Tag Archives: Torleif Hoppe

Criminal genes

Forbrydelsen (The Killing) writer Torleif Hoppe speaks to DQ about the genre-defining Danish series and how his latest crime drama, DNA, flips the script on its leading detective.

When it comes to creating crime dramas, for Danish writer Torleif Hoppe, it’s in the blood. More than a decade ago, Hoppe was one of the key creatives involved in developing breakout drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing), before writing on other notable series such as Den som Dræber (Those Who Kill) and Broen (The Bridge).

It’s clearly a genre he feels at home with, though that wasn’t always the case. “When we wrote The Killing [with creator Søren Sveistrup], I didn’t have any experience in the crime genre at all,” he admits. “None of us actually did at that time. We had to just start researching it and figure out what police work is like, because everything we knew was from watching crime series, particularly American crime series, and stuff like that. It’s not exactly the same in Denmark, to say the least.”

Hoppe was with Sveistrup from the beginning, working together to help forge the series into what is still the defining ‘Nordic noir’ series, owing to its dark murder mystery themes and brooding Copenhagen cityscapes.

Torleif Hoppe

The writer believes one reason the series, which ran for three seasons, proved so popular, not just at home but around the world, is that they wanted to avoid making a crime series like anything else they had already seen. Another reason behind its success was its lead character Sarah Lund, portrayed by Sofie Gråbøl, and her penchant for patterned knitwear. Hoppe reveals that her fashion sense was based on a real-life police officer they spoke to, who did similar work to Lund, and often wore jeans and a sweater, rather than an official uniform. “

So we joked, ‘Sarah’s going to wear jeans and a sweater,” he says. “Then when it had already become kind of iconic, it was going to be shown in Germany and they were doing some of the material for the press release. They sent us some photos they had photoshopped to see if we liked them – and they replaced the sweater with a blue shirt and tie so that everyone could see that it was a policewoman.”

In his latest series, DNA, there’s no mistaking the central character, criminal investigator Rolf Larsen (Anders W Berthelsen) as anything other than a police officer, his identity card hanging around his neck as he strives to solve a case that takes him across Europe. What begins as the search for a missing toddler in episode one quickly becomes a story of personal tragedy when his own baby daughter inexplicably vanishes and is presumed dead, leaving him heartbroken and stricken with grief.

Five years later, he discovers there is a fault with the Danish national DNA register, news that brings fresh hope that his daughter might still be alive. He then embarks on an unauthorised investigation that leads him into the world of illegal child trafficking.

The eight-part crime thriller comes from Nordisk Film Production, in collaboration with France’s French Kiss Pictures for broadcasters TV2 in Denmark and Arte France. Norway’s NRK, YLE in Finland, SVT in Sweden and Icelandic broadcaster RUV will also air the series.

It was Hoppe’s desire to write a crime series about an investigator trying to solve their own problems, rather than someone else’s, that gave him the first idea for DNA. “That was the driving engine behind the story,” he says. “The ambition was definitely to make a crime story where it was about an investigator’s own life, where the crime plot had something to do with him personally.”

DNA has been made for Denmark’s TV2 and Arte in France

His plan for a new series initially began as a case-of-the-week procedural, but when he presented one potential storyline that focused more on the investigator’s personal life, TV2 asked him to turn that into a serialised storyline that would run across the entire series.

“I wanted to do something about a missing child, and I realised that when you talk about children and adoption, there are so many dilemmas,” Hoppe explains. “It looks really nice from one perspective. A child is taken from somewhere and brought to a wealthy family where they can get an education. It sounds really nice. But from the other side, to take a child from a mother, no matter whether she is rich or poor, and give it to another person, it’s not necessarily a good thing in the eyes of the woman who gave birth to that child.

“The more I started to dive into that, the story became about trafficking of children for surrogacy and adoption, not other trafficking purposes. I found that’s something that does take place, and as soon as it becomes an unauthorised business then there aren’t really any rules.”

