Tag Archives: Wildside

Walking on the Wildside: DQ hears from Young Pope producer

Italian producer Wildside is targeting high-end international drama with Jude Law-starrer The Young Pope and the adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Michael Pickard reports.

Since establishing a TV division in 2014, Wildside has become one of Italy’s top drama producers.

Most notably, the Rome-based company is responsible for the Italian version of Israeli hit format In Treatment, which starred Sergio Castellito, and thrilling political drama 1992, which drew comparisons to The Sopranos, The West Wing and House of Cards.

Next up is The Young Pope (pictured above), which tells the controversial story of the beginning of Pius XIII’s pontificate. Described as a complex and conflicted character, his conservatism borders on obscurantism, yet he is full of compassion towards the weak and poor. He is also a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications of his authority.

Jude Law stars as the pope, with Diane Keaton playing Sister Mary, a nun from the US who is now living in Vatican City.

The eight-part series, which comes from director Paulo Sorrentino, is produced by Wildside, Haut et Court (Les Revanants) and MediaPro for Sky Europe, HBO and Canal+ in France.

Lorenzo Mieli
Lorenzo Mieli

With the show now in post-production, Wildside MD Lorenzo Mieli, an executive producer on the series, tells DQ the project has been one of the most interesting of his career.

“Our aim was to create a true piece of art in the form of a TV drama,” he explains. “It was highly ambitious and it was tough but we are really happy about the result.”

Mieli describes Sorrentino’s writing and directing style as “a unique combination between irony and drama, with a very personal identity. Plus he has great technical skill in shooting and visualising immediately what he sees.”

He adds: “Everybody in Italy and the US and elsewhere truly believed in the project since the very early stages of development, and gave Paolo all the freedom he needed as a result.”

But with The Young Pope due to air later this year, Wildside has already identified its next project.

In February, it struck a deal with fellow Italian producer Fandango Productions to co-develop and coproduce adaptations of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels.

The series portrays the gritty lives and friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood to motherhood, set against the social and political backdrop of 1950s Naples. The novels depict how the women’s relationship is shaped and often distorted over time by their social status, jealousy and tension amongst other female friendships, domestic violence and the changing conditions of women from marriage to motherhood.

The story will unfold over four eight-part seasons, with filming to take place in Italy.

“The huge success of the entire saga, both in Italy and worldwide, really aroused my interest,” Mieli says. “The last time an Italian novel was made such a fuss of outside of Italy was in the 1980s, with Umberto Eco’s Il nome della Rosa. In Ferrante’s case, we have a great description of 40 years of Italian history, which is a very good narrative material.

“Besides that, I really loved the architecture of those books – it’s compelling storytelling, plot-driven and accessible to everybody, and it’s literature in the purest sense of the word, in terms of going really deep into contradictory characters and depicting not just a story but an entire narrative world. These are the same elements on which contemporary high-end cable TV dramas are based. So I got in touch with Domenico Procacci from Fandango, who had already bought the rights, and everything went smoothly.”

No broadcasters have signed up for the series as yet, however, as development remains in-house.

Wildside's political drama 1992
Wildside’s political drama 1992

“Everybody in the US already knows Elena Ferrante after Domenico got the rights, so lots of broadcasters from all over the world have been very interested in the project,” Mieli notes. “What’s happening now is that we’re developing the project internally, as we always do, so we can come back and present the whole package with the creative team and talent attached.”

Wildside was formed in 2009 by Mieli, Mario Gianani, Marco Martani, Faust Brizzi and Saverio Costanzo after the merger of production companies Wilder and Offside. The creation of an international TV division came in 2014 at the same time as another division was established to focus on feature films and documentaries.

The new company’s international credentials were given a further boost last August, when FremantleMedia acquired a 62.5% stake in Wildside. FremantleMedia International will distribute The Last Pope.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia, said at the time: “This is a key strategic acquisition for FremantleMedia as we continue to strengthen our primetime scripted presence. Wildside is fast becoming one of Europe’s most sought-after drama producers and will complement our existing primetime drama businesses in the US, Germany, Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Australia and the UK. The team have an impressive track record of attracting world-class creative talent and delivering award-winning drama so I’m really excited that they are joining our family of production companies.”

For Mieli, the next year offers Wildside an opportunity to take further advantage of coproduction opportunities and utilise the partnerships now available within the FremantleMedia group.

