The Bridge creator on writing crime noir
Swedish writer Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of co-production The Bridge and ITV/Netflix’ Marcella, appeared at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival to give an insight into writing crime noir.
Marcella lead actor Anna Friel was also on the panel alongside the show’s executive producer Tony Wood of Buccaneer Media, with subjects covered including the challenges of writing the plot for an international co-production.
The key to The Bridge
Some of the masterclass centred on Marcella – and a second series was confirmed – but Rosenfeldt was also asked about his seminal drama the Bridge and how it came about.
“I was approached by the production company. They had another series planned that didn’t take off, but they had money and wanted a 10-hour thriller set in Malmo and Copenhagen. In this case, the hardest part was to bring the two police officers from the different countries together in a natural way.
“So we thought about putting a body on the bridge between the two, so then they would have to come from Sweden and Denmark. We were very pleased with ourselves but then thought, if the body is Swedish then the Swedish cop would investigate.
“So we gave the body a Swedish top half and Danish legs, that way the two officers had to keep working together”.
Flawed characters are more interesting
Rosenfeldt’s creation of Saga, played by Sofia Helin, appealed to her creator partly due to her flaws and complete lack of social skills.
He explained: “Sofia wasn’t really that well-received, especially in Sweden where they thought she was a little wooden, not a good actress. But she was supposed to be emotionless, slightly robotic in her voice.
“People started to get intrigued, thinking, “OK, maybe we missed something.
“I like flaws. I wanted to create a woman with no social skills. Happy people are boring to work with, and also in real life actually!”
The Swedish writer was lighthearted and positive about past criticisms over the potential lack of realism in his shows. “There is always some scepticism about the realism. People don’t think, for example, that Saga would have made it through police academy. Or that a mobile phone would have been left in a body bag.
“But coolness beats reality! We had that printed onto T-shirts with The Bridge 2 on them! It’s drama after all.”
International language and the co-production
Rosenfeldt begins writing his projects in his native Swedish, as he told the packed room: “I write the first drafts in Swedish, as I write quicker that way. Also, I don’t have the nuances in English. But I would love to work more in English, and the UK.”
Wood clarified that streaming platforms like Netflix had changed the way “people are consuming drama and creating drama.
“The budgets have been very healthy recently, and effectively we’re all competing on the international stage so it’s survival of the fittest.
“We have a stable of a lot of non-British writers, we look to Europe –some themes have universality.”
How Marcella was born
ITV and Netflix’ Marcella performed very well in the ratings in the UK, gathering an average of around 7m viewers throughout the series, a fact which pleased creator Rosenfeldt. “I think we did a really good show, but sometimes a good show doesn’t take off.”
The idea was conceived by co-creator Nicola Larder, as Rosenfeldt described: Rosenfeldt: “We had dinner and she said she had this idea about a cop show in London, a five-episode pitch. It was really about the character of Marcella rather than the plot at the pitch stage.”
The eponymous detective in Marcella suffers from dissociative fugue, also known as fugue state – the sufferer loses all memory of events for a time but continues to function, so it is hard to tell if someone has the condition. In Marcella it also played a large part in the whodunit element, as Marcella loses all recollection of what happened.
Says her creator Rosenfeldt: “We wanted her to be different, not just to investigate a murder case, but also investigate herself. Has she done anything? Is she guilty? This is a real medical condition – although I love making things up, this is real.”
Friel added: “She had to be vulnerable, complex, interesting, a mix of strength and vulnerability… I was fascinated by the fugue state and intrigued by her unpredictability.
“I made myself very dizzy [to portray the fugue state] I would spin round and round to get the feeling of disorientation. The amazing music and cinematography helped. And the absence of sound is quite eerie.”
Choosing London locations
To amusement from the audience, Rosenfeldt was happy to admit he didn’t know London very well, and that he had more of a “tourist’s view”. To achieve the sepulchral, dark backdrops and choose the best locations involved a lot of teamwork, including production personnel setting him straight on some of his ideas.
The screenwriter name-checked the production designer and location manager, saying “I Google-mapped place names I liked the look of and placed my characters there, but then someone would say “No Hans, I don’t think they would live somewhere like that!”
“I don’t really know the city very well; I need a lot of help.”
“But I am fascinated by the changing skyline of London, every time I come back I see cranes in different places, it changes all the time.”
A thriller until the end
The majority of the cast was in the dark as to the identity of the murderer including Friel herself. Rosenfeldt explained: “We knew who’d done it and why, but most of the cast didn’t. Other writers worked on the first few episodes, then I took over and came back in for the last few.
“I like taking the baby back once they’ve nursed it for a while. I’m a control freak, I can’t really let people work on something all the way to the end.”
The star of Pushing Daisies and American Odyssey confided that now knowing whether her character could have done it helped in her portrayal: “I was asked if I wanted to know, but I used not knowing to my advantage.
"Because of course Marcella didn’t know – imagine living with that…”