All posts by DQ

Making it in Manhattan

Richard Yee, co-creator, co-writer and director of Sky1 comedy drama Sick of It, discusses a scene from the season two finale that took the production to New York. The series is produced by Me + You Productions and Alrite Productions and distributed by BBC Studios.

Richard Yee

In season one of Sick of It, main character Karl retreated into himself after the end of his relationship, with only the voice in his head for company. In season two, Karl is still riddled with self-doubt and insecurities, but more hope has crept into his life. He’s started to venturing outside his comfort zone and has unexpectedly fallen for his aunt’s carer, Ruby.

The season finale brings this to a head when Karl reluctantly travels to New York to tie up some family business and Ruby takes it upon herself to join him. The scene is then set for them to finally get together.

From the beginning, when co-writer Karl Pilkington (who also plays the lead character) and I sketched out the arc of the season, we always wanted the storyline to take us to New York, and it was always my intention to film it there too. The trip to New York was the culmination of a slow-bubbling attraction that had developed between Karl and Ruby in the series, and a realisation in Karl that he’s got to let himself live a little.

From standing in a dated living room staring at his uncle’s coffin at the start of season one to running through the colourful streets of New York with Ruby at the end of season two, Karl’s mindset had changed, and the city was a living, breathing manifestation of the hope that had crept into his life. I wanted to capture the energy of New York on screen and for that to seep into the performances. I also had great cinematic ambitions for the series, so New York felt like the perfect location to bring it to a climax.

Karl Pilkington and Marama Corlett film a New York taxi scene in Sick of It

Of course, we were never budgeted to film in New York, so the inevitable question of ‘Why don’t we just fake New York in the UK?’ or film against a green screen was bound to come up… and come up it did. Again and again and again. In fact, halfway through production, we were still struggling to make New York work on our budget and it came up again, before an alternative suggestion was put forward – that we rewrite the finale and set it in Scotland instead.

As much as I love Scotland (I’m half Scottish, half Chinese), I was more determined than ever to stick to my original intention. I pushed back until finally production pressed the button and booked our flights to New York.

When we arrived a few days before the shoot to prep, the omens weren’t good. As soon as we hit Manhattan, street after street, many of which were on the route our scout had previously recce’d for our opening scene, were now dug up. The New York Department of Transportation had chosen the week of our filming to dig up Manhattan’s avenues and start resurfacing the roads. To add insult to injury, our hotel was directly next to a section of road they had chosen to dig up that night. They call New York the city that never sleeps, but they don’t tell you it’s because they dig up the streets in the middle of the night.

When Karl Pilkington and Marama Corlett (who plays Ruby) arrived a couple of days later, the roadworks were still underway outside our hotel. And in a mirror of what happens in the episode, they ended up in adjoining rooms. While I recce’d and prepped with my new production team day and night, Karl and Marama hung out in New York together. We’d bump into them randomly in the street as we scouted spots to shoot, and later at night would run into them in bars completely by chance.

Filming the taxi in Manhattan posed a unique set of challenges

We hadn’t even started filming but, by sheer virtue of being in New York together, they were living out their roles and developing their chemistry without realising they were even rehearsing. Things were looking up again – but then came the day of filming.

First up was a scene in an iconic yellow taxi. We’d planned a new route that avoided the resurfaced roads and roadworks and were all set to go. If only the same could be said about our picture car. The engine overheated en route before an actor or camera had even got close to it, and the driver had to turn back and pick up a new car from Brooklyn. Two hours later, we eventually got on the road. It wasn’t the best of starts.

Over the next two days shooting around Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and Manhattan, we managed to make the time up, working at a fevered pace. There were times I wasn’t sure if we ‘got it,’ but my New York script supervisor, Anna Lomakina, who had had just come off Lulu Wang’s The Farewell and Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, knew the city well and helped me tune into the frenetic rhythms of New York and how you film there.

Even if you have the resources, you can’t control New York. You can’t wait for trains to stop, or silence to fall before calling action. You have to embrace the chaos of it. The Safdie Brothers, whose brilliant new film Uncut Gems is based in New York, are masters of this. They never close down roads. Instead of stopping members of the public walking through the frame, they encourage it, and the cast play out their scenes in as close to a real-world environment as possible. They embrace chaos in a way that’s anathema to most filmmakers but manage to bottle the spirit and unpredictability of New York in a way that feels alive.

New York’s infamously busy Times Square was used as a location

Our final night in New York revolved around another driving scene, this time through Manhattan at night. Editorially, we wanted as much colour and light on the streets of New York as possible, to contrast with the more subdued colours of Karl’s world in the UK.

Invariably, that drew us to Times Square. No one in their right mind drives through Times Square, let alone tries to film a scene there, especially where continuity of background and performance is needed. But that’s what we did. Even at midnight, the traffic was stop-start and it was near impossible to match speeds against the backdrops. The continuity nightmare was made worse when it started raining halfway through. To save time, I was jumping in and out of the following vehicle myself to wipe dry the picture car to keep a modicum of continuity.

It was nerve-wracking having no control, it was one of the hardest scenes in the series to edit and there’s no doubt it would have been much easier to film in the UK in a studio. But it just wouldn’t have been as good. The lights looked beautiful on our vintage lenses, the excitement of actually being in New York rubbed off on the cast and their performances; and when you watch the scene, you share their excitement of being in New York for the first time.