“We’re pushing a lot on coproductions in order to give wider visibility to our talent and IP internationally and to attract foreign talent into our own drama arena,” he says. “Our aim for the next year is to establish the Wildside/Fremantle partnership as a leading player in the European film industry.”

And the expanding Italian TV market is providing plenty of opportunities for Wildside to win commissions. Future projects also include adaptations of Emanuele Carrere’s book Limonov and Niccolò Ammaniti’s Anna.

Describing the TV landscape in the country, Mieli says: “On free-to-air channels there are some established genres (family dramas, comedies and crime procedural) representing the mainstream trend. Additionally, inside that trend, there’s the possibility to innovate in order to create new sub-genres or hybrids. This was the case with Don’t Kill, an interesting experiment we did on RaiTre. The pay/cable the market is more fluid, and so are the options in terms of language. Plus, we tend to find a wider opening to international coproductions there.”

Yet it’s The Young Pope that Mieli thinks will showcase the new kind of European coproductions taking place across the continent.

“I believe The Young Pope will demonstrate that there’s something like a ‘European way’ to do great high-end dramas that can travel worldwide,” he says. “In the last few years in Italy, broadcasters such as Sky Italia (for which Wildside produced 1992) have been major drivers in developing contemporary dramas, allowing openness to innovative content. But this spreading of sophisticated stories on cable TV has also had great repercussions on free-to-air channels, which are searching for more original drama.”

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Apple eyes TV collaboration with Dr Dre

Dr Dre
Dr Dre is developing a scripted series with Apple, according to reports

Assuming it turns out to be true, the biggest content story of the week comes courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, which says that tech giant Apple is making a six-part TV series with rap legend and Beats Music co-founder Andre Young, better known as Dr Dre.

According to the story, which has subsequently been picked up by a number of major US media outlets, the show will be a semi-autobiographical “dark drama” that will be liberally laced with sex and violence. Apple and Dr Dre have not yet commented on the nascent project, which will be made available via the subscription service Apple Music.

The prospect of Apple moving into content has been mooted for some time. But with Amazon and Netflix rapidly ramping up their original content slates, the company is clearly starting to get anxious it is falling behind. Working with Dr Dre is, however, a great way to signal its ambition. The movie Straight Outta Compton, which looked at Dre’s involvement with the band NWA, grossed US$200m worldwide – suggesting there is a large potential audience for the new show (which will be executive produced by Dr Dre, just like Straight Outta Compton). Fox’s success with Empire and Starz’s success with Power reinforce the idea that the black music industry is fertile creative ground.

Meanwhile, SVoD platform Amazon Prime Instant Video has announced a couple of interesting commissions this week. Echoing developments at its arch-rival Netflix, it is now getting into non-English-language production with a German-language series called Wanted.

Wanted will star German actor-writer-director Matthias Schweighoefer and tells the story of a Berlin convention centre project manager who becomes the victim of a mysterious hacking attack. Schweighoefer’s company Pantaleon Entertainment, Warner Bros Entertainment and Warner Bros International Television Production Deutschland are attached to produce.

Mozart in the Jungle has been given a third season
Mozart in the Jungle has been given a third season

Christoph Schneider, MD of Amazon Video Germany, said: “With our first regional Amazon original production we implement not only the desire of many of our customers for exclusive German content but also extend our service to new audiences and establish Amazon Prime as an important partner for producers and creative professionals in this country.”

This week also saw Amazon order a third season of its Golden Globe-winning series Mozart in the Jungle. Mozart is a show about the politics and relationships in a leading symphony orchestra. Season two began streaming in December 2015.

Over at Netflix, meanwhile, there was also a renewal for Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. The show stars Ansari as Dev, a 30-year-old actor attempting to make his way through life in New York City. Netflix doesn’t release viewing data, but an 8.4 rating on IMDb suggests the show has picked up a pretty loyal audience.

Premium pay TV network Starz has been talking about doing a sequel to period drama The White Queen for two or three years now. Finally, it has committed itself to an eight-episode limited series called The White Princess, which will air in 2017. Like the previous series, this one is based on the novels of Philippa Gregory and will be adapted for the screen by Emma Frost.

Aziz Ansari's Master of None will return to Netflix
Aziz Ansari’s Master of None will return to Netflix

The White Princess, which is told through the eyes of a female protagonist, concludes the story of England’s War of the Roses and charts the rise of the House of Tudor. Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik said: “There is a dearth of programming that tells women’s stories and The White Queen was embraced with great success by audiences worldwide. The fanbase for Philippa Gregory’s historical novels is undeniable, and we are confident The White Princess will become the next must-see fandom drama series.”

