Bordertown is the only Nordic TV drama selected at the first MIPDrama. That’s quite a coup for you…
Matti Halonen: I’m really proud, especially as many other great Nordic TV dramas were pitched at Göteborg’s TV Drama Vision. We are launching the series at MIPTV so it’s an ideal starting point.
How would you describe the series and in what way does it differ from the classic Nordic noir?
MH: It’s a combination of family drama with Nordic noir. The main character Kari Sorjonen [Ville Virtanen] is one of the most respected officers in Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation. His wife [Matleena Kuusniemi] is slowly recovering from brain cancer. They want to downscale their lifestyle and to move to a small town near the border with Russia where she was born. The couple have a teenage daughter. Kari joins the local police forces and starts to investigate murders committed on both sides of the border.
There are 11 episodes with five crime stories linked to the different stages that the family has to go through to find peace. We chose to show the border town as an idyllic, lovely little town as a metaphor for the warm family story, contrasting with the very dark crime element.
Were you able to use the Russian elements in the story to raise co-financing from Russia?
MH: Unfortunately that was not possible. Times are very challenging in Russia these days. Putin has a strong grip on the media and broadcasters there are a bit scared of backing any production that might harm the image of their nation. At the end we decided to shoot three weeks in Finland and the remaining two months in Lithuania. They have Russian speaking actors, tax rebates and locations that look like Russian cities.
Who are your various partners in the project and what was the budget?
MH: We had a medium range budget. We have YLE, Federation Entertainment, the Finnish Film Foundation and the private equity investor IPR.vc. That’s a new entity launched in 2015. They have a €20M budget available to invest in IP content (film, TV drama, books, games etc).
How was your collaboration with Federation Entertainment on a creative and financial standpoint?
MH: They gave us a distribution advance for world sales and came in as co-producer. They picked up our previous show Replacements as well. They have an L.A. office and another one in Paris with strong script development teams. We sent them our scripts and they gave us their feedback from Paris and LA.
This was essential for us to avoid cultural pitfalls. We had this problem for instance with our previous show Nymphs that was sold to 60 territories. Some countries had serious problems with the sexuality in the content.
When will Bordertown premiere on YLE?
MH: It will air in the autumn on YLE and we are already discussing a second season.
You founded Fisher King with writer/director Mikko Oikkonen. How do you develop the shows together?
MH: When we created our company in 2009, we immediately decided to copy the US model, with a show runner, writers room and we adapted it to suit our small boutique production model. Basically we develop ideas and the overall concept together. Mikko writes the first draft and then we hire writers for the writers’ room and even do a casting to get the best writers most suited for each project. Mikko is the show runner and usually directs the first 2-3 episodes to set the tone. We’ve done this since our first show Nymphs. On Bordertown the co-writers were Matti Laine, Altro Lahtela and Antti Pesonen.
If I’m correct you also extend the life of your TV shows’ universe through book series…
MH: Yes we started this with Nymphs that was translated into 20 different languages. We did the same for Replacements and Bordertown. Basically we develop transmedia concepts. Nymphs is now developed as an international feature film worth 8-10€M. We are raising the financing in the territories where the series was the most successful, such as Germany, Japan and Spain. We hope to go into production in 2017.
What other TV dramas and feature projects are in your pipeline?
MH: Our next TV drama will be the international thriller Watchdog (working title). It will be partly shot in English as the main character is British. But the series is set in Finland and Central Europe. It’s about a journalist who investigates a terrorist cell.
On the feature film side, we have the horror project Bloodsuckers - backed by Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s Nordic Genre Boost-and Mermaid, the first feature film to be directed by Mikko [Oikkonen].
Would you like to reinforce your collaborations with the rest of Scandinavia?
MH: Actually we are going to open a Swedish branch in Stockholm in a few months. Emma Dixgård who has a legal background will run the office and we will hire a producer to work with her.