But what started out as a “very Danish story” soon expanded to take in other countries in Europe when Hoppe settled on the trafficking storyline, particularly Poland and France, where Rolf teams up with another investigator, Claire Bobain, played by British actor Charlotte Rampling (Broadchurch). Other cast members include Zofia Wichlacz (World on Fire, 1983) as Julita Sienko, Nicolas Bro (The Bridge) as Jarl Skaubo and Olivia Joof (Boogie) as Neel Skibsted.

“In the beginning, everything was seen from the Danish police officer’s point of view,” he says. “But just seeing everything from his perspective became a bit boring. So after I had already written the whole story, I went back and created a Polish strand that weaves into the Danish investigator’s story.”

The series stars Anders W Berthelsen as criminal investigator Rolf Larsen

Arte was involved from the start, while Newen Distribution also invested in the project at an early stage, contributing to the series financing and picking up global distribution rights to the series.

“At first, I tried to make sure that I wrote enough scenes that took place in France to please Arte, because I thought the characters had to go to France. But they just came back to me and said, ‘You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to bring them to France to please us.’ So they were very easy with that and just gave me really good feedback and we bounced really well with ideas and different angles to the story.

“But at some point, I realised we needed to have a French police officer and I wanted somebody who had some authority. The producer kept on sending photos and suggestions of actresses but they weren’t what I was looking for. A friend suggested someone like Charlotte Rampling, and I was like, ‘Yes exactly.’ Then they asked her and she read the script and she liked it.”

Hoppe wrote the series on his own, with additional support from writer Nanna Westh (Friheden, Arvingerne), who assisted with some drafts. But before he sits down to write the scripts, he says he likes to know where the story is heading, but not exactly how it will end. “Then you figure out how to get there along the way,” he explains, noting that he uses particular milestones through the series to make sure he is taking the story along the right path.

“With The Killing, we made an overall outline and then wrote three episodes that we went back and forth on to make them work,” Hoppe recalls. “Then we wrote one episode at a time. In this case, probably because there’s been so much time in development, I worked mostly on the first couple of episodes and then wrote the rest of the series in a couple of drafts so I knew what would happen.

British actor Charlotte Rampling plays another investigator

“Because it’s a complicated story with different timelines, it’s nice to go back and forth and put something in here or change something there to make it work better. In this case, they didn’t start shooting until everything was written. When we did The Killing, they started to shoot episode one when we had only finished writing episode three.”

DNA was shot entirely on location, taking in landscapes and backdrops in Denmark, France and the Czech Republic. Hoppe says he likes to visit the set, but doesn’t like to interfere once the directors – in this case Kasper Gaardsøe (The Team) and Roni Ezra (The New Nurses) – are committing his scripts to film.

“It’s difficult because every time I go on set they all have a million questions,” he jokes. “So I realise it may be a good idea to stick around because it’s so much more under my skin because I’ve breathed this for years. Some things they can discuss and then they ask me. It’s helpful in that respect and useful. But I shouldn’t be there to dictate what people should do because you need to trust people. You expect people to be talented and do their best and in order to do their best, they must have freedom to do the best they can.”

But does the series carry the Nordic noir traditions that have characterised many Danish – and Scandinavian – crime series since The Killing burst onto television screens?

“Nordic noir was something somebody used to describe what we did with The Killing,” Hoppe explains. “That was maybe the first time I heard that expression. It was not our ambition to make something that we could call Nordic noir, I never called it that. When we did The Killing, we liked it to be dark and rainy. I did not feel that I needed that in this. You could say thematically it’s dark, it’s about abducted children, but it’s not filmed in the dark.

World on Fire’s Zofia Wichlacz is also among the cast

“With DNA, we did not try to force it into darkness. I really like the fact that there are so many places in the story. It’s set in so many different places and in so many different environments. That feels like a colourful thing to me. When the production designer put up all the photos of places they could shoot and locations from the northern parts of Denmark to the Czech Republic, it just felt very rich. So I wouldn’t call it Nordic noir.”

When the story reaches its conclusion, the writer hopes to have raised questions about how the good things people do, such as adopting children, can become corrupted when money becomes involved.

“Life has become a commodity in a way nowadays, it’s almost like it’s a human right to have a child,” Hoppe says. “I’m not trying to say what’s right and what’s wrong. Things are not really black and white in these areas. But you need to think about what is right and what is good for a child and how they’re brought up.

