It’s been nearly a year since Lars Blomgren was named Banijay’s head of scripted for Europe, Middle East and Asia and, according to the veteran TV exec, it’s been a fruitful start. He’s no stranger to the role, having previously been head of scripted EMEA at Endemol Shine Group, before Banijay seized control of that company in a mega $2.2BN deal last year. There, he led the company’s non-English scripted production division. He’s been behind productions such as Danish hit series Bron (The Bridge), Dutch drama Penoza, religious fundamentalist story Caliphate, Norwegian mystery Beforeigners and Israeli drama Queens, the latter of which is being developed for a U.S. remake with Gal Gadot.
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Blomgren, who previously headed ESG-owned Swedish producer Filmlance, is experienced in building local content that has potential to break out globally and it’s his wealth of experience and building partnerships and broadening business portfolios that has seen him steer Banijay’s scripted division through the aftershocks of a pandemic to produce more than 100 projects across the global content group’s 22 worldwide territories in the last 12 months. He’s also an EP and one of the early drivers for HBO’s upcoming limited series Scenes Of A Marriage, starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, which will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival later this week.
Major scripted jewels in the pipeline for Banijay are, of course, Peaky Blinders, a Tiger/Caryn Mandabach Productions co-production; Steve Knight’s SAS: Rogue Heroes; The Talented Mr. Ripley adaptation Ripley; and French miners-strike drama Germinal, which is in-competition at Series Mania this week.
Here, in a wide-ranging interview with Deadline and in advance of his Banijay panel on scripted content Series Mania, the Swedish exec talks about the group’s successes from this year, the challenged co-production landscape and why Banijay’s push for diversity in front of and behind the camera continues to be a major driver for the company.
Deadline: It’s coming up to a year since you’ve been at Banijay. How’s it going?
LARS BLOMGREN: It’s been great. I mean we have a lot of really good production companies all over the globe and I think it’s been a joy meeting our new friends from the Banijay side. My job is very much the same as before [at Endemol Shine] – to maximise the value of being part of the group, to encourage collaboration, keep track of the slate and find the jewels and the things that actually can travel. It’s about matchmaking and sharing best practice and I think, for many of us, it’s been really useful to be part of this big group.
What do you have coming up in the pipeline that you’re looking forward to?
BLOMGREN: It’s a really big group. We did a little more than 100 projects last year, with 70% being non-English language. We have more than 15 scripted labels across the world now and, as you know, a lot of great production companies but if I were to pick some projects I look forward to, of course there’s Peaky Blinders, which has been really important to us and still is, and we’ve got Steve Knight’s SAS: Rogue Heroes, which is really amazing. In Italy, they’re shooting Ripley right now. As you know, we’re a French company and we want to be best in class over there as well and we have this project Germinal, which is very promising. I think we’re in a good place and definitely proud of what we’ve achieved in the last year.
What kind of content are you looking for when you’re scouting for new projects?
BLOMGREN: We all have this fantastic opportunity now with underrepresented communities who are now moving to the front and center. Diversity is a big thing for us and just the fact that their history has been, and unfortunately still is, challenged in so many ways. So out of that arena, there’s so many fantastic stories. I’m currently reading Heather McGhee’s The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, which the Obamas have taken the rights to, and she touches on so many different stories in history that are so interesting. So, these stories and this history is going to be really important to us.
We’re extremely proud of a project called Caliphate that we did last year for Netflix and Swedish public service broadcaster SVT, which had close to 90% Muslim unknown actors as the main cast. It was a huge success, we had a huge response from [members of] the Muslim community [saying that] it was the first time a story like this had been told in the correct way. So, things like that have been so great for us. It’s about opening up for new perspectives and new stories as there are so many important stories to tell.
But the other the other trend that we’re seeing is that broadcasters want truly local stories. I produced The Bridge a while ago and at that time there were lots of talks about crossing borders and someone going somewhere different in a different territory. Nowadays, they truly want local stories with global potential, like The Royal Flying Doctor Service [RFDS] that we’re doing in Australia. That’s important as well.
