Tag Archives: Trapped

A global tour of 2016’s best new dramas

It would be easy to fill a 2016 review with the huge volume of excellent US scripted shows that have been pumped out this year. But for the final column of the year, we’re looking back on some of the new shows from around the world that have made their mark, be it in terms of audience, sales or critical acclaim.

Baron Noir: There were some heavyweight French TV productions this year, including Section Zero, Marseille and France/Sweden copro Midnight Sun. But the one that has secured the highest rating on IMDb is StudioCanal’s Baron Noir. A Canal+ Création Originale, Baron Noir follows French politician Philippe Rickwaert’s thirst for revenge against his political enemies. Launched to critical acclaim in France, with a second season now in development, this “French House of Cards” has been picked up internationally by SBS Australia, Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland and Sony Channel in Germany. “Baron Noir is a gripping political thriller and a masterpiece of French storytelling,” said Carsten Fink, VP of German-speaking Europe at Sony Pictures Television Networks.

Cleverman: This New Zealand/Australia/US coproduction was a clever fusion of aboriginal mythology and dystopian sci-fi. Backed by funding from Screen NSW, the six-part show debuted in June 2016 on ABC Australia, achieving an audience average of around 300,000. It also aired on Sundance in the US, which joined the production during development. While Cleverman wasn’t a huge ratings hit, it did get a positive response from critics. The Boston Herald said it was “unlike any other TV miniseries you’ve seen before. The gritty Australian production uses a sci-fi backdrop to test notions of racial identity and integration with a twist of supernatural terror.” Red Arrow International has sold the show to broadcasters including BBC3 in the UK. It has also been greenlit for a second season, with Sundance again on board.

The Crown: Some would argue that Netflix’s best new series this year was Stranger Things. But the show that has undoubtedly attracted the most attention is The Crown, a US$100m dramatic exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9. The success of The Crown has even encouraged some analysts to raise their share price targets for the SVoD platform. A second season has already been commissioned and the ambition is that the series will run for five or six seasons. For more about The Crown, see this DQ feature.

Descendants of the Sun: The most-hyped Korean drama of the year was Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. But the series that seems to have really done the business is this love story between a special forces soldier and a female doctor. Descendants of the Sun was a major hit for KBS in Korea and then sold to more than 30 countries around the world. It was especially popular across Asia. In China, it aired simultaneously with the South Korean broadcast, achieving 2.3 billion streams on iQiyi. Its popularity in China caused concern with the country’s Ministry of Public Security, which warned viewers that “watching Korean dramas could be dangerous, and even lead to legal troubles.”

Insider (Icerde): It’s been another prolific year for Turkish drama. One of the standout shows of the year was Ay Yapim’s Insider, about two estranged brothers who end up on opposite sides of the law. The show debuted on Show TV on September 19 and proved a big ratings hit. Gaining an audience share of almost 12%, Insider beat everything except for Orphan Flowers (Kirgin Cicekler), a popular ATV series that was launched in 2015 to great acclaim. The show is distributed by Eccho Rights. For more on Turkey, read this DQ piece.

Ku’Damm 56: This UFA drama centres on a group of young women seeking to break free from stuffy social conventions in 1950s Germany. The show, which aired on ZDF, was a major hit, attracting 6.3 million viewers for its season finale (an impressive 19.6% share of the audience). The show was developed and written by Annette Hess, whose previous successes include Weissensee. It was one of the 12 new dramas featured at the Mipdrama Screenings.

Medici: Masters of Florence: This show provided an illustration of how Italian broadcasters are now flexing their muscles on the international stage. Although produced in English and distributed by a French company (Wild Bunch TV), Medici was originally commissioned by Italian public broadcaster Rai. The show, which features Dustin Hoffman, debuted well on Rai Uno, securing an audience of 7.6 million. It has now been renewed for a second season and licensed to the likes of Sky Deutschland and Netflix (US, UK, India).

The Night Manager: A huge hit for the BBC in the UK, this was a six-part adaptation of John le Carre’s novel of the same name. The limited series also aired on AMC in the US and has been sold to around 180 countries worldwide by IMG. With a cast headed by Tom Hiddlestone, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman, the show was indicative of a couple of key trends – first, a shift towards Anglo-American drama coproductions; and, second, a realisation that some stories are better told through the medium of TV than film. At time of writing the show is in the running for a Golden Globe, having previously picked up a couple of Primetime Emmy Awards. One of these went to talent Danish director Susanne Bier. For more on The Night Manager, see this DQ feature.

