Tag Archives: The Rook

The next chapter

A lot of noise has been made about how longform serialised dramas are the ‘new novels,’ with numerous episodes that keep audiences hooked until the very end. But what books are now coming to screen and how are they being adapted?

In the era of ‘Peak TV,’ it’s commonly overheard that serialised television dramas are becoming the new novels – one story told over multiple episodes. Indeed, some series, like Netflix’s House of Cards, even name their episodes ‘chapters’ while, like books, there are surely now too many shows made for anyone to claim to have watched them all.

Yet while this is a more recent phenomenon, books have long been the inspiration for, and basis of, many television series. And with the need of every new television drama to create some buzz at its launch and pull viewers away from whatever else they’re watching, plus the added bonus of a ready-made fanbase, it’s no wonder books continue to be snapped up for small screen adaptations.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Poldark, Castle Rock, Ordeal by Innocence, La Cathedral del Mar (Cathedral of the Sea), Vanity Fair, The City & The City, Sharp Objects, Women on the Verge and My Brilliant Friend are just some of the series based on books that have been on television this year, with the eagerly anticipated final season of Game of Thrones due in April.

Also on screen in 2019 are Les Misérables, The War of the Worlds, Good Omens, The Rook, The Spanish Princess and The Name of the Rose, while His Dark Materials, The Luminaries, Alex Rider, The Butchers of Berlin, Lord of the Rings and Dracula are all in the works.

The Little Drummer Girl, the latest John le Carré adaptation from The Ink Factory

Following the worldwide success of 2016 miniseries The Night Manager, UK production company The Ink Factory returned to John le Carré’s extensive catalogue of spy novels for follow-up The Little Drummer Girl, again for the BBC and AMC. Endeavor Content distributes. But those expecting a similar story would be wise to forget Tom Hiddleston’s rookie spy and Hugh Laurie’s ruthless arms dealer. In this adaptation of le Carré’s 1983 novel, Florence Pugh plays Charlie, a young actress who strikes up a relationship with Becker (Alexander Skarsgård), an Israeli officer who entangles her in a complex plot orchestrated by spymaster Kurtz (Michael Shannon).

After The Night Manager, Ink Factory co-founders – and le Carré’s sons – Stephen and Simon Cornwell sought another of the author’s works that played out on a cinematic level with a compelling story at its heart, but that was also quite distinct and different. The Little Drummer Girl fitted the bill.

“It’s a compelling narrative, it’s very anchored on the core characters and their progression through the story and it travels and evolves and has a complexity and richness to it that really speaks to longer-form storytelling,” says Stephen Cornwell. He believes the proliferation of book adaptations on TV is down to the fact that “great books tend to tell great stories,” and in turn, great stories attract great talent – from writers and directors to actors and everything in between.

“Obviously authorship and the awareness of titles also helps drive audience interest,” Cornwell continues. “It just feels like there are a lot of things converging right now that make adaptation, and particularly the literary form as the basis for longform storytelling, very natural and organic.”

Le Carré himself takes a keen interest in adaptations of his work, as his cameo as a waiter in The Little Drummer Girl will testify. He is happy for writers to reinterpret the story for the screen, rather than slavishly follow the fine details of the novel, Simon Cornwell says, noting that it’s more important to be true to the essence of the book than the detail of the plot. “A lot of that really starts with the importance of character. If you’re coming at this from the point of view of focusing on character, you begin to capture the core of the book and then you start to think about how you put that on screen.”

For Sarah Williams, the role of adapter is to be as invisible as possible, putting the author’s vision on screen with as little interference as possible. “When you’re dealing with a really good book, my note to myself is ‘invent as little as possible and try to present the story as authentically as possible,’” she says. “Keep as close to the book as you can.”

Sarah Williams has adapted The Long Song from Andrea Levy’s 2010 book

Williams first adapted a novel by Andrea Levy in 2009, turning in the script for BBC miniseries Small Island. She has now reunited with the author for The Long Song, a three-part BBC1 series produced by Heyday Television and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution.

