The producers of cult TV series The Missing were so impressed with the set-up they found in Flanders that they’re returning for a second helping. Actually, counting The White Queen, make that a third.
It started with the historic houses, squares and canals of Bruges, but what drew the producers of an Emmy nominated British TV series back again (and again) was a very modern combination of production expertise and attractive tax breaks. Major UK TV producer Company Pictures – whose credits range from the groundbreaking series Shameless to epic period dramas like Wolf Hall – first crossed the channel with The White Queen (2013), which is set in 15th century England and which found its perfect location in the picture postcard Flemish city.
“We were able to get locations which we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else,” says Willow Grylls, who was at Company Pictures at the time, and has since moved on with partner Charlie Pattinson to found New Pictures. That first experience of working in Flanders “just made more sense - we felt we were able to get much more production value all around by shooting there. In fact, we wouldn’t have been able to shoot the show in the UK; but it made financial sense in Belgium.’
The White Queen used Flemish talent - notably actress Veerle Baetens, star of Belgian Oscar nominee The Broken Circle Breakdown - and drew on the expertise of more than a hundred local crew members and suppliers. It also raised around 17% of its budget through the VAF/Media Fund, Screen Flanders and the Belgian Tax Shelter.
The crews are absolutely fantastic, incredibly professional. They really care about the work they’re doing and it’s a proper set-up
Not just the money
But it wasn’t just a question of money, insists Grylls. “The truth is, some of the costs in Belgium are actually higher. And, depending on which way the Euro goes, it’s not necessarily cheaper. But once you factor in the Tax Shelter it definitely made sense to shoot in Flanders. I think overall, in terms of hard production costs, it was maybe 15% cheaper doing it in Belgium.”
The decision proved a wise one in other respects as well, and led to two more series being shot in Belgium, even though the UK now has its own tax incentive. Indeed, the experience with The White Queen was so positive that the producers, after toying with the idea of shooting the series in France where the story was set and deciding that “the figures just didn’t stack up”, returned to the region with The Missing, an entirely contemporary story which had no need for the beauty of Bruges.
The series is about an English couple, Tony and Emily (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor), searching with increasing desperation for their son who has disappeared on holiday in France, helped by a determined and obsessive French cop, Julien (Tchéky Karyo). Set over two time periods – the time of the actual disappearance; and years later, when Tony, now separated from Emily but still grimly determined to find the truth, returns to France and pursues various leads, aided by the now-retired Julien.
Based on a documentary about a real-life French detective who devoted years to investigating a similar unsolved disappearance, The Missing was one of the must-see series on British television in the autumn of 2014, and has since been shown in the US, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Finland and Germany. Grylls, who was one of several producers, found the production process so rewarding that New Pictures is returning to Belgium for a second series.
Working with Czar gave us an enhanced kind of creative vision. We would not have had the show we had without their involvement
Czar's a star
The Missing II is due to go into production in February 2016 for a 20- week shoot, and will see New Pictures once again working with Flemish production company Czar TV and producer Eurydice Gysel. “I think Czar are absolutely brilliant,” says Grylls. “Eurydice is fantastic and we really love working with them. For anything that it makes sense to do in that part of the world, we would always consider going back.”
Indeed, what may have originally been a marriage of convenience seems to have developed into a full-blown love affair. “Czar are not just a brilliant service provider whom we trust absolutely,” adds Grylls, “but their creative take on things is very on point. They have got great taste and that translates to their taste in DOPs and creatives and gaffers and all sorts of things. It’s not just a question that coming to Flanders allows us to close the finance to make the show that we wanted. Working with a company like Czar gave us the additionality of an enhanced kind of creative vision for the show. We would not have had the show we had without their involvement.” Also helping is the revamp of the Tax Shelter arrangements. “Last time, under the old regime, it was much harder,” she says. “They required several things that made it more difficult, but since it’s been restructured I think it’s going to be more straightforward.”