Tag Archives: Cinétévé

Democracy in action

DQ heads to Brussels, home of the EU, to watch filming of Parlement (Parliament), a drama about youth, commitment and making a difference in a post-Brexit world.

It’s a typically sunny but freezing winter day in the administrative quarter of Brussels when an unusually restless crowd loaded with waffles and filming equipment lands on the seventh floor of the building that houses the European Economic and Social Committee.

The penultimate day of shooting comedy-drama Parlement (Parliament) for France Télévisions’ digital platform France.tv has just kicked off, this time a few blocks away from the European Parliament’s main building.

“Shooting a series inside the European Parliament is not really common. We had some convincing to do,” says Cinétévé producer Thomas Saignes. “We needed to persuade them that the team behind it was serious, that the talent was right and that the intention was also right. It was a long process but we were lucky that the secretary general agreed to meet with us and open the door.”

Balanced between office comedy and psychodrama, the 10-part series follows Samy – a young, overconfident parliamentary assistant who is clueless and prejudiced – arriving at his new job a few days after the Brexit referendum in 2016. As they get ready to film, cast and crew are startled to discover a crazy coincidence: the actual agenda of the day at the European Parliament features a citizens’ initiative addressing the same under-represented topic the fictional lead character of the series fights against – the cruel practice of finning (removing the fin from a shark and discarding the rest of the animal back into the ocean).

On his first day, Samy accidentally raises his hand and must take up a report about finning, but he hasn’t got a clue about the subject or how he can get the report through the system. “To be clear, in the beginning he doesn’t even give a dime, but he is taken into the machinery of the bureaucracy and over the course of the series, it will become his personal fight as he puts everything at stake – his personal interests, his dignity, his time, his love life – to pass this report,” Saignes explains.

Xavier Lacaille (left) as Samy alongside Lucas Englander as Torsten

Leading actor and French comedian Xavier Lacaille admits his background studying law helped him to better relate to this role, even though the only costume he has to wear is Samy’s work suit. He demonstrates how he walks without touching his heels on the floor to bring out the clumsiness of the character and to appear taller than he is.

Having lived in the US for several years, Lacaille also needed to find his French accent again when speaking English. “It’s not a huge thing, but for the first few days of shooting it was tricky because you need to keep the same accent throughout,” he says.

The idea for Parlement came from two people who both have strong personal connections to the subject matter – producer Fabienne Servan Schreiber, CEO of Cinétévé, whose husband served as an MEP, and writer Noé Debré, who was born and raised across the street from the EU headquarters in Strasbourg. They shared the same passion for the institution and, having had insider experience of it, had long thought the European Parliament was an interesting arena for fiction, although broadcasters appeared hard to persuade.

“They found it almost repulsive, because they thought it was boring as a subject and some of them perhaps had the fear that it would be Euro-bashing because it is political satire,” Saignes recalls.

After discussions about the show with a French pay TV service and American platforms were dropped, his own intuition pointed towards a European coproduction, with France.tv airing the series alongside Belgium’s BeTV and Germany’s WDR. It will debut on France.tv this Thursday.

“I knew we had to make it international to the core, with a European writers room and a European cast,” he continues. “But it was still difficult to convince broadcasters, until one lucky occasion. France Télévisions was launching its streaming platform so they needed an original project that would be spoken about. Then we started a long process of gathering coproducers and convincing different channels.”

Director of photography Lucie Baudinand

All3Media’s 7Stories helped with allocating a UK co-writer, Daran Johnson, while Studio Hamburg’s CineCentrum (Germany) and Artemis (Belgium) joined as coproducers. Further funding was granted by Creative Europe’s Media fund, France’s CNC and Germany’s MFG, with France TV Distribution handling international sales. With the help of agents from five countries, the production cast actors of seven nationalities, with scripts including four languages.

Co-written by Debré, Johnson, Pierre Dorac and Maxime Calligaro, the scripts shift between a didactic, explicatory and funny take on European politics. Precision was vital – all terms and procedures had to be absolutely correct, as they would for an ER medical drama. Consultants double- and triple-checked the accuracy of all legal procedural technicalities involved.

Armando Iannucci’s political satires Veep and The Thick of It served as a source of inspiration but Saignes points out that Parlement’s approach doesn’t ape Iannucci’s razor-sharp style. “We didn’t want to make an advert for the European Union with Parlement, but we didn’t want to do any Euro-bashing either. You need to love what you laugh at – the craziness of the institution, of the bureaucracy – to be able to make fun of it in a positive way.

