Series Mania: ‘Contact’, a French Take on North American Cop Shows

Carma Films’ Christophe Carmona talks about making a modern French cop thriller

Courtesy: About Premium Content

Dec. 17, 2015: TF1, France’s biggest broadcast network, airs in primetime two pilots episodes of a new French cop series, “Contact.” After robust ratings – 23.8%/6.2 million viewers and 24.6%/5.35 million – TF1 gives a full season order, the remaining episodes going into production this year. Following Thomas Adam (Thomas Jouannet, “Falco”), a FBI collaborator who possesses a unique gift of perceiving someone’s memories and secrets just by touching their personal items, “Contact” tracks Thomas as he returns to France to protect his brother Eric, a local cop, after the tragic family past Thomas has sought to bury comes back to haunt the brothers. Part of TF1’s ongoing overhaul of its primetime fiction, which has seen success to date – launched 2009, “Profiling” has aired on Germany’s Sat1, sold over 80 countries, for instance – the semi-serialized “Contact” will be presented in excerpts to producers and distributors at Series Mania’s Co-Production Forum on April 20 as part of Coming Next From France. About Premium Content handles world original/format sales.

Variety talked to Christophe Carmona at series producer Carma Films, who co-originated the series, about ‘Contact’:

“Contact” is fast-paced, announcing its main dramatic set-up after just two minutes: Someone is trying to kill the protagonist’s brother It quickly forefronts its North American broadcast network show influences, starting off in New York, following a gifted-detective formula. Apart from this U.S. influence on the show itself, however, was there any influence on how the show was written, the use of a writers’ room, for instance?

The idea of the show came from a documentary that I watched three years ago about a person who has such a gift, Noreen Renier, a psychic working in collaboration with the FBI. I thought it could be a good character for a thriller TV series and started to develop it …. But we had no U.S.-style writers. Everything was written by Delinda Jacobs [“Une chance de trop”], the main writer, and Herve Korian, also a writer, and myself

French broadcaster TF1 aired two pilots before going to series, instead of the usual practice, I believe in France, of development, then a production green light for a full season. How did this affect your writing of the series?

The pilot “real test” obliges you to be efficient in very quickly setting up the story and the characters. Also, it creates a difficulty as we have to write six new episodes for TF1, but also to be totally in sync as a follow-up to the first two ones and deliver the eight hours series for the international market. The main issue to cope with is the one year break between the airing of the pilot and the six next episodes. Each episode is closed but the serialized element over the eight hours is also very important

Pilot Episode 1 and 2 both feature comments on the clear distinction between reality and TV. “This is not American TV,” Eric says at one point. I wonder if these comments point to the tone or direction the series wants to adopt to stand apart from other series?

Both with tone and direction, despite the fantastic “gift twist,” our aim is to remain as realistic as possible so that people believe in the series and can recognize themselves in it.

One particular element not found in all psychic detective crime series is the family. Thomas’ family, and the threat posed by a serial killer who may have returned from the past, is the cornerstone of the season’s overall narrative arc, building a family drama element into “Contact.” The contact its title refers to, in other words, is not just with victims’ memories, but Thomas’ human contact with his family.

Absolutely! We have a real family drama element: The older and gifted brother wanting to protect a younger brother who has built his life while feeling abandoned and who doesn’t want him back. But as a family, they have so many links and a terrible past haunting them both. Thomas would like to get rid of this gift and find more normal relationships. But the gift will be the key to finding clues and reconnecting with the family. Yes, you are absolutely right, behind “Contact and the gift, we speak about connection, how people are connected, on the procedural side and also in the family arena. What do connects people is what interests us the most

New Over-the-Top platforms and genres – think Scandi Noir – have encouraged European content to find larger international audiences. One of the key points some new European series are now exploiting is the sense of a new world, opening up this region or unknown community to a global audience. I’ve read that you have been shooting in Aix-en-Provence. In what sense are you taking advantage of the local identity of this city-commune, which will be unknown to many international viewers?

It is a small town with great locations and landscapes around it. And most of it, I truly believe “local is global” : the more we can root a story and characters , the more we assume the local culture of the story, the more appealing we will be.

In a highly competitive broadcast market where there is large pressure on producers to deliver dramas at a very effective cost/ratings ratio, has the initial strong pilot show performance of “Contact” allowed you a certain degree of larger artistic freedom?

We have benefited all along from a true artistic freedom, and of the trust of our commissioning editor. The good ratings of the two-hour pilot has certainly given the broadcaster and the production team confidence. We will keep the same level of artistic quality, while keeping delivering that efficiency needed by TF1.