What do you do if you can’t trust anyone, least of all yourself?
That’s the dilemma at the heart of Tabula Rasa, a nine-part drama about a young woman with amnesia who is locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. A police officer believes she was the last person to see a man before he vanished, and won’t allow her release until he is found.
In order to solve the puzzle, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her recent past. The more she remembers, the more she starts to distrust not only the people around her, but also herself.
Showrunner Malin-Sarah Gozin and actor Veerle Baetens, who is also among the series’ writers, reveal the origins of the story and talk about how the show was developed.
Gozin also talks about her role on the Flemish-language show, why viewers are drawn to stories featuring unreliable narrators and plans to turn Tabula Rasa in to an anthology series.
Tabula Rasa is produced by Caviar for VRT-owned Één and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.
Seven more series will take part in this year’s coproduction pitching session at the Berlin Film Festival – but what became of the shows that previously pitched for coproduction partners?
In the increasingly expensive business of television drama, piecing together the financial plan to pay for these shows has become more important than ever.
Since 2015, the Berlin Film Festival has invited TV projects to pitch for coproduction and financing partners at the CoPro Series, part of the Berlinale Coproduction Market.
Ahead of this year’s event, which takes place this week, seven shows have been selected for the exclusive pitching session. They include Freud, from Bavaria Fernsehproduktion and Satel Film (Germany and Austria); Cognition, from Catalyst Global Media and A Better Tomorrow Films (UK and US); Omerta, from Caviar (Belgium); and Metro, from Kelija (France).
The line-up is completed by State of Happiness, from Maipo Film (Norway); Hausen, from Tanuki Films (Bulgaria); and Warrior, which comes from Miso Film (Denmark).
But what has become of the shows that have been pitched in previous years? Here, DQ looks back at some of the series that have taken part to find out what happened next.
Valkyrien (pitched in 2015)
This Norwegian drama, produced by Tordenfilm, debuted in January on NRK, with 1.2 million viewers watching the first two episodes. It was also picked up by networks in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and will launch in the UK on Channel 4’s international drama-focused digital platform Walter Presents.
Written and directed by Erik Richter Strand, Valkyrien tells the story of a physician who fakes his terminally ill wife’s death but keeps her secretly alive in an induced coma while he desperately tries to find a cure for her illness. To finance his endeavours, he is forced to make alliances with the criminal world and treat a variety of patients who need to stay off the grid.
Babylon Berlin (2015)
This groundbreaking new German series (pictured top) brings together pay TV giant Sky Deutschland and public broadcaster ARD, as well as coproducers X Filme Creative Pool and Beta Film.
Based on the series of novels by Volker Kutscher, it tells the story of police inspector Gereon Rath (played by Volker Bruch) as he tackles crime in 1920s Berlin – the most exciting city in the world, set between drugs and politics, murder and art, emancipation and extremism.
Currently in post-production, it is due to debut on Sky on October 13 and then on ARD later in 2018. International broadcasters to have acquired the series include Sky UK, Sky Italia, Spain’s Movistar+ and Belgium’s Telenet, as well as SVT Sweden, NRK Norway, DR Denmark, YLE Finland and RUV Iceland.
Tabula Rasa (2015)
Produced by Belgium’s Caviar, Tabula Rasa is currently in post-production and is scheduled to debut this October on VRT. It is distributed internationally by ZDF Enterprises.
Starring Veerle Baetens, the show centres on Mie, a young woman locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. She is visited by detective inspector Wolkers, who is trying to solve a disturbing missing-persons case when it transpires Mie was the last person to be seen with Thomas Spectre before he vanished.
It appears to be a cut-and-dried case for the experienced DI Wolkers – except his only witness is a woman suffering from acute memory loss. In order to solve the puzzle and find Thomas, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her past.
Tabula Rasa is written by Malin-Sarah Gozin (Clan) alongside Christophe Dirickx and Baetens.
Das Verschwinden (The Vanishing, 2016)
Written by Bernd Lange and Hans-Christian Schmid, this show unfolds in Forstenau, a small town close to the Czech border. When 20-year-old Janine Grabowski (Elisa Schlott) disappears, no one suspects foul play except her mother, Michelle (Julia Jentsch), who is forced to begin the search on her own. But the more she learns about her daughter and her surroundings, the more she wonders how much her own behaviour in the past has helped to create a network of lies and secrets, in which Janine is not the only victim.
Currently in post-production after shooting finished in December, The Vanishing is produced by Germany’s 23/5 Filmproduktion. Since it was pitched at Berlinale, regional German broadcasters ARD Degeto, BR, NDR and SWR have come on board, with the series due to air on national public broadcaster Das Erste later this year. Coproducer Mia Film from the Czech Republic is also attached.
This drama centres on a flamboyant Turkish family that immigrates to the Netherlands in the 1980s. It follows Osman and Cansu Çelik and their four adolescent children, who each have to find their own way to adulthood, pulled between a seemingly more communal life in spacious and sunny Turkey and an individual, modern existence in the Netherlands.
Written by Sacha Polak and Stienette Bosklopper, it is produced by Circe Films. NTR in the Netherlands and BNN-VARA will broadcast the show.
