Deutschland 83’s Jörg Winger, 1992’s Ludovica Rampoldi and Nobel’s Mette Bolstad talked about their creative processes and trends in European drama at In Development in Cannes in a session moderated by World Screen’s Anna Carugati.
Winger is managing director of Germany’s UFA Fiction and executive producer, showrunner and creator of Deutschland 83/86 and the new HBO Europe and TNT Germany commission Hackerville. Rampoldi is the screenwriter and creator of the Italian series 1992 and 1993 and worked on Gomorrah. Bolstad is the screenwriter of the Norwegian dramas Nobel and State of Happiness. The session at In Development—a collaboration between MIPTV and CANNESERIES—was called Behind the Curtain: Meet the Showrunners!
Carugati, group editorial director of World Screen, kicked off the session by asking the panelists their views on the role of the showrunner and how that has changed.
Bolstad said that when she started working in TV, it was very director-led, and the director worked on all episodes. On her new show State of Happiness, however, “it’s more producer- and writer-led.”
In Italy ten years ago, “the writer was out of the process,” said Rampoldi. “They wrote the script and delivered it, and that was it.” They weren’t on set or involved in casting or editing. “Most of the time, the writer watched this show for the first time when it was aired on television. It was very common that entire scenes were changed by the director or by the broadcast delegate or the actors. Writers know how bad that can be. When you change something in long-form programming, you have to be fully aware of the consequences.”
Winger said that Germany had “the cult of the genius and of the director. It wasn’t just that the writers weren’t in charge, they weren’t allowed to participate. When I started, I was a writing producer, but I had to write secretly, basically hide it from the broadcaster because they thought producing and writing was a conflict of interest.”
Carugati noted that showrunners in the U.S. wear many hats, including writing, editing and the look of the show. She asked the panelists about the position of the showrunner in Europe.
“I’m not a showrunner,” Rampoldi said. “In Italy, there is a bias against the writers. We don’t consider writers as the authors. We give authorship to the directors. The showrunner has the budget and the final cut. In Italy, only directors have the final [cut]. And for the budget, broadcasters don’t trust writers. The only cases where we have a showrunner is when the writer and creator is also the director. I’m thinking about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope and now The Miracle from the writer Niccolò Ammaniti.”
Bolstad said that the Norwegian drama sector doesn’t generally operate with showrunners. “Some people want to do more of it. But most writers now will follow a project from the beginning to the end. That’s a good way to make sure a story is being told as it’s supposed to. When it comes to the production part, it’s important to remember that writers are good at writing and should spend as much time writing as possible and not get overly carried away doing the other stuff. In my case, I prefer to work with a producer.”
Winger said that ultimately “there’s no magic wand. In Germany, there’s the feeling that if you have a showrunner or a writers’ room you will succeed, but it’s not the formula for success. You have to have a small team of people who are aligned on their vision for the show. That can be the writer and director, the writer and producer. We’ve seen a resurgence in [the role of the] director. There are as many models as there are people!”
Rampoldi then talked about how competition in Italy has created a better environment for creators. “In television, there is a before Sky and an after Sky. They really changed the landscape. Our television always used to say, everything is OK. We have good priests, loving families. Our TV was a mirror pointed nowhere and to no one. Sky pointed a mirror towards the real society. They changed the way of storytelling in Italy. On the set of 1992, [the writers’] voice was truly heard. We were there for the casting. We had a voice in the editing room.”
On creating new projects, Winger said that he and his wife and collaborator, Anna Winger, look to “use history as a metaphor. We search through endless conversations and articles, and we have ideas and see if we can prove our ideas. It’s a big feedback loop.”
Bolstad said she keeps in mind audience communication and “trying to explain society. If you can create compelling drama, then you can hide quite a lot of history lessons in television.”