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French Director Nicolas Saada Discusses ‘Thanksgiving’

While at Series Mania Festival to present his mini-series “Thanksgiving” in competition, Nicolas Saada sat with Variety to discuss the spy drama which centers on the marriage between a Frenchman and American woman who are keeping secrets from each other.
Written by Saada and Anne-Louise Trividic, “Thanksgiving” was produced by Claude Chelli at Capa Drama, the thriving French banner behind “Versailles” and “Braquo,” for Franco-German network Arte. Newen Distribution is handling international sales on the series.
A former high-profile film critic, Saada previously wrote Frederic Jardin’s “Nuit Blanche,” which was remade into “Sleepless” with Jamie Foxx; and directed two films, “Spy(ies),” a London-set thriller with Guillaume Canet, and most recently “Taj Mahal,” a psychological thriller with Stacy Martin (“Nymphomaniac”) set against the backdrop of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.

What’s the genesis of “Thanksgiving”?

It was Claude Chelli [the boss of Capa Drama] who approached me. He wanted to work with me and had the idea of a Franco-American couple and this spy story about mistrust and geo-politics. Back then, I was still working on “Taj Mahal” but things moved quite fast. Arte came on board, and so did my co-writer Anne-Louise Trividic, who had a great input in depicting the intimate relationship between the two protagonists, Vincent and Louise, their failing mariage and the inner struggle of Louise. Anne-Louise’s perspective and insight nurtured the espionage thrust of the series.

The narrative thread of the series centers on a marriage damaged by mistrust following the theft of cutting-edge software. Why did you chose this unusual backdrop?

What happens to Vincent’s software is a metaphor of their mariage. There is a bug in that software, just like there’s one in their relationship to the point that it has become dysfunctional.

“Thanksgiving” has a very cinematic look. How did you achieve it?

Yes, that was the idea. Even though we worked on a fairly tight budget of €600,000 [$738,000] per episode, I wanted the series to have a lush feel, look and sound, so I brought some of my crew, like our cinematographer Léo Hinstin, who worked with me on “Taj Mahal” and also worked on Bertrand Bonello’s “Nocturama.” We also hired Grégoire Hetzel, who is a critically-acclaimed music composer who has a classical style and has worked with auteurs like Arnaud Desplechin, among others. Hetzel was able to compose a richly-layered score that’s very different from the type of music you usually hear in TV shows, and it definitely adds production value to “Thanksgiving.”

The series also showcases many talents that we seldom see in French TV drama. How did you come up with this casting?

From the very start, our goal with Claude Chelli and Arte was to create a series that didn’t look like a typical French thriller. We knew the casting was key, so we hired Antoinette Boulat, a seasoned casting agent who’s working with Olivier Assayas and Benoit Jacquot, among others. And Claude Chelli was already well informed about casting English-speaking talent due to his experience with “Versailles.” He helped us get Evelyne Brochu, who is a talented Canadian actress, fluent in English and French. Evelyne has worked with Xavier Dolan, Denis Villeneuve and already boasts a fan base because of her role in the hugely popular Canadian series “Orphan Black.” She sent us a self tape and really nailed this role. The rest of the cast – Grégoire Colin, Stephen Rea, Arthur Igual and Hippolyte Girardot – were all wonderful.

What are you working on next?

I have several projects. The one I’m most excited about is an anthology of horror fantasy tales. The way I envision it, it will be an omnibus comprising several stories that are somehow connected to each other, with few recurring characters. I’d like it to be an exploration of horror themes from different cultures. I think there is an appetite for arthouse genre projects which have an international dimension. Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” is a recent example. I want to explore this niche.

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