Tag Archives: Suskunlar

Talking Turkey

Yazi Odasi is charting an alternative course in Turkey’s drama production sector to give scriptwriters greater freedom and creative control. Co-founder Kerem Deren reveals his vision.

Before Kerem Deren (pictured above) and Pinar Bulut came along, writers rooms were unheard of in Turkey’s prolific TV drama industry.

The two scriptwriters set up Yazi Odasi – which translates as ‘writers room’ – in 2014.

Individually and jointly, Deren and Bulut have been responsible for several high-profile dramas with major domestic and international fame. Top of the pile is Ezel, widely regarded as a game-changer in storytelling terms for Turkish drama. The thriller ran on Show TV and then ATV from 2009 to 2011, won several awards, sold worldwide and has been picked up for remakes by Fox Network Group and by Televisa for Latin America.

Close behind in terms of success is Suskunlar. The crime drama, which aired on Show TV in 2011, has been remade stateside as Game of Silence for NBC, which launched it last month.

There are other breakthroughs with Deren and Bulut’s names attached. 20 Dakika (20 Minutes), made by Ay Yapim for Star TV in 2013, was another boundary-pushing crime drama with a faster (more Western) pace of scriptwriting. It also earned lead actress Tuba Büyüküstün an International Emmy nomination.

Last year’s romantic drama Maral, for TV8, was the first to be created within Yazi Odasi’s present structure and there have been a handful of projects since, among them Uçurum (Abyss), hard-hitting drama on human trafficking that aired on ATV in 2015.

Ezel
Ezel, which ran from 2007 to 2009, is widely considered a game changer for Turkish drama

One would think that being a successful scriptwriter in what has now become the world’s second largest drama industry after the US, with exports worth up to US$300m, would carry some clout. But this isn’t the case, say Deren and Bulut, who believe Turkey’s drama production sector operates in a system that needs many changes.

The biggest issue for scriptwriters in Turkey concerns creative control and IP rights, they say, which reside with the broadcasters and producers, largely to the exclusion of writers, actors and other production talent.

“Yazi Odasi was set up because we wanted to have more creative control, a more organised say about the stuff that we get to write and how writers deal with producers,” says Deren. “In Turkey, the head of the production company usually decides everything. That’s basically the system here.”

Deren also says the country lacks a screenwriting culture. “A mentor relationship hasn’t really been cultivated in that sector, so there are very few of us and, as such, the good ones are always in work.”

But a project really starts with the writing, he stresses. “If it’s a TV series, you’re involved for, say, three years and it’s hours and hours of work. It’s good to have the project designed according to what the writer thinks. In our experience, that’s always beneficial to the show, and it works better than the system we have in Turkey right now.”

Turkey’s drama sector is dominated by a relatively narrow range of family-friendly serials and pumps out around 100 titles per year. However, it’s creaking under the strain of a ratings-driven primetime schedule that demands one feature-length drama episode per night from each of Turkey’s eight mainstream broadcasters. Some industry figures have been querying its sustainability.

For those involved in the production process, it means 15-hour days to deliver 120-plus pages of script each week for the duration of a series’ run. The demand from broadcasters is such that many shows are accepted by channels without scripts and go ahead without pilots.

Deren talks about a sector in creative crisis. Far from experimenting, the fierce competition and potential loss of ad revenues has made broadcasters risk-averse, with little scope for a wider range of storytelling and drama formats. The system is also creating a degree of self-censorship among writers and producers.

Suskunlar
Crime drama Suskunlar has been remade in the US for NBC as Game of Silence

While Turkish productions don’t formally use a showrunner system, Deren says they essentially follow the model in practice: “We were actually the showrunners on every show we did in the sense that we were really influential in deciding on things like the acting. The system wasn’t organised that way and we didn’t have the authority, but we were the ones practically running it, and that’s pretty much why we set up Yazi Odasi.

“I don’t know that we’re ‘pioneers,’ but we’re the only ones structurally and organisationally with a writers room,” Deren continues, adding that he expects his setup will be Turkey’s only one of its kind for at least a couple more years yet.

Yazi Odasi looks well placed to benefit from what is surely set to be an interesting period for Turkish drama. Netflix has just launched in the country and several broadcasters are lining up or revamping SVoD services, among them Star and Doğan’s BluTV.

