The latest high-end groundbreaking drama produced by DR has just opened in Denmark to solid ratings and its creator and head-writer Jeppe Gjervig Gram (pictured and co-writer of Borgen) is already busy writing Season 2, currently in production. He spoke to us about the writing of the series and about his love for the writers’ room.
What are the main themes of Follow the Money?
JGG: The main theme is greed. The premise is that everybody is greedy. As I see it, it’s a basic human condition and after the financial crisis, a lot of people were quick to blame the bankers on Wall Street. But we were all greedy and partly responsible for the unsustainable rise in house value, excessive borrowing and risky investments that eventually led to the financial crisis.
The series is also about money, linking nations and different levels of society. We invented money more than 3,000 years ago and today it controls us as much as we control it.
The interesting point is that it’s still quite virgin territory as scripted material for TV drama…
JGG: Definitely. It felt like an important topic to deal with and it was intriguing that no one had really dared to tackle the subject, probably because it’s very complex, even more than politics. I spent five years on Borgen and thought that money and the world of finance would be equally complex, but it’s actually more complex. We did introduce an element of crime that softens it and makes the subject less esoteric and easier to digest for a wider audience.
How are the themes developed through the series?
JGG: We have three intertwined stories. One arena is that of a giant energy company Energreen doing dubious business. We follow a young ambitious female lawyer who gets the opportunity to work with the charismatic CEO of the company, a kind of Steve Jobs.
The second arena is that of a policeman who investigates a crime and stumbles upon information linked to Energreen’s shabby business practices. The third arena is represented by a young car mechanic who used to steal cars and by coincidence finds something that belongs to the Energreen organization. The three arenas correspond to three layers of society, the upper class, middle class and working class.
How knowledgeable were you in finance and how much research did you have to do?
JGG: I have no financial background and education, the same way that I had no political background when I worked on Borgen. Fortunately DR gave me time to read and collect information from professionals, financial journalists etc. I researched big cases in Denmark and in the US such as Enron.
How do you actually work as head writer at DR Fiction and within a writers’ room?
JGG: Before becoming a scriptwriter, I was actually a buyer of TV drama at TV2 for six years, screening many US and UK shows. I fell in love with shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under etc. Then I saw a behind the scenes documentary about Friends and had the first glimpse of a writers’ room. I saw the young brightest writers of Hollywood brainstorming ideas about the next show and I thought: ‘I want to be like them!’
That was also the time when DR had started working with writers’ rooms on shows such as Taxa and Unit One. I first attended the scriptwriting course at the National Film School of Denmark that collaborates very closely with the fiction department at DR. With Tobias Lindholm, my writing partner at the film school, we learnt very early on how to develop our skills within a writers’ room. Right after film school, I joined DR and started working on The Summers, then Borgen and now Follow the Money. DR is among the few broadcasters in Europe to offer scriptwriters the comfort of working within a writers’ room.
How was your collaboration with concept director Per Fly who usually writes his own scripts?
JGG: I enjoy working with great directors and let them take ownership of the show. Per Fly is one of Denmark’s top directors, if not my favorite. We discussed a lot and his input was very important to us. His remarks were so clever that we took many of them on board to improve the material and character development.
It was a good timing for him as well as his new film Backstabbing for Beginners also deals with corruption. Follow the Money is very much about society and most of his films are social dramas. So he felt a natural connection to the subject matter.
Are you already working on Season 2?
JGG: Yes Season 2 is in production and we are currently writing episode 17 and 18, i.e. episode 7 and 8 of Season 2. I can’t say much beside the fact that the three parallel story-lines will continue.
Follow the Money immediately attracted a lot of interest from world buyers when it was first pitched in Berlin 2015 and Borgen is often cited as a landmark European TV drama that opened new doors outside the crime genre. Will this success make you… follow the money outside of Denmark?
JGG: I’ve been approached; it’s very flattering, and I will most certainly do something outside of Denmark at one point, but for the moment, the ideal place to be is at DR because I really enjoy the amount of creative freedom I get. They really believe in the writer’s vision. So I don’t think the grass is greener on the other side. I think it’s different. That’s all.
Will you be involved in the US version supervised by the creator of True Detective Richard Brown?
JGG: If they want me to, but they should make their own show, although I’m very curious to see how they will adapt it for the US market.
Written by Annika Pham
Photo: Jeppe Gjervig Gram-credit Bjarne Begius Hermansen