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The stories behind the news.

Coproduction in focus in Lille

Coproduction was the main topic of discussion as Series Mania got under way in Lille

SERIES MANIA: As the Lille event gets underway amid a declining economy, a commissioning freeze among broadcasters and a somewhat seismic rights rethink at the streamers, the buzzword on everybody’s lips this year is coproduction.

With less money to go around, broadcasters are pooling resources to share costs and risk to get projects off the ground, with plenty of formal copro alliances forged in Europe, such as the European Alliance between pubcasters in France, Italy and Germany; the N12 partnership between pubcasters in the Nordic markets; and, most recently, the New8, a collaboration with the Nordic countries as well as broadcasters from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“It is evident we have much to gain from coproduction with our colleagues beyond our borders. This has been done with great success through the Nordic public broadcaster collaboration, N12, for several years. In addition to having close relationships and coproductions with public broadcasters in Europe, we are now also launching New8,” says Marianne Furevold-Boland, head of drama at NRK in Norway.

With German pubcaster ZDF also involved in New8, Simone Emmelius, senior VP of international fiction at the broadcaster, describes the venture as “the biggest ever international drama cooperation.” As well as NRK and ZDF, the other New8 partners are SVT (Sweden), DR (Denmark), YLE (Finland), RUV (Iceland), VRT (Flanders) and NOP (Netherlands).

The copro trend is not limited to public broadcasters, however. A newly forged alliance of European commercial broadcasters sees TV4 Play in Sweden, TV2 in Denmark and Norway’s TV2 joining forces and the partners received 72 pitches by December. They are now homing in on one project that will be taken into development. “This is both an economic and editorial collaboration, which we have not done before,” says Pernille Bech Christensen, senior executive producer at TV2 Denmark.

The urge to coproduce has been a hot topic for a while now, but it seems this has been supercharged not only by the faltering economy meaning broadcasters have less money to invest but also the change in strategy at the global streamers. No longer are they as rights retentive as they were even a year ago – they simply can’t afford to be – and so they too seem to be happy sharing content with other partners. Having Wall Street breathing down their necks might have played a part in this strategic U-turn.

And it’s not just the big players in the biz. Even regional broadcasters in Germany, for instance, are feeling the need to join forces to survive the downturn. “With 80 million inhabitants, Germany is the largest domestic market in Europe,” says Frank Tönsmann, commissioning editor at regional broadcaster WDR. “A few years ago, we founded an initiative with [other regional German broadcasters] SWR and NDR called Fab Fiction to promote coproductions in the series sector.

“Today, we are always interested in participating in coproductions, because for around three years our focus has been on the [on-demand] library and we would not license a programme that could not be offered in the library to an appropriate standard.”

Laurence Herszberg, left, and Francesco Capurro

As Series Mania general director Laurence Herszberg tells C21: “It’s a difficult time for the industry regarding the big changes that all the streamers have had to face. We all know that peak TV is over, but that being said, we still have a large number of series or projects [being submitted to the festival and its coproduction pitch competition]. On both sides, we are travelling the world more and more outside the usual suspects for produced series and projects.”

This was reiterated during the Series Mania session titled 50 Shades of Coproduction by international TV executive Marc Lorber today: “Money is scarcer and decisions are made more cautiously, so everyone has gone into collaborative mode. Coproduction agreements may be motivated not only by funding but also by a common language, a shared creative vision, incentives or local know-how.” Or a mix of all of these.

In fact, the scramble to coproduction is seeing alliances being forged all over the place, and not just the ones between countries that share a common language. So said Gilles Fontaine, head of department for market information at the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) at Series Mania today. In his presentation in Lille, he said the number of scripted coproductions between European countries is “stagnating” but more countries that don’t share a language are working together than ever.

So all eyes were on the two Series Mania Co-Pro Pitching Sessions earlier today, described by Herszberg as “Series Mania Forum’s founding premise and the most anticipated part of the Forum.” International hits like Off Season, The Head, Freud and No Man’s Land were introduced to the market for the first time during the Co-Pro Pitching Sessions.

