Tag Archives: The Terror

Terror strikes again

The second season of US drama The Terror lands in 1940s America, where a Japanese-American community is confronted by horrors both human and supernatural. Showrunner Alexander Woo tells DQ about the real-life experiences that influenced the programme.

Through stunning set design and special effects, standout writing and stellar performances, the first season of anthology series The Terror transported viewers to 1846, telling the story of an Arctic expedition led by two British naval ships and their crews’ fight for survival against inhospitable conditions, their fellow sailors and a mysterious predator.

Alexander Woo

That the horror story was rooted in reality, based on the true story of a voyage led by HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to find the Northwest Passage, might be one of the few elements that link it to season two, which tells a brand new story set within the Japanese-American community during the Second World War.

“If you’re a fan of season one and loved all the wonderful writing, performances and the gorgeous storytelling, you’ll be blessed,” showrunner Alexander Woo tells DQ. “But we have a completely different cast, crew and team of writers.

“However, our season shares a good deal of DNA with season one, certainly in the theme of the anthology, which is telling a historical story using a [horror] genre vocabulary. Both stories are about a group of people who are aliens in an unfriendly land, in a place where they are not welcome and what becomes of them and how much the horror is as much a human horror as a supernatural one.”

Season two, subtitled Infamy, centres on a series of bizarre deaths that haunt a Japanese-American community living in California and one man’s journey to understand and combat the malevolent entity responsible.

Most striking is the parallel story that depicts the internment of Japanese Americans following the 1941 attack by Japanese forces on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, which led to hundreds of thousands of people – both immigrants and US citizens – sent away to camps, which are recreated for the screen in meticulous detail and astonishing scale.

“The story of the internment is one of the most painful and under-told parts of our American history, so if we were going to tell a story of Americanness and what it means to be an American then the story of 125,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were citizens and born in this country, being suddenly incarcerated by their own government would seem to be as poignant and relevant a story as you could find,” Woo explains. “Beyond that, the strategy of the show from the beginning was to use the genre vocabulary, the vocabulary of Japanese kaidan (ghost stories) and Japanese horror movies like The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water as an analogy for the terror of the historical experience.”

The Terror: Infamy’s cast is led by Derek Mio as Chester Nakayama

With the current state of US politics and the White House’s hardline approach to immigration as a backdrop, Woo admits there are obvious similarities between the experiences depicted in The Terror and life today. “We never make any reference to it because obviously no one in 1941/42 would know what the world would be like in 2019,” he continues. “So we concentrated on telling that story, but the echoes to the present day are there for anyone who wishes to hear them.”

An AMC Studios production in partnership with Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360D, the new season entered development 18 months ago when co-creator and fellow executive producer Max Borenstein (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island) first pitched the idea US cable network AMC, which was looking for a follow-up story to season one. But when Borenstein’s schedule didn’t allow him to write the pilot or run the show, Woo, who was developing his own shows separately with AMC, was asked to look at Borenstein’s “fantastic” series treatment.

“I will confess to a little bit of hesitation at first because I’m not Japanese American. I’m Chinese American. However, after spending time with it and doing a rather deep dive into the history, I realised that although this was the story of Japanese Americans, it was not necessarily only a story for Japanese Americans,” says Woo, a playwright whose theatre work has often touched on themes of what it is to be American.

“It’s a story for anyone whose life has been shaped or touched by the immigrant experience and that, in the US at least, is just about everyone. You don’t have to go back very far in anyone’s family to find someone who has made sacrifices to come to this country and make a better life for themselves.”

Star Trek legend George Takei also features among the cast

At the centre of the story is Chester Nakayama, played by Derek Mio (Greek), who considers himself entirely American and rejects the cultures and beliefs of his parents, who emigrated to the US from Japan. He feels he fully belongs in the US, until the day his country tells him he doesn’t.

“He has to come to terms with this very quickly,” Woo says. “On the one side, in the literal, historical sense, he, along with all the other Japanese Americans in the country, are imprisoned. They are labelled as ‘enemy aliens,’ even though in Chester’s case and in the case of most of the people who were interned, they were citizens of the country and had shown no sign of being an enemy of the people in any sense.

“Then, on the supernatural arc, he has to come to grips with the realisation that these spirits, these unquantifiable entities that his parents keep talking about, may very well be real, and he is not going to be able to keep those he loves safe unless he comes to grips with the notion of their existence. So that requires a paradigm shift in his thinking that those old-world ways may not be so backward.”