The show will be produced by Company Pictures, with Playground’s Colin Callender on board as an executive producer.

In recent months there has been a lot of activity among Italian producers seeking to raise their profile on the international market. One of these is FremantleMedia-owned Wildside. This week, the company announced it is developing a series based on Elena Ferrante’s four acclaimed Neapolitan Novels. The plan is for each of Ferrante’s four female-centred books, which are set against Italian society changes from the 1950s to the present day, to become an eight-episode series (32 episodes in total). The show is being coproduced by Wildside with Domenico Procacci’s Fandango, which owns the rights and originated the project. Fandango was one of the producers on the hit series Gomorrah.

Deadline has also been running an interest story this week suggesting James Bond star Daniel Craig is to star in a new drama series called Purity, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Franzen. Showtime, FX, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are all still in the running to secure the series, according to Deadline.

War and Peace has sold to channels around the world
War and Peace has sold to channels around the world, including Russia’s Channel One

Meanwhile, Hulu is reported to have linked up with UK producer Stephen Garrett, who has recently launched a new drama indie called Character Seven. Garrett is developing a London-set supernatural series for Hulu called The Rook, in partnership with Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s company Fickle Fish and Lionsgate.

Finally, BBC Worldwide (BBCWW) has announced a slew of new sales for its adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Pick of the bunch is the sale to Russia’s Channel One, though the show has also been sold across Asia and Scandinavia and to France.

BBCWW president of global markets Paul Dempsey said: “It is fitting that Russian audiences will get the chance to enjoy this thoroughly modern adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. They’ll join millions of viewers around the world who have been enthralled by Andrew Davies’ stunning interpretation of War and Peace.”

Previously, the Weinstein Company licensed the series to the A+E Networks in the US.

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Italy spreads its wings

Led by gritty series like the Mafia-focused hit Gomorrah, Italian drama is enjoying new levels of global interest. DQ finds out why.

The world has been watching great Italian movies for more than half a century. Following The Bicycle Thieves in 1948, films like La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8½, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino, Life Is Beautiful, Gomorrah, The Great Beauty and Human Capital are past and present proof that superlative screen craft is a cherished component of Italian culture.

But until recently Italy’s TV business hadn’t achieved anything like the same profile beyond its borders. “The main free-to-air broadcasters, Rai and Mediaset, have a history of participating in continental European coproductions,” says Beta Film senior VP for international sales and acquisitions Oliver Bachert, “and there was the stand-out success of La Piovra (The Octopus), which sold around the world, but historically Italy has mostly focused on local productions that don’t attract much attention internationally.”

Filming on the Mafia hit Gommorah
Filming on the Mafia hit Gommorah

The roots of this insularity probably lie in a backlash against imported content that occurred in the 1980s. It took Italian TV producers until the 1990s to perfect their response, but when they did, they began to achieve real success with domestically produced soaps (such as A Place in the Sun and A Doctor in the Family) and police thrillers. Locally know as ‘giallo,’ the police titles included popular shows such as Marshal Rocca, Inspector de Luca and Inspector Montelbano. While they achieved some sales internationally, they didn’t spark the interest associated with, for example, the recent wave of Nordic Noir exports.

The catalyst for change has been the arrival in the market of pay TV platform Sky Italia, says Bachert, “which started commissioning dramas that are more in line with international trends. First came Romanzo Criminale from 2008 to 2010, and then Gomorrah, which we distribute.”

According to Bachert, Gomorrah, which was produced by Italian indie Cattleya, “took Italian drama to a new level.” The story of organised crime in Naples, told across 12 episodes, “won numerous awards and sold to 113 countries. It now has a second season coming up and has encouraged the international market to look more closely at Italian drama.”

Proof that Gomorrah was not a one-hit wonder came with the launch of 1992 in March of this year. Another Sky-backed project, the 10-episode series revolves around six people whose lives become intertwined with the political and social earthquake that swept away Italy’s post-war establishment.

Echoing its approach with English-language drama Fortitude, Sky was sufficiently excited by 1992 that it aired it across the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria, in addition to Italy – a total market of 20 million homes. That, says Bachert, came in addition to sales in France (Orange), Spain (Canal+), Scandinavia (HBO Nordic) and Benelux (HBO Europe). Now there is talk of a follow-up series entitled 1993.

