All posts by DQ

War of words

DR Drama producer Claudia Saginario previews the Danish broadcaster’s forthcoming autumn launch Ulven Kommer (Cry Wolf), in which a daughter’s allegations push her family to breaking point.

When 14-year-old Holly writes a school essay about violence in her family home, the ramifications are unsurprisingly devastating and far-reaching. But as she and her seven-year-old brother Theo are placed in foster care, her parents – including her accused stepfather – claim the allegations are nothing more than teenage rebellion.

Danish drama Ulven Kommer (Cry Wolf) then introduces social worker Lars who, like the viewer, is left to determine who is telling the truth and who is lying.

Described as an intense and emotional story, the eight-part series stars Bjarne Henriksen (Forbrydelsen), Peter Plauborg (Splitting Up Together) and Christine Albeck Børge (Broen). From head writer Maja Jul Larsen (Follow the Money), the show is directed by Penille Fischer Christensen (Becoming Astrid), May El-Toukhy (Queen of Hearts), Samanou Sahlstrøm (Follow the Money) and Niclas Bendixen (Ditte & Louise).

The series, which previously went by the working title En Familiesag (A Family Matter), is produced by DR and distributed by DR Sales. It was discussed at Berlinale as part of the event’s Danish drama showcase in February and also features in the international competition at Series Mania Digital Forum’s Buyers Showcase.

Here, producer Claudia Saginario from DR Drama tells DQ more about the project.

Claudia Saginario

What are the origins of the project?
Head writer Maja Jul Larsen came up with the idea. Over a period of almost two years, Maja did an immense amount of research before she wrote the story.

Why did the story appeal to you?
I thought it was a brilliant idea to tell a crime story with a social worker as the detective. The whodunnit element of this otherwise socially realistic drama was very appealing.

Why was it a story the writers wanted to tell?
Maja was fascinated by the work of social services; the dilemmas that come from dealing with human beings and the power that comes with that kind of responsibility for someone else’s lives.

How does it reflect themes in Denmark or wider society?
Actually, Denmark’s prime minister gave a New Year’s speech with a focus on children’s welfare and how she wanted more children removed by the social services. She even claimed to be the ‘children’s minister.’

How was the series developed for DR?
Maja pitched the idea for DR. Initially, Maja went through a thorough research period with an immense amount of reading and interviews. As soon as DR greenlit the show, we had a writer’s room developing the characters and the plot for a year. This was alongside conceptual work, with concept director Pernille Fischer Christensen working on the visual ideas, the actors working on character development and so on.

How do you want viewers to feel about the characters as the story unfolds?
I hope the viewers will enjoy getting to investigate the case together with our social worker, and that they will maintain curiosity about the role of the parents – especially the mother.

What is the key to keeping viewers guessing about the truth of the allegations until the end?
The constant change of perspective, which highlights the fact that, when it comes to human beings, nothing is ever black and white.

Ulven Kommer (Cry Wolf) brings a whodunnit element to a socially realistic drama

How would you describe the writing process?
Curious, examining and investigative. An ongoing elaboration of the characters. It is also based on a strong collaboration with all the essential key members of the team.

Does the series have a particular visual style?
The visual concept is a persistent and very intimate character study. The camera gives an objective truth to each character.

Where was the series filmed and how did you use locations in the series?
The entire show is shot on location in various suburbs of Copenhagen. We tried to make everything as authentic as possible, from the legal procedures of the social services to the psychological behaviour of the characters.

What challenges have you faced?
The toughest part was depicting the complex psychology of the characters without spoiling the plot before the end.

How do you hope viewers will respond to the story?
Hopefully the show will create debate about welfare, responsibility and taboos.
Also, I dream about a weekly discussion among viewers about the decisions that our main character makes in each episode, as a result of whether they believe Holly is lying or telling the truth.

What is the key to DR’s recent success with internationally successful drama series?
DR is unique in terms of time, whether it’s contemplation for the creatives, actual shooting time or pace in the storytelling. I believe that is what makes DR’s series high level.
Also, DR has somehow managed to be extremely current with its drama series, combining public service and entertainment with relevant stories that reflect society today.

tagged in: , ,

Bingeworthy box sets

As people around the world self-isolate and heed orders to stay at home amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic, DQ offers a selection of series from around the world to enjoy.

Babylon Berlin
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Peter Kurth, Matthias Brandt, Leonie Benesch, Severija Janušauskaitė, Ivan Shvedoff
Seasons: Three
This German noir has become a breakout hit for the country, immersing viewers in a visually intoxicating 1920s Berlin. Based on the crime novels by Volker Kitscher, it follows police inspector Gereon Rath, who is on a secret mission to expose an extortion ring, and Charlotte Ritter, a police clerk who aspires to be an inspector but at night is a flapper and occasional prostitute at the Mika Efti cabaret. The series is also lifted by the dramatic soundtrack, which features standout song Zu Asche, Zu Staub (To Ashes, To Dust), performed on the nightclub stage.

Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: TV2
Starring: Amalie Dollerup, Lars Ranthe, Anne Louise Hassing, Merete Mærkedahl, Ulla Vejby, Jens Jacob Tychsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Birthe Neumann
Seasons: Seven
Downton Abbey by the seaside, this long-running Danish drama is one of the country’s most popular series, drawing audiences every year since 2013 to the trials and tribulations of the staff working a lavish hotel and the guests who visit them each summer from Copenhagen. Combining beautiful scenery with comedy drama and the clash of class and cultures that comes naturally from the upstairs/downstairs setting, it’s the perfect example of blue-sky Nordic drama.

Das Boot
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Tom Wlaschiha, August Wittgenstein, Lizzy Caplan, Rick Okon, Vincent Kartheiser
Seasons: Season two launches in Germany on April 24
Following a classic novel and iconic film is no easy feat, and critics were rightly sceptical that the ambition of this series could match what had come before. But from the first glimpse of a U-boat rising out of the Atlantic Ocean, this wartime drama serves up a compelling and technically stunning show. Set nine months after the Wolfgang Petersen film, the action opens in 1942, simultaneously following the crew of the claustrophobic U-612 and the Resistance in La Rochelle, France.

Delhi Crime
From: India
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Aakash Dahiya, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang
Seasons: One
While true crime dramas continue to dominate the broadcast and streaming schedules, buoyed by a similar wave of documentary series in the genre, this is one of the best. Based on the tragic true story of a 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the series follows the aftermath and the police investigation to find those responsible. Shah plays Vartika Chaturvedi, the deputy commissioner of police who drives the series forward and guides viewers through the sights and sounds of the city.

From: Israel
Original broadcaster: Yes
Starring: Lior Raz, Itzik Cohen, Neta Garay, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Boaz Konforty, Doron Ben-David
Seasons: Three
Israel has become known as the home of some of the most original drama series in the world, leading to US remakes such as Homeland, Hostages, In Treatment and the upcoming Your Honor. Fauda might be the best of the bunch, drawing on the military experiences of creators Lior Raz (who also stars) and Avi Issacharoff. Set against the backdrop of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it follows the leader of an elite unit as they pursue a Hamas terrorist. Season three switches the action-packed story to the Gaza Strip.

From: Austria
Original broadcasters: ORF, Netflix
Starring: Robert Finster, Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph F Krutzler
Seasons: One
Having recently launched in Austria, this dark, gothic period drama from director Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) is set in 1890s Vienna, famous for its decadence and the dark underbelly of high society. Mysterious murders and political intrigue clash as young psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Finster), who finds strong opposition against his theories, becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy alongside a policeman and a notorious medium.

Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: DR
Starring: Lars Mikkelsen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Simon Sears, Morten Hee Andersen
Seasons: Two
From the creator of hit Danish political drama Borgen comes this drama about a family of priests and the characters within it, as each follows their own path to a meaningful life. On the face of it, they are the epitome of respectability, but events that leave the family in crisis soon unfold.

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
From: Spain
Original broadcasters: Antenna 3, Netflix
Starring: Alvaro Morte, Itziar Ituño, Alba Flores, Esther Acebo, Pedro Alonso
Seasons: Three, with a fourth released on Netflix on April 3
If any series characterises Spain’s assent to global drama powerhouse, it is this thrilling and action-packed story of a mysterious man known only as El Profesor (The Professor), who brings together a band of criminals to carry out the biggest heist ever imagined: taking over the The Royal Mint of Spain and taking home 2.4 billion euros. In season three, they are forced to reunite to execute a more ambitious plan, this time targeting the Bank of Spain.

