International Emmy’s CEE winners talk
Continuing our focus on the International Emmys and how the prestigious awards could help to further develop the TV industry in Central and Eastern Europe, we talked to some of the winners of the biggest award in television coming out of the region. Jakub Košťál and Vratislav Šlajer last year won the International Emmy Award in the Short Series category with cyberbullying drama martyisdead.
Vrata and Jacub on set
Jakub, Vratislav, your series martyisdead made history by becoming the first ever Czech work to win an International Emmy Award. How was the idea about the series born and how long did it take to produce it?
Jakub: The first idea came from director Pavel Soukup, his inspiration was the “Blue Whale” an online suicide challenge, which was later proven to be a hoax. But it opened a discussion about safety on the internet. MALL.TV was looking at that time for content for a younger audience that would also talk about internet safety. So Pavel and producer Milan Kuchynka from MALL.TV asked us to get on board as producers, as we are experienced with genre and we can produce and deliver such projects.
The story was first developed by Pavel and scriptwriters Jaroslav Miška and Jan Stehlík and script editor Karel Spěšný for MALL.TV. They were working on that story for two years. After that, we joined as producers and with Vrata as script editor from our side. We tried to show it as you can see it now - a suspenseful story, a thriller with a mystery plot but still believable - with the authenticity of real cases. With that helped a lot the project “Bezpečně na netu” (Safely on the web) with project manager and online expert Martin Kožíšek. Also, we had police consultants and tons of research done.
Vratislav: The production itself was within a year. We were shooting in the summer and the first episode was online at the end of October.
Did you receive government support and what has been the feedback in terms of the social role of the project?
Vratislav: We did not receive any government support and also we did not ask for any. We did apply in 2020 in a special development call at Czech Film Fund with the second season, which will also be a movie - annaismissing, but they did not grant us support. We are thinking about it now for the production of the second season, but we do not count on any government support.
But the first season was supported by European Union, through co-producer CZ.NIC, thanks to the internet safety aspects.
The feedback was good from the industry, how we filled the format, how we work with short-form, the arc of each episode, and cliff-hangers.
Jakub: But what is most important is that the series also had a social impact. It can open the eyes of teenagers struggling with similar issues and it can also help the parents to understand what their kids are going through.
We did get information, that thanks to this series some young person really decided to talk and that this way we indirectly saved life if this person. And if we helped this, that is the biggest success and award we can ever get.
How did you decide to enter the International Emmy Award competition and what were your expectations, especially when competing with such big names as Netflix, HBO; etc?
Vratislav: We think that martyisdead is one of the best and strongest online series ever produced in the Czech Republic. We also received such feedback from the audience after the first few episodes online. Even before the online premiere, we won an award for Best CEE Web Series at Serial Killer 2019.
There were four nominees, so there was a chance. But already the nomination was a great success.
Jakub: To be honest we thought that we will get to some longlist or maybe shortlist.
When we received the email with the nomination - I could not believe it. I was thinking that must be some weird spam joke. I was waiting almost one hour to tell the others - just refreshing the web browser and checking if there is some press release on some bigger news platform. And when that was confirmed I told everybody. It was unbelievable.
And two months after that, we won. The dream came true. Especially after seeing our competition. We are still excited while answering these questions.
We think that what decided the win was the topic. The same topic was also in the Australian nominated series Content, but we made our series a suspenseful genre story. We wanted to show that it’s not the internet who is evil, but the people behind it are.
We believe that our win will open the doors of Czech (and CEE) production to Western Europe. Some broadcasters don’t want to buy content from the East (with some Polish exceptions). Maybe we will persuade them, we can do it.
Vratislav: We are expecting a call from Netflix anytime now.
Have you sold the series to international broadcasters/streaming services? Any interest in the project as a format?
Vratislav: We have sales company Dutchfeatures and they are taking care of international sales. Right now we have interest from broadcasters from Germany and France. 2020 was a little slower for sales, but 2021 will be much better, hopefully.
Jakub: We talked with some producers about selling martyisdead as format, but not strong interest yet.
You also announced a sequel called annaismissing. What is the new series about and have you planned other short-form series for 2021?
Jakub: The central motif of the loosely connected sequel annaismissing is the investigation into the kidnapping of a child for black-market videos. A dark mosaic gradually takes shape showing the events leading up to the disappearance of 14-year old Anna. The authenticity of the series is ensured through close cooperation with the police and experts in internet safety, the aim of which is to not only create a suspenseful format but also to illustrate the carefully planned system of social engineering and the vulnerability of the victims who get caught in it.
We would love to co-produce annaismissing with Poland, as there is part of the story in Poland. We are waiting right now for the broadcaster to decide.
Vratislav: Next to this we also have another few short-form series in development - one crime series, one sitcom, and one sci-fi series. We also want to produce non-scripted short-form series such as docu-series etc.
What is your advice to other producers and content creators from CEE?
Vratislav: Don’t be afraid to tell modern stories for a young audience. Some of our TV’s don’t think about this segment and that is a shame. And do not be afraid of digital. This is the way.
Jakub: We’d like to encourage them to submit for the International Emmy Award. The talents and the content in our region are strong, don’t be afraid to try. CEE content can compete on an international level. And each success like our win with martyisdead is not just our success but the country and the region's success and it helps us to move forward.