Tag Archives: Straight Forward

Going Straight

A mother attempts to leave her criminal past behind by moving to the other side of the world in eight-part drama Straight Forward. But was this Denmark-New Zealand copro as simple as its title? Executive producer Philly de Lacey and director Charlie Haskell explain.

When it comes to language, culture and distance, the countries of Denmark and New Zealand are worlds apart. But that was exactly what executive producer Philly de Lacey was looking for when she was developing eight-part drama Straight Forward.

She admits the series was a “crazy idea,” with a story that sees a mother attempt to escape her criminal past by moving to the other side of the world. But 18 months later, the experience of working with partners thousands of miles away has meant de Lacey is already plotting her next global coproduction.

Screentime NZ was developing the idea for the series, created by writer John Banas, based on the premise that if someone wanted to go into hiding, New Zealand was as far away from anywhere else as possible. But that raised the question of where this person was running from.

Philly de Lacey

A drama conference for members of Screentime parent Banijay’s production group held the answer, with Denmark’s Mastiff jumping on the idea straight away.

“We don’t think anyone’s done a Danish-New Zealand copro before,” de Lacey says. “It’s challenging because you are dealing with two different languages. But the story really lends itself to working across two countries, so it works perfectly.

“They are worlds apart, and that’s what really appealed to Denmark being our partner. It’s a complete contradiction to what we see in New Zealand. Copenhagen is a beautiful city with a massive history while New Zealand has a different language, landscapes and a young history. We couldn’t get more polar opposite and that’s part of the beauty of it. Although we’re culturally similar in a lot of places, there are lots of differences to play on too.”

Filming took place for more than four months, mostly in New Zealand, with studio space in Auckland and location shooting in Queenstown, where the story is set. A second unit later travelled to Copenhagen to pick up establishing scenes and exterior shots of the Danish capital.

De Lacey admits it’s impossible to know what lies ahead when you’re planning a TV production, never mind one that tells a story spanning thousands of miles around the world. But despite the complications of nine partners, including the Copenhagen Film Fund and New Zealand Film Commission, she says the willingness of everyone to work together made the process easier than expected.

Screentime and Mastiff split casting duties, with each forwarding tapes of prospective actors to the other. But the key to the partnership was simply knowing what the show was going to be. From the opening pitch, Mastiff and Screentime collaborated on the scripts and ideas to develop the characters, while the Danish cast in particular was hugely influential.

Straight Forward stars Cecilie Stenspil as a woman who leaves Denmark for New Zealand

“We really needed their input into the Danish scenes,” de Lacey reveals. “We had translators on set and our directors could judge the performances, but we needed to rely on our Danish cast a lot for their input, particularly into Danish culture and the way things would be represented. It was critical for us that when the show goes out, the Danish audience really believes the authenticity of the Danish elements.”

Nordic streamer Viaplay will carry the series, alongside New Zealand’s TVNZ in association with Acorn Media Enterprises and Acorn TV in the US. Banijay Rights holds international distribution rights (excluding New Zealand, Scandinavia, North America, the UK and Australia).

The story starts in Denmark and follows fraudster Silvia Petersen (Cecilie Stenspil) as she flees her home, leaving her mother (Vibeke Hastrup) and daughter (Marie Boda) behind. Landing in Queenstown under the alias Robyn Ford, Silvia discovers her family are also in danger in Copenhagen. Dual timelines are used to show Silvia trying to hide her identity in her new home while people are trying to track her down in Denmark.

Not everything set in Denmark was shot in Copenhagen, however, with interiors and some exteriors filmed at the series’ Auckland studio. One subsequent challenge came when trying to replicate a Danish road in New Zealand, where cars drive on the left side of the road in right-hand-drive cars – the opposite to Denmark.

Filming for the series took place in both countries

To overcome this hurdle, the production team decided that everything in these shots needed to be symmetrical so when the shot was flipped, everything would look authentic. Number plates were also printed backwards.

Three directors helmed the series across four filming blocks, with Charlie Haskell taking charge on episodes three and four as well as leading the second unit in Copenhagen. Riccardo Pellizzeri led off with blocks one and four, while Peter Burger picked up block three.

Filming in Copenhagen saw Haskell fulfil a checklist of required shots: exteriors of buildings where interiors were filmed in New Zealand, atmospheric clips of the Danish city and pick-ups that would link scenes taking place in both countries, such as a phone call between two characters. He also oversaw a day and a night filming Copenhagen from above using a drone.