Line of Duty
From: UK
Original broadcaster: BBC
Starring: Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar
Seasons: Five
With filming on season six interrupted as productions around the world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, now is the chance to catch up creator Jed Mercurio’s nail-bitingly tense police thriller (also pictured top), which introduces the members of Anti-Corruption Unit 12, tasked with uncovering police wrongdoing. Each season features a host of guest stars, while a long-running conspiracy plays across the series. By the end, you’ll be asking, ‘Who is H?’

Mr Robot
From: US
Original broadcaster: USA Network
Starring: Rami Malek, Carl Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater
Seasons: Four
Turn off social media and be sure to pay attention to Mr Robot, a critically acclaimed psychological thriller that follows Elliot Anderson (Malek), a young man living in New York who works for cyber-security company Allsafe and whose struggles with social anxiety and depression mean he struggles with paranoia and delusion. Elliot’s hacking skills lead him to anarchist Mr Robot, who is planning to attack one of the biggest corporations in the world – and Allsafe’s biggest client.

Professor T
From: Belgium
Original broadcaster: Één
Starring: Koen De Bouw, Tanja Oostvogels, Goeie Derick, Carry Goossens, Herwig Ilegems
Seasons: Three
Belgium is certainly among the most ambitiously creative countries in the world when it comes to television drama, thanks in part to a financial system that demands fresh and original ideas. Set in Antwerp, this crime drama introduces the eponymous eccentric professor, who works alongside the police to solve crimes. What makes it stand out is the mixture of genres the series covers, from musical and comedy to tragedy and melodrama. The show has already been remade in France and Germany, and a UK version starring Ben Miller is now in the works for ITV.

Queen Sono
From: South Africa
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Pearl Thusi, Vuyo Dabula, Lois Maginga
Seasons: One
Recently launched on Netflix, this series marks the streamer’s first foray into original African scripted programming. Mixing thills, actions and character drama, it follows the titular character, a member of the Special Operations Group and daughter of an anti-apartheid leader, who tackles criminal operations while dealing with crises in her personal life.

Sex Education
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Aimee Lou Wood, Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison
Seasons: Two
Ostensibly the story of a teenager who follows in his sex therapist mother’s footsteps by providing advice to his hormone-driven classmates, Sex Education matches an eclectic cast of characters with a visually vibrant take on the traditionally dour British school drama by blending the look of a US high school with a distinctly 80s vibe, all while mixing laugh-out-loud humour with discussions of serious subjects such as sexual assault, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.

The Expanse
From: US
Original broadcaster: Syfy (now Amazon Prime Video)
Starring: Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams
Seasons: Four, with a fifth already ordered
For a sci-fi drama that’s out of this world, look no further than The Expanse. Based on the books by James SA Corey, the show’s future was in doubt when it was cancelled by Syfy after three seasons, before Amazon stepped in to save the series and order two further seasons. It opens hundreds of years in the future in a colonised Solar System, when the case of a missing girl brings together a hardened police detective, an Earth-based politician and a rogue ship captain, leading them to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.

The Mandalorian
From: US
Original broadcaster: Disney+
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte, Emily Swallow, Taika Waititi, Giancarlo Esposito, Omid Abtahi
Seasons: One
Those lucky enough to be in the US, Canada or the Netherlands may have already check out this Star Wars series, the flagship original drama on the new Disney+ streaming platform. But as the service reaches most of Europe tomorrow, millions of subscribers will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see this acclaimed show, which is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, as seen in the most recent trilogy of Star Wars films. It’s here we meet a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
From: US
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub
Seasons: Three, with a fourth on the way
A comedy-drama that has plenty of both, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel sees Rachel Brosnahah turn in an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning performance as the titular character, a housewife in 1950s New York who discovers a knack for stand-up after an impromptu set at a comedy club.

This Is Us
From: US
Original broadcaster: NBC
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley
Seasons: Four
For heartwarming comedy and emotional family drama, this smash hit US drama ticks all the boxes. It follows the members of the Pearson family – mum Rebecca, dad Jack and siblings Kevin, Kate and Randall – mostly in the present day but flashing back to the past and into the future, focusing on their individual relationships and how their lives and experiences have been experienced by their childhood. Last year, following its third season, the show received the rare honour of being renewed for an additional three seasons.

Top Boy
From: UK
Original broadcasters: Channel 4, Netflix
Starring: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Shane Romulus, Malcolm Kamulete, Sharon Duncan Brewster
Seasons: Three
British crime drama Top Boy first aired in 2011, with a second season running in 2013 on Channel 4. But thanks to the support of rapper Drake, Netflix revived the series this year. Set in East London, it introduces a group of friends and gang members fighting for survival on fictional crime-riddled estate Summerhouse. The series has been praised for its tough characters and its realistic portray of the world the story is set in.

From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Mison, Sara Vickers, Jeremy Irons, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr
Seasons: One
This might be described as a superhero drama, but it can’t be compared to anything produced by Marvel (The Avengers) or DC (Batman) in recent years. From Lost creator Damon Lindelof and described as a “remix” of the iconic graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, this alternate-history series takes place 34 years after the original story and follows a detective (Regina King) as she investigates a murder, in a world where police officers are forced to conceal their identities in an ongoing battle against a white-supremacist group. King’s standout performance and stunning filmmaking ally with topical themes and a powerful soundtrack created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails.

From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Aaron Paul, Vincent Cassel, Lena Waithe
Seasons: Season three is now airing
As visually striking and imaginative as ever, this science-fiction series continues to be one of the most ambitious and complex stories on television. Based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, it introduces the eponymous Wild West-themed resort where guests can entertain their wildest – and often most villainous – fantasies alongside the android ‘hosts’ that populate the park. Naturally, things don’t go as expected when some hosts begin to gain sentience and search for a way to leave the park and join the real world.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life on set

Stars from US series including FBI, Grey’s Anatomy, The 100 and NCIS offer a glimpse into what life is like working on a year-long network drama.

From Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law & Order series, comes this insight into the life of FBI agents. The second season began on CBS this fall.

Missy Peregrym (above left), who plays special agent Maggie Bell: “It’s at least 14 or 15 hours every day. Sometimes you’re outside all week and it’s freezing, so it just doesn’t stop. It sucks. It’s just long, and season one is always really hard because you’re not just going to work and saying the words, you’re also having to coordinate and figure out who the characters are and the look of the show.

“It’s such a development and a collaboration between so many different people that it’s such a win when you get picked up for season two. I knew that it was picked up for season one when I did the pilot, but getting season two was a big deal and everybody’s hoping it will be less of a grind, that we will have found our rhythm. It usually gets a little bit easier as you go along.”

Zeeko Zaki (above right), who plays special agent Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan: “The schedule for season one was nuts. It was 10 months, filming 22 episodes, so every scene was intense. My days would consist of getting up two hours before the call time, training for 30 to 45 minutes and then going to work. And then you crash and lunch and sleep and get up and it all blends into a parallel of how intense the reality of the actual job of an FBI agent is, as those people don’t sleep or eat because of the intensity of the crimes they’re dealing with.

“Sometimes we’ll be in the interrogation room and we’ll shoot three scenes with the cameras facing one way and then flip them and film it again. The best advice I got for that was from our showrunner, Rick Eid, who said, ‘Look, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to connect every day. Just be present in whatever moment you’re handling.’ It’s been a massive learning curve.

“There’s no work and no home, it’s all one thing. You’re working when you’re not at work, you’re learning your lines and then trying to get to sleep as fast as possible to get up the next day.

“But my favourite part about it is, for me in my first lead role, I’m trying to earn it to be able to call my dad, who’s been standing on his feet since he was 11 years old cutting hair every day, and say ‘Hey, I’m working,’ because I’m coming off the past eight years where I had three months of work each year. It’s really intense, but I’m an all-or-nothing person. I’m in for this.”

Station 19
Jaina Lee Ortiz stars as Station 19 lieutenant Andrea ‘Andy’ Herrera in the Seattle-based firefighter series, a spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy. Season three will air on ABC in 2020.

Jaina Lee Ortiz (above): “The schedule varies. We shoot a little bit on stage and then we shoot on location. It’s half and half.