The Illegal (2016)
From Conquering Lion Pictures and Canadian broadcaster CBC, The Illegal is based on a book by Lawrence Hill and reunites the team behind The Book of Negroes, which was also based on a novel by Hill.
Described as a dystopian story by writer and director Clement Virgo, the novel tells the story of Keita Ali, a refugee compelled to leave his homeland and flee to a nearby wealthy nation – a country engaged in a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
There, Keita becomes a part of the new underground. He learns what it means to live as an illegal: surfacing to earn cash prizes by running local races and assessing whether the people he meets will be kind or turn him in. As the authorities seek to arrest Keita, he strives to elude capture and ransom his sister, who has been kidnapped.
It is currently in its second phase of script development, with shooting scheduled for January 2018.
Wars Inc (2016)
This newsroom-based drama, hailing from Israel’s Drama Team, is currently in development.
Tabula Rasa producer Helen Perquy tells Michael Pickard about the show’s journey from Series Mania pitch to fully-fledged series ahead of its launch on VRT next year.
When the producer of forthcoming Flemish drama Tabula Rasa takes to the stage at Series Mania today, it will mark the completion of a two-year journey.
The psychological thriller was first pitched to industry executives at the annual Paris event in 2014, as part of the European Coproduction Forum.
Now the project has come full circle, with audiences inside the Forem des Images given the chance to see the first images from the series, which will make its debut on Belgian public broadcaster VRT in 2017.
Tabula Rasa tells the story of Mie, a young woman who is locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital. She is visited by Detective Inspector Wolkers, who is trying to solve a disturbing missing persons case when it transpires Mie was the last person to be seen with Thomas Spectre before he vanished.
It appears to be a cut-and-dry case for the experienced DI Wolkers – except his only witness is a woman suffering from acute memory loss. In order to solve the puzzle and find Thomas, Mie has to reconstruct her lost memories and find her way back through the dark labyrinth of her past.
Produced by Brussels-based Caviar, Tabula Rasa landed at Series Mania in 2014 on the basis of its script, which was written by Malin-Sarah Gozin (Clan).
The writing team was completed by Christophe Dirickx and Veerle Baetens – who is also the lead actress on the series. The rest of the main cast comprises Stijn Van Opstal, Jeroen Perceval, Gene Bervoets, Natali Broods, Hilde Van Mieghem, Peter Van Den Begin, François Beukelaers, Lynn Van Royen and Tom Audenaert. Jonas Govaerts and Kaat Beels are the directors.
“Tabula Rasa is a very human story,” producer Helen Perquy explains ahead of appearing on stage at Series Mania. “It’s a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator. What Malin always says is it’s like a mind-fuck – and she’s right. As Mie goes through psychosis, she doubts everyone and it’s a bit of a whodunit, but you also question whether she did it herself. You doubt everyone, even yourself, and you feel that tension all the time.
“Sometimes it flirts with horror, but you also have some very recognisable family scenes where you see the love between a family as well as how family can be disruptive. Mie’s memory loss is also reflected in the dementia of her father. There are a lot of very recognisable themes. It’s not an easy story but it should be very captivating, powerful and emotional.”
Perquy says she wanted the series to be challenging for audiences: “The best series make you think and get involved, and this is definitely one of those series. You never know if it’s going to be a success, but all the ingredients are there.”
Broadcaster VRT, which has signed on to the series alongside distributor ZDF Enterprises, will certainly be hoping those ingredients have been blended successfully – as will ZDF Neo in Germany, which will also air the drama next year.
But Perquy, whose credits include Eén series Quiz Me Quick, says Tabula Rasa represents a leap of faith for the Belgian broadcaster – one that sees it follow in the footsteps of several other European networks of late that have shown signs of more risk-taking in this on-demand age as they battle to stand out on the increasingly crowded EPG.
“This is a stretch for them,” she says of VRT. “I know them very well and I went to them because I wanted to have freedom for the authors, the directors and the whole process. But it is a stretch in the sense they haven’t done anything that remotely flirts with horror. Even psychological thriller isn’t a genre that has been presented to the public before.
“It’s really going to be a mind-fuck. It’s really scary sometimes; it’s also very emotional and a little weird.”
The producer says television must continue to take risks in storytelling if it hopes to avoid the problems facing the movie business, whose output Perquy believes has become formulaic and stale.
“We have a lot of talent in Belgium but we always keep telling the same Flemish stories,” she says. “Tabula Rasa is not a Flemish story – it’s a Flemish story as much as it is a British story, a German story or a Scandinavian story. We should, from time to time, not give the audience what they expect. If you don’t do that, things like True Detective don’t happen, but it’s not an easy road for the audience.
“Film studios are using a formula by finding what they think works – such as helicopters, boobs and everything that goes fast – and putting it all in the same movie to make a hit. If you do that over a short period of time, you’ll get an audience; if you do it long term, you’re dead. Movies are going down, but series are going up because the authors make them complicated, they get good actors because they know there’s flesh on the plate. We should do that in Belgium as well.”
Two years after its first pitch, guests at Series Mania will now see the first clips from Tabula Rasa. Projects being presented at this year’s European Coproduction Forum – including Warrior (Miso Film, Denmark), Flight 1618 (MakingProd, France) and The Illegal (Conquering Lion Pictures, Canada) – will hope to replicate its success.