Tag Archives: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

On the right track

As the battle for the best projects becomes ever more fierce, leading drama commissioners and producers open up about their own development processes and reveal how they work to bring new series to air. 

For television drama commissioners, the development process must feel a lot like spending their working hours at the races, looking for the right horse on which to bet and willing it to cross the line in first place.

The financial power of SVoD platforms has changed the game for those picking up series for their networks, with the battle for projects now increasingly fierce as partners come together earlier in the process than ever.

Meanwhile, producers are reaping the benefits of an increasing number of buyers looking for original, brand-defining shows. But how is the development process changing at both broadcaster and producer level, and what challenges do they face in the new television landscape?

Sky Atlantic’s epic Roman drama Britannia

Anna Croneman, SVT’s newly installed head of drama, admits very few of the Swedish broadcaster’s scripted series are developed in-house. Instead, writers or writer-producer teams will pitch her ideas and SVT will then board a project from the start. But Croneman says her development slate has been slimmed down to ensure viable projects are singled out early on.

“Last year we cut the development slate significantly, which means we can spend more time on things we really believe are right for us,” she explains. “We lose some projects to the international players, but there is really no other broadcaster doing what we do in Sweden, in the Swedish language. But once again, getting the right talent is an even greater challenge now.”

That challenge is amplified by the competition from Netflix and HBO Nordic, which is starting to commission local original series. “I see companies trying to tie down writers by employing them, or doing first-look deals on ideas,” Croneman adds.

HBO Europe pursues projects from both single authors (such as Štěpán Hulík’s Pustina) and those that use writers rooms (Aranyelet). “In some cases we go through quite a lot of storylining processes; other developments go to first script very quickly,” explains Steve Matthews, VP and executive producer of drama development at the firm. “Sometimes we will polish a pilot through a number of drafts, sometimes we will commission a number of first drafts. It all depends. There is no set system; every project grows organically – we are proudly writer-led in our developments and do our best in each case to find the best support we can bring to the process.”

The company seeks to join projects as soon as possible, and Matthews says there are no rules about what materials it needs to consider a pitch. “We like to be involved early so that we can offer support in that crucial inception,” he says. “That’s when we can help the team understand our needs as a broadcaster and, crucially, for us to understand what the writer is trying to do or say and so support them in that process. A shared vision early in the development fosters a sense of joint ownership and collective focus on the core idea.”

HBO Europe’s Aranyelet is adapted from Finland’s Helppo Elämä

When its original-programming operation was in its infancy, HBO Europe’s attention centred on adaptable formats. But Matthews says the network group wanted the same thing then as it does now – shows that feel fresh and relevant in the territories for which they are made, whatever their origins.

“The results include shows that are based on formats, like Aranyelet [Finland’s Helppo Elämä] and Umbre [Australia’s Small Time Gangster], but that push ahead into new stories that are entirely authored by our local teams,” he explains. “Furthermore, adapting formats has proven an excellent training ground. Our brilliant teams in the territories have nurtured stables of writers who have learned their craft on series like our various versions of In Treatment and are now showrunners passing on their knowledge to the next groups of talent we bring in. So we feel we have the experience and confidence to no longer rely on formats. For our new slate in Adria, for instance, we decided at the start we would only develop original ideas from local talent.”

UK broadcaster Channel 4 is known for its eclectic drama output, from topical miniseries The State and National Treasure to shows that take an alternative approach to familiar genres, like Humans (sci-fi) and No Offence (crime).

“We have regular conversations with producers and writers and have a realistic development slate,” explains head of drama Beth Willis. “We don’t want to flirt unnecessarily with projects we don’t love – it’s a waste of time for the producer and the writer. So we will be clear from the off about whether we think it’s for us. And if we do say we think it’s for us, we really mean it.”

As a commissioner, Willis says she will offer her thoughts on early drafts and throughout production, and that the increased competition for scripted projects means her team is now more conscious of the defining characteristics of a C4 drama. However, like Croneman, she notes that “the biggest competition is in securing talent for projects rather than specific projects themselves.”

Producer Playground Entertainment adapted Little Women

“We receive hundreds of pitches a year from independent production companies,” says Rachel Nelson, director of original content at Canada’s Corus Entertainment. Her team read and review each piece and have bi-weekly meetings where they determine what might be suitable for Corus’s suite of networks, which includes Global and Showcase.

“We work mostly with producers, rather than with a writer only. We are open to ideas and will accept any creative, from scratches on a napkin to full scripts,” she says, adding that Corus’s focus now falls on projects within targeted genres. “We’ve also learned how important it can be to take risks and not be afraid of doing that when we feel strongly about specific projects. We experienced this first-hand with Mary Kills People. We received the script, read it right away and were so impressed that we moved to an immediate greenlight on this show by an unknown writer, pairing her with an extremely experienced team.”