“When we have to wear the firefighter uniform in the summer, I drink two gallons of water because we are sweating – we are drenched and it is uncomfortable. You don’t really know how physical it is until you’re doing it.”

The 100
This sci-fi drama has aired on The CW since 2014, following a group of survivors – mainly young criminals – who are among the first people to return to Earth after a devastating nuclear apocalypse. It has been renewed for a seventh and final season.

Lindsey Morgan (above), who plays Raven Reyes: “The elements play a big part in making the show because we film out in the rain and the snow and we film all night. It’s long hours, so we don’t really catch a break on that.

“But also, creativity-wise, [the tough conditions help because] my character has been driven mad and gone insane, and I’ve lost my mind so many times I can’t even count. I always feel pushed as an actor to be better and to explore things within myself emotionally, physically and spiritually so that it’s always entertaining as hell.”

Richard Harmon, who plays John Murphy: “I love the physical aspects of the show. It’s definitely a show that will ask you to do things that acting class never prepared you for.

“‘Have you ever sat in front of someone who you thought was one of your best friends but, secretly, someone else was in their body and they’re about to put you in a situation that will probably kill you?’ ‘No, I’ve never done that before, and I’ll probably never do it again.’ Everything else will be easy. Make me a cop!”

Magnum PI
The reboot of the classic 1980s Hawaii-set crime drama landed on CBS in 2018, with a second season now on air.

Jay Hernandez (above right), who plays Thomas Magnum: “It’s a marathon filming 20 episodes in eight months. For the first season, we were sometimes shooting six days a week, 14 hours a day – it was unbelievable.

“I’ve never worked more in my entire life. It was crazy, and it’s such an ambitious show. But honestly, I don’t know how I got through it.”

Perdita Weeks (above left), who plays Juliet Higgins: “My schedule is considerably better but it is quite gruelling, especially for the crew. Sometimes on a Friday night you can finish past midnight, and the crew work so hard that they’re dead on their feet by Friday. It’s a slog but it’s rewarding.”

New Amsterdam
This New York-set medical drama, based on former medical director Eric Manheimer’s memoir Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital, charts the events at one of the US’s oldest public hospitals. The series is now in its second season on NBC.

Ryan Eggold (above), who plays Dr Max Goodwin: “At one point, Jocko [Sims, who plays Dr Floyd Reynolds] was chasing me around with a fake bloody heart.

“There are days like that, because if you embraced the weight of it all the time, you would go home and collapse. So you have to lighten it up sometimes.

“But working the long hours, the only thing that’s beneficial about it is that I imagine what Manheimer’s life must have been like managing a whole hospital, which was 10 times harder, much faster, much higher stakes and affecting real lives. We’re managing a TV show.”

Freema Agyeman
, who plays Dr Helen Sharpe: “We are embodying these characters for a long time. If we show a real interest in what we are bringing to the table, to the job, what we feel about these characters and how we respond to what we’re doing and how we portray what we’re doing, the creators give us respect and freedom to have our own input.

“Some days are so emotionally draining. The storylines can be so harrowing sometimes and, because the performers are so brilliant, you’re zapped at the end of the day.
“Then, on other days, there’s so much laughter and hope. It’s a great place to work and it seems to be resonating with the audience.”

Best known for roles in films such as Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence, as well as a stint on long-running medical drama ER, Maria Bello joined the cast of evergreen crime drama NCIS as Jack Sloane in season 15. It returned to CBS for season 17 in September.

Maria Bello (above): “We’re very fortunate that NCIS runs like clockwork because the same crew has been working together for 16 years.

“We rarely work more than 12-hour days. If we shoot an episode across eight days, maybe I shoot three or four days out of that. So I have some time to be and breathe and work on other creative projects I have. I am producing a movie that Viola Davis is starring in called The Woman King in April, so we’re excited about that. I get to pursue other things because of my schedule.

“Speaking to other actors, their schedules are much more gruelling than ours. We don’t go on location a lot, maybe two days per episode. We have our own sound stage; it’s like a college campus where they’ve been for 16 years. It’s pretty easeful.”

Grey’s Anatomy
Since 2014, Kelly McCreary has starred as Dr Maggie Pearce in Shonda Rhimes’ all-conquering ABC medical drama. It is now in its 16th year on air.

Kelly McCreary (above right): “We usually shoot for nine months. Every episode takes nine days to film, sometimes 10 if it has big set pieces or location stuff. But because it’s an ensemble show and the storylines are so well distributed through the 24 episodes, none of us are there all day long, every single day. Sometimes we are when our story is really taking centre stage, so you’ll have a few weeks while your character is going on this three-episode arc, but then you’ll have three weeks of coming in once or twice a week.

“In that intervening time, we hang out with our families and work on other little projects because everyone is still creative and productive, even outside of work. Almost everyone on the set has other interests and projects they’re pursuing.

“A job like this is extremely rare. Prior to being on this show, every few months you’d be auditioning for something new. While you’re in one job, you’re looking for the next, and I actually miss that hustle. It’s very energising to be thinking of building your career and growing in a specific way, but we can still do that on Grey’s Anatomy, for sure. We think of it a little bit less than every three months, and it takes the pressure off in an incredibly luxurious way.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Job Description: Graphic art director

Gemma Randall, graphic art director on the BBC and HBO’s epic drama His Dark Materials, gives DQ an insight into her role and how she helped to shape the televisual world of Philip Pullman’s iconic literary series.

Among the spires and chimneys of the Oxford skyline, the English backdrop for the BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials, airships fill the sky of this familiar yet ethereal landscape. In this rich and beautifully realised world, where every person has a dæmon at their side – the animal manifestation of a human soul – there is something to marvel at in every frame.

But look closer, to the portraits hanging on the walls of Jordan College, where the story’s heroine Lyra lives, to the street signs around Oxford and the symbols that adorn the compass-like alethiometer, and you will see the work of the graphic art team led by Gemma Randall.

Gemma Randall

Randall first broke into the industry by joining the props department on Joe Wright’s 2005 film Pride & Prejudice, before working on TV series including Upstairs Downstairs, Doc Martin, The Five and Howards End.

Now as a graphic art director on a high-end, high-concept television drama, she oversees a lot of creative decisions that contribute to the look of the show, from a graphic or pattern to the design of wallpaper or a carpet. With a series such as His Dark Materials, written by Jack Thorne and based on Philip Pullman’s celebrated trilogy of novels, there were no end of decisions to make.

The story introduces Lyra (Dafne Keen), an orphan who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. The cast also includes James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Ruth Wilson (Mrs Coulter), Anne-Marie Duff (Ma Costa) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby).

Taking her cue from the concept art commissioned for the series, which is produced by Bad Wolf (A Discovery of Witches) and New Line Cinema, Randall would oversee the design process for all the graphic elements of the series while ensuring everything fitted into the vision of production designer Joel Collins.

“Joel was keen to make it look like the 1950s, but because we’re not in our world, we’re freer than that, we would incorporate an older 1920s look, or something that looks slightly more Victorian,” Randall explains. “The graphics look like period wartime but we also didn’t want to be rigid and stick to that, because we don’t need to.”

Her main tasks included creating the alethiometer symbols, road signage and the Jordan College crest, as well as the logo for the Magisterium, which is the name given to the church in the series. “Mrs Coulter has quite a lot of paperwork, which is quite key at one point,” Randall continues. “Lyra’s bedroom also has lots of artwork, pictures and texts. There are lots of maps as well.”

Randall’s team faced a varied task, working on designs including the show’s alethiometer

For the alethiometer symbols, Randall sought a fresh layout that leaned away from its design on the book cover or in the 2007 film The Golden Compass, which was based on Pullman’s Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in the US) – the first book in the trilogy that forms the basis for the first season of this TV series, which is distributed by BBC Studios.

“We couldn’t just reuse the old designs – we needed something fresh,” she says. “They’re such tiny, tiny things but we see them quite a lot and they’re in the title sequence now! Each one was drawn about 50 times and then we had to work with our fabrication team to get those symbols to work at such a tiny size on the alethiometer itself.

“It’s basically a process of research, finding references and then putting forward your design. Then eventually you’ll come out with something that everyone’s happy with.”

Similarly, creating the Magisterium logo took several weeks. “I did like 50 or 60 of them. There were so many variations,” Randall says. “Now, that shape of the Magisterium badge appears in a lot of the architecture.”