Pasión y Poder (Passion & Power): This Mexican telenovela comes from the Televisa stable. A remake of a successful 1988 telenovela, it centres on the rivalry between two families. The show aired on Televisa from Autumn 2015 through to Spring 2016, comprising 80 episodes. It also aired on Univision in the US and became the channel’s number one telenovela of 2016. The finale was especially strong, attracting 5.2 million viewers – more than rival shows on CBS, NBC and Fox. Also airing on Hulu, Passion & Power was a big winner at the 2016 TVyNovelas Awards.

Public Enemy: Nobody knew much about Belgian drama Public Enemy until this year’s MipTV. All that changed after the Zodiak Rights-distributed show won the market’s first-ever Coup De Coeur. Sarah Wright, director of acquisitions at Sky and one of the executives that selected the show, said: “We chose Public Enemy because we felt it was brave, it was strong, it was fresh, it had twists and turns. It feels like something that will travel.” After its MipTV boost, that’s exactly what happened, with the show being picked up by Sky Atlantic in the UK and Germany and TF1 in France among others. Producer François Touwaide, Entre Chien et Loup, said: “Public Enemy is the result of a great initiative launched jointly by Wallonia Brussels Federation and RTBF in 2013 to develop Belgian talent across TV series. After a significant success in Belgium we are very happy with the international response to the show and the great job done by Zodiak Rights.”

This Is Us: On the US network front, Dan Fogelman’s family drama for NBC has been one of the most talked-about new shows of 2016. The show, which is currently on a winter break, averaged 9-10 million viewers per showing across its first 10 episodes and is expected to keep up that momentum when it returns for eight more instalments on January 10. Another Golden Globe nominee, it would be a major surprise if This Is Us doesn’t get a second season. Indeed, Fogelman recently said he has four seasons’ worth of stories sketched out. A marathon of the first 10 episodes will air on USA Network on January 7 ahead of NBC’s next episode. The show has been licensed overseas to broadcasters including Channel 4 UK. Click here for the Guardian’s assessment of the first season.

Trapped: This Icelandic drama actually aired on RÚV on 27 December 2015, but it seems churlish to exclude it from the class of 2016 on that basis. Created and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, the show has subsequently aired across Scandinavia and on BBC4, France 2 and ZDF in Western Europe. Other markets to acquire the show included Australia, Poland and the US, where The Weinstein Company purchased the rights. The tense thriller is part of a second wave of Nordic noir series that has seen Iceland, Norway and Finland all become significant international players. In September 2016, RÚV Iceland announced that a second 10-episode season had been commissioned for release in late 2018.

Westworld: There’s such a lot of great US drama in the market that it’s difficult to single out just one or two shows. But HBO’s movie reboot Westworld certainly deserves a mention. With a budget of around US$100m, the show is shaping up as a potential successor to the channel’s monster hit Game of Thrones. Nominated for a Golden Globe, Westworld recently finished its first season with an average audience of 1.8 million (same-day viewing). However, the most encouraging thing about the show is that its audience has been rising since episode five, with the finale achieving the show’s best ratings to date at 2.2 million. All of which bodes well for the second season, which is likely to air in 2018.

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European dramas get backing from buyers

Game of Thrones star Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence
Game of Thrones star Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence

Series like War And Peace, Borgia and Versailles have proved that there is a global market for lavish period dramas originated in Europe. And now Medici: Masters of Florence, featuring Dustin Hoffman, looks set to join this list of successful shows.

Produced by Lux Vide in collaboration with Big Light Productions and Wild Bunch, the show was commissioned by Rai in Italy and is distributed internationally by Wild Bunch TV (except in the US, where WME is handling sales).

This week, Wild Bunch announced a slew of Medici sales to SFR/Altice Group (France, French-speaking Belgium, Luxembourg), Sky (Germany), SBS (Australia), eOne (New Zealand), Sony Pictures Television (Latin America), DBS (Israel), VRT (Belgium), Canal+ (Poland), LRT (Lithuania), RTV (Slovenia), RTVS (Slovakia), Canal+ Overseas (French-speaking Africa), Hulu (Japan), Georgian Public 2 Broadcast and BTV (Bulgaria). This follows a previous sale by Lux Vide to Telefonica/Movistar+ (Spain) and news of a second series commission by Rai.

