An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City.
Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav Stankovic and a script written nearly half a century ago by Yugoslav filmmaker Voja Nanović while living in the U.S.
Serbian helmer Milutin Petrovic, who discovered the lost screenplay, will direct the film and first three episodes of the series, which spans a 40-year period in the late 19th century. “Bad Blood” is set in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and at the cusp of a new century, an era beset by major political change and turmoil, when peasants began rising up in strength to the detriment of wealthy merchants families. It follows Trifun, the wealthy leader of the Christian minority under Ottoman rule, who, while trying to preserve his wealth and power, sets off a chain of events that causes terrible consequences for his family.
This and That producer Snežana van Houwelingen said the decision was made at the early development stage to simultaneously develop a feature film version of “Bad Blood.” The film will be based on the first three episodes of the show and will be used as a marketing and financing tool to support the overall financing of the series, enhance its distribution possibilities and better target international audiences.
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“We want to use well established distribution channels for film, such as festivals and theatrical distribution, and through them promote the TV show. This way we will communicate with both moviegoers and TV audiences. Major shows are using festivals to launch their pilot episodes and create a buzz before premieres and we intend to use this strategy, but by promoting the film as the opening chapter to the show.”
The project may have never gotten off the ground if wasn’t for Petrovic’s tireless effort.
“In recent years there had been buzz about some phenomenal screenplay written by one of the greatest filmmakers from Yugoslavia, Voja Nanović, which was lost,” van Houwelingen explained. The screenplay supposedly combined Stankovic’s best works into an epic 10-episode TV series.
“All the information was partial and no one could say whether the story was real or just another urban myth. Until Milutin Petrovic decided to follow it through and search every archive and storage in town, finally digging out the existing script containing all the episodes.”
It turned out Nanović had written the script in the early 1970s while living in New York City and working for ABC Studios as an editor. He eventually returned to his native Yugoslavia. While there had been attempts to produce the series for Yugoslav television during the early 1980s, the project never came to fruition and the original scrip was lost.
“After reading just the first episode it was clear that the approach and narrative were so modern and up to date and that the script absolutely lived up to its hype,” van Houwelingen noted. “Since the script was discovered, This and That Productions has been involved in developing the project with the main focus on clearing the script rights with all seven legal successors.”
“Bad Blood” participated at the CineLink Drama co-production workshop in April 2018, where it received helpful feedback, van Houwelingen added. The company then hired Serbian writer Milena Markovic to polish the scripts for the first three episodes of the show, which were also turned into a feature film screenplay.
At last year’s Sarajevo Film Festival CineLink Drama TV forum, the project was then pitched to leading European broadcasters and commissioning editors.
“After the pitch, we had over 15 successful meetings with international partners, mostly from neighboring countries, but also from Turkey, Germany, Hungary and Greece,” van Houwelingen said.
Around the same time the company received development and production support for the film from Film Center Serbia.
“Having had all the episodes already written, and knowing the value of the script and its authors, we immediately shared the script with the editorial department of Serbian National Television (RTS),” van Houwelingen added. “Realizing the artistic significance of the script and its quality, RTS greenlit the project in the shortest period of time, coming on board as the major investor.”
“Bad Blood” is scheduled to shoot next year with an international cast from Serbia, Albania, Greece, Turkey and beyond. “We plan to organize thorough castings for all these roles, reaching out to international casting agencies and also organizing castings in Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia,” van Houwelingen said.
“Bad Blood” is set to air in winter 2020/2021.