Casting has been key to the show. Alongside Mio are Kiki Sukezane (Lost in Space) as Yuko, a mysterious woman from Chester’s past; Miki Ishikawa (9-1-1) as Amy, a Nakayama family friend; Shingo Usami (Unbroken) as Henry Nakayama, Chester’s father; and Naoko Mori (Everest) as Asako Nakayama, Chester’s mother. Woo says it was crucial that The Terror had a core cast of Japanese-American actors and others of Japanese descent, which led to searches in Tokyo, LA, Hawaii, Australia, the UK and Vancouver, where the series was filmed.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is that 100% of our Japanese characters in our show are played by actors of full or partial Japanese ancestry, which is not an easy thing to do,” the showrunner says. “We had to search the entire planet. But I’m so proud of the cast we had.”

The drama is built around the internment of Japanese Americans in the US

As he discovered, many of the cast were able to bring their own experiences and stories of the internment to the series and their performances. Mio is a fourth-generation Japanese American. He plays the son of a fisherman from Terminal Island, on the outskirts of LA, when in fact his own grandfather was a fisherman on Terminal Island who was sent to the Manzanar camp after Pearl Harbor.

Co-star George Takei, famous for his role as Sulu in Star Trek, was imprisoned in two camps as a child following the outbreak of war. He plays Yamato-san, a former fishing captain and community elder, and also worked as a historical consultant on the series.

Links to this period of history aren’t limited to the cast, however. Director Josef Kubota Wladyka’s grandfather is a survivor of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. Fellow director Lily Mariye’s grandfather died in camp due to poor medical care, while her mother’s family were interned at Tule Lale, a high-security camp notable for housing ‘radicals.’ Her father came from Hiroshima and lost his whole family when the bomb hit.

“So many Japanese Americans have been touched and affected by this experience that almost no matter who you cast, there is a connection to the internment,” Woo says. “It really did make it special, much more than I could have even imagined.

“Right after we had wrapped, one of the background actors told me his parents were interned as young children and were detained at the very same racetrack where we shot our racetrack scene in episode two, where some of the Japanese-American community are being kept while the camps are being built. Working on our show, he was there with two suitcases getting ready to board a bus and at that moment; he was walking quite literally in the same footsteps as his parents and understood what they had gone through. That’s why this is so special.”

Kiki Sukezane plays Yuko in the second season of the AMC anthology

Having worked alongside Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball for five years on vampire drama True Blood, Woo says his approach in the writers room is not to flesh out every detail, instead leaving the individual episode writers the freedom and flexibility to bring their own ideas to the story.

Filming, which kicked off in January this year, took place over 86 days in Vancouver, which was transformed into, among other locations, 1940s wartime California, New Mexico, South Dakota, Japan and the South Pacific.

“It was an unusually cold winter. We had one day of shooting where it was supposed to be June 1942 and it was snowing buckets – we ended up not shooting anything that day because there was no way we could possibly make that snowstorm feel like it made any sense in the South Pacific in June,” recalls Woo, who champions the work of production designer Jonathan McKinstry, cinematographers John Conroy and Barry Dunleavy and costume designer Tish Monaghan in creating the world of the series, which is distributed internationally by AMC Studios Content Distribution.

“It was such a treat for the eyes, far beyond anything I could come up with in the little theatre in my mind. But also our our visual effects department were able to build out all the things we were not practically able to complete ourselves. An internment camp is hundreds upon hundreds of structures, and you cannot practically build that. It would be pointless to do so, so we built a section of the camp, but a large amount of it is done in CG to make it resemble a facility that is made up of buildings and people as far as the eye can see.

“There is a moment in our season where Chester goes up into the guard tower and, for the first time, he sees just the scale of this place, which he’s never able to from the ground, and it’s breathtaking how large it is. That, of course, is the down to the visual effects department.”

Between the supernatural and historical stories in play, there are plenty of ways viewers can enter the world of The Terror. “But whichever way one approaches the show, I hope what we do through the atmosphere and the scares is build a real empathy for the people who lived through this experience,” Woo adds. “Maybe, by extension, viewers will feel something for the people who are suffering this plight today too.”

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Horrible history

Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies lead a perilous journey into the frozen unknown in historical horror The Terror. The actors, director Edward Berger and co-showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh tell DQ about making the 10-part event series.

