Series Mania Forum Unveils Co-Pro Projects, With Buzzy Titles ‘Unspoken,’ ‘Asma’ and ‘YOP’

Courtesy of Endorphine Production

“YOP,” “Unspoken,” and “Asma” look like potential standout titles at this year’s Series Mania’s Forum Co-Pro Pitching Sessions, still one of Series Mania’s industry centerpieces which in 2023 is shaping up in many ways to be a bumper edition.

Running March 21-23, the Forum hosts now a swathe of ever building industry initiatives at Series Mania, which unspools in Lille, northern France, over March 17-24.

450 projects from 66 countries answered the call for admissions, an all time record, said Francesco Capurro, head of the Series Mania Forum. 

“We have more and more projects from outside Europe. An increasing number from Africa: Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, which is very encouraging, as well as from other big markets outside Europe, like Canada, Turkey, Taiwan,” he added.

Reasons cut various ways for Capurro: “Series Mania is getting more and more well known, including outside Europe. The Lille-based event has also established highly productive partnerships with key industry bodies,” he added, citing Canada’s Telefilm and Taiwan’s TAICCA.

In all 45 or more projects will be pitched at different sessions during the Forum, Capurro said.

Also, co-production answers a growing industry need. It accounted for just 12% of 2-13 episode series made over 2015-2020, according to a European Audiovisual Observatory report. As global scripted commissions and spend on content in general tapers off, however, producers have a powerful industry rationale to look for co-production and gap financing in other countries, as well as early distribution deals. 

Total attendance at the Forum looks set to come in at around 3,800, Capurro said. That would be another record. Series Mania will make use of a bigger auditorium at Lille’s Grand Palais for its biggest events.  

Crime dramas still dominated applications, said Capurro. They are followed by thrillers. Projects included a sizeable number of historical dramas, and ever more narratives with women protagonists. 

A lot of stories are inspired by true events, Capurro added. These may include what look like some of the most compelling projects at this year’s Forum. A fiction series, for instance, “Asma” is a biopic of Asma Al Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. Also inspired by a true event, “Unspoken” tracks a man who at the start of full-on hostilities in the Ukraine, drives from Poland to Kiev to try to protect his wife and children. Reality may be stranger than fiction. It can also deliver stories which are more moving. 

Series Mania Forum 2023 Co-Pro Pitching Sessions

A quick drill-down on the projects:

“Asma,” (8 x 52 minutes, France)

Genre : Biopic

Produced by Patricia Boutinard Rouelle for Nilaya Productions

Written by Antoine Vitkine

Vitkine already directed the 2021 doc feature, “Bashar al-Assad: Master of Chaos,” an analysis of how the Syrian conflict turned on one issue: Al-Assad’s continuation in power. The series focuses on his wife, a former London-based British-Syrian investment banker once seen as a hope for reform, and now as her husband’s accomplice. The portrait of a woman who is “both fascinating and frightening,” says Vitkine.

The Bronte Girls,” (6 x 60’, U.K.)

Genre : Historical, coming of age

Developed by Parsonage Productions with ZDF Studios

Written by Caroline Kelly Franklin

A fictional account of the last summer which the three teen Bronte sisters spent together, based on the stage play of the same name by New York-based playwright Franklin (“Last Night at the Carmine”). A “wild imagining of the Brontes that uses historical context to explore modern issues and fiction to create an epic adventure that is deeply relatable and relevant,” Franklin says. 

“Cooper,” (8 x 45 minutes, Australia, South Africa)

Genre : Crime drama

Produced by Kylie du Fresne for Goalpost Pictures and Nimrod Geva for Quizzical Pictures 

Written by James McNamara, Amy Jephta and Malla Nunn, based on Malla Nunn Books

A co-creator and writer on Disney+’s “Artful Dodger,” series creator McNamara writes with Jephta, a well-regarded South African playwright, adapting “A Beautiful Place to Die,” part of Nunn’s book series. Set in Apartheid-era South Africa, Cooper, a white detective with a dangerous secret, joins forces with a constable linked to the liberation movement and a surgeon tortured by loss, the logline runs, to defy the country’s all-powerful police force. “The series traverses murder, passion and corruption in a dark chapter of our recent history, but one where human stories allow us to show that goodness can prevail,” McNamara says. 

