LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth.
The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of the infamous Somali pirates, based on the true story of Mohammad Abdi Hassan. For a decade Hassan helmed one of Somalia’s most successful pirate gangs, acquiring millions of dollars in ransom payments. In 2013 he declared he had retired, but authorities weren’t ready to just shrug it off, and the U.N., MI5 and the FBI combined on a five-year manhunt leading to Hassan’s eventual capture.
In the series’ fictionalized version of the tale, Belgian counterterrorism officer Peter Van Osselaer and British-Somali former MI6 agent Naomi Abdallah join forces to chase down the pirate leader Big Mouth, who always manages to keep one step ahead of the authorities.
The project was initially developed with De Mensen, which then brought in Reel One as a partner to help develop the series for the international market. The two companies are also working together on an English-language remake of De Mensen’s award-winning series “Tygar Chocolate.”
“Capturing Big Mouth” has a proposed – and substantial – budget of between $1.7 and $2.25 million per episode. According to Reel One’s Dominic Schreiber, the ambitions for the scale of the series are to create something akin to “Narcos” or “Traffik.”
The series was originally developed by writers Hans Van Nuffel and Ahsan Naeem. Naeem had a long and successful career in music before he started writing for film and TV, and has multiple projects currently in development. Van Nuffel’s debut feature, “Adem” (Oxygen), won him a European Film Award. He is currently writing a feature film with Naeem, and recently started working on his first video game.
Reel One is now aiding the writers in expanding the U.K. side of the story, as well as developing a stronger international focus for the series. So far the team has a detailed bible, and the writers are in the process of extensive research with plans to starting the writing process soon.
“We’ve been really lucky in that as well as managing to dig up all the publicly available material (newspaper articles, interviews, podcasts), we’ve had access to several U.N. reports on Somalia which focus on the role the real life version of Big Mouth has played in piracy in the region,” Van Nuffel explained to Variety. “A big help was also being able to talk to some of the key-players involved in investigating Somali piracy worldwide.”
Naeem elaborated: “Nearly all of the characters are based on ‘real’ people, so a lot of the story is pretty accurate even if we have to be clear that the show is ‘inspired by true events.’”
However, he clarified, “We’ve taken creative license in developing the personal relationships between the character known as Big Mouth and the network of people he works with as well his family. Bringing to life his world in Somalia is something we’re really looking forward to doing. There’s a richness to the land and the culture which is often overlooked.”
Headquartered in Montreal, and with offices in London, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Reel One has recently branched out from TV film production into scripted series creation. Its series projects also include a high-end adaptation of the Philip K Dick novella “Second Variety”;
60% owned by Newen, in a deal announced late February, De Mensen is one of the largest independent production groups in Belgium, producer of “Hotel Beau Séjour,” a banner Belgium Noir series and winner at 2017’s Series Mania, and of 2018 Canneseries’ competitor “Undercover,” an offbeat dysfunctional crime family drama teaming De Mension with Federation Ent. and Netflix, which co-developed and acquired most territories worldwide.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.