Tag Archives: Måns Marlind

Direct action

DQ speaks to a number of television directors about their latest work and how their role behind the camera is evolving, from working closely with writers to penning and even acting in the shows themselves.

While film is the director’s medium, television has always been writer-led. But times are changing – and in today’s booming drama landscape, the role of the director is evolving far beyond the hired gun that was once brought in to helm single or multiple episodes of a series.

The rise of serialised drama, in particular, has had an effect on those behind the camera, and many directors now equate making such shows to completing an eight- or 10-part movie in a single stint, with one person at the helm throughout.

In many cases, drama directors also have a hand in creating, writing and producing shows, with involvement stretching from the initial conception of a story until the final episode has been locked and delivered to a network.

“The role of directors in television is changing like it is across the board, probably for everybody,” says Jeffrey Walker, who steered four-part Australian miniseries Lambs of God. “At the heart of it, it’s just because television is getting better and better. I can do episodic television shows where you might be given episode 213 and it’s good luck and there you are. Then on this one, I was on it for a year. They’re both television, but Lambs of God is at the highest end being made in Australia in terms of budget and ambition.

Jeffrey Walker (left) on location for Lambs of God

“The greater involvement means it’s a nicer journey to go on, because you’re seeing this thing go from our first chats about what it is to the sounding and the grade. Going on that journey certainly gives you more ownership, but it also [means the project] has to speak to you a lot more as a director than if you were the gun for hire.”

Lambs of God, produced by Lingo Pictures for Foxtel and distributed by Sky Vision, is described as a gothic and gripping tale about a trio of nuns living on an isolated island. But the three Sisters of St Agnes – played by Ann Dowd, Essie Davis and Jessica Barden – must defend their very existence when a young priest with a hidden agenda arrives at their dilapidated monastery.

Walker spent a few days with writer Sarah Lambert going through her scripts, which are based on the book by Marele Day. “The scripts are beautiful, as good as reading any great literature, and that was the great appeal of doing it, before thinking about the visuals and how on Earth were we going to achieve them,” he says.

“By the time I signed on, I still wasn’t sure how we were going to achieve it. But the first job was philosophically getting in step with Sarah. Production is like a crazy, wild beast that takes over. But certainly the biggest part, and one of the most enjoyable parts, was sitting down and hearing what was a very personal story told by Sarah, even though it was an adaptation. It was very much from the heart, and I could just ask her everything about it.”

Lambs of God focuses on a trio of nuns living on an isolated island

Walker’s biggest challenge on the series was bringing the world of the Sisters of St Agnes to life alongside production designer Chris Kennedy (Lion) and cinematographer Don McAlpine (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet). But once that was settled, “we could turn up in this place and then completely dismiss the beautiful production design and all the work that had gone into it to fully focus on what was at the heart of the scene and those characters at that time,” the director says.

“Being in the heads of the characters, which came from our early discussions, dictated where our camera needed to be. We wanted to be right in that world with them. It has a traditional cinematic approach; it’s not handheld or gritty. It was all lit with candles, with extremely fast lenses and cameras. The actors found it more intimate and real.”

On the other side of the world, British director Gurinder Chadha made her name with films such as Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice and Viceroy’s House. She has now co-created, written and directed Beecham House, a six-part drama for ITV set in Delhi at the turn of the 19th century.

Gurinder Chadha

“I wouldn’t say TV is any less a director’s voice than film, particularly these days,” she says. “What I’ve ended up doing is shooting six one-hour movies, because that’s what I’m used to; I’m used to shooting movies. So in each episode, it has great scale. It feels like a movie. I’ve scored it like a movie and the questions it asks are big. You are getting the movie experience over six hours on TV.”

Produced by Chadha’s Bend It TV and distributed by Fremantle, Beecham House stars Tom Bateman as John Beecham, a former soldier who buys the eponymous property to start a new life with his family. Though haunted by his past, he is inspired to become an honourable member of the region’s trading community.

“I’ve made nine movies and this was my first longform series. It’s a beast,” Chadha says. “It was hard to keep all those storylines and performances in my head, and to keep the continuity for all those actors in my head. I found it quite hard and unruly.

“Having said that, I ended up having to do very little ADR [automated dialog replacement] or reworking, so I was obviously doing something right. What I found hardest was making sure every character’s story was compelling enough to warrant a space – because when you read them in the script, it’s one thing, but when you shoot them, it’s another.”

