Tag Archives: TV2

Make or break-up

Writer Clara Mendes and director Amalie Næsby Fick tell DQ how Danish shortform drama Sex charts a young woman’s journey through a complicated web of sexuality, gender and relationships.

For writers, the inspiration behind an idea for a series is often a personal experience. That was certainly the case for Clara Mendes, whose can trace the foundations of her six-part shortform drama Sex to a break-up she experienced when she was 22.

The series introduces Cathrine (Asta Kamma August), a young woman paralysed by conflicting emotions of confusion and desire. At home, she is in a relationship with Simon (Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen), who is her best friend but has lost his desire for sex. After staying late one night at the office where she works as a sex counsellor, she shares a drunken kiss with her colleague Selma (Nina Terese Rask) that leaves her torn between safe, familiar Simon and her new, exciting crush. And when Cathrine lies to protect the people she cares about, she ends up making the situation worse.

Produced by Profile Pictures for TV2 Denmark and distributed by Reinvent Studios, the drama was screened in full at Berlinale earlier this year. It marks the first series as lead writer for Mendes, who worked for Nordisk Film before joining the Danish Film School to study screenwriting in 2017.

“Two things happened when I was developing the series,” she tells DQ. “One, I was going through my first break-up. I was 22 at the time, and now I can see I was in the process of my own coming out, even though it’s not a coming-out story.

“I also became interested in the Danish sex information call centre Cathrine works at. I was fascinated by the fact it was young people in their 20s giving advice to other young people about sex, gender and body issues. Then the cliché about being better at giving advice than following your own seemed very true, and true to my own life and situation at the time.”

L-R: Sex writer Clara Mendes, producer Marta Mleczek and director Amalie Næsby Fick

While Mendes didn’t know exactly how the story would unfold when she first started writing, she was certain that Cathrine’s sexuality should not be the main focus of the series. “I knew what I was working with, and it was a fiction story, but I wasn’t fully aware of what lied behind it,” she continues.

“It would have been very nice for me growing up if, in all the stories about people being gay or bisexual, that was not the conflict of the story or something that made their friends shun them or their families cut them off. We tried to make Catrine’s fluid sexuality not the problem, but just part of the story.”

Developing the series for 18 months alongside producer Marta Mleczek, Mendes then found her creative match with director Amalie Næesby Fick, who agrees that Sex is the kind of show she wished she could have watched growing up.

“When I first read the script, it really shocked me. If this had been in my life as a reference for conversation in my life as a teenager, it would have meant the world, trying to nuance the whole language of sex and relationships and gender sexuality,” she explains.

“I also felt growing up that it was only gay characters portrayed and it was not as nuanced or fluid as sexuality really is. We wanted to do something relatable where sexuality is not a problem and where you can look up to these characters because they’re normal, relatable and cool but not out of this world.”

From the outset, Sex was always designed to be a shortform series, created in response to a call from TV2 for stories told in bite-size episodes. The format did not dictate the style or pace of the series, however, with Mendes and Næesby Fick wanting to focus on character and emotion and allowing time for the drama and humour to unfold slowly. They also paid particular attention to Cathrine’s environment, with the character living in a small apartment with Simon and working in an unremarkable call centre office.

The series centres on Cathrine (Asta Kamma August), who must choose between her boyfriend, Simon (Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen), and a new love interest

“That was super important for us because there are other shows in Denmark where young people are super rich, even though it’s not a part of the story,” the director says. “They just work in ordinary jobs, but they’re super rich and have a jet-setting lifestyle. That creates a distance [between the characters and the viewers], so we wanted to make it real in the sense of normal economics for young people. We also did not have makeup artist on the set, so there’s no makeup at all, only when they’re at a party – and then they did the makeup themselves.”

Central to the series is Cathrine, who features in every scene. Mendes describes her as “ordinary,” adding: “She’s full of flaws but she means the best. She has a hard time talking about the hard stuff and she’s very shy of conflict, so she avoids it all through the show.

“She has all these conflicted feelings about being rejected by her partner and being attracted to someone else. Instead of taking the bull by the horns, she avoids talking about what’s really hurting her and how much in doubt she is about everything. She’s trying to figure it out herself but she just ends up hurting everyone, including herself.”

On casting the role of Cathrine, Næesby Fick adds: “It was especially important for us to cast an actor who was very likeable, warm and humorous because the character is actually fucking up from episode one and doing many unsympathetic things – not by choice, but they just happen. Asta is just an amazing talent. It was also easy to have her in every scene because she’s so, so good.”

Like Mendes, Næesby Fick’s work on Sex marked her first on a TV drama, having previously worked in animation. She admits to being nervous at the prospect of the busy three-week shoot but says her “wonderful” team made the process stress-free.

The love triangle is completed by Selma (Nina Terese Rask, right)

“It became a very personal project for all of us,” the director continues. “It was very much about sharing different, vulnerable and funny stories from our own youth. We quickly became this unit, all of us collaborating.

“I was also nervous about how to do the sex scenes, but we made a decision that Asta would have the final cut. It’s not normally done like that, but it was very important this was a collaboration, and she’s putting so much of herself and her body into this. I was so nervous of crossing some of her own personal limits, but knowing that, in the editing room, we could just remove things if there were any problems was nice for her and for me.”

As an increasing number of productions utilise intimacy coordinators and place more emphasis on how sex scenes are filmed, Næesby Fick says Sex’s intimate moments were choreographed in detail beforehand with just the fully dressed actors and the cinematographer present so everybody knew how they would play out.

“We don’t want to objectify the body,” she adds. “We want to be with [Cathrine’s] emotions in the sex scenes. That was a very good experience for all of the actors and myself.”

Mendes emphasises that the emotion of the characters in a particular moment is more important than the sex itself. “Showing sex scenes was a natural part of the story, but it was very important for me that every sex scene had a turning point for Cathrine,” she says.

“All the emotions came out of having or not having sex. That’s the exciting thing,” Næesby Fick adds. “‘Sex’ is a very clickbait title, – ‘Relationship’ or ‘Sexual Emotions’ would be a very crappy title.”

A second season of the shortform show is in the works

Filming took place on location across Copenhagen, including at the city’s real sex-focused call centre that contributed to a lot of Mendes’s research. The most challenging element of the series wasn’t in production, however, but in ensuring that Cathrine and Simon’s relationship was one viewers would root for.

“We didn’t want to make the choice [Cathrine has between Simon and Selma] too easy,” the writer says. “They had to have a relationship that was worth fighting for, even though someone else appears exciting, new and shiny. It was hard to make that relationship believable and flawed. But we had to build all the characters so they weren’t just functions in Cathrine’s story.”

Næesby Fick says the duo faced a lot of questions about Simon’s character, largely based on an assumption that if he didn’t want sex, he must be either impotent or gay. “Those were the only two options people could think of if a guy doesn’t want to have sex, so [his character] became more important to us,” she explains.

“The thing where a guy should want to have sex all the time and a woman should want to have sex when the man wants to have sex – that whole way of thinking was important for us [to address]. When we met Jonathan, who plays Simon, he was just the right balance of having this very calm energy that Cathrine doesn’t have, while not being boring. That was the hardest part, but it was made a lot easier when we met Jonathan.”

Mendes and Næesby Fick are now planning season two, which is set to focus on Nanna (Sara Fanta Traore), Cathrine’s best friend, while Reinvent Studios is in talks to send Sex into more than 100 territories worldwide.

“I hope it’s a universal story,” Mendes says of the show’s international appeal. “That’s what we tried to make – a story about how hard relationships, close relationships and monogamous relationships are to maintain.

“Cathrine loves her boyfriend. She’s just also falling in love with someone else, and the story is about not being able to talk about the hard stuff. If she was able to share her mixed emotions, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much. That’s something we hope all audiences will take from it, as well as the part about how sexuality is fluid and complicated, not just one thing and not black or white.

“All these assumptions we have about the sexuality of men and the sexuality of women, and how the relationship and the dynamic should be between them, may be also be why it’s so hard to talk about,” Mendes adds. “We just hope people see this and maybe feel a little bit less wrong about themselves and how they’re flawed or making the wrong choices, because we also want there to be hope.”

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Blowing the whistle

By highlighting the personal story of a whistleblower, Norwegian drama Heksejakt (Witch Hunt) looks at how those fighting for justice often become targets themselves. DQ speaks to co-showrunners Siv Rajendram and Anna Bache-Wiig and star Ingrid Bolsø Berdal about the series.

With credits including Frikjent (Acquitted), about a man cleared of murder, and movie Utøya: July 22, in which a girl fights for survival during a terrorist attack, Norwegian writers Siv Rajendram and Anna Bache-Wiig have a notable penchant for stories founded in social realism.

That theme continues in Heksejakt (Witch Hunt), an eight-part drama that shifts the spotlight to whistleblowing and the psychological and political consequences of one person’s fight for justice.

Westworld star Ingrid Bolsø Berdal plays Ida Waage, head of economy at one of Norway’s leading law firms. When an invoice lands on Ida’s desk, her decision to take her suspicions of money laundering to the top of the company lead to major consequences.

The show is inspired by the true stories of Norwegian whistleblowers about a system that regularly let down those it was supposed to protect, invoking feelings of fear, anger and loneliness.

Though development began before the dawn of #MeToo, the story has also been shaped by this and has had to evolve to stay ahead of real-life political and social repercussions. “It felt like reality was breathing down our necks all the time because we wrote this story about whistleblowing and, in the wake of #MeToo in Norway, the political scandals that followed were so spectacular, whatever we could come up with in the writers’ room, reality was better,” Bache-Wiig says.

Witch Hunt co-showrunners Siv Rajendram (left) and Anna Bache-Wiig

Rajendram continues: “We did a lot of research for this show – whistleblower cases, corruption scandals. We have made it a point to be very accurate. Acquitted was a different kind of story – we didn’t have to do so much research – and it’s been really important it feels real. When we were doing the research, we were so shocked and angered by what we learned. We wanted to convey the same kind feelings to the viewers. To do that, we felt the need to be very realistic.”

The writers took their initial inspiration from the case of former company director Kari Breirem, who refused to sign a payment to a politician and was subsequently fired. She later wrote a book about her experiences and it was this that led Rajendram and Bache-Wiig to want to follow the story through the experience of the whistleblower, rather than the scope of the scandal that had been revealed.

They were also influenced by the main character in Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People (En folkefiende), Doctor Thomas Stockmann, who is also a whistleblower and gave rise to the adage ‘The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.’

Then when they talked to other whistleblowers, they discovered their experiences were extraordinarily similar, despite coming from different sectors of society. “It’s all about speaking up against power, stepping out from the group and standing alone,” Bache-Wiig explains.

“The psychological pressure you’re under – it’s like being back in the schoolyard, being the one that speaks up and being questioned and doubting whether you’re right or not. It’s really about how other people see you. It’s a psychological experience that caught our interest and the injustice in how this affects our existence.”

From initial exclusion to harassment and even losing their job, whistleblowers each spoke about the same repercussions that came from their actions. “It’s a pattern and it occurs again and again in different types of cases,” Rajendram says. “We were really angered by the injustice in these cases and it’s kind of frightening. When someone blows the whistle, more often than not it’s against power and, seeing what happens to people who do that, you can really understand it’s much easier just to go along [and say nothing].

Witch Hunt stars Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Ida Waage

“That’s part of the fascination and the origins of the idea. These people [whistleblowers] are special people, who speak up and don’t remain silent. That’s a very fascinating character.”

