Tag Archives: Juan Ignacio Sabatini

Arresting developments

Crime continues to be the dominant force in television drama. DQ speaks to a selection of leading writers and producers about the genre and finds out how their latest series are pushing the boundaries of traditional police stories.

Crime dramas continue to dominate the television landscape, whether viewers watch weekly episodes or binge the latest serialised boxset. Yet the genre has shifted a long way from the traditional crime procedurals best characterised by long-running US series like Law & Order and its many spin-offs.

“We’re constantly trying to reinvent it and find new ways to tell the same story,” says Steve Thompson, the showrunner of Vienna Blood. “Broadcasters are always asking for a new way to make a cop show, and going to Vienna in 1906 is a really new and fresh way to do it.”

Set before the dawn of forensic science, Vienna Blood is based on the novels by Frank Tallis. It sees Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard), a brilliant protégé of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, come into contact with Oskar Rheinhardt (Juergen Maurer), a detective struggling with an unusual and disturbing murder.

Endor Productions and MR Film are collaborating on three 90-minute films based on three of Tallis’s novels. They were commissioned by ORF in Austria and ZDF in Germany, with Red Arrow Studios International distributing.

Chilean series La Jauría (The Pack) focuses on an all-female police unit

“It has the same essential ingredients [of a crime drama] in that is has a great plot and great characters, which is really important, but this has a particular sheen that Vienna in 1906 gives it,” Thompson says. “It’s just a place you want to be. While some parts of it are very dark and terrifying, others are exhilarating to experience.”

More often than not, crime dramas are characterised by the person leading the investigation. In Vienna Blood, Liebermann is forging a new path in the use of psychology to solve crimes. In the case of Chilean drama Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood, the titular investigator must come to terms with his complex past as he fights for justice and seeks inner peace through his police work.

The series, a Villano production for Mega, is based on real events from the 1990s and dramatises the disappearance of 12 young girls in the Alto Hospicio commune in northern Chile, triggering an investigation led by police captain César Rojas. It is distributed by DCD Rights.

Director and producer Juan Ignacio Sabatini says: “Rojas puts up a wall around himself to contain his inner demons but the wall begins to crumble just before he embarks on this journey. His need to find justice and to fight for justice is intrinsically linked with trying to solve his own issues. This inner strength is what makes him stand far above his colleagues.”

Parfum (Perfume) was commissioned by Germany’s ZDF in collaboration with Netflix

Sabatini believes “humans have always had a morbid interest in evil” – an interest that dramatically increases when a story is based on true events. But key to any successful crime series is the way the story is constructed to offer clues along the way. “Being able to give the audience a structured, yet broken, stream of information is crucial, as it means they are able to conjecture different scenarios as the case unfolds,” Sabatini adds.

Three investigators take centre stage in fellow Chilean series La Jauría (The Pack), but this eight-parter isn’t just a detective drama. Coproduced by Fabula and distributor Fremantle, in association with Kapow and public broadcaster TVN, it sees a specialist all-female police unit led by Elisa Murillo (Daniela Vega) tasked with solving the disappearance of a 17-year-old teenager involved in protests against a teacher suspected of sexually assaulting a student. A video of the missing girl being raped by a gang of men then goes viral, and the detectives soon learn there is more than one person behind the crime.

Lucia Puenzo

“These three policewomen are flesh and blood women trying to deal with their personal lives, as well as with the crimes they investigate,” showrunner Lucia Puenzo says. “What interested me the most is these women are faced with very sinister and very dark worlds, at the same time as, in their personal lives, they are faced with the universe of child tenderness, parenting, being in a couple, or solitude in the case of Daniela’s character.”

Those familiar with the 2006 German psychological crime thriller Perfume: The Story of a Murderer might remember the story of a killer with a unique sense of smell. That feature film has now been followed by a series, called Parfum (Perfume), commissioned by broadcaster ZDF in collaboration with Netflix, which carries the series outside Germany.

The story, based on the movie and the original novel by Patrick Süskind, follows a criminal profiler who begins to investigate the past lives of five school friends when they become linked to a murder. In a meta twist, it transpires they read Süskind’s novel at boarding school together and it inspires them to experiment with smells. The profiler then reads the book and watches the film to learn about the possible motives behind the crime.