20 years ago, shows like these tended to end up ponderous and stilted, earning the ‘Europudding’ epithet. The main problem was that too many partners had a say in the creative direction and casting. These days, backers have learned to put greater faith in the hands of the storytellers – and have benefited as a result. In Medici’s case, the series is written by Frank Spotnitz, whose credits include series like The X-Files and The Man in the High Castle, and Nicholas Meyer (Houdini, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan).

Trapped
Trapped will return for a second season

Medici is set in 15th-century Florence, the city that will host its world premiere on October 14. The eight-part show features Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni de’ Medici, the patriarch of the Medici family who is found dead in mysterious circumstances. His sons, Cosimo (Richard Madden) and Lorenzo (Stuart Martin), are forced to face a range of enemies plotting to oust the Medici from power. Shot entirely in Tuscany, the series depicts the foundations of one of the most profound financial, artistic and scientific awakenings the world has ever known: the Renaissance.

More good news for the European production business this week is the news that RVK Studios, Icelandic national broadcaster RUV and Dynamic Television have announced that Baltasar Kormákur’s Icelandic crime series Trapped has been renewed for a second season. Widely praised by critics, the series attracted a strong audience during its 10-episode run earlier this year. In the UK, the series premiere on BBC4 reached more than 1.2 million viewers. In France, episodes one and two attracted more than 5.7 million viewers on France 2. Audiences averaged more than 500,000 viewers for NRK Norway, while 86% of television-owning homes in Iceland tuned in. The show is also soon to air on ZDF in Germany.

Based on an original idea by Kormákur, Trapped tells the story of a troubled cop investigating a grisly murder when his small Icelandic town is hit by a powerful blizzard, trapping the villagers and most likely the killer in the town. Season two, slated to air in autumn 2018, will follow the same lead characters as they examine an even more complex and challenging murder case. “I am so excited to get to assemble this great group of talent again,” said Kormákur. “This story is far from over. There is a lot more to come, both story-wise and also concerning our lead characters. I guess we all want to get to know them a little bit better.”

Zero Days
Zero Days examines cyber warfare

Klaus Zimmermann, managing partner of Dynamic Television, which distributes the show, said: “Audiences overwhelmingly responded strongly to the thrilling drama and powerful characters and they will find the next season every bit as gripping.” Trapped stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who has also appeared in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and True Detective. It is written by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Clive Bradley.

We’ve written a lot in the last year or two about talent being parachuted into TV drama from film, theatre and publishing. This week, we were reminded of another source of inspiration, following the news that Carnival Films is developing a drama based on Alex Gibney’s feature-length documentary Zero Days, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

Written and directed by Gibney, Zero Days is a documentary thriller about warfare in an arena without rules – the world of cyber war. The film tells the story of Stuxnet, a self-replicating computer malware that the US and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target. It’s a comprehensive account of how a clandestine mission hatched by two allies with clashing agendas opened forever the Pandora’s Box of cyber warfare.

The drama (whose working title is Stuxnet) will be written by Stephen Schiff, who has been a writer/producer on FX’s acclaimed scripted series The Americans since the second season. Gibney directs and will also produce alongside Marc Shmuger. Nigel Marchant, David O’Donoghue and Gareth Neame are exec producing for Carnival. Participant Media will executive produce while NBC Universal International will distribute the series.

The original She's Gotta Have It
The original She’s Gotta Have It

Film buffs in the audience will note that all three of the above scripted series are directed by talent that is better known for feature-film work. In addition to Gibney and Kormákur, Medici is directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzani – whose credits include Catch Me If You Can, Saving Private Ryan and Minority Report.

Continuing with this theme, SVoD platform Netflix is partnering with feted director Spike Lee on a drama based on his 1986 film She’s Gotta Have It. The show will follow a Brooklyn-based artist who juggles her time between her friends, job and three lovers. Lee will direct all 10 episodes of the show, which was initially in development with premium pay TV network Showtime.

Looking beyond the usual suspects in the TV drama business, Keshet International (KI) has picked up global distribution rights to Croatian crime drama The Paper and will be promoting it at the Mipcom market in Cannes next month. The 12×50′ show, produced by Croatia’s Drugi Plan, is set in the offices of a newspaper and explores political corruption, power struggles, crime and betrayal.