I have no regrets and would take the real New York over a green screen any day of the week.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Lesson time

Netflix original series Sex Education follows Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward high-school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson). In season one, Otis and his friend Maeve (Emma Mackey) set up a sex clinic at school to capitalise on his talent for dishing out sex advice.

In season two, Otis’s relationship with girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) progresses while he must also deal with his now-strained friendship with Maeve. Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school, while new kids come to town who will challenge the status quo.

The cast also includes Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, Aimee Lou Wood, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Chaneil Kular, Simone Ashley, Mimi Keene, Tanya Reynolds, Mikael Persbrandt, Jim Howick, Rakhee Thakrar, Samantha Spiro, James Purefoy and Alistair Petrie.

In this DQTV interview, executive producers Laurie Nunn, Ben Taylor and Jamie Campbell open up about the making of the show and bringing it back for a second run. Creator and writer Nunn reveals how she was brought the idea of putting a teenage sex therapist onto a school campus and then created the world of Moordale and its characters.

She also talks about how US teen series shaped the world of Sex Education, a vision shared with director Taylor, who wanted to create a “positive, warm school experience.”

The group also discuss bringing the cast together and the challenges of balancing so many characters’ stories, and tease the potential of future seasons.

Sex Education is produced by Eleven for Netflix.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Shaking up Shakespeare

Reynaldo Gianecchini, one of the stars of Brazilian melodrama Dulce Ambición (Sweet Diva), and director Amora Mautner open up about making the telenovela and its take on the classic Romeo & Juliet love story.

More than 55 million people tuned in for the final chapter of Dulce Ambición (Sweet Diva), concluding this story of a pastry chef’s struggle to get past tragedy and win over her daughter.

Writer Walcyr Carrasco (The Other Side of Paradise, Hidden Truths) describes the 130-part series as “a telenovela about courage, hope and overcoming with lots of positive energy,” in which Juliana Paes plays Maria da Paz, who was born and raised in a family of professional killers in the countryside of Espírito Santo, where she learns to cook alongside her grandmother Dulce (Fernanda Montenegro).

She later meets Amadeu, the great love of her life and a member of rival family. Willing to fight the hatred of both families, Maria and Amadeu propose a peace agreement and decide to get married – but on their wedding day, Amadeu is shot dead. Fearing for her life, she flees to São Paulo, where she discovers she is pregnant and then uses her baking skills to become a successful baker.

Ten years later, after building a successful company and making a fortune, Maria faces the wrath of her daughter Josiane (Agatha Moreira), who does not like her mother’s behaviour and decides to partner bon vivant Régis (Reynaldo Gianecchini) in an effort to take control of her fortune.

The telenovela also introduces two sisters, Vivi Guedes (Paolla Oliveira) and Fabiana (Nathália Dill), Maria’s nieces who were separated as kids. Vivi ends up becoming a digital influencer, adding a contemporary tone to a telenovela that embodies traditional themes of hope, drama and resilience.

Here, Gianecchini and director Amora Mautner (Brazil Avenue, Precious Pearl) reveal more about the characters, life on set and Globo’s telenovela tradition.

Reynaldo Gianechini as Régis alongside Juliana Paes as Maria

Reynaldo, how does Régis fit into the story?
Reynaldo Gianecchini: My character comes from a traditional failed family. Even without possessions, he is a bon vivant and wants to live at the expense of his family, his brother-in-law and then of Maria da Paz.
Despite his dubious character, he is very outgoing and knows how to deal with people. He is a charming guy, which he uses to win everyone over and achieve good things in life. In other words, being part of high society in spite of not belonging to it any longer.
When he meets Josiane (Agatha Moreira), they are immediately attracted to each other because they are so similar and have so much in common. They form a dangerous duo who use people to get what they want.

How were you cast in the telenovela?
Gianecchini: I was invited to be in the telenovela by Walcyr Carrasco himself. He was writing the character thinking of me, and I was very happy because I had been waiting for the opportunity to work with Amora [Mautner, director] for a long time. So it was a great moment, a gathering of people with whom I wanted to work.

How did you approach the role? Did you do any research or specific preparation?
Gianecchini: In telenovelas, there is not much time to prepare because we know very little about the characters in the beginning. They are written little by little. We have few written episodes when we start shooting, so we only have a notion of how the character’s personality will be, but many things will still happen to him.
In the case of Régis, I went through physical preparation because he was a tennis player. I tried to understand a little about the universe of tennis players and the practice of this sport. Also, I took some references from films and watched some seductive playboys and bon vivants.

How did you work with the directors on set?
Gianecchini: It was a very pleasant experience because our colleagues were always very excited and talented. Walcyr’s telenovelas are always fun because they have a lot of twists. Régis, for example, went through a lot of phases. We could not count on a particular style for him, as there are many things that happen to a character. But the mood was really good; everybody was happy and satisfied. The characters were good and the direction was great, so the overall mood contributed to the final result.

