Tag Archives: TVP1

Labour of Love

Tala Prystaetska, creative director of Ukrainian period drama Love in Chains, describes the challenge of making this ambitious 48-part series and why it has found success at home and abroad.

During a production schedule spanning 12 months, more than 230 actors worked across 254 shooting days – and 50 night shoots – to bring Ukrainian period drama Love in Chains to the screen.

The 48-parter stars Kateryna Kovalchuk as Kateryna, who was raised by her godmother as a lady of noble blood but to the world is the property of the richest landowner in Nizhyn, Petro Chervinskyi (Stanislav Boklan). Struggling for her freedom and happiness, she will have to endure abuse, the deaths of her closest friends, and survive an uprising for the chance to escape.

Produced by Film UA and Starlight Media, the series broke viewing records when it debuted on Ukraine’s STB this spring and also became a hit series for Poland’s TVP1. It is distributed by Film UA.

Here, creative director Tala Prystaetska outlines the ambitious concept for the drama, the search for a star and why she thinks the show has resonated in multiple countries.

Tala Prystaetska

What was the concept for the series and how was it developed?
We sought to create a layered, multi-character ‘novel,’ not just a telenovela. We wanted the viewer to be immersed in the story in the same way they used to be in novels by Alexandre Dumas, George Sand and Maurice Druon.
We were not interested in a predictable tale of love. We wanted to create a real world where passions would rage. And like a novel, the story was supposed to engage completely different audiences.

How was Kateryna Kovalchuk cast?
The search was long and difficult. Our main character had to combine innocence and passion; fragility and strength. Casting took over six months and more than 100 actors auditioned for the role, including one from Scandinavia. In the end, Kateryna, who has also acted in the US, scored the part. She managed to bring everything the scriptwriters had intended for the character.

How did you select the locations?
The team travelled all over Ukraine. We needed the architecture to not only reflect the era but also play up the traits of our characters, mirror their storylines and be technologically suitable for filming.
The most difficult was the mansion of Lydia Schaefer (Kseniya Mishyna). The building, according to the plot, is burned down during an uprising. After a while, different characters come back to the burnt estate over the course of the story. We chose the Chechel estate in the Khmelnitsky region – a magnificent mansion with formal gardens.
Naturally, a fire or even its imitation were out of question. But thanks to CGI and the efforts of our set designers, we could realise everything in the script without sacrificing the real building.

Kateryna Kovalchuk as Kateryna in Love in Chains

How would you describe the visual style of the show?
The period we have chosen has left its mark on the show’s visual identity. The style of a lot of frames was inspired compositionally by famous old paintings. This was the principle our DOPs Serhiy Revutskyi and Oleksiy Lamakh applied to most wide shots. The picturesque beauty and full immersion into the emotions of the characters with the help of expressive close-ups were the two key visual principles.

What is the biggest challenge filming a 48-part drama?
Preserving our sanity! I’m joking, but only partly. The long production period, non-linear schedule, huge number of story twists and large cast of characters required constant concentration and unending focus. Continuity was key – between two adjacent scenes, a whole year could have passed in real life.
For example, in the 28th episode there are riot scenes and the Schäfer mansion is set on fire. We filmed that in September 2017, whereas the scenes of Lydia rushing around in angst during the riot were filmed in August 2018.

Why has the series been so popular in Poland and Ukraine?
We achieved our goal of creating a story that captivates viewers in the same way the best novels captivate readers. Viewers were immersed in the story and rooting for their favourite characters. The values, traditions and rituals in the show form part of the cultural code of the Eastern European audience, while modern viewers can relate to the problems Love in Chains addresses, such as abuse, difficult family dynamics and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The relevance and timelessness of our dramatic elements played a vital role in the success of our project.

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History makers

Magdalena Cieślak, head of scripted at producer Endemol Shine Poland, tells DQ about the inspiration behind the company’s first period drama, Stulecie Winnych (Our Century), and the challenges of bringing it to television.

Polish series Stulecie Winnych (Our Century) marks the first period drama to come from local producer Endemol Shine Poland (ESP).

Commissioned by TVP1, the 13-part family saga tells an epic tale spanning 100 years from just after the turn of the last century to the present. Following the fate of one family from the town of Brwinów, near Warsaw, season one begins in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War and runs until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

It is based on the novel by Ałbena Grabowska and boasts a cast featuring Kinga Preis, Jan Wieczorkowski and Olaf Lubaszenko.

Here, Magdalena Cieślak, head of scripted at ESP, tells DQ more about the production.