Roadies has been cancelled by Showtime
Roadies has been cancelled by Showtime

Commenting on the news, KI acquisitions chief Sebastian Burkhardt talked up the growing market for non-English-language drama: “With the current opportunities out there for non-English-speaking series, and our experience with them, we are confident that The Paper will find its audience outside of Croatia.”

Finally, another high-profile US series has bit the dust after just one season. Showtime has announced that Cameron Crowe’s Roadies will not return, following poor ratings (echoing the story with Vinyl at HBO). Crowe said: “Thanks to Showtime and [exec producer] JJ Abrams for the opportunity to make the one and only season of Roadies. My mind is still spinning from the giddy highs of working with this epic cast and crew. Though we could tell a thousand more stories, this run ends with a complete 10-hour tale of music and love. Like a song that slips under your skin, or a lyric that keeps speaking to you, we hope the spell of Roadies lingers. It was a life-changing experience for all of us.”

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Iceland joins Nordic Noir wave

Trapped
Trapped has received widespread acclaim

When I read, in December, how RVK Studios’ Trapped had become the top-rating drama in Icelandic TV history, I must admit I didn’t bat an eyelid. While a 90% share sounded high, the fact that this only converts into 130,000 to 140,000 viewers made me question the scale of the show’s achievement.

Perhaps I should have been more attentive, because the show has now proved to be a big hit for BBC4 in the UK. Launched on February 14 with the first two episodes aired back to back, it came in around the 1.2 to 1.3 million mark. This compares to shows like The Bridge and Deutschland 83, which both rated strongly in the UK.

The critics also like Trapped, with The Guardian calling it “seriously, toe-tinglingly good.” The Telegraph added that Trapped is “so absorbing that within five minutes I’d forgotten it was subtitled, and tried turning the volume up.” The Daily Mail also approved, saying: “If you like crime stories set in tight-knit communities, from Broadchurch to Fargo, you won’t want to miss this.”

The reason why ratings on BBC4 matter is that international buyers pay close attention to what happens on the channel. Interviewed at the C21 Drama Summit last December, Danmarks Radio (DR) head of drama Piv Bernth was asked what the turning point was in terms of her own company’s rise to international prominence. Her response was that it was BBC4’s decision to air The Killing – “From then on, it did amazingly well.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that in the case of Trapped, a strong BBC4 performance is more of a validation of the show’s quality than a call to action for the international community.

This is because the series is based on an idea by Hollywood director Baltasar Kormakur, who is also one of the principals at RVK Studios. The involvement of Kormakur, who directed a couple of episodes of Trapped and serves as a producer, encouraged a number of leading broadcasters to jump on board at an early stage.

Aside from the BBC, for example, Trapped has been acquired by France Télévisions, ZDF in Germany, SVT Sweden, YLE Finland, NRK Norway and DR1 Denmark.

Will The X-Files be renewed, or is a spin-off more likely?
Will The X-Files be renewed, or is a spin-off featuring different actors more likely?

Like BBC4, France TV has already started airing the show and, if anything, is achieving even better ratings. The first episode on its France 2 channel drew more than five million viewers (18.5% share), making it the second most popular programme of the evening after the new drama Le Secret d’Elise on TF1.

Interestingly, Trapped has also been picked up by The Weinstein Company (TWC) in the US, in a deal brokered by Dynamic Television. There’s no word yet about where TWC will place the show in the US but, thanks to the initial buzz, it stands a good chance of following Deutschland 83 into the US cable market or being picked up by one of the big SVoD platforms.

So my somewhat belated New Year’s resolution is to watch more Icelandic TV, starting with Global Screen-distributed series Prisoners and Red Arrow International-distributed Case. Also keep an eye out for RVK’s next projects, which include a film called Oath, a psychological thriller about a father who plans to commit the perfect crime to save his drug-addicted daughter.

Elsewhere in the world of TV, Fox’s six-part reboot of The X-Files finished with a respectable average of 9.5 million viewers (same-day ratings, which means you can expect an uplift once time-shifted viewing is factored in). The show did drop quite considerably from its opening episode, ending with 7.6 million, but this was still strong enough for everyone to start speculating about whether there will be a follow-up.

Given that the show ended with a huge cliffhanger, there is clearly an intention on the part of show creator Chris Carter to make another season. And Fox would certainly like another instalment, given that the new X-Files is also rating well internationally.