Amora Mautner

The telenovela is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. How does it put a fresh twist on this classic story?
Amora Mautner: The author was not only inspired by the Shakespearean classic, but also by Blood Wedding, a play from 1932 by Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. The fight between the two rival families are characteristic of Romeo & Juliet, but the new aspect of the story is the professional killers, who are still a reality in some regions of the country. Despite the relationship with Shakespeare, the telenovela has a happier, lighter aura, full of love and hope.

What challenges did you face, either in preparation or in production?
Gianecchini: The challenges of a telenovela are very similar: it is the art of doing what we can within the little time we have. But it is a very cool exercise.

Why do you think Sweet Diva appealed to so many viewers in Brazil?
Mautner: The story is very engaging; it brings many characters that represent our audience and make us want to watch the story until the end. We can feel this energy both in the text and in the essence of the telenovela. We have a lot of supporting stories that also engage the audience.

How does Sweet Diva compare to other Brazilian telenovelas being produced?
Mautner: The telenovela is a classic melodrama. We have all the elements of a traditional telenovela. These are very straightforward characters, from the heroes to the villains. And one of the things that drew my attention to this telenovela was female empowerment. We have worked on that very strongly and positively in all characters, but especially in the protagonist, Maria da Paz.
The text already has a lighter atmosphere, with a hopeful tone. This aspect is very strong in the text, and we also wrote it that way for the producers.

Why might Sweet Diva also appeal to international viewers?
Gianecchini: It is a very dynamic telenovela; things happen all the time. All the characters are very good, and people can easily relate to them. They are all human. They are not overly simplified: nobody is fully good or bad, as it is in real life. And there is a dynamic where things change quickly. The plots make you want to keep watching; you want to know what the next step will be for the characters.

Agatha Moreira (right) plays Josiane, Maria’s daughter

What do you think of the international interest in Brazilian drama?
Gianecchini: We Brazilians – and especially Globo – have strong knowhow when it comes to making telenovelas, series and limited series. They are made with a degree of quality that is not common around the world, and I think this awakens the international interest.
Television, in general, is going through a very good moment in terms of creative scripts and stories. Brazil has always come up with very creative plots. This also makes other countries very interested in our work.

What are you working on next?
Gianecchini: My projects for the next year are a theatre play, a beautiful project based on the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and then, at the end of the year, I will start preparing to go back to TV with Hidden Truths 2 [also written by Walcyr Carrasco]. I am looking forward to this one because [the first series] was an astonishing work – maybe one of the best works by Globo. I am curious to know how this sequel will be.

tagged in: , , ,

Imitating art

First published in 1986, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist of the Floating World tells the story of Masuji Ono, an ageing painter who looks back on his life and career and how attitudes towards him and his paintings have changed.

In this DQTV interview, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, best known for roles in Hollywood movies The Last Samurai, Batman Begins and Inception, recalls how he was approached to play the lead character.

He also discusses his impressions of the novel and why he was drawn to the project, despite it being untypical of Japanese drama.

Watanabe also highlights how is similar to his character and how the TV film prompted him to reflect on his own life and career.

An Artist of the Floating World is produced by broadcaster NHK and distributed by NHK Enterprises.

tagged in: , ,

How The Accident happened

The Accident unfolds in a South Wales community that has been ‘left behind.’ Things seem to be looking up when a construction project brings with it the hope of a better future, but tragedy strikes when an explosion causes the building to collapse, killing several people.

In the aftermath, grief turns to anger as families call for justice for their loved ones and a once close-knit community threatens to tear itself apart.

In this DQTV interview, stars Genevieve Barr, Mark Lewis Jones and Adrian Scarborough outline the roles their characters play in the drama – the wife of the site foreman killed in the explosion, a local councillor championing the impact of the construction project in his town and a shady lawyer who encourages the victims’ families to pursue a private prosecution against the company responsible, respectively.

They describe how Jack Thorne’s scripts are a gift for actors and outline the opportunities they were given to dig into their characters. They also talk about the unapologetic social agenda behind the series, the third in a loose trilogy written by Thorne that also comprises National Treasure and Kiri.

The Accident is produced by The Forge for Channel 4 and distributed by All3Media International. It debuts in Canada on Super Channel on January 16, and is available in the US on Hulu.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

End game

High-concept murder mystery Your Turn to Kill sees neighbours living in an apartment block take part in a deadly game. DQ speaks to producer Hiroe Suzuma about the ideas behind the Japanese drama.

Living next to nightmare neighbours can be bad for your health – just ask the characters at the centre of Japanese series Your Turn to Kill.

Produced and distributed by broadcaster Nippon TV, the 20-part mystery drama sees a newly married couple move into their first home, only to find their peace shattered by a spate of deaths in their apartment block. It emerges that 13 of their neighbours played a game in which they each wrote the name of someone they’d like to see dead on a piece of paper, before drawing lots to see whose names they would get. While it seemed like harmless fun at first, the people named soon start dying off.

Here, producer Hiroe Suzuma from Nippon TV’s production department tells DQ about creating the series and how a spin-off drama helped to fuel speculation about the storyline.

