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Ran Tellem Talks the Mediapro Studio Signature Series ‘The Head’

CANNES —  Set at the South Pole in Winter, shot largely in English but with Danish as well, featuring heavy VFX, co-produced by Hulu Japan and HBO Asia and starring “La Casa de Papel’s” Alvaro Morte and Japanese idol Tomoisha Yamashita, survival thriller “The Head” is certainly one of the biggest Spanish series set for release next year. That, these days, means something.

The subject of a Mipcom First Look session on Tuesday, “The Head” is also as signature show for The Mediapro Studio whose parent, The Mediapro Group, burst onto the high-end drama scene, co-producing “The Young Pope.”

Its fascination cuts multiple ways, says The Mediapro Studio’s Ran Tellem, who will talk at the First Look on Tuesday. One large appeal: the setting, the South Pole, during its six month winter. “I thought it was a brilliant setup to do something there in a complete darkness, complete isolation, even though you are still on Earth it feels almost like you’re in space,” he adds.

Also, he says, “there’s the way the story unravels.” At Mipcom, Tellem will take some five minutes of Tuesday’s First Look to recount the series first 15 minutes, which he once pitched to brothers Alex and David Pastor to successfully persuade them to develop the series as its writers.

The set up, says Tellem is “a very simple and clear story.” On the last day of summer, at Polaris VI Antarctic base, most people fly out leaving a skeleton staff,  ten, eleven, twelve people, called the Winterers, to stay behind for six months in complete isolation and darkness.

“Cut to  six months later, we see the choppers landing at the base. When they open the door they find many bodies, and just one survivor.That one survivor starts telling them the story and they have no idea whether the story that the survivor is telling is the truth. Or maybe that survivor is the killer and they’re telling them the complete opposite.”

In the ultimate analysis, however, “The Head” turns on human nature, Tellem observed: “The one thing that we insisted on is that it will be a human story. Whatever happened there, happened because of what people did to other people, there’s a reason behind it.It’s based on the most simple survivalistic human emotions”

Few companies have expanded so fast into the drama series space than The Mediapro Studio which now has 34 scripted series, plus 60 non-scripted shows, in various stages of production. That can be put down in a significant part to the energies of Ran Tellem, a longterm exec at Israel’s Keshet – its VP, programing from 2007, SVP Content since 2014. There he oversaw “Prisoners of War,” remade in the U.S. as “Homeland,” for which he won an Emmy as executive producer.

Joining the Mediapro Group in 2016 as head of international content development, he has nurtured “The Head” from initial concept to advance production., developing the story with the Pastor brothers and director Jorge Dorado.

“The Head,” said Tellem, does feature a Spanish-character, is written by two Catalan-born writers and directed by anther Spaniard, but it’s a story that can screen anywhere. That international reach is a “big step forward” for The Mediapro

Studio, he said. One reason why he left Israel for Spain was to be able to make series at this scale, he adds.

Few TV executives, moreover, have such a sense of the craft of storytelling, its traditions, evolution and power as the quiet-spoken Tellem.

At the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, Tellem presented another upcoming The Mediapro Studio series: “The Paradise,” a crime drama set on the Costa del Sol co-produced with Finland’s YLE and set in a community of Finnish expats living in a small village in southern Spain.

“It’s very compelling, a super international story: the world right now is built up of many people living not where they were born,” he comments.

At Berlin, Tellem teased out the human drama of “The Paradise,” which turns on a Finnish woman cop who has dedicated the last years to care fir her partner and who volunteers to help investigate the mystery, and her reawakening to life.

Tellem is largely associated with scripted, But he has a passion for non-fiction as well, and what looks like a hit in “El Discípulo del Chef.” Part of The Mediapro Studio’s production alliance with Turner Latin America, its maiden episode, released on Oct. 7 on Chile Chilevision, became the No. 1 show for the 25-64 commercial target and the best entertainment format launch for Chilevision this year.

“I’ll try to downplay it, but I think we discovered something which might be, maybe, a new phase in reality challenge shows,” Tellem says.

“In 2001,, when we were first introduced to reality talent shows by watching ‘American Idol,’ we were introduced to the judges, Simon Cowell, for instance. Then somebody invented mentors.But that happened 10 years ago and nothing has changed since then.”

In the Turner-Mediapro show, the chefs are not just judges or just mentors, they are also competing for themselves. They cook and are judged by other people on their abilities and performance which determine whether their disciple wins.

Tele went on: “In most of the talent shows there’s usually that scene where one of the contestants faints and somebody calls an ambulance. That happened also in ‘El Discípulo del Chef,.’ But it didn’t happen to a contestant, it happened to the chef.”

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