“If you’re adapting Pride & Prejudice, you might favour your own take because it’s been done many times and everyone knows it. But I didn’t feel my take on this book was as important as this book,” Williams says of the story, set during the final days of slavery in 19th century Jamaica. “For me, that’s been the priority. That’s how I see it. Other people might read the script and think, ‘Oh Sarah, you’re all over this.’ But I don’t think so. People make a lot of fuss about adapting books, but all you want is all the best bits of the book in one place and put into a screenplay structure.”

The writer says working with Levy has been crucial to the adaptation process, most notably on condensing the life story of strong-willed slave July (Tamara Lawrance) – told over two timeframes – into a trio of hour-long episodes that also replicate Levy’s balance of drama and humour.

“Quite often it’s structurally complex to unpick, and replacing the structure for TV can be a challenge. But the emotional strength and that bittersweet tragi-comedic tone she has, it’s my favourite kind of thing,” Williams says. “For me, what she manages to do is to take you on a very emotional road that has pain but also laughter. There are some very funny moments but it’s never trivialising the subject matter.”

The producers behind Swedish spy thriller Hamilton have taken a different approach to adaptation, however. Jan Guillou published his first novel about the character, dubbed Sweden’s James Bond, in 1986, and more than a dozen have followed. But rather than creating a period drama setting intelligence officer Carl Hamilton in the midst of the Cold War, which was ongoing when the books were first released, DramaCorp-Pampas Studios is placing the character firmly in the present day during what might be considered a Cold War 2.0. Airing in 2020 first on Scandinavian streamer C More and then on Sweden’s TV4 and ZDF in Germany, Hamilton is distributed by Beta Film worldwide and ZDF Enterprises (ZDFE) in German-speaking territories.

“This is the first time these novels have been adapted into a TV series. When pitching it, the idea was really to reboot the character, the universe, the novels and the stories for a serialised format,” says executive producer Patrick Nebout. “We had extensive meetings to find the essence and the core of these novels and, from there on, to develop an original story that is relevant to a contemporary audience. So it’s not an adaptation of the novel, it’s a new origin series based on the universe and the main character of Hamilton.”

The Office star John Krasinski in Amazon drama Jack Ryan

The strategy echoes that employed by co-showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland when they reimagined Tom Clancy’s action hero Jack Ryan for Amazon Prime Video, creating a series based on Clancy’s characters. A second season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was ordered by the US streaming giant before the first debuted in August.

Similarly, Hamilton is designed as a long-running series, with future seasons likely to leave the novels behind entirely. “In the first season, we pick things from different novels that really are part of the audience’s expectation. But then we will take the next seasons somewhere else,” Nebout says. “We leave the novels and find our own way. These series are also designed to not only touch Nordic audiences but also to travel, so we’re looking for the universal elements in the story and the characters.”

New adaptations aren’t just playing with the source material, but the traditional television format too. Italian drama Donne, based on Andrea Camilleri’s collection of short stories, plays out over 10 10-minute episodes on Rai Uno. Produced by Anele Production and distributed by RaiCom, it recreates Camilleri’s meetings and personal experiences with 10 women, recounting discoveries of seduction and sex as he attempts to “solve the enigma that is the universe of women.”

“The literary material was so rich to start with that the skill was neither to add nor remove, but only to enhance what was already incredible,” creator Gloria Giorgianni says of the adaptation. “That was the only difficulty, really.

“Creating original content is great, but adapting is even more challenging. Recreating the visual sensations of a book is an incredible challenge. But starting with a great writer, a book helps to have a set narrative structure and to have a world of reference at hand.”

Michel Bussi is the author of bestselling novels including After the Crash and Black Water Lilies, with the former adapted into a four-part miniseries by CPB Films for French network M6. Global Screen holds distribution rights. The thriller is set after a plane crashes in the Alps, with just one survivor – a baby girl. When two families claim the child as their own, a detective is hired to find out the truth.

Michel Bussi on the After the Crash set

Book adaptations are more popular than ever because “they offer rich plots and are generally more original than that usually offered on television,” according to Bussi, who adds: “Writers do not limit themselves to their imagination.”