In the UK, the show seems to be settling down at around the 2.5 million mark on Channel 5, which is a strong showing.

As discussed before, the big challenge with making another batch of The X-Files is co-ordinating the diaries of lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. So while everyone waits to see if that can be sorted out, there is also a debate around whether a spin-off might be the best approach.

This possibility has been fuelled by the fact that the last two episodes of the reboot introduced a new pair of agents that were very similar to Mulder and Scully at the start of the Fox series.

Vinyl's viewing figures don't make good reading for HBO
Vinyl’s viewing figures have been underwhelming

The question of a possible spin-off series was put to Carter by The Hollywood Reporter, but he played a straight bat, saying: “I really love those guys [the new characters]. They’re terrific actors, and excellent to work with. It would be nice to include them. But, at the same time, we didn’t make series deals with them. I can’t imagine they’re not going to be scooped up and be somewhat unavailable to us. It will just be practical about how we’re able to work with them in the future.”

That doesn’t exactly sound like a no, however. More important than the actors’ intentions (who would say no to starring in an X-Files spin-off?) is whether Fox gets positive feedback on the Mulder and Scully mini-me’s.

Meanwhile, there’s no particular evidence that the audience is finding its way to Martin Scorsese’s new series Vinyl, which is set in the 1970s music business. The show, rumoured to have cost $100m to produce, has already been gifted a second season by HBO in the US – despite the fact that the first two episodes of its first series have come in at just 764,000 followed by 667,000. This is some way short of other HBO shows like True Detective, Silicon Valley, Ballers, The Brink and Veep.

The series hasn’t started especially well in the UK either, with 178,000 (seven-day rating) tuning into Sky Atlantic for the first episodes. HBO can console itself with the fact that Game of Thrones is poised to return – and that Vinyl may eventually find its fanbase.

Still, this hasn’t prevented observers from asking whether Vinyl’s under-performance is symptomatic of a bigger creative challenge for HBO.

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International Drama Summit: Round-up

The international drama community gathered at the BFI on London’s South Bank for three days of screenings, panel sessions, case studies and awards. Michael Pickard looks back on C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, part of Content London.

On the south bank of the River Thames, hundreds of producers, writers and broadcasters from around the world gathered in London for C21 Media’s International Drama Summit this week.

Held at the British Film Institute, the event took in three days of screenings, panel sessions and interviews covering the hottest talking points in the business – from budgets and coproductions to what commissioners are looking for to fill their schedules.

Audiences took in the first images of new Icelandic drama Trapped, written by Clive Bradley and produced by Dynamic Television. Producer Klaus Zimmermann discussed the challenges of working with nine commissioning broadcasters, among them SVT, DR1, DRK, France Télévisions and BBC4.

Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21's International Drama Summit
Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21’s International Drama Summit

Bradley also spoke about his positive experience working in a US-style writers room for the first time. “It’s always going to be true that if you have four rather than one brain that you will create more,” he said. “The turnaround was always going to be very quick because you’ve got at least eight months to do 10 episodes.”

There was also a packed house for a first glimpse at ITV’s forthcoming period drama Victoria, starring former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman. “Jenna was born to be queen,” said Damien Timmer, from producer Mammoth Screen.

Writer Daisy Goodwin added: “I’ve tried to tell the story of a teenager growing up with a crown. She’s not the queen you expect. It’s drama but everything that happens is true.”

Among the drama case studies, the creative teams from shows including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Collection, Dickensian, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Capital and Jekyll & Hyde took to the stage to reveal secrets from behind the scenes.

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong said she always envisioned And Then There Were None to be a coproduction, with the three-parter due to air on BBC1 in the UK and Lifetime in the US.

“Working with Joel [Denton, A+E Networks ] and A+E has been a real revelation. This is a BBC show, it’s inherently British, but A+E didn’t demand we put any US stars in as per the old coproduction thing. That is over. Instead, we knew it needed a cast that resonated [in the US] so there was a dialogue.”

DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show
DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show

Elsewhere, executives discussed spiralling budgets, creating an increasing need to piece together funding through multiple streams – whether via licence fees, private funding, distribution financing or pre-sales.

And while there was plenty of talk about the alleged saturation of the TV drama market, it was clear that many executives simply believe that while there might be too many shows, there aren’t enough great shows.

