Banijay Group Ramps Up Scripted Output with Drama Projects From Tom Fontana, Radu Mihaileanu (EXCLUSIVE)

One year after joining Banijay Group to spearhead the expansion of the company into international scripted programming, TV industry veteran Takis Candilis has launched joint ventures in key European markets and has put in motion several high-profile series with helmers such as Tom Fontana and Radu Mihaileanu.

Speaking to Variety at Mipcom, Candilis spoke about the highlights of the company’s scripted development slate, including Radu Mihaileanu’s “Farewell Shanghai” and Tom Fontana’s untitled series about Joann of Arc.

“Farewell Shanghai” is being developed by David Kodsi’s Kien Productions and is based on Angel Wagenstein’s 2007 book by the same name. Taking place on the eve of WWII, “Farewell Shanghai” follows the true-life journey of European jews who fled Nazi Germany and found refuge in Shanghai. These refugees, many of whom were accomplished artists and intellectuals, lived in Shanghai slums and worked in menial jobs.

“Not many people know that China delivered about 30,000 visas to Jews before the Second World War, and it’s a historical chapter that is giving us an amazingly rich canvas to build a series on,” said Candilis.

Mihaileanu, who is writing and will direct the English-language series, is a Romanian Jew whose father was deported in a concentration camp by the Nazis and managed to escape. The six-part one hour drama is being co-developped by French public broadcaster France 2, Germany’s NDF. Chinese production banner Holy Mountain Pictures, Australia’s AMPCO Films and Banijay Studios International are co-producting.

Budgeted at roughly 15 million Euros, “Farewell Shanghai” will start shooting in September 2018 with an international cast.

Fontana’s Joan of Arc series project, meanwhile, is being developed in-house by Banijay Studios International. Candilis worked with Fontana on the costume drama “Borgia” when he was still working at Lagardere and was heading Atlantique Productions. Rather than a biopic, the series will explore the three trials of Joann of Arc: the trial for witchcraft conducted by the Bishop Cauchon in 1431, her trial of rehabilitation in 1455 and her beatification as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1909.

Fontana is exploring those three trials from the perspectives of lawyers and investigators. Budgeted in the 30 million euros range, the series is being developed as a 10-part drama.

Banijay has also boarded an ambitious Spanish series about Juan Carlos, the heir of the military dictator Francisco Franco, who reigned as King of Spain from 1975 until his abdication in 2014. Written by Antonio Onetti (“Amar en tiempos revueltos”), the series is being co-produced by France’s Source Films. Miguel Courtois (“El Lobo”) is on board to direct.

Candilis said the series will delve into the intrigues, struggles, affairs and revenge stories that punctuated Carlos’s reign as well as accurately depict the historical context.

“The market was wide open for these ambitious series thanks to the boom of streaming services and telco companies, from Viaplay in Scandinavia to Movistar in Spain and Deutsch Telecom in Germany, top of pay TV, broadcasters and global streamers like Netflix,” pointed out Candilis, who is looking to meet potential partners for the Juan Carlos series at Mipcom.

The exec said the bulk of his work since joining the company has also been to build a strong network of scripted production banners in major European markets, notably France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.K. Banijay Group now has four production outfits in the U.K.; in Spain it has one and is about to acquire two more companies; in Italy, it has one and is about to purchase another outfit; and in Germany as well as France, Banijay will soon announce new company acquisitions.

“Within the last year, we have doubled our presence in the scripted entertainment field thanks to these new companies, our partnerships and the hiring of talented executives, such as Alban Etienne (head of Fiction Banijay France), and Camille Gatin, a London-based French producer,” said Candilis.

Candilis said the company’s strategy was to spur collaborations within Banijay-owned companies around the world in order to produce compelling series that are organically international. The first outcome of this mandate is “Straightforward,” a series which is being developed by two Banijay-owned outfits: New Zealand’s Screentime NZ and Denmark’s Mastiff A/S. The thriller series is about a Danish woman who witnesses a murder and flees to the other side of the world.

The eight-part series has been commissioned by Viaplay and New Zealand’s pubcaster TVNZ.

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