CANNES — Vincent Bolloré’s dream at Vivendi is of a Canal Plus Group, including Studiocanal, whose contents will function as signature shows for major broadcast and premium TV platforms around the world, firing up not so much ratings as his clients’ sub bases and brands.
For that to happen, Vivendi contents have of course to travel, especially to Europe, which Vivendi regards as its natural market. As far as 2016 is concerned, one of Vivendi’s largest test-cases is the eight-part drama“Midnight Sun,” which is backed by Canal Plus, which Vivendi owns, and Swedish broadcaster SVT. “Midnight Sun” has various things going for it. It is the latest addition to the first fiction brand on Europe’s burgeoning international TV scene: Nordic Noir. But it is made on a scale which few prior dark procedurals can match. More to the point, at a time when the battle for success in the world’s TV drama boom is one for best screenwriting talent, “Midnight Sun” is created and directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, two main scribes of “The Bridge,” an iconic Nordic Noir title which spawned remakes in the U.S. and, more successfully, the U.K. (“The Tunnel”).
Sales company Studiocanal held a Q & A on Monday to promote “Midnight Sun,” attended by Mårlind, Stein and stars Leila Bekhti (“A Prophet”), Gustaf Hammarsten (“The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo”) and Sami singer Sofia Jannok. They were joined by producers Olivier Bibas at France’s Lagardere-owned Atlantique Productions, Stefan Baron at Nice Drama, part of Sweden’s Modern Times Group, and Studiocanal TV’s EVP,, sales and marketing, Katrina Neylon.
Here are 10 more things we learnt at Mipcom about “Midnight Sun” and international TV drama.
1.FIRST REACTIONS IN SWEDEN
Push will start to come to shove regarding “Midnight Sun’s” audience potential when SVT airs “Midnight Sun” from Oct. 23, marking its on-air world premiere. First major Swedish media reactions look positive. “If this doesn’t become a success that goes on to export, I will eat up my hat,” Karolina Fjellborg wrote in tabloid Aftonbladet, Sweden most-read daily newspaper. “‘Midnight Sun’ is packaged as crime, but is so much more,” opined Mattias Bergqvist, an influential blogger. Co-productions made for international sometimes fail to satisfy home audiences, especially critics. That doesn’t look to be the case with “Midnight Sun,” though the ratings of course are not yet in. And the real test still remains international.
2.MORE PLOT POINTS
“Midnight Sun” weighs in as a drama-thriller tracking a French police officer, Kahina Zadi (Leila Bekhti, “A Prophet”), dispatched from Paris to Kiruna, a small mining community in Arctic Sweden, to lead the investigation of the gruesome murder of a French citizen. From the first two episodes, seen at April’s Series Mania, we know that Zadi and her investigating partner, local Swedish D.A., Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten, “The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo”), initially connect the crimes to Sami ritual. The invite to Mipcom’s press conference talks, however, about a 10-year conspiracy “involving many of the townsfolk.” What exactly it is remains to be seen.
3. SCRIBE POWER
Just a few year’s ago, TV screenwriters might not have even been asked to travel to Cannes. Taking place in France, most journalists’ questions targeted Bekhti. Otherwise, in a continent where successful creator/writers at still at a premium, Mårlind and Stein were the stars of the show ar the Mipcom press conference. “The power is not moving from the producers to directors and creators but at least it’s being shared more,” said Mårlind. “When you do a show like ‘House’ or ‘Arrow’ or an episodic, there is only one guy and that is the producer. Directors come and go. On ‘True Detective’ or ‘Midnight Sun,’ which is very creator/director driven, everything is a bit different.”