Fellow Canadian broadcaster Bell Media – home of CTV and Space – is also open to developing projects that arrive in any form, though a producer should be attached fairly early in the process, says director of drama Tom Hastings. That said, its development process hasn’t radically changed in recent years, even as the company moves with programming shifts such as the trend for shorter serialised dramas.

“We take a ‘steady ship during stormy weather’ approach,” Hastings says. “As our channels have strong brands and identifiable audiences, we remain committed to developing drama programmes that best fit those brands and work for those specific viewers.  We remain very selective about what we develop and we take our time, demanding the best of everyone, including, most especially, ourselves.”

Arguably the biggest battleground in the world of development is the race to secure IP, with producers scrambling to pick up rights to films, stage shows and, in particular, books – often before they have even been published.

James Richardson

Transatlantic producer Playground Entertainment is behind new adaptations of Howards End and Little Women, and has previously brought Wolf Hall, The White Queen and The White Princess to the small screen. But adaptations, like every development project, are not a “one-size-fits-all process,” says Playground UK creative director Sophie Gardiner. “Sometimes we will commission a script before going to a broadcaster – maybe because nailing the tone is crucial to the pitch and you can’t do that in a treatment – but more often we prefer to work with a partner in the initial development.

“Not only does this mean you are on their radar and they are invested in it from the get-go, but they can often be genuinely helpful. However, there’s no doubt the SVoD firms are looking for material to be pretty well developed, and more packaged [compared with what traditional broadcasters want].”

The Ink Factory burst onto the television scene with award-winning John Le Carré adaptation The Night Manager in 2016 and is following up that miniseries by adapting two more Le Carré novels – The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Little Drummer Girl. Both are  again with Night Manager partners AMC and the BBC.

“Relationships with broadcasters are vital, and it is via those connections that we get to know each other and forge a sense of where our taste synthesises – and, from there, opportunities evolve,” explains Ink Factory head of development Emma Broughton. “Sometimes we will work on the seed of an idea and build it ground-up with a broadcaster. Some of our projects have broadcaster attachments before they have a writer or director. On other occasions, we will develop an idea ourselves to one or two shaped scripts and take those – with a series bible and, potentially, a director and cast attachments – to a broadcaster.”

Broughton says the development process has become “more innovative and collaborative,” thanks to opportunities to build stories not confined to the UK. But increasing competition means The Ink Factory must be more distinctive, original and bold in its ambitions, she adds.

Author Štěpán Hulík’s Pustina for HBO Europe

“It’s a terrific challenge,” the exec continues, “from bringing passion and vision when pitching in a highly competitive situation to secure a book, or developing projects that attract the most exciting and creative on- and off-screen talent. It’s all about the excellence of the work, being collaborative and honouring authorship.”

A “fairly traditional” approach to development is employed at Komixx Entertainment, which follows the tried-and-tested method of sourcing existing IP with a built-in audience and using recognised writers and producers. Keeping the original author of the IP closely involved is also seen as an important step to stay true to the material, in an effort to remove as much risk to broadcasters as possible.

What is different about Komixx, says Andrew Cole-Bulgin, group creative officer and head of film and TV, is where the company sources its IP, using both recognised authors such as Robert Muchamore (the Cherub series of novels) and new content from non-traditional publishers, such as self-publishing community Wattpad.

“As a young-adult producer, it’s crucial to consider that Generation Z is an audience made up of digital natives, so the best content comes from within their digital roots,” Cole-Bulgin argues. “Transitioning and retaining this audience from one digital platform, like Wattpad, to another, such as Netflix, is easier and more successful than pursuing a linear broadcasting approach.”

Komixx now has a raft of projects in development simultaneously, instead of focusing on a select few. Cole-Bulgin also believes the increasing power of SVoD platforms has transformed the production landscape, providing huge opportunities for producers. “As they look to quickly expand their libraries of content, we have to adapt our development method to fit their needs,” he notes.

Feature producer Vertigo Films has built its reputation on the back of Football Factory, Monsters and Bronson but is now breaking into TV with Sky Atlantic series Britannia. The epic Roman-era drama is set to debut in the UK early in 2018. Co-founder James Richardson says the firm is regularly “idea led,” often by the talent involved. “But every show needs to be somehow off-kilter – commercial but never straight,” he adds. “And we like projects that we feel we haven’t seen before, or that are tackling a subject we have seen before in a completely different way. Britannia, for example, subverts the historical genre.”