The fictional story in Witch Hunt begins when Ida has a “fishy” invoice on her desk, from which she learns people inside her company are involved in money laundering for one of the richest people in Norway. But when she acts in good faith by taking her complaints to the company board, everything turns against her as she discovers the conspiracy amounts to a national scandal.

“She’s not like a typical hero who, when she digs around, suddenly turns into a police officer,” Bache-Wiig says. “She does what any normal person would do. Eventually she calls the police and then we follow the police officer working in the corruption department. There’s also a journalist who starts to investigate. They all try to do justice, to catch the bad guys. It turns out to be a very complicated and difficult process. Eventually Ida is the only one who can speak out. Everyone else fails.”

Ida’s battle is hampered further when her employer begins a smear campaign against her, turning her into a public figure. “In these social media times, it’s a terrifying place to be,” Rajendram notes.

Bache-Wiig picks up: “Ida’s not a normal hero. She doesn’t want to be a hero. She just wants to do her job. But it turns out she has to defend herself against these immense powers. She doesn’t want any trouble, she just wants to do what’s right. She’s doing what we think we would do but it turns out horribly.”

Best known to international audiences for her turn as Westworld’s android host and ruthless bandit Armistice, Berdal says she was delighted to return to Norway after two seasons on the HBO sci-fi drama.

Rajendram and Bache-Wiig have sought to create a highly realistic story

“This story was really a gift,” she says of Witch Hunt, which is produced by Miso Film and distributed by Fremantle. “It was a tremendous opportunity to delve and dig into a character and situations. For an actor that is both fantastic and challenging.”

The actor admits she was “surprised and saddened” to learn about the way whistleblowers have been treated in Norway but says the writers’ bravery to tell this story struck her most about the project. “These issues are burning hot because it’s a story that tells something from a personal point of view, from Ida’s character, but it also goes into corporate Norway and politics, the press and the police,” she says.

“They were really looking at this as something that is a problem for our democracy. It is easy sometimes to add on certain things to make things more sexy or even more sensational but they have always been very sober when it comes to how to tell it and why they want to tell it.”

Her preparation for the role involved her own research, taking in the script and working with concept director Eva Sørhaug (Occupied) to convey the sense of panic Ida feels when she becomes overwhelmed by the backlash to her actions – to the extent that she fears for her safety.

“But there’s no killer lurking around, there’s no action or outside physical drama. It’s just people being manipulative,” Berdal says. “These conversations were really meaningful and a big part of preparations – where is she the most scared, where is it the hardest? Pacing these things out in the duration of eight episodes is important so I’m not just playing the same thing. There must be some nuance in it all.”

Berdal also made the decision that Ida wouldn’t have been in this kind of situation before, which meant she was able to convey the full gamut of emotions her character experiences. “She’s got a big sense of justice within her but she’s not seen that side of what a person is capable of doing, which was important for having her go through this rollercoaster of ups and downs, disbelief and shock,” the actor adds.

“She trusts them. All of a sudden, they do something against her. She is a person that really wants people to be good and I think this is the first time she’s seen other sides of people for real.”

Witch Hunt’s showrunner’s say they were ‘so shocked and angry’ about what they learned during the research period

Rajendram and Bache-Wiig first began writing together when actor Bache-Wiig (Occupied, Side om Side) was partnered with an experienced writer to develop her first series. Both were initially sceptical about working with someone else, but they hit it off and have been working closely together ever since, although that initial project failed to take off.

Often writing together in different locations, they use online software to allow them to both access and edit the same document at once, with one person in charge of writing at a time and then alternating. They then hold extensive discussions with directors to push their view of the story and individual scenes, before stepping back and putting their trust in the creative team on set.

In their work, they say they don’t aim to shock viewers, though shocking things may – and do – occur. Instead, they want the audience to think about the dilemmas facing the characters and ask themselves what they would do in the same situation.

It’s finding a balance between reality and fiction that proves to be the biggest challenge facing the duo in their work, such is their desire to tell authentic stories.

“Another great challenge [in Witch Hunt] has been to find the balance between the thriller and the drama,” Rajendram says of the series, which aired on Norway’s TV2 and TV2 Sumo at the start of 2020.

“We always have a mix of genres. Maybe the greatest challenge has been to convince our producers that this story actually could be told in the way we wanted to tell it. It’s very easy with a whistleblower story to follow the action and have a big spectacular court case but we wanted to follow the psychological drama and the consequences of whistleblowing more than the case. We had huge discussions on that.”

“You need all the ingredients, it’s just a question of how you put them together,” Bache-Wiig continues. “That’s always the challenge but in this case, it was maybe more challenging. This whistleblower story is almost a genre on its own. We’ve seen so many stories about whistleblowers including the police, politicians, corruption and newspapers. We had to find a way to put it together that we hadn’t seen before.”

Because of their decision to see events unfold through the eyes of Ida, Witch Hunt stands out by offering a new perspective on a familiar story. It’s also a reflection of a new approach by Norwegian drama more generally, with Bache-Wiig revealing that the country’s television creatives are growing more confident on the back of international successes such as Skam, Lykkeland (State of Happiness), Occupied, Lilyhammer, Nobel, Kampen om tungtvannet (The Saboteurs), Valkyrien and Heimebane (Home Ground).

“The shows we’ve seen from Norway have been braver than before,” she adds. “Ten years ago, we started to get something right with the Scandinavian noir wave and these very silent crime stories that we were also a part of. With success comes confidence and hopefully we can use that confidence to be braver and more interesting in the future to create new stuff.”

Euro stars head West

Norwegian star Ingrid Bolsø Berdal isn’t the only European actor to visit HBO’s Westworld, a Wild West-style theme park where android ‘hosts’ are programmed to fulfil the guests’ every wish. The show recently concluded its third season, in which the action left the park to unfold in a future LA.

Anthony Hopkins
The Welsh actor, Hannibal Lecter himself, is the architect of Westworld – the park’s co-founder and director, Robert Ford.

Thandie Newton
London-born Newton plays Maeve, a host who acted as the madam of Westworld’s Sweetwater town but whose apparent memories of a past life led her to become self-aware.

Sidse Babett Knudsen
Best known as fictional Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen, Knudsen played Theresa Cullen, head of quality assurance at Westworld, whose chief role was securing the safety of the guests.

Ben Barnes
The British actor played Logan, a regular Westworld guest intent on showing colleague William (Jimmi Simpson) the best the of the park.

Vincent Cassel
Frenchman Cassel joined the series for the third season to play the villainous Serac, marking the first regular US TV series role for the Jason Bourne and Partisan star.

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Criminal genes

Forbrydelsen (The Killing) writer Torleif Hoppe speaks to DQ about the genre-defining Danish series and how his latest crime drama, DNA, flips the script on its leading detective.

When it comes to creating crime dramas, for Danish writer Torleif Hoppe, it’s in the blood. More than a decade ago, Hoppe was one of the key creatives involved in developing breakout drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing), before writing on other notable series such as Den som Dræber (Those Who Kill) and Broen (The Bridge).

It’s clearly a genre he feels at home with, though that wasn’t always the case. “When we wrote The Killing [with creator Søren Sveistrup], I didn’t have any experience in the crime genre at all,” he admits. “None of us actually did at that time. We had to just start researching it and figure out what police work is like, because everything we knew was from watching crime series, particularly American crime series, and stuff like that. It’s not exactly the same in Denmark, to say the least.”

Hoppe was with Sveistrup from the beginning, working together to help forge the series into what is still the defining ‘Nordic noir’ series, owing to its dark murder mystery themes and brooding Copenhagen cityscapes.

Torleif Hoppe

The writer believes one reason the series, which ran for three seasons, proved so popular, not just at home but around the world, is that they wanted to avoid making a crime series like anything else they had already seen. Another reason behind its success was its lead character Sarah Lund, portrayed by Sofie Gråbøl, and her penchant for patterned knitwear. Hoppe reveals that her fashion sense was based on a real-life police officer they spoke to, who did similar work to Lund, and often wore jeans and a sweater, rather than an official uniform. “

So we joked, ‘Sarah’s going to wear jeans and a sweater,” he says. “Then when it had already become kind of iconic, it was going to be shown in Germany and they were doing some of the material for the press release. They sent us some photos they had photoshopped to see if we liked them – and they replaced the sweater with a blue shirt and tie so that everyone could see that it was a policewoman.”

In his latest series, DNA, there’s no mistaking the central character, criminal investigator Rolf Larsen (Anders W Berthelsen) as anything other than a police officer, his identity card hanging around his neck as he strives to solve a case that takes him across Europe. What begins as the search for a missing toddler in episode one quickly becomes a story of personal tragedy when his own baby daughter inexplicably vanishes and is presumed dead, leaving him heartbroken and stricken with grief.

Five years later, he discovers there is a fault with the Danish national DNA register, news that brings fresh hope that his daughter might still be alive. He then embarks on an unauthorised investigation that leads him into the world of illegal child trafficking.

The eight-part crime thriller comes from Nordisk Film Production, in collaboration with France’s French Kiss Pictures for broadcasters TV2 in Denmark and Arte France. Norway’s NRK, YLE in Finland, SVT in Sweden and Icelandic broadcaster RUV will also air the series.

It was Hoppe’s desire to write a crime series about an investigator trying to solve their own problems, rather than someone else’s, that gave him the first idea for DNA. “That was the driving engine behind the story,” he says. “The ambition was definitely to make a crime story where it was about an investigator’s own life, where the crime plot had something to do with him personally.”

DNA has been made for Denmark’s TV2 and Arte in France

His plan for a new series initially began as a case-of-the-week procedural, but when he presented one potential storyline that focused more on the investigator’s personal life, TV2 asked him to turn that into a serialised storyline that would run across the entire series.

“I wanted to do something about a missing child, and I realised that when you talk about children and adoption, there are so many dilemmas,” Hoppe explains. “It looks really nice from one perspective. A child is taken from somewhere and brought to a wealthy family where they can get an education. It sounds really nice. But from the other side, to take a child from a mother, no matter whether she is rich or poor, and give it to another person, it’s not necessarily a good thing in the eyes of the woman who gave birth to that child.

“The more I started to dive into that, the story became about trafficking of children for surrogacy and adoption, not other trafficking purposes. I found that’s something that does take place, and as soon as it becomes an unauthorised business then there aren’t really any rules.”

But what started out as a “very Danish story” soon expanded to take in other countries in Europe when Hoppe settled on the trafficking storyline, particularly Poland and France, where Rolf teams up with another investigator, Claire Bobain, played by British actor Charlotte Rampling (Broadchurch). Other cast members include Zofia Wichlacz (World on Fire, 1983) as Julita Sienko, Nicolas Bro (The Bridge) as Jarl Skaubo and Olivia Joof (Boogie) as Neel Skibsted.

“In the beginning, everything was seen from the Danish police officer’s point of view,” he says. “But just seeing everything from his perspective became a bit boring. So after I had already written the whole story, I went back and created a Polish strand that weaves into the Danish investigator’s story.”

The series stars Anders W Berthelsen as criminal investigator Rolf Larsen

Arte was involved from the start, while Newen Distribution also invested in the project at an early stage, contributing to the series financing and picking up global distribution rights to the series.