Does this yearn for local stories have anything to do with the pandemic? Has the fact the world has been on-and-off of lockdown leaned into this in anyway, with audiences becoming a bit more isolated? Or is this just a trend the business has been seeing for some time and if so, has the pandemic perhaps accelerated it?
BLOMGREN: No, I think the streamers and the broadcasters are growing in every territory and they want to be truly local. Wherever they go, they hire what they consider to be the best people on the ground and they, of course, want to tell local stories. The cross-border stories came up very much as a co-production necessity that you needed for funding in Europe with small vessels and small territories. If you had a Dane and a Swede [in a project], you could get some money from both countries. As much as I love The Bridge, [financing] it came out of a necessity and a lot of times now, it’s not needed.
So where does that leave the landscape of co-productions at the moment? How driven are co-productions these days by financial necessity? Are they more of a union of creative heads?
BLOMGREN: For us, it’s always a priority but it’s also really challenged. I’ve seen a few examples when we’ve been pitching projects of big IP in several local territories that the guys that are leaning on the broadcasters that are leaning on the co-production level, they simply can’t reach the level of the budget that a streamer can, which is sad but it’s just the way it is. I think we have to embrace the future. We can’t fight the future, so we try to look at projects really early on in the process and evaluate what is the best route and at times you just have to accept that a premium upfront offer is better than the backend three years later. But it’s a very challenged model but I have a long tradition of working with the public services in the Nordics and Germany and we would love to continue that.
Do you have to tailor shows specifically to each broadcaster?
BLOMGREN: I think every broadcaster and every streamer is unique. They have their own preferences. Some broadcasters, especially in the UK, they want to step into the process really early. They want to come with a script or a book idea or IP and develop it together whereas the American model, they’ll want to order a series in February and have it air in September. There’s a completely different mindset in each territory and no one-size-fits-all.
Going back to the issue of diversity and storytelling. Do you have a specific remit the number of diverse voices you have in front of the camera? And what about people behind the camera? Will you be pushing to have more diverse directors and crew across your productions?
BLOMGREN: 100% – it’s just as important. It’s interesting because in some territories, we have a really good presence in front of the camera, but we’re looking to changing it back behind the camera. In the TV world, a scripted series is still the most expensive commission for broadcaster and, and you want people behind the camera that actually have a reputation for executing a story. For us, it’s really important to bring in this new, young and diverse group of players and support them in the best way possible.
What does the future of remakes and scripted formats look like for you?
BLOMGREN: I did eight versions of The Bridge so for us as a group, it’s extremely important. We’re moving a lot of formats around the group. Of course it’s a challenge – you can’t do them in every territory and we have to find a structure for it. In Israel, for instance, they have a long tradition of doing local projects that almost automatically work. We’re developing Fifty and Queens at the moment and I’m 100% sure we haven’t seen the end of this.
If you tell a story in a diverse way, it opens things up. You can lean on the same brilliant story, and the structure and the right beats, but it will be a completely different story. It took us nine years but we’re just about to release this HBO show Scenes From A Marriage. It took us a really long time and Hagai Levi, the Israeli writer behind it made this big, twisted story. But if you take this format and did it with a gay marriage or a marriage between two different religions, it creates a new dynamic and it opens things up.
Of course you’re going to Venice with that project. Tell me a little bit about your involvement in that and how it came about?
BLOMGREN: The idea to do it was from Daniel Bergman, who is the son of Ingmar Bergman. He came to me and Hagai Levi who had done The Affair and In Treatment. Hagai jumped on the idea right away. We started developing but then we had some challenges about the rights, which took some time, as it’s a big IP of course and everyone wants a seat at the table. But it all worked out. The other person who’s been involved from the start is Rick Rosen, Hagai’s agent at WME who was also the representative of Shine, where I was at the time. Hagai always wanted to shoot it in the U.S. so we needed someone on the ground that could handle a project with big stars and of this scale. So, we asked Michael Ellenberg and it’s his production company that’s been doing it on the ground.