Yazi Odasi has gone through an extensive preparation process in the last year-and-a-half, says Deren, recruiting aspiring writers through several workshops and a national scriptwriting competition.

That time was also spent explaining Yazi Odasi’s model to the sector. “In Turkey, production company heads are usually the leaders of every TV drama,” says Deren. “We are not used to a method where the creative team is behind the wheel. It is a symptomatic problem underlying the organisational troubles the sector is currently in. We believe Yazi Odasi is a cornerstone in overcoming these problems by placing the creator right in the middle of the creation process.”

Alongside Deren, Bulut and third scriptwriter Yiğit Değer Bengi, Yazi Odasi consists of a team of senior and junior writers, working on projects in four colour-coded writers rooms.

Yazi Odasi’s uphill battle seems to be paying off and it now has several Turkish drama projects in the pipeline, as well as two international shows.

20 Dakika
20 Dakika, a fast-paced, boundary pushing crime drama

The Turkish programmes include an as-yet-untitled romcom for Star TV to broadcast in June. Together with prodco Limon Yapim, Yazi Odasi is also developing a comedy detective series based on Peyami Safa’s books about fictional detective Cingöz Recai. No channel has been confirmed but the project is expected to be ready by September. Also in the works is a romantic comedy set in the music industry, which Yazi Odasi is developing together with prodco Sureç Yapim and is currently discussing with Fox TV.

Deren says the three projects share common ground: “Their inspirational source is local and their appeal is global. We firmly believe strong local origins, a fresh dramatic structure and good writing that reflects human concerns everywhere in the world means good drama.”

Yazi Odasi is also well underway with its next ambition – securing international partnerships. It has two projects in the early development stages with as-yet-undisclosed US partners, with Deren describing one as “our Trojan horse, something we believe will change the way TV dramas are structured in Turkey.” He expects it to come to fruition in a year’s time.

“Turkish broadcasters and producers are not taking the necessary risks to develop a wider range of storytelling,” Deren continues. “I don’t think this is going to change without some international injection from other parties and other distribution. That’s the only way to counteract it, and that’s about to happen.

“What our sector deems risky, we find full of opportunities. We want to tell these untold stories simply because if you build them well, they make great cinema. We want to break the creative barriers that keep these great stories unappreciated.”

The Yazi Odasi team intend their setup to become much more than just a base for new projects. “We want to take some crucial steps not just for us but for the whole sector,” says Deren. “The first is to create and maintain an international hub between creators, and between production companies and creators.

“It is very hard for even an established Turkish screenwriter to access the global network. We carefully craft our contracts ensuring our writers’ artistic freedom, always looking out to project their rights. We attend festivals and seminars to create a network our screenwriters will benefit from. We take on the work of agents only for Turkish screenwriters, so that we can represent them in a way that is both to their advantage and always has an eye on international communication.”

Another critical step is education, adds Deren. “We’re constantly setting up workshops to that end. This year these workshops will be international, allowing creators from everywhere to get together and spread the seeds of global alliance.

“The basic idea is this: we, as screenwriters, have a lot of good stories to tell but not the venues where they can be heard. We want them heard all over the world.”

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Scripted formats show writers’ double vision

Hardly a week goes by without some new development on the scripted format front. So here we explore 12 of the shows that have been adapted – successfully and unsuccessfully – for the US, and the writing teams behind them.

Where images have been included, the original series is on the left and its adaptation on the right.

Broadchurch-GracepointBroadchurch was a big hit for ITV in the UK when season one aired in 2013. It then sold around the world and was adapted by Fox in the US as Gracepoint, with the same lead actor (David Tennant). The UK version, which then had a moderately successful second season, was created and written by Chris Chibnall – who is now working on a third and final run before taking over on the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The 10-part US version was set up by Chibnall before being handed over to Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman, who wrote all of the remaining episodes except for number six (Jason Kim). Gracepoint was pretty well reviewed by critics and sold to other English-speaking markets. But it was not renewed after failing to secure a sizeable audience (average ratings were around 3.5 to four million).