4.STUDIOCANAL’S MAINSTREAM PUSH
Studiocanal announced pre-sales on “Midnight Sun” as the press conference kicked in. Of the first territory buyers, many were Nordic Noir industry icons – Denmark’s DR, Norway’s NRK. Most were free-to-air public broadcasters, indicative of the show’s potential crossover and social-issue agenda. Negotiating sales on “Midnight Sun,” Studiocanal placed large emphasis on the series playing primetime on mainstream channels, said Neylon. All deals struck to date, such as for SBS and VRT, are either for primetime or a high-profile late primetime, such as ZDF’s Sunday night-crime time slot, she added. A number of broadcasters will launch foreign-language blocks with “Midnight Sun.” Studiocanal also mentioned that some broadcasters have attached a marketing spend to promote the series in their territories. “It’s very rare for a broadcaster, on a third-party acquisition, to commit to a marketing spend,” Neylon commented.
5.THE SAMI: NO NOBLE SAVAGES
“Sami people are not seen at all in Sweden. We are not in the school books, in the history of the country, if we are in the media, the picture is often pejorative,” said Jannok, who rounded off the press conference singing a Sami joik, a deep voiced near chant sung from the heart, she said. The Sami acquire a larger importance later episodes of “Midnight Sun,” said Stein. But they’re hardly given a noble savage treatment. “I think it was very important not to put them on a pedestal. There are bad Sami, good Sami, funny and horny,” said Mårlind, which Jannok agreed to. In other words, “Midnight Sun” has the respect of treating the Sami like human beings.
6.WHAT DISTINGUISHES EUROPE’S TV DRAMA?
Nordic Noir, Europe’s first recent indigenous TV strain. But Nordic Noir is not just a darker, or more realistic, vision of humanity. “We wanted to tell a story about Europe today, which we think is a pretty dreadful place,” saidMårlind. In environmental terms, “it’s turning blacker and browner.” Kiruna is a “microcosm” for this “story about Europe today,” Mårlind added. Put that in a movie and its audiences may well be niche. Put that in a series, and it has the chance of being seen by millions in territory after territory around the world. That is hugely energizing, Mårlind and Stein recognised.
7. FOREIGN-LANGUAGE: ’TV IS WAY AHEAD OF FILM’
Tracking Zadi and Harnesk’s investigations, the series is shot mostly in English – the language Kahina uses to talk to Harnesk – Swedish (Harnesk and other locals), French, as Kiruna reports back to her boss, Sami and Arabic. “Different languages are spoken organically. That’s a really big thing. There are still countries where dubbing is predominant. But things are moving,” Baron has commented. When it comes to international audience acceptance of foreign-language, “TV is far ahead of film,” Mårlind observed.
8.MULTI-LAYERING THE STORY
Paolo Sorrentino, creator of Jude Law starrer “The Young Pope,” said at Venice Festival that much TV fiction sinned from an over-reliance on plot, or “massive storytelling.” He preferred “anti-storytelling.” “Midnight Sun” takes a different tack, mixing a thriller narrative, stunning Lapland landscapes, troubled characters – both Zadi and Harnesk have to learn to accept their true identity, one as a mother, the other as a gay Sami cop – and true-events-based issues, here of a decidedly ecological bent. “The most difficult balancing act for us was knowing when we should we story, character, social issue,” said Stein. Merely having that choice is an advantage in terms of narrative richness and flexibility.
9.SO WHAT IS ‘MIDNIGHT SUN’ REALLY ABOUT?
Crimes to the environment and local peoples, such as the Sami. And “The search for identity, “ Bekhti said at Mipcom. Also similarities. In some ways, “Midnight Sun” plays like a cop buddy movie. In classic vein, the two law enforcers make for an unlikely team. What links them, said Stein, is that they are both ashamed of their past, but won’t let on in public. “It’s like what we did in ‘The Bridge.’ We always try to look for similarities rather than opposites because we are all similar: We all love our kids and like to get drunk once in a while,” Mårlind added.
10.ATLANTIQUE, NICE; MARLIN AND STEIN’S NEXT PROJECTS
At Atlantique, Oliver Bibas said it was in discussions with Nice Drama over new projects. Said Stein: “We have two major series, under wraps, but both with complete pilots and bibles. Right now, it’s like we’re sitting in a fishing boat and are just a couple blokes out waiting for someone to catch the bait.” After “The Bridge,” if “Midnight Sun” clicks, they could hook a rather large catch.