The downside of the current strikes by the Writers and Screen Actors Guilds has meant a long delay in the return of popular scripted network shows. The silver lining is that because the networks need to fill their schedules with some original programming, productions originally intended to be broadcast only in other countries are coming to the network schedules.
“Son of a Critch” is Canadian import while “NCIS: Sydney” comes from the land down under. The new CW Network offering, “The Swarm,” was filmed in Italy and launched in Germany earlier this year.
Executive producer Frank Doelger launched his German-based production company, Intaglio, in 2018 to produce English-language drama for the international market. He explains the decision to film 95% of the series in Italy was based on what would be the most convenient location for everyone.
“Pre-production started just after the long pandemic and it became very clear to us that with the number of actors and storylines, we had to make it easy to get back and forth in case something happened,” Doelger says. “We had to find a location that was accessible for all our actors. And almost all our cast comes from continental Europe.”
The eight-part series, based on the bestselling novel by Frank Schätzing, debuts at 9 p.m. Sept. 12 on the CW Network. It stars Alexander Karim, Cécile de France, Leonie Benesch, Barbara Sukowa and Takuya Kimura.
“The Swarm” examines a worldwide phenomenon where whales are destroying boats, deep sea crabs are attacking beaches and mussels are blocking container ships. An unknown ice worm destabilizes continental slopes and triggers tsunamis.
Because the dangers are coming from the ocean, the series has been described as the “Jaws” for the 21st Century. Doelger laughs at the mention and then explains that wasn’t the intent when the show was being created but it is a comparison he will gladly take.
A group of scientists decided they will need a bigger boat when they come together through their shared sense that something bigger is at play. They suspect an intelligent life force, dwelling in the deep that is the cause of all the problems.
The major concern at the beginning of the project was making sure the series had a solid foundation of reality as the base.
“There is a part of the story that is completely rooted in reality,” Doelger says. “We made sure that the science was correct. We made sure that the locations were correct.
“But then you have this overlay of the surreal and fantasy elements. So, it is just a question in terms of the storytelling of how you navigate between those and how you introduce the surreal fantasy elements in as convincing a way possible.”
Filming a production that deals with a water world makes the process far more complicated than those that originate on dry land. Along with the constantly changing tides and weather, there are the dangers of cast or crew slipping into the sea.
Doelger says, “The rule of thumb is that anything you do on land you have to allocate two or three times as much when you do it on the water. You are very concerned about the safety of all involved and so you have to decide what you have to do in the open water and what you have to do in the studios.”
Doelger learned these lessons after producing numerous films and TV shows including “Into the Storm,” “Rome,” “John Adams” and “The Frankenstein Chronicles.” The Primetime Emmy Award winning television producer is best known for his work on “Game of Thrones.”
He recalls how a water visual effect for “Game of Thrones” 10 years ago was one of the most complicated scenes shot for the series. Technology has advanced so much that such water scenes are much easier and safer but continue to be time consuming.
Another similarity to “Game of Thrones” is how “The Swarm” was cast. When “Thrones” started there were not a lot of faces familiar to American audiences. A similar situation exists with the new TV series.
Doelger points out that while the cast may not be known here, they are well known in the European TV market.
“I, like a lot of audience members, have always liked being introduced to new characters with actors that I might know a little bit about but don’t know too much about,” Doelger says. “So, when putting the cast together there are some actors who are better known to their local audiences.
“But these are all actors we have admired.”
The longer the strikes continue, the more opportunities will surface for American viewers to be introduced to programming from TV markets around the globe.