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NEM ZAGREB 2023

Adina Sădeanu, Kirsten Peters • Writers of Spy/Master

“Trust your gut instinct when you're drawn to a great story; don't abandon it, even if it takes years to bring it to life”

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- The creators of the successful Romanian-German series talk about their victory after scooping the top prize at the NEM Awards in Zagreb

Adina Sădeanu, Kirsten Peters  • Writers of Spy/Master
Adina Sădeanu (left) and Kirsten Peters

Romanian screenwriter Adina Sădeanu and German screenwriter Kirsten Peters, the showrunners behind the successful espionage series Spy/Master [+see also:
trailer
interview: Adina Sădeanu, Kirsten Peters
series profile
]
, spoke to Cineuropa after the show's victory as the premier TV drama series from the Central and Eastern European region at the latest edition of NEM Zagreb (see the news). Produced by Warner Bros Discovery, the series was directed by Christopher Smith. Its narrative revolves around Victor Godeanu, a prominent officer within Romania's secret service and a trusted advisor to President Nicolae Ceaușescu. Godeanu's intriguing journey involves offering himself as a defector to the Americans, resulting in a gripping tale that intertwines espionage and political intrigue.

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Cineuropa: Could you share some details about the series and the inspiration behind it?
Adina Sădeanu:
I've always been captivated by spy books and movies, by the dangerous tango of truth and lies that plays out, especially during the Cold War era. The story of Spy/Master is inspired by real events – the highest-ranking Soviet Bloc defector to the West in the late 1970s – but what has lingered with me for years is the protagonist's complex duplicity and the intense family drama at the heart of it, filled with betrayal, remorse, fear and courage. The German aspect of the story made me bring Kirsten on board, and we wrote Spy/Master together, yet remotely, during the entire pandemic. One common thread we both had was a deep passion for the story and the desire to breathe life into a truly distinctive narrative, one that would transcend the traditional East-West conflict.

How do you feel about winning the NEM Award with Spy/Master and it being named the best series among 29 top dramas from the region?
Kirsten Peters:
We are absolutely thrilled! It is so great to know that the series resonated with the jury and that Spy/Master was able to set itself apart out of a pool of such high-quality competitors from Eastern Europe.

How relatable is the espionage subject for audiences in the CEE region and internationally?
AS:
Espionage stories hold a unique place both in the CEE region and globally. Their inherent duplicity reflects the profoundly human struggle to seek freedom within systems riddled with deception, where truth is a rare thing to find in a sea of lies. These narratives consistently mirror the intricate dynamics of loyalty, betrayal and the quest for truth, rendering them deeply relatable and perpetually engaging.

Do you think the project was easy to pitch during its development, and how did you manage to attract TV officials?
KP:
Spy/Master was part of a screenwriting competition held by HBO Romania and the Cinemascop NGO run by Cristian Mungiu. It had many phases where we were continuously developing the show. The competition jury was able to follow all of our steps so, in a way, we were constantly pitching the show as part of the competition – from a four-page outline submitted initially to more complex outlines, and then finally as a first draft of the pilot. I think HBO was interested in the idea from the beginning, saw its international potential, and ended up being pleased with how we worked and what we came up with during the competition. In the end, we won!

Can you share some tips for making a successful series, and what are your next steps?
AS: One insight is to trust your gut instinct when you're drawn to a great story; don't abandon it, even if it takes years to bring it to life. As for the next steps, my debut feature-length documentary, Trapped, set to premiere next year, has been picked up by the reputable global sales agency Reservoir Docs. I'm working on two series for streaming platforms and rewriting two of my features – one has been acquired by a local producer, and another one has piqued the interest of two international producers.

KP: I think Spy/Master has a universally interesting story, told with lots of suspense, and it’s exquisitely filmed – I believe these things all came together to make Spy/Master a success. I am currently working on several series for the German TV and streaming markets.

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