The director praises the attitude of the Danish cast, whom he says brought a truthfulness to their roles and ensured every scene in which they featured made sense emotionally. That was important, as Haskell couldn’t understand their Danish dialogue, and thus could judge them only on their performances.

Straight Forward is set to hit screens in 2019

“It was like putting your fingers in your ears and just watching the emotion of the performance, not what’s being said,” he explains. “They were very worried about us not knowing the language and not knowing how to direct those scenes. That was fair, but part of it was we could really see what they were doing emotionally, and that was really important. We had an interpreter on set so she could still tell us if they were saying the right lines. There was also a certain element of going up to them after a take and saying, ‘How was that, guys?’ which is very unusual.”

Haskell also highlights the way Danish, and more widely Scandinavian, dramas put performance at the centre of the series, rather than simply feeding the production “machine.”

“It feels like in New Zealand we work as a real machine; it’s fast and efficient,” he says. “Maybe it’s more based on the US model. That threw them a little bit. Just watching the crews in Copenhagen, it’s very casual. You don’t turn up at 08.00 and, bang, you’re into work mode. There’s a casual flow that is pretty unusual to watch. So they were a bit thrown by the fact we were such a relentless machine that wanted to keep working all the time. They would put the brakes on if needs be to make sure we did know what we were talking about.”

With Straight Forward due to premiere in 2019, de Lacey is already developing another coproduction, this time in Germany, and says she is putting into practice the lessons she has learned from working on this series.

“While we hope there’s a season two of Straight Forward, there’s a lot of stuff we’ve learned about the translation of languages,” she notes. “You can’t translate the English script directly into Danish because Danes don’t speak the same way – direct translations don’t work. So a Danish writer has to translate the scene, not the words, and make sure the dialogue works for the character. If we do a season two, we’ll bring in a Danish writer much earlier into the process.”

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Watch this space

The global nature of the television business was on show at Mipcom in Cannes this week as stars from around the world presented their latest projects. DQ editor Michael Pickard offers his thoughts on a busy week in the South of France.

When you first walk into the Palais des Festivals, it can be quite overwhelming to see the sheer number of posters, billboards and signs promoting hundreds of new drama series from around the world. The experience, of course, begins long before you have navigated through the security checkpoints, seeing as La Croisette is transformed into a mile-long red carpet of promotions for dozens more shows.

To be a drama buyer in the current market must be both a daunting and thrilling experience, with the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours searching for the next big hit and watching the contenders, whether they are produced in your broadcaster’s local tongue or a language from further afield.

What, then, can producers and distributors do to make their projects stand out from the crowd? Well, the quickest shortcut to making some noise is to add a sprinkling of star power.

Catherine Zeta-Jones came to Mipcom to promote Lifetime’s Cocaine Godmother (picture via @Mip)

TV movies are much maligned, but could Catherine Zeta-Jones bring the format back into fashion? She was here in Cannes to promote forthcoming Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother, a project she helped develop and bring to the screen. The Oscar-winning actor also plays the lead role of real-life Miami drug lord Griselda Blanco, who was involved in the Cocaine Cowboy Wars that plagued the city in the late 1970s.

“Years ago there used to be such a stigma between television actors, film actors and theatre actors,” Zeta-Jones said this week. “I was stuck in the theatre actor box. It wasn’t just that, it was a showgirl theatre, it wasn’t even Royal Shakespeare. So I was part of that world trying to get out of that box, that pigeonhole. I eventually made it into television, made it into film – and then if you got to film, you don’t go [back] to TV.

“That’s changed. Actors are able to do human stories [in television], they don’t have to be robots in a $200m movie. As an actor, that’s why we do it – to have those international human stories that any culture can understand because they’re human. It’s human nature. It’s qualities that you have or, like Griselda, you don’t have but the fundamental bottom line is they’re human stories – and on TV we’re able to have the time to be able to take those stories out.”

Adding an A-lister to a TV movie is a well-worn path for Lifetime parent A+E Networks, which has also previously cast James Franco (High School Lover), Whoopi Goldberg (A Day Late & a Dollar Short), Lindsay Lohan (Liz & Dick), Heather Graham (Flowers in the Attic), Harvey Keitel (Fatal Honeymoon), Susan Sarandon (The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe) and Emily Watson (The Memory Keeper’s Daughter) in such projects.

David Morrissey was in town to talk Britannia (picture via @Mip)

It’s a tactic others are clearly employing too. Zeta-Jones wasn’t the only star to light up the red carpet this week as a plethora of other famous faces travelled to the South of France. David Morrissey joined fellow cast members Nikolaj Lie Caas and Eleanor Worthington-Cox for the world premiere of Roman-era drama Britannia, the first series coproduced by Sky Atlantic and Amazon US.