“Perfume is unlike other crime series in that it combines a thrilling modern crime story, deep psychodrama and a seemingly esoteric topic such as the mystical power of smell,” says Oliver Berben, from producer Constantin Film. “It is also unusually original in terms of its visual and narrative style: beautiful but bleak, psychological but also extravagant, fantastical and hyper-realistic at the same time. We tried to create something without using existing patterns or paragons, with its very own look and feel.”

Dutch drama The Twelve offers a fresh perspective within the crime genre, putting viewers alongside the jury members who must determine the fate of a woman accused of a double murder.

Produced by Eyeworks for Eén and distributed by Federation Entertainment, the Flemish-language series introduces the members of the jury, alongside the accused and the victims’ families, exploring the case through the evidence presented during the trial and how the jurors’ personal lives affect, and become affected by, the proceedings.

Peter Bouckaert

“What really struck us – and became the main idea of the series – was when a woman told us she had a really dominant, jealous husband and then when she was on a jury, she started to see traits of her husband in the defendant. She was thinking that if she stayed with her husband, she might find herself in the same position [the victim of a crime perpetrated by her husband],” says Bert Van Dael, who wrote the series with Sanne Nuyens. “It was interesting for us to see how your private life may affect your judgement.”

Series producer Peter Bouckaert says that while most crime series follow trained professionals doing their job, this 10-parter sees people picked at random to decide another person’s fate. “When you’re watching a really good crime story through the eyes of the professionals, you are doing a bit of police work yourself,” he explains. “In this case, it’s truly a one-on-one experience with our main characters. People watching the series are put into the same position as them, and we think that’s unique.”

Spanish drama Hierro mixes crime and politics when a body is discovered in the sea, off the coast of a secluded island in the Canaries. The story focuses on a judge, who has recently arrived on the island, and a local businessman suspected of the crime. It is produced by Protocabo and Atlantique Productions for Movistar+ and Arte France. Banijay Rights is the distributor.

“We conceived the series as ‘southern noir,’ set in a place of luminous landscapes and passionate characters, full of humour and intensity, reflecting the reality of Spanish life,” explains executive producer Alfonso Blanco. “Crime drama is in constant evolution. It has changed over the past few years, in the same way as other genres, but what may be different now is its accessibility. Nowadays, an audience can watch the same series at practically the same time all over the world.”

For this reason, crime stories must also have universal topics and themes, whatever their setting or their approach to the genre. “The mechanics of a crime thriller can be followed in almost any country,” Blanco continues. “Add to this the fact that the duration of a miniseries allows for greater evolution of characters, helping to create a frame in which to develop different stories and characters. The genre also permits a sociological approach to different realities; therefore, the variety of stories is infinite.”

Spanish drama Hierro’s creators have labelled the show ‘southern noir’

Supposedly old-fashioned crime procedurals haven’t completely disappeared, however. Broadcasters around the world, particularly in Europe, are still keen on closed-ended, episodic series that viewers can enjoy without the commitment demanded by a serialised drama.

“Generally these days, the detective is dead, reincarnated or wearing an interesting hat. Everything has to be really quirky – and lots of those shows I love. But there isn’t a show like this,” Paul Marquess says of his Acorn TV series London Kills. “It does what it says on the tin.”

The series, distributed by ZDF Enterprises, follows a team of top detectives solving murders in London and represents a throwback to the episodic storytelling model that has been overshadowed by the current trend for bingeable series, with one story told over multiple episodes.

“It’s not wildly quirky. All the detectives are actually alive. There is, I hope, a very compelling serial story kicking along underneath it but what that really does is inform the relationship between the characters in an interesting way. That’s what it’s there for. Ultimately, I hope it reflects my fascination with the real versions of what these people do – and we all love a good murder mystery. It doesn’t have to be dressed up in Agatha Christie clothes. There isn’t, to my mind, an equivalent UK ‘murder of the week’ being shot at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Canadian series The Murders presents a unique concept for a procedural crime drama by using music and sound related to the theme of each episode. For example, episode one uses Long Black Veil – a ‘murder ballad’ originally written in 1959 and covered by artists such as Johnny Cash and Mick Jagger – as a key hook for the story.

