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Series Mania’s Laurence Herszberg on Fest Change, Series Trends, ‘La Casa de Papel’

Some things change. Some stay the same. Case in point, France’s Series Mania. 2018 sees a change of venue – Paris to Lille – a broadening audience mission, the addition of a Writers Campus and Lille Transatlantic Dialogues.




Meanwhile, “La Casa de Papel” points to a potential tipping point in the international market status of foreign-language fiction, from niche to specialty product at best to mainstream social phenomenon.

Some stay the same: Such as the selectivity of Series Mania section and the enthusiasm of its founder Laurence Herszberg for talking about drama series trends.

On the eve of Series Mania, Herszberg drills down on change and continuity at the 9th Series Mania Festival.

For Series Mania, this looks like the year of greatest change in its nine edition existence….

It’s a total change, another festival. We kept the name, the brand because, not totally modestly, it is renowned for the quality of the event. The name also suggests how we still select series for Competition, Panorama, all sections. Meaning we want this festival to be focused on what are the new trends and to open new doors. That’s why we picked up several series from Russia: To highlight industry newcomers. But – and this is the change – we want a festival that attracts a lot of public, a big event in the industry and in the region in the vein of Austin’s South by Southwest, incorporating a lot of events from the different arts. Series can inspire many kind of events. We’ll have a lot of parties and music-themed events, a dinner inspired by “Game of Thrones,” talks with big names like “The Bridge’s” Sofia Helin, Carlton Cuse with exclusive footage from his upcoming Amazon series “Jack Ryan” or Chris Brancato, president of the Jury. So the festival will be much bigger. Still very exclusive in terms of the quality of the shows but also a very big public event.

What trends would you suggest from Series Mania’s selection this year?

The selection is a state of the art photograph, but selective, limited to what’s available though the whole team saw 407 series. One major trend is dramas that pose questions about the future of our world, our society, not totally optimistic in the eyes of the creators Other series question the couple, the woman’s place, if any, in the couple, as in Danny Brocklehurst’s “Come Home,” where a mother ups and leaves her husband and children, or “An American Woman,” premiering at Series Mania which frames the liberation of a woman, or “Ordinary Woman,” the Russian show that portrays a woman who is a florist and pimp at the same time.

Series Mania attendance is, I believe, up on last year…. 

10 days out, we’re already breaking Series Mania records. We’ve almost reached 1,600 participants. Our dream was to have 1,200, as we want to maintain our informal, yet intimate business-focused, friendly environment. This includes over 250 scriptwriters at the Writers Campus. We all know that the key thing now is finding the new talent, especially in Europe. The U.S. is highly interested in Europe because the new platforms and major Hollywood studios are expanding in the Old World and looking for new talent. Smaller studio channels can now screen series in Spanish or French. The key is new writing talent. That’s why I am so happy to welcome Alex Pina and Elizabeth Martínez, the writers of “La Casa de Papel.” Nobody could have foreseen the Spanish show’s huge success. But that is down in a large part to its writing.

You have some highly creative elements: a flashback in a flashback told by a character in fiction, Tokyo, who is also a semi-omniscient narrator speaking sometime in a future…

Yes, absolutely. And it’s very interesting how the show was created with Spain’s Atresmedia Group, broadcast on their main free-to-air channel, but only became an audience and worldwide phenomenon when shown on Netflix. That’s one form of highly interesting collaboration between Europe and Netflix.

Netflix’s Reed Hastings is of course one of the speakers at the inaugural Lille Transatlantic Dialogues. The forum is supported by both France’s CNC film-TV agency and the European Commission’s Creative Europe Media Program. Do you see this as a sign of detente between the two parties?

The Lille Transatlantic Dialogues have been created by Rodolphe Belmer, Series Mania president, who, when at Canal Plus, was key into their drive into original series production. It is designed to be a platform for open discussion. Rodolphe’s vision is that the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues can be a place where people just exchange ideas and visions about the future of audiovisual in Europe and maybe worldwide.

Do the same reasons which inspired you to create the Series Mania co-production forum still operate?

When we launched the Series Mania Forum, it was ahead of its time, but spurred by some European producers who complained, producing in their own country, was giving them access to only a few possible financiers. We now want to gather into the same environment broadcasters, producers, screenwriters and composers. Normal markets are mostly made for broadcasters meeting sales executives. We are creating a new content driven place.

You’ve mentioned one reason for co-production: To diversify financing sources. Two other reasons have now become more important since the Forum was launched.  One is larger digital platform competition compelling other players to make series at their artistic and budgetary  level. The second: Stalling or contracting ad markets for broadcasters challenging their production budgets. So they look to overseas partner to make series….

Yes, some TV operators find it difficult to produce certain shows just inside their territory. There’s a tendency to increase budgets, coming from the US. But you don’t have to have a huge budget to make a great series: Look at “La Casa de Papel,” or “Prisoners of War,” the Israeli original series that inspired “Homeland.” Things are changing so quickly. If it had been made today, I think “Prisoners of War” would have been broadcast in its original version, like “La Casa de Papel.”

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