No one survived the Arctic expedition led by HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to chart the Northwest Passage, that much is certain. More than 100 men – officers and crew – died when their ships became ice-locked in the frozen waters, leaving them to fend for themselves in the inhospitable and unforgiving environment.

Inspired by this true story, and Dan Simmons’ book on the doomed exploratory voyage, US cable network AMC imagines those aboard the ships fighting for survival against the treacherous conditions, their fellow sailors and a mysterious predator in 10-part event series The Terror.

The drama stars Jared Harris (Mad Men) as Francis Crozier, captain of HMS Terror and second in command of the expedition behind Sir John Franklin (Game of Thrones’ Ciarán Hinds).

Tobias Menzies (Outlander) also stars as Captain James Fitzjames, with Paul Ready (Cuffs) as Dr Harry Goodsir, Adam Nagaitis (Suffragette) as Cornelius Hickey, Nive Nielsen (The New World) as Lady Silence, Ian Hart (Neverland) as Thomas Blanky and Trystan Gravelle (Mr Selfridge) as Henry Collins.

Jared Harris in as Captain Francis Crozier in The Terror

Filmed in Budapest, The Terror comes from co-showrunners David Kajganich (True Story, A Bigger Splash) and Soo Hugh (The Whispers, The Killing), who executive produce with Ridley Scott, David W Zucker, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert and Guymon Casady. The series is produced by Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360. AMC Studios is the distributor.

Kajganich had been “obsessed” by the real events behind the story and scored an advance copy of Simmons’ book, hoping to adapt it as a feature film. Looking back now, though, he admits it would have been “drastic” to cut so much from the story to ensure it fitted a two-hour running time.

“It’s such an amazing combination of character drama and genre, and you don’t get those projects very often,” he says. “Even in Hollywood, it’s rare a book this good and this spooky and wonderful and a weird mix of genres comes along. There are certainly things in the book that were unfilmmable but what we found is where there’s a will, there’s a way. Everything we wanted to shoot we found a way to do it. People came to this knowing it would exhaust them but it would be fun in the most enjoyable, aggressively creative way.”

But when the project crossed over to television, Kajganich knew he couldn’t do it on his own. “When I met Soo, I knew in 25 seconds this was the best I could hope for,” he says. Hugh jokes: “We got married knowing very little about one another but it worked. We missed the courtship.”

Working with four others in the writers room, they broke stories together and split up the episodes. But as present-day excavations uncovered more secrets about the fates of the Erebus and Terror, the scripts continued to evolve right up until they were committed to film. That meant the showrunners found themselves doing a lot of rewriting, long after the other writers had moved on to other projects.

The AMC drama was shot in Budapest

Kajganich says: “We talked a lot about every character and when is the moment that they realised they’d stepped from a high adventure story into a horror movie. It’s different for every character and some characters never cross that line, either because they never see the world that way or they refuse to. And that speaks to the warmth of these people. They thought they were going to live, most of them until the very end. They brought with them their ingenuity, their humour, their humanity. We wanted those things to be more important than any plot demands of a horror show, so we wanted to make sure the characters were driving the genre elements of the show, that it didn’t get out of hand and start leading the characters around.

Hugh adds: “A lot of the horror elements, aside from the creature, are fact. We knew there was scurvy aboard, we knew there was at least some blood poisoning, we knew there was botchalism, so in terms of the horror foundations, it was all there. We didn’t have to make that stuff up, it’s real.”

Directing three episodes is Edward Berger (Deutschland 83, Patrick Melrose), who says he was immediately fascinated by the script, which portrayed a world he knew nothing about.

“I read it and thought, ‘This is great. How in the hell do I do this?’” he admits. “I knew we would do everything in the studio and then to figure out how to make it was really difficult, challenging and scary.

“I remember in July 2016, we flew to Budapest and stood in this black-hole studio. This was where they were supposed to die and eat each other but there was nothing there. It’s just scary because you don’t know how it’s going to look.”

The historical horror also stars Game of Thrones duo Tobias Menzies (left) and Ciáran Hinds

Meetings followed between his DOP Florian Hoffmeister, production designer Jonathan McKinstry and costume designer Annie Symons, after which Berger retreated to spend two months designing storyboards. Then when he returned to Budapest, the world of The Terror was starting to take shape.

“Suddenly there’s a ship in the studio and there’s ice all around it,” he says. “There’s 100 people sewing costumes and you suddenly realise it’s becoming a reality.”