Hiroe Suzuma

What are the origins of the series?
While working on our drama series My Lover’s Secret in the summer of 2017 with concept creator Yasushi Akimoto, we naturally talked about what our next project should be. That was when he proposed a mystery drama in which a ‘swap murder game’ is played among neighbours in an apartment building.
I began to think about how complicated the storyline would become, with the many suspicious residents involved, all of whom live in the same building. Coincidentally, Nippon TV provided an opportunity to create a drama series that would span two consecutive seasons, a format that was designed with overseas markets in mind from the get-go. I knew right then that Your Turn to Kill was perfect for this initiative and would become even more entertaining with double the airtime. That was how this 20-episode mystery drama came to be.

What’s the audience appeal for a mystery series such as this?
In real life, when a crime happens, everybody wonders who did it and why. The same is true for dramas. Mysteries spark viewers’ desire to get to the truth, perhaps because it’s human nature to feel anxious when awful crimes happen, unless we find out who did it and why. In Your Turn to Kill, the mystery thickens as one murder leads to the next. When signs begin to show that there might be a lone serial killer, you feel like you are beginning to understand what is going on. Suddenly, things seem simpler because there is now only one bad guy. That is when people are overcome by the need to know who it is.

What was the writing process behind the series?
As the concept creator, Mr Akimoto was essentially the showrunner who provided ideas. Scriptwriter Mitsunori Fukuhara and I took those ideas to build a story. We started by thinking about the types of characters that would be interesting – their secrets, worries, and towards whom they would have murderous thoughts. Then we worked on the order of the killings and what revelations there would be, all the while incorporating who should look suspicious at every twist and turn.
When the show started, we monitored viewers’ reactions and increased or decreased the purposely misleading mystery elements accordingly. Our objective was to shock people by doing something they least expected, and we had to be quite flexible to achieve that, to the point where we even killed a character that would normally stay alive through to the end.

Your Turn to Kill centres on a married couple who move into an apartment block where residents soon start dying

How do you ensure viewers attach themselves to so many characters, so they are affected by the deaths during the series?
Before the characters were killed, we revealed their problems so that viewers can develop an emotional attachment to them. Troubles between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law; the bond between a father and a daughter who are not related by blood; people who do bizarre things; and attention-grabbing personalities were all incorporated to evoke empathy.
Moreover, we produced Behind the Door as a short drama for streaming on our SVoD service Hulu Japan. It gave a glimpse into the conflicts and bonds happening behind closed doors in each apartment and helped the viewers as well as the actors understand the characters better. The door to a particular apartment was opened in each episode of Behind the Door, and this led to people speculating that someone living in that home would be the next to die on Your Turn to Kill. In effect, it stimulated the imagination of the fans even more and gave them an extra way to play the detective.
We wanted people to feel like they couldn’t stop talking about the drama, so we created scenes that would shake them at the core instead of creating a build-up. It was all about killing the character that nobody expected would die, or discovering corpses in the most shocking ways, and we all put our heads together to come up with ideas.

What is the visual style of the series?
Our director Noriyoshi Sakuma, from Nippon TV’s drama production team, made the characters look more suspicious by asking the actors to create ambiguous expressions and gestures that could be interpreted in various ways. He then used multiple techniques such as using high-speed cameras for slow motion, filming from tilted angles and doing close-ups of eyes and lips.

What were the challenges you faced in production?
With hints of horror and numerous murders, this drama might not have had universal appeal. Nonetheless, we wanted it to reach as many people as possible, so the initial promotional campaign was a challenge. For example, the trailer of the movie It had catchy voiceovers in Japan, which inspired us to create light and upbeat promotional material, suggesting that this is a drama with unexpected twists, for just about any drama fan.
As the story unfolded, speculation from the fans increased and they became more sensitive to even the subtlest hints. It became a challenge to keep proving their predictions wrong and to continue hiding the truth.

The drama generated a great deal of social media discussion

How did you choose the apartment building setting used in the story?
We wanted an apartment building that the average Japanese family would live in, not something for the super-rich or those less wealthy. It was important that viewers saw themselves living in the building we showed and would not feel like it was unattainable or a place for outlaws they would not want to associate with. Enabling people to see themselves in the shoes of the characters makes them more likely to feel the fear and suspense of the drama in a personal way.

Is there a secret to making thrilling mystery drama?
I believe it is doing the unexpected. People are always predicting what will happen next based on what just occurred. Not being straightforward is the key to avoiding boredom and piquing their desire to see the next episode. The most unexpected twist was the death of the main character, and I believe this was the turning point that drew even more fans to Your Turn to Kill.

How are drama series evolving in Japan and what new stories and trends are emerging?
Your Turn to Kill made me realise how social media and YouTube have become such an integral part of our lives. This drama triggered fans to draw their own suspicions and discuss them with each other on social media, bringing forth a new way of enjoying a programme outside of its scheduled airtime/stream time.
Our viewers didn’t just passively accept what was shown to them. They took to their devices, shared their thoughts and showed each other how their predictions fared after the broadcast. Dramas based on existing IP and remakes of overseas titles still dominate the local landscape, but I believe original dramas with plots that are difficult to predict and truths that nobody can uncover will see a resurgence.

tagged in: , ,

Lights out

When an act of sabotage shuts down a nuclear power plant in Belgium, the country is plunged into darkness. Then when the female prime minister discovers her daughter has been kidnapped, she receives a sinister message: Turn the lights back on and your daughter dies.

