HBO’s Antony Root on Creating European Shows for a Global Audience

Karlovy Vary Film Festival to host panel on cabler's European drama series

HBO’s Antony Root on Creating European Shows for a Global Audience
Courtesy of HBO Europe

As U.S. viewers discover among their VOD options HBO Europe’s original production series “Wasteland,” the thriller set in the bleak coal fields of north Bohemia and filmed in 2016 in the Czech Republic, the company says more shows are on their way.

The eight-part thriller, directed by Ivan Zacharias and Alice Nellis and scripted by Stepan Hulik, screened at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival before becoming one of the first European series produced by the premium cable company to reach U.S. audiences. It was followed more recently by Hungarian and Czech versions of the romantic comedy “When Shall We Kiss,” the latter starring Anna Geislerova.

“If we own the property, why would we not make it available to people?” posits Antony Root, HBO Europe’s head of original production.

While he confesses about the programming’s potential success across the Atlantic “I don’t know how it’s going to do,” Root says he believes strongly in the writing and characters’ universal appeal.

The message is one that Karlovy Vary audiences will hear at a panel on developing local writing and directing talent on July 1, “Writing Original Drama for HBO Europe,” featuring insights from five writers from the region: Bogdan Mirica of Romania (“Shadows”), Kasia Tybinka and Piotr Szymanek of Poland (“The Pack”), Tereza Dusova of the Czech Republic (“In Treatment 3”) and Marjan Alcevski of Croatia (“Success”), along with HBO Europe’s veep for drama development, Steve Matthews.

Another object lesson lies in the newly wrapped series “Hackerville,” a cyber-crime story set in Romania and Germany. Root says the show’s fish-out-of-water story incorporating cross-cultural conflicts and commonalities is a kind of layer cake of scripting.

The same level of writing is demanded for all HBO Europe’s originals, he adds, incorporating the best of local screenwriters whose work then goes through multiple drafts by the company’s international team.

“We define ourselves by our localism,” Root says. “We think that’s one of our greatest strengths.”

Key to the process is finding the strongest regional writing talents and investing in their development, he says, citing the upcoming Zagreb-shot “Success,” which grew out of a script contest HBO Europe launched in its effort to discover unknowns with promise. The result is a six-part series directed by Oscar-winning Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”).

Two writers won the competition, Root says, and both will end up with developed projects and a likely U.S. audience of some kind – a rare opportunity for someone in Eastern Europe, where even successful local filmmakers do not often see their work distributed in the West.

The growing number of successful projects HBO is developing, each of which can be seen across Europe, attests to the viability of the focus on building strong writing, says Root. “We’re spending real money and I think doing great shows. Some of these shows are traveling successfully outside of the region in the U.K. and Germany.”

Another original just greenlit from the Scandi division, HBO Nordic, is a satirical “near future science fiction” series from creators Anne Bjornstad and Eilif Skodvin (“Lilyhammer”), directed by Norwegian filmmaker Jens Lien, called “Beforeigners.”

HBO Nordic’s first original Norwegian series is also the second original production from the division, following Lukas Moodysson’s comedy series “Gosta,” which recently finished filming in Sweden.

The Czech version of Isreali format “In Treatment,” starring Karel Roden, in its third and final season following a successful local reception, is one that will not reach U.S. audiences, who already have seen the English-language version with Gabriel Byrne.

Nevertheless, says Root, “I think it’s a pretty strong story that we have five shows coming out of this part of the world and we’re very proud of it. These shows will all play day-and-date in all 17 countries of HBO Europe.”

Under the arrangement the company has with HBO in the U.S., they will also play on HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO On Demand, the VOD platforms hosting a growing component of European-language originals, Root says.

In the case of HBO Europe’s most recent wrap, “Hackerville” producer Jorg Winger, the writer and director of the Cold War spy series “Deutschland 83,” says the new series incorporates European crosscurrents that have resulted in a unique and intelligent script.

“I’m really interested in international collaboration and exploring new territories and cultures,” Winger explains.

The “Hackerville” development process “was truly multicultural,” he adds, with Romanian writers key to the process and a German-Romanian story co-produced by professionals from both countries. It grew out of “discussions that are controversial and creative at the same time, are great food for the script and for the story we want to tell.”