With international shoots now a regular ingredient in making TV drama, producer Jan Marnell tells DQ how Swedish drama Fartblinda (Blinded) moved to Malta for its second season.
When it comes to making TV drama, locations can be filmed as themselves or standing in for other places. In the case of Swedish thriller Fartblinda (Blinded), the production team have taken both approaches.
For season one of the series, which is produced by FLX and distributed by All3Media International, scenes filmed in Latvia were used to extend the show’s Stockholm setting and provide key backdrops for the Swedish capital’s financial district. But in season two, which debuted locally on streamer C More yesterday, the story takes central characters Bea and Peder to Malta, where a large portion of the show was actually shot.
“The first season all took place in Stockholm, but we shot part of it in Latvia,” says Jan Marnell, who has produced both seasons. “But in this season, we actually shot for 10 weeks in Stockholm and five weeks in Malta. To go to Malta not only for the financial incentives that are there, but actually to embrace the locations, the climate, the weather, the sun and the water and make use of it, has added a lot.”
Based on Carolina Neuraths’s book of the same name, Blinded tells the story of financial journalist Bea Farkas (Julia Ragnarsson) and bank director Peder Rooth (Matias Varela), whose affair in season one results in disastrous consequences for both their professional and personal lives after Bea discovers a secret about Peder’s Stockholm bank.
Season two – based on Neurath’s follow-up Gränslösa – now follows Bea as she travels to Malta to investigate a new credit institution, Easy, only to find Peder, the man she still loves, is also there. When she uncovers links between a dubious gambling company, Easy and Peder, their love story descends into open warfare.
Meanwhile, Bea’s friend and former colleague, Thulin, who now works for Easy, is feeling guilty about the deception in which he and the company are involved. But just as he is about to blow the whistle, he is kidnapped. Bea believes his disappearance has something to do with the shady dealings she’s been investigating, and Peder begins to suspect the same. Suddenly they both find themselves with everything on the line: their careers, their relationship and Thulin’s life.
Real-life locations in Stockholm that appear in the show include the Grand Hôtel and Kungliga slotten (The Royal Palace), as well as numerous restaurants and other venues that show off the “glossy” side of the city, Marnell says. But when it came to taking the story out of Sweden, Malta was in the script from the beginning.
“Our director, Jens Jonsson, took the lead,” he says. “He was also the head writer of season two. Bea and Peder didn’t have a relationship in Carolina’s book – that was something that was added and that served us really well. It became the driving force in season one and people were hooked on that relationship. Season two follows on in a natural way to expand on that, when all of a sudden he turns up in Malta, where she’s investigating this loan company.”
It made sense not only because of the story to film in Malta, which is home to several gaming companies, but also because of the desirable financial incentives designed to bring crews to the Mediterranean island.
“At one stage, we considered whether we should look at the Canary Islands, for example, or if we should look at Marbella,” Marnell continues. “But the whole connection to Malta meant we decided we should make that happen. We should do Malta for Malta in the series.”
The producer had not been to Malta until he conducted some reconnaissance there for the project and began to speak to potential producing partners. Once the country had been decided upon as a filming location, work began in earnest to outline an early shooting schedule to see what kinds of locations needed to be found, and which parts of the show set in Stockholm could also be filmed there to boost the local spend and secure a higher tax rebate.
However, an early obstacle emerged when three key members of the production team were prevented from entering Sweden to join the pre-production process. A line producer, first assistant director and production accountant had travelled to Sweden from South Africa via a seven-day spell in Jordan as part of attempts to beat the country’s Covid-19 travel restrictions. But when they were refused entry, they decided to travel straight to Malta for the overseas leg of the shoot.
That meant Marnell was tasked with finding replacements in Stockholm, while the trio in Malta were able to get a head start by making contact with a local unit producer.
“When everything came together down there, them having to go to Malta worked out better than the original plan,” he says. “We were on site at a very early stage to be able to get everything together.”
While it might have been tempting to capture Malta’s popular and recognisable sights, “we wanted to be true to the story and be very distinct and not package it in a postcard way, although you have those elements as well,” says Marnell. Some picturesque moments include scenes set in the harbour of Valletta, the capital, while one episode is set entirely on a sailboat.
The pandemic meant there were numerous boats available for the crew to use, while a hotel used by the production not only became a home for the cast and crew but was also used as the base for the art, costume and make-up departments. The car park was filled with production trucks, while filming also took place inside.
“It was great, and very well organised,” Marnell says. “The local crew were not only Maltese but were coming from the UK, France, Italy, Brazil and based themselves there. They came from all over the world. Our production accountant who came there from South Africa has now moved there with his family. It’s a really good place for film production.”
When it comes to shooting overseas, “everything is in the planning,” says Marnell, with key questions about sourcing equipment needing answers early in the process. In this case, Blinded imported camera, lighting and grip equipment from Sweden to Malta, as well as clothes for the Swedish characters.
“In season one, we were actually shooting for nine weeks in Latvia, and the architecture in [capital] Riga is quite similar to the financial district of Stockholm,” he says. “There was actually an old Swedish bank building in the centre of Riga that we got access to so we could dress it up as our own bank, and in the same building there were a number of floors where we could house other location interiors and base our art department and costume area. It’s different from country to country. Of course, it was very easy with Malta because the story takes place in Malta.”
Malta is just the latest international location where Marnell has worked across his 30-year career. He previously lived in Australia for 20 years and travelled to Hong Kong for a series of TV movies called The Feds, starring Sigrid Thornton and Robert Taylor. He also produced a season of long-running 1980s drama The Flying Doctors.
Since being based in Sweden, Marnell’s work has also taken him to Spain, Jordan, Morocco, Latvia and Lithuania. His recent credits include Midnattssol (Midnight Sun) and Max Anger – With One Eye Open.
Filming overseas now is just “the way it is,” he says, not just in an effort to find the perfect locations but also because the financial rewards are often too good to turn down. “Because of these tax incentives now being available in other countries, we’re more or less forced to take that opportunity. You add so much production value because you can actually work with higher budgets.”
Notably, travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic put international shoots on hold for a time, though the industry now largely seems to be back on track, albeit with additional insurance and health and safety requirements. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, has added a further question mark to some production plans.
“I’m working on a project now and doing a feasibility study as to which countries we should combine the Swedish shoot with – should it be Lithuania or should it be Belgium? You always think about what risks are involved,” Marnell says. “Then once you have assessed the various risks, you also have to deal with the softer, more human aspects of it. Do I feel comfortable in travelling to that country? Am I prepared to leave my family in Sweden and put myself in that country? What if anything happens?
“Of course, you can try to be rational and say, ‘Well, the risk is low and it’s very unlikely that…’ and so on. But we are human beings and you’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to respect that not everybody is comfortable in moving around as they did before. Hopefully we will see an end [to the invasion] very soon, but who knows?”
As with any industry, Marnell has learned that networking and meeting new people is a key part of making TV overseas. “The sense of collaboration in our industry across the board, I’m astonished [by it],” he says. “You’ve got 100 people in the crew, for example, from many different countries. They come together during a short period of time to work towards the same goal, and we manage to do it somehow. That’s one of the great things about our industry, that you meet people in other countries and you can call them up and say, ‘Have you worked with so-and-so?’ or ‘Have you worked in that country?’ Networking is very important.”
With the show’s second run now on air, Marnell is hopeful he will get the chance to produce a third season of Blinded. “Jens is already putting a few thoughts down and Elin Kvist [FLX’s head of development] is equally excited,” he says. “Let’s see what happens.”