‘Marseille’s’ Pascal Breton on ‘Bordertown,’ Nordic Noir, Big Euro Co-pros and Crucial Change in Intl. TV (EXCLUSIVE)

Breton’s mini-studio Federation Entertainment co-produces 'Bordertown' (above) and ‘The Collection’

Bordertown - Federation Entertainment
Courtesy: Federation Entertainment

If you don’t know who Pascal Breton is, you’re probably not in the international TV business. Founding Marathon in 1990, Breton produced some of the epoch-making French skeins of the period, such as “St. Tropez” and “Babar,” before Marathon was bought by De Agostini, then folded into Zodiak. Marathon dramas, then those at Zodiak, were very often among France’s most international and groundbreaking series. In 2013, Breton ankled to launch Federation Entertainment, first news of which was its production of Gerard Depardieu starring series “Marseille,” Netflix’s first original series in France.

At the L.A. and Paris-based Federation Entertainment — a production-sales studio that focuses very selectively on premium TV dramas, English- and foreign-language and kids/family entertainment, via David Michel’s Cottonwood Media — Breton can leverage the expertise of 25 years in the international TV business to form a missing link between the U.S. and Europe, more local-market producers and the international market, and the rest of Europe and France. Of new shows at MipTV, Breton co-produces “The Collection,” a Parisian fashion-house-set relationship drama that marks Amazon Prime’s first U.K./France-created original, starring Tom Riley (“Da Vinci’s Demons,”) and Mamie Gummer (“The Good Wife”), and the latest series from BBC Worldwide and Lookout Point (“War and Peace”), and “Bordertown” (pictured), which will be showcased at MipTV’s first MipDrama Screenings on April 3. Produced by Finland’s Fisher King and Federation Entertainment, the Scandinavian crime thriller turns on a cop, chief investigator Kari Sorjonen, who transfers with his wife and daughter from Helsinki to a town on the Finland-Russia border seeking peace and quiet, and relief from the trauma of having seen too many murder victims. He finds neither. He immediately faces new murders and a serial killer whose crimes are not only connected to one another but his family. Breton talked to Variety about “Bordertown,” “The Collection” and where the international TV drama is currently at.

On “Bordertown,” it’s very interesting that you’re putting up 25% of the budget. That’s not just completion finance….

No, it’s a mixture of distribution and co-production. That’s what we usually do: We really partner from the beginning in development first and then in production, and then the distribution. We really partner with these companies because we help them to raise the level of the show and also to design it for the international market.

In what ways do you raise the level?

There is a huge market for the best premium shows in drama, even if they are very local if they are extremely original. Of course we receive hundreds of projects and I could have 20. But if the writer is very original, then the show is not only local, it becomes global. That’s why we are ready sometimes when we see a show to invest 20%-25%, maybe sometimes 30% even 50% on some Israeli shows. That money is not only to complete local financing, it’s really to help them to have a higher budget than the usual show and because of a higher budge, a new quality, more ambition.

Some of that money can buy them more time….

Precisely, more time and of course we are from the beginning into the development. I personally and sometimes Lionel Uzan, my partner, are involved in development. We suggest to producers: “’This is very exciting’ and ‘This is too local’ or ‘This is boring,’ ‘This has been done before etc.” We have a vision of the market, even if we don’t own the series. We help producers: “This means something to Germany or to France or to Italy or to the U.K.; ‘this is really too specific.’ It changes the show, gives it more ambition. It’s a question of money but also a question of storytelling.

“Bordertown” is positioned as the latest Nordic Noir. How powerful is this brand now? Has its market expanded? And how has the genre evolved? 

I was involved in one of the first and most exciting works of the genre which was “Millennium.” It evolving in ways that it’s darker sometimes because we want more, the audience wants more, and if it gets darker it get to things that we’ve never seen before. It is still really exciting because audiences everywhere in Europe are awaiting examples of the genre, and sometimes in the U.S.. What makes a difference is that you can have universal Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian characters. No one exactly knows why, why that doesn’t happen to German characters so often,  for instance. The series are very modern and stylish: Scandinavians are very good at style. I’m sure Bordrtown” will work very well in many countries of Europe, in the U.K., as well. “Bordertown” reminds me of “Twin Peaks.” Every scene is real but a little weird; Every character is real but a little weird.

Because Nordic Noir is so popular, every show has to bring something different to the genre. In “Bordertown,” it’s the fact it’s a crime thriller but also a family drama, and the crime and the family are linked. 

Absolutely, the family is very important in this thriller especially the father and the daughter. Plus, it’s located at the border of Scandinavia and Russia and of course we haven’t seen a great Russian dark crime series. “Bordertown” is half-Russian and we don’t know exactly what is happening in remote places of Russia, in the little Nordic towns in Russia. We sense that there could be a lot of corruption and a lot of crazy people, I think we are playing with that in “Bordertown.”

“Bordertown” could be slightly symbolic of a kind of border personality between weirdness and psychosis.

Yes, absolutely.

You co-produced “The Collection.” Do you think there will be a trend to make more of these quite intricately financed multilateral co-productions in Europe, using both tax breaks and coproduction money?

I’m sure it will happen. The only question is how fast it will happen. The tendency is obvious. Every single traditional channel is now looking for premium, better quality, much more expensive shows. They are extremely interested in being involved in such shows. Plus these shows are not released through the output deals from the major U.S. Companies. For them it’s an even better opportunity. They are looking for much more co-productions because it cost less for them, and it’s much closer to them, it’s coproduced by them, they’re involved in it. It’s mainly topics that are closer to them. “The Collection’s” a French story, set in Paris 1947, based on characters who look like Christian Dior and other well-known fashion designers. For France Televisions it’s perfect, made with BBC Worldwide and Amazon, it’s done in such a way that is cheaper for them and greater quality and on a local topic. The only question is language. Most of these co-productions need to be English-speaking.

Can foreign-language series prove as attractive?

I am doing, as you know, Finnish series, and I’m selling them very well now. As you know, I’m doing a show called “Hostages” that’s shot in Hebrew, and I’m selling it well on many channels, plus digital platforms. There won’t be more than five [a year] from each big country, but local shows – French, Scandinavian, German, Israeli, probably Spanish, Italian obviously – when they’re good, premium good, will go global.

How do they play to viewers outside their country of origin?

Ratings-wise, they will not be as huge as big American production. I’m not talking big HBO shows or network shows. But we’re talking very good premium European shows that are niche and will now travel much more.

And sometimes they break out. France 2 saw one of its best ratings with an Icelandic show, “Trapped.” That’s a good example of what’s going to happen.

And sales reactions to “Bordertown”?

“Bordertown” is shot in Finnish. We have very strong interest from more than two channels in France, same in Germany. All this is a completely new world, a new market opening. Of course, most shows will be local. There’ll be three kinds of shows: Local shows which have to be longer and cheaper; international shows that are more European, for principally Europe; then the big American co-productions or productions. There will be these three markets. They’ll interact, of course. A show might be French but then become international, and then might become global. This happens more and more. I’ve made six shows rights now that are in negotiations with digital platform. That’s a new world.

You’ve described SVOD players as a significant growth area in international TV business?

Definitely, it’ll be probably half of the international market, not of the local market because there’ll still be many shows that are only Spanish etc. But on international markets, half will be run by international SVOD, DDT platforms.