“Essentially, ours is a series about youth, commitment and making a difference. It is to say, don’t become frustrated by political action, by collective action, by compromise, by discussion, by convincing; there is one arena where you can make a difference, and it’s here in Brussels.”

In his adventures, Samy is joined by Rose (Liz Kingsman), a British assistant and Brexiteer just about to realise the major life decisions she needs to make post-Brexit. “Tragedy is when the heroes are aware of the drama, and comedy is when they are not – and Samy and Rose don’t have the slightest idea of the internal bureaucracy that they will be caught in,” says Jérémie Sein, who directs with Émilie Noblet. “For us, reading a script is very technical and it’s very rare to be reading and laughing at the same time. Putting a rookie in the middle of a new environment is a cliché, but our writers did it without losing the funniness or the characters.”

L-R: Actors Lacaille and Liz Kingsman with co-director Émilie Noblet

“When we read Parlement, the first reference that comes to mind is The Office, but we chose a handling that is a bit more sophisticated. We are not at all in a pseudo-documentary – this is actual fiction. We tried to edit it and visually imagine it sophisticatedly,” Noblet explains. “We gave ourselves freedom to film the scenes, so we have a variety of styles. The only thing that we kept is the frequent use of short focus, which works really well with comedy.”

For Sein, German and Belgian filming styles are more akin to those in Hollywood so some French naturalism was added. “We didn’t try to make everyone happy. We went towards what we knew best, which is naturalist comedy à la Français, with cold humour, and we inserted more colour and design,” he says, stressing that the union of actors from different nationalities with different approaches to acting made it crucial to cast the right talent for the two leading roles.

“Although Liz is English and Xavier is French, they had the same energy and everybody could find their style and gravitate around those two very grounded comedians. We found two good planets for the other stars to revolve around in an interesting manner – in a way, that resembles the EU flag a bit,” he laughs.

“Rose’s British sense of humour, which is very confronting to Samy, was the best cocktail ever. In terms of acting, they were both getting every shot perfect from the first take and were a pleasure to work with,” agrees Noblet.

In a corridor on the set, German star Christiane Paul says her experience of working with actors from diverse backgrounds and young directors on a low-budget series was as intriguing as the script and she found herself laughing out loud while reading it on a train, triggering curious glances from other commuters.

L-R: Parlement co-director Jérémie Sein with actors Philippe Duquesne and William Nadylam

“I loved the wit of it and the telling of a story about the European Parliament. I believe it was time for this to happen,” says the Emmy-winning actor, who plays Ingeborg, a manipulative German political advisor described as a nightmare.

Paul’s challenge was speaking in sophisticated French – a language she barely knows. “I built my character on the French language in a way – I learned my lines phonetically and I just try to remember them. Of course, I understand what I am saying and I am really aware of what the scenes are about,” she says, describing how a French piano teacher living nearby helped her with her lines.

Her scene is up next with Lacaille and Austrian-born Lucas Englander. The latter plays Torsten, Ingeborg’s closest partner and a dark passive-aggressive character very much outside of Englander’s real-life temperament.

“It is interesting to shift into Torsten every day because my personality is much quieter than his. To fall into the shoes of someone who is so loud is a stretch. He is very sarcastic the entire time, even with people he doesn’t know well, and therefore he is misunderstood,” he says of his character.

As the crew wraps for the day, Saignes is optimistic the show will travel well, which could be the passport to more seasons – each deployed in, or dealing with, different EU zones and territories. Certain there is plenty of material for several seasons, he suggests season two could still have a Brexit component, and possibly even a quirky romantic aspect through a fling between Samy and Rose while she has to leave Brussels for the UK.

“People often say that comedy doesn’t travel well, because what is funny for the Danes, for example, is not funny for the Spaniards,” he says. “But here we felt that we had one arena that was the home of all those people and struck a chord – where you can make fun of all those people together and find a way for comedy to work well for everyone.”

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France’s finest

From a pair of mystery dramas and the introduction of the ‘female Columbo’ to the story of a film director forced to make a new version of King Kong for a power-mad dictator, French drama is set to enjoy a breakout year. DQ casts its eye over some of the new series coming to the small screen.

Baron Noir season two
The ‘French House of Cards’ returns. Produced by Kwai for Canal+ and distributed by StudioCanal.

Why was Baron Noir season one so successful around the world?
Producer Thomas Bourguignon
: Politics is back – and even if Baron Noir is about French politicians, it deals with the same problems every politician has to face. That’s the reason the show reaches a global audience. The style of the series also had a great impact. Baron Noir is a thriller, a very tense drama with a cinematographic style, a dramaturgy you can’t escape, and editing that makes it as addictive as possible. The performance of the actors is also astonishing. It’s a universal story of revenge, which is one of the most powerful motivations in a drama.