Vertigo has also had Sky pick up Bulletproof, a crime drama starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke and showrun by Nick Love. “Going from film to TV has been such an exciting transition creatively and I am in awe of execs in the TV world for creating shows over such a long space of time, since we have just had to make 90-minute films for most of Vertigo’s lifetime,” Richardson adds. “The process – and why we want to make a project – is the same, but there’s just more story, much more story.”

Looking forward, Richardson believes the development process for television drama, which can already take several years, will take even longer. “Getting projects to a place where they are ready before shooting – the film model – will become the norm for many shows. It makes a big, big difference.”

Komixx’s Cole-Bulgin concludes: “With companies like Facebook launching into the broadcast market, it will be fascinating to see how producers deal with the increasing demand for shortform scripted content for the audiences who are consuming their content via mobile platforms.”

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

Fiction favourites

Contemporary novelists have featured prominently in our last couple of columns. So in this week’s Writers Room, we take a look at some of the TV industry’s favourite authors when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen.

The only criterion for this list is that the writer is still alive, so that rules out anything involving popular sources such as Henning Mankell, Michael Crichton or Philip K Dick.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin

George RR Martin is the genius who gave us Game of Thrones, a phenomenal work of fantasy that spawned the hit HBO series of the same name. This week it was announced that he is now working with Universal Cable Productions on Wild Cards, a series that is based on another of his mythological worlds. On his personal blog, Martin described the project as “a series of interlocking books, graphic novels, games… but most of all it is a universe, as large and diverse and exciting as the comic book universes of Marvel and DC (though somewhat grittier, and considerably more realistic and more consistent), with an enormous cast of characters.”

Finding You
Finding You

Marc Levy battles it out with Guillaume Musso for the title of best-selling French author (though Levy is currently number one in terms of international sales). Both have had their novels adapted into films but so far only Levy has seen one of his novels adapted for the small screen. The title in question was Finding You, a 2001 work that was adapted for M6 in 2007. The French market’s recent renaissance in TV drama might lead to more book-to-TV adaptations for French authors.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel published her first novel in 1985 but it was 2009’s Wolf Hall that really established her in the front rank of contemporary novelists. This book, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, was then transformed into an award-winning BBC miniseries. Mantel is currently working on the third book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, which is called The Mirror and the Light. Both her and the BBC are keen for this to be turned into a sequel to the Wolf Hall miniseries. In the meantime, the BBC is developing another Mantel novel called A Place of Greater Safety, which is set during the French Revolution.

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of novels was adapted for TV in the 1990s and was briefly revived in 2006/2008. All told, it led to 16 TV movie length productions –  all starring Sean Bean. That might have been the last we saw of Cornwell’s work on TV, but in 2015 the BBC and Carnival Films created The Last Kingdom, based on his Saxon Stories. The show has been recommissioned for a second season and has the potential to run for a while, given that Cornwell is just about to publish the 10th book in the series. Cornwell has also written novels about Arthurian Britain, the American Civil War and The Hundred Years War, so don’t rule out another epic TV adaptation from this prolific writer.

Beck
Beck

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, from Sweden, are part of the rich tradition of Nordic crime writers that also includes Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson (who died in 2004) and Henning Mankell (who passed away in 2015). Their great creation is detective Martin Beck, the star of 10 novels written between 1965 and 1975 (the year Wahloo died, aged 48). The 10 Beck novels have been adapted numerous times for film and TV and have also spawned TV productions based on the central character. The most recent example was a series of eight TV films that aired on C More across 2015 and 2016. These were picked up by the BBC in the UK and rated pretty well. Sjowall is now 80.

zoo-cbs
Zoo

James Patterson, the world’s best-selling novelist, is working on a true-crime limited series with US cable network Investigation Discovery. However, his novels are also a regular source of inspiration for TV series. CBS’s Zoo, for example, is based on a 2012 novel by Patterson. His books have been used as the basis for TV and film productions since 1991 and include Women’s Murder Club, a series for ABC. In 2015, there was talk this show might be revived by USA Networks. Also on the cards is a CBS legal drama based on his novel Now You See Her. In 2015, another Patterson adaptation, For Justice, was piloted by CBS.

Mukul Deva has been described as India’s answer to Tom Clancy. A former army officer, he has written highly authentic military thrillers such as Lashkar, Salim Must Die, Blowback and Tanzeem. Given the strength of the Bollywood business in India, movie adaptations are most likely to be the first port of call for Deva’s books. Currently, there are plans for Lashkar to be turned into a film by Planman Motion Pictures. “Lashkar started getting offers from Bollywood within days of its release,” said HarperCollins India in a statement. “Deva is a very visual writer and his military background brings a lot of realism to his books. We had been waiting for a filmmaker with the right vision and drive and have full confidence that Planman will make a blockbuster movie.”