In Treatment
In Treatment, based on the Israeli format

1992 was produced by one of Italy’s leading indie producers, Wildside. Explaining how the company came about, co-founder Lorenzo Mieli says: “It was founded in Rome in 2009 as a merger between Mario Gianani and Saverio Costanzo’s Offside and Wilder, plus Fausto Brizzi and Marco Martani who joined the team at the moment of the company’s creation. Wilder was a company founded by me and some partners in 2001. Basically that was the place where everything started – we used to produce scripted and unscripted for Italian pay broadcasters.”

From Wilder’s perspective, the big step-change actually predated Sky Italia’s investments, though it was the same corporate family that was behind its expansion: “Wilder experienced dramatic growth with Boris, which was the first scripted show ever made by Fox International Channels in Italy. It was a huge success that was crucial to boosting the business.”

Boris was a comedy series that ran for three seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2010 (totalling 42 episodes). Towards the end of the show’s run, FIC commissioned Wilder to make another series, a six-hour serial killer thriller called The Monster of Florence. Both series were broadcast by FIC on the Sky Italia platform, effectively priming Wilder for the next phase of its development following the merger with Offside.

Today, says Mieli, “Wildside’s pipeline is a combination of Offside’s traditional expertise in feature films and Wilder’s TV background. At the moment, our catalogue spans from art-house movies and commercial/blockbuster comedies to scripted shows for both pay and free TV channels. Our main job is to deliver high-quality products, with a focus on talent-driven projects that have a strong international appeal. To do this, we work to build solid relationships with top Italian directors and writers, which is also a way to attract international talent.”

Like Bachart, Mieli gives a nod in the direction of Gomorrah, which he says “did a priceless job for the Italian production community. It demonstrated that an Italian way to make quality shows exists. Maybe a component of exoticism is helping Italian shows travel so much. But we do believe now that the global audience is ready for something different from US storytelling.”

La Narcotici 2 (Anti Drug Squad 2)
La Narcotici 2 (Anti Drug Squad 2)

According to Mieli, coproduction is currently Wildside’s key modus operandi: “Considering the work we’ve been doing in the last two years and what we’re currently developing now, it’s pretty clear that our product is closer to the anthological and talent-driven model.”

The best current example of this is The Young Pope, an ambitious English-language production that Wildside is making for Sky, HBO and Canal+. “The Young Pope is the most representative example of our strategy… a high-profile coproduction with a pure Italian creative core. And we are developing three scripted projects for the international market with a similar model. But we haven’t forgotten the Italian scenario – two shows for Rai and one for Sky are in production and couple of features are in pre-production.”

Starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton in her most high-profile TV production to date, The Young Pope was one of the year’s surprise scripted announcements. Mieli explains its appeal: “The story sounded amazing from the very first moment. The idea of a controversial pope born in the US and surrounded by daily life in Vatican City had evident ground-breaking potential. Plus Paolo Sorrentino’s writing was a stunning piece of literature from the very early stages of development.”

Mieli is convinced The Young Pope can have the kind of impact already made by shows like Gomorrah and 1992, and not just because it has HBO, Sky and Canal+ behind it. “The Young Pope’s distribution will be managed by FremantleMedia International and we’ve no doubt it will travel a lot. We have a great story, an award-winning creator, an all-star cast and a very fascinating, highly recognisable arena in the Vatican.”

As it happens, the Wildside story became even more interesting during production – when FremantleMedia decided to acquire a 62.5% stake in the firm. Commenting on the deal at the time, FremantleMedia CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz said: “This is a key strategic acquisition as we continue to strengthen our primetime scripted presence. Wildside is fast becoming one of Europe’s most sought-after drama producers and will complement our existing businesses in the US, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia and the UK. The team has an impressive track record of attracting world-class creative talent and delivering award-winning drama, so I’m really excited that they are joining our family of production companies.”

Being in the Fremantle family may also give Wildside an opportunity to take scripted formats into Italy. There have been signs in recent times that this side of the business, traditionally underdeveloped, is starting to pick up.

1992 could be followed by a new show, 1993
1992 could be followed by a new show, 1993

Wildside, for example, made Israeli format In Treatment for the Italian market, while Spanish period drama Velvet and French supernatural thriller Les Revenants (The Returned) have also been adapted. Utilising FM’s international expertise should allow Wildside to push this door open further.