How does season two move the story forward?
We shot season two during the French presidential and legislative elections. No one is capable of predicting what is going to happen, so we have decided to follow our own story. What’s important is that the preoccupations and the big picture of the politicians’ lives are accurate and realistic, whoever is running the country in real life. So in season two, Amélie Dorendeu (Anna Mouglalis) is elected president and Philippe Rickwaert (Kad Merad, pictured) is her special advisor. But democracy is threatened by two evil forces: jihadism and the far right. Our two lead characters become ever more divided and separate from each other and fight to save the republic.

What are the biggest challenges in producing the series?
We started shooting with four scripts out of eight, because of the availability of the cast. It was a challenging race to have the final scripts ready to shoot and keep the quality.

Zone Blanche (Black Spot)
A local sheriff seeks the truth about a mysterious town. Produced by Ego Productions and Be-Films for France 2 and distributed by AB International Distribution.

Where did the idea for Black Spot come from?
Series creator Mathieu Missoffe
: Based on initial conversations with producer Vincent Mouluquet, I originally set out to build a strong mystery set in an isolated place that would feel familiar and strange at the same time. We knew this had to be a very visual show to stand out, so we moved away from traditional urban crime shows, instead focusing on a small, colourful community surrounded by hostile and untamed nature. This is how our fictitious town of Villefranche came to life, a place that has its own rules and atmosphere, with a blend of influences ranging from Twin Peaks to Nordic noir.

What is the style or tone of the series?
The show borrows from different genres to create its own unique identity. It doesn’t shy away from gritty crime scenes, but we twisted familiar crime show elements by adding a western movie look and occasionally flirting with fantasy as far as the surrounding nature is concerned. A slight touch of comedy is also part of the mix – a necessary addition to create the kind of entertainment we feel is relevant for today’s general audience.

How is French drama evolving?
The good news is that most of the old taboos that used to drag down French fiction have now collapsed. Politics and religion are back on the map, while darker and edgier stories are gaining traction. It’s definitely an exciting time, with our traditional realistic auteur shows now able to coexist with series that are trying to open new doors in entertainment with exotic locations, big-budget coproductions or new genres. At the same time, talents in front of and behind the camera are finally crossing over between film and television, resulting in even more opportunities.

Capitaine Marleau (Chief Inspector Marleau)
A ‘female Columbo’ tackles crime with her own offbeat methods. Produced by Passion Films for France 3 and distributed by France TV Distribution.

What are the origins of the show?
Producer Gaspard de Chavagnac
: Our lead actor Corinne Masiero (far left) first portrayed Capitaine Marleau in French miniseries Entre Vents et Marées (Between Winds and Tides), directed by Josée Dayan. She played the part with such wit and originality that we immediately decided to pitch France 3 the character as the heroine of a new cop series. The network did not hesitate long before ordering a 90-minute pilot.

How was the series developed with France 3?
After the success of the pilot, written by Elsa Marpeau and again directed by Josée Dayan, France 3 agreed to develop two more episodes and then three others. We are currently producing the second season.

How did you cast the series?
As Masiero was not very well known, we sought famous guest stars for each episode. Gérard Depardieu agreed to appear in the first episode, followed by other actors familiar to French viewers – including Victoria Abril, Muriel Robin, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Sandrine Bonnaire and Pierre Arditi. The result was an average of 4.3 million viewers for our first four episodes.

La Forêt (The Forest)
A small town is gripped by fear when people begin to disappear in a mysterious forest. Produced by Carma Films for France 3 and distributed by About Premium Content (APC).

Tell us about the show.
APC founder and joint CEO Emmanuelle Guilbart
: The Forest is a modern crime series with a gripping story set against a mysterious background. An audience-friendly thriller at heart, it does not, however, shy away from social themes, setting out to provide a realistic portrayal of issues surrounding today’s youth.

How would you describe the writing process?
Contrary to the current writers room trend, The Forest was written by a single screenwriter, Delinda Jacobs. She came to us with a very precise idea of what the show would look like and the commissioning channel, which wanted to modernise its line-up, was very supportive from the start.

What was the biggest challenge during production?
The biggest challenge for us was finding the right actors. We wanted the story to feel real, with life-like characters and true emotions, so we spent a lot of time looking for people who were able to convey this feeling to the audience. We think we found the right team with Alexia Barlier (pictured left, 13 Hours), Suzanne Clément (Mommy, Laurence Anyways) and Samuel Labarthe (The Little Murders of Agatha Christie) for the main roles.