Elena Ferrante is a fascinating novelist who has written a number of acclaimed books. Despite being named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time in 2016, no one knows who she is – since Ferrante is a pseudonym. There has been speculation that the author is Italian professor Marcella Marmo, though this has been denied. Two of Ferrante’s novels have been turned into films. However, the big news is that FremantleMedia-owned Wildside and Fandango Productions are turning Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels into a 32-part TV series.

Flügel der Liebe
Pilcher’s Flügel der Liebe

Rosamunde Pilcher, born in Cornwall in 1924, is a romance writer whose novels are very popular in Germany. Public broadcaster ZDF has responded to this with a huge number of TV adaptations of her work. Starting with Day of the Storm, ZDF has adapted more than 100 of her stories, usually as TV movies. Pilcher, whose works are mainly set in Devon and Cornwall, retired from writing in 2000, but she continues to be popular with German audiences. In fact, a German film crew was in St Ives last spring to film a new story – one of many regular trips German crews make to the UK. Some Pilcher productions are also available via Acorn Media.

Does The Night Manager prove that international coproductions are the way forward for UK drama?
The Night Manager

John Le Carré is not only a giant of contemporary fiction, he is also one of the most adapted novelists ever – possibly only outdone by horror maestro Stephen King. His novels have been made into films pretty consistently for the last 50 years. In TV, he had a purple patch from 1979 to 1991 but then went quiet. This year, however, he came back with a bang as The Night Manager became one of the year’s most talked-about dramas. Now, The Night Manager producer The Ink Factory is planning a TV version of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. To date, Le Carre’s film count is 10 and his TV series count is five. He has written 23 books, so there is plenty of potential for new stories (or updates of some of the older screen adaptations).

Nermin Bezman wrote bestselling novel Kurt Seyit ve Sura in 1992. A lavish period piece, it was transformed into a TV series for Star TV by Ay Yapim in 2014 and ran for two seasons. Turkey has a rich tradition of novelists, but the best-known living authors (Orhan Pamuk, Selcuk Altun, Elif Safak) are rarely adapted for TV. A key reason for this is that their work is often too politically sensitive for the tastes of Turkey’s TV censors. In general, Turkish broadcasters tend to turn to historical writers like Halit Ziya Usakligil for inspiration. Bezman has written a number of novels, including The Wings of my Mind and The Devil’s Failure.

Cloudstreet
Cloudstreet

Tim Winton burst onto the Australian writing scene in 1981 and has never looked back. Outside Australia, his reputation received a major boost when Dirt Music was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2001. However, he was already a major success at home thanks to his 1991 novel Cloudstreet, the story of two working-class families rebuilding their lives. Cloudstreet was turned into a TV miniseries in 2011, with Winton writing the script alongside Ellen Fontana. Winton’s children’s books, the Lockie Leonard series, was also adapted by Nine Network. More generally, Winton’s work is adapted for film (Shallows, Breath), though some of his works have also been made as operas.

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

Le Carré and Les Misérables in le news

John Le Carré's works have proved popular among TV producers
John Le Carré’s works have proved popular among TV producers

UK producers have carved out a strong reputation for sophisticated high-end dramas that travel well internationally – and a number of new scripted projects announced this week should further enhance the industry’s reputation.

Pick of the bunch is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a new John Le Carré adaptation from The Ink Factory, the company behind acclaimed BBC1/AMC coproduction The Night Manager – also a Le Carré adaptation.

The new production will be penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) but has yet to be placed with a broadcaster. Stephen Garrett’s new indie Character 7 will assist with financing and production, while Paramount Worldwide Television Licensing and Distribution has already been lined up to handle distribution of the series outside of the UK.

Regarded as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold follows a British intelligence operative who seeks revenge on the East German intelligence service deputy director responsible for the death of one of his agents. It was written in 1963 and adapted into an acclaimed film in 1965.

Meanwhile, the BBC, The Weinstein Company and Lookout Point are moving forward with a new TV series based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which until now has been best known to most people as a musical/musical film. Andrew Davies, who worked with the BBC, TWC and Lookout Point on an epic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, will write what is expected to be a six-part miniseries.

The 2012 film version of Les Misérables
The 2012 film version of Les Misérables

Commenting on the project, he said: “Les Misérables is a huge, iconic title. Most of us are familiar with the musical version, which only offers a fragmentary outline of its story. I am thrilled to have the opportunity of doing real justice to Victor Hugo by adapting his masterpiece in a six-hour version for the BBC, with the same team who made War and Peace.”

