International co-productions come in many shapes and sizes, so Flemish partners are used to adapting to different roles. It might be providing talent behind the camera, decor for the action, actors for the story, or post-production magic. This flexibility was clear when four producers of international series supported by Screen Flanders compared notes on the experience in a panel session recorded for Content London 2020.
Two of the series under discussion are being made for major French broadcasters, with Flemish talent playing an unusually large role. In the case of Renaissances, produced by Léonis Productions in Paris for TF1, 95% of the crew is Flemish, working in Flanders and in France under director Frank Van Passel (The Emperor of Taste, Madonna’s Pig).
Nearly half the cast is also from Flanders, with prominent roles for Kevin Janssens (Patrick, Undercover), Lynn van Royen (Beau Séjour, The Team S2) and Boris Van Severen (GR5, Baptiste). Finally, all the post-production and special effects will be done in Belgium.
"The show is made entirely by Flemish talent, for prime time broadcast in France," said executive producer Jean-Benoît Gillig during the discussion.
The story plays out between Biarritz and Antwerp, exploring the emotional fallout of a heart transplant for the families of both the donor and the recipient. "From the very beginning, we wanted a marriage of Biarritz and Antwerp on the screen," Gillig explained. "And Antwerp is amazing."
The partnership with Flanders was decisive in financing the co-production, with TF1 providing just 60% of the budget. "So we had to be creative, and both Screen Flanders and the Belgian Tax Shelter played a big role in that."
The show is made entirely by Flemish talent, for prime time broadcast in France
Talent in any language
The direction of travel was different for Crossroads, a crime series conceived for public broadcaster France Télévisions. According to producer Ivy Vanhaecke, of Sallie Gardner and Domm, this is the first time Flanders has originated a series for the French market in this way.
While the cast is mostly French, the creative team is Flemish, so language skills were crucial for the co-production to advance smoothly. Director Frank Van Mechelen (Salamander) speaks French fluently, and screenwriter Paul Piedfort (Professor T) worked in English, before collaborating with a French dialogue specialist on the script. Then for the shoot, the crew worked in English, French and Dutch. "That's one of the reasons they adapt so well to co-productions," Vanhaecke explained.
The main locations for the shoot are along the Flemish coast, which she feels will bring a very particular, northern European atmosphere to the series. "A combination of the architecture and the cinematic qualities of the beaches makes this unique for viewers in the rest of Europe."
Miia Haavisto of Tekele Productions in Finland was also looking for a special atmosphere for Transport, a suspense drama about international fraud and the illegal movement of horses. "We knew we would need exclusive locations with horses, stables and fields, and there were plenty to choose from in the Flanders region," she said.
Location hunting planned for the spring of 2020 was complicated by the corona virus, but the flexibility of the Flemish team helped keep the production on track. "We were very dependent on photos, and having an excellent location manager. Then we made the final decisions a few weeks before the shoot."
The production spent two weeks in Antwerp, Bornem, Turnhout and at the world-famous Stephex stables. "They provided everything we needed for the shoot, and excellent production values," Haavisto said. "A major advantage was that we did not have to drive far to the different locations, even though so many were involved."
The shoot involved local crew and acting talent, including Lynn Van Royen and Geert Van Rampelberg (Blackout, The Treatment). In addition to support from Screen Flanders, the shoot also benefited from the Tax Shelter. Haavisto confided that she found both systems transparent and responsive. "It's a very inspiring financing environment, and I hope to work here again."
It's a very inspiring financing environment, and I hope to work here again.
Have kit, will travel
The fourth co-production discussed was unusual in not shooting a single second in Flanders. Instead, Flemish studio Lites brought its cameras, lights and grips to Iceland to shoot Fractures, a drama that confronts a city doctor with the folk beliefs of a small community. "It was quite a moment for us when we saw the Lites truck from Belgium arrive outside our facility," said Hordur Runarsson, chief executive and producer with Glassriver in Reykjavik.
Part of the post-production will also take place in Flanders, with Image and Sound Factory handling the sound, and Flow taking care of post-production, VFX and grading.
Runarsson explained that Fractures will be the first of three collaborations between Glasshouse and Lunanime in Flanders. "We saw a perfect opportunity with the first project to collaborate on post-production and equipment, but this will build in the other series, until a majority of the filming takes place in Flanders."
Watch the full session here...