James Payne’s “The Window,” which is being pitched as part of MipTV Online Plus’s Drama Buyers Summit, a digital marketplace for international broadcasters, is a drama-thriller set in the world of professional soccer.
Shooting on the series was stopped in response to the coronavirus crisis, but, having begun filming in October, eight episodes have been finished and are available as a shortened first season, with producers promising cliffhangers at the end of each episode.
“The Window” is a dramatized, behind the scenes look at an elite English soccer club and how the beautiful game can get ugly, from the top executives all the way down to its teenage stars.
BAFTA-winning director and actor Adrian Shergold (“Mad Dogs”) is lead directing, with Claudia Garde (“Tatort”) and Pieter van Hees (“Versailles”) picking up the remaining episodes. Series creator and writer James Payne (“Mr. Selfridge”) co-wrote Season 1 with Chris Gill (“The Hive”) and Mark Greig (“Bulletproof”).
Germany’s Boogie Entertainment and ZDF Enterprises produce along with Japan’s Fuji TV and Velvet Films in Belgium, with ZDF Enterprises and Fuji TV distributing the series internationally.
Payne and Boogie Entertainment producer Rolant Hergert talked to Variety about the series, set to premiere at next fall’s Mipcom.
This has been described as a series about soccer, without any soccer in it. Is that an accurate description?
Payne: I’m a huge fan of the game, but for me though it’s impossible to fictionalize the drama of live sport. Delineating the drama from on-field to off was key. The series begins at the end of the season and focuses on the ecosystem surrounding the game itself. Setting it in the transfer window – when players are bought and sold – enables us to explore rich worlds and complex characters whilst having this inbuilt ticking clock that drives the story forward.
This is a Germany-Japan-Belgium co-pro set in the U.K. Was the idea always to base this story in England?
Payne: The series is inspired by the Premier League but set in the fictional English Super League (ESL). England’s elite league is a behemoth – 72% larger in terms of revenue than its nearest competitor. It’s a great success story. I wanted to celebrate that success while also exploring some of the murky politics surrounding a league worth billions of pounds. Our ambition was always to produce an English-language series set in England.
What kind of source material did you draw on? Did you talk to any players, agents or executives? Current or former?
Payne: I’ve spoken to many people connected to the game. Some of the stories you hear are eye-watering. There’s an ugly underbelly to the beautiful game. The series doesn’t shy away from lifting the lid on some of the tactics employed by agents, administrators, players and money men. Complimenting this I’ve studied a lot of material to understand the structure of the game at a global level. How leagues work, how the governing bodies work, the broadcasters, the role of agents and of course fans. It strikes me that this is a world built on two things that serve drama well: Love and money.
Can you talk about the creative reasons for shooting in so many locations?
Payne: The series is primarily set in the U.K., but I wanted it to feel big, global. From the earliest pitches I had this idea to take our characters out of their comfort zones. We do this with a two-episode mid series decampment to Malta for an international tournament. The thriller elements of the series really ramp up across these episodes and when they return to the U.K. things have changed. From a production point of view Malta had the right combination of high-end glamour locations while also being attractive financially.
How does this series address that fundamental issue of standing out in the crowded world of TV drama?
Hergert: “The Window” not only takes a close look behind the scenes of the multi-billion dollar soccer industry, but it also tells the compelling story of a family that gets caught up in it. Carefully intertwining the plots in this large ensemble series, “The Window” remains, at its core, a story about the most human characteristics. Combined with a high production value and shooting locations such as Liverpool, London, Belgium and Malta, this series is unique on the market.
Has the current coronavirus crisis affected production? What state is the production in now? Do you have premiere and/or a release date yet?
Hergert: It has. We were shooting in three blocks to ensure enough time to move the team and crew around various countries. When news broke about the virus, we took it extremely seriously and made sure that the current governmental information was available to everyone involved and ordered mobile hygiene systems. We also employed a full-time doctor on set. We wanted to make sure that everyone was safe. We were in Belgium when it became clear that to continue shooting would be irresponsible. Then the authorities there ordered a shut-down of all productions. We’ve completed eight episodes and have two more to shoot for Season 1. As soon as the shut-down is lifted, we will resume shooting and announce a premiere date. However, we can deliver the first eight episodes as a first season as each episode ends with a great cliffhanger.
How did this extraordinary production partnership come about?
Hergert: Together, we wanted to create an exciting series with a topic that resonates in any market. We decided on soccer and soon developed the idea about the dealings and business aspects of the beautiful game. As we wanted this series to have an international feel to it, we brought partners from Belgium and Malta to the table. It was also an economic decision in order to create value on screen. With the help of the co-production network of ZDF Enterprises and the investment from Fuji TV, combined with the tax incentives in Belgium and Malta, Boogie Entertainment was able to close financing without the need of pre-sales, leaving more territories to sell and turning investment into profit.