Tag Archives: Wild Bunch TV

Havana go at colourful noir

Cuban writer Leonardo Padura brings his own novels to the small screen in eight-part crime series Four Seasons in Havana. He tells DQ how he adapted the Cuba-set books and why his iconic detective Mario Conde stands out in a sea of television cops.

Bleak Scandinavian landscapes helped to put Nordic noir on the map, while UK series Marcella – penned by The Bridge’s Hans Rosenfeldt – recently introduced London Noir to the small screen.

But crime dramas are going to look a little brighter from now on, thanks to the introduction of Caribbean noir and new drama Four Seasons in Havana. As the tagline states, “noir has never been so colourful.”

The eight-part series sees Cuban author Leonardo Padura bring his police lieutenant Mario Conde to television, based on his Havana Quartet novels (Past Perfect, Winds of Lent, Masks and Autumn Landscape).

Leonardo Padura
Leonardo Padura

The series, produced by Tornasol Films and Nadcon in association with distributor Wild Bunch TV with the participation of Spanish broadcaster TVE, has been sold to more than 20 territories worldwide, including Netflix in the US, though no airdates have been confirmed.

Four Seasons in Havana is not to be confused with another adaptation of Padura’s novels, called Havana Quartet, which has been commissioned by US premium cable network Starz and will be produced by Entertainment One. With Antonio Banderas starring as Conde, the Starz series will be based on the books Havana Blue, Havana Gold, Havana Red and Havana Black.

Here, Padura tells DQ about the origins of Four Seasons in Havana, the challenge of adapting his own novels, filming in the Cuban capital of Havana and why Mario Conde stands out from other TV detectives.

When did the idea of bringing Four Seasons in Havana to TV first emerge?
It’s a long story. For years there were different projects to make a film inspired by my novels, or more, for film or television. But for different reasons, mostly economic, they were not realised until finally Peter Nadermann of Nadcom and Gerardo Hererro from Litmus Films made a proposal to acquire an option to make the series. We then started the long road that has brought us here, thanks to them and, above all, the efforts of Besuviesky Mariela, who took on a complicated production, filmed almost entirely in Cuba and the economic pressures with which it was made.

With so many detectives on television, what’s special about Conde?
Conde is special because he is a Cuban policeman but he is not a typical Cuban: he is more cerebral, more concentrated – and he cannot dance! He is a character who suffers with everything around him. He rationalises, is personally involved in cases, has a high sense of justice, is not corrupt and is cultured and sensitive – but sometimes too sensitive. In addition, and this is essential, Conde represents a generation of Cubans who grew up in credulity, matured in doubt and became older in frustration. These elements are sufficient to make him different from all the other detectives, whether Swedes or Americans, because he is very typical of his circumstances. Conde sleeps in a bed, makes rum and, whenever possible, makes love to a woman. 

Four Seasons in Havana
Four Seasons in Havana’s tagline is ‘Noir has never been so colourful’

Why did you choose to adapt your own novels for television, and what was that process like?
It was a necessity rather than a desire. The producers needed a first chapter where the possible pattern of the series was set out. They asked me to write it and I accepted, but I decided to write it with my wife, Lucia Lopez Coll, who is the true writer of the family and of the series. After several discussions with producers about what kind of movies we wanted, we started writing and finished the first script. Then we wrote the other two, because we had a style and a satisfying drama. And, unwittingly, I participated in writing all the scripts!
The writing process was, as always in these cases, pretty heartbreaking: Lucia had to start from the novels, taking their essence, and then she had to forget them to work on the story in script form, which is a totally different type of writing. Lucia, who worked very hard on this adaptation, managed to retain the essence of the stories, the characters and the human and social sense of the scenes, and included elements that would make them functional in the films, while I was writing the dialogue. Like the novels, the movies speak like ordinary Cubans, something that is not easy to see in Cuban cinema where characters tend to be judgemental and speak literally and with few colloquial constructions.
Working with Lucia is comfortable – she knows what I meant in those novels, she knows the reality of Cuba and you can write scripts and know when to cut and look elsewhere. Sometimes she’s a little stubborn and we argue a lot, although she’s usually right! She’s a very obsessive worker, and that’s good. A significant part of those scripts had to be written “on the road” due to the many travel promotions that I do, and she always accompanies me. So although she does not often appear in the photos or speak to the journalists who interview me, actually Lucia is largely responsible for these scripts.

Did you have to make many changes from your novels in terms of characters or plot?
Not too many, actually. In Winds of Havana, we introduced a whole line of new drug-related characters. But the centre lines of the arguments remained almost entirely intact, as they appear in the novels.

Did you work closely with the director Felix Viscarret, or did you give him a lot of freedom to bring the script to life?
I think we worked side by side from the moment he entered production. And that helped us a lot, because Felix was shaping the scripts as movies, and that was a lot of work. In addition, he was very creative in that job and helped us move forward towards production.

Four Seasons In Havana
The show centres on police lieutenant Mario Conde

What does Jorge Perugorría (pictured top) bring to the role of Conde? Does the character appear on screen as you imagined when writing the novels?
It’s very, very difficult for a character created for a novel to have the face of a character depicted in the film. It’s very different when you write a script because you’re already thinking about cinema and watching images from cinema. Mario Conde is a person I see one way and readers see their way, which is usually very diverse, from the signs in the story like his age and his style. But I had thought of Perugorría for years, every time I dreamed of doing Conde in film. His performances are splendid and, from now on, it will be impossible for many people to read Conde without seeing Perugorría. As they say in Spanish, he has become embroidered to the character.

What was the biggest challenge during writing and production?
Time! Fitting each of these stories into 90 minutes was really agonising and sometimes frustrating, because we knew we had to leave out elements of Conde’s life and his relationship with the environment, as well the environment itself, that are very characteristic of the novels. And we had to sacrifice much substance because time tyrannised us.

How would you describe ‘Caribbean noir,’ and what does this mean in terms of the visual style or the tone of the drama?
It’s in everything, from the visuals and the drama – or melodrama, perhaps – to the music that is heard, the gestures made by the characters, and the climate.

How is Havana shown on screen? Will viewers recognise it?
Of course they can recognise it – and, moreover, they will travel to Cuba. There are scenes set across almost the whole city, from battered sites to luxurious homes. Many neighbourhoods and many streets are seen, but there is no urban or historicist zeal. It attempts to show the decline of a city and its almost invincible beauty, its architectural eclecticism and its human, social, racial and historical mix. The series looks at Havana with both distance and intimacy, and that makes it more attractive and real.

What does the location bring to the series?
You can only imagine these stories in Havana. Fortunately, we got permits to film in Cuba, something that isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s impossible because you need official permission to film, and it can be a political decision.

Are you planning another season of Four Seasons in Havana, or are you working on other TV shows?
Now I’m focused on writing a new novel, which returns to my character, Mario Conde. And while Lucia collaborates on other possible projects, I will stay away from the screen for a while. I’m a novelist and, as Raymond Chandler said, I put on my second-best suit to write for film.

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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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