When the police drama The silence sold to ZDF in Germany, Arte in France, Lumière in Belgium and more recently HBO Europe, Croatian producer Nebojsa Taraba of Zagreb-based Drugi Plan was taken by surprise, even though several of his shows had traveled internationally . These titles included a thriller The paperwhich sold to Netflix in 2016, while the indie later produced the very first HBO TV series Adria Successdirected by Oscar winner Danis Tanovic.
“We didn’t do The silence with the international market in mind, but [distributor] Beta Film recognized its potential,” Taraba suggests. The series is directed by Croatian director Dalibor Matanic (winner of the Un Certain Regard jury prize in 2015 for the feature film The High Sun) and follows a journalist, played by Goran Bogdan, and two police officers as they uncover a chain of sex trafficking that stretches from Croatia to Ukraine.
Croatia is one of many Balkan countries, along with Serbia and Bulgaria, to build a reputation as a rich source of distinctive new drama for international buyers. “The silence is very important to us because large international buyers like Netflix or HBO need to recognize that this region is not just a segmented market made up of small countries, but rather an area of around 20 million people who speak a very similar language, travel and do business together on a daily basis,” says Taraba.
Beta Film already knows this: the Munich producer, financier and distributor took a majority stake in Drugi Plan last year. “The Southeastern European region is growing rapidly as a creative market and we are delighted to see its production quality increase,” said Veronika Kovacova, Beta Film’s Vice President of International Sales and Acquisitions for Eastern Europe and Turkey. “Thanks to its rich history and cultural variety, combined with its great creative talent, it has all the ingredients for incredible stories.”
Asked to explain the growing international appeal of Balkan dramas, Gabor Krigler – head of program studies for the Midpoint series, a workshop for Central and Eastern European creators – says they tend to offer insights strong and unique in a region with a recent tumultuous past. “In general, projects from the Balkan region display very raw emotions and hard-hitting honesty, which shows elsewhere have a harder time achieving,” he suggests.
Co-productions between countries in the region have been the modus operandi in the world of cinema for more than 15 years, and the same production companies are now collaborating on high-end television content. The Last Socialist Artifactwhich won the award for best series in the International Panorama section at Series Mania last year, is a perfect example: it was co-produced by Croatian Kinorama, Serbian Sense Production, Slovenian Perfo and Finnish Citizen Jane, with the Croatian public broadcaster HRT as the main financier, and with the participation of the Serbian public broadcaster RTS, which pre-purchased the show.
Also directed by Matanic and featuring regionally renowned talent from Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, the six-episode miniseries deals with workers’ rights and the decline of local industry. “It’s not an obvious choice for international buyers who generally expect to find genre dishes in our region,” says Ankica Juric Tilic, CEO and producer of Kinorama. “But viewers in France and Spain [where it played at Lille’s Series Mania and Barcelona’s Serielizados] directly related to the theme – the feeling of hopelessness due to the loss of [jobs] is recognizable throughout Europe.
“I think the main reason for the success of the series is the time we took to develop the script, as well as the demanding production,” says Milan Stojanovic, CEO of Sense Production. “In the region, deadlines are generally short and budgets tight, which undermines the crucial writing process.”
Even so, Boban Jevtic, head of strategy and content development at Firefly Productions, notes that the high volume of series produced in Serbia – around 30 in 2021 alone – makes a big difference in the market. , citing busy teams and changed viewing habits. Jevtic joined Firefly in 2019, after serving as head of Film Center Serbia for four years. Firefly is directed by Ivana Mikovic, the former deputy director of RTS. Both took part in the Berlinale Series at the EFM this year with black weddinga dark horror thriller series set in eastern Serbia, a region known for its own brand of black magic.
Unlike most companies in the region, Firefly always develops several shows in parallel. “We have four projects ready to go into production,” says Jevtic. That’s why the company is building a studio near Belgrade, with three sound stages, a water tank and four hectares of backlot. Production services in Serbia have brought in a lot of business, especially since the territory introduced a 20% tax incentive in 2016 (increasing to 25% two years later), and the new studio will make the territory more competitive and serve Firefly for his own productions. One of them is Roughco-developed with Joyrider from Hungary, with Tanovic attached (see box).
Role of broadcasters
Funding from national broadcasters is crucial to produce a high-end TV show in the region. Bad blood, a Serbian TV series and prequel movie (the latter recently sold to Netflix), is one such example. Produced by This and That Productions, based in Belgrade, Bad blood is a period piece set in 1850s Serbia, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It features talent from Serbia, Bosnia, Albania and Turkey, including popular Turkish actor Tim Seyfi.
“Netflix probably liked the cast, and the setting and value of the production, which can appeal to a much wider audience than Serbian,” says producer Snezana van Houwelingen of This and That. “That kind of budget would be hard to reach without RTS on board.”
Van Houwelingen is currently working on Saber with RTS as main backer and Drugi Plan as co-producer. A political drama about the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003, the series won Best Pitch at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Drama. Beta Film is on board for international sales.
Although Serbian RTS and Croatian HRT are public behemoths that may be hesitant to work directly together in light of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, they too are waking up to the reality of the market. With The Last Socialist Artifact now broadcast on the RTS in prime time, the moment when the two companies could join forces to create a high-end program is not very far away.
“We are open to collaboration with all public broadcasters, including RTS,” says Jasmina Bozinovska Zivalj, head of HRT’s fiction department. “Our countries have similar social, political and cultural experiences in common and this is a good basis for producing attractive and quality content.”
Marko Novakovic, RTS editor-in-chief for local drama content, confirms: “We are investing more and more in this type of content, and the preview broadcast of The Last Socialist Artifact on our channel proves that we are open to the production and placement of quality TV series wherever they come from.
Commercial broadcasters such as United Media are also creating premium content in the Balkans. His Serbian detective series Awakewith local star Ivana Vukovic playing against her usual comedy type, won the Audience Award at Canneseries last year.
Netflix’s growing interest in content from the region could mean the streaming giant is even investing in local production. HBO’s involvement ahead of its transformation into HBO Max (which launched this month across the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria) could also signal its imminent return to southeastern Europe as a producer. – giving Balkan TV content the boost it needs to keep up with the production stages of territories like Spain and South Korea.
In progress: Next Balkan Series
Doctor D (Serbia)
Creator, Writer: Goran Markovic
Producer: United Media Group
Loosely based on the story of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Doctor D follows K, a national leader as well as one of the greatest war criminals of the second half of the 20th century. Expected release in 2023.
Creator, Writer: Srdjan Vuletic
Producers: Firefly, Joyrider
The story of a struggling young writer who accidentally kills a drug dealer terrorizing his neighborhood. Expected release in 2023.
Smoke scales (Croatia-Germany)
Creators: Marjan Alcevski, Nebojsa Taraba, Miodrag Sila
Producers: Drugi diet, ZDF
After the death of his father, a wealthy German influencer lands on a Croatian island to sell his real estate business, but circumstances take him in an unexpected direction. Expected release in 2023.
the possibility of an island (Croatia-Iceland)
Writers: Mateja Bozicevic, Birgir Orn Steinarsson
Creators: Nebojsa Taraba, Miodrag Sila, Hordur Runarsson
Producers: Drugi Diet, Glassriver
When a volcanic eruption renders Iceland uninhabitable for the next 30 years, the international community decides to keep the Icelanders together by moving them to Croatian islands. Expected release in 2023.
Creators, directors: Vladimir Tagic, Goran Stankovic
Producer: This and That Productions
Co-producers: Diet Drugs, RTS
Saber centers on a journalist investigating the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister, searching for the truth in a corrupt justice system. Expected release in 2024.