Tag Archives: The Sinner

Summer lovin’

Easy A writer Bert V Royal and The Sinner producer Michelle Purple tell DQ about teaming up on US cablenet Freeform’s high school drama Last Summer, from producer Entertainment One.

“It’s this exploration of apathy – and teen angst, obviously, because it’s my favourite thing to write about, because I’m a teen girl!” jokes Bert V Royal about his upcoming television drama Last Summer. Its high school setting is familiar territory for the writer, who broke out with 2010 feature Easy A, the story of a clean-cut student played by future Oscar-winner Emma Stone (La La Land) who becomes infamous when a lie about losing her virginity spreads across the school.

Royal went on to write episodes of Gigantic, Recovery Road and Council of Dads. But Last Summer takes him back to the 1990s, where he is putting a new twist on the ‘girl behaving badly’ genre in a story that villainises not the villain but the victim.

The plot of Last Summer is intended to offer views a puzzle to solve

Described as an unconventional thriller that takes place over three summers – ’93, ’94 and ’95 – in a small Texas town, it explores the repercussions when beautiful and popular teen Kate goes missing and, seemingly unrelated, Jeanette goes from being a sweet and awkward loner to the most popular girl in town. But by 1995, Jeanette is the most despised person in America.

Each episode switches between the perspective of the main characters, testing viewers’ loyalties as more information is revealed.

Thinking of real-life people such as US figure skater Tonya Harding or former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who inspired the series, “these people are thrust into the national spotlight, and that’s what happens with our character,” Royal explains. “Jeanette gets thrust into a national spotlight for what might have been a horrible error of judgement or might have been a complete fabrication.

“The fun part of the show is the way that we tell it as a big puzzle and it requires the viewer to pay attention. If something doesn’t make sense, it probably will in 45 seconds. But we like to keep them on their toes in this show. We do want this to be a puzzle in the sense of having Easter eggs and hints and clues, and we want everyone to play armchair detective with this game.

“We’re constantly switching allegiances. If somebody remains on one characters’ team for the entire series, we haven’t done our job. That’s how I like to say it in the writers’ room. We want it to constantly be shifting. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, every time you think you’re betting on the right horse, you get thrown off.”

Executive producer Michelle Purple compares the thriller element to watching an episode of US true crime series Dateline. “You’re watching it and you’re like, ‘It’s the husband.’ And the all of a sudden, ‘It’s the mother.’ So it’s like that but between these two girls,” she says.

Royal has been plotting the series “for a while,” which has given him the chance to think long and hard about how the pieces of the puzzle might fit together. The project then took off when Iron Oceans Productions, the company founded by Purple and actor Jessica Biel, joined.

“They came on literally last summer and they had read the scripts. I was a huge fan of the stuff that they’ve been working – The Sinner is brilliant, and Limetown – and I’m just a massive fan of how they make really bold choices. It was exactly what I needed in a partnership. I jumped into bed with them really quickly,” Royal says.

Bert V Royal, Michelle Purple and Jessica Biel during production of the Last Summer pilot

Iron Ocean, which in January signed a first-look deal with Paramount Television Studios, counts USA network drama The Sinner and Facebook Watch’s Limetown among its small-screen credits. Disney-owned Freeform also took Last Summer to series in January.

“For Jessica and I, we’re always looking for something we’ve never seen before, and we wanted something that appealed to a wider audience and something that we can watch with our families,” Purple explains. “We read this and it immediately spoke to our sensibility. I, of course, was in high school in the ’90s, so I had the nostalgia of that. It spoke to our brand but it appealed to a broader audience than the things we had done before.

“We had also been fans of Bert and wanted to work with him. And [studio and distributor] Entertainment One has been super supportive. It’s just been a good journey to this point. We’ve done the pilot. They picked it up immediately to series. Every week you’re going to want more.”

Purple and Royal are both particularly keen to create the type of water-cooler television that has been stymied by the rise of streaming platforms, meaning viewers rarely watch the same things at the same time unless a particular series hits the zeitgeist.

