Absolutely Fabula

Absolutely Fabula

November 22, 2023

In production

Nicola De Angelis, CEO of Italy’s Fabula Pictures, outlines the Zero and Baby producer’s approach to storytelling and discusses some of its forthcoming titles.

Led by brothers Nicola and Marco De Angelis, Rome-based Italian producer Fabula Pictures scored its first international hit with the launch of Netflix drama Baby in 2018.

Running for three seasons, the show follows two teenagers from a wealthy neighbourhood in the Italian capital. But while Chiara is the perfect student at their exclusive private school, Ludovica has a bad reputation thanks to her dating history and her love of social media. Though their lives appear to be perfect, their insecurities, fears, peer pressure and family expectations lead them towards the wrong people and to becoming prostitutes.

Fabula followed up Baby with another Netflix series, 2021’s Zero, which tells the story of a shy boy who has the power to turn invisible, which he uses to become a hero when the Milan district he calls home comes under threat.

Last year, the company launched Un’estate fa (Time After Time), a Sky Italia mystery thriller set across two timelines. When the body of a young woman, Arianna, is found 30 years after she disappeared, lawyer Elio becomes the prime suspect, despite his trauma blocking any memories of that fateful summer in 1990. Then after a car accident, Elio wakes up to find himself back in that time as a teenager, leaving him to find out what happened to Arianna and get himself home.

Today now sees the launch on Italian pubcaster Rai 2 and RaiPlay of Noi siamo leggenda (We Are Legend), a coming-of-age series about five teenagers who discover they each have superpowers.

Here, Nicola De Angelis tells DQ more about the company’s drama ambitions and its forthcoming productions.

Nicola (left) and Marco De Angelis

What are the origins of Fabula Pictures?
Ten years ago we started a company with some local stuff and a couple of movies. Then we had the chance to talk to Pascal Breton at [producer and distributor] Federation Studios, we started a partnership and, all of a sudden, everything came together – our first show on Netflix, our second show on Netflix and we did some movies. Now we’re moving into the next stratosphere of projects – more international, more global, more action-packed. This is the new generation of projects from Fabula.

How would you describe Fabula’s approach to storytelling?
We do what our DNA calls for, which is rock ‘n’ roll. We love crazy stuff. We might be considered in Italy as a production company that likes elevated drama. We love stories with a clear and understandable essence that might be told on a different level, with superheroes, light sci-fi or time travelling, like the one we are now airing on Sky Italia, Time After Time. It’s a simple crime story, but it’s about time travel. We like to evolve the storytelling, and audiences appreciate that. This is the type of story we’re looking for – true elements, true characters, complex characters, accidental heroes in extraordinary situations. People want to see special stories, made about normal people.

We Are Legend, Fabula’s latest series, focuses on a group of teens with superpowers

Where do you find stories?
Most of the time we scout new talent. Baby was an idea from a young group of writers, and we love to work and grow with new talents. Sometimes we develop in-house and others we scout in the market. Regarding the common trend for adapting IP, we don’t like adapting IP so much. We have dozens and dozens of fantastic shows taken from very bad books or novels, and this trend allows very bad shows to come from very bad books. It’s a very thin line where you can find fantastic IP and change it into a good show. We prefer to invest in a lot of new talent and original ideas that could become a franchise. We’re also investing in comic books, graphic novels and video games, so we’re adapting this kind of stuff, rather than classic novels.

How do you pitch your ideas to commissioners?
I need to follow my gut, otherwise I’ll be one of the 1,000 producers with the same approach. Also, if you buy a novel, if you buy an IP, you need to ask the original writer for their take and adapt your pitch to that take, and then go to the broadcaster. It might be a quick process; other times, it takes longer than having a new idea.

The broadcasters or platforms know we are generally pitching new ideas, original ideas or true stories turned into original ideas, and that’s the strength of Fabula and what makes us distinctive. Pitching Two Hours From Now [at Rome’s MIA market], our series about a train with a bomb on it, is like Hijack meets Speed and a cop show. The way we’ve pitched it, we wanted to introduce an immersive way to understand the story and give the audience a different kind of show.

I love to select stories where you have one genre contained in another, contained in another. We love to have a lot of mixing of genres because this gives us the possibility to elevate anything we do. We also use a lot of music, and we spend a lot of money making compelling choices and deals with music publishers. We love it. On Baby we did that, and also on Time After Time and Noi siamo leggenda. Researching the music gives us the opportunity to be current as much as we can.

The company’s first hit was Netflix series Baby, which debuted in 2018

The television industry is facing tough economic times. How is it in Italy?
It’s not only here, it’s everywhere. We’re still in a moment where the big drama behind the crisis hasn’t come yet. Italy is facing a tough time because we have a lack of exportable shows and lack of exportable issues that would be credible outside Italy. This is creating an oversized domestic market that probably will implode somewhere – too many shows, too many of the same shows, too much domestic demand. This is probably different in other countries with different genres. We have a lot of crime and family dramas, so it will implode one way or another. It has to implode to get better.

How are you going to navigate the next 12 to 18 months?
We will keep being ourselves. You need to believe in your elevated pitches and elevated dramas. You can bring those ideas to be the next generation of projects nobody will expect from you. I trust YA dramas, and We Are Legend is a YA drama, Time After Time is a YA drama, Baby was a YA drama. Brigante, our next show on Netflix, is for younger audiences. I trust somebody wants them. But it’s a huge mistake to forget about younger audiences. They are the most important group to navigate and you need to let them grow with you. We need to keep doing things for them; this is the recipe to get out of the mud.

Baby was followed by Zero, again for Netflix, in 2021

What does the future hold for Fabula?
We are working jointly with [broadcasters] Sky, Mediaset and Rai on new shows. We are now harvesting a lot of our good work and launching new series. Next we will work on a contemporary procedural series.

That’s even more exciting because if you put elevated drama into a procedural, it can give you lots of good opportunities to explore characters. We’re also working on two spy shows. One is Prometheus, a spy story about Ukraine and Russia, set between the UK and France, and it’s about a fixer in companies working on gas and oil. It’s Ray Donovan in the world of gas and oil, with a spy vein through the story.

What else are you working on?
We’re working on a show called Greater Adria, an eco-thriller set between Italy and Croatia. We’re working with Croatia’s Drugi Plan, we have a German pre-sale and HRT from Croatia on board.

Brigante [Brigands: The Quest for Gold] is our next big Netflix show, set in the south of Italy. It’s a western set after the unification of Italy, when we had gangs in the forest trying to be the anarchists of the time. It’s an action-packed period drama.

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