Morgan Wandell (pictured top), head of drama series for Amazon Studios, said as much during his keynote session when he warned producers against making run-of-the-mill, “industrial grade” procedurals.

He told delegates that Amazon Studios is aiming to make shows that are a “step above” what is already on offer, such as the SVoD platform’s recently launched The Man in the High Castle.

“If you’re making industrial-grade procedurals then good luck, but you do run the risk of being washed out,” he said, adding that some producers and writers “have built up specific muscles in TV. We’ve stripped away narrative tropes they relied on.”

Meanwhile, UK commissioners noted the changing television landscape as genre tastes and viewing habits continue to evolve.

BBC drama commissioner Polly Hill claimed TV audiences are now more open than ever to “complex, tricky” plots as she unveiled a new series from Luther creator Neil Cross set in a pre-apocalyptic London.

Sky Anne Mensah
Sky head of drama Anne Mensah took to the stage alongside commissioning editor Cameron Roach

Hard Sun, which will air in 2017 and is produced by Euston Films, follows detectives Elaine Renko and Robert Hicks, partners and enemies, who seek to protect their loved ones and enforce the law in a world slipping closer to certain destruction.

Hill told the Drama Summit that the success of the BBC’s recent drama slate, including Sherlock and Happy Valley, was evidence that “mainstream is really moving and big audiences will watch really complex, tricky subjects.”

Sky head of drama Anne Mensah and drama commissioning editor Cameron Roach described the differences between the networks they look after. Watching Sky Atlantic was compared to buying a ticket for a blockbuster film, while Sky Arts was likened to an art house cinema – though not for niche storytelling.

The pair said story was key across the board, however, adding that the pay TV broadcaster’s development team is now commissioning year-round for all three networks, including Sky1, and that channel boundaries remain fluid depending on the project.

ITV director of drama Steve November was more specific when describing his channel’s needs for the next two years. With shows such as Victoria and Jericho coming up in 2016, the broadcaster is well placed to retain viewers following the end of long-running hit Downton Abbey, which concludes with a Christmas special later this month.

And while ITV remains keen on period dramas – with Dark Angel and Doctor Thorne also coming up next year – November said he was looking for a range of new contemporary dramas to fill the 21.00 slot.

ITV drama director Steve November
ITV drama director Steve November

“I have got to be honest, I watched [the BBC’s] Dr Foster with a degree of envy and I wish we had that show,” he said. “Big romantic thrillers and a family relationship drama are real priorities for us.”

Channel 4 drama team Piers Wenger and Beth Willis also talked about the challenge of building a year-round drama slate, and how they approach traditional genres such as crime, period and sci-fi in a fresh way (see No Offence, Indian Summers and Humans respectively).

Deputy head of drama Willis said: “If it could be on another channel, we shouldn’t be doing it. We’re always looking for shows with an edge.”

Wenger, C4’s head of drama, revealed there are a variety of funding models in play at the broadcaster, such as its international coproduction strategy that saw Humans produced with US cable channel AMC.

As the conference drew to a close, the challenges of the future came into view – keeping viewers tuning into linear broadcasts, judging success in ways other than overnight ratings, piecing together financing in a world where there are no longer any set models for production and finding ways to tell new stories in an increasingly competitive market.

There will never be a formula for creating a hit series, but the ambition to find the next big hit is continuing to drive the business forward in new and innovative ways, ensuring the appetite for television drama will remain undiminished for some time to come.

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On the Case: Baldvin Z on his new Icelandic drama

Icelandic director Baldvin Z tells Michael Pickard how he used music to piece together new crime drama Case and reveals how the script tempted him to venture into TV.

When it comes to making television drama, music is usually one of the final elements brought to the process, deep into post-production.

But for new Icelandic crime drama Case, it was used to set the atmosphere for the series and help the cast understand the characters they were playing.

The idea came from the show’s director Baldvin Z (aka Baldvin Zophoníasson), who had previously used the technique on the set of his film Life in a Fishbowl.

Baldvin Z on set shooting Case
Baldvin Z on set shooting Case

“We started working with the music way before shooting,” he tells DQ. “I presented the idea and how I wanted to approach the project, and I started to make some music that I used to get people on board with the atmosphere and to show them the kind of TV show we were going to make. It helps a lot.