Budapest is well regarded among filmmakers for its good crews, support system and tax breaks, but the location also held a special significance on The Terror, as it was also where executive producer Scott directed The Martian.

“The Martian is basically the same idea [as The Terror] – a guy on Mars, all shot in a studio, and we said OK, it worked for Mars, let’s do it for the Arctic,” says Berger, who describes Scott as the “godfather” of the series.

“He was the inspiration for a lot of things, starting with [1979 sci-fi classic] Alien. It’s a similar story to Alien – a movie that very much inspired this down to quotes or certain scenes. There’s a scene in the beginning where one of the sailors spits blood and so it’s a homage to Alien. So he’s the spiritual godfather for Dave, Soo and I for this in terms of story and script. But he was very hands off in production. He left us to it.”

The slow-burn story unfolds across 10 episodes

The series, which airs outside the US in 28 territories on Amazon Prime Video, is presented with a desaturated, bluish look to heighten the sense of cold and loneliness felt by the sailors stranded in the Arctic. But early in filming during the Hungarian winter, relatively few effects were needed to portray the cold surroundings, owing to the frosty temperatures inside the studio.

“In the beginning it was freezing cold,” recalls Harris, who describes the crew as the “rock stars” of their day. “They saved themselves a lot of money because our breath was misting up as it would come out. Those ships looked amazing and each of the decks was its own separate set, on its own sound stage, and the ice stage looked amazing so it was exciting to be there. They would have shot in the Arctic if the cameras wouldn’t have frozen.

“We also had an understanding of the claustrophobia. You start to imagine they would have spent all this time in this one space, locked in the ice for a year-and-a-half but on board these ships for between five and seven years.

Menzies adds: “Often there was no acting needed because once you got a crew and all the actors in, it was absolutely jammed. And one of the things the creators of this show have done brilliantly is really evoking a lot of those details of what it was like to be close to each other, the physical realities. Imagine the smell! If we can take an audience some way into what that would have been like, it’s going to be a rich experience.”

That experience will be all the richer if viewers stick with the show through its entire run, with cast and crew highlighting the slow pace of the series, which focuses on the characters and their increasingly strained relationships as they come to terms with the perilous situation they find themselves in.

“The pacing of this show could not have existed five or 10 years ago, because we are standing on the shoulders of some great television that really has taught audiences to wait and you will be rewarded,” Hugh says. “The last three episodes, thankfully, AMC supported us so they’re longer than the traditional format and when you see them you’ll understand why. It’s a different experience. It almost feels like a standalone movie. It’s an epic.”

Menzies agrees. “I’m very excited by the slow-burn nature of what we’ve made,” he says. “It will reward attention and people staying in it – and I feel, story-wise, that reaches deeper places than if it’s too ‘surface’ and too quick and too cokey in its rhythms. But that’s the kind of storytelling I like so I tend to be drawn to those projects.”

Ultimately, Berger says The Terror is proof of what can happen when writers are allowed to dream. “What I learned from the American writing is almost anything you can imagine, anything you can write, you can also film,” he says. “Growing up in Germany, you’re limited in your resources. So these kinds of ideas you never dare to dream. You just shut them out of your mind. So that’s why when I read the first script I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? How do you shoot that?’ I’ve never read something like that in Germany. It’s not as liberated or free in terms of fantasy.”

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Stars on show

Television held its own at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world as an array of talent and some stunning new shows landed in Germany for Berlinale’s fourth annual Drama Series Days. DQ was in town to find out more.

For those in the television industry, the chance to rub shoulders with A-list movie stars might once have seemed a pipe dream. But for anyone who attended the Berlin International Film Festival this week, that dream was very much a reality.

Now in its fourth year, Berlinale’s Drama Series Days has established itself as one of the premier television events around the world as the German capital rolls out the red carpet for stars of the big screen – and small.

To find yourself caught up in a maelstrom of photographers’ flash bulbs and screaming and cheering fans might not be an unusual event at a film festival. But to then peer over the barriers and find the stars of Australian drama Picnic at Hanging Rock posing for the cameras is proof that television is now assured of the same reverence as cinema. And for good reason. The talent the industry is able to attract is of a level never seen before in terms of movie stars signing up for longer-form storytelling. The productions themselves are also worthy of acclaim, with the word ‘cinematic’ a staple adjective regularly dished out to describe the scale of dramas now on screen.

