Erik Barmack, the former Netflix VP of international originals who brought “Money Heist” to the streamer, has boarded Tianna Johnson’s London-set fantasy drama ‘Obeah,’ which topped the Brit List 2021 of un-produced screenplays.
The move sees Barmack, now working out of his own L.A. label Wild Sheep Content, a company which he started with The Mediapro Studio, coming on board to develop and produce “Obeah” with Johnson.
The Brit List is based on recommendations by the British film and TV industry, ranging from its producers to talent agencies, sales companies, financiers, distributors and broadcasters.
Described by Barmack as “‘The Sixth Sense’ meets a crime series” and the best script I read last year,” “Obeah” is set largely in present-day North-West London but draws inspiration from indigenous spiritual practices in the Caribbean.
When the bodies of young people start showing up across the country, an angsty woman finds herself on the hunt for a serial killer acting out a very ancient revenge.
“One of the reasons why I became a producer for the last couple of years was to work on projects that are one of a kind where you’re really breaking new ground and in TV that’s quite hard to do,” said Barmack.
“‘Obeah’ plays on tropes that are very familiar, like a serialized crime story, but there are fantastical elements, voices and characters that I haven’t seen on British television,” he added.
Johnson is second generation British Jamaican. “I really wanted to explore how difficult it can be being a member of the diaspora,” she told Variety. “I grew up loving fantasy and crime series. They were a great escape from racial trauma, gender trauma, etc.”
“I really want to take something that was particularly painful and make it fantastic and magical, but writing about British Jamaican communities and characters, people that are very real and very raw,” she added.
The London she knows is a blend of so many different cultures where magic is “very existential, treated like a very serious practice.”
Part of “Obeah” moves to Jamaica in the past, its overarching story turning on “revenge,” Johnson observed, and “what the U.K. is responsible for, and what could justice look like for those descended from enslaved people?”
“It’s amazing to read someone with such a fine grip on both cultural themes, crime beats, and genre,” Barmack added, citing one early hook: The protagonist, affected by her family’s past, can see and talk to the dead and has a sense of what happened to them, but as the bodies pile up, she doesn’t have at first a true sense of why these people are getting murdered. “It’s a completely unique setup. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Barmack and Johnson will serve as producers on “Obeah,” Wild Sheep Content contributing resources for Johnson to complete a bible. The project will then be taken out to market.
“I want to make sure that this story is broad and entertaining and there’s murders and grounded fantasy. The world building is hugely ambitious here, fun, and surprising,” Barmack said.
Johnson is represented by Curtis Brown.