Also coming out of the UK this week is news of a planned adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ classic mystery story The Moonstone by the BBC. Described by TS Eliot as “the first and greatest of English Detective novels,” The Moonstone sees adventurer Franklin Blake attempting to solve the disappearance of the priceless Moonstone and win back Rachel Verinder, his true love.

The Moonstone will broadcast over five consecutive afternoons on BBC1, and is made in association with BBC Learning as part of the BBC’s #LoveToRead campaign.

It is being adapted for the screen by Rachel Flowerday (Father Brown, EastEnders) and Sasha Hails (Versailles, Casualty) and made by King Bert Productions.

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC daytime and early peak, said: “The Moonstone spawned a new genre: the detective novel. Its influence endures to the present day, in books and on television. With the help of BBC Learning, we are offering BBC1 viewers the chance to see this gripping story play out across five afternoons. Our viewers are in for a treat.”

The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four
The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four

Still in the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 has ordered a second crime drama from author Harlan Coben and Red Production Company.

The new show, The Four, will be an eight-part thriller that tells the story of an idyllic family community irrevocably shattered by secrets, lies, suspicions and misguided trust. It follows on from Coben’s first original story for TV, The Five, which debuted in April on Sky1. As with The Five, the idea for The Four will be provided by Coben but the script will be written by Danny Brocklehurst.

Red CEO and founder Nicola Shindler said: “When Harlan told me about the premise for his latest story, I knew it would be just as addictive viewing as The Five. As with all his work, it is utterly intriguing, totally immersive and completely character-driven.”

Coben added: “I never wanted to make a sequel to The Five – that story has now been told – but rather to start afresh and bring a whole new crime drama to the screen. Working with Nicola and Sky again was essential to ensure that, creatively, The Four is brought to life in the way that we have imagined.”

Meanwhile, in the US, NBC has commissioned a true crime scripted series that will form part of its hugely successful Law & Order franchise. Law & Order: True Crime – The Menendez Murders will follow the real-life case of Lyle and Erik Menendez, the brothers convicted of murdering their parents in 1996.

The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents
The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents

The show is the first in a planned anthology series that will follow real-life criminal cases in a similar style to FX’s American Crime Story. Rene Balcer, who has played a central role in the development of Law & Order, will write and show the new spin-off, which is expected to consist of eight parts.

As we noted in our last column, the entertainment industry has been busy with San Diego Comic-Con for the last few days. Increasingly the event is viewed by studios an important platform for news about the future for TV shows.

Pay TV channel Syfy, for example, announced that it is bringing back Wynonna Earp for a second season, while Netflix revealed there will be a third season of its Marvel series Daredevil. There were also reports at Comic-Con that Netflix will provide a home for a reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a 1980s/1990s comedy series that has been brought back to life thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Comic-Con also threw up rumours that Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood may return. The show’s star John Barrowman said: “I have a phone conversation on Monday to see how we can get it back on television. The fans know me well enough, I’m only going to say it if I mean it and believe it.”

John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return
John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return

Away from Comic-Con, USA Network is reported to be developing a drama series set centred on a bodybuilding gym with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The show, which has a working title of Muscle Beach, will be based in LA’s Venice Beach during the 1980s. CBS is also reported to be working on a Venice Beach-set bodybuilding drama called Pump with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Konyves.

Finally, in Asia, HBO has started production on a Chinese original series called The Psychic. The show, which has been developed by HBO Asia in partnership with Taiwanese broadcaster Public Television Service (PTS) and Singaporean production company InFocus Asia centres on a teenage girls who can see spirits.

Jonathan Spink, CEO of HBO Asia, said: “Asia’s rich diversity offers inspiration for countless of stories waiting to be told and local talents to be discovered. Through collaborating with PTS and remarkable talents in Taiwan to increase our production of local-language content, HBO Asia is perfectly placed to bring our creative spin to The Psychic for regional audiences.” The series will be shot in Taiwan and aired by HBO Asia in 23 territories.

Jessie Shih, director of international at PTS, added: “I am very happy to announce PTS’s first collaboration with HBO Asia on their first Chinese original series, also their first Taiwan series, working with a young and upcoming local team, bridging the gap between television and film with the talented mix of crew and actors. Cultivating local young talents and helping them to connect with the international industry is PTS’s top priority. I believe this HBO/PTS collaboration, in partnership with IFA, will lead the local Taiwanese industry to greater heights.”

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