“At first, I tried to make sure that I wrote enough scenes that took place in France to please Arte, because I thought the characters had to go to France. But they just came back to me and said, ‘You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to bring them to France to please us.’ So they were very easy with that and just gave me really good feedback and we bounced really well with ideas and different angles to the story.

“But at some point, I realised we needed to have a French police officer and I wanted somebody who had some authority. The producer kept on sending photos and suggestions of actresses but they weren’t what I was looking for. A friend suggested someone like Charlotte Rampling, and I was like, ‘Yes exactly.’ Then they asked her and she read the script and she liked it.”

Hoppe wrote the series on his own, with additional support from writer Nanna Westh (Friheden, Arvingerne), who assisted with some drafts. But before he sits down to write the scripts, he says he likes to know where the story is heading, but not exactly how it will end. “Then you figure out how to get there along the way,” he explains, noting that he uses particular milestones through the series to make sure he is taking the story along the right path.

“With The Killing, we made an overall outline and then wrote three episodes that we went back and forth on to make them work,” Hoppe recalls. “Then we wrote one episode at a time. In this case, probably because there’s been so much time in development, I worked mostly on the first couple of episodes and then wrote the rest of the series in a couple of drafts so I knew what would happen.

British actor Charlotte Rampling plays another investigator

“Because it’s a complicated story with different timelines, it’s nice to go back and forth and put something in here or change something there to make it work better. In this case, they didn’t start shooting until everything was written. When we did The Killing, they started to shoot episode one when we had only finished writing episode three.”

DNA was shot entirely on location, taking in landscapes and backdrops in Denmark, France and the Czech Republic. Hoppe says he likes to visit the set, but doesn’t like to interfere once the directors – in this case Kasper Gaardsøe (The Team) and Roni Ezra (The New Nurses) – are committing his scripts to film.

“It’s difficult because every time I go on set they all have a million questions,” he jokes. “So I realise it may be a good idea to stick around because it’s so much more under my skin because I’ve breathed this for years. Some things they can discuss and then they ask me. It’s helpful in that respect and useful. But I shouldn’t be there to dictate what people should do because you need to trust people. You expect people to be talented and do their best and in order to do their best, they must have freedom to do the best they can.”

But does the series carry the Nordic noir traditions that have characterised many Danish – and Scandinavian – crime series since The Killing burst onto television screens?

“Nordic noir was something somebody used to describe what we did with The Killing,” Hoppe explains. “That was maybe the first time I heard that expression. It was not our ambition to make something that we could call Nordic noir, I never called it that. When we did The Killing, we liked it to be dark and rainy. I did not feel that I needed that in this. You could say thematically it’s dark, it’s about abducted children, but it’s not filmed in the dark.

World on Fire’s Zofia Wichlacz is also among the cast

“With DNA, we did not try to force it into darkness. I really like the fact that there are so many places in the story. It’s set in so many different places and in so many different environments. That feels like a colourful thing to me. When the production designer put up all the photos of places they could shoot and locations from the northern parts of Denmark to the Czech Republic, it just felt very rich. So I wouldn’t call it Nordic noir.”

When the story reaches its conclusion, the writer hopes to have raised questions about how the good things people do, such as adopting children, can become corrupted when money becomes involved.

“Life has become a commodity in a way nowadays, it’s almost like it’s a human right to have a child,” Hoppe says. “I’m not trying to say what’s right and what’s wrong. Things are not really black and white in these areas. But you need to think about what is right and what is good for a child and how they’re brought up.

“Does it matter if your genes are related to your parents or is it more important that your parent is your real parent? That has a lot to do with identity and where you come from and how you connect with the world, and that’s an issue that is brought up a lot in DNA.”

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Beyond Borgen

Writers Adam Price, Jeppe Gjervig Gram and actor Birgitte Hjort Sørensen made their names on Danish political drama Borgen. Michael Pickard finds out what they’ve been up to since and how the series shaped their careers.

When Borgen first aired in 2010, the idea that a television drama focusing on the complexities of Danish coalition politics might travel around the world must have seemed optimistic at best.

Even local pubcaster DR, which commissioned the show, wasn’t convinced it would have an international future. “The head of drama then, Ingolf Gabald, said from very early on, ‘Guys, don’t ever think this show will travel because it will not,’” remembers series creator Adam Price (pictured top centre with members of the Borgen cast). “It’s funny now. Of course, you can say in hindsight he missed that one because then it was sold to almost 100 countries.”

Gabold can be forgiven for his caution. But buoyed by the international success of Scandinavian exports such as Wallander, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), the Millennium film trilogy and Broen/Bron (The Bridge), Borgen was swept up in the wave of demand for series coming out of the region.

Price worked on DR series Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) starring Lars Mikkelsen

In the near-decade since Borgen made its debut, its stars – including Sidse Babett Knudsen (who played prime minister Birgitte Nyborg), Pilou Asbæk (her advisor Kasper Juul) and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (journalist Katrine Fønsmark) – and those behind the camera have gone on to make series that have kept Danish drama in the global spotlight.

Price most recently wrapped on another DR series, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm), a two-season, 20-episode drama about a family of priests who each choose their own path to a meaningful life. It stars Lars Mikkelsen and is produced by Sam Productions, with StudioCanal distributing.

“I really wanted to try to understand religion,” Price says. “Religion is one of the most important and essential topics to choose when we’re talking big drama, and it’s a source of worry for so many people. It’s almost as if the debate about religion itself has become radicalised. It’s as if there’s no limit to what we are able to say to each other. I really wanted us to discuss and debate religion because, if we talk about religion, we might not kill each other.”

The writer says that although he is a fan of Nordic noir, he was keen to ensure Borgen’s successor didn’t follow the path of a “dark, gritty crime story, typically with dead people in forests and lonely, socially awkward police officers who have to solve the cases.” Instead, Price decided to explore a new genre, Nordic magical realism, with a story about spirituality and faith. “It’s incredibly important not to keep moving along the same alleyways. Even the Brits are now producing Nordic noir and have been for several years. It’s not a speciality of the Nordic countries anymore,” he says.

Ride Upon the Storm launched in the UK on streaming platform Walter Presents in January this year, the same month that Greyzone, which stars Borgen alumna Sørensen, also debuted on the Channel 4-backed service.

Few spotted Borgen, a drama centred in Danish politics, would have global appeal

The 10-part series, produced by Cosmo Films for TV2 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, follows the events that lead up to a planned terror attack in Scandinavia, centring on brilliant drone engineer Victoria Rahbek (Sørensen), who is taken hostage.

Her captor is part of the terror cell planning the attack, with Victoria chosen so the group can acquire the components it needs from her company. Victoria must risk everything to steal the equipment while also working as a double agent for the police, who will do anything to prevent the attack.

“I could sense there was a high level of ambition from the people who created it,” the actor says of the show, which is written by Morten Dragster and Oskar Söderlund. “Greyzone is the term we have in Danish for ‘grey area’ – all the things that aren’t black and white, which is life. Often in fiction, there’s a given right or wrong because it reads well and you know who to root for, but in real life that’s hardly ever the case. So it really interested me that they wanted to dive into this complex world.

“It’s easy to write off terrorists as madmen or psychopaths. In our case, Victoria is forced to look behind the cold, brutal man she meets to try to understand how he became like this.”

At first, Greyzone appears to be a typical crime show or thriller, Sørensen says, before it reveals the internal psychological drama between Victoria and her captor, Iyad (Ardalan Esmaili). “It almost becomes like a play because we’re confined in this small space, her apartment. He intrudes into her world and then they have to live together in this odd way. All of the action takes place between them, at least in that part of the storyline.”

Borgen co-writer Jeppe Gjervig Gram

After her breakout role in Borgen, Sørensen landed parts in British dramas Marple and Midsomer Murders, starred in feature Pitch Perfect 2 and also appeared in HBO series Game of Thrones and Vinyl. What she enjoys about acting, she explains, is the opportunity to dive into different worlds, genres and characters, particularly when this gives her the chance to learn something new.

“I had a lot of great adventures abroad. The thing about working overseas is the budgets are usually bigger, so the toys are usually bigger – I would never get to do something like Game of Thrones in Denmark because we couldn’t afford it,” she continues. “It’s been so adventurous, but also, because it is a much bigger pond, I naturally become a smaller fish. I haven’t said I’ll never work abroad again, but there were a lot of days where I just sat on my own and I missed my family, so I made a conscious choice to move back home and be here and work here, and I’m really happy.

“Because Denmark is such a small country, it’s so familiar so it’s a very safe and comfortable way of working. Sometimes the sense of hierarchy is so strong in the UK and US, you feel like you’re just doing a job, whereas I feel more like part of the process in Denmark.”

One of Price’s Borgen co-writers, Jeppe Gjervig Gram, followed up the political drama with a series of his own creation, Bedrag (Follow the Money). The show, again for DR, explored the world of financial crime over three seasons, the last of which aired earlier this year and focused specifically on money laundering.

“After doing the second season, I felt we had spent so much time in expensive boardrooms and with CEOs that we’d told most of the stories I wanted to tell in that arena,” Gram says. “Piv Bernth, then head of DR drama [and Gabold’s successor], was very open to us pursuing a completely new direction. I came up with the idea of doing something about the laundering of drug money, which has always fascinated me as I live in a neighbourhood where there’s a lot of gang activity. I absolutely still love the first two seasons, but feeling completely free to change as much as we needed was a great starting point for fresh storytelling. DR is a place where they care a lot about the writer’s vision. They allowed us to do that even though it’s quite a big risk for the broadcaster.”

That kind of freedom is rare in television, particularly from a free-to-air public broadcaster. Gram admits it was both refreshing and daunting, but with Follow the Money’s third run earning rave reviews, “DR’s wonderful gamble in the form of maximum trust in the writer luckily paid off, and the freedom of creativity has been a true pleasure,” he says.

“I’m very proud of the third season and the way we’ve done it, especially where we have been brave and taken risks and chances because that’s really what makes interesting series at the moment. There are so many series being made right now and it’s the ones that take risks that stand out. Of course, some won’t work, but that’s part of taking risks.”

Greyzone stars Borgen actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

Price remembers being afforded the same freedom when he, Gram and Tobias Lindholm were writing Borgen. Of course, at that time, there were no expectations placed on them, either in Denmark or internationally. “We had a great cast, we had a reasonably good budget and all the freedom in the world, which was amazing,” he says. “We could just write the show we really wanted to write. We could basically lean back and try to make the best show, in Danish terms, we could possibly make. That very local nerve in the show made it very global. That freedom meant so much to us.”

Borgen’s success has also launched many careers, he adds. “All of a sudden – and this was the case with Ride Upon the Storm – we could finance a Danish show with money from several European broadcasters because we were known names for them and they really wanted the next shows.

“Birgitte, Pilou (Game of Thrones) and Sidse (Westworld) have also had amazing international careers that began with the Borgen years. The freedom and lack of expectation at the time we were doing it was tremendously important.”

On Borgen, “it was the fact we always had so much fun,” Gram says. “We never argued. We could disagree on something but we would always look for something even better because we trusted each other’s instincts. That’s something I remember well. It was very playful and ambitious in the way we were searching for ideas.”

Sørensen was only two years out of drama school when she landed her part in Borgen, which she credits with making her a household name in Denmark and thus providing her ticket to working abroad.

“I’m immensely proud of it, I loved doing it. I feel like I got an extra education, not just working with cameras, which you don’t really learn in drama school, but also it was an introduction for me to take an interest in politics and the world, so I feel like I grew up on that show. It’s very dear to me.”