Collision, created by UK writer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War), attracted an audience of seven million when it aired on ITV in the UK during 2009. In November last year it was picked up by NBC as a 10-part series. Interestingly, Horowitz will be the showrunner for the US version, with CSI exec producer Carol Mendelsohn on board as partner. Mendelsohn is also exec producer of Game of Silence (see below), suggesting she is now regarded as a safe pair of hands for format adaptations after her many years working on CSI.

The original version of Collision comprised five episodes but Horowitz says he has no concerns about the project being extended because he believes the storyline will benefit from the extra episodes. Sometimes formats suffer from being stretched in this way.

Forbrydelsen-KillingForbrydelsen (The Killing) is a Danish series (DR/ZDF Enterprises) created by Soren Sveistrup. Active across three seasons, it became an international hit and made its star Sofie Gråbøl a household name. It was adapted by AMC in 2011 and has so far run to four seasons – despite being cancelled a couple of times along the way. It was saved by Netflix, which came on board as a partner for season three and then took over the show in its entirety for season four.

The US version was developed by Veena Sud, whose previous big credit was CBS procedural Cold Case. Sud shared writing duties with a large team, including the likes of Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Jeremy Doner (Damages). She stayed with the show through season four, by which time writing duties were shared with Dan Nowak, Sean Whitesell, Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich (the latter two a writing team whose credits include Chicago Hope, FlashForward and The Education of Max Bickford).

Hatufim-HomelandHatufim, aka Prisoners of War, is perhaps the most celebrated example of a successful scripted format. Created in Israel by Gideon Raff, it was adapted as Homeland for Showtime in the US by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. Five seasons of the US show have aired so far, with a sixth ordered in December 2015.

As is common with US series, there is a big team involved in writing a show like Homeland. The latest season of 12 episodes involved 11 writers altogether. Key names include Chip Johannessen, who has been involved with the show since the start. A new name on the season six team sheet was David Fury, who has worked on an array of titles ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Hannibal.

Janus is proof that US networks are looking further afield in search of great ideas. A crime story originated in Austria, it was picked up by ABC last autumn. Kevin O’Hare, who has written pilots for ABC and Syfy, is adapting the thriller and writing the pilot. The original version was written by Jacob Groll and Sarah Wassermair.

Prior to this seven-part serial, Groll was best known for documentary The Sound of Hollywood, while Wassermair’s credits include musicals for children’s theatre. However, the pair have also been working together on ORF’s popular crime series Soko Donau.

JanetheVirginJuana La Virgen is a Venezuelan telenovela that was adapted for The CW network in the US as Jane the Virgin. The original was created by Perla Farias and the US version by Jennie Snyder Urman, whose writing efforts are supported by a large team (the show has 22 episodes per season).

As evident from the titles above, a lot of adaptations don’t get further than the end of their first season. So the fact that this one has just been greenlit for a third run is a notable achievement. Although season two ratings are down compared with season one, the show has settled into a stable 0.9 to one million range.

Revenants-ReturnedLes Revenants was hailed as evidence that French TV drama had become a force to be reckoned with. A hit for Canal+ in 2012, the format was snapped up by A&E in the US – where it was remade as The Returned. The French version (based on a film) was created by Fabrice Gobert, who then wrote the screenplay for season one with Emmanuel Carrere and Fabien Adda (with writing credits also going to Camille Fontaine and Nathalie Saugeon).

A second season was aired at the end of 2015, with Audrey Fouche joining Gobert and Adda as a key writer (also credited on one episode was Coline Abert). Despite being led by showrunner Carlton Cuse alongside Raelle Tucker (True Blood), the US version failed to secure a second-season renewal following lacklustre ratings.

Øyevitne is a Norwegian crime thriller that is being adapted as Eyewitness for USA Network. In the US it has received a 10-episode, straight-to-series order. The US version comes from Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak, who wrote it and will serve as showrunner. The original series creator is Jarl Emsell Larsen, who will executive produce the US version.

The series explores a grisly crime from the point of view of the eyewitnesses, two boys involved in a clandestine gay affair. While the Nordics have been getting a lot of attention in recent times, this is actually the first Norwegian scripted show to be adapted for the US.