So begins Flemish-language thriller Blackout, a 10-part series starring Sara De Rio and Geert Van Rampelberg.

In this DQTV interview, showrunner Philippe De Schepper and producer Helen Perquy discuss mixing crime and politics and talk about the real-life parallels amid the debate about the future of nuclear power.

They also reveal why they didn’t want the series to become a disaster movie, how they used locations during filming and why having a female protagonist changed their approach to the story.

Blackout is produced by Jonnydepony for VRT and distributed by Lagardère Studios Distribution.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Scene Stealers: Traces

Amelia Bullmore, writer of UKTV drama Traces, picks out a sequence of short scenes from the forensic crime thriller in which three people come together to solve a murder case. It is produced by Red Production Company for UKTV’s Alibi and distributed by BBC Studios.

1a (click to enlarge)

Traces is a six-part crime thriller set in the world of forensic science. In episode one, Emma (Molly Windsor, pictured above) takes a job as a lab technician in Dundee. She’s curious to return to the place she was born, and where her mother was killed when Emma was seven. By the time this scene happens, in episode two, Emma has reconnected with old friends, heard a disturbing suggestion about her mother’s death and agreed to talk to the police (this is the important phone call she mentions).

We know what Emma’s bringing to this scene because we’ve seen it – a big night out that led to sex with a man she can barely remember and the loss of her bag. Desperate to find it, she races back to the club, strung out and furious with herself… (see script extracts 1a and 1b).

1b (click to enlarge)

We don’t yet know what’s haunting Daniel or why he’s looking for signs, as this is the first time the character appears. Anyway, moments later… (see script extracts 2a and 2b).

When they shot this scene (in Bolton, pretending to be Dundee), a small crowd gathered and photos appeared in the newspapers of Martin Compston (as Daniel) and Molly Windsor filming “what seemed to be an intense scene.” The people watching wouldn’t have been able to hear the words, only see the action and gestures. I like that they didn’t know they were watching a love scene. The characters themselves don’t know they’re in a love scene.

2a (click to enlarge)

It’s as old as the hills to have lovers spar on first meeting, but Molly and Martin played it beautifully; spiky and funny. When Emma and Daniel meet in this scene, they’re not yet aware of a connection between them. Once they discover it, it will accelerate and intensify their love affair.

As well as getting the lovers together, this scene sets up important things for the whole series. We learn Daniel’s full name and what he does. We see for ourselves exactly how they meet and we will have to reconsider this later. Was it a coincidence or was it contrived? It becomes hard to know who to trust.

2b (click to enlarge)

The finished scene, directed by Rebecca Gatward, looks great. Emma’s corn plait (sleek when she was clubbing) is now a fuzzy mess and the tufts catch the sunlight. She looks like a bad-tempered, pretty dinosaur. The way she shoves the card in the bin is gloriously rude. I particularly like the shot of Daniel when Emma says ‘I love you.’ He is almost underlit but the hopeful gleam in his eye is unmistakable.

tagged in: ,

August arrives

Since his early work penning episodes of shows such as Lulu & Leon and Park Road, Denmark’s Anders Frithiof August has made a name for himself by writing dramas such as The Legacy and A Fortunate Man.

In this DQTV interview, August talks about his interest in dramatic and psychological stories, and pitching financial thriller Bedrag (Follow the Money), which he created with Jeppe Gjervig Gram and Jannik Tai Mosholt.

He also discusses the differences between working in Denmark and the US.

tagged in: ,

Showrunning Spiral

Since its debut in 2005, French crime drama Engrenages (Spiral) has explored the country’s justice system with new cases in each season involving murders, drug and arms trafficking, and organised crime. The cast includes Audrey Fleurot, Thierry Godard, Caroline Proust and Gregory Fitoussi.

In this DQTV video, showrunner Marine Francou, who took over in season seven, discusses how each season of Spiral tries to explore a story with links to contemporary themes and issues.

She also talks about the show’s particularly dark style and tone, discusses why it has become a global hit in more than 100 countries and opens the door to life in the writers room.

Engrenages is produced by Son et Lumière for Canal+ and distributed by StudioCanal.

tagged in: , , , ,

Risky Devils

In financial thriller Devils, Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) plays Dominic Morgan, the American CEO of an international investment bank, while Alessandro Borghi (Suburra) is ambitious head of trading Massimo Ruggero.

The drama is set in 2011 on London’s financial trading floors. Charismatic and fearless Massimo has enjoyed a wealth of success and promotion to vice-CEO is near certain. However, when Massimo is involved in a scandal involving his drug-addicted wife, Dominic withdraws his support. Then when he is suspected of murdering a colleague, Massimo sets about clearing his name and finding out who set him up.

In this DQTV video, Dempsey and Borghi reveal more about the story, their characters’ father-son relationship and why the 10-part series offers a fresh perspective on the global financial crisis of the last decade.

Directors Jan Michelini and Nick Hurran also offer their thoughts on how they brought energy to the project, which is based on the novel by Guido Maria Brera, and sought to create a grand stage for the international story.

