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Series Mania: Laurence Herszberg, Frederic Lavigne on the 2019 Edition

LILLE, France — Few festival heads are so ready to plunge into questions such as what their lineup suggests about contemporary drama series production as Series Mania’s director general Laurence Herszberg and Frédéric Lavigne. Series Mania was one of Europe’s first TV festivals to push drama series an art-form. Ten years later, it’s still a major focus of conversation with them. Variety chatted to both on the significance of this year’s lineup.

Do you see any trends in this year’s Series Mania selection?

Yes! There are emphases. Migrants and immigration is one major trend, which is interesting because it allow for multiple styles, to be approachedin a funny or dramatic way, or to focus on the lives of the people. It’s a worldwide concern, which is good. Then dystopia is also a major trend. We could say that this owes a lot to Charlie Booker, who will give a masterclass during the festival. It’s fascinating to see a screenwriter’s imagination run wild with these themes.

There’s been an intense debate in France about whether French series can face off with international competition, are up to scratch.  Do you see French fiction evolving in anyway?

Herszberg: The International Competition has only one entirely French series, “Mytho.” The other, “Eden,” is German-French.

Of course the International Competition is bigger, featuring series from all over the world. But the French Competition is also very important, The judges are journalists from around the world. They don’t know anything about how we produce, what we are doing, who’s who. So this jury will judge French series based on an international point of view. We’ve been saying for years that French series need to open up and touch international topics.

Lavigne: Picking up on what Laurence is saying, it’s striking that this year out of six French series in this year’s French Competition, three are more or less fantastic, genre series: “Sirens” with Leticia Casta, “Osmosis,” and “La Dernière Vague,” which is about the climate change. That’s quite new, the French daring to go into genre.

Is that a push phenomenon, come from younger creators, or market driven: Sci-fi travels well, is in large demand on streaming platforms, can  draw broader audiences?

Sci-fi travels very well and is a common interest among younger audiences. That could be a reason why more and more writers are now going into sci-fi. It’s also very commonly used when working with dystopia. Sci-fi and dystopia or fantasy and dystopia go quite well together. For dystopia, when you look at the series dealing with climate change – Netflix’s “Chambers,” France Televisions’ “The Last Wave” –  they use fantastic elements to emphasize what they want to say.

You could easily have had an International Competition of more than 10 titles….

Herszberg: We’re facing  contradictory and different situation to films festivals. We’d have loved to have had some of the Panorama titles in International Competition but they had been released in their country. There’s not yet the phenomenon as in cinema where, before releasing a film commercially, distributors wait for a film to be screened in one of the major festivals. The market demand for is  great for new dramas that distributors are under pressure not to wait on a series’ release. Volume is at the center of our business. Netflix has accustomed people to seeing several news shows a week…

Established players are reacting that. It was clear at the Berlin  Drama Series Days, where executives from OCS, Gaumont said they were ramping up production levels…

Lavigne: The contradictory aspect is that TV operators also are very keen to have world premieres ata a major festival. When we launched Series Mania we were very proud to get to 10 world premieres in the main competition. Now we’re talking to operators about world premiering in the sections at Series Mania.

Herszberg: So you have currently two conflicting trends: The need to release quickly, the advantage of being chosen for Series Mania  which highlights a show, helps it sell abroad.

The Lille Transatlantic Dialogues were very successful last year. What are their themes in this edition? 

Herszberg: We’ll have two major focuses. One will be authors’ rights. As you know, new European regulation has to be implemented in all European countries. The other is independent production. There are so many changes, with not just big platforms but consolidated groups hiring in-house producers and working directly with directors and showrunners. Where does that leave independent producers? How do they find a role in this new environment? Lille Transatlantic Dialogues have been created to discuss such issues.

Anything else about this edition you want to share?

Herszberg: This year we paid a great deal of attention to the proportion of women creatives. We have a very female jury. Of the 71 series elected, 29 were either written or showrun by women, or 41%. That’s very interesting. For our Writers Campus, we have 9 women to 11 men. These are young people, the future, and we decided we want equality. In the Co-production Forum we have 48% women, 52% men presenting, and 42% women, 58% men producers.

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