A design for the aerobus featured in His Dark Materials

The show also has its own alphabet, while older street signs use Roman numerals. “We wanted to give the impression it’s another world – Lyra’s world – so we completely changed the way that text looked, which was great and then became a real pain in the arse,” Randall jokes. “It means you can’t use anything real. You have to just make your own of everything – with newspapers and texts, it was Lyra’s-world text. That’s quite a big deal.”

Once a design has been finished and approved, it would be passed to Barry Jones, the head of props fabrication, whose team would build the item on site at Wolf Studios, in Cardiff, Wales.

“It’s really personable – we all work as a team and I can walk down there and have a chat with Barry about how he’s going to do a finish on something,” Randall says. “There are so many different things that we made in season one. We also designed our own computer font for Lyra’s world too and it ended up being used for everything, from the clapper boards to the readthrough scripts.”

The team also had to create fonts and logos for the fantasy drama

Randall came on board the series at the same time as other art directors, by which time the scripts were in good shape and concept art had been commissioned and completed.

The challenge in her role, and for everyone in a creative position, is designing something that’s new, that fits and doesn’t look out of place, she explains. “But the challenge is a fun one. It’s what keeps you going, which I quite like. It’s problem solving.”

Chief among the problems she faced was that of the Magisterium logo, which had to avoid echoes of any other religious emblem, and many others too. “Everything you put down just looks like something else because every single symbol that’s easy to draw and easy to replicate has already been done,” she explains.

“It also needed to look of an age and not be brand-new looking, and not standout but be powerful at the same time, so it’s a really difficult thing to get right. That was something that took a long time, to the point where I was just wanting to see the back of it. Now we’ve seen it on things, on airships and great big buildings, I really like it.”

Randall is now back at work on season two, which was commissioned before season one had finished filming at Wolf Studios earlier this summer. As Pullman’s novels take Lyra on a mission across the cosmos, the story is set to offer Randall new creative challenges that are out of this world.

tagged in: ,

Making connections

Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles) follows a group of eight disparate characters, who seemingly have little in common until they are all affected by a terror attack in Copenhagen.

In this DQTV interview, co-creators and writers Dorte Høgh and Ida Maria Rydén join director Milad Alami to reveal how the series was made and why this was a story they wanted to tell.

They talk about the theme of connectivity that runs through the show, and why they wanted to place the attack in the middle of the series, rather than at the start.

The trio also discuss how they filmed the attack without focusing on the violence or the terrorists themselves, and then how the characters are changed by the devastating events.

When the Dust Settles is produced by DR Drama for DR, and distributed by DR Sales.

tagged in: , , , ,

Five Minutes With: Eric Khoo

The director and showrunner behind HBO Asia horror anthology Folklore talks to DQ about his latest series, Food Lore, which features eight stories from eight directors in eight different countries, all inspired by Asian cuisine.

Tell us about Food Lore.
Food Lore is HBO Asia’s newest anthology drama series, with eight stories centred around food. Over the course of each episode, we see how the characters’ lives are transformed by food.

Eric Khoo

Why food?
The taste of food evokes many cherished memories. In Asia, we love our food, especially with its cultural diversity and the richness of our street/soul food. I love food shows but they’re mostly documentaries and I wanted to do narrative stories about food.

How does the subject of food influence each episode?
Food is not just seen as a source of sustenance; it causes our characters to make crucial decisions at certain points of their lives and helps them grow emotionally. I hope when audiences watch the series, it will stir more than their hunger.

Are there other themes or topics that link them together?
Though the episodes are all very different in terms of tone and form, what they share are the different facets of human bonding.

Eight stories, eight directors, eight countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Japan and Malaysia. How do you manage it?
I gave freedom to the directors – talented, greedy auteurs – to be as creative as possible. The only brief I gave to them was to have food as the central character. Thus, some stories are funny while others are emotional and moving — the stories are as diverse and rich as the food.
From day one, you can tell it was a labour of love for the directors, so that helped motivate a lot of the creative process. It also helped that there was a good synergy when the directors were working with the HBO Asia team. When production commenced for each episode, our producers headed to the different countries to team up with the local production houses, so we kept our ears pretty close to the ground.

What were the biggest challenges making the series?
We had very good support from the production partners we worked with in each country. However, in terms of paperwork, it also meant we had to look into eight different sets of legal and accounting documents. So we had to come with an ecosystem of forms and agreements that could be understood and applied in all eight countries.

Khoo’s anthology series Food Lore takes in eight countries across Asia

You previously followed a similar format with Folklore, working in the horror genre. What lessons did you learn from that and how did you apply them to Food Lore?
Folklore taught us that communication and patience are very important as we are working with partners from many different backgrounds. We have reminded our producers to be in constant conversation with each country and work together with them to solve any problems that might arise.

What are the creative benefits and disadvantages of using an anthology format?
One of my favourite TV shows is The Twilight Zone and I love the nature of a self-contained, compact story. The individual episodes will essentially remain as short films without the potential of morphing into a series.

You direct episode six, Tamarind, set in Singapore. How would you describe your directing style?
I work on the fly and I love to think on the spot and be as spontaneous as possible, but I also love rehearsing with my cast and seeing them get into character. I’m extremely impatient and will seldom do more than two takes.

Who are your greatest influences?
My mother, as she was a cinephile who brought me to the pictures when I was a small boy. She got me hooked, and Bruce Lee became my idol. Music inspires me as well; I love Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Paul Williams.

The Tamarind episode of Food Lore, which was directed by Khoo

What are your favourite television series?
The original Twilight Zone, Breaking Bad and, more recently, Chernobyl.

How do you see the television industry developing across Asia?
These are interesting times for the television industry due to the rapid appearance of more players. Most of all, it’s no longer about television. There’s going to be an exponential increase in demand for content as streaming becomes more and more popular in the region and worldwide.

Do you approach TV differently from your film projects?
Definitely. I’m currently developing a miniseries and it’s a very different style of writing where a long form narrative needs to be considered. For a film, you only really need to think of 90 minutes of a three-act script. But for a TV series, it’ll run into hours and hours – you’ll need the right hooks to keep those eyes glued to the screen.

Japanese, Chinese and Korean drama is well known. What other Asian drama should we be watching?
The Philippines and Indonesia are markets to watch out for. They not only have established filmmakers who are coming out with content but also many budding young creatives bubbling with exciting ideas.

tagged in: , ,

Piano man

Eight-part comedy drama Upright stars Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock as two misfits thrown together by chance in the middle of the Australian desert, as they bond on a quest to transport a precious piano from one side of the country to the other.

Lucky Flynn (Minchin) hasn’t spoken to his family in years. The gifted pianist’s talent for music is matched only by his talent for self-destruction. When he learns his mother has just days left to live, he sets off in a hire car to drive the 4,000km from Sydney to Perth to say goodbye, taking with him his only cherished possession in the world: a battered and scarred upright piano.

This seemingly straightforward drive across the outback soon becomes a test of Lucky’s emotional fitness when he literally runs into Meg (Alcock), a funny, tough-as-nails teenager who has plenty of scars and secrets of her own.

In this DQTV interview, acclaimed musician, actor, comedian and writer Minchin recalls how he joined the project and developed the idea with co-writers Chris Taylor, Kate Mulvany and Leon Ford.

The Australian talks about the themes that drew him to the story, as well as his own circumstances that led him to explore this story of homecoming, and offers his views on how music is used in film and television.

Upright is produced by Lingo Pictures for Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK and Foxtel in Australia, and distributed by Entertainment One.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Life and Unsoul

Brazilian drama Desalma (Unsoul) marries crime drama with small-town paranoia and religious ritualism to unsettling effect. Writer Ana Paula Maia tells DQ about the creative process behind her first television series.

After her husband’s suicide, a woman and her daughters move to Brígida, a small town that is about to celebrate the pagan festivities of Ivana Kupala, which had been banned for the previous 30 years. What follows are a series of terrifying events and dangerous rituals that unsettle the community and bring to light the secrets of a crime that ties three families together.

The first TV series from Ana Paula Maia, the Brazilian drama is set across two time periods and combines themes of crime, mystery and the supernatural to create a complex puzzle that aims to keep viewers guessing right until the end.

