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MipTV: Creator Director Julien Lacombe on France’s Newest Sci-Fi Series ‘Missions’

The adventure thriller wins best full episode Critics Jury Award at MipDrama Screenings

France’s newest science-fiction series “Missions” has landed at MipTV looking to secure distribution across the planet… and perhaps beyond, via AB International Distribution. A Critics Jury Award at MipDrama Screenings on Sunday will further that objective.

Produced by Empreinte Digitale, experts in all things nerd in France since their 2007 documentary “Suck My Geek,” “Missions” will take off this June on France’s OCS satellite networks.

The series format is unconventional for modern science-fiction while the style and themes couldn’t be more en vogue. “Missions” will broadcast 10 episodes, each only 26 minutes long in contrast to the one-hour format that is common among science-fiction shows today. Series creators Henri Debeurme, Julien Lacombe, and Ami Cohen, have constructed a low-fi series that fits right into the modern zeitgeist of programs such as “Black Mirror” or “Orphan Black” with believable technologies and a representation of humanity’s problems that will feel familiar and relatable to viewers.

“Missions” doesn’t have little green men or laser weapons and nobody gets beamed anywhere. What the show does have is an international cast, technologies that are being used or theorized about today, and relationship dynamics that all work to strive for a realism that many modern science-fiction fans expect. With the possibility of more fantastic elements being implemented as the show moves forward the shows hopes to emulate the addictive natures of shows like “Lost,” or more recently “Stranger Things.”

The series focuses on the crew of a European collaboration spaceship which, with the funding of an eccentric Swedish billionaire, has designs on being the first manned craft to land on Mars. Much to the dismay of all on board however, just before the culmination of their 10-month journey to the Red Planet they are made aware of a video sent by a NASA ship that has overtaken them and already landed on the planet thanks to a revolutionary engine technology that cut the travel time to a fraction of what it was for the Europeans. The bad news doesn’t end there however, as the tape contains a cryptic warning from the Americans pleading with the crew not to land as something far too dangerous is happening on the surface. The crew then learns that the tape was sent days before and there has been no contact with the Americans since. The first episode ends with the crew managing a less than ideal landing on the surface of the planet and a cliffhanger promising there is more to the show than a simple jaunt through the solar system.

Co-creator Julien Lacombe, who also acts as the show’s director, answered questions for Variety about the show, it’s influences, and where it might be taking viewers in the future.

The large majority of sci-fi television today are in a one-hour format. What drove the decision to make “Missions” episodes 26 minutes?

OCS, the broadcaster, only produces show in the 26-minute format so we had to stick to that duration from the very beginning of the writing.

With a few exceptions recent science fiction has been largely lo-fi, or more near future, realistic technologies. “Missions” certainly seems to follow this trend but hints there maybe be more fantasy or high-tech in the future of the series. Can you give a hint about the direction of the series going forward?

“Missions” is definitely filled with hard science fiction and fantasy concepts, there’s a mythology, something beyond pure realism. But we didn’t want to make a show only for sci fi amateurs, it’s a show for everyone. It’s not only about space exploration. It’s obviously an adventure show but we wanted to something as appealing, mysterious and catchy as “Lost” was in its time. Our Mars explorers will find something that is absolutely not supposed to be there and that will change their vision of mankind.

What were some of the major influences you called upon when working on this series?

As a sci fi geek, I was deeply influenced by the sci-fi movies from the ’70’s and ’80’s, but as we were writing the screenplays, we thought a lot about literature. Authors like Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke come to mind.

France has a long-storied history with science fiction from Georges Méliès to Luc Besson, French science fiction has always found ways to advance the genre. Can you talk a bit about what makes French science fiction unique and why you think the genre has been so enduring in France?

Actually, even though science fiction once was a French genre if we go back to the likes of Jules Vernes, in France science fiction is considered an American genre and i don’t see a tradition or a trend from the French authors in that genre unfortunately.

In the first episode there are characters who speak both English and French but the whole crew seems to understand English. Will “Missions” be a bilingual program?

Since the first drafts we knew a crew only composed of French members would sound absolutely unrealistic. So the decision was quickly made to show two crews, an American and a European. Members of the space missions depicted in the show are either Italian, German, American or British. There are a lot of English-only scenes in the show, we wanted the dialog and situations to be believable. So, yes, in a sense “Missions” is a bilingual program, even though French remains the main language.

Science fiction used to be far more positive when looking to the future, but modern science-fiction tends to have a more dark outlook. Do you have any theories about why this might be?

I think sci-fi is a genre where you can speak in metaphors about the state of our world. With natural resource depletion, overpopulation, global warming, I guess science fiction currently tries to warn people of what’s ahead of us, how sad that can be. Our approach on space exploration is no longer naive, and science fiction just reflects that.

Can you talk about any plans you have for international distribution?

Definitely, AB International Distribution launches the series at MipTV. they already have interests from different countries.

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