BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson and Piv Bernth, head of drama at Danish broadcaster DR, home of the original The Killing and The Bridge, shared their views on co-productions this morning in Cannes. The duo, who each work for public broadcasters, also touched on dealing with U.S. partners and the courage of their convictions. Scandinavia is a hot spot for drama, but Bernth says she only gets 4% of DR’s budget for drama so she’s “working with all kinds of different partners” and “trying to keep our feet on the ground.” She also confirmed that Killing creator Soren Sveistrup is working on a project for Cinemax, which he’ll present to the network within the next month.
Stephenson is careful to avoid the dreaded “Europudding,” or what he terms “Mid-Atlantic pudding,” but says, “In the past, all countries thought their drama was their drama, but today actually we all have quite a lot in common.” Even “the best microscopic local drama” can feel universal. Stephenson pointed to Downton Abbey, which is an ITV show, and to the BBC’s Sherlock as examples. They “are so British in their sensibility. They’re as English as English can get and that shows that if you do something well for your own country, the idea has attraction for abroad.” If Sherlock had been made expressly for international, Stephenson told me recently, it would have been cast differently. In the early days of the show, he said there were concerns that Benedict Cumberbatch’s high-functioning sociopath would not be embraced. “Couldn’t he be slightly nicer? Couldn’t you have a bigger star?” are questions he said were bandied about. “Ultimately it was the courage of convictions. It made Benedict a star and people love those rough edges.”
On working with partners in the U.S. – the BBC recently made The White Queen with Starz – Stephenson said, “They’re very supportive,” but it is “absolutely key always to make sure at the very beginning of the process that you spell out in quite tough terms, ‘This is what we will accept and what we won’t accept.’… If there are fundamental differences of opinion or compromises that are not in service of the writer, you have to walk away, or threaten to walk away.”
Of the U.S. version of The Killing, Bernth said AMC “really kept the Scandinavian feeling,” but she lamented the bloodiness and violence. “In the Danish version you never see a murder.”