Six-part miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock stars Natalie Dormer

Picnic at Hanging Rock, which will air on Foxtel in Australia later this year and is distributed by FremantleMedia, is a case in point. Game of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer turns in a standout performance as Hester Appleyard, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school that faces tragedy when three pupils disappear during a picnic at the titular rock. The series also pops with colour and visual flair thanks to director Larysa Kondracki, making it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Weir’s celebrated 1975 film adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel, which also serves as the source of the television reimagining.

The six-part miniseries – there will be no sequel that goes beyond the book, delegates in Berlin were told – was one of seven screenings that took place as part of the Berlinale Series programme, highlighting some of the biggest new dramas from around the world.

Others included Israeli psychological thriller Sleeping Bears, written and directed by Keren Magalit (Yellow Peppers, The A Word), and Bad Banks. The latter is described as a six-part Machiavellian thriller set in the ruthless world of international finance and the stock market. Produced by Letterbox Filmproduktion and Iris Production for ZDF (Germany) and Arte (France), it has already been picked up by HBO Europe, Walter Presents UK, RTÉ in Ireland, Sundance TV Iberia and RTP in Portugal ahead of its debut next month.

Two new Scandinavian dramas were also selected. Heimebane (Home Ground) tackles gender issues as a female football coach becomes the first woman to take charge of a men’s team in the Norwegian premier league. Already commissioned for a second season by NRK, it stars Ane Dahl Torp and former footballer John Carew, well known to fans in Europe after playing for sides including Valencia and Aston Villa, as well as the Norway national team.

Heimebane is about a female football coach and also features ex-player John Carew (left)

Meanwhile, amid talk of Scandi broadcasters losing interest in what the rest of the world calls Nordic noir, one show is set to push new boundaries at Danish net DR. Known for its original series including Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen and Broen (The Bridge), DR’s forthcoming drama Liberty stands out as something totally different for the channel. It also marks a rare book adaptation to land on the network.

Based on Jakob Ejersbo’s novel, it follows a group of Scandinavian expats living and working in Tanzania, and explores themes of corruption, identity, morals and friendship. Hollywood actor Connie Nielsen joined fellow cast members including Carsten Bjørnlund plus creator Asger Leth and director Mikael Marcimain on the red carpet in Berlin.

The Berlinale official selection was completed by two new US series, showcasing the vast range of storytelling television now affords. The Looming Tower, debuting next month on US streamer Hulu and showcased in Berlin by European partner Amazon, is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Lawrence Wright. The story traces the rising threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and how the rivalry between the FBI and CIA at that time may have set the path for tragedy on 9/11.

Stars Jeff Daniels, Ali Soufan, Peter Sarsgaard and showrunner Dan Futterman (pictured top) were in Germany to promote the show, which injects reality into a Homeland-style political thriller.

Tobias Menzies (left) and Jared Harris in forthcoming AMC drama The Terror

At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is The Terror, AMC’s take on the true story of the crews of two British Royal Navy ships that attempt to discover the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s. This isn’t just another historical drama, however. Faced with treacherous conditions, limited resources and a fear of the unknown, the crew members are pushed to the brink of extinction as they face all kinds of dangers, from both human and otherworldly sources.

The mix of horror and the supernatural, coupled with the eerie Arctic landscapes, certainly makes this show one to watch, with co-showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh promising to reward viewers through the 10-part series, which features Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander) among the ensemble cast.

The strength of the drama on show this week in Berlin and the number of small-screen stars descending upon the city were proof of television’s strength at an event usually revered as one of the most prestigious film festivals on the international circuit. With more film talent on both sides of the camera now championing the opportunities offered by longform storytelling, and the chance to develop characters across more than a two-hour period, coupled with television’s new openness to genre and plot, expect to see television play an even greater role in at Berlinale in 2019.

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YouTube takes scripted Step

Channing Tatum and wife Jenna Dewan Tatum in the Step Up movie
Channing Tatum and wife Jenna Dewan Tatum in the Step Up movie

The scripted TV business received another boost this week with the news that YouTube has moved into original scripted programming for the first time.

Unveiling a slate of six shows across a range of genres, it revealed that its paid-for service YouTube Red has ordered a TV adaptation of Step Up, the popular street dance movie franchise that featured Channing Tatum.

The series, to be made by Lionsgate TV, will follow dancers in a contemporary performing arts school. Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum, who starred in the original movie, will executive produce.