DR’s Bedrag (Follow the Money) explores the world of financial crime

Price is now heading into production on his next series, Ragnarok, a six-part drama for Netflix. The Norwegian-language show unfolds in the fictional small town of Edda in the middle of the Norwegian countryside and is described as a modern-day coming-of-age drama rooted in Norse mythology.

“It is a story about climate change,” Price explains of the high-school set series. “We’re asking the question, ‘Is the world coming to an end?’ I have done politics, I have done religion – now we are coming to the end of the world.”

But it is something he learned on Borgen that Price keeps with him long after that show ended, and will prove particularly useful now he is working on a series that will roll out simultaneously in more than 190 countries worldwide.

“You have to write a story that means something to you,” he says. “You cannot have all kinds of thoughts about how someone will react to it in South America. You cannot let thoughts like that disturb you too much, because you will end up confused in your choices. You have to focus on your story. If I believe it and feel it and make other people feel it, then it stands a chance of working internationally as well.”

Let the Danes begin

Four new dramas hailing from Denmark were showcased during Berlinale’s Drama Series Days event in February. DQ rounds up the selection.

Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles, pictured)
A terrorist attack at a Copenhagen restaurant is dramatised in terrifyingly vivid fashion in the latest drama from pubcaster DR, created by Dicte’s Ida Maria Rydén and Dorte W Høgh. Yet rather than dwell on the incident itself, the 10-part limited series is a character-driven piece that focuses on a group of people both before and after the attack and examines how their lives are interwoven. It is produced by Stinna Lassen (The Team) and DR Drama and is being sold internationally by DR Sales. When the Dust Settles is slated to air locally in January 2020.

Sygeplejeskolen (The New Nurses)
Following the success of the first season last autumn, The New Nurses is returning for a second six-part run, continuing the 1950s-set story about the first intake of male nurses in post-war Denmark. It is produced by SF Studios and Senia Dremstrup for TV 2, with REinvent Studios distributing.

Den Som Dræber – Fanget af Mørket (Darkness – Those Who Kill)
A reboot of 2011’s Those Who Kill, this eight-part serialised crime thriller asks not whodunnit but ‘whydunnit’ when a profiler is called in to help save two kidnapped girls from a murderer. Commissioned by Nordic streaming service Viaplay, it is produced by Miso Film and written by Ina Bruhn. Fremantle is handing worldwide sales.

The Rebels from No 69
Based on the true story of radicalised white youths who started riots when they were evicted from a shared house in Copenhagen, The Rebels from No 69 is described as a coming-of-age series that follows 20-year-old Camilla, who leaves her parents’ home under the pretence of living with her older brother but ends up moving into the house. When the council sells the property to a church, its inhabitants barricade themselves inside, leading the army to storm the premises. Currently in pre-production, it is produced by Made in Copenhagen for TV2 and distributed by REinvent Studios

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Fighting talk

Award-winning director Christoffer Boe swaps feature films for TV with a six-part examination of a soldier’s struggle to readjust after returning home from combat. He tells DQ how he teamed up with producer Miso Film for Danish drama Kriger (Warrior).

It’s the latest scripted drama to come from Danish production powerhouse Miso Film – but that might be where comparisons end between Kriger (Warrior) and anything else made in Denmark.

Christoffer Boe

Running to just six episodes, it focuses on a military veteran struggling to readjust to life after the experience of war. Dar Salim stars as CC, who returns home after his last mission resulted in the death of his best friend, Peter. At home in Copenhagen, he cannot shake his feelings of guilt, so offers to help Peter’s widow, police investigator Louise (Danica Curcic), tackle a notorious biker gang.

It’s not just the story that is set to push the boundaries of what is commonly recognised as Nordic noir, but the tone and visual style of the show, which is due to debut on Denmark’s TV2 this fall. That’s largely down to filmmaker Christoffer Boe, who is making his first move into television by directing the series. He also co-wrote the script with Simon Pasternak.

Boe says Warrior was always destined for television, a medium that, unlike film, offered him the opportunity to tell a story from multiple perspectives – in this case the police, the veteran and the biker gang – across six hours.

“You wouldn’t be able to do that in a feature film,” says the director, who won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his first feature, Reconstruction, in 2003. “It would be too short. In that sense, it needed the time and space of a TV series. And at the moment, everything really interesting in narrative filmmaking is in TV series. You have the ability to dig into all the grey areas.

“The greatest TV series are always where the hard choices are. It’s not about black and white but the grey area where nothing is easy. It takes time to create that environment where situations and choices become more difficult and take a bigger toll on you, and you don’t have that time in feature films. You have something different. That’s one of the things that really makes TV shows so interesting at the moment.”

Warrior stars Dar Salim as CC

Boe describes a post-war climate in Denmark where the fighting is over but conflict remains on the streets of the country’s cities. “There’s also a cultural war based on different perspectives around society, community and what shared values we have,” he reflects. “At the core of this series is an exciting, interesting thriller-based story that still deals with the depths of these issues.

“A guy returns home with the pain of being involved in war and the guilt of losing his best friend. He has big issues, as all great characters have, but then he goes into the criminal world, and it’s also very much thematically about what values do we really want to fight for? How long will we continue doing the right thing, and when does a good thing become a bad thing if you misuse your methods? There are a lot of questions about society and great thematic issues to deal with because of the character he is and the characters he involves himself with.”

Utilising the support of Miso Film co-founders Peter Bose and Jonas Allen, Boe says the switch to television has been a “learning curve,” requiring a completely different approach to writing and directing. He continues: “Even though it’s still about having great characters, transforming a big arc into six episodes is a very different endeavour so I really needed these guys to hold my head above the water. We had lots of talks and creative discussions about how to do this in the right way.”

With a back catalogue including series such as Frikjent (Acquitted), Den som Dræber (Those Who Kill) and Dicte, Miso Film is one of Scandinavia’s most prominent producers. Its reputation is enhanced further by the fact it is also behind the region’s first Netflix original series, The Rain, which is due to launch next year.

The show focuses on a soldier struggling to readjust to life after war and the death of a friend

“Coming from series like those, it was interesting to work with an A-list director and really see Christoffer’s ambition coming through in a miniseries with great talent attached,” says Miso’s Bose. “We have quite a bit above the budget we normally have – 25% more – because we want to make this stand out. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a great talent to commit to a series of four or five seasons, so a limited series like this is a happy marriage.”

More than a decade has passed since Wallander and Forbrydelsen (The Killing) burst onto television screens, giving rise to a fascination with Nordic noir that has spread around the world. But as those stories have diversified away from gloomy crime thrillers, Allen says the opportunity to produce a series like Warrior is now a possibility.

Bose adds: “Nordic noir is still the backbone of what we do but broadcasters are becoming braver. They’re seeing different genres do work and it doesn’t have to be a traditional crime drama. A show like Acquitted is not a pure crime show. It’s a drama about society with a crime underneath.”

Furthermore, its creators believe Warrior will look very different from other Danish TV shows, with the entire series filmed on location and making use of different lighting to create an array of visual styles.

Warrior will air on Danish network TV2 this fall

“This is completely different,” Allen says of the drama, which is distributed by FremantleMedia International. “From the very beginning, this was a location show and we wanted to make the budget to accommodate the needs of the shooting, to pick up small details and the atmosphere. We’re trying to create an environment for the shoot in order to accommodate the vision of the show. That’s the thing about doing six episodes, it’s possible here.”

Boe picks up: “It’s going to be very atmospheric and have a very strong visual presence. There’s going to be a keen awareness of our milieus and of the greatness of Copenhagen. I’ve always been obsessed with Copenhagen. I usually use very selective areas of the city but this time we want to show it as a big city, like Gotham City. So we’re going to do Gotham City Copenhagen-style.”

Unlike Batman, Gotham’s most famous citizen, who reappears every few years, the characters that populate Warrior are not set to return to screens after the show’s initial six-episode run comes to an end. It’s another reason why the show will stand out among other Danish series, which tend to conform to a three-season structure.

“If you look at the Nordic noir trend for the last 15 years, you’re now able to do something like Warrior, not only in terms of attracting A-list talent but also in terms of telling a new story,” Allen concludes. “There’s been a shift from traditional Nordic crime drama and this is really a balance of community and loyalty on a thematic level, but also a show with pace and fantastic drama sequences. This is a new shift in what’s going on in Scandinavia.”

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Grey matter

Danish actor Birgitte Hjort Sørensen broke out on the international scene with political drama Borgen and has gone on to appear in Game of Thrones and Vinyl. She’s now back on home soil in Greyzone, a 10-part thriller about a drone engineer taken hostage by terrorists.

Birgitte Hjorth Sørensen became a star at home and abroad for her turn as TV journalist Katrine Fønsmark in celebrated political drama Borgen. Since the three-season series ended in 2013, the Danish actor has gone on to appear in a number of film and television series in the UK and US, most notably in long-running UK crime drama Midsomer Murders, movie sequel Pitch Perfect 2 and HBO dramas Game of Thrones and Vinyl.

Sørensen is now starring in a new Danish thriller called Greyzone, a 10-part series produced by Cosmo Films and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. The drama follows the events that lead up to a planned terror attack in Scandinavia, centring on Sørensen’s brilliant drone engineer Victoria Rahbek, who is taken hostage.

Greyzone stars Birgitte Hjort Sørensen alongside Ardalan Esmaili

Her captor is part of the terror cell planning the attack, which has chosen Victoria to access the components it needs from her company. Victoria must risk everything to steal the equipment while also working as a double agent for the police, who will do anything to prevent the attack. However, beneath the hate, fear and prejudice, real feelings start to emerge between Victoria and her captor. But are they able to truly look past their differences and can the attack be averted?

Greyzone, written by Morten Dragster and Oskar Söderlund, launches on TV2 in Denmark on February 25. Jesper W Nielsen directs the first five episodes, with a cast that also includes Ardalan Esmaili, Joachim Fjelstrup, Tova Magnusson and Lars Ranthe.

It is coproduced by TV4 Sweden, C More Sweden, Germany’s ZDFneo, NRK Norway, SF Studios Sweden and Germany’s Nadcon Film.

Here, Sørensen reveals why starring in the series appealed to her and how the story chimes with real-world events.

The series focuses on a planned terrorist attack

When she read the script, Sørensen was immediately captivated by the thriller storyline…
From the first time I read the first episode, I was drawn in to the story; it felt like a page-turner. I was incredibly excited to see what came next, and that is a rare but really welcome thrill in reading a script. I had no doubts about accepting this. I thought it was incredibly interesting, incredibly relevant and an opportunity for me to dive into a pretty complex psychological behavioural situation that I hadn’t worked with before.

The ambition behind Greyzone was to be very authentic in the way the story is told…
For my part, I read books by people who have been held hostage and I talked to a psychologist who is an expert in helping people when they return from being held hostage. It was just incredibly interesting to learn that the most significant part of being held hostage is not so much the torture or the physical element, it’s the fact you don’t have power over your own life anymore. In a sense, you’re being forced to be a child again. Somebody else makes the decisions, and that creates incredible despair and, in some cases, apathy, which is so destructive because when you lose the will to survive, you’re pretty much dead.

