The Sarajevo Film Festival is proving fertile ground for TV projects thanks to the Midpoint TV Launch international script and development program, which on Wednesday culminated with the HBO Europe Award for “The Midnight Shift,” a supernatural crime thriller project.
The Midpoint TV Launch program began in November with seven projects in development, mostly from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. After three workshops over the past nine months, the initiative concluded in Sarajevo.
“The Midnight Shift,” a Cyprian-Greek-Maltese project, follows a small-time criminal cursed to be a modern version of the ancient mythical ferryman Charon, who transports the dead from this world to the next. In this incarnation, however, he is a taxi driver on the midnight shift rather than a boatman on the River Styx.
The first residential workshop took place in Slovakia, focusing on series concepts and pilot scripts. The second workshop, dedicated to the creation of the projects’ pitch books, took place at the Finale Plzen Film Festival in the Czech Republic in April. The third and final workshop concluded in Sarajevo as part of the festival’s CineLink Drama Industry Days, which presented the projects to international industry professionals, including TV reps from the various regions.
The $4,000 HBO Europe Award went to “The Midnight Shift” writer-director-producer Andreas Kyriacou of Cyprus and writers Harry Ayiotis and Frixos Masouras.
In a joint statement, HBO Europe executive producer Tereza Polachova and Steve Matthews, VP executive producer of drama development, said the Midpoint program continued “to find and nurture amazing TV writing and producing talent,” describing “The Midnight Shift” as “a highly innovative concept – both commercial and deeply personal to the creators – professionally executed at every stage, from concept to script to industry presentation; a great story told with a distinctive voice and a big heart.”
Alan Kingsberg, the program’s head of studies, underscored HBO Europe’s involvement, saying the cable and satellite network wanted “to stay in touch with the cutting-edge developing talent, either with the exact projects we’re doing or with the people,” pointing out that it was the mandate of HBO’s Europe-wide services, including HBO Czech Republic, HBO Poland, HBO Nordic, and others, “to do local stuff.”
The Midpoint TV Launch program has also created contacts between its participants and European broadcasters.
As for the big subscription VOD players, Kingsberg said: “We haven’t brought in Amazon and Netflix – we’re not on their radar now … but maybe we will be after this article is published, because we actually have projects that I think U.S. viewers of Netflix and Amazon would want to see. More and more you’re seeing on Netflix Israeli shows, Danish shows, French shows. U.S. audiences are becoming more and more interested in international content.”
Among the other Midpoint TV Launch projects were the Greek-Serbian “10 Bullets,” about two homeless people who find a new lease on life when they come across a fallen heir of the Serbian mafia, and Polish historical drama “The Tribe,” about a woman who, in 1918, expands her mother’s brothel business to gain a foothold in Warsaw’s booming drug trade, becoming the first woman to make a mark in the traditionally male-dominated world of crime.
Katarina Tomkova, Midpoint TV Launch’s program coordinator, said the initiative was filling a major niche in the region’s entertainment sector. “The demand for learning how to write for TV is enormous, particularly because the history of film schools in Eastern Europe has been very focused on arthouse cinema and the auteur approach, which is very different from what works in TV, and there’s a lack of that training and that education, and that’s where we come in.”
The Midpoint TV Launch program also officially opened its call for 2018 applications on Wednesday. The initiative is encouraging writers and producers primarily from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic countries, and the wider Mediterranean region to apply.