Penoza-RedWidowPenoza is a popular Dutch drama created by Pieter Bart Korthuis and Diederik van Rooijen for KRO-NCRV. The show has run for four seasons (2010-2015), with a fifth, commissioned in February, set to air in September 2017. The format was acquired by ABC in the US in 2012 and ran for one season during 2013 with the name Red Widow.

The US version performed poorly and wasn’t renewed, dropping from 7.1 million at the start of its run to 3.47 million at the end. That was a rare blip for writer Melissa Rosenberg, whose credits include the entire Twilight saga of movies, Showtime’s Dexter and Netflix hit series Jessica Jones.

RakeRake is an Australian television series that centres on a brilliant but self-destructive lawyer. It was created by Peter Duncan, who then shared writing duties with Andrew Knight across the first three series. A fourth season will be broadcast this year on ABC Australia.

The show was adapted for Fox in the US in 2013, with Peter Duncan at the helm of a writing team of five. However, the show didn’t rate well and was moved around the schedule before being cancelled.

ShamelessShameless: Company Pictures produced Shameless for Channel 4 in the UK before it was picked up as a format by premium pay TV channel Showtime. The UK version was the brainchild of Paul Abbott, who also wrote a number of episodes. Other high-profile names involved included Danny Brocklehurst, who is now enjoying some success with Sky1’s The Five. Another prominent writer among many was Ed McCardie (Spotless).

Abbott was involved in setting up the US version, which may explain why the show has been a success, with six seasons already being aired. Key names in terms of transitioning the show included John Wells (ER, The West Wing) and Nancy Pimental – both of whom are still heavily involved, alongside a team of five writers for the latest season. Interestingly, the last season of the UK version also used a team approach, with eight writers penning 14 episodes.

Suskunlar-GameofSilenceSuskunlar is a Turkish drama that first aired on Show TV in 2012 and was then sold in its completed form to 30 countries. It was written by Pinar Bulut, who has also written a number of projects with her husband Kerem Deren, including fellow international hit Ezel.

The show was picked up by NBC in the US and has just started airing under the title Game of Silence. The pilot for the US version was written by David Hudgins, whose credits include Everwood and Parenthood. The second episode was penned by Wendy West (The Blacklist and Dexter). Hudgins has expressed a desire to take the show on into a second season, but early ratings suggest that it will need to do better for that to happen. After attracting 6.4 million viewers for episode one, it dropped 39% to 3.9 million for episode two.

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Remaking the grade: Getting remakes right

As remakes’ popularity among content commissioners continues to belie their very mixed success rate, what are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to remaking a hit drama from abroad – and has new NBC show Game of Silence got it right? Matt Graham, international content specialist at Attentional, reports.

A few years ago, US TV producer Phil Rosenthal’s efforts to remake his hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond in Russia proved so arduous that he turned the experience into a comedic documentary called Exporting Raymond.

The doc tracks the many challenges Rosenthal faced in reworking the show for a different culture, from costume disagreements to casting rows.

While the Russian version of Everybody Loves Raymond – The Voronins – did eventually become a success, Rosenthal’s is a cautionary tale for the TV industry, as the exec discovered in the wintry streets of Moscow that not everyone shared even the most basic comedic and dramatic principles he’d spent a lifetime following as a producer in the US. Getting a show ‘right’ is so difficult that not even seasoned industry pros can always achieve it.

What is not disputed, however, is that in today’s highly globalised TV drama world, remakes are big business and account for large amounts of global scripted drama. One of the newest is hard-hitting drama Game of Silence (pictured above), which has been given a series order at US broadcast network NBC.

The show is a remake of popular Turkish series Suskunlar, which aired in its homeland in 2012, and provides an example of just how big the remakes business is becoming.

Game of Silence is a remake of Turkish series Suskunlar, pictured
Game of Silence is a remake of Turkish series Suskunlar, pictured

One of the attractions of remakes is that international buyers feel safer adapting existing IP. This has become increasingly clear in the past few years: in US cable drama in 2009, only two of the top 15 shows were taken from existing IP; by 2014, this number had risen to 11.

Remaking means taking a show that’s successful in one market and reimagining it for a different local audience in another. The exact factors that make a show suitable for a remake are still being defined, but a basic premise that can appeal across cultures is an essential ingredient. Game of Silence, for example, explores a universal philosophical question: is revenge ever justified?