“Does it matter if your genes are related to your parents or is it more important that your parent is your real parent? That has a lot to do with identity and where you come from and how you connect with the world, and that’s an issue that is brought up a lot in DNA.”

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Berlinale opens doors to top TV talent

As its name suggests, feature films are the major focus of the Berlin Film Festival, better known as the Berlinale. But, echoing trends across the global media market, high-end TV drama is also playing an increasingly important role at the event.

There is, for example, a screening showcase called the Berlinale Special Series, during which TV titles from Denmark, the UK, Israel, Australia and the US will be shown. There is also an event called The CoPro Series, during which seven international TV projects searching for coproduction and financing partners will launch.

For this week’s column, we’re taking a closer look at each of the selected projects, focusing on the writing talent involved.

Berlinale Special Series

David Farr
David Farr

The Night Manager is an adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy thriller, starring Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman. Set to be broadcast by the BBC in the UK and AMC in the USA, it has been adapted for screen by David Farr, who recently attended the C21 Drama Summit to discuss his approach to the project. Farr has established a strong reputation as a theatre director but has also proved very adept as a screenwriter. His credits include TV series Spooks and the movie Hanna, co-written with Joe Wright.

Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby

Love, Nina is a comedy miniseries for the BBC starring Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Watkins, Joshua McGuire and Faye Marsay. The story is based on the memoirs of Nina Stibbe, a nanny who worked for and encountered some of London’s leading literary figures in the 1980s. It has been adapted by British novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy, Fever Pitch) and is his first ever TV drama. He says of the project: “Love, Nina has already attained the status of a modern classic, and I am so happy that I’ve been given the opportunity to adapt it. We want to make a series that is as charming, funny and delightful as Nina Stibbe’s glorious book.”

Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul
Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul is a spin-off from the iconic AMC series Breaking Bad. Now moving into season two, it’s the brainchild of Vince Gilligan, who also created Breaking Bad. For season two, he shares the showrunning duties with Peter Gould. Although Gould is not as high profile as Gilligan, he is equally steeped in the series’ mythology, having worked on all five seasons of the parent show and the first season of the spin-off. For his work on Breaking Bad, he was nominated for four Writers Guild of America Awards.

Ryan Griffen
Ryan Griffen

Cleverman is an Australia/New Zealand coproduction based in a dystopian futuristic fantasy world. Due to be broadcast by ABC Australia and SundanceTV in the US, it stars Iain Glen and Frances O’Connor. The original concept for the story is from Ryan Griffen, a relative newcomer to the industry who also co-wrote four out of the series’ six episodes. Other credited writers were Jon Bell, Jonathan Gavin and Michael Miller (six episodes) and Jane Allen (two episodes). Overal,l that’s a pretty potent line-up of Aussie writing talent, with career credits that include Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door, Neighbours, The Gods of Wheat Street and Offspring.

Splitting Up Together is the latest drama to come out of Denmark. The TV2 show is described as a serialised character-driven comedy about family, love, sex and happy divorce. The show, which first saw the light of day at last year’s Mipcom, is produced by Happy End and distributed by DR Sales. It is created and written by Mette Heeno, whose previous credits include TV2 comedy series Lærkevej and Lillemand. Prior to that, she spent much of the last decade writing movie scripts (such as Triple Dare).

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

The Writer is an Israeli series coming out of the prolific Keshet stable. Written by Sayed Kashua, who created award-winning comedy Arab Labor, the 10-part series “observes the reality of a hybrid Israeli-Palestinian existence and the personal and political toll it can take on the individual.” This is a similar theme to Arab Labor, which has so far had four seasons (since debuting in 2007). Kashua earned an international reputation for his previous series, with the New York Times saying: “Kashua has managed to barge through cultural barriers and bring an Arab point of view… into the mainstream of Israeli entertainment.”

CoPro Series

Stienette Bosklopper

Avrupa is a project from Circe Film in the Netherlands centring on a flamboyant Turkish family that immigrates to the Netherlands in the 1980s. It is written by Sacha Polak and Stienette Bosklopper. To date, Polak’s main credits have been movies (Hemel, Zurich and Vita & Virginia). Bosklopper, meanwhile, is best known as a producer – only turning to screenwriting in the past couple of years. Speaking to Screen Daily, she said: “I had been working with a lot of writers and directors. Somehow, there was an urge to contribute on a different level. To my own amazement, it is going very well. It comes quite naturally and I get the feeling I will continue to do this.”