It was only through “distilling, cutting and shredding” during the editing process that Chadha found the heart of the series, which she admits ended up being slightly different from what she had initially imagined. “It’s very moving in places, very touching in places, and there it is,” she adds. “People who have seen it have cried. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so profound, so I’m delighted.”

Period drama Beecham House is set in Delhi at the turn of the 19th century

Moving away from English-language drama, Dejate Llevar (Perfect Life) marks the first television series written and directed by Spanish actor Leticia Dolera. She has previously written comedy Bloguera en Construcción and starred in a number of film and TV shows such as Bajo Sospecha (Under Suspicion) and Mad Dogs.

Perfect Life follows three women – María, Cris and Esther – who are each looking to achieve their dream existence but find that things don’t always go according to plan. The show, from Movistar+ and distributed by Beta Film, debuted at French event Canneseries in April, where it was named best series and also received the special performance prize.

“I just wanted to write and talk about what matters to me and the women around me, the issues that concern us,” Dolera says. “Perfection for women, especially, is very stressful. It’s an ideal that’s very hard to maintain. Through the show, I explore different aspects of that supposed perfection – the superwoman role model, a woman who’s a great mum, wife, lover and friend.

“I talk about how stressful that can be and how sometimes, even if you are that superwoman, something can be missing – that’s Cris. Then, through Esther, I wanted to talk about what success is and how hard it can be to accept you cannot be successful. Maria, who I play, is a control freak. She’s obsessed with the idea of the family. She has to confront this need to control, because you cannot control life. She has to understand new models of family.”

Leticia Dolera’s Perfect Life

Dolera admits writing, directing and acting in the same project is “very intense,” but she believes each discipline is part of the same process – telling the story. “You can tell the story from the script, from directing or by giving a real voice to the characters,” she says. “I find it natural because I’ve been acting for 15 years and had the need to tell my own stories. Finally, I’m talking about things I know – I talk about women my age.”

In practical terms on set, Dolera would use a stand-in actor to prepare a scene before taking her place in front of the camera once the setup was complete. “Sometimes I would go to check what I’d recorded, but not often because the time it takes to check a take is the time it takes to do another take,” she says. “So sometimes I prefer to do another take rather than check it.”

In Israeli drama Asylum City, meanwhile, a violent attack on an activist supporting asylum seekers’ rights has far-reaching consequences, with the series focusing on clandestine migrants in Tel Aviv and those who help them.

Director Eitan Tzur co-created the show with writer Uzi Weil and author Liad Shoham, who wrote the book on which the drama is based. “I was influenced very much by [seminal HBO drama] The Wire to do a cop show or a thriller that deals with political and social issues,” he explains.

Eitan Tzur on the Asylum City set

“Then, when [Shoham] came to the offices of our production company July August, he invited us to make a series. We started to develop it and it took between four and six years for us to find a broadcaster and widen the plot.”

That broadcaster was Yes TV, whose sales arm Yes Studios distributes the drama worldwide. Asylum City marked the first time Tzur had been involved in creating a series, and he was adamant that the show pushed beyond the book’s thriller style to focus more on the political story at its heart.

“Here, the most important thing was realism. Even though it’s a thriller, I tried not to use scary music too much and the shooting was not suspenseful. It’s basic, clear, realistic,” the director says.

“Sometimes I wanted a documentary feel, because the series features a lot of places in south Tel Aviv where normal people live. I wanted to show the difference between the background of where they live and where lawyers live in the north of the city in nice apartments, to show the differences in environment and locations.”

Swedish-French coproduction Midnight Sun

Acknowledging that Israeli drama budgets are small compared with those of other major drama hotspots, Tzur says careful planing in the pre-production period is crucial to make the most of the available funds.

“As a director, I’m usually much more interested in working with actors and having a good cameraman who will allow me to concentrate on directing,” he adds. “Especially in TV, it’s much more important to concentrate on directing and having time with the actors. I’m less concerned with the shooting after I’ve decided on the general look of the scene.”

Måns Mårlind

Over in Sweden, Måns Mårlind is well established as both a writer and a director, having worked on local dramas such as Sjätte Dagen, Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Midnight Sun, a copro between Sweden’s SVT and Canal+ in France. His latest series, Shadowplay, is a Berlin-set historical thriller in which an American cop arrives in Germany to help set up a police force in the aftermath of the Second World War. The cast includes Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights), Michael C Hall (Dexter) and Logan Marshall-Green (Quarry). The show is produced by Tandem Productions and Bron Studios for Viaplay and ZDF, and distributed by StudioCanal.

