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Series Mania: Belgium’s Wrong Men Productions Prepares ‘The Alert’

While whistle blowers are often seen as heroes, “The Alert” looks to investigate the downsides of speaking out

Wrong Men's Benoit Roland Prepares Whistle
Courtesy of Wrong Men Productions

PARIS — In a show of the gathering diversification  of European TV drama production, sixteen series were pitched at Series Mania’s European Co-production Forum, – series which stretch across time and sentiment, from ancient Rome to 2025 Paris, from Antarctica to medieval Europe. But few of the series are rooted as firmly in today’s zeitgeist as Wrong Men’s whistle blowing thriller “The Alert.”

Representing the series, producer Benoit Roland and writers Johan Massez and Vincent Vanneste pitched the series to a crowded auditorium looking to secure international deals, “broadcasters mainly but we have room for co-producers as well.”

Wrong Men describe itself as a company specializing in arthouse features like 2015’s “Prejudice,” shorts such as last year’s “Partner”, and political documentaries like “Wrong Elements,” an official selection for screening at Cannes in 2016. With “The Alert,” the company looks to take its first steps into the world of television. “I live in my time and obviously TV series are big now.” producer Benoit Roland said of the move.

“In French-speaking Belgium they are putting money into developing series. Authors, writers and directors are starting to come up with loads of ideas so it’s a thrilling time to develop that in Belgium and I’m happy to step up.”

Locally the series will be broadcast by RTBF, the public broadcasting group in Belgium which operates five broadcast networks as well as offering VOD services and radio stations. The network’s involvement with “The Alert” is significant according to Roland: “They were attached from the very beginning, co-developed the series with us.”

When asked about what will set this series apart, Roland pointed out that it is as much a family drama as it is a thriller. “Our main protagonist is the guy next door with a family. He has to decide if he wants to put everything at risk by blowing the whistle.”

While the content looks to cross genre boundaries, stylistically, the show knows its identity. “It’s gonna be a contemporary, fast-paced thriller with high production values,” said Roland of the proposed aesthetic. To this end, the project has enlisted Belgian director Nabil Ben Yadir, best-known for projects like 2009’s “The Barons”, and 2013’s “La Marche,” twice-nominated by the Lumiere Awards. Roland added: “His last film was a thriller that looked amazing; he will bring a great level of production value to the series.”

The story focuses on Eddy Charlier and his family. After the scientist discovers that the company which employs him, along with the majority of his town, has been knowingly distributing a vaccine which harms the immune system of many of the children who receive it, Eddy must decide if he is willing to put himself, his family, and indeed his entire community at risk by blowing the whistle. As things become more difficult he will be forced time and again to decide whether or not he should go on as those around him waver in their own convictions. Like so many of today’s whistle blowers, Eddy is seen as a hero by some and vilified by others.

“There are two kinds of whistle blowers,” said Roland when asked about his main character’s journey. “There are the Edward Snowdens and the more local whistle blowers.” As to whether or not Charlier might need to leave Belgium Roland continued, “This is a local story that could happen anywhere in the world. He is not meant to fly to an airport in Russia to live the rest of his life.”

The French-language series already has 35% of its €330,000 ($353,000)  per episode budget confirmed; it will look to secure the rest before shooting its 10-hour Season 1 in spring 2018.