Devils is produced by Sky Italia and Lux Vide, in association with Orange Studio, for Sky across Europe and Orange in France, and distributed by NBCUniversal Global Distribution.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

Night school

Carla Faour and Julia Spadaccini, the writers behind Brazilian series Segunda Chamada (Second Call), tell DQ why they wanted to shine a light on the country’s adult education system.

After series set in a hospital (Sob Pressão/Under Pressure) and a prison (Carcereiros/Jailers), Brazil’s Globo is going back to school with Segunda Chamada (Second Call), which focuses on the demands facing the country’s state education system.

The series follows Lúcia (Debora Bloch), who returns to teaching by taking on some evening classes for youth and adult education at the fictional Carolina Maria de Jesus State School. Looking for a fresh start after a traumatic experience in her private life, she clings to the opportunity to help students with their education and give them a brighter future.

Her hopes for her pupils are shared by other teachers at the school: history and geography teacher Sônia (Hermila Guedes), newly arrived arts teacher Marco Andre (Silvio Guindane), high-spirited maths teacher Eliete (Thalita Carauta) and practical principal Jaci (Paulo Gorgulho). Together, they face daily institutional abandonment, lack of resources and recognition, and deal with their diverse personal conflicts and dramas.

Written by Carla Faour and Julia Spadaccini, Second Call is coproduced by Globo and O2 Filmes, and directed by Joana Jabace (Harassment).

Here, writers Faour and Spadaccini discuss rooting the series in reality and the importance of drama with societal themes.

Carla Faour (left) and Julia Spadaccini

What are the origins of Second Call?
Carla Faour and Julia Spadaccini: We met each other in the theatre, more than 15 years ago, but our professional partnership really started when we met again in the halls of Globo, to collaborate on the projects Slaps & Kisses and Chacrinha. With an increasing professional synergy, we welcomed Second Call as a challenge and an opportunity: giving visibility to the topic of nighttime education for adults.

Why did you want to focus on the education system and how did you decide what specific story to focus on?
Our school tries to highlight the reality of the most neglected part of the educational system, because the nighttime educational programme for adults is almost like the ugly duckling of education. It gathers people who were not able to finish their studies regularly and decided to face a double journey to graduation, with the tiredness they accumulate during the day following them into the classroom. We also show the reality of the teachers, who need to deal with different and repetitive issues: the tedious working hours, the precarious infrastructure and the violence that is becoming more and more present in this type of school.
In Second Call, we enter the universe of state schools, located in the outskirts of Brazilian cities. This is a reality that we think we know but, when we dig deeper, we notice it is an entirely different story. We tried to show the challenges faced by the ones who teach and the ones who wish to go back to school.

Were you inspired by any real-life stories or examples?
Our stories were freely inspired by true events, because our concern has always been creating a piece that is close to reality. We needed a lot of dedication and research to understand this universe and those who are part of it. We paid many visits to state schools and their nighttime programmes and talked to teachers and students. It was a long road, which started in mid-2017. We collected profiles from students, conflicts and different topics and then fictionalised all the material we gathered.

Debora Bloch as Lúcia

How would you describe Lúcia and how do we follow her through the series?
Lúcia is our protagonist. She portrays the teacher who is in love with her profession and takes any chance, to try to make students see education as a token of hope for better days. Our Portuguese teacher starts working in nighttime education after a big trauma causes a deep impact in her life, and completely changed the way she relates to her students. But Lúcia is fearless and has a natural strength that motivates people to get in motion again. Even though she carries her dramas – like a marriage that is no longer the same – the teacher does not give up the fight easily and is willing to talk to her students and try to help them rethink their prejudices.

Why is a school a common arena for television drama? What dynamics and tension can we find there?
School usually represents a family environment for the audience, because everyone has a relationship with the institution – either by its presence or absence. Most people have memories of this time – the teachers who marked their lives, their school friends and the life lessons they learned. The fictitious State School Carolina Maria de Jesus is a cauldron, where sometimes life is peaceful, and sometimes it is not. But, in essence, it is a space of hospitality, where people feel welcome and socially included. In Second Call, everything happens in one night, with approximately three students’ plots highlighted, intertwined with the teachers and their stories and, in the background, the other people.

Where was it filmed and how is the school location used to create a visual style?
Second Call was entirely shot in one location, and this space became another character within the plot. The building where the story happens is a historical and symbolic construction in the city of São Paulo. The space was built in the 1950s to host the São Paulo Jockey Club School but 10 years later – after hosting some private schools – it became vacant. After a long search, the location was discovered by the artistic director of the series, Joana Jabace, who saw in the building the ideal place to portray the story of the series: not only in terms of the narrative instance, but also for aesthetic licence.

How can social dramas best succeed on television?
Our story brings to light a discussion of the social reality of our country. As authors, we put ourselves in this creative and screenwriting process, with a critical outlook on these real conflicts that often repeat themselves. We think dramaturgy, besides being entertaining, also fulfils the role of raising discussions and reflections on several topics. Creating a series that could unite entertainment and social relevance has always been our greatest focus. We believe in the value of shedding light on these social issues.

tagged in: , , , ,

Oh brother

When Paulo Duarte is found dead from a gunshot wound in the Spanish port of Vigo, nobody is convinced by his apparent suicide.