Acorn TV’s London Kills is a procedural set in the UK capital

It’s part of a five-season plan to explore a different sense each year that showrunner Damon Vignale has designed for the series, which stars Jessica Lucas (Gotham) as a rookie homicide detective who searches for redemption after her negligence led to the death of a fellow officer. It is produced by Muse Entertainment for CityTV and distributed by About Premium Content.

“Music colours the world of the show and hopefully makes it a little different and stand out,” Vignale says. “But in terms of crime drama, people want a compelling story. They’re going to come back week after week for your characters but they have to be playing in this world.”

Vignale starts with the plot and then looks to see how its themes can be related to the characters. “Those things are at the forefront for me. Then, of course, you want really great twists and misdirects, you want to surprise people,” he continues. “I try to push a show as much as I can.”

There is no doubt crime drama remains the number one attraction for television viewers, but the fragmentation of the industry and the number of networks and streaming platforms commissioning original drama mean there are increasing opportunities to tell stories with a diverse range of topics, settings, characters and styles – none more so than in the crime genre.

“But what’s important is that the result is authentic and captures the audience it is aimed at,” Perfume’s Berben concludes. “Taking risks is not just an opportunity but, to a certain degree, a necessity.”

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Cold case

Juan Ignacio Sabatini, the director and executive producer of Chilean drama Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood, tells DQ about the story’s real-life origins and explains how the series pushes the crime genre in a new direction.

Set in the 1990s, Inspector Rojas: In Cold Blood is based on a real-life police investigation that took place in Chile.

In the eight-part series, the disappearance of 12 young girls from the commune of Alto Hospicio, in the north of the South American country, triggers an investigation by police captain César Rojas (Francisco Melo, pictured above) to solve the mystery of their whereabouts.

With a small town and its inhabitants struck by the tragedy, the investigators try to find the culprit as the killer wanders in search of lonely adolescents, surrounded by the sands of the driest desert in the world and unable to stop his impulses.

The crime drama is produced by Villano for Chilean broadcaster Mega, with DCD Rights distributing the series internationally.

Here, Villano’s Juan Ignacio Sabatini, who directs and exec produces the series, reveals more about the titular character and how the show came together.

Inspector Rojas: Cold Blood director and exec producer Juan Ignacio Sabatini

Tell us about the story of Inspector Rojas.
This is basically a story about discrimination and classism, about gender violence, coloured by the horror of the actions of a sick mind that was allowed to move with total freedom thanks to the negligence of local authorities unable to control their own impulses. Then, Inspector Rojas comes into the story. He’s a foreigner finding himself in hostile territory where he’ll fight little by little to settle his own demons and to get justice.

Where did the idea originate?
Back in 2015 I was hired by TVN to make a miniseries based on a book by Rodrigo Fluxa. The book was about Daniel Zamudio, a young man who suffered a brutal attack and subsequently passed away. This paved the way for a huge social movement in Chile, which lead to the first gender equality law in the country.
During the scriptwriting process, Rodrigo approached me and mentioned he was about to submit some editorial about Julio Perez Silva, the psychopath from Alto Hospicio, which was going to be part of a publication called Los Malos, which would be collated into a series about people in Latin America who represent the worst of humanity. After reading the draft, I realised it fulfilled the criteria for an amazing police thriller, so we started working with Rodrigo and Enrique immediately.

How was the series developed with the broadcaster?
The relationship with Mega was great and it was hugely beneficial to the project. The biggest point of debate was finding a comprise for the series’ staging, bearing in mind that Mega is a free-to-air network.
Jeff Rush, the script doctor hired by Mega, proved crucial. The discussion eventually turned to the focus of the story and how it should move forward while keeping the interest of the audience – and to make it work for the viewers of both free-to-air TV and OTT.