So far, the US$10-per-month service has focused on shows starring top YouTubers such as Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. However, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has given a strong indication that scripted content will play an increasingly big part in her plans.

Unveiling the slate, which also included a scripted comedy called Rhett & Link’s Buddy System, she said original series and movies are one of the leading drivers of YouTube Red subscriptions, “with viewership that rivals similar cable shows.” Interestingly, more than half of people watching Red originals are doing so via mobile phones – suggesting there may be a future for vertical video.

The Frankenstein Chronicles stars Sean Bean (centre)
ITV Encore’s The Frankenstein Chronicles stars Sean Bean (centre)

Still in the world of streamers, SVoD behemoth Netflix announced that it is backing a true crime drama based on Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace.

The novel follows Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant living in Canada who, along with stablehand James McDermott, was convicted in 1843 of murdering her employers. The six-part miniseries will be written and produced by Sarah Polley and will air on Canadian public broadcaster CBC in Canada. Netflix will stream it worldwide.

Also this week, JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot has linked up with US talkshow host Tavis Smiley on a miniseries about the death of music icon Michael Jackson.

The series is based on Smiley’s book Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days. Abrams and Smiley are also working on a TV version of the Smiley’s 2014 book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Final Year.

Elsewhere, it has been a busy week for ITV’s pay TV channel ITV Encore, which has announced a series renewal and a miniseries commission. The renewal is for Rainmark Films’ well-received period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles, which stars Sean Bean and was created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford.

Billed as a “thrilling and terrifying reimaging of the Frankenstein story,” the first season followed detective John Marlott, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo who was battling his own demons and is haunted by the loss of his wife and child. In pursuit of a chilling and diabolical killer, Marlott’s investigation took him into the most exalted rooms and darkest corners of Georgian London, a world of body snatchers, anatomists and scientists whose interests came together in the market for dead bodies.

The new series has been commissioned for ITV by controller of drama Victoria Fea and commissioning editor Sarah Conroy. Production is set to begin in Northern Ireland in January 2017.

Suffer the Children is being adapted into a series called Dark Heart
Suffer the Children is being adapted into a series called Dark Heart

“We are thrilled to be working once more with Sean Bean in the role of John Marlott, who is a returning hero like no other,” said executive producer Tracey Scoffield. “With the continued support of ITV and (the show’s distributor) Endemol Shine International we want to be more ambitious than ever.”

ITV also announced a new two-hour crime thriller for ITV Encore entitled Dark Heart. In this production, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demon, Monroe) plays Will Wagstaffe, a workaholic detective leading the investigation into the deaths of two unconvicted paedophiles.

The two-hour drama, set in London, is written by acclaimed writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten, A Mother’s Son) and based on the novel Suffer the Children by Adam Creed.

Dark Heart is an ITV Studios production for ITV Encore. It is executive produced by Lang, Kate Bartlett (Jericho, Vera) and Michael Dawson (Vera, Holby City). The producer is Chris Clough (The Missing, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) and the director is Colin Teague (Jekyll & Hyde, Da Vinci’s Demons).

ITV Studios’ Bartlett said: “Chris Lang has written a truly compelling and atmospheric script. Adam Creed created a fascinating character in Will Wagstaffe with so many layers, and Chris has brilliantly brought him to screen. We’re thrilled Tom Riley is playing him.”

Still on the subject of novel adaptations, there are reports this week that Endemol Shine-owned drama label Kudos has picked up the rights to Robert Harris’s best-selling Ancient Rome-based Cicero Trilogy, which comprises the novels Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator. No broadcaster is attached and Kudos is yet to decide on the format of the adaptation, but the project is likely to attract interest given the calibre of those involved.

Das Boot the movie was released in 1981
Das Boot the movie was released in 1981

In a busy week for new production announcements, pan-European satellite broadcaster Sky and Germany’s Bavaria Film announced that they are developing a €25m (US$27.5m) TV series based on the classic wartime submariner novels Das Boot and Die Festung by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The series is being set up as a sequel to the 1981 film version of Buchmein’s novels.

Set in 1942 during the Second World War, the eight-hour series will focus mainly on the German point of view as submarine warfare became increasingly ferocious. Tony Saint (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, The Interceptor) and Johannes W Betz (The Tunnel, The Spiegel Affair) have been signed up as head writers, while Oliver Vogel and Moritz Polter are attached as executive producers.