Produced by Globo Studios for streamer Globoplay, the series is being screened this week at the Berlinale Series Market as part of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. Artistic director Carlos Manga Jr is behind the camera alongside directors João Paulo Jabur and Pablo Müller.

Here, creator and writer Maia talks about the origins of the project, creating the fictitious world of Brígida and her approach to screenwriting.

Ana Paula Maia

Tell us about the story behind Unsoul.
Unsoul is a supernatural drama that happens in the fictitious town of Brígida, located in the south of Brazil and colonised by Ukrainians. The story is narrated in parallel in two different timelines, with a difference of 30 years between them. It shows the consequences of choices made in the past.
What sets the starting point of the whole story is the murder of young witch Halyna (Anna Melo) in the 1980s, during the traditional pagan party Ivana Kupala. Her death leads to a ban of the celebration for 30 years. When the population finally decides to resume the celebrations, supernatural events start scaring the residents of Brígida, especially the families involved in this tragedy from the past.

How was the series created?
I contacted Globo about another project, but my story in the audiovisual market really started with Unsoul. The theme has a lot to do with my universe. I’ve liked horror and supernatural stores since I was little, and I have had a relationship with stories in this genre my whole life.
I had never been able to take this to literature but I saw this opportunity in the audiovisual field. I wrote it by myself, pretty much the same way I write my books. The series was born with this name and with this story. Unsoul has a very complex story and Globo really trusted in me. The whole process took about a year.

What was the inspiration behind the series?
I really like the supernatural. My favourite series is The Twilight Zone, from 1959 – I am a big fan of Richard Matheson and Rod Serling, its creators. Another very important series for me is The X-Files. In movies, it’s Hitchcock. I think I have managed to watch everything he made throughout his life. I would say these three are the biggest inspirations for me when I build my stories.

Tell us about the show’s main characters.
Unsoul does not have a protagonist, but a group of main characters. They are basically the mothers of the families directly involved in the tragedy and the mysteries – the witch Haia (Cassia Kiss) plus Ignes (Claudia Abreu) and Giovana (Maria Ribeiro). The women have major roles in Unsoul, which is different to my literature, which is about men. It’s the first time I have written about women and the story has a strong relationship with motherhood.

How was the fictitious town of Brígida created for the series?
I went to a few days of shooting, and the locations in the mountainous region in the south of Brazil were incredible. The atmosphere and the environment in a series like Unsoul are very important. Brígida is a character in the story, because it’s where everything happens. The huge forest that surrounds the town also has significance. It is the meeting point for young adults in the two decades of the story and where the Ivana Kupala party happens.

Unsoul centres on a Ukrainian community in Brazil

What kind of research did you carry out? Is there anything related to mythology, or is it based on real life?
It is all based on Slavic mythology, which I really like. I have lived in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil, for almost five years and that is where I started identifying the habits and traditions of other groups of people. My first impact was with food, until I started noticing the woods, the city parks, the typical parties and the folklore groups. I found this very impressive and I thought the rest of Brazil needed to know what happens there.
I deepened my research on the culture of Prudentópolis, a city in the countryside of the state of Paraná, from where I drew the inspiration to create Unsoul. The biggest Ukrainian community outside Ukraine in South America is in Brazil. They keep the parties and traditions alive, and basically nobody knows anything about it. Besides, Eastern Europe is extremely mystical. I took this culturally rich atmosphere to a story with supernatural elements. The idea was to introduce a different culture, which is beautiful and practically erased and that is also part of Brazil.

How did you work with Carlos Manga Jr to bring your story to life?
Since I write by myself and have this creative independence, I get really excited when my work goes to the hands of other professionals. Carlos Manga Jr is a director with a talent for denser, darker stories, and working in this genre with him is such a joy. We have similar taste and influences. When the director and the author coexist in the same universe, it helps a lot. I have been impressed with the whole process – seeing the text come to life and materialise itself is something I’ve never seen before. Being able to see the project become something great, with many actors, is amazing.
It was also great to be able to see the actors bringing life to the characters I created. Unsoul is my first audiovisual project. We started shooting with a fully written script. Of course, there might be some adjustments, but the script was already written when we shot.

How were you involved in production and post-production?
I watched some days of shooting and also took part in much of the editing. I could see the series coming to life up close, give my opinion and share my wishes with the director. It was a very pleasant process.

What was your biggest challenge: development or production?
All stages are challenging. In Unsoul specifically, there was the challenge of creating a supernatural drama that worked in Brazil and that showed an unknown aspect of the country – the Ukrainian community.
The other challenge was searching for a cast that the audience did not know. Most of the cast in the series is made up of actors selected in five different states of the country. Another challenge was the location: we needed specific places, and this is why the series was shot in different states. It’s a big project.

What do you think will attract the Brazilian audience as well as viewers around the world?
I believe the power of the series will reach the audience in a deep and touching manner. [Whether you’re from] Brazil or around the world, the series tells an engaging story that is full of mysteries and twists, not to mention everyone will get to know the beauty and mystical side of Ukrainian culture.

What’s next? Are you planning season two, or another series?
The whole Unsoul team and I are still feeling the adrenaline of the launch and we are looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction. Now it’s the time to enjoy this moment and the opportunities that may appear.

tagged in: , , ,

DQ Recommends: Drama directors

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which directors working in the drama business have caught their eye and why.

Scott Frank
Frank is the creator, writer and director behind Netflix miniseries Godless (pictured top), which trailed notorious criminal Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, right) and his gang of outlaws who are on a mission to get revenge against Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), a former protégé who betrayed the brotherhood and seeks refuge in an isolated mining town governed mainly by women.
Frank made his directorial debut with 2008’s The Lookout, having also written screenplays for movies Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Interpreter and Logan.

Nick Murphy, director of series such as Save Me and A Christmas Carol, says: “Not enough is made of Godless. If anybody out there hasn’t seen Godless on Netflix, they must watch it. It’s the most beautifully delivered series, with fresh writing and directing. The direction was the most surprising. I watch a lot of TV and with 95% of what I see, you can pause it at the beginning of the scene and I can tell you what they’re going to say and how it’s going to be shot.
“With Godless, Scott Frank always confounds my expectations as a director and the rhythms of the drama are not ones you would expect. He tees up where you think it’s going to go and gleefully takes it in a different direction. It’s like waggling the left hand because he knows he’s going to slap me with the right hand. That’s just fantastically effective, and the performances of the cast are flawless and remarkable.”

Ava Duvernay
Film and television director Duvernay (pictured left) has worked in both documentaries (13th) and drama (Queen Sugar) and successfully combined the two genres with fact-based Netflix miniseries When They See Us. The four-parter is a startling and uncompromising dramatisation of the notorious case of five teenagers of colour, labelled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit.

Drama executive Hilary Salmon says: “Ava DuVernay’s direction is always honest but also manages to make this tense, authentic and heart-breaking story beautiful to look at without losing any of its raw power.”

Irish actor Ruth Bradley, the star of Humans and Guilt, adds: “When They See Us is amazing. Ava DuVernay is just a genius. I watched it because of her, as I’m a massive fan, but I had also seen a documentary about the five men. To see how young those kids were and how appalling their treatment was, she’s amazing.”

Kari Skogland
In a career spanning more than 25 years, Canadian director Skogland (above) has worked on some of the biggest drama series ever made, including The Handmaid’s Tale, The Walking Dead and House of Cards. More recently, she has shot episodes of supernatural drama The Rook, horror NOS4A2 and The Loudest Voice, Showtime’s exploration of Roger Ailes and Fox News. Skogland is now working on Disney+ series The Falcon & the Winter Soldier.

David Cormican of Don Carmody Television says of The Loudest Voice: “This is a masterclass in what a limited series should be. Incredible performances have been harnessed to powerfully transcend the celebrity of it all. Kari Skogland’s direction is fierce, pointed and unrelenting, anchoring and educating the viewers in the advent of fake news. It should stand as a cautionary tale to all of us.”

Melissa Williamson, president of Pier 21 Films, adds: “As a fellow Canadian, I’ve been following Kari’s career for quite some time, so I wasn’t surprised to see her name on one of my favourite series, The Loudest Voice. She’s a true international talent.”

tagged in: , ,

Personal touch

Brazilian drama Onde Está Meu Coração (Where My Heart Is) charts the struggle of a doctor battling a devastating drug addiction. Director Luisa Lima tells DQ about her intimate approach behind the camera.

