Series Mania founder analyzes TV drama industry, artistic trends, Hollywood studio interest in international TV fiction
Two factoids about Paris’ thriving Series Mania, one of Europe’s highest-profile TV festivals, highlight the current feeding frenzy for high-end TV drama in Europe and beyond – and of co-production as a strategy of choice to mitigate risk and hike production values when making such series.
In 2016, Series Mania received 193 applications from producers to pitch projects at its Co-production Forum. This year, the number is 312. Last weekend, Forum delegate numbers were tracking at 890 for this year’s 5th Forum, and will probably pass 900, up from 423 in 2016 and 74 at the inaugural 2013 Forum. That attendance surge reflects more companies sending more executives and the lure of a new €50,000 ($53,250) cash prize for the producer of the winning project, out of 16 selected entries pitched this year at the Forum on April 18. That money goes to development of the project. In a highly competitive field, where the biggest growth in TV dramas in many countries may be in budgets, not volume of production, companies are paying ever more attention, as Series Mania itself, to the key to great TV drama: its writing. In the run-up to the 8th Series Mania edition – which kicks off April 13 with the first episode of the third season of “The Leftovers” – “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof’s teasing, troubling rumination on sense in life and in fiction – Series Mania founder Laurence Herszberg, also director general of Paris’ Forum des Images, talked to Variety about the event’s growth, studio interest in international drama, and trends, industrial and artistic, coursing through current output.
One sign of Series Mania expansion are its number of cinema theaters. But growth is pretty much across the board.
Laurence Herszberg: You’re right. This edition’s reached a new dimension. Last year, we had 100 screenings, this year 150. We’ll screen 91 dramas on a big screen vs. 52. We will have 59 new series, among them 31 international or worldwide premieres. We also increased the competition meaning among the 31 premieres, we have 10 in competition compared to 8 in 2016. This year we have new British and American shows, which is always difficult to achieve. Seven years of work has helped us to convince the US. studios and platforms, there is something at to be gained launching or showing dramas at festivals like Series Mania.
You’ve also added an extra day to the Co-production Forum…..
I hope it doesn’t sound pompous but we are really proud of having become a fixture on the international industry calendar. The industry needs the Co-production Forum. That’s why we expanded from there says to four and the Co-Production Forum’s pitching sessions will take an entire day.
Last year, the Co-Production Forum attracted about 430 attendees. As of last weekend, I believe you are up to about 890. What do you put that down to?
Beyond our talent for attracting companies (laughter), in part it’s the result of really tough competition, Everyone is competing with other channels and digital platforms for the best dramas, and they’re being developed all over the world. Also, countries, including the U.S., are opening their doors to foreign dramas, some subtitled, some dubbed, but people are interested in things happening in other parts of the world. Also, when we visited all the Hollywood Studios in November, we received the impression that they wanted to renew their talent, stories, narratives, and will attend Series Mania to pick up on new trends in writing.
Another departure is the Torino SeriesLab that takes the festival into a new field: Training.
We’re not a market where you have meetings for 10 minutes and just buy and sell. What we’ve noticed over the years is that story-telling, the sense of an author, is at the heart of drama. Everyone can have a good idea but it’s difficult to sustain it for ten or 12 hours. So we decided with the Torino Film Lab to launch a new initiative for scriptwriters, especially European ones. We received 109 projects and selected nine, which will be pitched at the Co-Production Forum.
You are also forging collaborations with other festivals and events, such as first the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, which allows two projects to be presented at both events – this year one is “Freud,” a period procedural – and now a collaboration with Spain’s Conecta Fiction.
Freud is a very well-known international brand. The series has a very original concept: a young Freud, already very interested in psychology, becoming part of a crime-solving team in a vivid, elegant period Vienna.
We are asked by a lot of new TV initiatives for a form of collaboration but Conecta Fiction and Spain and Latin America are very interesting. There are direct links in cinema, but TV is less explored. We are also in discussions to broaden its collaboration with Latin America’s biggest film market, Ventana Sur. And we have just launched the first Series Mania Melbourne for next July in partnership with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).
Belgian Noir was one 2016 Series Mania highlight. Will any country break through like that in 2017?
There are two answers. With regard to completed drama, we’ll have series from Russia for the first time. Of the 15 projects we finally selected from 312 applications from 39 countries for the Co-Production Forum, two are Dutch, which is very interesting.
Are there any trends that the 8th Series Mania underscores?
First, there’s the very existence of the Forum, with what it says about interest in international co-production. We could not have created it just a few years earlier. No-one would have understood. Now it’s common to discuss international projects. At the beginning, we didn’t have any American studios coming to Series Mania. Now there are. Another its [increased] studio attendance: Digital platforms are more and more developing their business. The studios really want a way to fight back.
And artistic trends?
A current artistic trend. There are still a lot of thrillers, it’s a big tendency. But they’re multifaceted. You have noir, but also thrillers with fantasy or political elements. You now have more and more shows with artistic trends connected to the dark side of the development of our societies. Look at “Black Mirror” or the new French show “Transfer.” Dramas are more and more connected in a way to some very deep fears in society about our future.