Wild Sheep Content, the L.A.-based production company of former Netflix head of international originals Erik Barmack, is teaming with France’s Studio Reaz to adapt “Marked for Life,” the debut novel by top Scandinavian crime writer Emelie Schepp featuring the damaged heroine Jana Berzelius.
The deal was signed with Joakim Hansson, CEO of Schepp’s Stockholm-based agents, Nordin Agency.
After self-publishing “Marked for Life” in 2013, Sweden’s Schepp has gone on to become one of Scandinavia’s top crime writers, selling more than 2 million copies of her novels – a huge number relative to the size of the Scandinavian market. Rights to her novel series have been licensed to 20-plus countries, including a U.S. publishing deal with Mira/Harper Collins.
The novels’ protagonist is Berzelius, a young, brilliant but emotionally stunted Swedish prosecutor who was adopted as a child and can’t remember anything about her life before the age of nine. While investigating the death of a prominent figure in her community, she follows a trail that leads to a dead young boy who has a tattoo on the back of his neck similar to Jana’s. “Marked for Life” begins to tell Berzelius’ shocking origin story.
“We’re going to be adapting ‘Marked for Life’ as a female-led series out of Scandinavia that’s part-thriller, part Scandi-noir, and global in ambition,” Barmack told Variety. While no writers are attached as yet, “we realize that we could pull writers from multiple locations (Scandinavia, U.K., U.S.) and tell a story that could span several countries, like ‘The Night Manager’ or ‘Killing Eve,” while still being very local. This is the future of crime series.”
“We are very pleased with the confidence Emelie has shown us in developing her book series as well as working alongside Erik Barmack on this exciting project,” said Martin Rea, who founded Studio Reaz in 2016 with Jean-Luc Azoulay, a veteran producer in France. Paris-based Studio Reaz is a subsidiary of the JLA Group, a leading European production house.
Rea, who identified Schepp’s books for adaptation, said that the evolution of Berzelius was “definitely the selling point for us, as well as the gruesomeness of the story.”
The more the damaged protagonist digs into her past, the more she risks unleashing a far more violent version of herself. Yet delving into her past looks like the only way she can solve crimes in the present.
“It is true that Jana is a complex character, which is what drew me to writing about her,” Schepp told Variety. “I was tired of always reading about male protagonists who were allowed their quirks and character flaws or dark pasts without ever losing their audience. When it came to women, however, it was all Nancy Drew and I felt a need to break this pattern and allow an unusual and complex woman her secret and violent past.”
The agreement with Wild Sheep Content and Studio Reaz is Schepp’s first signed deal for development. She will serve as executive producer.
“We got pitched to by a number of producers all over the world, and Erik and Martin’s vision for Jana Berzelius from book to screen as a high-concept series felt authentic and original,” she said, adding: “Jana is a true balancing act whose vulnerability and likability comes through in the struggle between her ‘good’ and her ‘evil’ self. It is a struggle that most people can relate to, although most of us do not resort to killing.”
The Berzelius novel series continues with “Marked for Revenge” and “Are You Sleeping.”
The “Marked for Life” announcement is the second high-profile deal unveiled by Wild Sheep Content this week. On Monday, Barmack announced that he would be teaming with Germany’s ZDF Enterprises and Australia’s Werner Film to adapt Melina Marchetta’s young adult novel “On the Jellicoe Road.”