Luisa Lima first joined Brazilian broadcaster Globo back in 2003 when she enrolled in its directing workshop. After working as an assistant director on series including Shades of Sin and The Sisters, she graduated to full directing duties on projects such as Irrational Heart, The Party and Land of the Strong.

She is now behind the camera on Onde Está Meu Coração (Where My Heart Is), the 10-part story of Amanda (Letícia Collin), a doctor who starts using crack cocaine to escape the pressures of her life. Struggling with an addiction that shatters her life and her family, she must decide whether to give up or fight her demons. The series is produced and distributed by Globo Studios.

Here, Lima tells DQ about joining the project, filming in São Paulo and the rising number of female directors in Brazil.

Luisa Lima

How were you chosen as the director of Where My Heart Is?
My partnership with writers George Moura and Sérgio Goldenberg goes way back. We worked together previously on Land of the Strong and The Party, and I love the human dilemmas they present in their scripts. The character arcs tend to be multi-layered and the characters grow throughout the story, in search of what eludes them and what they can’t understand.
In this project, the sensory element is very evident, along with the intimate personal dramas. I commit myself to shedding the tensions between our visible, surface relations and the world inside each of us.

Tell us about your directing style.
I’m constantly focused on analysing characters and trying to understand their issues, the hardships they face and their failures without ever judging them. With this show, we don’t go easy on drugs or romanticise drug use, but we do hope to spark empathy in our audience, particularly since the show depicts the struggles a family goes through when one of them is an addict.
I aim for visual simplicity and dramatic depth. I’ve been focusing more on the physicality of everything around Amanda, on the light, the sounds, the music and the spatial nature of the places she visits, her work environment, her parents’ home and São Paulo itself. There’s a great deal of camera movement.

How did you use São Paulo as the backdrop for the series?
The show’s aesthetic approach follows an emotional, psychological and sensory logic. It aims for a dramatic discourse in which we’re guided by Amanda’s family and subjectivity, stressing the volatility, lack of understanding and incompleteness of behaviours and the human/social condition.
We opt for an intimate, detail-oriented approach, even to the point of paranoia or self-reflection. We present a drama of fierce anguish, conflicts, relationship difficulties and the struggle of the conflicting desires for relief and destruction.
The locations contribute to the shaping of a world that’s cold and immaculate, as evidenced by Amanda’s brutalist conceptual flat. The imposing, terrifying scale of the hospital amplifies the sense of pressure experienced in the medical field, along with the simultaneously cruel and trivial nature of death as routine. The private crack house is a vast, labyrinthine apartment bearing traces of former wealth.

Where My Heart Is focuses on Amanda (Letícia Collin, left) a doctor who develops a drug habit

What was your experience of working on the series?
It was very rewarding to work with the idea that we were dealing with the point of view of a female protagonist, with a woman as the director.
The rise in the number of female directors in television is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I first came to Globo 16 years ago, there were very few of us. Things have changed, however, and we see more and more women in this position.
The very concept of the feminine takes on other meanings when narratives are shaped by women, since the handling of the feminine in television has nearly always been filtered through a male point of view. It is crucial for artistic discourse to give voice to all segments of society.

How has the role of the television director changed in recent years?
Plenty has changed in the time I’ve been at Globo, with the success of new formats, such as limited series and the growing female representation in this market. There’s a greater hunger for art and to be surprised, making TV a more visceral and thoughtful artistic laboratory – hopefully even a transformative one, capable of transforming society, the status quo, our humanity and contemporary life.

tagged in: , ,

DQ Recommends: Drama writers

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which writers are crafting the most compelling scripts and complex characters in today’s drama series.

Alex Metcalfe
As showrunner on Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, Metcalf brought to television the story of Roger Ailes (played by an unrecognisable Russell Crowe), the man who moulded Fox News into a force that irrevocably changed the conversation around government and an influential figure in the rise of the modern Republican Party.
He has also written for shows such as UnReal, Kingdom, Mindhunter and Sharp Objects.

Moritz Polter, executive producer for international series at Germany’s Bavaria Fiction, notes: “He captures the TV mayhem at Fox News and the beating against the then president, and by doing so also puts a mirror in front of us to show how the press is handling current presidential affairs. The show is very topical, fast-paced and ‘loud,’ but then when we are with the characters, it is also brutally honest and painfully true.”

Jesse Armstrong
A screenwriter for almost 20 years, Armstrong (pictured, left, with Succession’s Kieran Culkin) has been responsible for some of the best British comedy in the last two decades, with credits including Peep Show, The Thick of It and Fresh Meat.
He’s also behind one of the standout instalments of Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology Black Mirror – the memorable The Entire History of You, which imagines a world where people can replay their memories – and now combines family drama, caustic humour and Shakespearian themes in Succession, HBO’s series about Logan Roy and his four children all vying to succeed him at the top of his media empire.

“Jesse Armstrong has pulled off the much-underestimated trick of writing a second season of Succession that’s even better than the first,” The Lighthouse exec Hilary Salmon says. “Everyone is talking about the new season, which has remained surprising as well as being about something deeply recognisable – the machismo of father/son relationships.”

Walter Presents curator Walter Iuzzolino champions the show’s “superbly drawn characters and a plot that keeps you guessing – it’s absolutely wonderful,” while Entertainment One’s Polly Williams says Succession’s predominantly British writing team has assembled scripts that “manage to construct artful stories, take creative risks, make you laugh out loud and continually surprise you and leave you guessing.”

Desiree Akhavan
Channel 4 and Hulu six-part comedy-drama The Bisexual marked the American writer, director, producer and actor’s first television project behind the camera, bringing to the small screen a deeply personal perspective on bisexuality and the prejudices, shame and misconceptions around it. Akhavan was previously known for work including feature films Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Annie Weismann, executive producer of Fox drama Almost Family, says: “I really love The Bisexual. It’s about an American living in London, it’s funny and dark, really fresh and good. That’s something I’ve just discovered and am really enjoying in terms of inspiring female voices right now.
“It’s fun to see a truly multicultural show – you don’t see a lot of that. So that’s something I really dig. It has inspired me because Desiree feels like such a distinctive, unapologetic, comedic voice with something to say.”

tagged in: , ,

DQ Recommends: Drama actors

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which actors they believe are delivering the most mesmerising performances in contemporary drama series.

Jodie Comer
Since her breakout performances in UK dramas Thirteen and Doctor Foster, British actor Comer has been dominating the small screen with her seductive, often comedic but always killer performance as the linguistically agile assassin Villanelle in BBC America’s Killing Eve (pictured). Bafta and Emmy glory was richly deserved.

“I think the whole world wishes they could be Sandra Oh,” says Don Carmody Television exec David Cormican of Comer’s Killing Eve co-star. “Comer has arrived and has clearly made her mark as a full-on tour-de-force in her tête à tête opposite Oh’s good-cop spy Eve in Killing Eve.”

Tetra Media’s Emmanuel Daucé adds: “No one could play a loveable psychopath as she does.”

Laura Dern
With a celebrated film career including starring roles in Blue Velvet and Jurassic Park, Dern has recently made her mark on the small screen in shows such as Twin Peaks: The Return and, most impressively, HBO’s Big Little Lies (pictured), in which for two seasons she was among an all-star ensemble that also boasted Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Zoë Kravitz, Shailene Woodley and Meryl Streep.

“Despite heavyweight actress competition from her fellow cast members, it’s Laura Dern’s character that burns brightest in the second season,” Walter Presents curator Walter Iuzzolino says of the show. “She may not have the most lines, but she delivers the ones she has with memorable aplomb – ‘I shall not not be rich!’ is a real highlight.”

Andrew Scott
To fans of the BBC’s Sherlock, Irishman Scott is know the world over as the great detective’s arch nemesis Moriarty. But to a certain group of viewers, he now goes by the moniker ‘Hot Priest.’ It was his role in Fleabag (above) that got viewers hot under the (dog) collar as he stole the show in the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Emmy-winning comedy.

“It’s Andrew Scott’s time at the moment,” says The Lighthouse’s Hilary Salmon. “A character actor to date, Fleabag has put him on the map as a leading actor. He deserves his success, every bit of it.”

Quizzical Pictures’ Nimrod Geva adds: “As the Hot Priest in Fleabag, he proved that empathy is the new sexy.”