Sørensen plays drone engineer Victoria Rahbek

Sørensen believes the drama is “incredibly relevant” in the way it explores scenarios surrounding a potential terrorist attack…
It’s about terrorism, which is everywhere we look today. Almost every day on the news, you see some new attack somewhere. I think it affects all of us; it certainly affects me and I feel a desperate need to try to understand why. That’s what we try to achieve here with Greyzone – to really try to understand the people on both sides and also to reflect a little bit more on how we actually participate, whether it’s by sending soldiers or technology to war or by not taking a stand. For me, at least, it’s made it clear we all have a part in it.

Sørensen says Greyzone raises the bar in terms of the quality of Nordic noir and that she enjoys having a level of ownership in the production…
If I compare Greyzone with some of the work I’ve done abroad, the experience of being on set is very Scandinavian, very homelike to me. We have a very familiar, equal way of producing in Denmark. The actors are invited to really take part – not in writing the script, but our thoughts on the characters are welcomed. That creates a greater sense of ownership for the actors and I think that’s why what we are often appraised for in Scandinavia is that the characters feel really real. When I see some of the material we’ve done [on Greyzone], I think it looks international. It has that feel, so in a way we fit nicely into the line of Nordic noir, but this is something else as well. It’s just raising the bar a little bit.

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Changing shades of noir

Ten years after Forbrydelsen (The Killing) first aired and with the final season of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) starting next month, Nordic crime drama has dominated the international landscape for a decade. But what does the future hold for the genre and where will those who make it go next?

The impact of Nordic noir has changed the landscape of television drama forever. It gave audiences around the world a taste for serialised TV beyond what comes out of the US, and spawned thousands of imitations, including high-profile Hollywood remakes such as AMC’s version of The Killing (based on Denmark’s Forbrydelsen) and FX’s version of The Bridge (originally Swedish/Danish drama Bron/Broen).

But in an industry that prides itself on ingenuity, the region does not want to be seen as resting on its laurels. In the small town of Lubeck, northern Germany, the film festival Nordic Film Days recently showcased the latest attempts to reboot the crime genre.

“We were nervous about the reviews,” says Bjorn Ekeberg, writer of Grenseland, TV2 Norway’s new series about an Oslo cop who goes to visit his home town only to find his family is implicated in a local murder. But much to Ekeberg’s delight, the reviews were very positive. One newspaper gave it a top rating, though the title of the review read: “Makes you forget you’re watching Nordic noir,” underlining the point not only that audiences at home are sometimes harder to please than foreign ones, but also that the backlash against genre is significant

Swedish/Danish drama The Bridge has proved hugely influential

Ekeberg, who had worked on Valkyrien, another hit from Norway, believes audiences and reviewers received Grenseland well because they were not merely watching a crime series. It’s a “family drama at its core,” he says. “The crime story is the ‘wrapping,’ so to speak.” This twist on the genre was noticed by Sky Deutschland and Netflix, which have bought the rights to air the eight-part series.

Innan vi dör (Before We Die) experiments with a different narrative style from what viewers are used to in Nordic crime. In the series from Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, detective Hanna Svensson discovers a new threat from a restructuring of power in Stockholm’s underworld.

But the story does not start with a spectacular murder that is then investigated over 10 episodes, a structure familiar to many crime drama viewers. “This is different,” says director Simon Kaijser. “It’s not relying one on question – who did it? – It’s relying on constant tension.”

“The fast pace is different to much of Scandi noir,” adds the show’s writer, Niklas Rockström. “Every scene is moving the story forward. In Wallander [a show for which Rockström also wrote episodes], the audience is always told how you get the information that then leads to the next scene. In Before We Die, we’re trying to jump to the next plot point. The Americans are good at that; we’re trying to use their way.”

Óskar Thór Axelsson

Stella Blómkvist (pictured top) is the first original Icelandic show ordered by regional SVoD service Viaplay and was the most dramatic move away from the world of Nordic noir to be shown at Lubeck. “It’s noir,” says director Oskar Thor Axelsson, “but it’s not Scandi noir.”

The femme fatale character of Stella (who is based upon the heroine of a series of books by a mysterious and anonymous author rumoured to be part of Iceland’s political establishment), electronica soundtrack and neon visual style of the show give it an air of film noir on steroids rather than nordic noir’s naturalism. The world has its own rules that are not our reality. “You can get a crazy idea and throw it into the world and it will be fine, because that’s the world,” says Axelsson, a successful feature film director who also directed episodes of 2016 Icelandic hit Trapped.

Grenseland uses some of the familiar visual tropes of Nordic noir, such as beautiful shots of the forest on the border between Sweden and Norway, and thus eases the viewer into a world they are familiar with – but then gives them something different. Other shows, meanwhile, actively shun these tropes.

Before We Die does not make use of the famous aerial shots of lush Nordic landscapes or impressive settings (the classic example being the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen in The Bridge) that have come to define Nordic noir.

“We did not want to do that. The story is told from the point of view of the mother and son, shot on the ground, from their point of view,” says Kaijser, who is also a feature film director. Kaijser made the acclaimed film Stockholm East with producer Maria Nordenberg, who collaborated with him again on Before We Die.

Hassel stars Ola Rapace as a hard-boiled cop

Hassel, a Swedish series (also from Viaplay), is based on as series of pulp-fiction novels about a cop investigating serious crime in Stockholm. The books were adapted for the small screen in the 1980s and the recently rebooted version is very much in the trend of moving away from the visual style of Nordic noir.

“We have used a warmer colour palette, using reds instead of blues that form the colder world of Nordic noir,” says the show’s writer, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer. “Much of Hassel is shot on location, in particular around the bridges that connect the famous, beautiful old town of Stockholm to the less wealthy suburbs. Again, this is a statement that we are in a different world with different characters.”

“Hassel is not at home drinking scotch and listening to opera,” says director Amir Chamdin, a former musician and music video and feature film director. “He came from the streets, from the same neighbourhood as the bad guys. He’s not a desk cop, he’s a street cop. He’s going to be even badder than the bad guys to get the job done.” This also reflects Chamdin and Jansson-Schweizer’s influences, which include classic 70s films such as The French Connection and Mean Streets as well as the TV cop shows they fondly recall from their childhoods, such as Baretta and Kojak.

Chamdin’s musical background provides an exhilarating operatic rhythm to the show that is in obvious contrast to the moody, brooding and ethereal soundscapes of Nordic noir. Hassel’s hard-boiled titular character, played by Ola Rapace, is certainly taking cops in a new direction from the heroes and heroines of the genre. Symbolical of the changing of the guard, one of Rapace’s early career breaks was playing Wallander’s junior officers in the Swedish series, in which Krister Henriksson played the grouchy detective.

New NRK drama Monster is unmistakably Nordic noir

Ironically, however, the show is similar to traditional Nordic noir in that it reflects social issues in Sweden right now. “There’s a big debate going on that the police don’t get enough pay, so we tried to reflect that,” says Jansson-Schweizer. Chamdin adds: “They are not wealthy people. It’s not a fancy lifestyle, it’s a commitment. Cops are struggling, man.”

But not all crime shows screened at Lubeck were trying to escape the Nordic noir tradition. NRK’s Monster is instantly recognisable as pure Nordic noir – the atmospheric and beautiful Norwegian Tundra landscape, the missing girl, a lone female detective. Even the cinematography is done by Jørgen Johansson, who worked on the genre’s most iconic series, The Bridge and The Killing. But somehow the combined storytelling skills of writer Hans Christian Storroston and director Anne Sewitsky have created something completely new.

“We have to keep the strengths but also see where can we push the archetypes, push the conventions, push this art form into something new and figure out where we can go next,” says Storroston. International broadcasters were quick to snap up the rights to air Monster, with buyers including US cable channel Starz.

Crime drama from the Nordic region is certainly going through a transitional period. Some writers and directors are pushing at the familiar tropes of Nordic noir to come up with something new, whie others reject them completely. The level of creativity and experimentation on show at Lubeck makes it clear the Nordic industry is in rude health. It seems Scandi crime drama is on a thrilling journey that viewers from around the world will no doubt be keen to watch.

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Beside the seaside

As hit Danish drama Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel) returns for a fourth season, creators and writers Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad reveal the inspiration behind this blue-sky period drama.

If there’s one series that can banish the bleak landscapes and murderous storylines commonly associated with Nordic noir, it could well be Danish period drama Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel).

The show, which mixes comedy and drama set against the picturesque scenery of the Jutland coast, launched in 2014 and transported viewers back to 1928 as the lives of rich holidaymakers and hotel staff melded together for one long, carefree summer filled with hope, secrets and showdowns.

According to local broadcaster TV2, Badehotellet is the most watched Danish drama over the last 10 years, securing an average share of 63%. Hopes are high that the series, which also airs on TV2 in Norway, TV 4 in Sweden, YLE in Finland and Greece’s ERT, can repeat this success when season four debuts on January 23.

The story picks up in the summer of 1931, when things have changed at the Badehotellet. The hotel manager, Mrs Andersen, has caught an illness and leaves her daily duties in the hands of Fie as their well-known, loyal guests – as well as first-timers – are about to arrive at the hotel to enjoy another summer vacation away from ongoing global crises.

Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad

The show is written by married couple Stig Thorsboe and Hanna Lundblad, who are behind some of the best-known dramas in Denmark, most notably Lykke (Happiness) and Krøniken (Better Times). Thorsboe has written more than 200 television episodes, while Lundblad has previously worked as a script consultant for Danish public broadcaster DR.

Badehotellet is produced by SF Film Production in coproduction with Nitrat Film and Thorsboe & Lundblad, and distributed by TV2 Productions & Rights.

Here Thorsboe and Lundblad tell DQ about the origins of the series, why they enjoy writing together and why the series is an antidote to Scandinavian noir.

Where did the idea for Badehotellet come from?
We were inspired by the time when the world turned from the Roaring Twenties through the Wall Street crash and depression and suddenly faced another devastating war. To some degree, we found the time mirroring the time we’re living in now. We were intrigued by the clash between involvement and denial.
Looking for a not-too-costly, original historic location, which could house an upstairs-downstairs story, we got the idea that an exclusive seaside hotel, the likes of which surfaced in large numbers along the coasts of Europe during those years, could be a wonderful setting.
Before common people even knew what the word holiday meant, rich people went out to the sun and beach each summer, staying at seaside hotels where young local girls waited on them – the same hotel, same guests for up to five or six weeks, a lovely ‘summer family,’ a clash between town and country, guests and maids. And everyone was most concerned with private problems, without noticing the outside world was heading for disaster.

How was the story developed for TV2?
We pitched our idea to TV2, who immediately liked it and ordered a detailed treatment with a description of style, genre, the level of acting and the presentation of the leading characters. Based on the script of the first episode, TV2 chose to speed up and our producer, Michael Bille Frandsen, was asked to line up the production with ourselves as coproducers. Filming started less than a year after our first meeting with TV2.

How would you describe your writing process?
We have a year cycle. When we have finished the previous season’s final episode in post-production, we start to develop a new season, typically in January. We use a couple of months to find the main arcs, before we begin to develop and write each episode. It takes five weeks per episode. The first three weeks are used on storyline, the fourth week on structure and the last on dialogue. Here we often have audio recordings of improvisations, when they spontaneously appear during storylining. From May, the production of the first three scripts begins. We are currently watching dailies and are available for the director, while during the summer and fall we continue writing the last four of seven scripts.

What do you enjoy about working together to write the show, as opposed to working alone?
We’re married and this is our way to spend some time together. Seriously: it’s natural for us to work this way. We’ve done it for more than 20 years and, before that, we’d both co-worked with other writers for years. For us, it’s more of a talking process than a writing one. With five to six plotlines per episode, there is much to keep track of, much time spend to find the flow.