Christian Franckenstein, CEO of Bavaria Film, said: “The 1981 film Das Boot is unique, and we are approaching our work with the greatest of respect for this masterpiece. We want to build on the strong brand of Das Boot, telling the story in a contemporary manner by making use of every filmmaking and storytelling technique available to us.”

Still in Germany, UFA Fiction has just unveiled plans to make a film biopic based on the lives of magicians Siegfried and Roy, two of the few truly global celebrities Germany has ever produced.

Siegfried & Roy
Siegfried & Roy

The film, which will likely be extended into a miniseries for television, will be directed by Philipp Stölzl (Winnetou, Young Goethe in Love, North Face) and scripted by Jan Berger.

Nico Hofmann, UFA producer and co-CEO, commented: “The prospect of working with Siegfried and Roy is the fulfilment of a long-held dream. It’s not only the story of two Germans who became world famous but a plunge into the world of magic and illusion. The lifework of Siegfried and Roy derives from an almost inexhaustible store of energy and creativity. This is the story of two men who set new, never repeated standards in the tough world of show business.”

Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Horn met on a cruise ship in 1960, where they developed their first joint show, driven by their shared passion for the art of magic and illusion. They had their international breakthrough in 1966 at a charity show in Monte Carlo. From 1990, they had their own show at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas featuring white tigers, which became their trademark. The spectacular Siegfried and Roy Show was one of the most elaborate stage shows ever. On October 3, 2003, however, the artists’ unique career was brought to an abrupt halt when Roy was critically injured by his favourite tiger, Montecore.

Alongside all of the above production activity, it has also been a busy week for distributors. ITV’s Maigret has been sold by distributor BBC Worldwide to broadcasters including Channel One in Russia, NRK in Norway, TVNZ in New Zealand, RTÉ in Ireland, Finland’s YLE and Prima TV in the Czech Republic. Simultaneously, StudioCanal has sold Section Zéro to Channel One Russia.

AMC’s international network AMC Global, meanwhile, today announced that it has acquired the upcoming anthology drama series The Terror, an adaption of the bestselling novel by Dan Simmons. Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360 are producing the 10-episode drama, which will premiere globally within minutes of its broadcast on AMC in the US.

Is there still hope for Hannibal?
Is there still hope for Hannibal?

Written for TV by David Kajganich, the series is set in 1847, when a Royal Naval expedition crew searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks the ships and their crew in a desperate game of survival.

“We’re very excited to bring this gripping dramatic story to AMC Global,” commented Harold Gronenthal,  exec VP of programming and operations for AMC and Sundance Channel Global. “With a distinctive combination of science fiction and historical non-fiction, The Terror will complement AMC Global series as Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands.”

Finally, there are reports this week that showrunner Bryan Fuller is still hoping to revive serial killer drama Hannibal. The show was cancelled by NBC after three seasons but Fuller said there might be room for a revival in late 2017 – once he has dealt with the small matter of a Star Trek reboot for CBS and Starz’ American Gods.

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AMC feels Terror as Soderbergh goes west

Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh

US cable channel AMC is making headlines again this week by commissioning a 10-part anthology series based on a 2007 novel by Dan Simmons called The Terror.

Set in 1847, The Terror unfolds as a Royal Naval expedition searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks their ships and crew. The show continues the recent fascination with thrillers set against a backdrop of snow and ice (Fargo, Fortitude, Trapped and Liam Neeson movie The Grey, to name a few).

The Terror is being exec produced by Ridley Scott and will be adapted for the screen by David Kajganich, whose recent credits include the movie The Bigger Splash. Kajganich will also be a co-showrunner with Soo Hugh.

Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, said: “Originality is still something that gets our attention every day, and the very unique mixing of historical non-fiction with a gripping and imaginative science-fiction overlay in Dan’s novel is something we hadn’t seen before. That, combined with an exceptional team behind the project, made this something we really wanted to bring to air on AMC.”

Meanwhile, Netflix has ordered an original western series from director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. Called Godless, it is set in a 19th century New Mexico mining town.

As yet there are no more details. However, the news is generating a lot of excitement because of the Soderbergh/Frank link-up. The last time they worked together was on the acclaimed movie Out of Sight. Since then, Soderbergh has shifted much of his energy in the direction of TV with shows such as The Knick, while Frank has been screenwriting movies including Minority Report, The Wolverine and Marley & Me.