As his sister Teresa (Victoria Guerra) begins to investigate his death, she decides to move from Lisbon and accept a job in the company her brother was working for in an attempt to get to the truth, leading to the uncovering of an arms-trafficking network between Europe and Africa that is somehow linked to Mauro Galdón (Monti Castiñeiras), Teresa’s godfather.

In this DQTV interview, Portguese actor Guerra talks about the story at the heart of Spanish-Portuguese coproduction Agua Seca (Dry Land) and why she was keen to play Teresa, who she describes as a strong woman with a free spirit.

She also discusses the intensity of the filming schedule on the series, which is presented in Galician and Portuguese, and her experience working with director Toño Lopez.

Dry Water is produced by Portocabo and SP-i for TVG and RTP, and distributed by DCD Rights.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Six of the Best: Jinnie Choi

Jinnie Choi, CEO of Korean production company Studio Dragon, selects a host of homegrown series alongside a couple of breakout US dramas as her top six shows.

Memories of the Alhambra
This is a genre-bending Korean series that unfolds in parallel real and fictional augmented-reality (AR) worlds. Set in Spain and South Korea, Memories of the Alhambra (also pictured top) tells a love story between a successful gaming company CEO and a hostel owner that transcends from reality into the world of AR. The story tackles the potential of AR, which may become a big part of our lives in the future. With a mixture of melodrama, romance and action/sci-fi, the drama’s twists and turns keep you guessing at what is real right up to the conclusion. A remake is being developed in the US.

In Stranger, another Korean show, a passionate cop and an emotionless prosecutor forge an unlikely partnership to bring an evasive serial killer to justice. All the characters become suspects with a motive for murder in this thriller. Throughout the series, the suspense never ceases as the characters become increasingly entangled with one another in an effort to find the culprit. Stranger was listed as one of the New York Times’ Top 10 International Shows by and season two will be produced in 2020. Although it’s a Korean series, our international audience marvelled at its ‘US series’ feel.

This Is Us
This family drama follows a married couple and their triplets. The story is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time and grips the audience with a fluent and well-thought-out structure. The show’s strong emotional component, strong narrative, and relatable characters appealed to the Korean sentiment, which explains why many Koreans chose this show as their all-time favourite US TV series. A refreshing, unique and global show without violence, sex or excessive VFX.

If Prison Break introduced serialised US TV to Koreans, 24 made Koreans go crazy for them. Korean viewers are used to serialised local shows but, as most of the shows imported from the US follow a procedural system, our audience has not been engaged by them. Prison Break and especially 24 made US series more familiar to the Korean audience. Its storytelling novelty and almost flawless execution is a case study for production companies and storytellers.

Misaeng: Incomplete Life
In this Korean drama, new employees face infinite obstacles in the workplace, including competitive colleagues, a hierarchical atmosphere and discrimination. But among the executives emerges a warm-hearted mentor who will defend those without a voice. This is a slice-of-life story about the hardships of office work in Korea and the unlikely alliances forged to bring hope of a better life. The series became a cultural phenomenon and recorded one of the highest ratings for a cable network programme in Korea at the time.

Guardian: The Lonely & Great God
This is another Korean drama, in which a fabled demi-god wants to end his immortality by finding and marrying the ‘goblin bride.’ But things get complicated when he falls in love with her after finding her. This fantastic, sad and beautiful story of a creature cursed with immortality will make you laugh and cry. Penned by one of Korea’s most successful writers and with a star-studded cast, the series achieved the second-highest ratings in cable history when it first aired, reaching an 18.7% audience share. It’s one of Korea’s most emblematic global dramas.

tagged in: ,

Dark Secrets

Based on Michael Robotham’s novel, The Secrets She Keeps stars Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) as Agatha, a supermarket worker who becomes obsessed by ‘mummy blogger’ Meghan’s idyllic lifestyle.

When she discovers both are pregnant and due at the same time, Agatha strikes up the courage to talk to Meghan (Jessica De Gouw, Underground). But while they share much in common, it soon emerges that Meghan’s life isn’t as happy as it seems, while both are harbouring explosive secrets.

In this DQTV interview, Carmichael talks about moving on from period drama Downton Abbey, her first role in television, and how she relished the chance to play a character poles apart from Lady Edith – someone quick to anger, impatient and complex.

She also talks about her research process for the role and the intensive work demanded of actors in high-stakes drama series.

The Secrets She Keeps is produced by Lingo Pictures for Network Ten, and distributed by DCD Rights.

tagged in: , , , ,

Playing a Blinda

After producing Quicksand, the first Swedish original drama for Netflix, producer FLX turned its attention to the financial world for eight-part thriller Fartblinda (Blinded).

Based on Carolina Neurath’s book of the same name, it stars Julia Ragnarsson as financial journalist Bea Farkas, who, in pursuit of her next scoop, detects irregularities in ST Bank’s trading department – a matter made more complicated by the fact she is having an affair with the bank’s married CEO Peder Rooth (Matias Varela).

In this DQTV interview, FLX MD Pontus Edgren and head of development and drama programmes Fatima Varhos discuss their decision to make a financial drama, something never seen before in Sweden.

They also talk about why they added the romance between Bea and Peder to the story and the dramatic transformation Ragnarsson underwent for the role.