“As a writer-director, I divide being both people in one body,” Mårlind says. “Directing is a healthy and good continuation of the writing process; when I write, I try to be as specific in direction as I can. I’m not writing ‘close-up’ and stuff like that, but I want the actor – because I always write for one person – to understand what I’m doing.

“As a writer, the big plus when you direct a scene that doesn’t work is that the actors can look at you and say, ‘This doesn’t work.’ Then you can throw them a new line, remove four lines or decide to have no dialogue at all.”

Echoing Tzur, Mårlind focuses on the actors. “They are everything. If you don’t connect with the actors, you have nothing,” he says. Once the plot is laid out and the characters are fully formed, he says his key responsibility is to “help the actors all the time to go where, hopefully, they have a problem reaching, pushing them all the way.”

Beecham House’s Chadha is already planning further seasons of the series, and the appeal of tackling other long, more detailed stories on television, as opposed to 90-minute films, has led her to enter development on other dramas.

“I think in today’s world, we all enjoy longform TV. I certainly do,” she concludes. “We’re all binge-viewing, watching drama like we did movies. So for me, it was a great experience making this.”

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Land of the Midnight Sun

While locations often bring a series to life, few had as much impact as the setting of Midnight Sun, both on and off screen, as the drama’s leading actors tell DQ.

The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs each summer north of the Arctic circle and south of the Antarctic circle, where the sun is still visible at midnight. Around the summer solstice, there is 24 hours of daylight.

On television, it has been the subject of an episode of Canadian drama Northern Exposure, which examined the impact of the midnight sun on the residents of an Alaskan town, and an episode of The Twilight Zone, whereby the effect was created when the Earth was put on collision course with the sun.

The setting was taken to the extreme on Swedish-French coproduction Midnight Sun, known locally as Midnattssol and Jour Polaire respectively and currently airing in the UK on Sky Atlantic following a deal with distributor StudioCanal. The story sees French police officer Kahina Zadi (played by Leïla Bekhti) travel to Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, to investigate the brutal murder of a French citizen during the midnight sun period.

L-R: Midnight Sun actors Leila Bekhti, Gustaf Hammarsten and Sofia Jannok at Mipcom last year

With the help of Swedish DA Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten) and a member of the Sami (Sofia Jannok), a local indigenous tribe, she comes to realise the killing and more that follow are part of a 10-year conspiracy involving many of the town’s inhabitants.

The series, produced by Nice Drama and Atlantique Productions, comes from co-creators, writers and directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, who were the main draw for Hammarsten (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to sign up for the eight-episode series.

“Sweden is a small country so if there are talented directors, you know them or know of them. I had wanted to work with Måns and Björn for a long time because I respect them,” the actor tells DQ. “Then they asked me to read something and I was just thinking, ‘Yes please.’ And when I read it, I was even more pleased because they had something really fantastic and special. I was really happy.

“Some things just look good on the paper but the way they worked, it was very important to keep it local and not make it too flashy. For an actor, that’s fantastic. You know you have a good part and there is fantastic scenery around.”

The appearance of the Sami people in a story set in their homeland, located inside the Arctic Circle, was also an attractive proposition for Jannok, who is herself a member of the indigenous tribe.

The series centres on a murder investigation

“Sami is a small community and we had been hearing about these guys doing research for a couple of years, so I knew they had done their homework and I had seen who they had been speaking to,” Jannok reveals. “That’s why I thought it was an interesting project – it gives an image of today and brings issues to the surface that aren’t talked about ever, like the racism against Sami people. People started to debate these issues, both in Sami communities and in Sweden. That’s a bonus if you get people to think about not only the thriller story but also identity, diversity, the many languages and the collisions between the different characters.”

Hailing from the region where the series is shot, and with personal experience of the midnight sun phenomenon, Jannok believes it’s a breath of fresh air to see a story like this told in this unique landscape.

“For people who live there every day, it’s not extraordinary,” she says. “We don’t even have a word for it, it’s just the sun. It’s nice to change the perspective and to not always be in the capital or the cities.”

Hammarsten continues: “It would be very easy to make it a French-Swedish series where there’s a clash between the two cultures, but all of a sudden you go the third way. It’s almost like the landscape has its own part. It’s like the settings have a role.”

Bekhti adds: “The main character is nature and everything around it. This has somehow fed my role and my character. The scenery seems to be moving literally and figuratively as well, fermenting somehow, just as what’s happening to my character and this impression of endless day. It fed the character and invites the viewer to discover a new part of the world.”

