a Bafta in 2017 for her work on Jackie, a film about Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of her husband John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

“It was a real surprise and recognition of my work from British costume designers meant a lot to me,” she adds. “The challenge with any period project is to make it true, so the challenge is the same. You just have to do it the best you can all the time. That’s how we work.”

Capa Drama will follow Versailles with Netflix’s second original French drama, Osmosis, which follows in the footsteps of Marseille and is due to launch later this year. The eight-episode series is set in a near-future Paris in which a dating app called Osmosis can find anybody’s true love.

With so much contemporary drama on French television, creating new landscapes — rooted in the past or thrown into the future — is one way to give creators free rein to tell their stories. “For artistic reasons, you have to invent a whole new world,” Chelli adds. “Osmosis is sci-fi but it’s the same thing as Versailles — you have to invent a new world. As a producer, it’s the really exciting side of things.”

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MipTV scorecard: Which dramas stood out?

Jenna Coleman in Victoria
Jenna Coleman in Victoria

There were 11,000 delegates at MipTV this week, 3,900 of whom were content buyers. And top of their shopping list was drama, with a wide array of titles being picked up by free-to-air, pay TV and SVoD channels and platforms.

MipTV doesn’t see much activity from the major US studios, which prefer to focus on the LA Screenings next month. So this meant the attention was more on European and Asian drama, with a few US cable titles also attracting attention.

A big winner at the market, for example, was ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which sold its period drama Victoria into the Nordic region, the Netherlands and Canada. There was also interest in BBC Worldwide’s Anglo-French fashion drama The Collection, which sold to SVT Sweden and DR Denmark.

As the above titles indicate, British dramas tend to secure an initial wave of sales in Scandinavia and other English-speaking markets before picking up deals in other territories. This point was underlined by deals done on Capital. Distributed by FremantleMedia International, the adaptation of John Lanchester’s novel has been sold into the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

If there was a clear trend in terms of sales, it was the continued importance of SVoD platforms, which seem to be doing almost as many drama deals as traditional networks.

The Book of Negroes
The Book of Negroes has been picked up by US streamer Hulu

Hulu picked up eOne’s The Book of Negroes, while All3Media International sold Irish drama Red Rock to Amazon Prime Video in the US. Channel 4’s international drama strand Walter Presents, meanwhile, acquired two series from Keshet International – Baker & The Beauty and Milk & Honey – plus Spanish drama Locked Up.

Perhaps the most high-profile SVoD deal of them all saw Netflix acquire Marcella from Cineflix Rights. Created by The Bridge writer Hans Rosenfeldt and produced by Buccaneer Media for ITV in the UK, Marcella delves into the psychology of a troubled female detective investigating a serial killer. Larry Tanz, VP of global television at Netflix, said: “We got involved with the series early on in the process to gain the opportunity to bring Hans’s great storytelling to our members around the world.”

Other dramas that secured good deals at the market include the Content Television-distributed Line of Duty, which sold to DirecTV Latin America, BBC Worldwide Benelux and Hulu in the US, which picked up VoD rights.

There was also an interesting deal that saw Zodiak Rights’ Versailles picked up by US pay TV channel Ovation. Ovation isn’t really known as a drama buyer, so it’s another good indication of the demand for event dramas.

One company that has got more interesting to the international market in recent years is Italian public broadcaster Rai, which until recently was only really interested in commissioning mainstream scripted shows for primetime slots on flagship channel Rai 1. But there has a been a definite shift as a result of the wider changes taking place in the international drama market.

Marcella
Marcella, starring Anna Friel and now airing on ITV in the UK, was acquired by Netflix

On the one hand, the company is now producing edgier, younger-targeted drama for Rai 3, with the result that it is attracting more attention from international buyers. An example at the market was Close Murders, which was on the verge of being picked up by Franco-German network Arte at Mip.

On the other, Rai has started getting interested in supporting English-language event dramas. At the market, for example, it was one of the backers of Wild Bunch TV’s epic new period drama Medici: Masters of Florence, which has now been greenlit for a second season.

One new development at the market was the launch of the Mip Drama Screenings, a showcase for 12 new drama titles that was held on April 3 in the JW Marriott Hotel. The event, heavily skewed towards European content (but with a Chilean and an Israeli-originated show involved) was well received by buyers and put the spotlight on some interesting series.

Writer/producer Frank Spotnitz, whose Medici was among the shows screened, called the screenings “an excellent platform. We had the undivided attention of 400 buyers who were able to watch extended excerpts and trailers in a nice theatre, with proper sound and picture quality. When you are running around at a hectic TV market like MipTV, a focused and quiet environment is valuable for both the filmmakers and the broadcasters. I hope the screenings expand in the future.”

Public Enemy
Belgium’s Public Enemy won the Coup De Coeur following the Mip Drama Screenings

At the end of the screenings, one show is given an award called the Coup De Coeur for being the best of the bunch according to the buyers. This year it was Belgium’s Public Enemy, which is distributed by Zodiak Rights.

It’s too early to know how Public Enemy’s success at the screenings will impact on its sales – but it certainly should help. Sarah Wright, director of acquisitions at Sky and one of the executives on the advisory board that selected the show, said: “We chose Public Enemy because we felt it was brave, it was strong, it was fresh, it had twists and turns. It feels like something that will travel.”

Last week, we name-checked a few scripted format deals. By the end of MipTV a couple more had bubbled to the surface. Onza Entertainment sold the format for Spanish drama The Department of Time to China’s Guan Yue International, while Russia’s NTV commissioned a local version of Nordic Noir hit The Bridge.

In a related development, Lionsgate licensed its new show Feed the Beast (starring David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess) to AMC’s UK pay TV channel. This show, about two friends who launch a restaurant, is based on a Danish scripted format.

This market was very much billed as being about Germany – this year’s Country of Honour. But it was noticeable that France was actually among the most high profile in terms of deal-making. StudioCanal, for example, used the market to announce that it was acquiring stakes in a number of international production companies, including Spanish powerhouse Bambu, producer of hit shows like Velvet, Gran Hotel and the first Spanish-language series ordered by Netflix. The firm’s sister company Canal+, meanwhile, launched Studio+, which is billed as the first global premium series offer for mobile devices.

Velvet
Velvet, produced by Spain’s Bambu

The new company will produce exclusive premium drama series for smartphones, tablets and a dedicated app. Each series will consist of 10 10-minute episodes, with an average budget of €1m (US$1.14m). Studio+ president Manuel Alduy said the service will launch in September in France with 25 complete original series, before opening in Europe, Russia and Latin America in partnership with major local telecoms. Early series include drama Amnesia starring Caroline Proust, action series Brutal and Urban Jungle and thrillers Kill Skills and Madame Hollywood. Sixty more shows are currently in development.

Explaining the thinking behind the series, Dominique Delport, president of Vivendi Content (Canal+’s parent company), said 60% of smartphone users watch shortform video. He said the directing talent for the new series comes from advertising and music, sectors that have experience of reaching Studio+’s target audience of 15- to 35-year-olds.

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