Tag Archives: Paulo Sorrentino

Walking on the Wildside: DQ hears from Young Pope producer

Italian producer Wildside is targeting high-end international drama with Jude Law-starrer The Young Pope and the adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Michael Pickard reports.

Since establishing a TV division in 2014, Wildside has become one of Italy’s top drama producers.

Most notably, the Rome-based company is responsible for the Italian version of Israeli hit format In Treatment, which starred Sergio Castellito, and thrilling political drama 1992, which drew comparisons to The Sopranos, The West Wing and House of Cards.

Next up is The Young Pope (pictured above), which tells the controversial story of the beginning of Pius XIII’s pontificate. Described as a complex and conflicted character, his conservatism borders on obscurantism, yet he is full of compassion towards the weak and poor. He is also a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications of his authority.

Jude Law stars as the pope, with Diane Keaton playing Sister Mary, a nun from the US who is now living in Vatican City.

The eight-part series, which comes from director Paulo Sorrentino, is produced by Wildside, Haut et Court (Les Revanants) and MediaPro for Sky Europe, HBO and Canal+ in France.

Lorenzo Mieli
Lorenzo Mieli

With the show now in post-production, Wildside MD Lorenzo Mieli, an executive producer on the series, tells DQ the project has been one of the most interesting of his career.

“Our aim was to create a true piece of art in the form of a TV drama,” he explains. “It was highly ambitious and it was tough but we are really happy about the result.”

Mieli describes Sorrentino’s writing and directing style as “a unique combination between irony and drama, with a very personal identity. Plus he has great technical skill in shooting and visualising immediately what he sees.”

He adds: “Everybody in Italy and the US and elsewhere truly believed in the project since the very early stages of development, and gave Paolo all the freedom he needed as a result.”

But with The Young Pope due to air later this year, Wildside has already identified its next project.

In February, it struck a deal with fellow Italian producer Fandango Productions to co-develop and coproduce adaptations of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels.

The series portrays the gritty lives and friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood to motherhood, set against the social and political backdrop of 1950s Naples. The novels depict how the women’s relationship is shaped and often distorted over time by their social status, jealousy and tension amongst other female friendships, domestic violence and the changing conditions of women from marriage to motherhood.

The story will unfold over four eight-part seasons, with filming to take place in Italy.

“The huge success of the entire saga, both in Italy and worldwide, really aroused my interest,” Mieli says. “The last time an Italian novel was made such a fuss of outside of Italy was in the 1980s, with Umberto Eco’s Il nome della Rosa. In Ferrante’s case, we have a great description of 40 years of Italian history, which is a very good narrative material.

“Besides that, I really loved the architecture of those books – it’s compelling storytelling, plot-driven and accessible to everybody, and it’s literature in the purest sense of the word, in terms of going really deep into contradictory characters and depicting not just a story but an entire narrative world. These are the same elements on which contemporary high-end cable TV dramas are based. So I got in touch with Domenico Procacci from Fandango, who had already bought the rights, and everything went smoothly.”

No broadcasters have signed up for the series as yet, however, as development remains in-house.

Wildside's political drama 1992
Wildside’s political drama 1992

“Everybody in the US already knows Elena Ferrante after Domenico got the rights, so lots of broadcasters from all over the world have been very interested in the project,” Mieli notes. “What’s happening now is that we’re developing the project internally, as we always do, so we can come back and present the whole package with the creative team and talent attached.”

Wildside was formed in 2009 by Mieli, Mario Gianani, Marco Martani, Faust Brizzi and Saverio Costanzo after the merger of production companies Wilder and Offside. The creation of an international TV division came in 2014 at the same time as another division was established to focus on feature films and documentaries.

The new company’s international credentials were given a further boost last August, when FremantleMedia acquired a 62.5% stake in Wildside. FremantleMedia International will distribute The Last Pope.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia, said at the time: “This is a key strategic acquisition for FremantleMedia as we continue to strengthen our primetime scripted presence. Wildside is fast becoming one of Europe’s most sought-after drama producers and will complement our existing primetime drama businesses in the US, Germany, Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Australia and the UK. The team have an impressive track record of attracting world-class creative talent and delivering award-winning drama so I’m really excited that they are joining our family of production companies.”

For Mieli, the next year offers Wildside an opportunity to take further advantage of coproduction opportunities and utilise the partnerships now available within the FremantleMedia group.

“We’re pushing a lot on coproductions in order to give wider visibility to our talent and IP internationally and to attract foreign talent into our own drama arena,” he says. “Our aim for the next year is to establish the Wildside/Fremantle partnership as a leading player in the European film industry.”

And the expanding Italian TV market is providing plenty of opportunities for Wildside to win commissions. Future projects also include adaptations of Emanuele Carrere’s book Limonov and Niccolò Ammaniti’s Anna.

Describing the TV landscape in the country, Mieli says: “On free-to-air channels there are some established genres (family dramas, comedies and crime procedural) representing the mainstream trend. Additionally, inside that trend, there’s the possibility to innovate in order to create new sub-genres or hybrids. This was the case with Don’t Kill, an interesting experiment we did on RaiTre. The pay/cable the market is more fluid, and so are the options in terms of language. Plus, we tend to find a wider opening to international coproductions there.”

Yet it’s The Young Pope that Mieli thinks will showcase the new kind of European coproductions taking place across the continent.

“I believe The Young Pope will demonstrate that there’s something like a ‘European way’ to do great high-end dramas that can travel worldwide,” he says. “In the last few years in Italy, broadcasters such as Sky Italia (for which Wildside produced 1992) have been major drivers in developing contemporary dramas, allowing openness to innovative content. But this spreading of sophisticated stories on cable TV has also had great repercussions on free-to-air channels, which are searching for more original drama.”