Eric Lange
Lange’s might not be the most recognisable name among television actors, but with excellent recent performances in Showtime’s prison-break series Escape at Dannemora and Netflix’s breakout true crime drama Unbelievable, he has certainly appeared in some of the most watched television of the past couple of years.

Melissa Williamson, president of Pier 21 Films, notes: “There is a lot of incredible new on-screen talent out there, and I know Eric Lange has been around for a while but, between Escape at Dannemora and Unbelievable, I’ve absolutely come to love this performer. His portrayal of Lyle Mitchell in Escape at Dannemora topped the charts for me this year.”

Dominic West
British actor West crossed the pond at the start of the 2000s to star in David Simon’s seminal crime drama The Wire and recently took on the role of Jean Valjean in the BBC and PBS’s adaptation of Les Misérables. Since 2014, he has also been known Stateside as Noah Solloway, one quarter of a leading ensemble that fronts Showtime series The Affair.

“I watched the entire first season of The Affair and had no idea Dominic West was British,” jokes Paramount’s head of worldwide television distribution Dan Cohen. “He completely convinced me he was both an American and a total weasel, which demonstrates that what he really is is a fabulous actor – I love to hate him!”

tagged in: , , , ,

Making the law

Inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr, ABC legal drama For Life follows prisoner Aaron Wallace (Nicholas Pinnock), who becomes a lawyer litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.

In this DQTV interview, executive producers Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson and Doug Robinson talk about their journey to bring Wright Jr’s story to the small screen and why they decided to take it to a broadcast network instead of creating a “gritty” series more suited to a cable channel.

Jackson also explains why he compares the series to US hip-hop group Run-DMC and how his own TV and film career mirrors his musical success.

For Life is coproduced by Sony Pictures Television, ABC Studios, Doug Robinson Productions and G-Unit Film & Television for ABC.

tagged in: , , , ,

DQ Recommends: Non-English-language drama

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which non-English-language series they’re currently watching and recommending.

Babylon Berlin
The period crime drama, which enters its third season in January, is now on air in more than 100 territories worldwide, cementing its status among the flagship German dramas in this era of high-end television.
Combining classic genre hallmarks, a gripping story and standout direction with impeccable 1920s design, it introduces Volker Kutscher’s literary police inspector Gereon Rathe and a depiction of Berlin as a hotbed of drugs, politics, murder and sex.

Harvey L Myman, partner at Element 8 Entertainment, says the first two seasons of the series “still haunt the imagination and have us eagerly awaiting season three. It is great, complex and full of constantly surprising characters in a compelling mystery with a historical overlay. Just thinking about it has me wanting to watch it again.”

Piv Bernth, CEO of Denmark’s Apple Tree Productions, praises its “amazing storytelling and production” combined with “wonderful acting.”

A Netflix series from Germany, Dark melds family drama with the supernatural as the disappearance of two young children in the present day exposes the double lives and fractured relationships within four families, with the story linked to events in the same town in 1986.
The series marked the streamer’s first original German drama, drawing comparisons to Twin Peaks and Stranger Things for its slow-burning central mystery, with a second season due in 2020.

“I was late to the party, but I have become a big fan of Dark,” says Dan Cohen, Paramount’s president of worldwide television distribution. “It’s different in a very compelling way.”

The Lighthouse’s Hilary Salmon highlights the “terrific performances from a largely young cast, and an atmosphere so oppressive that it’s impossible not to go on watching. Plus it looks, sounds and is ‘dark,’ it so does what it says on the tin, which is always good.”

This Russian series follows Artem, a Moscow-based psychologist who practices ‘provocative therapy.’ When a patient apparently commits suicide, he is held responsible and sent to prison. After being freed, he begins to rebuild his life by taking on a new case, trying to get his wife back, protecting his sister from her violent boyfriend and trying to uncover who really killed his patient.

“The narrative has been so well crafted, you can’t help but be swept into this world with everything that happens in the first episode,” says David Cormican from Canada’s Don Carmody Television.
“The main character’s crisp dialogue, cutting observations and inability to censor himself is what will keep audiences coming back to delve deeper into his mind, as he forces us to examine our own in reflection.”

A Norwegian comedy about a group of Vikings living in the year 790, Norsemen stands out for the way numerous characters take centre stage as they face the challenges of day-to-day life and conflict, such as disputes with neighbouring villages. Filmed back-to-back in Norwegian and English, it first aired locally on NRK before Netflix picked up the English-language version for audiences worldwide.

Melissa Williamson, president of Pier 21 Films, notes: “With two young children at home, I came a little late to Norsemen, but fortunately it’s never too late to start watching this series. For every episode of Game of Thrones, one must watch two episodes of Norsemen. The talent in this series is truly unmatched and it’s funny as hell to boot.”

Opening With a stunning, singular tracking shot that follows Robert Schlag – aka ‘Beat’ – into a pulsating nightclub, this German Amazon series blends crime drama with the excesses of Berlin’s club culture. It follows Beat as he is put under pressure to work with the police and the secret service to investigate the discovery of two women’s bodies in his club.

Polly Williams, head of scripted drama at Entertainment One, describes Beat as “an original and gritty thriller with the best depiction of a nightclub ever in a TV series – a very fresh take on the genre with an exciting, wild streak.”

tagged in: , , , ,

DQ Recommends: English-language drama

DQ asks some of the people who make TV around the world which English-language series they’re currently watching and recommending.

Though it may not yet be the commercial hit for HBO that Game of Thrones became, this peerless family drama – effortlessly mixing acerbic wit, emotional crises and Shakespearian intrigue – has earned critical plaudits aplenty and is only likely to pick up more viewers as it progresses into its third season in 2020.
The series follows the Roy family – Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his four children – which controls one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world, tracking their lives as they contemplate what the future will hold for them once their ageing father begins to step back from the company.

“What a cast, what a story! It’s simply sublime. I gasped, I laughed and I thanked God I didn’t have a family like theirs,” says Walter Iuzzolino, curator of streaming platform Walter Presents.

Quizzical Pictures’ Nimrod Geva, meanwhile, notes that the show is both “utterly relevant and hilarious, while somehow both glamorising and deflating the 1%.”

Melissa Williamson, president of Pier 21 Films, says: “Since I started my career in the television industry, one of the ideas I’ve been desperate to produce is a family drama with stakes, a series that is a complicated crossover of family politics meets business and politics. This series cracked that code and peppered in some of the most delightful bits of comedy I’ve seen on television this year. I cannot get enough of this one.”

Julian Stevens, producer of Informer and A Christmas Carol, adds: “It’s clearly the best show on TV at the moment. The writing, production and the music are just amazing. Everything about it is fantastic.”

The true crime drama du jour, this Netflix series is inspired by the real-life story of Marie Adler (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who was raped in her home but later withdrew her statement and was charged with making a false report to police.
The eight-part series then follows events as two detectives investigate the truth behind a number of similar incidents, without knowing this serial rapist might have struck before. Unbelievable has been praised for its approach to the genre and its portrayal of the horrifying inconsistencies of the criminal justice system.

“I’m finding Unbelievable pretty unbelievable at the moment. It’s superb,” says director Nick Murphy (Save Me, A Christmas Carol). “It’s even-handed. It hasn’t gone in and presented ‘bad police don’t believe girl.’ They’ve made that problem human. The world is not full of people twiddling their moustaches.”

HBO’s ‘teen drama,’ based on the Israeli show of the same name, made waves upon its launch with its explicit depiction of sex and drug use, often making it a challenging watch. But it overwhelmingly won plaudits for its grounded and raw portrayal of high-school students confronting the challenges of love and friendship.

Milad Alami, director of Danish drama When the Dust Settles, says of the series: “It felt like a show about drug addiction from a young person’s point of view. I liked that, on one side, it felt like something that’s great and liberating but, on the other, it’s about something that’s deeply dark and destructive. I liked that the series dared to take that approach.”

Having scooped 10 Emmys in categories ranging from visual effects and music to directing, writing and the prize for outstanding limited series, Chernobyl stands up as one of the best series of the year.
The Sky and HBO show dramatised the events surrounding the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and its aftermath across five stunning episodes. It was never anything but spectacular, from the set design and effects to the ambition of writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck to tell the stories of those whose efforts during that time were clouded by the scale of the disaster and the political fallout that followed.