Wildside, of course, is not the only Italian indie providing a bridge to and from the international market. Cattleya, which counts DeAgostini and United Pictures International among its shareholders, recently announced plans for season two of Gomorrah. It also has a deal with Canal+ to create an English-language series called ZeroZeroZero.

ZeroZeroZero is based on a book by Roberto Saviano, who also wrote the book on which both the film and TV versions of Gomorrah are based. The director is Stefano Sollima, whose credits include Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah – all of which guarantees a solid international showing for ZeroZeroZero.

Fabrice de La Patellière, director of French drama and coproductions for Canal+, says: “We are delighted to be involved in initiating this international project driven by Roberto Saviano’s talent and commitment. This story, with the work of the scriptwriters Stefano Bises and Leonardo Fasoli and director Stefano Sollima, offers an uncompromising, in-depth look into the world of cocaine trafficking and the complexities of the system. This invaluable partnership with Cattleya offers the opportunity of a unique series for our subscribers.”

Cattelya is also exploring the scripted format business. It is remaking NBC’s Parenthood for Rai Uno, the first ever US scripted format to be picked up by the channel. At the same time, it has signed a deal with Atlantique Productions to turn two Italian properties into English-language TV series. The first will be a re-imagining of the cult western Django, which has its roots in the spaghetti Western tradition. The second is Dario Argento’s classic Italian horror film Suspiria, which will be reinvented as period horror series set in London and Rome between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

Cattleya president Riccardo Tozzi says: “Cattleya’s role on these series marks a further step in our plan to produce high-end English-language series. And, of course, we are extremely proud to be working with Dario Argento, a leading figure for an entire generation of filmmakers.”

It’s no real surprise that Sky’s international axis has provided the platform for Italian producers to reposition themselves on the global stage. But it’s notable that Mediaset and Rai are also exploring what might be possible beyond their borders.

Mediaset started to show some interest in the English-language drama market when it came in as a coproducer on , a Left Bank Pictures adaptation of Michael Dibdin’s detective novels that also had BBC, WGBH Boston and ZDF as coproducers.

Inspector Montalbano
Inspector Montalbano

That was very much an ad-hoc experiment. But last year Mediaset started to talk up the possibility of making international drama in a more systematic and strategic way. The first fruit of this came earlier this year when it joined forces with France-based Federation Entertainment to coproduce Lucky Luciano, a 12-hour miniseries about mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

With Alessandro Camon on board as writer, Lucky Luciano will follow the life of the man considered to be the father of modern organised crime in the United States. “This is an extraordinary project based on the life of one of the most compelling figures in crime,” says Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton, who is producing the series alongside Stephane Sperry. “Lucky Luciano remains a mystery in many key facets of his life, especially in his relationship with the FBI. We intend to explore these mysteries and offer the most definitive work on his life that’s ever been produced.”

Mediaset’s perspective on the project comes from content MD Alessandro Salem, who says: “We’ve been looking for a long time for the right coproducer that shares our fascination towards the human complexity of such a criminal icon as Lucky Luciano. We’re thrilled to have found an outstanding partner for this miniseries event in Federation.”

Mediaset doesn’t intend Lucky Luciano to be a one-off. While it has yet to formally flesh out its strategy, the company says it is “devoted to pursuing international production as a new vector of development for high-profile, ambitious original scripted content together with world-renowned partners.”

For public broadcaster Rai, the challenge is how to engage with the international market while staying focused on the needs of the domestic market. Mattia Oddone, head of cinema and TV international sales at commercial arm Rai Com, says his parent company’s domestic channels are currently doing very well: “Drama works wonderfully on Rai, making Rai 1 and Rai 2 the leading channels in Italy. The key slots are on Sunday and Monday nights, primetime for miniseries and longer series.”

Rai produces around 400 hours of original drama per year with a budget of around €200m (US$223m). In terms of Rai dramas that cross over into the international markets, Oddone says: “Genre series account for most of our sales. One of our most marketable products this year has been new seasons of Il Giovane Montalbano (The Young Montalbano – a spin-off of the original Montalbano series), based on the popular protagonist of Andrea Camilleri’s acclaimed Sicilian crime novels.”