“There’s never going to be a boring episode,” Royal claims. “Usually when you write a show, there’s one episode if you’re lucky, sometimes two, where you’re like, ‘This is a throwaway episode.’ There’s no throwaways in this. It rewards viewers. Pay attention!”

“With so much bingeing going on, only shows like Game of Thrones create a conversation between weeks,” Purple continues, “but this can do that too. Just the way he has structured it and the way you change sides, we want to create the water-cooler moment.”

While Biel has appeared in The Sinner, she is not currently slated to appear in Last Summer. “We have had to break the news that Jessica can no longer play a high school student,” Purple jokes. “But we’ve been partners for over 10 years, she’s very hands-on. She works with the writers, in casting, in the editing room.”

Emma Stone in 2010 feature film Easy A

“Even from producers who are not famous actors, I’ve not had that kind of treatment,” Royal says of working with Biel. “It’s really wonderful. It’s such a testament to her and she actually gives amazing notes, which is an even better thing. She’s always willing to discuss things and between the three of us – I consider myself a partner of their company now! – we have great discussions. We have great conversations. They’re pushing me to go further and I love that. How often do you get that? Usually, people are telling you, ‘Oh, that’s too much. Don’t go there.’ But they’re actually helping me and so is Entertainment One and Freeform. It’s really cool.”

For someone who has written a lot about the high school experience and has become known for coming-of-age stories in that arena, it’s notable when Royal admits he never went to high school.

“It’s weird. I was home schooled for the last three years of schooling, so a lot of it is me trying to fill in the pieces. It’s very Never Been Kissed,” he says, referencing the Drew Barrymore film about an undercover journalist who goes back to high school. “There’s also this other weird aspect of it – I got to see high school from a different angle without being a part of it. I was a voyeur to it. All my friends were still going so I sat on the sidelines and watched it all happen. That gave me a unique perspective that I can’t seem to break away from. One of these days I’m going to write something with grown-ups in it, I swear.”

With the pilot in the can, writing the series continues as filming is on hiatus owing to the industry-wide production shutdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Royal says the writers’ room is filled with an eclectic mix of people who are bringing a range of ideas to the table. “The way that I like to work is I like to hear all the ideas. There’s no bad idea. So bring it on,” he says. “Personally, I like producing even more than writing. I love the puzzle of figuring out schedules and how to make days and budgeting. That’s again why I’m so excited about working with Michelle and Jessica, because at the end of the day, we’re all kind of running the ship.”

Filming will take place in Dallas, Texas, which will double for the fictional town of Skyland in the series. The cast includes Chiara Aurelia (Tell Me Your Secrets) as Jeanette, Mika Abdalla (Project Mc2) as Kate, Michael Landes (The Liberator) as Jeanette’s father Greg, Froy Gutierrez (Teen Wolf), Harley Quinn Smith (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), Allius Barnes (Unbelievable), Blake Lee (Fam), Nathaniel Ashton (Mr Mercedes) and Brooklyn Sudano (Taken).

“We want people gasping all the way through. I’m so excited about the last five minutes of the season,” Royal teases, adding that season one also serves as a prologue for what could come in later seasons. “It’s going to be exciting, it’s fun.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , ,

The Last Ship extends tour of duty

The Last Ship stars Eric Dane (right)
The Last Ship stars Eric Dane (right)

Echoing a growing trend in the TV business, US cable channel TNT has ordered a fifth season of its hit series The Last Ship before the fourth run has even begun.

Based on the William Brinkley novel, the summer series follows the aftermath of a global catastrophe that ravages the world’s population. Because of its location, the navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. Now, however, Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and his crew must confront the reality of their new existence in a world where they may be among the few survivors.

According to TNT, the show is currently averaging around 7.1 million viewers per episode across multiple platforms and ranks as one of basic cable’s top 10 summer dramas among adults aged 18 to 49. Seasons four and five (2017/2018) will both have 10 episodes.

TNT executive VP of original programming Sarah Aubrey said: “The Last Ship has taken viewers on an exciting ride through three truly thrilling seasons. We look forward to watching the cast and production team ratchet up the drama, action and suspense even more over the next two seasons through summer 2018.”

