European TV series discussed at the HFM
by Vitor Pinto
- The Dutch gathering investigated where Europe stands at a time when US TV series rock
The last day of the Holland Film Meeting (HFM) hosted a seminar called Be Dramatic! The New Wave of European Series, which presented some case studies of recent and forthcoming examples of Europe’s attempts at TV drama. The genre has been particularly successful in the USA for the last decade, with broadcasters like HBO and online platforms such as Netflix witnessing and somehow promoting the transfer of new creative talent from film to television. The worldwide impact of this has been undeniable, and it is now time to ask where Europe stands in view of this trend.
“The Nordic countries have been particularly successful with TV dramas over the last decade,” remarked Cia Edstrom, head of the Nordic Film Market, which includes a section named TV Drama Vision, showcasing some of the upcoming series from those territories. The next edition will take place on 1 and 2 February 2017. After identifying some topics generally related to Nordic TV series, like the strong presence of political plots and crime mystery, Edstrom underlined the importance of new co-production schemes and cited examples such as Rides Upon the Storm, co-produced with ARTE, and Midnight Sun, shot in five different languages, and supported by Canal+ and SVT.
While different languages can end up being obstacles (and series with actors from different backgrounds might end up being dubbed), countries sharing the same language (despite different accents) seem to have an easier ride. At least, that is the case for the Netherlands and Flemish-speaking Belgium. The two territories are currently co-producing TBD, an eight-episode crime series, principal photography for which is expected to kick off in December in the Dutch Brabant region. Broadcaster KPN commissioned the series to Lemming Film and is investing 100% in the project; then, Belgian co-producer A Private View also got on board. Some sequences will be shot in the neighbouring country with a local cast, and the investment will be eligible for the Belgian Tax Shelter. Producer Fleur Winters and director Shariff Korver are heading up the TBD project, whose creative team also includes Marco van Geffen, head writer of a multicultural team of screenwriters, which includes Belgian, Spanish and Dutch professionals.
Flemish production outfit deMENSEN, which was behind some recent Belgian successes like Beau Séjour, is currently producing two new projects. Tytgat Chocolate is a seven-episode series with a production budget of €3 million, starring actors with Down syndrome. VRT and Proximus both supported the project. In addition, deMENSEN is also involved in the making of Generation B. The six-episode satirical comedy will be broadcast by Canvas, whose executives, according to writer Joost Vandecasteele, initially considered the project to be “too edgy for 8.30 pm but not edgy enough for 10.30 pm”. A restructuring of the project followed, and principal photography is now about to wrap. Generation B focuses on a generational conflict between the youth carrying the burden of the financial crisis and the powerful baby boomers who have no intention of giving up their luxury lifestyle.
TV and computer screens are the natural habitat of all of these projects, but in the digital era, mobile phones and social networks also have a say in the way we consume series. British screenwriter Adam Dewar teamed up with director Anthony Wilcox in the making of Shield 5. The series, shot in London, was exclusively created for Instagram, using 15-minute videos and stills. Dewar claims, “Online storytelling is a good experimental field for young creators,” and for him, the whole experience, more than anything else, improved his neatness skills. Dewar and Wilcox are now teaming up again in a more classical project.
Somehow, all of these cases had a common backdrop – and this was the role of screenwriters in the whole creative process. Usually not the most visible component of audiovisual creation (particularly in countries where directors, seen as auteurs, have a rather “untouchable” status), screenwriters have been struggling for recognition and better conditions in which to develop their stories. Their contribution has gained higher visibility in recent years, and they can certainly play an active role in potential co-productions, working on multicultural projects, and providing feedback on whether certain themes and plots would be suitable for their own countries. That’s the spirit behind DFFB – Serial Eyes, a new postgraduate course on TV writing and production led by Ben Harris. Although a “European Show Model” hasn’t yet been discovered – and the reasons are the same old ones: fragmentation, language barriers, subtitling vs dubbing, and so on – Harris is not willing to quit: “We are still trying to understand the best way to work together; there is not yet a producer responsible for several different markets, but other key players are there. Broadcasters are becoming interested in casting in different territories, so I am optimistic about the future!” he concluded.