But the author never considers a future adaptation when writing his novels, admitting to building “the most complex and twisted stories possible to give the producers a sleepless night, often using literary processes difficult to reproduce on screen. This forces the directors to be very imaginative.”

Bussi will discuss his novel with the writers at the start of the development process, but then leaves them “completely free” to take the project in their own direction. “My stories are based on some fundamental pillars that must be preserved. It is quite easy to agree on them with a screenwriter or a producer because they are a bit like the DNA of the story,” he says. “Then the removal of certain chapters or certain characters for the needs of the adaptation is often a necessary crime.”

Keeping the DNA of the source material was also essential in making Swedish drama Kristina Ohlsson’s STHLM Requiem, based on Ohlsson’s detective novels. The 10-part series, with five stories told over two episodes each, follows an unconventional criminologist solving cases as part of a special investigations unit within the Stockholm police.

Black Spark Film & TV producer Piodor Gustafsson says Ohlsson’s background working with the police has ensured gripping, factually accurate plots. Even so, “there’s a lot of things you have to take out because they’re inner thoughts, or events move away from the main character, so we have to simplify and create characters that work all through the 10 episodes,” he says of the drama, produced for TV4, C-More and ZDF and distributed by ZDFE. “There were a lot of changes but I believe we kept the main feeling in the books. Kristina’s very happy about it, so I think we did something right.”

Kristina Ohlsson’s STHLM Requiem is based on the Swedish author’s detective novels

Gustafsson says adapting a novel means “you always have to be very brutal in the beginning and only use what you think is extremely useful to build your series.” But then the director, in this case Karin Fahlén, can use the book to inform the visual style on screen. “We’re not dependant on Kristina’s approval but we want her to be happy, so she’s involved in reading the scripts, and also the writers ask her questions.”

Fahlén continues: “With good books, you get a universe laid out in front of you when you read them. I think that happens to all of us. I could only follow my own vision, what I saw, and then I had a close collaboration with the set designer and the photographer and we found we almost didn’t have to talk. Things flowed really easily and we found our universe.”

Kate Brooke is used to stepping into different worlds, whether it’s the early 1900s with Mr Selfridge, Renaissance Italy with Medici: Masters of Florence or creating a dark thriller in crime drama Bancroft. For her latest project, however, she plunged into a world of witches, vampires and demons with the adaptation of Deborah Harkness’s fantasy novel A Discovery of Witches. Produced by Bad Wolf for Sky1 in the UK, it has been renewed for second and third seasons following its launch this autumn.

This was the first time Brooke had dipped her toes into the fantasy genre, with a story that introduces a variety of supernatural species all living together in plain sight and addresses political and evolutionary issues that she says feel incredibly contemporary. There’s also a love story between lead characters Diana Bishop (a witch played by Teresa Palmer) and Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode’s vampire).

A Discovery of Witches didn’t lend itself directly to adaptation, however, owing to its first-person perspective and huge amounts of backstory that comes with each character. Brooke sought to introduce characters earlier on screen so they are already familiar by the time they become more central to the story. She also decided to give Matthew 50% of the narrative, which involved building the character beyond what was in the book. “But that’s fun for an adapter because you can begin to bring your own imagination and meld it in Debs’ world. Obviously I was always in contact with Debs about that,” Brooke says.

Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer in A Discovery of Witches

What’s notable about many adaptations today, including A Discovery of Witches, is that they might have been considered too niche or even impractical to make several years ago. But the explosion of content on screen means networks are now more open to genre drama, particularly fantasy and sci-fi, than they were previously, while technological and financial advances also mean exciting new worlds can be realised with the cinematic quality audiences demand.

The rise of serialised television means books that come with deep mythologies can also be retold, with writers not forced to cram everything into a feature-length running time.

Brooke believes there’s a safety net to adaptations because people know the story has an end. “It’s much easier to commission an adaptation but I do think we need to continue to engage in new writing,” she says. “There’s so much content, there’s a fear that sometimes original pieces don’t push through.”

But Stephen Cornwell says original series and adaptations can inform each other. “A great adaptation can inspire someone to do a great piece of original storytelling,” he adds. “I don’t think they are in any sense in competition with each other.”

