Writers dabble with the supernatural

By Andy Fry
August 31, 2016

The Writers Room
Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs)
Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs)

AMC Networks has acquired a French supernatural drama from Newen Distribution for its horror streaming service Shudder. Three-part miniseries Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs) was originally commissioned by public broadcaster Arte in France and marked something of an editorial change of direction for the channel, focusing on a young woman who moves into an old uninhabited house that she inherits from a mystery benefactor. Already, that sounds like a mistake.

The show was created by Hervé Hadmar and Marc Herpoux, who have emerged as two of the best-known French TV auteurs on the international drama market, despite the fact neither of them really took a straightforward route into the scripted TV business.

Hadmar, for example, studied at business school and then spent 10 years as an art director at an ad agency before writing and directing his first short film, Steamed, in 1996. Two years later, in 1998, he wrote and directed his first feature.

Herpoux, a few years younger, started out in the film business, working on movies until around 2006. He then took the plunge into scripted TV, with the TV movie Catching Fire.

The two first worked together in 2008 on The Forgotten, a TV series for France 3. And from this point on it has been TV all the way. After The Forgotten, they created Pigalle, la nuit, (Canal + in 2009) and then Signature (France 2, 2011).

Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses
Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses

But their big breakthough on the international market was Witnesses, a crime series that followed up a strong domestic performance with widespread international sales (including Channel 4 in the UK and Netflix in the US). Then came Beyond the Walls.

Hadmar and Herpoux’s transition from film to TV reflects an important sea change in the French audiovisual business. For many years, French cinema was very much viewed as the appropriate medium for artistic auteurs. But the new wave of French TV, which includes series like Spiral, The Returned, Witnesses and Marseille, is a sign that the small screen is now regarded as a comparable creative challenge. Hadmar himself has said that TV is now more akin to literature than cinema.

In an interview with Channel 4, Hadmar explained that it was international scripted drama that influenced Witnesses, which may explain why the show has travelled so well. “The goal was to make a Nordic thriller – dark, strange and beautiful,” he said. “I loved shows like The Killing and The Bridge, as well as the British show The Fall. I wanted to write and direct a show like that, or at least try to. It’s a Nordic thriller with one question in it: does the ideal family exist?”

Asked why so many TV dramas are crossing borders these days, he said: “We all want to see great shows. As an audience we are becoming more and more curious. And the technology has meant the industry is in the middle of a revolution. Netflix, for example, is bringing new ways to watch your favourite shows. Netflix, Amazon, Channel 4, HBO, Canal+… everybody needs to take risks, to give the audience something different. So if a story is good, it will be shown all over the world.”

The Duffer brothers are behind Netflix hit Stranger Things
The Duffer brothers are behind Netflix’s 1980s-influenced hit Stranger Things

On French drama, he said the recent revival is partly explained by this creative risk-taking: “French dramas were incredibly good in the 60s and 70s. And then, for all kinds of reasons, in the 80s and 90s, until about six years ago, it was not so good. But again the industry is evolving, and now the broadcaster has no choice but to take risks. To make better shows, they have to trust the writers and directors and producers. That’s the difference today.”

Elsewhere, young US writing team the Duffer brothers seem to have reinforced their fast-won reputation with Stranger Things, the recently launched Netflix series. They first attracted the movie industry’s attention with the film Hidden, and soon after they were invited to join the writing team on M Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi TV series Wayward Pines.

Then came Stranger Things, a homage to 1980s pop culture that focuses on the disappearance of a young boy, and a girl with telekinetic powers who helps his friends in their search for him.

Jeff Davis (photo by Gage Skidmore)
Jeff Davis (photo by Gage Skidmore)

The show has been getting good reviews from critics and decent ratings on aggregators like Metacritic and IMDb. And now Symphony Advanced Media research has shown that Stranger Things is also one of the most watched shows on the SVoD platform.

Within the first 35 days of its July debut, the drama averaged 14.07 million adults age 18 to 49, putting it ahead of shows such as Making a Murderer and Daredevil. There has been no news of a second season yet, but a renewal seems likely.

A few weeks ago, we explored where some high-profile writers would go next following the conclusion of their latest hit drama series. One of these was Jeff Davis, who is finishing with Teen Wolf after six seasons. This week the industry found out what Davis is up to when US cablenet TNT announced that it has greenlit a pilot based on the Swedish vampire novel and feature film Let the Right One In. Davis wrote the script for the pilot and will executive produce alongside Marty Adelstein and Becky Clements of Tomorrow Studios and Simon Oakes of Hammer Films.

Let the Right One has already been remade in the US as a film called Let Me In. However, the pilot relies heavily on the original book written by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Keeping up this week’s supernatural theme, it follows a lonely young boy who makes friends with a charismatic female vampire who appears to be roughly his age.

The original Let the Right One In movie
The original Let the Right One In movie

Vampires, of course, are a heavily used subject in recent TV and film productions. But if anyone can manage to eke out a new franchise based in this mythology, it’s Davis, following his novel take on werewolves.

Commenting on the show, Sara Aubrey, executive VP of original programming for TNT, said: “Let the Right One In combines elements of horror, revenge thriller and adolescent romance into an unforgettable and truly unsettling tale.” The show is part of a broad-based revamp at TNT, which is trying to reach out to a younger demographic.

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