Fuller House has already been given a second run on Netflix
Fuller House, a revival of Full House, has already been given a second run on Netflix

Netflix has also renewed its revival of US family sitcom Full House for a second season. The reboot, titled Fuller House, follows a pregnant and recently widowed woman who is living with her younger sister, best friend and teenage daughter. They all help to raise her two boys and prepare for the birth of the new baby. The original Full House aired on US network ABC from 1987 to 1995.

Elsewhere, projects now getting kickstarted out of the UK include Tina and Bobby, a three-part drama from ITV that will celebrate the life of England football legend Bobby Moore and his wife. The project writer is Lauren Klee, who has a strong track record on shows like EastEnders, Waterloo Road and Holby City.

Meanwhile, Colin Callender’s indie prodco Playground has picked up the rights to Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley’s book The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. It plans to make a TV series based on the book, which charts Kingsley’s journey to 17 countries where he met hundreds of refugees making their way across deserts, seas and mountains in a bid to reach Europe.

Discussing the decision to acquire the book, Sophie Gardiner, creative director of Playground’s UK office, said: “The New Odyssey is an epic piece of journalism that provides an intimate account of the people caught up in one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the Second World War. We believe this can be TV at its best – powerful, emotional and compelling storytelling that explores the complexities and human dimensions of the biggest story of our time.”

Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey
Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey

One of the most eye-catching stories to have come out of the US TV business in recent weeks was the news that Channing Dungey, executive VP of drama at Disney-owned network ABC, was being promoted to entertainment president, replacing incumbent Paul Lee. The story came as a surprise and got people wondering about how it might affect decisions over cancellations and renewals.

Well, Dungey hasn’t wasted any time making her mark, giving early renewals to a huge swathe of ABC shows this week. Among these are dramas like Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On the comedy front, Fresh off the Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Black-ish and The Middle got the nod.

Dungey’s renewals are interesting for a few reasons. First, because it looks like she is playing safe in season one. Rather than rip up the schedule, she has decided to play the percentages and give herself time to settle in. Second, because she has renewed the shows much earlier than Lee had a habit of doing. This is her way of quickly distinguishing herself from her predecessor.

Finally, Dungey’s list of renewals is also notable because of what she has not yet committed to. Long-running procedural Castle (nearly at the end of season eight), for example, has not yet been given the OK. Dungey has also delayed decisions on four other scripted series, Nashville, The Muppets, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Galavant.

Castle stands a reasonable chance of being renewed if star Nathan Fillion is prepared to sign up for a new season. However, the other series are harder to call.

Galavant's chances of renewal on ABC look shaky
Galavant’s chances of renewal on ABC look shaky

In January, Paul Lee said Nashville would probably be back for a fifth season. But the show has never really been a massive ratings hit, so it might not secure the same support from Dungey. In the case of The Muppets, a strong start has given way to sub-par ratings. But this is a Disney-owned property so ABC won’t necessarily want to give up on it just yet. Similarly, Agent Carter hasn’t been particularly strong in ratings terms but it does come from the Disney-Marvel stable of scripted shows.

Galavant, a musical comedy/fantasy series, is coming to the end of its second season and probably looks like the easiest of the five to say goodbye to. Ratings haven’t been especially strong and there’s no obvious Disney 360-degree reason to keep it alive. That said, it does have a top creator behind it in the shape of Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars). So that might be enough to persuade ABC to give the show another chance.

Finally, in Scandinavia, Swedish commercial broadcaster TV4 has ordered two 10-part seasons of a medical drama based on a Finnish format called Nurses, produced by Yellow Film & TV and distributed by Eccho Rights. Jan Blomgren, CEO of Swedish production company Bob Films, said: “The original version of Nurses is well written and produced. We believe the audience in Sweden will relate to real stories in a glossy drama series.”

This isn’t the first time a Finnish drama has been adapted for the other Nordic territories. It’s also just happened with DRG-distributed thriller Black Widows.

Although the Finns make dramas to a decent standard, tight budgets mean their shows often aren’t glossy enough to appeal to audiences in the other Nordic markets. In the case of Nurses, a third season is about to air on YLE in Finland. Eccho Rights, which licensed the format to Sweden, has also sold it into the UK. At the same time, it has licensed the first two Finnish seasons to ProSiebenSat.1. Eccho will also sell the Swedish version of the show internationally.

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