Magdalena Cieślak

Tell us about the story of Our Century.
Our Century is Endemol Shine Poland’s first period drama and it has been a huge ratings success for public broadcaster TVP1. It is based on a bestselling book by Ałbena Grabowska and follows the fortunes of the multi-generational Winny family, woven into the dramatic events of the 20th century.
Creative producer Małgosia Retei and I were immediately taken by the story when we read the three-part novel back in 2016. It was nearly a thousand of pages of gripping literature, which we believed could serve as the basis for a great script. It took us some time to convince the broadcaster, though, as period dramas seemed a very costly and risky genre in Poland at that time.
What helped us was the involvement of one of the best Polish screenwriters, Ilona Łepkowska, who supervised the script development and ensured the project we pitched to TVP1 was outstanding in terms of storytelling. Then we managed to engage the best talent, including multi-award-winning film director Piotr Trzaskalski, DOP Witold Płóciennik and a stellar cast. So this series had all the right ingredients to become a success, and we are very happy that Polish viewers appreciate all the hard work we put into it.

What themes did you want the series to cover?
Our Century begins in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War and ends in modern times, so it covers quite a chunk of Polish history. However, the history forms the backdrop, as this series focuses on one family and their story. They’re a family full of deeply hidden secrets, passion, love, sacrifice and complicated relationships. If we take away the historical background, it’s a universal tale that could happen anywhere, anytime. People all over the world achieve great things and make mistakes, they love and suffer, and so do the characters in Our Century. It’s their credibility that draws the audience. When filming, both the director and the actors were constantly searching for the truth – in the characters, in their emotions and in the motivations for the choices they made.

How was it developed? How would you describe the writing process?
The first season consisted of 13 episodes, written by a team of five fantastic writers headed by Ilona Łepkowska. Throughout the creative process, which took about a year, we collaborated very closely with the book author, who gave us invaluable feedback on the scripts. Since this is a period piece, we also needed a lot of help from historical experts, language consultants and liturgy specialists. Interestingly, Ałbena Grabowska is a neurologist by profession, so she was also our medical consultant on the set, guiding the young actors how to “credibly die” from Spanish influenza. Now we are finishing the script development of the second season and the process is very similar.

Our Century follows the Winny family across several decades

What was the appeal of adapting Albena Grabowska’s novel? How has it been changed for TV?
Adapting a book for the screen, especially a bestselling one, is always a challenge. In the novel there is an enormity of plots and characters – the whole human universe to capture. To make the Winny family’s story more powerful, we decided to get rid of some of the background characters and focus on the most distinctive family members. We also added a couple of visually attractive scenes that were not in the book. At some stage, the director joined the screenwriting process, offering some fresh ideas that we all liked.

Tell us about the tone of the series.
It’s a nice blend of drama and comedy – tragic plots are balanced with lighter sequences. Although the whole story is very realistic, being filmed and acted with great attention to detail, there are also some dreamlike scenes and flashes of precognition, as the main character, Anna, has the gift of seeing the future.

Where was Our Century filmed and how would you describe its visual style?
We filmed the series in genuine farmhouses in open-air museums and heritage parks, as well as in a specially built studio set. The streets of Warsaw were shot in the Old Town, and the theatre scenes were in the beautiful interiors of Polski Theatre in Warsaw. We also used some old palaces around Warsaw, both for interiors and external shots. In terms of visual style, Witold Płóciennik did a brilliant job of adding some patina to the picture. With the use of natural light, dirt, dust and with a lot of creative input from the costume and makeup departments, we managed to bring every detail to life and convince the viewers of the reality of the story.

The show’s second season is currently in the works

How would you describe the current landscape for scripted drama in Poland?
It is booming and there’s constant demand for home-grown drama. Free-to-air channels remain the strongest players, and the genres that work best for them are weekly dramedies, daily soaps, medical dramas and period dramas. More recently, crime shows and thrillers have been doing well. Similarly, cable channels are investing in original Polish series, mostly crime genres.

How are scripted series evolving in Poland and more broadly across Central and Eastern Europe?
We believe the production quality of most scripted series produced in Poland is outstanding. The market is very competitive, and every new production raises the bar a bit higher. In terms of content, most of the viewers have quite traditional taste and reach for the offer of free-to-air channels like TVP, TVN and Polsat. Younger audiences are more open to edgier series, which they can find on HBO or Netflix.

What creative opportunities are there to tell new stories?
Polish viewers prefer local stories and 80% of the dramas on air are created and produced locally. To find new ideas that will entrance the audience, we need to invest in local talent, beginning with scriptwriting and development. Over the past two years, we have also seen more book adaptations making it to screen, so we are watching the publishing market very closely, searching for adaptation opportunities. We are also hoping for some new coproduction, line production or film service opportunities following the recently introduced 30% cash rebate.