The Young Montalbano is one series that has ridden the wave of interest in non-English language drama, says Oddone, “selling to the US, the UK, France and Benelux.” More generally, “Latin America and Spanish-language rights for the US market are very important to us, as is Central and Eastern Europe. Crime series like the second season of Sfida Al Cielo – La Narcotici 2 (Anti Drug Squad 2) and La Catturandi (Palermo Police Squad, pictured top) have been in high demand there. Biopics on internationally recognisable figures such as Oriana, a dramatisation of the life of storied Italian journalist and campaigner Oriana Fallaci, have also performed very well.”

Oddone acknowledges there has been a change in the way TV drama is produced in Italy. But he also stresses that Italian success has so far been rooted in subject matter that is closely associated with the market. “Rather than making Italian content more international, we have seen Italian themes become more accessible for international audiences. Topics like the family and the Mafia are very much connected with Italy and the possibility to develop such stories has allowed Italian producers to tell them with more intelligence and subtlety.”

Given Rai’s role at the heart of the Italian cultural landscape, Oddone says there is no reason why Rai Com cannot also play its part in the growing international market for Italian drama. And there have been separate reports that the broadcaster is looking at a project about the Medicis and one based on Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. But Oddone also reiterates the point about not losing sight of the needs of the domestic audience. Rai is less likely, for example, to follow some of its Italian peers into English-language drama. “We are about to enter drama coproduction and we are seeking new projects. But it is a delicate matter and it also has to engage the interest of our channels, with which we are now working very closely.”

It’s worth noting that Italian scripted content has also started making ground in markets like China and Turkey, primarily as formats. But if there is one other big story worth following, it’s the arrival of Netflix in Italy this October. The subscription VoD platform’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos was in the country recently trying to win over the Italian industry with promises of investment in Italian-originated content that can travel.

Speaking at the Ischia Global Film and Music Festival, he said: “We think we can bring a large global audience to a local Italian show and that we will be able to invest at a higher level than an Italian producer would invest in a series or a film from Italy.”

Echoing the company’s approach in France, where it greenlit a major local series called Marseilles, Sarandos said Netflix is planning a major commission that will “represent probably 15% to 20% of our spending on Italian programming.”

With Netflix spending an estimated US$5bn a year globally on content, the company’s entry into the Italian market should provide a welcome boost to the country’s producers at this pivotal moment.


 

Mediaset feeling lucky

Mediaset’s Alessandro Salem and Federation Entertainment founder Pascal Breton discuss their new coproduction Lucky Luciano and outline how Italian drama is taking on the international market.

Alessandro Salem: “What is happening right now is the spotlight is again on the power of Italian stories and the success they are achieving worldwide. In Italy and abroad the national frame isn’t always appropriate to nourish the creative process and to grant the financing of ambitious projects, so international development is more and more crucial.

“Rather than cinema or television, today we should speak of talents who explore storytelling and, depending on the specific nature of the project, later take on a TV or cinema direction.

Pascal Breton: “We’ve witnessed a ‘Scandinavian wave’ these past few years, and I think we’re now seeing a French wave with series like The Returned and The Bureau, as well as Versailles and Marseille within the next year, along with a wave of highly talented directors, writers and producers. The meeting of TV producers with top talent from French and Italian cinema is bringing a new creative force into a field that’s been dominated by Anglo-Saxon series.”

Salem: “Lucky Luciano is a TV series with international DNA: Italian roots, American trunk and international branches. It is about one of the most famous, and yet less known, criminal icons of the 20th Century, Charles Salvatore Lucania, also known as ‘Lucky.’ The series discloses what’s behind the story of the kid from Sicilian sulfur mines who will organise the American mob as an actual corporation, and will leave a lasting mark on the story of our countries through the controversial collaboration with the American and Italian authorities.

“The locations, the renowned character, the popularity of the Italian organised crime stories in the TV and movie iconography, have made it natural for us to launch the project on an international scale, and have led us to look for partners who share our ambitious and transnational vision.”

Breton: “Lucky Luciano is a perfect example of a story originating in Europe that has had a deep impact on the history of the US, and the story’s potential is endless. We were looking for an opportunity to coproduce with Mediaset, and we couldn’t have found a better subject.

Salem: “Mediaset has ambitions to become a major player in the international drama market. Within the next three years the goal is to have a constant pipeline of international dramas. To this aim, on one side, Taodue – our in-house production company – is focusing its talent towards international production with several projects greenlit. On the other side, we are confident we can count on our distribution strength through our presence in Italy and Spain.