What new stories are being told in French drama?
French drama has always had a social focus and a taste for realistic and intimate stories. What’s changing is that there is now a new appeal for modern narrative forms, new genres and writing techniques. The Forest is definitely part of that movement, keeping in line with parts of the French cinematic tradition but opening up to new and highly effective ways of telling stories.

Les Témoins (Witnesses) season two
The return of the atmospheric crime thriller. Produced by Cinétévé for France 2 and distributed by Newen Distribution.

Why was Witnesses season one so successful around the world?
Director Hervé Hadmar
: The plot, the atmosphere and detective Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier, below right). The audience just wants to know who this woman is.

How does season two move the story forward?Witnesses is, of course, the story of Sandra. In season one, she has learned that the ‘ideal family’ does not exist. Her husband is not Prince Charming – and Sandra herself is not so perfect. At the beginning of season two, she’s living alone with her two daughters. She still believes in love, of course, but has to ask herself, ‘Is love the greatest danger?’ As for the main plot, it centres on unravelling what happened to 15 men who are found dead, totally frozen, on a bus. It emerges that they all loved the same woman, Catherine Keemer (Audrey Fleurot, below left). Who is Catherine Keemer? Is she responsible for their deaths? Season two explores the relationship between Sandra and Catherine.

How would you describe your directing process?
I do not fight against the ‘principe de réalité’ – pressures of time or accidental events. I’m trying to use those little incidents, bad weather, for example, to create something new. I have learned to be excited by asking myself, ‘What the hell is going to happen today?’

What is the style or tone of the show?
A Nordic noir with a delicate, strange and almost hypnotic atmosphere.

How is French drama evolving?
With more mature themes and artistic values. Challenging ourselves and challenging the audience is very important. We have learned to take risks but there is still a lot of progress to make. For that, let’s hope success will continue to knock on our doors.

Transferts (Transfer)
Five years after a man drowns, his mind is transferred into someone else’s body. But at a time when ‘transfers’ are outlawed, he must live undercover to avoid detection. Produced by Filmagine, Be-Films and Panama Productions for Arte, and distributed by Lagardère Studios Distribution.

What are the origins of the show?
Producer/co-writer Patrick Benedek
: The series grew out of my friendship with Claude Scasso. For a while we’d been wanting to make a thrilling sci-fi series, aware that in France, at the time, no network wanted to go down that road. It was very liberating for me – I could give free rein to all my beginner’s mistakes! I didn’t imagine for a minute that the project would see the light of day.

How would you describe the writing process?
Claude and I worked on the conception and construction of episodes together, in meetings and with notes. We spent entire days projecting ourselves into our characters and our universe – with a creative purpose but also with a keen critical eye on each other’s proposals – until we got that exhilarating feeling that we had something. That’s the advantage of knowing each other well, of not having an oversized ego and of being a team. After that, Claude would write a first draft of the treatments, which I would then rework. Finally, he would go over what I wrote, and I would go over what he did, until we were both satisfied.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
In France, it’s always the same problem – do as much as possible as well as possible with the little financial resources we have. This means always knowing how to get the most out of your resources; knowing how to distribute them while maintaining your artistic vision.

Kim Kong
While filming in Asia, a director is kidnapped by a neighbouring dictatorship and ordered to make a new version of King Kong. Produced by Kwai and Armance for Arte and distributed by FremantleMedia International.

What are the origins of the series?
Producer Thomas Bourguignon
: The idea came from Simon Jablonka, the screenwriter. He told me the story of a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, who was kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and told to direct movies, notably a remake of Godzilla, which was called Pulgasari. We wanted to make a show about this situation, with a guy who is kidnapped by a dictator who wants him to make a movie. The other inspiration was Misery, Stephen King’s novel with a similar theme, being about an author who’s kidnapped by an deranged fan and forced rewrite his last book because she’s not happy with it. But our story is not about a specific regime or specific country; it’s really about creativity and constraints.

How do you balance the drama with elements of comedy?The situation is very dramatic from the beginning to the end, but in a similar style to movies like Gold Rush, M.A.S.H. or The Ladykillers. The subject is very serious and dramatic but we build in several contradictions that create comedy. It’s a question of life and death but the director has to deal with an inept crew, equipment that dates from the Cold War and the crazy demands of the leader, so there are lots of elements where you can do nothing but laugh.

What was the biggest challenge?
Mostly the casting and the language (with the show being filmed in French and Chinese). But also working out where we were going to shoot. As our dictatorship doesn’t exist in real life, we looked for a location for months before deciding to film 90% of the series in a studio in Paris.

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