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Film Companies Fight to Get a Piece of TV Drama Action

Variety logo Variety 4/3/2017 Leo Barraclough
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Movie world folks are increasingly migrating into high-end television drama, and many of the new series on offer at MipTV are the progeny of this cross-pollination.

Babylon Berlin,” which is screening at the market, is produced by X Filme and creatively led by filmmaker Tom Tykwer. X Filme’s Stefan Arndt says the same production team that created the $100 million “Cloud Atlas” put together “Babylon Berlin,” and he’d be happy to screen it in theaters because the quality of the performances and the production values are as high as their films. At the end of the day, he adds, viewers don’t care whether it’s a movie or a TV show they are watching as long as they are entertained and “surprised.”

Riviera,” which also screens at MipTV, is the creation of Neil Jordan, who nabbed an Oscar for “The Crying Game,” and an Emmy nomination for TV series “The Borgias,” and is produced by Kris Thykier’s Archery Pictures. Thykier, whose movies include “Kick-Ass” and “Woman in Gold,” says changes in the TV market have made it a more attractive place for filmmakers. “Broadcasters have become more ambitious and viewers are expecting more,” he says. “We have the opportunity to tell smart adult stories through TV and broadcasters are supporting that, and pushing at the boundaries.”

Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films is producing “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” the second season of Jane Campion’s mystery miniseries. For a creatively ambitious filmmaker, television offers an opportunity to take a novelistic approach. “I can see for storytellers like Jane that’s really attractive because you have a bigger tableau on which to explore stories, the world and what interests you,” Sherman says.

Although television has traditionally been seen as a writer’s medium, that is changing, says Steve November, creative director of U.K. television at Lionsgate U.K. “It is becoming increasingly important to get a really strong directorial vision and authorship to complement the writer’s vision and authorship,” he says.

One such example is helmer Susanne Bier, who won an Emmy for “The Night Manager.” The thriller was produced by the Ink Factory, whose co-head Simon Cornwell says producing both TV and film allows it to choose the best route to adapt source material. With John le Carré’s novel, which “sprawls across the world and has got big characters who leap off the page, you need six hours to get to grips with those things,” he says.

One of the attractions of ramping up TV activity for Potboiler’s Andrea Calderwood and Gail Egan, best known for Oscar contenders “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Constant Gardener,” is the opportunity to take on global issues. They are developing David Simon’s timely series “Legacy of Ashes,” about the origins of the CIA and MI6. “The kind of subjects that we’ve always enjoyed doing are international-scale thrillers and intelligent drama, and that’s television’s sweet-spot at the moment,” Calderwood says.

Christophe Riandee, vice CEO of film and TV company Gaumont, which has a hit with “Narcos,” warns the TV market is so competitive companies must constantly push the boundaries. “So many shows are being produced, you need to deliver something new to the audience,” he says.

Christine Langan, former chief of BBC Films and now CEO of Baby Cow, is also developing both film and TV drama projects, including Zadie Smith’s TV adaptation of her novel “Swing Time.” Langan says the new fluidity between the two worlds gives writers opportunities to experiment with different forms of expression. “In my experience talent wants to refresh itself,” she says. “People want to try different things throughout their career, and get out of their comfort zone.”

Alison Owen of Monumental Television says as the films she and partner Debra Hayward worked on have been character-based fare, the transfer to TV series was fairly easy. Much of the writing talent they have employed on series have moved across from movies, such as Moira Buffini, who wrote their “Harlots,” and previously worked with Owen on films “Tamara Drewe” and “Jane Eyre.”

Liza Marshall, an executive producer on “Riviera” and former Channel 4 drama chief, says film skills are transferable to TV, but she warns there are important differences between the two realms, particularly on longer series: “It is about the storytelling, you need so much plot in 10 hours. You really have to plan your story.”

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