The show’s exploration of this universal issue could prove key to its success. Specifically, Game of Silence looks at the difference between social and legal justice. Civilised society is ideally meant to be fair – a value enshrined in a functioning legal system that guarantees justice for all. The problem is that things don’t always work out this way, and some people can afford more favourable ‘justice’ than others (and if you don’t believe that, just watch HBO’s The Jinx).

Game of Silence tackles this paradox head-on. It tells the story of rising lawyer Jackson Brooks, who lives in a prosperous part of Atlanta. After a surprise encounter with old friends, he is forced to re-examine a terrible childhood trauma he thought he’d long buried. During a stint in a juvenile detention centre as children, he and his friends were sexually assaulted by the warden and his guards. While Jackson has tried to move on with his life by throwing himself into a legal career, his friends have not been so lucky. They want revenge.

Revenge is a crude form of social justice without recourse to legal process. It is also subjective and often the cause of as much trouble as it tries to resolve. Revenge saw hundreds of thousands killed in the Rwandan Genocide, for example, where one group attempted to right perceived historical injustices, a ‘revenge’ of sorts. In other words, it is a problem almost any audience can understand.

AMC murder mystery The Killing...
AMC murder mystery The Killing…

In Game of Silence, for a lawyer like Jackson, revenge is the enemy, as it invalidates everything he holds sacred. However, revenge does have one advantage over legal justice: even the rich cannot escape it. One of the biggest problems for Jackson and his vengeful friends is the status of their abuser – the former warden has become a local politician, and exacting vengeance could draw unwanted, powerful focus on a life Jackson has worked hard to build, threatening everything he has.

There’s something else about Game of Silence that makes it really interesting as a remake. The Turkish show on which it is based is itself a remake of sorts – it was inspired by a 1996 US indie movie named Sleepers. The concept has travelled back and forth across the Atlantic, showing just how universally strong the story’s premise is.

Game of Silence is a product of today’s deeply interconnected television industry. While 20 years ago international programming was dominated mainly by US television, today’s TV drama world is intensely global, with regional markets being just as important. Everyone knows about the high quality of Nordic Noir, just as people now acknowledge Turkey’s rising power. Smaller markets like the Philippines are vitally important, as is the Ukrainian capital Kiev – a hotbed of new drama formats where creativity is the order of the day.

What this means is there are dozens of high-quality new TV dramas being created all around the world at any given time. While one used to look to the US as the home of quality drama, this is changing – and fast, because, as Game of Silence shows, even the Americans are now aggressively remaking shows from outside their borders. The US version of Ricky Gervais’s UK sitcom The Office was enormously successful, while cable network AMC’s The Killing, which was based on Nordic Noir hit Forbrydelsen, lasted three seasons on the channel, moving to Netflix for its fourth.

...which is a remake of Nordic Noir hit Forbrydelsen
…which is a remake of Nordic Noir hit Forbrydelsen

The best shows to remake are often little-known, simple ideas with universal themes that, as Game of Silence demonstrates, can be carefully packed up and re-assembled with minimal cultural reprogramming. But even here there’s no guarantee of success. The US version of Life on Mars, adapted from the wonderfully creative British show of the same name, failed to achieve the same success across the Atlantic, arguably because it failed to capture the original’s intriguing nihilist outlook. It ran for just one season.

In much the same way, the writers of Game of Silence will face challenges in translating what worked with Suskunlar for a US audience. There will also be practical hurdles for the writers to overcome. For example, while the Turkish show had a limited run, concluding after two seasons, the conflict at the centre of Game of Silence will need to continue almost indefinitely to satisfy the unique US demand for lengthy show lifecycles. If they can achieve this, and embrace the ‘remakability’ factor, the show stands a good chance of being on screen for years to come.

At Attentional, our expertise is global drama, and we’ve been researching for years the best way to first find and then remake shows from one part of the world and reassemble them in another. We compile what we know in a quarterly report called REMAKABLES. We’ve gone through hundreds of shows from all corners of the globe, and narrowed our list down to a small list of those we believe would make the strongest remakes. We’ve found them so you don’t have to.

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