Unmasking Anonymous

Unmasking Anonymous

July 12, 2023

In production

NL Film producer Dennis Cornelisse introduces DQ to Anoniem (Anonymous), a Dutch crime drama imagined as ‘Batman of the Netherlands.’

Blending superhero and family drama, Dutch series Anoniem (Anonymous) focuses on a married couple fighting crime with their own brand of justice.

With crime on the rise and the judicial system failing, husband and wife Jurre and Saar launch secret missions to combat organised crime and make society safe again – without telling each other what exactly they’re up to.

But as their pursuit pushes them deeper into the criminal underworld, can they save their failing marriage and their family?

The series, which debuted on NPO1 in the Netherlands in May, comes from NL Film, the maker of crime drama Penoza, thriller The Body Collector and Het Gouden Uur (The Golden Hour). Banijay Rights is distributing.

Here, producer Dennis Cornelisse tells DQ about the origins of Anonymous, partnering with writer-director Diederik van Rooijen and turning Rotterdam into Gotham City.

Dennis Cornelisse

Dennis, introduce us to Anonymous.
In a time when crime has a grip on our country and the system seems to be failing, a couple emerge to take justice into their own hands. Jurre and Saar embark on their own secret battle against the underworld, fighting for the safety of their family, but there’s one twist: they don’t know about each other. Saar fights her battle against the Cabo criminal gang as a public prosecutor, while Jurre does it his own way as ‘Anonymous.’

What are the origins of the project?
The idea came from the creative mind of director Diederik van Rooijen. His love for comics led him to envision a ‘Batman of the Netherlands,’ with Rotterdam transformed into the Gotham where the series takes place. Combining his passion for comics with the interpersonal family drama that NL Film is so skilled at makes this incredible series work so well, and we’re very happy Banijay Rights handles the international distribution.

Where are Jurre and Saar when we meet them? How would you describe their relationship?
Jurre lives a mundane life in a residential area in Rotterdam. He has a strained marriage with Saar, a difficult relationship with his 17-year-old son Boet and almost no contact with his 15-year-old daughter Ella, who is always glued to her phone. Jurre works as a history teacher in a high school, facing a class that doesn’t want to listen to him. Jurre lets people walk all over him and feels completely useless.

Saar is a successful public prosecutor and is rarely at home due to being a workaholic. This takes a toll on their relationship. Their past success and failure have left their once vibrant relationship extinguished. Jurre is somehow incapable of improving their unhappy family situation. You can’t imagine a bigger midlife crisis.

In Anonymous, a husband and wife separately take crime-fighting into their own hands

What can you tell us about their journey through the series and the battles they face together and alone?
Jurre and Saar are in a marital crisis. The children are light years away from them. Jurre lives his life as a teacher, and on weekends he loses himself in re-enactment. He does his thing, swallows his pills and doesn’t feel. Saar lives an exciting life but loses herself so much in her work that she loses sight of her family and private life. In their own way, they are both stuck in ‘having to’ and being ‘lived by society.’

This is a recognisable phenomenon in today’s times and something I am vigilant about myself. It’s important to enjoy the little things with your family and really switch off every now and then. A good balance is so important; it makes you more productive and creative.

The moment Jurre carries out a heroic deed, he starts believing in his abilities and starts feeling – including real pain. He starts living. Saar has no feeling left when she sees her husband, whom she views as a dull, listless sack with no ambition. Over the course of the series, she regains her feelings. Jurre is perky, is in the gym and starts to bond with his son. This man pleases Saar, but little does she know he is the vigilante whom she sees as the idiot thwarting her investigation. Crime gets harder and harder, but love blossoms again.

How does the series blend a family relationship drama with high-stakes action?
The family is at the core of the series and drives the story. We start with the storyline of a family with relatable situations, a family like so many nowadays – a burnt-out father going through a midlife crisis, a career-focused mother who is never home, teenagers who become alienated from their parents and veer off the right path due to lack of attention.
Jurre is searching for affirmation of his existence. He loves his wife and children but has doubts about his role in life and who he really is.

After performing his heroic act, his life takes a different turn. The fire within him reignites.
From the moment Jurre decides to declare himself as Anonymous and become a crimefighter, the relationships within the family also change.

The family dynamics drive the story and the action. The deeper Saar and Jurre get into trouble, the more they come together as a family.

