LILLE, France — The Torino Film Lab and Series Mania have announced this year’s nine participating projects in the SeriesLab forum. SeriesLab is a joint venture intended to address one of the most significant challenges facing the European fiction TV industry: Developing screenwriting talent.
The event is held as a forum to mentor creative talent by gathering writers, creators and showrunners from nine series in early-stage development. The projects participate in a five-month course with three residential workshops and two online sessions, all culminating in a final presentation at the Series Mania Co-Production Forum on May 3.
SeriesLab project manager Angelica Cantisani credits the success of last year’s inaugural forum with producing an even stronger crop of projects this year. “We had the advantage of a really successful first edition that spread the word,” she says.
The nine participants that will be taking the stage in Lille are a testament to the forum’s diversity, both in terms of geographical representation – with projects from seven countries selected – and the characters portrayed onscreen.
Penned by Cannes Jury Award winner Wannes Destoop and actor director Dominique Van Malder, “Albatros” is produced by veteran Belgian actor-producer Gilles De Schryver. Described as a tragicomedy, it follows Raf, an anxious and overweight teacher who enrolls in a weight loss camp to shed some pounds, and his mother. “It’s such a strong topic,” says Cantisani, noting the taboos surrounding weight in popular culture. “It’s always something difficult to talk about onscreen.”
“Alias Suzanna” is a Swedish legal thriller from writers Jessika Jankert and Lovisa Löwhagen who previously worked together on the mini-series “#HASHTAG.” “Alias” turns on a catfishing case which quickly grows into something that prosecutor Fanny Ekström finds herself ill-equipped to handle. “We wanted to have projects that give a voice…[to] strong female characters,” says Cantisani, part of what she saw as a growing trend. “Especially in the north of Europe, there is this strong attitude and strong willingness to give visibility to women.”
In “Clan,” Alexander, the mayor of a small Balkan town called Strawberry City, has his absolute authority until a figure from his past threatens to release information that will show the world who Alexander once was. The series is being written by Darijan Mihajlović and produced by Igor Turcinovic of Belgrade-based PFI Studios. The lone Balkan entry at this year’s SeriesLab is “not the usual Serbian story,” says Cantisani. “We really liked the approach that the author had…[and] thought that it could be interesting to give visibility to such topics.”
A local project, “Kaos” is a sci-fi thriller from French writers Samuel Sené and Julien Wolf. In the series a fictional algorithm controls anything and everything that people do, always leading to the best possible outcome. That all may change with the introduction of “cheat codes” into the global system. “It’s so contemporary,” says Cantisani, noting the challenge of developing a series where the main character is an algorithm. “You need to have a really scientific and mathematical mind to create such a project.”
Another Swedish project, “Secrets” is a dramedy from film and TV writer Soni Jorgensen who script consulted on a number of major feature films, including 2005 Oscar nominee “As It Is in Heaven.”
The series tells the story of a middle-aged former police officer and her struggles with trust in an untrustworthy world. “It’s a vertical series,” says Cantisani, in which each episode presents a new case to be solved. The show uses empathy and humor to look at what happens when secrets are exposed in order to “talk about the consequences of cheating.”
From veteran Belgian TV writer Michel Sabbe and producer Peter Bouckaert, “Styx” is a supernatural police drama set in a sleepy coastal town. Detective Raphaël Styx is given a second chance at not-quite-life when he is mortally wounded in the line of duty, but wakes up undead. “It’s about how to handle a second chance,” says Cantisani, “if you can really make a difference, or if you always make the same mistakes.”
“The Perfect Match” is an Italian sports dramedy from the long-time writing partnership of Dario Bonamin and Francesca De Lisi. The series follows a third division soccer team thrown into turmoil when its owner falls into a coma and his daughter decides to make the team co-ed. “It’s a really original story,” says Cantisani. “When you put women and men working in a strange arena…you can really create new conflicts, new characters, new challenges. It’s really something that can generate several new things that have never been seen onscreen.”
Welsh drama “The Trap” turns on a police operation gone wrong when Eva is forced to go back home and gets caught up in a riot forcing her to shed her uniform and go undercover in a world she had hoped to leave behind. It’s penned by award-winning theater writer Bethan Marlow and produced by Hannah Thomas from Welsh indie prodco Severn Screen. “I think it’s one of the most local projects,” says Cantisani, which she says reflects a dominant trend in European TV today. “They start from a local point of view, but after they can really speak globally.”
The lone Dutch entry this year is “Urk,” an absurdist mystery from writer Tom Bakker, who penned Sarah Veltmeyer’s Berlin Crystal Bear nominated short “Kiem Holijanda.” Superstitious villagers, an uptight pastor and a criminal network make detective Maria’s murder investigation a nightmare and it only gets more confusing as seemingly supernatural events pile up, one after another.
“The conflict is generated by the relationship with religion, with superstition,” says Cantisani. “It’s something that goes behind the logical and the real.” Laurette Schillings of Topkapi Films is producing.
All nine of last year’s participating projects are now in the development stage, promising figures for the aspirational projects.
“[The SeriesLab] gave us a kick,” says scriptwriter and 2017 alum Marcin Kubawski, who with writer-director Milosz Sakowski and producer Maciej Kubicki is developing the drama series “Trauma” with HBO Europe. “[The lab’s tutors] really give you perspective, because they are international, they work on projects around the world.”
Seeing “Trauma” through a wide-angle lens helped the show’s creators refine their formula, he says. “We came back with the same idea, but a new approach.”
“Torino SeriesLab was a turning point for ‘The Beehive,’” says Lithuania’s Domanté Urmonaité, who with co-creator Martynas Mendelis is developing the series with Sky Italia, after presenting the project last year.
“The results of Torino SeriesLab outlasted the lab itself,” she says. “On top of significantly improving ‘The Beehive,’ we also got the skills and knowledge that inspires us to look for new stories and build new worlds.”