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Ready to Rook

The supernatural and spy genres fuse together in The Rook, an adaptation of Daniel O’Malley’s novel about a shadowy London agency and a woman suffering total amnesia, set in a world where people have peculiar abilities. Executive producer Stephen Garrett reveals all.

With series such as Stranger Things, A Discovery of Witches and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on screen, supernatural television dramas are a hot topic. But according to executive producer Stephen Garrett, nothing in the genre is quite like forthcoming Starz show The Rook.

Pairing the paranormal with the hallmarks of the spy genre, the eight-part series tells the story of a woman who wakes up in London with no memory of who she is and no way to explain the circle of dead bodies around her. When she discovers she’s a high-ranking official in the Checquy, Britain’s secret service for people with paranormal abilities, she’ll have to navigate the dangerous and complex world of the agency to uncover who wiped her memory and why she’s a target.

Produced by Lionsgate and Liberty Global, the series will air on Starz in the US in 2019, with Liberty Global subsequently rolling it out on its channels in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, including Virgin Media in the UK. Lionsgate is distributing worldwide.

Based on the book by Daniel O’Malley, the series has been three years in the making. US production giant Lionsgate had snared the rights to the novel and then approached Garrett (The Night Manager, Hunted) about overseeing the series, believing it made sense for a “very British story” to be led by a British producer. The story fuses one genre Garrett knows very well and another he was keen to dabble with. “Since Spooks, spy shows have been an important part of my life,” he notes. “This was a very compelling combination.”

Stephen Garrett

British playwrights Sam Holcroft and Al Muriel were brought in to adapt O’Malley’s 2012 book. At that point, they had no screen credits, but they did possess a passion for spies and the supernatural, and had both already read the novel. “We don’t really have a strong tradition of supernatural in mainstream British TV and there are not that many writers who have a track record in it or much interest, so that was an omen,” Garrett says. “I brought them to Lionsgate and thought they would be put into touch, but Lionsgate loved them too.”

Since then, The Rook has become akin to a supernatural shapeshifter, changing form and structure several times – once when the drama was initially picked up by US streamer Hulu, and then again when Lionsgate subsequently placed the show at Starz, following its buyout of the premium cable channel. Two showrunners, Lisa Zwerling (Betrayal) and Karyn Usher (Bones) were then brought in to steer the series through production, a move that coincided with the departure of original executive producer Stephanie Meyer (Twilight).

Zwerling (Betrayal, FlashForward) and Usher (Bones, Prison Break) executive producer via their Carpool Entertainment production company, alongside Garrett under his Character 7 banner.

“The series was developed for Lionsgate and Hulu, but once Starz came on board, we came through a course correction that made the show more interesting,” Garrett explains. “You can go very high concept with supernatural and the danger with that is there’s less of an emotional connection with the central characters. With Starz, that sensibility was realigned to make this feel real.”

To that end, the superpowers featured in the series do not include flying, invisibility or anything that would usually be contained in the pages of a comic book or in a Marvel movie.

“The idea is that all superpowers we see have that origin in nature and the biological world,” Garrett continues, teasing that some may be able to run extremely fast or adopt the shocking qualities of an electric eel. “When you do that, they look like you and me. They’re ordinary and vulnerable and feel like human beings; you care about them. When the central character wakes up with her memory wiped, you imagine what it’s like to be that person. It’s moving and intense.”

Olivia Munn (pictured in X-Men: Apocalypse) plays intelligence officer Monica Reed

The series stars Emma Greenwell (pictured top) as lead character Myfanwy Thomas, with the ensemble cast also including Adrian Lester (Trauma), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck). Munn plays Monica Reed, a bold American intelligence officer with subtle supernatural powers who becomes embroiled in the Checquy investigation into her lover’s death, while Richardson is Lady Farrier, the Checquy leader who is also Myfanwy’s mentor.

Lester is Conrad Grantchester, Farrier’s deputy, while Ronan Rafferty (Fantastic Beasts), Catherine Steadman (Downton Abbey) and Jon Fletcher (Genius) play the Gestalt siblings Robert, Eliza and twins Teddy and Alex, respectively.

