Big miniseries blow hot in Europe mart

German/Italian companies plan to tell story of Pope John XXIII

CANNES — Pope John XXIII, famous for modernizing the Roman Catholic church and doing away with Latin mass in 1962, has become the subject of two competing German/Italian miniseries.

German group Kirch Media, Italian pubcaster RAI and Rome-based Lux Vide — co-producers of current Mipcom offering “Dracula” and “The Crusaders” — are again joining forces on “Pope John XXIII” with “Crusaders” helmer Dominique Othenin-Girard on board to direct. Project starts shooting next month in Italy.

Teutonic entertainment outfit Victory Media and longtime Italian partner DeAngelis Group, meanwhile, are co-producing their own version of the pope tale, in cooperation with Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset, titled “The Good Pope,” to be helmed by Ricky Tognazzi.

Sources at both companies said they were unaware of each other’s projects. Big-event, internationally co-produced (and thus more affordable) miniseries have been one of the few successful European market trends, especially at this year’s low-key Mipcom.

Victory and DeAngelis are also hooking up for another biopic miniseries on the life of famed automaker Enzo Ferrari.

Both miniseries are scheduled to start shooting in January and are being backed by Victory’s $40 million private placement Fund 17.

Company is also producing Roland Joffe’s “S.P.Q.R.,” a series set in ancient Rome, in association with Tribune Entertainment; executive producers are Russell Kagan, Lorenzo Minoli, David Kirkpatrick and Guido De Angelis.

Company announced last week that it was co-producing two animated series with Teutonic toon maker Neptuno Films Deutschland, both of which will be financed by another of Victory’s funds.

Despite a slow market at this year’s Mipcom, Victory’s current products on offer, like “Renzo and Lucia” and “Julius Caesar,” have attracted interested buyers, said Robert Niemann, Victory’s chief operating officer. Company even sold eight animated series for the South American market (to an unnamed buyer), even though Latin American outfits were scant this year.

With German media funds expected to collect an estimated DM 8 billion ($3.7 billion) this year, Niemann says financing projects is not the problem; finding quality material and good scripts remains the bigger challenge.

Since Victory offers its fund investors open-ended profits from sales, company likes to specialize in historical dramas and epic stories, “timeless tales with a long shelf life. Enzo Ferrari and Pope John XXIII remain interesting figures around the world,” Niemann said.

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