The series is produced by Turner’s Studio T in association with Platinum Dunes, whose partners – blockbuster filmmaker Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form – serve as executive producers. Co-creators Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane are also executive producers, along with director Paul Holahan.

ABC has cancelled Mistresses
ABC has cancelled Mistresses

Less fortunate this week is ABC’s summer series Mistresses. The show, which has just completed its fourth season, will not be back for a fifth. Based on the British series of the same name from Ecosse, Mistresses revolves around the lives and loves of a group of sexy female friends.

Although the show was never a huge ratings performer for ABC, it has been a decent franchise, selling to broadcasters like TLC in the UK, RTÉ in Ireland and TVNZ in New Zealand. It was also subject of a Chilean remake called Infieles.

Still in the US, HBO is only three weeks away from the launch of its much-anticipated sci-fi reboot series Westworld (October 2). There has been a lot of industry speculation that the show might bomb after filming was temporarily shut down at the start of the year. The rumours at the time were that something must have gone wrong with the series to result in such an interruption.

Now, though, those close to the production are saying that the hold up was to ensure that Westworld has a strong enough foundation to become a long-running returnable franchise.

Westworld reportedly has several future seasons mapped out
Westworld reportedly has several future seasons mapped out

Actor James Marsden told Entertainment Weekly: “It wasn’t about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next five or six years are going to be. We wanted everything in line so that when the very last episode airs and we have our show finale, five or seven years down the line, we knew how it was going to end the first season. [The production team] could have rushed them and get spread too thin. They got them right, and when they were right, we went and shot them.”

HBO will certainly be hoping that Westworld can run and run – because it will soon be faced with the end of mega hit Game of Thrones.

Also in the US this week, there has been a sudden burst of development news. SVoD platform Hulu is developing a fantasy-adventure series based on the Throne of Glass book series by Sarah J Maas. Kira Snyder will write the adaptation, which comes from The Mark Gordon Company.

USA Network has ordered a pilot for a crime drama that stars Jessica Biel as a woman who commits an out-of-character act of horrific violence. Called The Sinner, this is based on a book by Petra Hammesfahr.

ABC, meanwhile, has commissioned a pilot called American Heritage – about two families forced to work together to run LA’s premiere real estate firm.

Ola Rapace in Hassel
Ola Rapace in Hassel

Elsewhere in the world of scripted TV, Nordic-based streaming service Viaplay and Swedish TV channel TV3, both part of Modern Times Group (MTG), have linked up with German distributor Beta Film on a new Nordic noir series called Hassel. The 10-part show is based on books by popular Swedish author Olov Svedelid, who died in 2008. It will be produced by Nice, another arm of the MTG empire.

The central character of the series is Roland Hassel (played by Ola Rapace), a police detective who is the protagonist of 29 books by Svedelid. So if the show is successful there is plenty of scope for it to come back.

Hassel will be the third Viaplay original series following Swedish Dicks and Occupied. It has been created by Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Morgan Jensen, with scripts by Bjorn Paqualin and Charlotte Lesche. Shooting starts this year.

Over in Australia, Network Ten has commissioned an adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s classic 1961 novel Wake in Fright. The two-part show will tell the story of a young schoolteacher who becomes stranded in the small outback mining town of Bundanyabba.

It will be produced by Lingo Pictures in association with Endemol Shine Australia, with backing from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. It has previously been remade as a movie, released in 1971.

Lisa McInerney
Lisa McInerney

Network Ten head of drama Rick Maier said: “There are few Australian stories as original or compelling as Wake in Fright. Kenneth Cook’s novel, now re-imagined for a new generation, deals with the biggest themes. Provocative, morally complex and brilliantly realised, this story is guaranteed to stay with you long into the night and – possibly – for years to come.”

Finally, Endemol Shine-owned production company Fifty Fathoms (Fortitude, The A Word) is adapting Lisa McInerney’s debut novel The Glorious Heresies, with Entourage’s Julian Farino attached to direct and exec produce. McInerney will adapt the novel, which was first published in 2015 and looks at the lives of a collection of misfits living in modern-day Cork in Ireland. It won the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,