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Berlinale Drama Series Days Sees American TV Playing to the World

A number of American drama series imports are hitting Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, but despite depicting a variety of States-specific stories — such as the politics and power battles in the American high school system in Jack Ferry and Ryan Hunter’s “Mr. Student Body President”; the rivalry between the FBI and the CIA in Dan Futterman’s “The Looming Tower”; or gang culture on the streets and within the police force in Joe Halpin’s “The Oath” — producers are preparing for international audiences.

“It’s informed by a life I used to live, so it’s definitely rooted in the American police infrastructure,” Halpin says about “The Oath.” “But I think an international audience can empathize with it because any power structure, when it gets corrupted, I think everybody throughout the world experiences that.”

“The Oath” was also designed around the theme of family, which Halpin says will also speak universally.

“[Family] resonates in every aspect of every character in every story of the show. If you join a police force, it’s a family structure. If you join a gang, then again it’s intimate and a more kind of confined family,” he says. “Even though our characters are not doing good things, it’s funny because in life if a stranger does something we’re very judgmental but we’re not as harsh to judge our family members. I figured that could cause everyone to relax and follow our characters on their journey and see that this path of corruption leads to nowhere.”

Series such as “The Looming Tower” and “The Oath” are also aided by casts with international recognizability. “The Looming Tower” boasts Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard, while “The Oath” features Sean Bean, Ryan Kwanten and Katrina Law, and also has Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as an executive producer.

Like those two shows, Brian Gatewood and Alex Tanaka’s “Comrade Detective” features a cast with international appeal, including Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Craig and Chloe Sevigny — but only as voice talent. “Comrade Detective,” which parodies the American buddy-cop genre and plays with the ideas of communism versus capitalism in a Cold War Romania setting, uses Romanian actors to portray the characters on-screen with their voices dubbed by the American stars.

“Comrade Detective,” “The Terror” and “Counterpart” may be American productions, but their storytelling mixes cross-cultural elements and sets scenes overseas.

The Terror,” from executive producers David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, is based on Dan Simmons’ best-selling novel of the same name and explores a lost expedition in the Arctic in the 1800s. The producers feel having source material from an author who has “earned a legendary status in the literary world” gives it name recognition that will aid in the show’s appeal.

“His fans, among which we count ourselves, are passionate and vocal,” say Kajganich and Hugh. “With this show, we put our faith in the age-old idea that if you build interesting characters, who are challenging and complex, but recognizably flawed and human, people will connect with them. The epic survival story at the center of our narrative anchors the show in urgent stakes and near-constant tension, but it is the complex — and often humorous — bonds that develop between our characters that we think will draw audiences even more.”

“The Terror’s” lead director Edward Berger is from Germany and that makes the premiere at the Berlin Film Festival extra special for the team. Kajganich and Hugh call their collaboration with him “one of the greatest highlights of making this show.”

Counterpart,” which comes from Justin Marks, is a dual-language series in English and German that follows J.K. Simmons’ Howard as he learns about the existence of an alternate world that started out as a mirror to his own but diverted at a specific point in history. It greatly altered the life of his parallel self.

Marks says he has applied a “Cold War allegory” to the show, which lends itself not only to the series’ European setting but also to attracting an international audience.

“People all over the world want to connect to good stories about characters they believe in. We tried to build ‘Counterpart’ with a diverse international cast, but mostly we tried to build ‘Counterpart’ with a group of characters people were going to fall in love with,” Marks says. “The DNA of ‘Counterpart’ is rooted in Berlin. We were so inspired shooting on location in the first season that we doubled the location time in Berlin [for] the second season. Our cast and crew gave everything, and it’s an honor to be able to show this series in the city that gave it all of its inspiration.”

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