Brotherhood is a Norwegian crime series for TV2 Norway from Friland Film, a production company best known for feature films. The series, apparently inspired by true events, centres on a police investigator in Oslo who becomes heavily involved in organised crime. His secret links to the underworld are suddenly challenged and the protection he has built around his family starts to fall apart. The eight-part project is being written by Nikolaj Frobenius, whose main writing credits to date are as an author and movie writer. Film credits over the course of the last decade include Pioneer, Sons of Norway and Insomnia, while his books have been translated into 18 languages.

Torleif Hoppe
Torleif Hoppe

DNA is a Danish crime show produced by Eyeworks Scandi Fiction and written by author and creator Torleif Hoppe. Hoppe’s main claim to fame is his involvement in The Killing, of which he wrote 20 episodes. Aside from DNA, he is also working with Buccaneer Media, BBC America and AMC on Moths, a thriller set in Japan.

Anders August
Anders August

Lucky Per is a Nordisk Film Production for TV2 Denmark, based on a famous book written at the start of the 20th century. The four-part miniseries will be adapted for the screen by Bille August and his son Anders. It is scheduled to go into production this summer, with delivery at the end of 2017. DR Sales is handling distribution. Anders August established himself as a film and TV writer at the start of the current decade and has gone on to bigger and bigger projects. Recent credits include The Legacy and Follow the Money for DR. There have also been reports that BBC America and AMC are developing a show created by the younger August. Deadline called the BBC/AMC project “an untitled comic-noir thriller set in a 1950s resort (that) follows the social climbing of a disarming young woman who turns out to be a dangerous sociopath.”

The Disappearance is a new project from highly rated writer/director Hans-Christian Schmid. Primarily a movie maker, his credits include Home for the Weekend, which competed at the 2012 Berlinale.

Clement Virgo
Clement Virgo

The Illegal is a new project from Clement Virgo, the director of The Book of Negroes. It’s based on a book by Lawrence Hill, who also wrote The Book of Negroes. Virgo’s new project, which is being produced through his company Conquering Lion Pictures, is a dystopian story set in the near future. It follows the journey of Keita Ali, a young marathon runner who flees his repressive native home and finds himself in a community of undocumented refugees living in a wealthy country. Virgo and Hill co-wrote the TV version of The Book of Negroes so it’s likely they will adopt a similar approach this time.

Wars Inc, produced by Drama Team, is described as an Israeli newsroom-based drama. Unfortunately there isn’t any additional information on the project right now, so you’ll have to wait until the Berlinale pitch to find out more about this one.

The CoPro Series will give producers and financiers the chance to get to know the series’ creators at a networking get-together following their pitch, and arrange one-on-one meetings to discuss potential partnerships. The full programme was designed in conjunction with Peter Nadermann (Nadcon, Germany) and Jan de Clercq (Lumière Publishing, Belgium).

The BBC's Doctor Who
The BBC’s Doctor Who

In other writer news, Steven Moffat has announced that season 10 of Doctor Who will be his last as showrunner. His final season will air on BBC1 in 2017 before he is replaced by Chris Chibnall, whose credits include Broadchurch, The Great Train Robbery and Life on Mars.

Moffat said: “While Chris is doing his last run of Broadchurch, I’ll be finishing up on the best job in the universe and keeping the Tardis warm for him. It took a lot of gin and tonic to talk him into this, but I am delighted that one of the true stars of British TV drama will be taking the Time Lord even further into the future.”

Chibnall called Doctor Who “the ultimate BBC programme: bold, unique, vastly entertaining and adored all around the world. So it’s a privilege and a joy to be the next curator of this funny, scary and emotional family drama. Steven’s achieved the impossible by continually expanding Doctor Who’s creative ambition while growing its global popularity. He’s been a dazzling and daring showrunner, and hearing his plans and stories for 2017, it’s clear he’ll be going out with a bang. Just to make my life difficult.”

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