Berlin’s Drama Series Days Expands as TV’s Prestige Grows

Berlin's Drama Series Days, CoProduction Series
Courtesy of Beta Film

Looking to co-produce or buy the next high-end TV series that can punch its weight alongside the likes of “Game of Thrones” or “The Night Manager”?

Or perhaps you’re a producer aiming to identify that final piece of financing for a high-concept thriller commissioners have said encouraging things about.

Then look no further than Drama Series Days, unspooling for the third consecutive year at the Berlin Film Festival, Feb. 13-15.

A third day has been added to the program for 2017 that aims to build on the success of the two previous years. For the first time, Drama Series Days is being held at Berlin’s fabled Zoo Palast cinema to enable more people to attend.

The event brings together filmmakers, buyers, distributors, producers, editors, and financiers of tentpole TV drama series. The idea is for the participants to pool their knowledge and, with luck, do some serious business.

A key part of the initiative is a day devoted to co-production, during which seven international drama series are pitched to producers, distributors, and other potential investors.

In 2015, the highly anticipated period police show, “Babylon Berlin” — a partnership between Sky and German pubcaster ARD — was showcased. Another noted show from that year was Norway’s “Valkyrien,” a medical thriller that was a big hit for local pubcaster NRK and is soon to bow in the U.K. and Denmark.

This year’s featured TV shows include neo-noir thriller “Cognition,” created by Alex Garcia Lopez, director of cult British TV dramas “Utopia” and “Misfits,” and conceived as an eight-parter. The producers are U.K. firm Catalyst Global Media and U.S. company A Better Tomorrow Films.

The other shows are:

  • “Metro,” a period piece set in Paris when the city’s subway system was being built, from the producers of sci-fi thriller series “Trepalium”;» “Freud,” set in 1886, in which a young Sigmund Freud attempts to find a serial killer on the streets of Vienna, produced by Bavaria Fernsehproduktion & Satel Film;
  • “Hausen,” a Bulgarian urban horror story set in a run-down, high-rise estate, from Tanuki Films;
  • “Omerta,” a Belgian crime series backed by Caviar Content;
  • “State of Happiness,” the story of a small Norwegian city unexpectedly caught up in the oil boom, produced by Maipo Film;
  • “Warrior,” co-presented by Paris-based festival and co-production forum Series Mania. Helmed by Christoffer Boe, the series follows a former soldier’s struggle to find his way back into society after returning home from war. The six-part show is produced by Miso Films for Denmark’s TV2.

Boe, feted at Cannes and San Sebastian, is known primarily as a movie director, and more and more filmmakers of his calibre are turning to high-end TV.

The drama series program at Berlin was partly kickstarted when Jane Campion’s acclaimed thriller “Top of the Lake” screened at the fest four years ago.

“The Berlinale has presented series by arthouse and known directors as part of the festival’s public program for a while,” says Martina Bleis, co-head of the Berlinale Co-Production Market. “For example, the German series ‘In the Face of Crime,’ which screened in 2010 in Forum, and then of course ‘Top of the Lake’ as part of the Berlinale Special program in 2013.

“Our festival director, Dieter Kosslick, acknowledged the trend that more and more arthouse directors and producers were starting to work in drama series and initiated the Berlinale Special Series in the festival, as well as the Drama Series Days on the industry side.”

You might be forgiven for thinking that the festival was relatively late in spotting the potential benefit in bringing together people interested in collaborating on high-end scripted shows. U.S. and U.K. TV schedules, particularly at pay channels, have been driven by signature drama for well over a decade.

Now that Netflix and Amazon have upped the ante still further with such shows as “The Crown,” series drama continues to attract heavyweight talent on both sides of the camera.

There are other factors too, Bleis says. “In Europe, the success of Nordic noir may have helped pave the way for this specialist platform, which has been a big success since we first introduced it in 2015.

“Many film producers want to make TV drama, as well as producing feature films. The two worlds are no longer separate and distinct. A lot of people want to know how they can go from working in film to getting involved in TV drama and we can provide a bridge.”

She adds, “It is not only the big producers who want to do this but also some of the smaller, arthouse people. Our co-production market is primarily a feature film and not a TV market, but it would be ignorant not to acknowledge the huge leap in quality TV drama has made in recent years. Nowadays, TV drama gives filmmakers the opportunity to tell a story in more depth over a longer time span, and for the characters to have great authenticity.”

That growth in both quality and opportunity has been a boon for Drama Series Days. Bleis reports thatinterest skyrocketed for the event’s second edition and the Berlin team knew they would have to address the demand in year three.

“Last year we had so many requests for people to attend it was very difficult to accommodate everybody,” she says. “Now, at the Zoo Palast, the new home of the Drama Series Days, we have more room for our CoPro Series Pitching. As we’ve progressed, this part of the festival is becoming genuinely international.”

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