What are you working on next?
Apart from the second season of Our Century, we are currently filming a romantic comedy movie – a local remake of NL Film movie Ellis in Glamourland. The premiere is set for November this year, so it’s quite a tight schedule. We also have some other projects in the early development stage.

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Bodo bodes well for Poland

One of the most expensive dramas ever produced in Poland chronicles the life of celebrated entertainer Eugene Bodo. DQ finds out more about the ‘Polish Rudolph Valentino.’

The real Bodo and his dog Sambo
The real Bodo and his dog Sambo

He was a star of stage and screen who captivated Polish audiences during the years between the First and Second World Wars.

Now, 73 years after his death, modern audiences are being introduced to Eugene Bodo through a new 13-part drama airing on Poland’s public broadcaster TVP.

The series, called Bodo, follows the showman from his birth in 1899, through his childhood, when his stage career started at his father’s theatre, and throughout his fascinating adult life.

He went on to become an actor, director, producer, businessman and celebrity – a star of scandal and gossip, loved by women and idolised by men.

The show looks at the Bodo’s intense social life, the twists and turns in his life coloured by love and betrayal, and his death in 1943 – an event that is still shrouded in mystery following his move east to the Soviet Union at the outbreak of the Second World War.

“It’s a very powerful story,” says Jan Pawlicki, director of TVP1. “Bodo was a great star of cabaret and cinema. He’s a little bit forgotten and now he’s come back. We have many sad stories about war and bad things, but this story is about cinema, music – it’s a very nice story.

Jan Pawlicki
Jan Pawlicki

“In Poland, the inter-war period is some kind of Arcadia because we have only 20 years of independence between the First and Second World Wars. Bodo is a symbol of success for us during this period.”

In what is the most expensive production to air on Polish television in years, Bodo recreates the 1920s and 1930s with extensive costumes and sets, while showcasing some of the performer’s own songs alongside original music. “It cost ZL1.2m (US$250,000) per episode,” Pawlicki reveals. “It’s a little cheap for the world but for our TV market it was very expensive.

“The big part of the production was costumes and cinematography to recreate the 1920s. Polish cities were quite destroyed at the time so we had to rebuild some places to shoot the story. It was very exciting to watch how the producers and creators brought this to life.”

The exec says biggest challenge was casting the lead, with two actors eventually being selected to play the entertainer at different stages of his life.

Bodo cost US$250,000 per episode – expensive for a Polish drama

Antoni Królikowski and Tomasz Schuchardt (who play young and old Bodo respectively) head a huge ensemble cast that also features Agnieszka Wosińska, Mariusz Bonaszewski, Patricia Kazadi and Anna Pijanowska – and includes more than 4,000 extras.

Pawlicki explains: “We had to find a good actor to fill the role of Bodo. They learned to sing and dance. It was a long process. There were no effects – they did it all themselves.

“The story begins when he was nobody. He wanted to sing and act in the theatre but he realised that, in the theatre, the impact was not the same as in cinema, where you are immortal. He was a pioneer.”

The series is written by Doman Nowakowski and Piotr Derewenda and directed by Michał Kwieciński and Michał Rosa. It is produced by Akson Studio and distributed by TVP.

“Bodo is not so famous outside Poland but he’s like (legendary silent-film actor) Rudolph Valentino,” says Iwona Bocian-Zaciewska, head of marketing for TVP. “He was a singer, actor, director and scriptwriter – he was a really talented person but, of course, he had problems with his life. There are many interesting plots here.

The show recreates the 1920s and 1930s with extensive costumes and sets

“Polish people love costume series. Different people will find different things interesting in the series. For older viewers, it is Bodo. My mum remembered Bodo as a star; my grandmother even met him, so there are a lot of people who know his life pretty well. For younger people, we don’t know exactly his story but it’s fascinating to learn about his life.”

The first episode, which aired in March, drew more than 3.8 million viewers and a 20% audience share.

“We’re changing the way we watch television but it’s still a very good audience,” Bocian-Zaciewska adds. “We are very proud of this series and I’m sure there is a big interest around the world in it too.”

Having only taken up his role in charge of TVP1 at the beginning of the year, Pawlicki is now focused on using drama to build TVP1, with aspirations to turn the broadcaster into a creative hub where writers, showrunners, producers and other creatives can develop projects together.

The channel has also partnered with Bodo producer Akson Studio for Girls of War, which follows three girls during the German occupation of Poland. Shooting will begin this autumn.

There are also plans to develop a transmedia project involving a scripted drama for TVP1 with a spin-off radio series.

“The revolution is starting now,” Pawlicki says of the Polish drama market. “Like in Germany, Denmark and Israel, we’re starting to create formats with global potential. Bodo is the first.”

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