James Norton and Juliet Rylance were talking McMafia, Kristin Kreuk chatted about making Canadian legal drama Burden of Truth, Mark Strong marked his return to television in Fox espionage thriller Deep State and Philip Glenister was Living the Dream with his new Florida-set comedy drama.

Elsewhere, Jeremy Sisto (Ice season two), JK Simmons (Counterpart), Daniel Sharman (Medici), Jessica Brown Findlay (Harlots season two) and Jon Beavers, Michael Kelly and Darius Homayoun (The Long Road Home) were also enjoying the sunshine in Cannes.

What was particularly notable about this year’s Mipcom, however, was the truly global nature of the market. Japan’s Aoi Miyazaki (Kurara), Belgian actor Veerle Baetens (Tabula Rasa), Australian stars Claire van der Boom and Pallavi Sharda (Pulse), Turkey’s Erkan Petekkaya, Songül Öden and Dolunay Soysert (City of Secrets), Swedish actors Charlie Gustafson and Hedda Rehnberg (The Restaurant), and Zion Baruch, creator, writer and star of Israeli vampire thriller Juda, were also in town.

The Road to Calvary stars Yulia Snigir and Anna Chipovskaya (picture via @Mip)

Mipcom’s Russian Content Revolution was also celebrated with appearances by The Road to Calvary’s Anna Chipovskaya and Yulia Snigir plus Gogol’s Yulia Franz and Taisiia Vilkova.

For several years now, the globalisation of television has also been represented by the types of coproductions being brought to screen. Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) is probably the best example of two countries coming together in the last few years, in that case France and Sweden joining forces. But more ambitious pairings are now in evidence.

In particular, producers and broadcasters from China, France, Germany and Australia have teamed up for Farewell Shanghai, a period drama set at the start of the Second World War that recounts the shared destinies of a group of European Jewish refugees and Chinese characters in Shanghai between 1938 and 1945.

It will be shot in China in the English language and has been written by Radu Mihaileanu, based on Angel Wagenstein’s novel. K’ien Productions, Banijay Studios France, Breakout Films, France Televisions, Shanghai Media Group Pictures, China’s Holy Mountain Films, AMPCO Studios in Australia and Germany’s NDF are all involved.

L-R: Dolunay Soysert, Erkan Petekkaya and Songül Öden of Turkey’s City of Secrets (picture via @Mip)

Another global project announced at the market was Straight Forward, an eight-part series produced by Screentime New Zealand and Mastiff in Denmark. It is coproduced by broadcasters Viaplay and TVNZ, with Acorn TV also on board in North America and the UK.

Created by writer John Banas and set in Queenstown and Copenhagen, Straight Forward sees a Danish woman attempt to leave her criminal past behind by moving to a small New Zealand town to start a new life. It will premiere on Viaplay in 2018.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that producer and distributor Banijay Group is central to both Farewell Shanghai and Straight Forward, utilising its production companies and distribution partnerships to bring these series to air.

The future of television was also on display, from Japanese broadcaster NHK’s stunning 8K presentations to the keynotes from executives at Snapchat and Facebook.

Facebook’s Ricky Van Veen on stage at Mipcom this week (picture via @Mip)

Sean Mills, senior director of content programming at Snapchat parent Snap Inc, talked about the firm’s desire for the messaging app to move into original content following the announcement it had teamed up with NBCUniversal to create a studio that will focus on producing scripted series.

The fruits of that partnership may still be some time away. More immediate are Facebook’s plans to bring original content to its Watch platform, launched six weeks ago and currently only available in the US, though an international roll-out is planned in the future.

There were audible gasps in the Palais’ Grand Auditorium when Facebook head of global creative strategy, Ricky Van Veen, revealed that the social media giant would be the home of the English-language remake of Norwegian teen drama hit Skam (Shame), with original creator Julie Andem showrunning the remake.

The buzz around the NRK series has steadily increased over the past year and it’s a huge statement of intent that Facebook has picked it up – though, in many ways, it is the perfect home for a show that is made up of short video segments that are posted at the times of the day that match when the action plays out.

At the end of the four-day market, it’s clear the drama boom shows no sign of slowing – yet. It seems unlikely that every series is making its money back, meaning it is inevitable there will be a downturn at some point in the future. Until then, the debate surrounds the new players picking up scripted series and the challenge of luring star names to help a show to break through to audiences. Facebook original series? I’ll be Watching.

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