“In the shooting and rehearsals, sometimes I would put the music on to help the actors imagine where they were and what would be playing on the show at that moment. I use music a lot. I’m hands-on all the way. After we have shot something, I’m there all the way to the end. But I allow everybody to bring their heart into it. I want everybody to participate and put everything into it.”

A spin-off from legal series Réttur (The Court), Case opens with the apparent suicide of a promising young ballerina, and follows the battle between her biological parents and her foster parents to uncover the truth behind her death – with everything seen through the eyes of the lawyers involved.

The nine-part drama, produced by Sagafilm and helmed entirely by Z, is due to premiere in mid-October on Iceland’s Channel 2.

With his background in feature films, the director had never considered a television crime drama – until he read Case’s script. “This is something I couldn’t imagine myself doing two years ago,” he says. “I don’t really watch much crime drama. I’d always told myself I wouldn’t do a TV series like this, and now I’ve directed Case.

“I received scripts for three episodes about two years ago. I read them and I was really drawn to the show. It’s about teenagers and a situation that’s going on in Iceland’s underworld. I also saw it as a crime story but with a big drama in it. That was something that appealed to me – it was more about the drama than the crime. It’s not a typical crime drama – it’s not a ‘whodunnit.’ It’s about the ‘why,’ so it has a lot of unusual twists and it takes you to different places compared with other crime shows.

Case focuses on the death of a ballerina, following the fallout through the eyes of lawyers
Case focuses on the death of a ballerina, following the fallout through the eyes of lawyers

The slow-paced nature of the series has led to comparisons to fellow Scandinavian series Forbrydelsen (The Killing), and Z says Case sits comfortably alongside other Nordic noir shows.

“It’s much more about the characters than the actual events,” he explains. “It starts with this girl who is found hanged but the case is much bigger than that, and that’s what’s interesting. You get to follow these characters and when we reveal the ‘monster’ in the middle of the series, it takes you on a new adventure that is really exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing reactions to that.”

On set, Z says he’s keen to work with the actors as much as possible to make the story as realistic as he can: “I really work a lot with the actors and try to take them to the next level, and I want them to take me to the next level with them. I wanted to have believable characters and make it as realistic as possible. I didn’t want to drive a scene to the edge because it had to be really exciting – I’m always trying to find the truth in everything. And if I succeed in that, the rest comes with it. It’s exciting because the suspense comes naturally. You don’t want to force it into the scenes.

“It’s been really interesting to go into this drama. I have approached it like I do for everything – it’s a drama with storytelling and characters. I’m not making a crime series, I’m making a drama with crime in it and that takes it to another level.”

Z notes that the time and space Scandinavian dramas allow for character development contrasts with faster-paced series, particularly those produced in the US. “The difference compared with US shows is you have this opportunity to realise that all the characters are made of flesh and bone and you breathe with them. You see them making decisions. You see something more than in American shows, where everything’s so pacy and everyone’s so witty and clever.

The nine-part drama begins this month
The nine-part drama begins this month

“The characters in Case are broken. They always make the wrong decision – they’re so imperfect and that is what makes it interesting. The cops are not cool, they are just people. They’re getting into situations they’ve never been in before and they don’t know what to do. Iceland doesn’t have the biggest underworld scene so I have to make it realistic for Icelandic people, and I think it will be interesting for foreigners to see it.”

Z says the first season’s conclusion leaves room for a second run and that he is now keen to work more in television. He has also directed three episodes of Trapped, another Icelandic drama from director Baltasar Kormákur and produced by RVK Studios and Dynamic Television. The Weinstein Company has picked up US rights to the show, which will air domestically on RUV and centres on a troubled cop investigating a murder when his small town is hit by a blizzard.

The BBC, ZDF and France Televisions have also picked up the series.

“It’s a very young industry in Iceland, we’re in the teenage phase,” says Z. “For the first time we’re really emerging onto the scene and we have quality stuff – equal to other content being produced in Scandinavia and Europe.

“We’ve been bringing a lot of foreign projects to Iceland and we’ve been learning from them. Our directors are getting better and better and there are so many young people doing incredible things. There’s something about our landscapes, animals and behaviour that appeals to foreigners but we are increasingly telling our own stories.

“I hope we will not quit doing our Icelandic content but we have to blend in with the universal and contemporary programming. We’re going to get bigger and bigger over the next few years. We have a lot to stay.”

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