“We are aware that English is nowadays a sort of precondition for international drama – indeed, Lucky Luciano will be shot in English. An exception can be Spanish, when the story justifies it, because of the extent of Spanish-speaking markets. That’s the case of Taodue’s upcoming movie Call Me Francesco.”

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Pope hopes: The latest in Vatican viewing

Michael Pickard reports on the latest Hollywood star to join the cast of Sky and Canal+’s The Young Pope, the most recent in a long line of papal dramas.

Diane Keaton has become the latest Hollywood star to make the move to television after signing up for a new HBO drama that will be coproduced by Sky and France’s Canal+.

And while her decision to head to the small screen is another nod towards the current appeal of television drama to traditional film actors, the show she will star in extends another trend among international series.

In the latest in a series of dramas surrounding popes, The Young Pope will see Keaton will play Sister Mary, a nun from the US now living in Vatican City. Also headlining the series is another actor known for his feature career, Jude Law, who will play Pius XIII.

Diane Keaton will play Sister Mary in The Young Pope
Diane Keaton will play Sister Mary in The Young Pope

Other members of the international cast include Silvio Orland, Scott Shepherd, Cécile de France, Javier Cámara, Lidivine Sagnier, Toni Bertorelli and James Cromwell.

The series comes from Paolo Sorrentino, who will direct all eight episodes. Production began last week.

It is produced by Wildside and coproduced by Haut et Court TV and Mediapro. The executive producers are Lorenzo Mieli, Mario Gianani, Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta and Simon Arnal.

The series focuses on the beginning of Pius XIII’s Pontificate. Born Lenny Belardo, he is a complex and conflicted character, conservative and yet full of compassion towards the weak and poor. Described as a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, he is unconcerned with the implications to his authority.

During the series, Belardo will face losing those closest to him and the constant fear of being abandoned, even by his God. He is not, however, afraid of defending that same God and the world representing him.

Listing some of the show’s themes, Sorrentino said: “The clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness – so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbour. That is what The Young Pope is about.”

Paolo Sorrentino will direct all eight of The Young Pope's episodes
Paolo Sorrentino will direct all eight of The Young Pope’s episodes

As Sorrentino describes it, it’s hard to resist this blend of good versus evil, temptation, power struggles, politics, faith and morality. So perhaps that’s why The Young Pope is just the latest in a number of dramas to be set in and around Vatican City.

Most recently, US premium cable network Showtime ordered a pilot called The Vatican. It starred Kyle Chandler as Cardinal Thomas Duffy in a contemporary thriller about spirituality, power and politics, set against the modern-day machinations of the Catholic Church.

Bruno Ganz (Downfall) was cast as Pope Sixtus VI, while Anna Friel, Sebastian Koch, Matthew Goode and Ewen Bremner were also set to star. Paul Attanasio (House) wrote the script, with Alien director Ridley Scott behind the camera.

However, Showtime decided not to move forward with the project in December 2013.

Then, of course, we have rival series The Borgias (pictured top) and Borgia. The Borgias, also from Showtime, launched in April 2011 headlined by Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, the manipulative patriarch of the Borgia family, who builds an empire by bribing, buying and muscling his way to become Pope Alexander VI.

Created and written by Neil Jordan, who also directed a handful of episodes, it became Showtime’s biggest new drama series for seven years, running for three seasons until 2013.

Borgia, meanwhile, was a European series similarly about the rise of the infamous papal dynasty during the Renaissance, overseen by showrunner Tom Fontana. It was produced by Atlantique Productions, EOS Entertainment, Beta Film and Canal+, with Germany’s ZDF and Austria’s ORF and Sky Italia among the broadcasters. It was also picked up by Netflix.

Borgia (2011-2014) was created by Tom Fontana
Borgia (2011-2014) was created by Tom Fontana

Borgia, which also ran for three seasons, between 2011 and 2014, boasted a cast including John Doman (The Wire), Mark Ryder, Stanley Weber, Isolde Dychauk, Marta Gastini and Art Malik.

The Borgias was also the title of a 1981 television drama produced by the BBC and Italy’s Rai, starring Adolfo Celi as Pope Alexander VI.

As both The Borgias and Borgia showed on screen, dramas involving the papacy can provide writers and directors with a rich tapestry of colourful characters, lashings of intrigue and a host of plots to keep even the most difficult-to-please viewers in front of the TV.

Audiences can find out whether The Young Pope will take the crown among papal dramas when it hits screens in 2017.

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