It was shot in Brooklyn last winter and unfortunately for me [because of Covid] there was no way I could go on location. But it was a joy watching all the dailies from my office at home and Jessica Chastain and Oscar Issac are just amazing. It’s been a joy watching the show and I’m really, happy with the result.
And for me to work with the guys at HBO – the notes they give, the curation – it’s such a joy and it’s been such a fantastic experience to work with them
The EMEA is a huge remit and, as you said, you have a massive amount of production companies and labels across the globe. What are some of the different strengths you’re picking up in different territories? What are some of the different trends you are seeing?
BLOMGREN: I would say all of our regions are going from strength to strength, but of course in some territories are market leaders, such as the Nordics which have a an extremely long tradition of doing very, high-quality programming. There’s lots of learnings we can take from that region.
We’re a French company, of course, and we want to be the best in France and we’re seeing some big movers there as well. A great thing about being a part of this group is seeing the different cultures. I’m Scandinavian and I have realized that we’re not the normal guys – we haven’t had a war for like 200 years – so it’s a slightly different culture. In that sense, it’s interesting to see how different territories approach different things. I think we can all learn a lot from the English companies – they’re really good with curation and script development and they focus on details in a way we can all learn from.
With streamers, especially Netflix, expanding its imprint in Europe and earmarking local producers to work with in the territory, how does this impact you as a company?
BLOMGREN: It’s a matter of like planning for success. We have to decide who we want to work with and every streamer is unique. We love working with Netflix. They are brilliant partners and for some projects, they are the right partner. For others, there’s another broadcaster [that is a better partner]. They are just another client and they are growing fast. We have a really good relationship with them in most territories.
A lot of people I’ve spoken to in the industry are very excited about Russia and the storytelling it has to offer as a territory. What are your thoughts on this? Is this a country you’ll be looking to expand in?
BLOMGREN: I love Russia and we have on the ground Yulia Sumacheva of WeiT Media. They’re big on the TV side, they did The Bridge for us and executed it in a brilliant way. They did The Killing and a lot of other series so they’re really, really good. The internal market is growing really fast and that still is the priority. We’re trying to set up co-productions of course with the Nordics – we’re discussing several stories right now. We’re also looking to set up co-productions with France, of course because of the long, historical connections [between the two countries]. It’s a big opportunity.
Are there particular challenges when co-producing with Russia?
BLOMGREN: Of course with co-productions if you have a Scandi broadcaster and a Russian broadcaster, they look at things in different ways but there’s also the business side of it with our floating currencies. I think the price of The Bridge went up and down 50% because of that. So there’s lots of challenges. But it’s a big market and has a lot of opportunities and we have a good presence there.
What kind of impact did Covid have on things since you’ve started at Banijay? Has it impacted any of your editorial decisions?
BLOMGREN: As a big group we had a lot of learnings that could share. In the beginning of the pandemic, we had a lot of group calls, sharing experiences and finding ways forward. I’m really impressed by all the producers — they just keep working and keep finding new ways to work. When one door is closed, they find another.
But then on the editorial side, there’s lots of big challenges, especially if you have a big shoot like SAS: Rogue Heroes to shoot in Morocco. We have another big collaboration – Then You Run – with MadeFor in Germany and Kudos in the UK where it’s been challenging to develop something if you cannot travel before the shoot.
We all want to stay away from lots of extras and productions that are crowded with people in every scene. But we find ways forward and if there’s a story we really want to tell, we figure out a way to tell it.
Pandemic aside, what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced this year?
BLOMGREN: The biggest challenge for us is the fact that we’re on Zoom all the time is. It’s fine with a business call or a production call but when it comes to creative discussions, you can’t see the hands – you don’t know if they are completely white or if you can push on a note and of course, reading a room is more difficult. But there’s challenges every day with people getting ill or postponed production for a few weeks. That’s happening but we’ve managed to handle it.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming years?
BLOMGREN: I’m really excited to continue the growth. We have so much talent, especially young talent that can grow and actually take on bigger jobs and I’m really looking forward to supporting and helping to move talent around and see these stories travel.