Fartblinda is produced by FLX for C More and TV4, and distributed by All3Media International.

tagged in: , , ,

Paint job

Japanese director Kazutaka Watanabe introduces NHK’s film An Artist of the Floating World, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and starring Ken Watanabe as an ageing painter revisiting his past.

Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist of the Floating World is considered one of the best novels ever written, telling the story of an ageing Japanese painter who looks back on his life and how his role in the Second World War has changed attitudes towards him and his paintings.

It has now been turned into a one-off drama, produced by Japan’s NHK and distributed by NHK Enterprises. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Inception) stars in the lead role of Masuji Ono.

Kazutaka Watanabe

Here, director and executive producer Kazutaka Watanabe talks about taking on the adaptation, casting Watanabe, working with Ishiguro and shooting in ultra-high-definition 8K for the numerous dreamlike sequences in the story that explore Ono’s memories.

Why did the project appeal to you?
I thought it would be a very interesting story to take on, but I also recognised that it was a view of the world that would be quite difficult to portray in a drama. It was a challenge to find the delicate balance between the world and art of Kazuo Ishiguro and a drama that had entertainment value. After it aired, I was prepared to be criticised for making it difficult to understand, but that wasn’t an opinion I heard very much.
The novel is one of only two that Mr Ishiguro has set in Japan. After he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, I approached him and told him I wanted to adapt An Artist of the Floating World for television in Japan. Mr Ishiguro is known for nuanced depictions of human emotional complexity; the way he sees and describes the world is inimitable. I stayed as faithful as possible to the novel’s vision.
My work was a constant search for ways to overcome artistic challenges and simultaneously create entertainment value.

How was Kazuo Ishiguro involved?
Mr Ishiguro was very generous, saying, “Do whatever you want with this.” Paintings are a key element of the story and we asked three different painters to produce them. When Mr Ishiguro saw them, he told us it was like the artists were “looking into his mind.” I didn’t give any specific instructions to the painters, so I was very impressed to see that, as artists themselves, they were reading into the novel on a whole other level.

Ken Watanabe was sought for the leading role from the off

How did you cast Ken Watanabe in the main role?
As I read the novel, Ken Watanabe was the only person I pictured in my mind. Mr Ishiguro also supported the suggestion, saying that he would love for him to play the part, and we were able to meet with him in London. The protagonist, Masuji Ono, keeps his inner turmoil under wraps and presents a calm facade to the world.
I asked Mr Watanabe to play the lead because I believed only he could express this kind of emotional complexity. I understand Mr Ishiguro felt the same way. I never gave Mr Watanabe any detailed directions but I felt like he was enjoying the role even as he struggled with it. A first-person narration by an unreliable narrator is a characteristic of Ishiguro’s works and Mr Watanabe did a splendid job portraying this difficult form of expression.

What was your visual approach behind the camera?
The experience was practically stress-free. We shot in 8K, which was not much different from shooting in 2K, but when I saw the images in 8K for the first time in the editing room, I did realise one thing – when we shoot indoors, the outdoors gets washed out in 2K, but that doesn’t happen in 8K. Everything is exposed, so there’s no faking it. I thought the dark tones were expressed beautifully.
The smell of burning and images of brightly burning flames are symbols in the novel. I worked hard to effectively represent this visually using flames and ashes. Thanks to 8K, the images are so realistic that they stimulate other senses. Viewers can almost sense the heat of the flames and the smell of burning paper. Other visual aspects, such as the vivid colours of Japan’s autumn foliage and the shadows in a traditional Japanese house, are also brought out in a unique way by 8K. I feel that 8K has opened up a whole new world of exciting possibilities.
Mr Ishiguro has a unique and distinctive view of the world. I wanted to stay as faithful as possible to that vision. Although the story is set in Japan, the theme is universally relatable and speaks to each and every person. I hope it will be received by a diverse audience.

tagged in: , , ,

Fired up

Sean Bean, Helen Hunt and Lesley Manville head the cast of World on Fire, a seven-part series that follows ordinary people from across Europe as the continent becomes consumed by the Second World War.

In this DQ interview, writer Peter Bowker and executive producer Helen Ziegler reveal the origins of the series and explain how it follows the lives of multinational people on all sides of the global conflict.

They also discuss how they tried to distance the show from any elements of nostalgia, building the series around a love story between a British translator (Jonah Hauer-King) who falls in love with a Polish waitress (Zofia Wichłacz), despite his relationship with factory worker and singer Lois (Julia Brown) back home.

World on Fire is produced by Mammoth Screen for BBC1, and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Jury duty

Belgian drama De Twaalf (The Twelve) follows a trial from the perspective of its jury members, who must decide the fate of a woman accused of murdering her daughter and her best friend.

As the trial proceeds, the drama follows how the the weight of the case affects the jurors’ personal lives.

In this DQTV interview, producer Peter Bouckaert and director Wouter Bouvijn discuss the unique perspective of the 10-part Flemish series and how the jurors’ own baggage influences their thoughts on the case.

They also reveal how the actors were involved in shaping their characters, and discuss why Belgian series are currently shining in the international spotlight.

The Twelve is produced by Eyeworks for VRT and distributed by Federation Entertainment.

tagged in: , , , , ,

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.

tagged in: , , , , ,