With the production based at 3 Mills Studios in east London, the English capital city has also become one of the main characters in the series. Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale) directs the premiere.

“It’s recognisably London but what I like about this show and others I have done is that it’s an international eye on London,” Garrett says. “Kari knows London but she looks at it differently from the way we Londoners do. She’s reimagined London. You genuinely see it through a different lens.”

Garrett is no stranger to bringing books to the screen, having partnered with The Ink Factory on John le Carré adaptations The Night Manager and The Little Drummer Girl, which is coming to the BBC later this year. And while he concedes that the things that make a book popular are not always transferrable to the screen – meaning TV versions often have to be reimaginings rather than dedicated remakes – he says “we have kept much of” The Rook. “Some of my favourite characters are the four Gestalt siblings, who share a hive mind – four distinct individuals but they share one brain. If you make love to one of them, you make love to all of them. It’s possible you might see that acted out on screen,” he jokes.

Adrian Lester, pictured here in Trauma, also stars

“As often happens with beloved novels have been transplanted to the screen, [fans of the book will] recognise the world completely. I think they will love what we have done.”

For a supernatural series, however, it’s notable that Garrett admits to leaving a lot of his CGI budget unspent. This was a deliberate move, he says, as using in-camera effects or avoiding the need for them in the first place makes the drama “more interesting and distinctive.”

“It’s subtle,” he continues. “There’s stuff in-camera but a lot of it is to do with psychology and emotion. Hopefully it’s intelligent drama and allows viewers to join the dots. We’re not dependent on flashes and bangs. It’s a world viewers won’t have seen before.”

That’s just one of the reasons Garrett believes The Rook will stand out among the hundreds of other series that will air in the US next year, not to mention hundreds more around the world.

“If this were just a supernatural show or just a spy show, it would perhaps be fighting for a place in the world, but this fusion of very distinct genres in genuinely unusual,” the exec says. “We absolutely stand out from the crowd. In a world where we have more than 500 distinct dramas on US screens, we have got to be different. This makes it an extraordinary, exciting and challenging time to be a producer, writer or broadcaster.”

The need to stand out also means “ideas that could get you arrested five or seven years ago have suddenly become ideas that will define networks,” he adds. “I grew up with an era of TV that was essentially cop, doc and lawyer shows. If you try and make one of those now, you fall by the wayside because that’s not interesting enough on its own. Ideas that broadcasters feel will help position themselves against their rivals have got a chance of being heard.”

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Strengthening the content pipeline

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Joel SIlver is working on two drama pilots

Hollywood producer Joel Silver has been given the go-ahead to develop scripted pilots for both CBS and Fox in the US. These will be developed via a division called Silver Pictures Television, within the framework of Silver’s new first-look deal with Lionsgate TV.

The Lionsgate deal is described as a multi-year partnership, which means it will continue beyond the first two announced projects.

For CBS, Silver is developing Bathory. Set in 17th century Budapest, the show is a new take on vampire mythology following Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian aristocrat who was also one of history’s most notorious female serial killers. Meanwhile, the Fox project, Soar, centres on a former NBA prodigy turned criminal who becomes the basketball coach at an upmarket high school after his release from prison.

Silver is one of the best-known names in the Hollywood film business, responsible for franchises such as Lethal Weapon, The Matrix and Die Hard. But he also has a track record in TV, with credits including Veronica Mars, Moonlight and Tales From the Crypt.

Commenting on the partnership with Lionsgate TV, he said: “Lionsgate has established a reputation for creating some of the most ground-breaking and memorable television brands in the world, and I look forward to contributing a roster of big, audience-pleasing event properties to their incredible pipeline.”

Explaining the appeal of the partnership from Lionsgate TV’s perspective, chairman Kevin Beggs said: “Joel has created some of the biggest franchises of all time and established an incredible network of relationships with top writers and creative talent.”