“Dust And Coal,” (8 x 52 minutes, Israel, France)

Produced by Ronen Ben Tal for Bental Productions Ltd and Morgane Le Moine for First Love

Written by Ronen Ben Tal, Ron Ninio, Ofer Seker and Eleanor Sela

From Ben Tal, who scored top prizes at Berlin with “The Bubble” and Locarno with “Tikkun,” an espionage thriller with an Israeli Mossad  agent whose father reveals she’s a Syrian sleeper spy, planted in Israel by the KGB as a child and her activation time has come. She becomes a double agent against her will. Behind short-form series “First Love,” Le Moine co-produces. 

“Executioners,” (Six one-hour episodes, Spain)

Genre : Coming of age, thriller

Produced by Alberto Rull for Vertice 360

Written by Pedro García Rios and Rodrigo Martín

Navarra, 1996: Four children free a businessman kidnapped by ETA, but accidentally cause his death during escape, which comes to light 15 later. An ingenious mix of real event inspired tragedy and a present-day set-up worthy of Harlan Coben’s “The Five.” Project now has the backing of Vertice 360.

“Fort Apache,” (8 x 50 minutes, Italy)

Produced by Fabrizio Donvito, Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Daniel Campos Pavoncelli for Indiana Production Company

Executive Producer: Kim Gualino

Written by Ivano Fachin, Giovanni Galassi and Tommaso Matano

From the four partners at one of Italy’s most prominent film production companies, behind films by Paolo Virzì and Francesca Archibugi, two legendary bandits, siblings Nicola and Luce Grieco, reunited after a nine-year separation, who battle each other and their fate. “A very specific but at the same time universal story about family, trust, ambition, burning cars and kalashnikovs,” say its creators.

“Hijacking Paradise,” (Six 52-minute episodes, Belgium)

Genre : Geopolitical hostage thriller

Produced by Dimitri Verbeeck for Caviar 

Created by StijnDeconinck; written by Deconinck & Nathalie Teirlinck.

Belgium, 1988. Christian and his brother renovate a battered old fishing boat and set sail for the remote islands of Micronesia to start a new life. Hijacked by Libyan soldiers, they are handed over to ANO, a Palestine terrorist group. “A story set in the late ’80s about hot topics of today: the working poor, migration, terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Geopolitical tensions and their devastating effect on everyday people,” says Deconinck, a lead editor on both seasons of “Into The Night,” the first Belgian Netflix Original. Caviar (“Bad Sisters,” “Sound of Metal”) produces.

“Letters to Leonard,” (5 x 50 minutes, Greece)

Genre : Drama, LGBTQ

Produced by George Linardakis for Stefi Productions

Written by Fotis Dousos and John Samaras, based on an idea of Pierros Andrakakos

Another buzz title inspired by true events. A prominent and deeply religious conductor does a bold photoshoot with Life magazine that tantalizes the conservative New York of the late ‘40s, especially when he admits in the interview to being gay. Inspired by the real-life figure of Dimitris Mitropoulos, a period LGBTQ portrait explored with a subtlety and irony in the vein of Henry James. 

“Monitor,” (six one-hour episodes, Germany)

Genre: High-Tech Thriller

Produced by Fabian Massah & Marc Malze for Endorphine Production 

Created by Nikolai Müllerschön

In a world in which terrorism has been brought under control by a covert international program, a special agent spirals out of control and soon becomes a target himself. “We want to explore the razor-thin layer that constrains the evil within us,“ says Müllerschön. From Berlin’s Endorphine Production.