Carlotta Calori, a producer at Italy’s Indigo Films, surmises: “It shows the darkest side of what humans are capable of in a gripping, incredibly well-written and entertaining manner.”

This FX series, which scored an Emmy for star Michelle Williams, charts the personal and professional relationship between director-choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and actor and dancer Gwen Verdon (Williams), taking place over five decades and revealing the intimate and often toxic chemistry between the pair.

Hilary Salmon, formerly head of drama at BBC Studios and now setting up production company The Lighthouse, said: “I’ve surprised myself by how much I’ve loved Fosse/Verdon. Biographical pieces are not normally my thing but, as a narrative that dramatises the ebb and flow of a marriage, a creative relationship and a friendship over decades, this one takes some beating.
“Plus it has Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, who are both at the top of their games, and dramatises the filming of Cabaret [the 1972 film starring Liza Minelli]. What’s not to like?”

tagged in: , , , ,

Beyond the headlines

Six-part factual drama White House Farm revolves around a night in August 1985 when five members of the same family were murdered at the titular farmhouse.

Sheila Caffell, her twin six-year-old sons Daniel and Nicholas, and her parents, Nevill and June Bamber, were all discovered dead. Police officers originally believed Sheila, who suffered with mental health problems, had murdered her family before turning the gun on herself.

But Jeremy Bamber was eventually charged and convicted of murdering his parents, sister and nephews. He remains in prison and maintains his innocence.

In this DQTV interview, stars Freddie Fox and Mark Addy discuss their roles in the series, playing Jeremy Bamber and DS Stan Jones, respectively. They talk about their own memories of the murders and how they were covered at the time by the media, and remark on how the series serves as a study of 1980s society in terms of police procedure and the support available for people suffering mental health issues.

They also discuss the weight of responsibility playing real people and Fox’s decision not to meet Jeremy Bamber.

White House Farm is produced by New Pictures for ITV and distributed by All3Media International.

tagged in: , , , , ,

New radicals

The writers and producer of Swedish drama Kalifat (Caliphate) tell DQ how they crafted this story of five young women who become radicalised by religious fundamentalism.

From the production team behind Bron/Broen (The Bridge) comes Kalifat (Caliphate), the story of five young women whose fates are intertwined in an examination of how religious fundamentalism can seduce individuals and destroy lives.

Based on an idea from Wilhelm Behrman, who writes the series with Niklas Rockström, the eight-part drama is produced by Filmlance for Swedish broadcaster SVT and distributed by Endemol Shine International. It is directed by Goran Kapetanovic and filmed in Stockholm and Jordan.

Behrman and Rockström have also been nominated for the Nordic TV Drama Screenplay Award, which is presented tomorrow during Göteborg Film Festival’s TV Drama Vision event, supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond.

Here, Behrman, Rockström and producer Tomas Michaelsson reveal how Caliphate was conceived, developed and brought to the screen.

Niklas Rockström (left) and Wilhelm Behrman

What are the origins of the project?
Tomas Michaelsson: This drama handles a very sensitive but hot topic: young people being seduced by violent extremism. Wilhelm Behrman pitched the idea to me in late 2014, when Isis were in every newspaper every day and they were releasing their extreme terrorism videos. We then pitched it to SVT, which immediately wanted to start developing it with us.

Why was this a story you wanted to tell?
Michaelsson: Wilhelm’s pitch was probably the best I’d ever heard. I still remember how he told it and how I felt. This was a must-tell story dealing with the most complex issues – and at that time, we were still in the middle of it. The timing was right to explore the difficult and complicated topic and understand almost incomprehensible issues around how young Swedes are prepared to go as far as to go to a foreign country and go to war to establish a caliphate.

Wilhelm, how did your newspaper background inspire or influence the story?
Wilhelm Behrman: I suppose I learned the importance of research when I was working as a reporter – and to use research from a lot of different sources. I also learned to always search for the individual behind the general story, to write about specific human beings and not ‘groups’ or ‘representatives,’ because one individual will never be the perfect representative of an entire group.

What were the themes you wanted to discuss in the series and how was this achieved?
Behrman: The one big theme was: how does radicalisation work and how do we make it fit into the thriller format? People have been radicalised in thousands of ways and we wanted to show some of these different ways. Some have nothing to lose and get recruited in prison, some fall in love with the wrong guy, some find their way to Isis when they find out they share the same political views and enemies, and some just want the adventure.

Kalifat focuses on five young women targeted by religious fundamentalists

How did you come to work together and what was your writing process?
Niklas Rockström: We are actually cousins but we became friends as grown-ups. And it turned out we both wrote screenplays, so after some years talking about it, we began writing together. Our first project was Before We Die. We always create the storyline together in the writing room and, after that, mostly because of lack of time, we go our separate ways to write the episodes.
Behrman: We’re cousins, but we didn’t know each other until we met on a train on the way to see our dying grandmother. We found out that we had chosen the same occupation and quickly became best friends, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that we dared to take the scary step and start working together. Now we have been doing that for eight years. Our process is that one of us comes up with an idea and, if the other one likes it, we build the story together and write a storyline. After that, the one who came up with the idea does most of the scriptwriting.

How much research did you do? What surprised you about the subject or changed the story of the series?
Rockström: We did a huge amount of research, as much as possible, as this sensitive story needed a lot more work than any other project I’ve worked on. The research changed the story in the details sometimes, but, as I recall it, not in any bigger sense.
Behrman: We have read tons of books and articles about Isis and radicalisation, listened to podcasts and watched documentaries. But most importantly, we’ve had the privilege to interview experts on these subjects and people from inside the Swedish secret service. The most shocking insight we got is how quick these processes can be. Sometimes it just takes a couple of weeks to radicalise a person to the point that he or she will be willing to leave everything and join Isis.

How realistic is the series in terms of the experiences of those living in a caliphate or dealing with religious fundamentalism?
Rockström: Kalifat is, of course, a drama and not a documentary. None of us visited Raqqa during the time it was the capital of Isis. That said, the show is still quite realistic. For example, the life Pervin [one of the main characters] lives with all her restrictions is probably not far from the truth.
Behrman: Quite realistic. It’s no documentary, of course, but I think we’ve managed to catch the atmosphere you can find in the secretly filmed material we have seen from inside Raqqa. And when it comes to religious matters, we have checked the story with experts on Islam to make it trustworthy.

The show explores how people can become seduced by extremism

How did you balance the stories of the five main characters?
Behrman: What is important is that when you write the storyline, you work thoroughly so that each one of the lines has its own complete arc in every episode. That doesn’t mean they all have the same weight in all the episodes, but you have to think it through and be prepared to complete the storyline if necessary.

Writing a thriller, how did you try to create tension in the series?
Rockström: That is a complex question! To keep it short, when writing the story, it was important to be clear about what was at risk for every character, which probably is the way every thriller is told but perhaps even more important when it came to Kalifat.
Behrman: By always, always trying to surprise the audience. If an idea comes too easily to you, it’s probably a cliché and should be discarded.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, either in development or production?
Michaelsson: The development was actually quite straightforward. Wilhelm and Niklas had such a well-developed storyline and the first draft of every episode was in really good shape. The production was a bigger challenge in many ways. Usually, a drama recreating the Middle East on screen would be filmed in Morocco or Southern Spain. Luckily, I went to Jordan to shoot a small part of a film in 2017 and established a very good relationship with Jordanian producer Rula Nasser. During the development of Caliphate, I told Rula about it and asked if she thought it would be possible to shoot a TV show about Isis in Jordan and make Amman look like Raqqa.
The biggest challenge was the casting. We, together with SVT, decided early on that we wanted unknown actors, as we were striving for a very authentic look. We didn’t want the audience to see famous faces from other TV shows. However, the actors still had to be top class. Most of the characters are also quite young. So, finding young, unknown, really top-notch talent is a challenge. We spent a lot of time in the casting process to get it right, and it paid off.

How do you hope viewers respond to, or engage with, the series?
Michaelsson: I want this to be the most thrilling story they have ever seen. I also want the audience to cry and really feel for and engage with the characters, and for people to ask questions like how and why can someone join those organisations? I have learned a lot during this production but I still don’t really have the answer. To me, this was a show that had to be told with authenticity and the characters had to be multi-dimensional. We wanted the audience to feel they were in the middle of the story.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

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: , , ,