Who is Inspector Rojas? How does he stand out from other police officers?
Rojas has a complex past and had a difficult childhood, which saw him move between foster homes and adoption centres before joining the police force. He is an orphan who took this job in the police force because he was looking for containment. He wanted to find somewhere he could fight justice and find the inner peace he didn’t have during his early years.
In this context, Rojas puts up a wall around himself to contain his inner demons, which are conceptually aligned with the hidden demons often found in the most remote of places. The wall begins to crumble just before he embarks on this journey. It is in this place, the driest desert in the world, that Rojas comes up against his ideals of justice, his quest to find it and his past.
Rojas’s need to fight for justice is intrinsically linked with trying to solve his own issues. This inner strength is what makes him stand far above his colleagues.

What does actor Francisco Melo bring to the role?
Francisco Melo is a fantastic actor. He’s had a very successful career and has the right tools to play such a complex part.
Back in 2003, I saw Melo in the theatre in the production of Sarah Kane’s Devastados. The way in which he was able to express pain, and how he was able to show that society’s violence had an impact on him by leveraging a violent sexual behavior, was mesmerising. When this story came into my life, I immediately remembered Melo in that play.

What was Rodrigo Fluxa and Enrique Videla’s writing process?
We have an excellent relationship with Rodrigo and Enrique based on common interests and the space we give each other to talk about our differences.
The interesting thing is we all come from different backgrounds – Rodrigo is a journalist, Enrique is a scriptwriter and playwright and I am a director – but together we’ve managed to achieve amazing results with two series inspired by real events which have created a lot of debate among our audience.

How did they use the true story to inform the show and did how did they balance the real story with dramatising it for television?
We tried to maintain the series’ storyline based on two plots from the real story to shape our story: teenagers lost somewhere in the middle of the desert, authorities that move slowly, people’s indifference and an expert policeman who arrives from Santiago to solve the case.
We used this to shape the characters and the scenes. We took some aspects from the real-life characters and enjoyed freedom to create all the other characters involved in the story and the world they live in.

The crime drama unfolds in the Chilean desert

How would you describe the show’s visual style?
In terms of style and aesthetics, we perceived the story as something developed within the parameters of a police thriller and a modern western, where the impressive landscape becomes an ‘actor’ in the story and builds the atmosphere of the show.

How does this series present a new take on the crime genre?
Beyond it being inspired by a real story and the story of the murderer, the most interesting aspect is the landscape where much of the action takes place – the immensity of the Atacama desert and the contrast this offers. You get to see the wonderful stage that is the desert’s colour scheme and light against a blue sky, which also reveals a devastating truth. There is no life, no water; there’s nothing.

Why are true crime dramas becoming more popular around the world?
I think humans have always had a morbid interest in evil and the different ways in which it manifests. This obsession is exponentially increased when the story is based on true events.

What do you think are the key ingredients to a crime thriller – and have these always been the same?
I think constructing the story and the way in which the clues about crime are revealed is key. Being able to give the audience a structured, yet broken, stream of information is crucial, as it means they are able to conjecture different scenarios as the case unfolds. You have to create characters that have multi-layered personality who are able to connect with viewers. Being able to do this creates a narrative that generates an interest and an emotional response to the story.

Why do you think crime stories continue to resonate with audiences around the world?
I think crime, regardless of its origin, creates a lot of morbid interest. We all want to know who committed the crime and why.

How does the series balance the strength of its characters with the plot?
The plot’s development is constantly challenging for our characters; the drama, the anxiety, the fear that arises as the girls disappear serves to question their ethical and moral structure, stripping them off their essence and challenging their preconceived ideas.

What were the biggest challenges in production?
Filming in the desert was very difficult, as we had to endure extreme weather conditions. It was very hot in the mornings, followed by strong winds and cold temperatures in the afternoon. Staying focused, without becoming complacent about the evil we were depicting, was also challenging.

Why do you think this series proved so popular in Chile – and why might it appeal to international audiences?
Aside from the interest generated in Chile because we were relaying a story inspired by one of the cruellest serial killers of our history, we also touched on very relevant societal issues, such as classism, discrimination and gender violence. All of these generate varying opinions among our audience while also helping our characters to forge an emotional connection with them.
I’m sure the story’s treatment and its geographic setting will continue to captivate people outside of Chile’s borders.

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