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Top TV Writers Take Stage in Berlin to Sound Off on Industry Trends

BERLIN —  The international boom in prestige TV has put a spotlight on the industry’s top writing talents, yet many screenwriters still struggle to break out of the writers’ room and into the business.

At a packed afternoon session on day two of the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, Adi Hasak (“Shades of Blue,” “Eyewitness”) and Anna Winger (“Deutschland 83/86”) discussed starting their own businesses, collaborating with studios, networks, and streaming services, and keeping control of their IP as they develop projects from scratch to screen.

“The whole idea of showrunning…is very different from just writing it,” said Winger. “There are so many parts to it: How to make something, how to make it with the budget that you have, how to make it with the people you’re working with, how to take something that’s in your head and execute it

She continued: “It really takes a village to make a TV show. It’s not a one-man show, or one-woman show. It’s deeply collaborative with the other writers, with the producers, with the director, with the actors…Also, with the relationship to the broadcaster, or whoever you’re working for. They are your partners in the project, and it’s really important to be seeing each other clearly and connecting with them.”

Hasak reflected on the rapid evolution of the TV business in the years since he struck gold with “Shades of Blue,” a script he wrote on-spec before getting Barry Levinson and Jennifer Lopez on board and selling the series to NBCUniversal.

“They just had to eat these deals that the studio made,” he said. “In retrospect, today, it would be completely different. Today if I had Jennifer Lopez and Barry Levinson I would go to the foreign market, I would work with the distributor. It would be a completely different model.”

He continued: “Our partners now are distributors. Distributors are looking for content, and they’re willing to step up and deficit-finance shows. So we kind of reverse-engineer our shows, and we come to the Americans last. They really do it differently if they know that your participation is contingent on making the show. So we just try to corral the money out of Europe.”

“We made the first season of ‘Deutschland’ so recently, and the world has changed so radically since then,” said Winger. “At the time it just seemed insane that you would make a show in Germany and it would sell in 120 countries. Now, all this cross-pollination is happening. There’s a lot more places to sell work.”

Rapid changes to the industry’s business model are creating more opportunities for producers than ever before, thanks to heated competition between studios, broadcasters and streaming platforms. When developing his latest series, Hasak said it was critical to think outside the box and explore different revenue streams.

“With the business moving as fast as it is, I’m delivering 10 x 30, but I can also deliver 30 x 10. Because I can take every episode and cut it into three mini-episodes,” he said. “I can cut it so that the second window won’t be Amazon and Netflix. It will be cellular. And that’s how we are responding as creators.”

Both writers agreed that certain tried-and-true rules still applied when following their creative instincts.

Hasak told the audience, “You have to write from your gut,” rather than reacting to the fickle winds of a fast-changing industry.

Said Winger, “I don’t think about where it’s going when I think about the project. I think much more about the project and somehow trust that it finds a right home. And the benefit for all of us now is there are a lot of homes.”

There’s also a bigger burden on the shoulders of TV’s top showrunners.

“I just had a show greenlit and I called my wife, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we got greenlit. And the bad news is we got greenlit,’” said Hasak. “It’s just such an intense, overwhelming job, and there should be no reason that a writer, a director and producer can’t team up together and produce a show.”

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