How did you settle on the show’s visual style and tone?
We wanted the pictorial expression to reflect summer, light and colour – quite the opposite of Scandinavian noir. The genre should be a mix of drama and comedy, tears and laughter. We were inspired by Room with a View and Gosford Park, and perhaps most of all Jean Renoir’s 1938 masterpiece The Rules of the Game, with lots of dialogue at a high rate and a clear contrast in the level of play between the guests from the bourgeoisie and the regular, local maids.

The show follows the upstairs-downstairs style, with the hotel’s wealthy guests juxtaposed against its staff

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
We had a thorough casting process and are very happy to have so many of the best Danish actors. Among these are Bodil Jørgensen, Lars Ranthe, Bjarne Henriksen, Anette Støvelbæk, Anne Louise Hassing and Jens Jacob Tychsen. Foreign viewers will recognise actors from The Killing, Borgen, Unit One and Better Times. Compared with their roles in those drama series, it’s a pleasure to see these actors express Badehotellet’s more colourful characters. But it is equally important to mention that this is an ensemble series. It is without any doubt that the entire cast has a large share in the show’s success.

Are your scripts very descriptive or do you allow the director and actors lots of room to bring their own thoughts to the series?
We belong to the tradition in which the script is pretty thorough and rather detailed. In our experience, this gives the director and the actors a comfort to bring their own creativity into the process. They do not change the script, but redeem it wonderfully with their talent.

Where is the series filmed and how do you use locations in the script?
The majority of the location has been made on set. We’ve built a seaside hotel in the studio, both exterior and particularly interior sets with bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen and maids’ rooms, among others. In each episode, we supplement the set by shooting scenes by the sea and beach on the west coast of Jutland, where the fictional hotel is located in the story. Gradually more locations have been added, including a small farmhouse nearby, a train station, a police station, a shipowners’ building and a grocery store. But at least 80% of the action takes place on set, which is so lifelike that the audience experience it as a real hotel.

What are the biggest challenges when writing the show?
Without a doubt it is to get all the characters in play in each episode. It’s also a challenge to weave each episode’s five or six plotlines effortlessly between each other within the 45-minute running time.

Work on season five is already underway

Now in season four, why has the show proven so popular?
We think it has something to do with the mix between drama and comedy. There are very funny scenes followed by touching ones – like in life, you could say. The audience is taken by the characters and their struggle, funny or sad. And, as it should be in a period series, the characters’ problems are also contemporary. They speak from their time straight into ours. We hope the short answer is that the series is entertaining.

What do you enjoy most about writing Badehotellet?
Working with lots of enthusiastic and talented people on set and behind the scenes. With so much joy on set, working hard [is a pleasure]. This is maybe the best explanation for the success of the series.

How has the role of a television writer changed in Denmark and do you enjoy other parts of the production process?
Over the past 25 years, TV series in Denmark have become increasingly writer-driven, inspired by the US. As far as we know, however, Badehotellet is the only Danish show in which the creators and authors are also coproducers with ultimate responsibility for the series’ content and artistic style.

What are you working on next?
Season five of Badehotellet.

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Our friends in the frozen north

Nordic drama has made its mark on the international stage over the last few years. But what’s coming next? A good source of information is the Nordisk Film & TV Fund, which provides regular updates on shows in development, production and distribution. So this week we look at some of the latest developments from the region.

next-summerNext Summer: Bob Film is remaking Norwegian comedy Next Summer for Kanal5/Discovery in Sweden. The original version aired on TVNorge/Discovery and was one of the country’s most popular local TV dramas. The Swedish remake, which will air in 2017, centres on a man who shares a summer house with his wife and in-laws in Stockholm’s archipelago. Bob Film also remade the Finnish drama Nurses for TV4 Sweden. That show, known locally as Syrror, launched on October 19, attracting an audience of one million. It’s part of wider trend of local Nordic adaptations that also includes Gåsmamman and Black Widows. Bob Film is also working with Sweetwater on a crime drama called Missing (Saknad) for CMore and TV4, which focuses on the investigation into the murder of a young girl in a Swedish Bible-belt town.

Bonusfamiljen (The Bonus Family): Nordisk Film & TV Fond has just allocated a total of NOK9.4m (US$1.14m) to a slate of new film and TV projects. One of them is season two of The Bonus Family, a comedy drama about a recomposed family and the complications that go with it. Season one is due to air on SVT in 2017, as well as on NRK, YLE, RUV and DR. Season two, granted NOK2.4m (US$290,000), started filming in September and will continue until February 2017.

downshifters_1Downshifters: This Finnish series has just secured a French sales rep (ACE Entertainment) while Sweden’s Anagram has optioned remake rights for its own market. The 10-part comedy from Yellow Film & TV has been generating a good buzz since it launched on OTT service Elisa in late 2015. More recently, it aired on YLE2 and established itself as the second most watched programme. The series tells the story of a couple who face financial problems and are forced to cut down on their extravagant lifestyle. A second series, Upshifters, will launch on Elisa in December 2016.

The Rain: News of this Danish show has been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks. Produced by Miso Film (Dicte, 1864, Acquitted), The Rain is a dystopian drama commissioned by Netflix. The series is set in Copenhagen 10 years after a biological catastrophe that wipes out most of the population in Scandinavia and sees two young siblings embark on a search for safety. Guided only by their father’s notebook about the virus and the hazards of this new world, they start a dangerous journey through the country and join up with a group of other young survivors. Miso has had a busy few months, with the second season of Acquitted recently launching on TV2 in Norway.

midnight-sunMidnight Sun: This Swedish/French crime show recently debuted to 1.39 million viewers (38.1% share) on SVT1 in the Sunday 21.00 slot. According to the channel, this performance is comparable with The Bridge (Bron/Broen). Midnight Sun also trended at number two on Twitter – and online viewers, which are still to be added to the count, could pass 200,000. The show also secured strong reviews in the Swedish media, with five stars out of five in Aftonbladet. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Midnight Sun will premiere on RUV on December 5. DR, NRK and MTV3 are likely to air the show, which is distributed internationally by StudioCanal, in early 2017.

nobelNobel: Trapped and Nobel were among 26 European fiction TV series selected for the Prix Europa Media awards last month. Trapped, an Icelandic crime show, won Best European TV Series while Nobel, a Norwegian political/war drama, won Best European TV Movie/Miniseries. Nobel was described as “a precisely crafted original script, perfectly executed and directed, that takes the viewer on a journey into a world of lies, betrayal, mistrust and political games.” Produced by Monster Scripted for NRK, Nobel secured 800,000 viewers for its first episode across NRK1 and NRK streaming service NRK.TV. Both Trapped and Nobel were supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Nobel was directed by Per Olav Sørensen, who also directed The Heavy Water War.

heartless-emilie-claraHeartless: In a recent interview with The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, SVoD service Walter Presents’ curator Walter Iuzzolino said 25-30% of the platform’s shows are from Scandinavia. In terms of titles doing well, he mentioned Heartless: “Our curated programme goes way beyond the tradition of Nordic Noir that has been established by the BBC. I would say that 30% of our audience is 16 to 34, the rest 35-plus. The sexy Danish vampire series Heartless, for example, was a huge hit among 16-24s. Normally I hate fantasy and sci-fi but it’s elegant, poetic, cleverly done and an interesting portrayal of a family –  a sort of vampire version of The Legacy. It was a huge success, pushed only by word of mouth.”

Watchdog: At last month’s Mipcom market in Cannes, ZDF Enterprises announced an exclusive first-look rights deal for all scripted content from the Finnish producer Fisher King. Matti Halonen, Fisher King MD and producer, said: “ZDF Enterprises is a well-established company that can give a lot of support to a smaller player like Fisher King.” The first joint project that ZDFE is working on is the upcoming political thriller series Watchdog. Set in present-day Helsinki, The Hague and London, it’s described as an adrenaline trip into the heart of European justice policy and security regulations concerning source protection and privacy insurance. Fisher King is also behind Bordertown, which is represented worldwide by Federation Entertainment and has been sold to Sky Deutschland and CanalPlay France, while English-language series Crypted is also in its pipeline.

Deadwind: Paris-based financing and distribution boutique About Premium Content (APC) recently picked up Finnish crime drama Deadwind. The 12-part series is about a detective in her 30s who is trying to get over her husband’s death when she discovers the body of a young woman on a construction site. At Mipcom, APC launched Norwegian drama thriller Valkyrien, which is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK. It also distributes another Norwegian show, the youth-oriented Young & Promising, which was recently sold to the UK, Germany and France and has a US deal is in negotiation.

Dan Sommerdahl: This autumn it was announced that Nikolaj Scherfig (The Bridge) would be co-creator/head-writer on Dan Sommerdahl, a new series based on Danish author Anna Grue’s bestselling book series. Distributor Dynamic Television (Trapped) is pre-selling the series on behalf of Germany’s NDF and Denmark’s Nordisk Film. TV2 Denmark is attached and a German broadcaster will soon be announced. Scherfig said the project is different from classic Scandi noir: “It is a tight, clean crime series reflecting on life outside cities understanding how modernity and social development affect life in the province.” Klaus Zimmermann, Dynamic co-MD, told nordicfilmandtvnews.com: “NDF originally acquired the rights to the books and wanted to make it in the tradition of a German crime series with German actors for an international market. But then we felt it made more sense to make it as an original Danish show with a Danish writer and Danish actors. It’s simply the right way to tell the story.”

Hassel-Ola-Rapace_small-1Hassel: Speaking to the Nordisk Film & TV Fond about Viaplay’s strategy for coproducing original content for the Nordic region, CEO Jonas Karlén said upcoming original Nordic scripted series on Viaplay include Swedish Dicks, Svartsjön/Black Lake, Hassel, Our Time Is Now and Occupied season two. Hassel is a Nordic noir starring Ola Rapace as the iconic detective created by author Olov Svedelid. The show is produced by Nice Drama in coproduction with Beta Film, which handles global sales, and is due to launch in late 2017.

springtideSpring Tide: Eight brand new Nordic TV dramas have been selected for The Lübeck Festival’s Nordic Film Days. “TV drama is the big new thing. It was time for us to open up our festival to TV series, as Germans are so fond of Nordic noir,” said the festival’s long-time artistic director Linde Fröhlich. Shows to be introduced include Splitting Up Together (DK), Living with my Ex (FI), Trapped (IS), Nobel (NO), and Modus, Hashtag and Spring Tide (SE). The latter crime drama, based on the novel by Rolf and Cilla Börjlind, is about two cops who come together to solve the murder of a pregnant woman. The show is distributed internationally by Endemol Shine International.

Below the Surface: This is a new drama based on an idea by Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing) – now principals in Studiocanal-backed firm SAM. The thriller series centres on an operation to rescue 15 hostages from a Copenhagen subway train. Price and Sveistrup said: “There is something both eerie and fascinating about [taking hostages] as a criminal act. The close and complex relationship between the hostage and hostage-taker immediately opens up strong character-development possibilities and can also put a number of highly topical issues about our time to the forefront, such as fear of terrorism.“ The eight-part series has received DKK14m (US$2.08m) in production support from the DFI’s Public Service Fund and will air on Kanal5/Discovery Networks.

skamSkam: Cult Norwegian youth series Shame (Skam) launched on NRK and was recently acquired by DR3 for Denmark. Danish newspaper Politiken called it “a youth series about high-school life that makes Norway cool for the first time.” Steffen Raastrup, director of DR3, said: “The series’ premise is that when you’re young, you should not be ashamed of who you are but stand up for yourself and deal with the fear that many feel during their formative teen years.”  Skam – which is now up to three seasons in Norway and is a strong performer on social media – has also been acquired by SVT in Sweden and RUV in Iceland.