“Our Father,” (8 x 55 minutes, Ireland, Canada)

Genre : Darkly comedic drama

Produced by Aaron Farrell for ShinAwiL and Dominic Scheiber for Reel One Entertainment

Written by John Cairns, Michael Mccartney

From Ireland’s ShinAwiL, producer of many of the country’s primetime entertainment franchises, such as “Dancing with the Stars Ireland,” and Canada’s Reel One Entertainment, one of the world’s biggest distributors of TV movies. 

“The Salvatore Mundi Case,” (6 x 52’, France)

Genre : Thriller

Produced by Florent Gellie for Incognita and Nathanaël La Combe for Wonder Films

Written by Angela Soupe and Antoine Vitkine

Involving powerful oligarchs, ambitious scholars, ambitious restorers, shady business men and even a dictator: from New York to London, Geneva to Riyadh, the true story of long lost masterpiece Salvator Mundi, the last painting from Leonardo da Vinci. Soupe (“Lupin,” “Call My Agent”) writes with Vitkine, also behind “Asma.”

The Unquiet Dead,” (6 x 60’, Canada)
Genre : Serialized crime drama
Produced by Shaftesbury
Written by Abdul Malik, based on the book series created by Ausma Zehanat Khan

An adaptation of the novel of the same title by Zehanat Khan, a procedural in which detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are callED in to investigate a body found at the bottom of Toronto’s Scarborough Bluffs. 

“Unspoken,” (Six half-hour episodes, Ukraine, Poland)

Produced by Anna Rozalska, Dmytro Sukhanov and Natalia Liber for Match&Spark (Poland), Toy Cinema (Ukraine), 2Brave Productions (Ukraine).

Written by Zhanna Ozirna, Filip Syczyński

Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lynsey Addario’s article and written by Zhanna Ozirna and Filip Syczyński, “Unspoken” tracks Eugenyi as he travels from Warsaw to Kyiv to save his wife and children in February 2022. “The only thing Evgeniy wants is for his family to survive. But he is not Superman or John McClane,” observes Ukraine’s Natalia Libet. “He is a normal guy.” 

“Vanished,”  (6 x 45,” Germany, Iceland)

Genre : Historical crime thriller

Written by Mikael Torfason

Produced by Britta Hansen and Franziska Lindner for Red Pony Pictures and Ragnheidur Erlingsdottir for Zik Zak Filmworks

Executive producers: Sven Sund (RPP), Thor S. Sigurjónsson (ZZ) and Wolfgang Feindt (ZDF)

The latest from “Blackport” writer and co-creator Torfason, kicking off in 1990 when Anna’s father disappears as communism collapses in East Germany. 20 years later, Anna, now a 35-year-old police officer in Reykjavik, is asked to return to Germany, given his body has now been found. 

Franziska Lindner, Mikael Torfason & Britta Hansen Courtesy of Vanished

“YOP,” (8 x 45 minutes, Sweden)

Genre: Drama.

Produced by Moa Westeson, Cindy Hanson and Anni Faurbye Fernandez for Nevis Productions

Written by David Jassy

Billed as the story of a Swedish fish out of water who struggles to swim in the randomness and brutality of the American criminal justice system. “This captivating story is about personal accountability and social responsibility and how gratitude and the power of the human spirit ignite light in the darkness and instil hope in the most hopeless of places,” the producers say.

An international jury of industry professionals will determine the best project among the 15 projects and give out a Best Project Award of €50,000 ($53,500) to help develop the winning series.

Jury president is Caroline Hollick, head of drama at the U.K.’s Channel 4. Members take in Michele Zatta, commissioning editor, RAI; Françoise Guyonnet, Studiocanal executive managing director, TV Series; Jarmo Lampela, head of drama at Finnish public broadcaster YLE; and Lindsey Martin VP, development & co-productions, CBS Studios International

A sixteenth project will be announced on Feb. 21, being presented out of competition in partnership with the Berlinale Co-Production Market.

Marta Balaga contributed to this article.

Series Mania CoPro Jury Members Courtesy of Series Mania