Midnight Sun was shot during the darkness-free period from which it takes its name

French actor Bekhti admits she was particularly affected by working in the unique environment, describing the shoot – which took place during the midnight sun – as a “strong human experience.”

“I forgot where I was, I lost my bearings almost,” she explains. “I slept very little. But instead of being scared by the experience, I thought I would exploit it and make use of it for my character. It was an amazing experience to live there in that space, even if it was physically demanding. It gave more insight into my character and the location helped me.”

Hammarsten picks up: “Leila was the hero of this show. I could go home to my apartment in Stockholm in the weekends but she was up there all the time with the sun and these crazy Swedes! Leila was really up there on her own, so I felt she also needed me – we had a pact. I knew of Måns and Björn but I didn’t know who this French star was. But she’s totally down to earth and a fantastic actor.”

Despite the challenges of the setting, Hammarsten balks at the thought of filming the series anywhere else. “How could you shoot this in a studio?” he says. “Maybe you could if you had an enormous amount of money. For me, it was the same but less of a struggle. We were there for a long time, in the midnight sun. It gave us something.”

For Jannok, though the location may have been familiar, the task at hand was not, with Midnight Sun being her first acting job.

“The new thing for me was acting, that was the challenge,” she exclaims. “So I was glad I was being taken care of. Everyone was so nice and friendly. It was good doing my first time acting at home. I used to ski past the house of my character, so this was home. We don’t sleep during the summer! We’re better at sleeping during the dark winters, but it was nice being home.”

Though herself an experienced actor, with credits including The Prophet and All that Glitters, Bekhti also faced a new challenge when scenes called for her to speak in English – the shared language used by Swedish and French characters in the series, which also features the native Sami language.

“I didn’t speak English at all,” she says. “I was coached for two or three months, six hours a day. It meant I was really thrown into the deep end, I was immediately immersed in that character. I didn’t want to lose the actor’s part in it all. English was an instrument, so when I was frightened, the first thing that came out was in French. That meant it was more realistic.”

Midnight Sun made waves as the first ever French-Swedish coproduction, with many similar cross-border partnerships now in the works. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will attempt to stage another series in this dazzling environment.

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Mipcom showcases global writing talent

Malin Lagerlof
Malin Lagerlof

Mipcom, which takes place in Cannes between October 17 and 20, is not just a great platform for international drama – it’s also a useful showcase for writers from around the world.

At a time when the key players in the scripted TV business are increasingly willing to employ writers from beyond their home territory, it’s worth exploring the people behind the market’s headline dramas.

French distributor Wild Bunch TV, for example, will be in Cannes with three dramas including Israeli production Mama’s Angel. A 10-episode psychological drama that explores the dark underbelly of life in a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb after a child is murdered, it was screened in competition at Series Mania 2016 and was created by rising star Keren Weissman.

Called Malach Shel Ima in Hebrew, the show was produced by Black Sheep Productions and aired on Yes TV. Weissman’s first TV drama series, it has scored a decent 8.2 rating on IMDb. Speaking at Series Mania, Weissman said the show took four years to write and places a strong emphasis on emotive themes such as motherhood.

Also on the Wild Bunch slate a road trip-cum-love story Tytgat Chocolate, about a man and his mentally challenged co-workers at a chocolate factory. The seven-part Flemish series was written and directed by Marc Bryssinck and Filip Lenaerts and produced by deMENSEN for VRT. Of the two writers, Lenaerts has the longer track record in TV, having created 2011 documentary The Colony (about life in an isolated prison). Interestingly, Bryssinck is artistic director at Theatre Stap, a professional theatre company that works with people who have mental disabilities. Clearly this experience will have helped inform the VRT show.

Jesse McKeown
Jesse McKeown

Red Arrow International’s slate features a diverse range of drama titles including Farang, a Nordic drama made by Warner Bros for C More and TV4 in Sweden. This one tells the story of a former criminal eking out a shabby existence in Thailand having testified against some old friends in his home country, Sweden. An eight-part series starring Ola Rapace, this one is written by Malin Lagerlof, Veronica Zacco, Anders Sparring and Niklas Rockstrom.

Lagerlof is a well-established writer whose recent credits include SVT miniseries Bibliotekstjuven and Wallander – Saknaden, a 2013 production from Yellow Bird. Prior to her success in TV, she made a name for herself in theatre and film production. Zacco is a more recent addition to the industry but has several episodes of Thicker than Water under her belt. Rockstrom, who also worked on Thicker than Water, is now involved with a new SVT project called Before We Die. Sparring’s most recent major credit, meanwhile, was the kids animation series Rita & Krokodille.

