Keshet International and A Private View’s Flemish thriller “Storm Lara” answers the question: What happens when a suicidal caller interrupts a live late-night radio show? As it turns out, a lot. The 4×30’ series moves quickly, putting acerbic radio DJ Lara (Ella Leyers, “Professor T.”) to the test when her suicidal caller’s identity is revealed, and her son’s life becomes endangered. Wouter Hendrickx (“De Infiltrant”) co-stars as Lara’s radio producer Rafik in the Daan Gielis (“La Holandesa”) written and Kadir Ferati Balci (“Turquaze”) directed drama.
The series launches at Berlinale 2022 in the Series Market Selects selection, noting increased market potential. Filmed during the height of Covid-19 lockdowns, “Storm Lara” uses its tight format and production restrictions as a tool to crank the tension to eleven, and the music of the station serves up a heightened pulse with electronica and modern fuzz.
Variety spoke with producer Dries Phlypo and writer Daan Gielis ahead of the 72nd Berlinale Film Festival.
“Storm Lara” was filmed during Covid-19 lockdowns and uses its setting and plot in overcoming restrictions. How difficult was this to accomplish?
Phlypo: Actually, Covid-19 lies at the origin of this project. We were frustrated that shooting a feature or series was next to impossible due to the restrictions that were in place. But I kept thinking that it had to be possible to shoot at least something if we kept sets, actors and crew to a strict minimum. I asked Daan Gielis if she had any brilliant ideas and she sent me the synopsis of what was to become “Storm Lara.” Her story took place in real time between 2 and 4 A.M. in a radio station. We were able to keep the crew to a strict minimum. No assistants were on set. Just the heads of department. It never felt crowded on the set. We shot everything in just 12 days. At the time of shooting self-tests did not yet exist. A nurse was on set every morning to test every cast and crew member.
Were there challenges in building the needed tension and drama throughout the series when much of it takes place in a radio recording studio?
Phlypo: Well, due to Covid-19, we were unable to shoot in a real radio studio, so we had to build one in an empty building that we used as a studio. The whole crew, specifically art director Kurt Rigolle and director of photography Diego Desuttere, outdid themselves to create a radio studio where the smallest details (levers, lights, displays, phones…) would help to enhance the slow-burning tension that builds up to a climax through the series. An important, increasingly menacing visual element are the images of Lara’s home security cameras that show up live on her computer. Director Kadir Ferati Balci lets the audience see just a bit more than his main character sees. It’s very effective. He understood what this romantic suspense story needed in terms of image, sound and music. It never feels repetitive. Kadir had script readings with the actors in the weeks preceding the shooting. He was well prepared for the shoot and really lived up to the challenge.
The format of the series is limited, with a lot of drama packed into four episodes. What went into the decision to make it a four-part series?
Phlypo: Our new Flanders VOD channel Streamz was just starting up and I knew they were not looking for television movies. They wanted fiction series to keep their subscribers hooked. So, we presented them “Storm Lara” in an unconventional format: four episodes of 30 minutes. It turned out to be the first original series that they greenlighted. They financed 70% of the budget and we found the rest of the financing via tax-shelter investors. Everything went very quick. Streamz committed to a four-page presentation in November 2020 and they wanted to air in summer 2021. Development, writing, filming and post-production were done in just 7 months. I think the time limit actually motivated the whole unit to give their best and be very creative.
“Storm Lara” feels very modern and edgy. Was this a goal for the series?
Gielis: I felt that the Covid restrictions could lead to something exciting; it really forced me to think differently in creating the story. It makes you really creative when boundaries and limitations challenge your working method. Next to that, I think the story reflects the lonely times of COVID; In retrospect I feel that the glass wall inside the radio studio is a metaphor for how we felt during a lockdown; we could see each other, we could hear each other but we could hardly ever touch. This longing for connection, the desire to physically touch someone has become a layer in the whole story.