Jurre (Jeroen Spitzenberger), a teacher, becomes a vigilante in the Rotterdam-set series

What themes does the story explore?
This series is socially relevant and tackles present-day issues. It explores the increasing number of broken families, the tendency to ignore problems, and the rise of terrorism and fanaticism. It is not surprising that during tumultuous times in the world, there is a greater need for a hero.

Who are today’s heroes? The police often feel powerless; justice must adhere to rules, while crime flourishes by disregarding them. Innocent people become victims, children are recruited by drug dealers from a young age, and criminals reign. These are not just American practices; they happen right here in Europe and beyond.

That’s why Anonymous provides us with a fascinating subject for a thrilling television series that delves into the hero within all of us – the hero we don’t often dare to be but, deep down, we long to be.

How did you partner with writer-director Diederik?
NL Film has a strong relationship with directors and writers, including Diederik. We have previously collaborated successfully on projects including five seasons of our hit series Penoza and the subsequent film, which had a theatrical release. We also worked together on another feature film, En Taped.

What was the development process like?
The development process was relatively fast. Diederik is a multi-talented and speedy writer. Public broadcasters NPO and BNNVARA quickly showed interest. With the unique idea and belief in the creators, we had the right package to develop the project swiftly. The main challenge was that Diederik had other projects put on hold due to Covid and had to finish them before filming could commence.

Saar (Anniek Pheifer, left) uses her position as a public prosecutor

Does Diederik have a particular directing style?
Diederik thinks in images and has a photographic memory. He has every scene in his head, even if it was shot 20 days ago. He essentially edits in his mind on set. The advantage is that he never films anything unnecessary, which makes time on set very efficient. The challenge lies in his rapid thinking, as there are very few crew members who can keep up with his speed of action and thought.

Where did you film the series and how are locations used on screen?
The series was mainly filmed in Rotterdam. We wanted to give the series a cinematic, comic look and feel. Rotterdam is the only Dutch city that has the international Gotham vibe the series required. Additionally, as it’s a story about vigilantism, we filmed a lot at night. Each shooting day involved wetdowns [adding water to objects and surfaces] to create the right atmosphere for the series and locations.

What challenges did you face in development or production?
Most of the series takes place at night, which sometimes required us to film until midnight for just one scene. The shooting period was full of split days and nights, which was incredibly demanding for the crew and cast.

The numerous ambitions action scenes posed another challenge. Throughout the shoot, Jurre takes out so many characters played by stunt actors that, towards the end of filming, there were no stunt actors available who could handle the action and still be alive for the story. The Netherlands is a small country in that respect.

How does Anonymous represent the kinds of stories NL Film is looking for?
NL Film is an expert in Dutch scripted content. We always seek projects of high quality that appeal to a broad audience and have meaning for the viewers. Anonymous is the type of drama that perfectly aligns with NL Film. It is a well-crafted series for a wide audience – a series that touches you, makes you want to keep watching and entertains you. Through the themes addressed in Anonymous, it also prompts you to reflect and think.

The series debuted on NPO1 in the Netherlands in May

What challenges are you facing in the industry at the moment?
There are many challenges right now but it’s important to remain optimistic and proactive in finding solutions. Of course, there is a global fear of recession, and we have noticed that clients are taking fewer risks and sometimes even pausing new projects. While the current tendency of both streamers and public broadcasters is to opt for safer choices, we continue to foster an environment that serves up-and-coming talent and explores unique, independent ideas.

In addition to this, some streamers are retracting locally or ordering less. For example, HBO withdrew locally last year and we see other streamers making similar moves.

Furthermore, inflation and scarcity in the market are major problems, affecting production budgets and limiting resources. This puts pressure on teams and can, at times, hinder creative freedom. However, these challenges can push us to be resourceful and seek out cost-effective solutions.

We are seeing huge pressure on existing talent who genuinely care about the industry, and we need to support their wellbeing and prioritise a work-life balance for a sustainable future. This is important if we want to attract and retain new talent as well, to pave the way for their voices to flourish, especially in screenwriting and directing where there seems to be a slow influx to the industry.

We are a creative business and, at IP level, negotiations to retain rights can be challenging. However, as awareness grows, there are more opportunities and we believe this will become increasingly common in the future.

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