Interference: This is an eight-part English- and French-language sci-fi thriller in development by Stockholm-based Palladium Fiction. Palladium, which is minority-controlled by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), is producing the show alongside Atlantique Productions. SPT is distributing the show internationally. The Palladium team was also behind the critically acclaimed drama Jordskott, and is now working on a second season of the show. Palladium is also developing an English-language project with UK writer/producer Nicola Larder.

Established in 1990 and based in Oslo, the Nordisk Film & TV Fonds primary purpose is to promote film and TV productions of high quality in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). It is funded by 17 partners: The Nordic Council of Ministers, five national film institutes/funds and 11 public service and private TV stations within the region. Its annual budget is approximately NOK100m.

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NZ public funding supports Kiwi voices

New Zealand isn’t the most prolific TV drama-producing nation in the world. But it does have a good skills base and some fantastic locations (Jane Campion’s exquisite Top of the Lake miniseries was shot on the island, as were high-profile movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

The country also has a decent level of funding support from the government. Media funding agency NZ On Air invests around NZ$80m (US$56m) a year in local TV shows, of which NZ$36m is allocated to drama and comedy. This money is accessed by applications from broadcasters.

Under the Broadcasting Act that guides NZ On Air’s investment decisions, priority is given to drama as a way to reflect and develop New Zealand culture and identity. The goal is to produce “high-quality local drama that competes with the best international programmes” says NZ On Air, with “most funds invested in programmes to be broadcast during prime time on the mainstream channels that reach the largest audiences.”

Recent high-profile examples of shows to have secured investment are outlined below. Some have already aired, some are coming soon:

filthyrichFilthy Rich, which aired earlier this year on TVNZ’s TV2, follows three illegitimate children who each discover they have a claim to the fortune of one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men, John Truebridge. It received more than NZ$8m of funding from NZ On Air, making it one of the most expensive dramas to come out of NZ. But it didn’t get a good response from critics and saw its ratings decline steadily from a 400,000 debut to around half that total. Nevertheless, the show has just been granted a second season, with NZ On Air stumping up another NZ$6.9m. TVNZ says it is not uncommon for domestically-produced shows to take time to build and is keen to give Filthy Rich another chance. To give a flavour of the opposing viewpoints over the show, NZ Herald critic Duncan Grieve called it “a caricature of New Zealand, with heartless wealth and plucky poverty and a cynical pimp and a conniving businesswoman,” while NZ On Air said: “The brilliantly made first series had an average five-plus audience of 250,000 and a total of more than 700,000 on-demand streams across the series, meeting NZ On Air’s objective of a bold local drama engaging its audience.”

Outrageous Fortune is a comedy drama that ran on TV3 from 2005 to 2010. The popular show followed the fortunes of a criminal family that decides to go straight. In 2014, TV3 greenlit a prequel called Westside, which also proved popular. Last year NZ On Air contributed NZ$7.5m towards a second season of the show. Both series are from South Pacific Pictures, which is one of the key players in the New Zealand business. It is owned by All3Media and also makes NZ’s iconic soap Shortland Street.

brokenwoodThe Brokenwood Mysteries is now into its third season on Prime. Comprised of two-hour murder mysteries set in small town New Zealand, the latest batch of four films received NZ$4m from NZ On Air. The franchise, produced by South Pacific Pictures, debuted in 2014 on Sunday nights and attracted 200,000 viewers, a strong performance for Prime. Dubbed as New Zealand’s answer to Midsomer Murders, it continues to do good business for Prime. Brokenwood has also been sold extensively on the international market by All3Media, rating well for public broadcaster France 3.

dirty-laundryDirty Laundry secured NZ$6.8m in July 2015. The 13-hour drama for TVNZ’s TV1 is produced by Filthy Productions, the same company that made Filthy Rich. The show centres on a middle-class family whose mother is jailed for money laundering. It is written and produced by Rachel Lang, Gavin Strawhan and Steven Zanoski. A trailer was released in April 2016, but Dirty Laundry is not due to launch until later this year. The show is sure to receive the same close scrutiny as Filthy Rich.

Hillary is the story of famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, based on the biography by Tom Scott. Produced by Great South Television for TV1, the six-part series received NZ$6.4m in 2014. Given the subject matter, it stands a good chance of being picked up by broadcasters around the world. The show has already been acquired by Network Ten in Australia.

Dear Murderer was given the go-ahead by NZ On Air in May 2016, when it handed a NZ$4m award to TV1. The show is a five-part series based on the life and career of the late criminal lawyer Mike Bungay. Bungay died in 1993 and his wife wrote a book about him in 1997, from which the series takes its name. The show will be produced by Screentime NZ. NZOA boss Jane Wrightson said: “Audiences will delight in the Dear Murderer story about one of the most flamboyant and outrageous men in New Zealand legal history.”

Bombshell – The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior is a two-hour TV movie about the infamous sinking of a Greenpeace boat. It is from Screentime for TV1 and received NZ$2.8m in July 2015. TV movies based on true stories are an important part of the funding programme, with NZ On Air also backing Jean, about the NZ aviatrix Jean Batten. “Each of these is unique to New Zealand. Seeing our own stories on screen, whether they are fictional or bring our history to life, is crucial to our culture. Amid a sea of foreign content, this is New Zealand on air,” said Wrightson. Produced by Lippy Pictures, Jean secured NZ$3.2m.

The Cul De Sac is a dystopian teen drama about a world in which adults disappear. Produced by Greenstone TV for TV2, season one secured just over NZ$1m and season two was granted a further NZ$1.4m in May this year. The sci-fi themed show is a relatively new genre for NZ. Aired on Sunday nights at 18.00 from April 2016, it seems to have had a good first outing.

step_daveStep Dave is another South Pacific show. Season one received NZ$6.6m and season two got a further NZ$6.8m in 2015. It sees central character Dave, a 24-year-old Kiwi slacker, face major life changes when he falls in love with Cara, an older woman with three kids and “baggage.” In an interview with NZ On Air, series creator Kate McDermott said this about writing for Kiwis: “NZ audiences are made up of a lot of different types of people, all with diverse preferences and likes. (But) what I’ve noticed is that viewers seem to quite like spending time with down-to-earth Kiwi characters they can recognise or identify with. Humour also seems to be important. I don’t think we like to take ourselves too seriously, so even in moments of high drama, suspense, romance, danger, we always try to find room for a saccharine-cutter.” The TV2 show attracted 189,000 viewers to its finale in November and there is no decision yet on whether it will return.

Step Dave’s Kate McDermott also had this to say about the importance of local drama: “When I was little we all used to play make-believe using American accents, because that was what we heard on television. My daughters have grown up with their own accents on television five nights a week, on Shortland Street. They’ve watched Being Eve, graduated to Go Girls and are now quickly making their way through the box set of Outrageous Fortune. For this generation of young Kiwis, it is a given that they can turn on the television and hear their own voices, see their own cities and scenery and get to know characters that they can identify with. Pride in our own stories, characters, our talent, our music – that matters. And we should be proud because we are not the only ones watching – we get a lot of feedback from other countries where audiences are discovering New Zealand drama.”

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Televisa goes English

Dougray Scott in Taken 3
Dougray Scott (pictured in Taken 3) stars in Duality

Mexican media giant Televisa is the largest producer and distributor of Spanish-language content in the world. But now it wants to play in the English-language market.

Having recently announced plans for an English-language version of Spanish drama Gran Hotel (to be produced by its US-based Televisa USA division), it has now revealed plans to “greenlight production of multiple English-language series to fuel its own demands as well as those from the global on-demand and TV markets.”

The first title to be announced is Duality, starring Dougray Scott (Taken 3). Working with Vancouver-based Odyssey Media, Televisa says the show will be one of the first to utilise the 1991 Mexican-Canadian tax treaty for scripted series. Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA; Jorge Aragon; Eduardo Clemesha, Televisa´s general director of new content and formats; Odyssey film and television producer Kirk Shaw (The Hurt Locker); and Scott will executive produce.

According to Televisa, Duality will centre on an elite, top-secret team of State Department, CIA and Mexican intelligence agents within Mexico who wage war against the most dangerous villains operating in Latin America. The series, based on an original story from writer-producer Barry Schkolnick (The Good Wife, Law & Order), “depicts characters on dangerous missions while battling their own personal demons.”

The Lethal Weapon film franchise starred Danny Glover (left) and Mel Gibson
The Lethal Weapon film franchise starred Danny Glover (left) and Mel Gibson

Clemesha added: “Televisa brings to this venture access to award-winning producers and directors; the economies of scale of shooting in Mexico with Televisa’s facilities and crew; as well as the latitude to adapt formats from both Televisa’s massive library and third-party rights holders.”

Elsewhere, UK pay TV channel Sky1 has ordered an Indiana Jones-style drama from Red Planet Pictures. Titled Hooten & The Lady, the 8×60’ series follows an adventurer called Hooten who teams up with the British Museum’s Lady Alexandra to track down lost treasures, including an Amazonian city, the Buddha’s missing scroll and the tomb of Alexander the Great. Filming will take place in Rome and Cape Town. Writers include Red Planet founder Tony Jordan, James Payne, Sarah Phelps, Jeff Povey and Richard Zajdlic. The show will be distributed internationally by Sky Vision.

This week has also seen the emergence of another movie-to-TV project, with Fox ordering a pilot from Warner Brothers based on the 1980s/90s hit movie franchise Lethal Weapon. If Warner Bros decides to stick close to the movie storylines then it will have a lot of content to work with. Aside from the original film, there were three sequels – and a fifth that never got out of development.

In other reboot news this week, reports suggest US network CBS is planning to revive 1980s TV series MacGyver.

Dicte is produced by Miso Films for TV2 Denmark
Dicte is produced by Miso Films for TV2 Denmark

In addition to new projects, there have been a couple of interesting drama renewals this week. In Denmark, crime series Dicte is about to go into production on a third season. Produced by Miso Films for TV2 Denmark and written by Dorte W Høgh and Ida Maria Rydén, Dicte is a crime series that centres on journalist Dicte Svendsen, plus her family, friends, colleagues and sources within the police.

This season will have an international dimension, with part of the series taking place in Lebanon and Syria. “We are so happy to be able to present a new season of Dicte,” said Katrine Vogelsang, head of fiction for TV2. “Danish viewers love the character of Dicte and the series has performed fantastically in TV2’s primetime slot on Monday nights. In Denmark, we measure viewers’ evaluations of episodes and Dicte is at the top of all Danish TV series.”

Meanwhile, CBS has greenlit a second season of Zoo for summer 2016. Based on the bestseller by James Patterson, Zoo is a thriller about a wave of violent animal attacks against humans across the planet. “Zoo’s thrilling stories clicked with audiences each week during a very competitive summer,” said CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller. “We’re excited for viewers to see where our writers and cast take them as the adventure continues to unfold during season two in the fight of man versus beast.”

