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‘Bullets’ Creator on Writing for VOD and Subverting Nordic Noir

“Bullets,” a Finnish, German and Belgian co-production from creator-producer Minna Virtanen and Antti Pesonen, held its market premiere screening on Monday at Berlin’s Drama Series Days, the TV component of the European Film Market.

In the series, ex-terrorist Madina Taburova, presumed to be dead, emerges in Helsinki looking for political asylum. Intelligence agent Mari Saari adapts a false identity and attempts to befriend Madina, as a means of keeping tabs on the once-dangerous woman. Krista Kosonen (“Blade Runner 2049”) and Sibel Kekilli (“Game of Thrones”) play the two main characters.

Virtanen and Pesonen spent five years co-writing and developing “Bullets.” The series is produced by Finland’s Vertigo Production, and co-produced by Germany’s Nadcon Film and Belgium’s Lunanime/ Lumière, and thanks to support from the Finnish tax incentive system, the show’s entire €5 million ($5.65 million) was in place before shooting began. TV show newcomer Pete Riski directed the series’ 10 episodes.

In Finland the series is available on the VOD platform Elisa Viihde as an Elisa Viihde original series. Sky Vision handles world sales.

Although the series touches on similar trends and topics as its Nordic noir cousins, the team behind “Bullets” put great effort into producing something novel to the small screen. Virtanen discussed those efforts, as well as the challenges of writing a character-driven series and the freedom of writing for a digital platform rather than a standard linear broadcaster.

Can you talk a bit about the series’ development?

Antti Pesonen and I worked on development for nearly five years, and the story evolved along the way. The idea of a lone female cop who has to change her identity and solve crimes was always there. Along the way the character of Madina came to us and the story took shape around those two strong women. The main thing in this series is that we let ourselves be guided by mood and emotion, not plot. Our series is not about solving crime, but uncovering the personalities of these women.

In a sense, your two leads end up pitted against one another, but are actually quite similar? Would you agree?

It is interesting that Mari Saari and Madina are not so dissimilar. Mari in a sense is a blank slate. Her job is to live through fake identities, but between jobs, she doesn’t really have a home to go to. She is a lone wolf. I don’t think we’ve seen many female characters like her. Our series is not about solving crime but solving the personalities of these women. What they are going through now and why. In the series nothing is as it seems, it is like peeling the onion – always a new layer will appear, the new twist for the story will unfold.

In that respect, Krista and Sibel’s performances were key? What did they bring to the production?

We let mood and emotion guide the casting as well as the series’ narrative. We needed actors with great screen presence, who could convey a variety of emotions in a very subtle way. That is why we felt that Krista would make the perfect Mari Saari. She has an amazing presence on screen and gets under the skin of her characters. We found Sibel Kekilli through our German partners. We saw her showreel and felt she was amazing. She’s sensitive, fragile, with an inner force as well. She was perfect for the part our villain.

You’ve said before that you worked hard to subvert some of the typical tropes of Nordic Noir. How you did that?

It was our intention from the very beginning to break away from Nordic Noir. We took two huge risks here. The series is not a procedural in the traditional sense. We let ourselves be guided by mood and emotions, not plot. The second and bigger risk was to describe the terrorist as a human being, not only a villain. Madina’s motivations are not political or religious. She’s motivated by her loss and she tries to make sense of the universe.

When did other producers, broadcasters and sales get involved?

In Finland Elisa Viihde came on board to be the commissioning broadcaster. They have a first window, and the series is an Elisa Viihde Original. After that we looked for the second window partner in Finland, and MTV3/CMore game on board. At the same time I was negotiating with Nadcon Film (Peter Nadermann, Thomas Disch) and Lumière (Jan de Clearcq), and they came on board after Elisa confirmed. Once we had strong versions of episodes 1-3 we started to approach the world sales agents. That is when Sky Vision came on board.

Can you talk a bit about Elisa Viihde, and what was it like producing for VOD?

Elisa Viihde has become a big SVOD player in Finland. They are acquiring more and more Elisa Viihde Original content every year. From the producer´s point of view Elisa is more than welcome in the Finnish broadcasting markets, as Elisa is very brave and bold in what they are able to commission. It is harder for traditional broadcasters to acquire edgy content as they have to please their established audience base. So, for series which are trying to create something new, Elisa has been a great option. Elisa came on board at the development stage, and they have commented the script writing.

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