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NBC still feeling Grimm

Grimm has been given a fifth season
Grimm has been given a fifth season

NBC has generated a lot of headlines in the last few weeks for culling so many of its “freshman” shows – those that have only aired for one season. But one NBC show that has built up decent momentum is Grimm, a police procedural fantasy hybrid now in its fourth season. With ratings currently on a high, it was an easy decision for NBC to greenlight a fifth series in February this year.

Grimm’s success is not really surprising when you realise that one of the show’s co-creators, David Greenwalt, has a credit list that includes iconic series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off series Angel. Working with Buffy creator Joss Whedon, Greenwalt wrote, directed and produced large chunks of the first three seasons of Buffy before working with Whedon on Angel. At this point, he brought in Jim Kouf, an old screenwriting buddy whose credits up until that point included the movie Stakeout.

Angel ran for five seasons (110 episodes) on WB Network before being killed off in 2004, much to the shock of its adoring fans. Whedon himself was mortified, comparing the cancellation of the show to a “healthy guy falling dead from a heart attack.”

Roll forward a few years and the idea of a Brothers Grimm-based contemporary drama was first mooted by Todd Milliner (co-founder of production company Hazy Mills). Milliner met with Greenwalt to discuss the idea and Greenwalt immediately called up Kouf. Along with Stephen Carpenter, they devised what would become Grimm. Carpenter was credited on the first episode of season one, but since then Grimm has very much been a Greenwalt/Kouf enterprise. Although other writers have penned episodes, Greenwalt and Kouf tend to write the early and late episodes of each season and also an episode somewhere in the middle.

Grimm isn’t Mad Men or Breaking Bad, but it does a stalwart job for NBC on Friday evenings while also getting positive reviews from critics. During season three, The New York Times said: “Grimm is not a profound show, but few are more purely entertaining, engaging, clever, tense, funny and well-paced…”

Angel was abruptly cancelled
Angel was abruptly cancelled

Not to be overlooked is the fact it also does well in markets like Germany, France and Australia. The earlier series have also just been picked by Amazon for use in markets like the US and UK.

So what morals can we draw from Grimm? Well, there’s clearly a message here about the power of screenwriting partnerships, and also about the enduring nature of certain story archetypes (Grimm is, in some ways, an upgrade on Angel). And it’s interesting that Greenwalt and Kouf are 65 and 63 respectively – age clearly hasn’t prevented them from writing a show that is proving a regular ratings success among 18- to 49-year-olds.

Last week, we looked at British screenwriter Sally Wainwright and the way her mature works have focused on her home county of Yorkshire. Until now, Wainwright has focused on contemporary drama. So this week it’s worth noting that she is to write a two-hour special about 19th century novelists the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) and their troubled brother Branwell.

Operating under the slightly unwieldy title To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters, the production will be filmed in and around Yorkshire, where the sisters lived their brief lives (Anne and Emily were dead by 30 – and there were actually two more sisters who died as children). Commenting, Wainwright said: “I am thrilled beyond measure that I’ve been asked by the BBC to bring to life these three fascinating, talented, ingenious Yorkshire women.”

The project was commissioned by BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore, who added: “The Bronte sisters have always been enigmatic but Sally Wainwright’s brilliantly authentic new BBC1 drama brings the women behind some of our greatest literary masterpieces to life. It’s an extraordinary tale of family tragedy and their passion and determination, against the odds, to have their genius recognised in a male 19th century world.”

The BBC’s broadcasting rival ITV has also decided to delve into the 19th century, commissioning an eight-part series on the life of Queen Victoria from Mammoth Screen. Based on Victoria’s diaries, the series will focus on her early life as she ascends the throne at age 18. Given that Victoria lived until the age of 82 and her diaries run to a total of 62 million words, there’s plenty of potential for this project to run and run if it appeals to audiences.

Daisy Goodwin is writing ITV's Queen Victoria drama
Daisy Goodwin is writing ITV’s Queen Victoria drama

The writing task has been handed to Daisy Goodwin, best known within the TV business as a producer, having run indie company Silver River until last year. The Victoria project is Goodwin’s screenwriting debut – though she has carved out a successful career as a novelist in recent years.

Explaining the appeal, she says: “I’ve been fascinated by Victoria since I started reading her diaries at university. She’s a woman whose personality leaps off the page – a tiny 4’11” teenager who overnight became the most powerful woman in the world, and her candour and spirit makes for an irresistible heroine.

“Victoria was the first woman to have it all; she had a passionate marriage, nine children and was grandmother to most of Europe’s royalty. But she also had a job, being Queen of the most important nation in the world. It wasn’t easy; her reign was beset by scandal and sleaze, and it was only by sheer force of personality that she prevailed. Her diaries give an astonishingly vivid picture of her transformation from rebellious teenager into, to my mind, our greatest queen.”

Oscar-winning writer Paulo Sorrentino is working on The Young Pope
Oscar-winning writer Paulo Sorrentino is working on The Young Pope

Another standout project revealed this week is The Young Pope, an HBO/Sky/Canal+ coproduction about a fictional Pope starring Jude Law. Production on The Young Pope will begin this summer and continue into 2016, with filming predominantly in Italy. The eight-part series will be directed by Italian Paulo Sorrentino, who will also write in collaboration with Tony Grisoni, Umberto Contarello and Stefano Rulli.

Sorrentino is quite a catch. His career to date has primarily been focused on feature films. His film The Consequences Of Love was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2004 and he went on to win the 2008 Prix du Jury with Il Divo. More success followed when his film The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film in 2014. Sorrentino has recently started to work in English. His film Youth, starring Michael Caine, is currently competing for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (winner to be announced on Sunday May 24).

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