PARIS – Seen in an extended multi-scene promo, Netflix’s Gerard Depardieu-starrer “Marseille’ wowed an industry audience Wednesday at Series Mania, making good on its promise as one of the highlights of the high-profile Paris TV Fest.
That is no footnote for Netflix. Presented in Paris by Netflix’s Joris Evers, Netflix communications head, Europe, and French-film director Florent Emilio-Siri (“My Way”), “Marseille” director-showrunner in his first TV gig, when it bows worldwide May 5 “Marseille” will be not just France’s but Europe’s first Netflix original series to be made available to subscribers (Norway’s “Lilyhammer” and Denmark’s “Rita” were co-productions; ITV’s “Marcella” and Channel 4’s “Kiss Me First” early global acquisitions).
The Paris “Marseille” sneak peek comes one day after Netflix chairman-CEO Reed Hastings focused at Netflix’s April 19 first-quarter earnings on international original productions, developed locally, distributed globally, as “a powerful formulation that will help us grow for many years ahead.”
If launching in 130 countries this year won’t make second-quarter 2016 sub growth any bigger than 2Q 2015, as Netflix anticipated yesterday, that’s in large part because, though Netflix has ordered 12 original series in Europe and Latin America alone, local productions oversees have still to hit online screens in numbers. “Marseille” is a precursor, and an early acid test of Neflix’s major growth strategy –global expansion via local production – for years to come.
Released April 1, a trailer has already set “Marseille’s” scene. In it, a rasping-voiced fortysomething Lucas Barres (Benoit Magimel), heir-apparent to hulking Marseilles mayor Robert Taro (Depardieu), thanks Taro for “taking him under his wing.” Now,” he adds, “it is time to leave the nest.” As Town Hall elections loom, he declares open war. And it seems Barres will stop at nothing to win election. There’s a scene of his shaking a mobster’s hand, another of woman – Taro’s wife? – strapped to an ambulance stretcher.
Wednesday night’s promo helped fill out the picture, playing to an increasingly captive audience.
The extended trailer showed Taro’s attempt to have a casino built in Marseille, and his relationship with his daughter, a young and ambitious investigative journalist whose muckraking leads to compromising discoveries.
Produced by Pascal Breton’s Federation Entertainment, with Dan Franck, a co-scribe on Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos,” as writer and creative producer, per the promo, “Marseille” will also deal, the promo suggested, with the mayor’s close relationship with his wife.
Per Evers, “the goal for ‘Marseilles’ is to be loved inside of France, and also find a great audience outside of France.” The themes in “Marseille,” including the relationships between different generations and its power struggle are universal themes which will appeal to worldwide audiences, he added.
At Wednesday’s Series Mania presentation, producer Breton cited the international appeal of locally-grounded crime series such as “Gomorrah” and “Narcos,” which are partly or entirely shot in foreign languages.
That international audience outside a foreign local production’s country of origin is key to Netflix’s international production business model, and growth potential worldwide.
Per Evers, “one of the key benefits of Netflix being involved with a program in its production is that we can make it bigger, often bigger than the local broadcaster could make it because it’s made for a bigger audience.”
“So when you look at the quality of the production, the quality of the storyline, the quality in the cast, all those things are worked at a larger scale than when you see a title being developed for a smaller market.”
Siri, who directed “Marseilles’” first four episodes insisted time and again on how he approached “Marseilles” as if it were a theatrical movie.
“My goal was to do a political thriller and also a character-driven drama that transcends politics. And also to bring cinema to television,” Siri said.
He went on: “I’m a fan of films from the 60’s and 70’s that placed a large emphasis on character development and not only two or three characters as it’s often the case in movies today. What I loved with Marseille is that I got toward on so many characters and develop compelling narrative arcs for each of them,” said Siri.
Siri added he tapped the eight-time Academy Award nominated composer Alexandre Desplat to compose the score and also worked with local rap artists from Marseille.
“Original programming is key to differentiate Netflix from other channels and to program on a global basis so that, regardless where you are, you can watch it on Netflix,” Evers told Variety.
“In Europe, there are French, German, British, Spanish, Italian originals. We have a multiplicity of U.K. initiatives. You should expect that to continue growing throughout the world.”
But just how well can “Marseille” work?
“Gerard Depardieu is the biggest star in France and one of the biggest stars in the world,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, at the earnings interview.
He added that there are are 2 million people in the U.S. alone who watch French-language TV regularly.
Netflix has struck an ingenious deal with TF1, France’s biggest broadcast network, fir the first two episodes to be broadcast on April 12 free-to-air. Viewers will then have to sign up to Netflix to binge the rest. It will hope that May will see two big film events in France: the Cannes Festival and “Marseille,” that, as a joint Netflix/TF1 press release, will bring “France’s greatest film stars” to French viewers. France will certainly not have seen many series on the scale of “Marseille.”