When show creators, studio and network executives and critics alike set out to determine if a series has the right elements to break into the zeitgeist, some of the key elements they look for are authenticity and point of view, as well as characters that are intriguing and relatable. When creators, executives and critics set out to determine if a series has the ability to have international appeal, they are looking for the same things.
“A good story should be told the same way, whether it was originally written for Israeli, American or European viewers. If your story is outstanding and your characters are relatable, the language doesn’t matter,” says Amit Cohen, executive producer of Israeli TV projects “False Flag” and “Traitor.”
Ron Leshem, who wrote and executive produced “False Flag” and “Traitor” alongside Cohen, points out that a show is relatable when its theme is broad but its execution is specific.
“When I write in Hebrew, I know the more local I get, the more universal I become,” Leshem says. “Israelis are some of the world’s most neurotic viewers. They get bored quicker, demanding work that is edgy, yet mainstream. They are haunted, and therefore easily insulted. It is hard to get their attention, because Israeli existence itself is loud. There are more than just two sides, left and right, in Israel; there are passionate rifts and chasms between roughly 12 tribes. For this same reason, Israel is a paradise for storytellers. Sometimes the format itself, and even the high concept, helps package the story so that the most Israeli nuances are able to capture an audience in China, Korea, Poland, Brazil and Africa.”
Although Mikko Alanne’s “The Long Road Home” is a story based on a true tale that follows a group of American soldiers ambushed during an attack in Sadr City, the themes the show taps into are not specific to any one region.
“I wanted to illuminate, as intimately as possible, the real face of war: the chaotic, uncontrollable nature of it, the bonds it creates and the futures it shatters — on both sides of the conflict,” says Finland-born writer and producer Alanne. “The series is also about hope: finding our way to seeing the essential humanity of the person on the other side.”
Alanne is not alone in believing it is timeless themes about the human condition that allow an audience to connect in a profound way, regardless of language spoken or genre or format of storytelling. “Ingobernable’s” Epigmenio Ibarra notes there is great opportunity in storytelling to be “a mirror where we see ourselves, discover and find ourselves, and surprise ourselves.”
“If your story is outstanding and your characters are relatable, the language doesn’t matter.”
With her Canadian drama “Mary Kills People,” Tara Armstrong taps into intense emotions around death. The show centers on an ER doctor by day who spends her nights assisting in the suicides of terminally ill patients. “I write about what upsets me, fascinates me, scares me, keeps me awake at night. I write to try to make sense of things I don’t understand — to discover some new perspective on life,” says Armstrong.
While the laws surrounding assisted suicide vary from region to region, the inner struggle regarding the morality of watching someone suffer is universal.
But of course a “gripping, internationally relevant story” is only one part of the equation, points out “Das Boot” executive producer Moritz Polter. He says the package is not truly complete without “a strong team on and off camera, and the right network [or] platform partner.”
Sky Deutschland and Bavaria Fiction, with Sonar Ent., are behind “Das Boot,” while Netflix has embraced content from global creators, including “Narcos” and “The Mechanism” from Jose Padilha, and “Fauda” from Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz.
In May 2017, Raz told Variety that he struggled to sell his political thriller about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on his own experiences undercover in the Israel Defense Forces. “Nobody wanted it in Israel,” he said, noting that selling it to Netflix is what helped it become “a huge hit” in countries ranging from the U.S. and Canada to the Arab market.
Having content from all over the world readily accessible to consumers all over the world has not only aided in giving series’ wider audiences and longer lives, but has also challenged audiences to step outside what is inherent and familiar to learn about other cultures — and it has inspired the content creators themselves to think bigger to meet the hunger of an audience that no longer has to settle for what is local.