The Silver deal isn’t the only big news coming out of Lionsgate at the moment. The TV division has also announced that it is developing a one-hour drama series called The Rook with Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

According to Lionsgate, the series, which is being produced out of the UK, will centre on a female protagonist with extraordinary powers who is employed by a mysterious British government agency responsible for defending Britain from supernatural threats.

Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history's most prolific female murderer
Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history’s most prolific female murderer

The series is being developed by Lionsgate for a major British broadcaster and Hulu in the US. It’s the latest in a line of shows that US content creators are producing in Europe, presumably to access tax breaks.

In addition, Liberty Global and Discovery Communications each intend to pay US$195m to acquire 3.4% stakes in Lionsgate. As a result, Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Liberty Global president and CEO Michael Fries will join the Lionsgate board. A key consequence of this is likely to be greater collaboration between the partners in content development and production.

Zaslav said: “As with all our creative partners, we look forward to telling world-class stories with the team at Lionsgate, and strengthening Discovery’s content pipeline across our platforms around the world.”

A big scripted TV distribution story this week saw BBC Worldwide strike a deal with NBC Universal International Networks that means sci-fi series Doctor Who will appear on the Syfy channel across Latin America next year.

Until now, the show has aired on the BBC-owned networks in the region. But from 2016, Syfy will show a re-run of season eight, followed by the exclusive regional premiere of season nine. Seasons five to seven have also been confirmed to be part of the offer of the network later in the year.

“More than 50 years and eight seasons on BBC’s own networks in Latin America helped Doctor Who develop a loyal following within the region, where the series has an exceptional number of fervent fans,” said Anna Gordon, executive VP and MD of BBC Worldwide Latin America/US Hispanic. “Our partnership with Syfy reintroduces one of our company’s most acclaimed shows to Latin America and brings it closer to dedicated science-fiction and fantasy fans.”

Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy
Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy in Latin America

Klaudia Bermudez-Key, senior VP and general manager of NBCU Networks International for Latin America, added: “Syfy is known for pushing the limits of imagination, and it is undoubtedly the perfect home for the iconic Doctor Who. The series is a perfect addition to the content found on Syfy, which appeals to audiences across the region. Our viewers continuously expect a high-quality standard for all programming content, and we are delivering accordingly.”

Still in the world of distribution, European pay TV broadcaster Sky has extended its content deal with US premium cable channel HBO to cover all five of its European territories (UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy). Under the terms of the deal, which runs until 2020, Sky will have exclusive first-run rights to HBO shows such as Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s music industry drama Vinyl and JJ Abrams’ reboot of sci-fi classic Westworld.

Significantly, given the growing competition from subscription VoD platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, the deal will also extend Sky’s VoD rights. More box sets of hit HBO shows such as Boardwalk Empire will be available on Sky’s digital platforms for longer periods, while episodes of current series will be available on catch-up as they air on linear TV.

Commenting on the deal, HBO president of programming sales Charles Schreger said Sky has “shined a spotlight on our original programming and treated the shows as preciously as if they were their own. This ongoing relationship has been rewarding and successful to both of us and this expansion is representative of the trust and admiration we have for them as well as a belief that we can elevate each other even further.”

Seen in totality, the above stories all demonstrate how the world’s leading pay TV providers (Liberty Global, Discovery, NBCU and Sky) are seeking tighter control over premium content.

In the UK, meanwhile, commercial broadcaster ITV (which also, incidentally, is 9.9% owned by Liberty Global) has ordered a second season of critically acclaimed crime drama Unforgotten.

Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season
Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season

Produced by Mainstreet Pictures, the six-parter focuses on a cold-case murder enquiry after the bones of a man are discovered beneath a demolished house. Recently finished, the show attracted a respectable audience of around four to five million.

The series was created and written by Chris Lang, who said: “I am immensely excited to be writing a second season of Unforgotten and relish the challenge of introducing a brand new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

ITV director of drama Steve November and controller of drama Victoria Fea commissioned the new series. The executive producers are Sally Haynes, Chris Lang and Laura Mackie.

Finally, Deadline is reporting another score for Scandinavian drama. According to a report last week, Anonymous Content and Paramount are developing an English-language version of TV4 Sweden’s hit series Torpederna, to be adapted by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

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