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Series Mania: Q&A With Matthieu Donck, Anthony Rey, ‘The Break’ Director and Producer

Dark humored thriller screens at Series Mania

La treve
Courtesy of Helicotronc

“La Trève” (“The Break”) is another example of a rapidly burgeoning build in Belgian scripted TV, alongside “Public Enemy” and “Beau Séjour.” It is produced by Brussels-based Hélicotronc, whose credits take in Leyla Bouzid’s “As I Open My Eyes” and Geraldine Doignon’s “Living Afterwards”—and made in co-production with Belgian French-language pubcaster RTBF, with the support of the Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles and the Wallimage Bruxellimage regional economic fund. Sold internationally by Federation Entertainment and by Ella Productions in France and Benelux, “Break,” a black comedic thriller explores the circumstance surrounding the murder of a 19-year-old football player. The investigation is headed by an inspector who has just been moved to Heiderfeld, a small town of a few thousand inhabitants in Belgium’s Ardennes. Variety talked to producer Anthony Rey and director and co-screenwriter Matthieu Donck. The first two episodes of “Break” screen at Series Mania.

What were the origins of the series?

Donck: When we started to write, our ambition was to bring a cinema look to Belgian TV Series. We come from the cinema industry, we were making films and artistically speaking, we created this series as a very long feature film. In its look and in its genre.

The second point we would like to underline is the total freedom we had during the writing process. It allowed us to mix tension and humor in a really special way. Extremely dark scenes are followed by comic sequences, audiences move from terror to laughter.

“Break” as “Public Enemy” and “Beau Séjour” are three much-awaited series from Belgium. Would you say Belgian TV fiction is booming?  

Donck: Yes, clearly. “The Break” is the first Belgian French-speaking TV series in its genre, breaking a long tradition of comedy soaps at [Belgian pubcaster] RTBF. There’s a great cinema scene in Belgium. I think many great talents were just waiting for the Belgian French-speaking network to start producing big shows. It’s great that they did, and even greater that the audience followed massively!

How do the new funds launched by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and RTBF work? Could you explain a bit their eligibility criteria and how much they can invest?

Rey: Projects must be in a 10-hour format with a Belgian anchor and shoot primarily in French. Funds are open to all Belgian production companies. RTBF and FWB each give €588,000 ie a total €1,176,000 ($) . Funding can be completed by regional funds, tax credits and TV pre-sales or world sales minimum guarantees. Foreign co-production is limited to up to 20% of the overall budget.

What key factors could help Belgian TV fiction grow still further?

Rey: On the RTBF side, it is crucial to ensure sustainable financing and for there to be a reflection on the necessity to diversify genres and formats. Also, getting rival channels like RTL’s TVI to produce their own shows would also be great news for the Belgian TV industry.

Could we point to some trends in Belgian TV fiction production?

Donck: As it’s just starting, it’s maybe a little early to answer, but I would dare to say that there’re a lot of shows that include a dark story and pay special attention to  landscape. In Belgium, the Ardennes are beautiful, scary and not much filmed until now.  It’s a wonderful playground for the series pioneers that we are!

How do you value Belgian TV production export potential?

Rey: It is young, new and fresh! There is a natural curiosity about it. We must take this opportunity to promote our writers, directors and of course our actors. Even our landscapes are new to viewers.

How do you expect Series Mania audiences and industry players to receive “The Break”?

Donck: The series was wonderfully received when it was aired in Belgium last month. It has been a leader in terms of audience four times out of five. We hope that Series Mania audiences will respond in the same way. In the writing process, some said that “The Break” was more niche audience like cable TV, but the great ratings success proved to everyone that there’s a large audience on general networks which is demanding more specific content.

It makes us very enthusiastic and confident for the future of TV series in Belgium.

Do you have any new projects?

Rey: We’re discussing a second season of “The Break” with RTBF. It is still in progress. Also, we are developing a series project which is more in the spirit of “Black Mirror” but I will say no more!