Glen Ballard, best known for co-writing Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror and producing Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, walked into Alan Poul’s office in 2013 and told the Six Feet Under and Tales of the City exec producer that he wanted to make a show about a jazz club in contemporary Paris.
“It was a very unusual genesis,” Poul tells Deadline. “Glen left me with a CD with a dozen songs on it. I listened to them and they blew me away. Half of those songs are in the first season of The Eddy.”
Poul subsequently went to see the band that Ballard put together, in venues such as The No Name on Fairfax a few times and one of those times brought Damien Chazelle, whose feature Whiplash had premiered at Sundance but had not yet been released theatrically yet.
“I feel like my timing was the greatest stroke of luck,” Poul says. “Damien was clearly an emerging, brilliant filmmaker who had an extraordinary affinity for jazz and he was raised partly in Paris. He has stayed a loyal partner on this for six years.”
The eight-episode multi-lingual series, which launches May 8, takes place in the vibrant multicultural neighborhoods of modern-day Paris. André Holland plays Elliot Udo, a once celebrated jazz pianist in New York, who is now the co-owner of struggling club The Eddy, where he manages the house band fronted by lead singer and on-again-off-again girlfriend Maja, played by Joanna Kulig.
As Elliot learns that his business partner Farid, played by Tahar Rahim, may be involved in some questionable practices at the club, secrets begin to come to light that have also been concealed from Farid’s wife Amira, played by Leïla Bekhti, and when Elliot’s troubled teenage daughter Julie, played by Amandla Stenberg, suddenly arrives in Paris to live with him, his personal and professional worlds quickly start to unravel as he confronts his past, fighting to save the club and protect those closest to him.
Written by His Dark Materials writer Jack Thorne, when Netflix came on board, the streamer was in the middle of a global drama push and leaned in to the international nature of the project. “They didn’t care if it was more in French than in English, they wanted more languages, more international influences, which was music to our ears and was how we’d always envisioned it,” he says.
The language balance was intended to retain a sense of authenticity. “We wanted to feel that the characters would be able to express themselves in whatever languages they had at their disposal. We had some improvisation and in the course of rehearsing a scene, the script might indicate a line was in English or French, but we’d mix it up. It kept a sense of spontaneity alive on the set. It helps create the sense that everything is a little bit loose, like the way that jazz is.”
Portraying music on television can be tricky. Poul says to deal with this, they built the club so that it could also function as a venue to record live sound from the band. The Eddy band was made up of real-life musicians Randy Kerber, Ludovic Louis, Lada Obradovic, Jowee Omicil and Damian Nueva Cortes with many of them never having been on screen before. “Glen insisted that the band had to be cast with brilliant musicians, even though they were going to be characters in the story, they had to hit a very high bar in musicianship. That was a huge challenge,” he adds.
Holland leads the cast following breakout performances in Oscar-winning feature Moonlight and Cinemax’s Steven Soderbergh-directed drama The Knick. “It’s not a secret that Andre is one of the great actors working in America today, and people who work with actors know it. I hope this gives him a chance to shine in the spotlight because he has been working at a very high level for years and it was very exciting to be able to put him at the center of the show.”
The series, which also stars Melissa George, Adil Dehbi, Benjamin Biolay, Tchéky Karyo and rapper Sopico, was directed by Chazelle, who helmed the two opening episodes, Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi and Poul, who directed the final two episodes.
Poul says, “We encouraged each of our directors to go in their own direction, Damien established some principles of the style but within that handheld, vérité, improvisational style, each director was encouraged to express their own personality, which is not the way that always is on the series.”
This made sense, particularly as it was filmed in Paris. “In France, the sense of the director as auteur of the movie, of the episode is so deeply ingrained in the culture and with the crews, it feels very natural for each director to take the show in the direction that they want to go in,” he adds.
“I hope that people will watch this and say it’s unlike anything they’ve seen on television. I’ve been getting enough of that reaction to feel very pleased that we actually managed to make something original, which is becoming harder and harder to do in this oversaturated landscape,” says Poul.
While The Newsroom exec producer was finishing up The Eddy, he was also working on the pilot of HBO Max’s Tokyo Vice, which stars Ansel Elgort as an American journalist who embeds himself into the Tokyo Vice police squad to reveal corruption.
The drama is being overseen by Michael Mann, with John Lesher exec producing. Poul is an exec producer on the project, which is based on Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir.
“I was cutting my last two episodes [of The Eddy] in Paris while we were casting Tokyo Vice and then I left Paris to go on a location scout to Tokyo and went back to Paris to cut and then went back to Tokyo. I finished my editing and sound mixing long distance from post-production facilities in Tokyo with my French partners. I was scared but it’s amazing what you can do now,” he says.
Filming of Tokyo Vice was subsequently caught up as the world shutdown from COVID-19. “We had shot six days of an 18-day pilot shoot and we shut ourselves down and came back.”
Tokyo Vice is one of a number of projects that Poul, and his Boku Films banner, is working on with Endeavor Content after striking an exclusive overall deal with the company last year. He says that production shutdown has allowed him to focus on more development. “It was a big move and fortunately I got to know everyone over there getting The Eddy set up. It means that now I can develop, having a home there now allows me to move into a higher gear in terms of development and multiple projects.”
Poul will be back in Tokyo at some point to finish the HBO Max project. However, he says he “can’t even hazard a guess” when that will be. But he added, “Courtesy of this pandemic, this is the longest I’ve been able to live in LA with my husband in over two years. There’s always things you can feel grateful for even during a pandemic.”