“We want to favour new approaches in series writing”
Industry Report: Series
Olivier Wotling • Head of Drama, Arte France
The Head of Drama of Arte France decrypts the partnership with Le Groupe Ouest over three workshops, including a Franco-Danish lab, and evokes the current mutations in the industry
In 2019, Arte France’s Fiction Unit and Le Groupe Ouest launched Expérience sérielle, two workshops organised every year (read details here), titled “Pre-writing of series” and “Building a series concept.” This partnership is now expanding with the creation of a Franco-Danish lab for series’ writers, set up with the TV2 channel and the regional fun FilmFyn, and which will allow 12 professionals (six French and six Danish, four screenwriters and two producers from each country) to test their initial ideas, the bases of their future shows, in order to fortify them before going into development. We met Olivier Wotling, Head of Drama at Arte France, to discuss this association with Le Groupe Ouest and some tendencies in a series world in full swing.
Cineuropa: Why did Arte partner up with Le Groupe Ouest for the Expérience sérielle programme?
Olivier Wotling: For the rather general interest we have in stimulating and favouring new approaches in French series writing. Because we believe that this has to happen also outside the development commands or workings that are directly destined to the channel and the production. We want to foster changes in the French landscape by helping new talents, new writings and new working methods. This goes through this investment into Expérience sérielle, which is a bit disinterested because there is no immediate return for us, but it seems very fruitful to me since Le Groupe Ouest has always convinced us by its rather original methods.
And what about the launch, in partnership with Le Groupe Ouest, of the Franco-Danish lab?
Arte has very strong and ancient links with Denmark, starting with Borgen and The Killing. This link has always been nourished, at first by purchases and now by regular co-productions with a very creative and effervescent country when it comes to series. We co-produced the two seasons of Ride Upon the Storm with the DR, but also DNA which was a co-production with TV2 Denmark. We therefore have a long history of affinities, as much with DR and public television as with TV2, from whom we had also pre-bought Norskov a few years ago. Each time, we found that the way they made writers and producers work was very interesting: there is always something to learn from new methods in Danish or Scandinavian productions in general. We thus told ourselves that there was something to nourish in a rather more systematic way, which brought us to the initiative of the Franco-Danish lab with Le Groupe Ouest.
To what extent are working methods different, in particular when it comes to writing, between Denmark and France?
It comes down to the way the writing is organised: more or less collective, more or less early collectively, the distribution of roles and the hierarchy, especially with what they call a head writer and the other writers in the writing workshop, the writing room. There’s also the development time relative to the entry into production because the Danish still very often write or can make changes to the script during shooting. There’s also the big question of the series’ artistic unity, which is hotly debated in France: who carries it when there is no show runner as such, in the American sense? Who is this head writer? What powers does he or she have? All this really interests us, and they also have an entire system to bring young writers onto their series. Moreover, the way they approach projects does correspond to ours: they privilege the intimate and human angle for the story and the characters.
You just announced the shooting of the show Le monde de demain (news) which has Netflix as a partner. Is Arte’s singularity compatible with American SVOD platforms?
It is very different from our collaboration with TV2, for instance, with whom there is a sharing of the editorial and artistic work, an exchange of know-how. With platforms, it’s more about financial relationships of purchase or pre-purchase. It’s been four years, since A Very Secret Service, that platforms – such as, yesterday as today, Netflix, but now also Amazon or Disney – have been pre-buying or buying Arte series. It certainly isn’t their main line, but these platforms find in our shows an interesting complement to what they offer their subscribers. This nevertheless leaves Arte completely in control of these series on an artistic and editorial level.
After some recent, very beautiful successes such as En thérapie and No Man’s Land, what’s coming up for Arte in the year to come?
We just wrapped season 2 of the Spanish series Hierro [+see also:
interview: Jorge Coira
interview: Olivier Wotling
series profile] (read the review), a co-production with the platform Movistar+. We are co-producing and also finishing up Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti (whose previous series, Il miracolo, we had already co-produced), a 6x52 produced by Wildside for Sky Italia. Filming, we have Blackport in co-production with Iceland, and Countrymen with Norway. We are also wrapping up Alger confidentiel, in co-production with the ZDF. We have other European projects in the works, but I am mentioning these ones because they truly represent Arte’s striving for European diversity, from the North to the South of the Old Continent.
On the French productions side, the shooting of the second season of Jeux d’influence just started as well as that of Papillons noirs. The second season of En thérapie is being written. We will launch the second season of Maroni (a slightly mystical polar which, after Guyana, is this time set in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon) at the end of May, and in the fall, we will broadcast the second season of Mytho.
(Translated from French)
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