With a prize of €50,000 up for grabs, 16 series projects seeking international financing were selected from among 430 submissions from 57 countries, and their producers pitched their series earlier today in Lille to an audience of key industry decision-makers.

These include NRK’s Furevold-Boland; Nina Lederman, exec VP of global scripted development and programming at Sony Pictures TV; Marco Chimenz, co-general director at Federation Studios; Jennifer Ebell, exec VP of EMEA sales and acquisitions at Fifth Season; and Karin Marelle, VP of program acquisitions & coproductions at Starz. The projects are:

ANTILIA (6×52’) – France
Genre: fantasy drama. Produced by Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin and Vincent Mouluquet for Ego Productions; written by Maxime Crupaux and Baptiste Fillon.

A TRUE NOVEL (8×60’) – Japan, US
Genre: Historical drama. Produced by Satoko Ishida and Meri Koyama for Shochiku and Jonathan Kier and Matt Brodlie for Upgrade Productions; written by Riko Sakaguchi.

EUROVISION MURDER MYSTERY (6×52) – France, Germany
Genre: Murder mystery. Produced by Emmanuelle Guilbart and Agathe de Lorme for APC Stories and Henning Kamm and Johann Buchholz for Friday Film; written by Fabienne Hurst and Bertrand Soulier  

FOOD, LOVE, FAITH (8×50) – Israel
Genre: Drama. Produced by Efrat Shmaya Dror for United Studios; written by Yossi Madmoni.

ISSAK (6×45) – Japan, Germany
Genre: Historical drama. Produced by Itaru Mizuno from Nippon TV and Lasse Scharpen from Studio Zentral; written by Itaru Mizuno and Richard Kropf, based on the manga Issak by Shinji Makari and Double-S, published by Kodansha.

JUDGEMENT OF SOLOMON (6×45) – Bulgaria
Genre: Mystery drama. Produced by Katya Trichkova for Contrast Films and Mirrormind; written by Teodora Markova and Nevena Kertova

KISS MY FEET (6×50) – Finland, Netherlands
Genre: Drama. Produced by Aleksi Bardy for Helsinki-Filmi and Fleur Winters for Big Blue; written by Daan Gielis and Mark Van De Grift.

NANGA PARBAT (6×52) – France
Genre: Drama/adventure. Produced by Amaury Ovise for Kazak Productions; written by Caryl Férey.

THE ART OF MAGDALENE (6×45) – Poland, Ireland
Genre: Drama. Produced by Wiktor Piatkowski for Bahama Films and Jonathan Farrelly for PIO Media; written by Wiktor Piatkowski. 

THE LEFT HAND OF VENUS (6×45) – Greece
Genre: Historical comedy. Produced by Ioannis Kostas and Dimitra Barla for Arcadia Media; written by Nikos Panayotopoulos, based on the novel of the same name by Takis Theodoropoulos.

Genre: Drama. Produced by Cathrine Simonsen for Monster; written by Joachim Førsund and Thorbjørn Harr.

THIRST (6×60) – Canada
Genre: Thriller/science fiction. Produced by Julia Ferreira Langlois and Annie Sirois for Trio Orange; written by Sylvain Neuvel.

OUR PEOPLE – 6×55 – Slovakia
Genre: Political drama. Produced by Jakub Viktorín and Tomáš Hrubý for Nutprodukcia; written by Miro Šifra

VATICAN (6×50) – Italy
Genre: Drama/thriller. Produced by Nicola De Angelis for Fabula Pictures; written by Flavio Bernard, Ciro Di Maso and Marcello Olivieri.

WHITE TIES (6×45) – Germany
Genre: Drama. Produced by Laura Von Portatius for Wüste Film; written by Oke Stielow and Uwe Flade, inspired by true events.

WITNESS 36 (8×45’) – Argentina
Genre: Espionage thriller. Produced by Michael Nozik for Oficina Burman/The Mediapro Studio; written by Natacha Caravia, Juan Matías Carballo, Daniel Burman.

The winner of the Series Mania Co-Pro Pitching Sessions will be announced this evening.