Red Arrow is also at the market with The Romeo Section: Assassins, a Vancouver-set espionage thriller that aired on CBC. The blurb says: “To his university, Professor Wolfgang McGee is a gifted academic. To his country, he is the spymaster behind the Romeo Section, a secret ring of intelligence operatives that infiltrate some of the world’s deadliest criminal networks.”

Chris Haddock
Chris Haddock

This one is written by a trio that includes Jesse McKeown, Chris Haddock and Stephen E. Miller. McKeown is a well-established writer whose recent credits include 19-2, Rogue, Republic of Doyle and Da Vinci’s City Hall. Larger-than-life figure Haddock was the creator and showrunner of the latter show and also showruns the new title being marketed by Red Arrow. In fact, he has previously been profiled by DQ – click here to check it out. Interestingly, Miller is better known as an actor (with a long string of credits). This is his first outing as a writer, except for a single episode of Da Vinci’s Inquest, a precursor to Da Vinci’s City Hall that was also created and written by Haddock.

StudioCanal’s big push at the market is Midnight Sun, a Canal+/SVT coproduction. Created by Måns Mårlind and Bjorn Stein, StudioCanal calls it “a high-concept thriller set in a small mining community in remote northern Sweden where a series of brutal murders conceal a secret conspiracy.” Due to air later this year, the series received the Audience Award at SeriesMania in April.

Mårlind and Stein, of course, are best known for crime series Bron, which has aired in 160 countries and has been remade in the US as The Bridge and the UK  as The Tunnel. They started working together at Stockholm-based production company Camp David where they directed commercials for major brands including Nike, UNICEF, Toyota, Reebok, Scandinavian Airlines, and IKEA. After this they began alternating between commercials and feature films, helming Underworld: Awakening, starring Kate Beckinsale. In more recent times their focus has been on high-end TV drama.

Bjorn Stein (left) and Måns Marlind
Bjorn Stein (left) and Måns Marlind

Sticking with the Scandinavians, StudioCanal will also present Below the Surface, a crime thriller for Denmark’s Kanal 5 from SAM Productions. In this story, 15 people on a subway train beneath Copenhagen are taken hostage by three armed men. A terror taskforce is dispatched to rescue them and a reporter acts as go-between with the police as the captors bait the press with information about each hostage’s past.

Kasper Barfoed is creator, head writer and concept director of the show. Until now, Barfoed had been best known as a director, having previously been a child actor. His previous directorial credits include Dicte and Those Who Kill. His only previous writing credit is 2015 movie Sommeren ’92, set against the Danish football team’s successful campaign in the 1992 European Championships.

From the UK, StudioCanal has Crazyhead, a new comedy-horror series from Bafta winner Howard Overman (Misfits). The six-part series is produced by Urban Myth Films for Channel 4 in association with Netflix. It follows “Amy and Raquel as they navigate their way through the choppy waters of their early 20s while kicking the ass of some seriously gnarly demons.”

Sebastian Ortega

RAI Com, the sales arm of Italian pubcaster RAI, is also heading to Cannes with a strong slate of dramas. One key title is crime series Non Uccidere (Close Murders), which is entering its second season. The story focuses on a female crime fighter, Valeria Ferro of the Turin Homicide Squad, and her battle against domestic and community-based violence. It was directed by Giuseppe Gagliardi and created by Claudio Corbucci, whose previous TV series credits include La Squadra. For the last few years, he has been more focused on movies and TV movies.

Dori Media Group, meanwhile, has high hopes for crime drama El Marginal, a 2016 Grand Prix winner at Séries Mania. El Marginal is a coproduction from Underground Producciones and TV Publica Argentina and was created by Sebastian Ortega.

It tells the story of Miguel Dimarco, “an ex-cop who enters prison under a false identity as a convict. His mission is to infiltrate a gang of prisoners who have kidnapped the daughter of a prominent judge. Miguel must discover the whereabouts of the girl and help set her free. He meets the objective but someone betrays him, leaving him behind bars with no witnesses who know his true identity.”

Ortega is a well-established writer/producer on the Argentinian scene and has been closely associated with commercial channel Telefe since 2008 (though this title is for TPA, not Telefe). Big hits during his career have included Lalola, Los Exitosos Pells and Graduates. Ortega’s shows generally score well with international buyers, so El Marginal is also likely to attract a lot of attention.

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