Zoo is an interesting show, because it is part of a deal involving CBS and SVoD service Amazon Prime Instant Video. In a nutshell, Amazon helps fund the series and gets the right to stream the show in the US just a few days after it airs on CBS. The deal works for CBS because audiences are lower in the summer, so it is able to get a decent-quality drama at a relatively low price.

Zoo's second season will air next year
Zoo’s second season will air next year

CBS and Amazon first created this model for Under the Dome, which has just ended after three seasons, and also used it for Extant. Now, the two parties have extended the arrangement to cover the next three summer periods. This will give Amazon access to new seasons of Zoo and a new series called BrainDead. “Prime members have loved having access to series like Under the Dome and Extant just four days after broadcast, and we’re excited to continue to offer in-season availability of more great CBS summer series over the next three years,” said Brad Beale, Amazon’s VP of digital video content acquisition.

Another interesting commissioning story this week came from the UK, with the BBC announcing that it has ordered another spin-off from sci-fi drama Doctor Who. Written by Patrick Ness and destined for BBC3, Class (8×45’) will be aimed at young adults and centres on a London school where sinister enemies are “breaking through the walls of time and space.”

It is exec produced by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffatt, Ness and Brian Minchin. Moffat said: “No one has documented the dark, exhilarating world of the teenager like Patrick Ness, and now we’re bringing his brilliant storytelling to Doctor Who.”

With autumn programme market Micom starting today, there has also been a lot of activity in terms of drama acquisition deals. The biggest story of the last week is that US cable channel Esquire has acquired the rights to ITV Studio’s new epic drama Beowulf. This follows a previously announced deal that saw Esquire acquire the Tandem production Spotless.

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands
Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is a 13×60’ series that is being distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. It is set in the mythical Shieldlands, a dangerous place populated by humans and fantasy creatures. The first episode sees Beowulf return to Herot after many years as a mercenary warrior to pay his respects to the recently deceased Thane Hrothgar. But when Herot is attacked by the monster Grendl, Beowulf has no choice but to hunt the beast down.

Matt Hanna, EVP of development and production for Esquire, said: “Beowulf exemplifies our commitment to delivering well-produced, vivid and engaging programming. We’re thrilled to bring an impressive assembly of artists and visionaries to our line-up when the series unveils next year.”

Other acquisition deals this week include a raft of sales for German drama Naked Among Wolves, which has sold to Mediaset in Italy and KBS in South Korea others. There’s also been activity around Dori Media’s Ciega a Cita, a romantic comedy format that has been sold to AB Groupe in France.

Graceland has been cancelled
Graceland has been cancelled

On the service front, Channel 4’s new foreign drama on-demand service Walter Presents (launching in partnership with GSN) has acquired a number of Nordic dramas from Fremantle Media International, including Dicte and Acquitted. More deals are on the cards from Walter Presents at Mipcom this week. Meanwhile, Netflix has announced that it will launch in Spain on October 20, Portugal on October 21 and Italy on October 22.

Finally, there was news of a cancellation this week, with USA Network calling a halt to Graceland after three seasons. The Fox Television Studios-produced series told the story of a rookie agent who had to investigate his mentor. Reports suggest the show was iced because of low ratings.

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Miso tells war stories

Jonas Allen says Warrior will tackle issues new to Denmark
Jonas Allen says Warrior will tackle issues new to Denmark

Television schedules are no strangers to stories of war. From BBC1’s The Crimson Field, which was produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War last year, to RTL’s Cold War spy thriller Deutschland 83, conflicts continue to provide scriptwriters with a host of compelling stories.

Fresh from producing historical epic 1864, which is set against the backdrop of one of Europe’s bloodiest ever battles, Denmark’s Miso Film is now turning its attention to a drama that will examine issues that are new to the country.

The prodco has partnered with writer/director Christoffer Boe for six-part series Warrior (fka Prospect), which is based on an idea from Boe and is being developed with Simon Pasternak.

It tells the story of a former soldier who struggles to find his way back into society after returning home from war. When he learns that a friend and fellow former soldier has committed suicide, he sets out to learn the truth behind his death.

Miso Film co-founder Jonas Allen says Warrior confronts a topic that is still very new for people in Denmark. He explains: “Christoffer is a very talented director so we wanted to work with him – but we really liked the story. It’s about a soldier coming back from war in Afghanistan. This is new in Denmark – having veterans coming back, having people in service and Denmark stepping into a war in present times.

“This story is about a soldier returning and trying to cope, but he can’t really find his place in society. I think that’s very interesting in the time we’re in right now.”

Warrior is set to go into production in spring 2016, and will air on TV2 in Denmark.

1864: ‘It’s overwhelming that people really loved the show,’ says Allen

Meanwhile, 1864 was recently nominated for Best Drama at the Golden Nymph Awards, which took place earlier this month at the Monte Carlo TV Festival (though the prize was won by UK/US copro The Missing). The show’s stars Jens Setter-Lassen and Sarah-Sofie Boussnina were also nominated, for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.

The eight-part series tells the story of two brothers who sign up for the army when war breaks out between Denmark and Prussia, and follows the love triangle they become embroiled in during a brutal conflict.

Allen says: “1864 aired last fall on DR. We were very pleased – we had one of the greatest openings. I think it was about 1.8 million viewers or 67% audience share. Our average was 1.4 million viewers, which was great.

“You look forward to the premiere and the reaction, and then it came out on BBC Four. It’s overwhelming that people really loved the show. It’s a great launch for the international market, and it also just premiered on Arte in France.”

Miso Film is also preparing to begin shooting the third season of its TV2 crime drama Dicte, which is based on Elsebeth Egholm’s novels. Production will get underway in September.

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Keeping its throne

Season five of fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones has picked up where its previous runs left off, delivering massive ratings for US cable network HBO. Overnights for the first three episodes came in at eight million, 6.81 million and 6.71 million respectively.

Kit Harington as Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow

That slight week-on-week decline shouldn’t give too much cause for concern, because so much viewing of the show is now time-shifted, on-demand or via other platforms. To underline the point, HBO has just released data that shows a staggering 18.1 million viewers watched episode one in the first week after its launch (a period of time referred to as live+7). This figure, which includes linear showings, HBO Go, HBO Now and on-demand views, confirms the serious pulling power of the show – while also cautioning against hasty judgements about first day viewing.

Game of Thrones is also popular internationally, with the UK launch garnering similarly enormous ratings. Sky Atlantic, which airs the show one day after the US transmission on HBO, reported record overnight ratings of 1.57 million – up 29% on season four’s debut. As in the US, those figures are certain to increase once time-shifted and multi-platform viewing is factored in. There were also record ratings for Foxtel in Australia, where 242,000 tuned in to watch episode one at 11.00 local time. An additional 311,000 tuned in at 19.30, creating a record day-one audience of 553,000.

Game of Thrones’ ratings success is made all the more remarkable by the fact it is such a heavily pirated show. In the US, it holds the dubious honour of having been the most-pirated show for the past three years in succession. Problems with piracy have been exacerbated this year, with the first four episodes of season five having been leaked online ahead of the show’s official launch.

AD - The Bible
AD: The Bible Continues

The ratings story is less rosy for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s 12-part series AD: The Bible Continues, which has seen its audience on US network NBC slide in consecutive weeks. After a robust opening of 9.7 million on Easter Sunday, the next three episodes have come in at 7.75 million, 6.36 million and 5.77 million respectively.

AD is a sequel to The Bible, a Burnett/Downey miniseries that aired on cable channel History US last year. Its underperformance is a surprise, given that The Bible averaged 11.4 million viewers per episode over its 10-episode run – making it the biggest US cable show of 2014.

AD’s performance has led some analysts to suggest that NBC will probably cancel the show (though a final decision on that will need to take into account time-shifted ratings and a couple more episodes of data). This would be a blow to Burnett and Downey, who told journalists at MipTV in Cannes that they would like AD to be the launch pad for a multi-series franchise that tells more stories about the early years of the Christian church. Possibly, in hindsight, they would have been better placing AD in the less ratings-obsessed world of cable.

The standout performer in the UK so far this year is BBC1’s Poldark. Based on books by Winston Graham (and also a remake of a classic 1970s series), the show is set in 1790s Cornwall, where former soldier Ross Poldark battles against vested interests to make a success of his family’s copper mine. Not an obvious ratings winner, it has been boosted by the brooding good looks and heroic demeanour of Aidan Turner, who plays Poldark. While Captain Poldark’s handsome face, enviable abs and moral rigour have led to some mockery, The Independent newspaper gets it about right when it calls the show “an addictive Sunday night treat.” Poldark may not be Wolf Hall, but it is a hugely entertaining show.

With consolidated ratings averaging around 7.5 million across an eight-episode run, Poldark has been recommissioned for another series, to be filmed in September. And there are reports that the BBC wants to tie Turner down to a long-term contract and build Poldark up as its answer to Downton Abbey. The programme also looks set to have a decent life internationally, with ITV Studios Global Entertainment licensing it to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Sweden. Confirmation of a second series will help ITVSGE with its further sales efforts.

Elsewhere, the international drama community has been keeping a close eye on the Nordic territories after a run of recent successes. The latest show to watch out for is Acquitted, a 10-part series from Miso Films for TV2 Norway. Acquitted follows the story of Aksel Borgen, who left his native town after being cleared of the murder of his high-school sweetheart. Twenty years later, he returns to save the place that once turned its back on him – but the past has not been forgotten.

Acquitted has rated well for TV2, with its first six episodes averaging 649,000 (55% up on the slot average). This week it also premiered on SVT in Sweden, where it achieved similarly strong ratings. With more than one million viewers (30.5% share), Acquitted ranks as of the most successful foreign dramas to have launched on SVT over the last five years. Miso Films co-founder Peter Bose says: “In an industry where we’re constantly hearing about viewers migrating to non-linear platforms, Acquitted has been quite an achievement on SVT.”

Ratings, of course, play a huge part in deciding whether to renew a show. So it’s no real surprise to see ABC US cancel Revenge after a couple of seasons of modest ratings. It seems, however, that the US can’t get enough of zombies. AMC’s The Walking Dead is as strong as ever, which explains the network’s decision to launch a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead. The CW is also having some success with iZombie, which debuted in March this year. Now halfway through its first run of 13 episodes, the show is achieving healthy ratings in the 1.7-1.9 million mark. Aimed at a younger audience that The Walking Dead, it has received a positive critical response and is expected to return.

TheReturnedA bigger question, perhaps, is the future of A+E’s The Returned, which was eight episodes into a 10-episode run at time of writing. The Returned is a supernatural drama that explores what happens when the dead return to a small town and try to live normal lives, much to the shock and confusion of the living residents. Its significance is that it is based on a successful French series called Les Revenants (produced by Haut et Court for TF1). For those in the format sales business, it’s important that shows like The Returned do well, to avoid spreading fear among US commissioners that shows don’t transfer well into their market.

So far, ratings have not been especially encouraging, starting at 1.54 million but sliding to 0.82 million by episode eight. There are two possible explanations for this – one is that ABC has been airing a similar-concept series called Resurrection; the other is the view among some critics that the A+E show has not taken the French version forward. The Wrap calls it “a serviceable but mostly by-the-numbers remake of a brilliantly nuanced French series that didn’t need to be brought back to life in America a second time.”

A+E is not the kind of network that gives up on shows easily, however, so a cancellation at the end of season one would be surprising. Netflix will be watching developments with interest, having recently picked up the global rights to the A+E series.

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