Copenhagen-based SAM Productions, the company “Borgen” creator Adam Price launched with “The Killing” creator Soren Svestrup and “Melancholia” producer Meta Louise Foldager is diving into English-language production as Studiocanal brings its first three Danish shows to the market.
Early in development, details of SAM’s first English-language projects are currently under wraps. But SAM is in “dialog with a number of international channels” as it is developing three shows that will probably be in English and are definitely created and written as international shows,” Price said as MipTV’s MipDrama Screenings hosted a sneak peek of scenes from “Ride Upon the Storm,” Price’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to “Borgen.“
“I’m sure that my next show will most probably be an international one,” Price added.
The trio of English-language productions would mark the full international emergence of three TV creatives who have helped change – and are still changing – the audience reach for foreign-language TV series in and outside Denmark.
A drama set against the unlikely background of Danish coalition politics, “Borgen” went on to sell to 80-plus countries. Its second of three seasons hit over one million viewers on BBC4 in the U.K.; Newsweek hailed it as “the best TV show you’ve never seen”; it topped Stephen King’s Top 10 shows for 2012, which also included Svestrup’s “The Killing” and “The Bridge,” a Danish-Swedish crime series.
With “Borgen,” its writers attempted to be “brave,” Price has said, tackling subjects which were difficult to address such as a bill of rights for sex workers.
Created and lead-written by Price, “Ride Upon the Storm,” which won the MipDrama Screenings TV Critics Award and Buyers Coup de Coeur Award, more prizes than any other title at the Screenings. is produced by DR Drama in co-production with Arte France and Sam Le Français, the French subsidiary of Sam Productions.
It is one of three SAM dramas brought onto the market at MipTV by Studiocanal, which has a 25% stake in SAM Productions. Compared to ”Borgen,” “Ride Upon the Storm” may be braver still, turning, Price said, on “religion and the even-greater layer of human thought, faith, behind religion.”
In “Ride Upon the Storm” – if 15 minutes of scenes and a trailer shown at Sunday’s MipDrama Screenings are anything to go by – faith in the Father links inextricably to faith in a father: Johannes, a pater familias played by Lars Mikkelsen (“House of Cards”), a firebrand, violent and sometimes raging drunk Minister of the Church of Denmark and latest in a line of ministers which goes back 250 years.
“Johannes resembles a God-like figure for these two sons. They love him, fear him, respect him, despise him, he is monumental in their lives,” Price said.
Seeking to free themselves of his tyrannical love, the scene assembly shown at Cannes depicts the devout August going off as an army chaplain to a combat zone in the Middle East; the wayward Christian – disappointed in love, work and his friends and disappointing his father – is encouraged by Johannes to goes off to the mountain. He wanders Tibet, is taken in by a Buddhist temple.
“Possibly Johannes’ belief in his sons and the immense pressure he puts on them digs trenches between them. Love can be a builder but also a destroyer,” Price ventured.
Price embarked on “Ride Upon the Storm” “out of curiosity” and also a sense of urgency.
“Faith and religion these years are almost more political than politic. In all the major debates in many Western societies. when we discuss terrorism, immigration, integration, we are in fact discussing culture, faith, and religion,” Price said.
That debate takes place as “we are building walls, digging trenches, living in various cultures of fear which are prejudice because we don’t know and understand each other’s cultures and religions.”
World premiered at the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days and set to broadcast on Discovery Networks Denmark’s Kanal 5, “Below the Surface” is showrun by Kasper Barfoed and produced by SAM for Discovery in co-production with Germany’s ZDF. It kicks off with a scene of his brutal torture in a Middle East chamber. Its victim, Dane Philippe Norgaard (Johannes Lassen) escapes from captivity and his leering torturer, returns to Denmark as a hero and takes on hostage crisis management as the head of a terror task force. When three terrorists take 15 metro travelers prisoner, demand just €4 million as a ransom, he is drafted in to engineer their freedom.
A sleak taut thriller which lasts over eight days of stand-off, one day per episode, “Below the Surface” suggests, at least from its early going, that it will peel away the veneer of heroism to get at the humanity of Norgaard, sewing doubts as to how he escaped. Further episodes will probably do more, however.
“We wanted to deal with the general fear of all Western societies,” Price said. One question was how.
“We wanted to deal with the general fear of all Western societies via something immediately identifiable to everyone: What happens the day we all fear, when a terrible crime occurs somewhere in our city and maybe our loved ones are the victims,” he explained.
The series’ core: “The intimate relationship between the hostage takers and hostages and who are the real heroes in a situation like that. We don’t know if we are the stuff of heroes or cowards or people that would be numbed by fear.”
The third of SAM’s first shows, and first to air commercially, “Something’s Rockin’” bowed March 6 on Denmark’s TV 2 Charlie, a people’s music channel. It tells. A weekly period drama, “Something’s Rockin’” is based on the rise and fall of Denmark’s Radio Mercur, described as the world’s first pirate radio.
Prices calls “Something’s Rockin” “a positive show about people that want to change the world and manage to do it, with a lot of personal and professional cost.”
“It was important to tell a true story, that not that long ago Denmark was actually a social democratic monopoly when it came to radio and TV, that we had censorship.”
“All of a sudden, somebody started to tell young people, it’s alright to be young and like, want or listen to pop music.”
Taken together, SAM Productions’ first slate describe a wide spectrum: a character-driven religious family drama; a hostage situation action-thriller; a retro, but forward-looking, comedy-laced period piece.
“As a company we wanted to show a palette of many colors” and with “Something’s Rockin” that we could produce drama for a specific audience and at a low budget,” Price commented.
There was also a larger design to the productions. For years, Danish TV has been limited in drama commissioning to national broadcasters DR. “Below the Surface” and “Something’s Rockin’” are designed to “over-deliver,” as Meta Folder has put it, in terms of rating for new drama channels, convincing them that drama production can be a sustainable business.
So far that plan appears to be working. “Something’s Rockin’” set a historic viewership record for TV2 Charlie on March 6 primetime, with a 23% share, outperforming DR and TV2. Ratings rose the following week.”Below the Surface” has given SAM its first experience of producing for a U.S. company. However large Denmark’s drama broadcaster universe becomes, it will never compare to that of the U.S. and the rest of Europe. The partnership with Studiocanal already allows SAM a global distribution-sales network. Co-producing its international shows will allow SAM’S Price, Svestrup and Folager to take what is emerging as their brand of TV – smart compulsive thrillers made by intelligent people about intelligent people – to a while new level.