“We will do our best to get our breakthrough”
Joyrider is a company employing young, creative professionals with the intention of producing television series. They have no less ambition than to break into the international market primarily the European one to produce and sell film series. Recently, came the news that their Balaton Brigade was selected to be among the top ten most promising productions at the Berlinale Co-Production Market. We talked to Emőke Krigler-Tóth, managing director and Eszter Angyalosy writer.
Budapest Reporter: When and how did Joyrider TV start?
Emőke Krigler-Tóth: We started it in January 2019, with the aim of creating a premium TV drama series for the international market. With my husband, Gábor Krigler, we founded it and a bit later Eszter joined us. Gábor was looking for new challenges after his work at HBO. We’ve decided to try to build a company dealing with a series independently.
Bpr: What were your main concerns at that time, what kind of work did you want, what kind of jobs were you aiming at?
Eszter Angyalosy: Earlier, all three of us have worked at multinational corporations. This kind of experience gave us the insight we needed to know how to do these things professionally, and also to know what’s expected by the international market. The ambition was born to have our works among the successful European ones.
Because of the new streaming platforms, the entire industry based around TV series became very international. Not only in Europe, but in Asia, Africa, in Latin America, the profession was booming. Content manufacturers have also begun to think globally, and an international interest have in viewers as well. European series became attractive too. However, European filmmaking traditions are quite different from the North American. When an American-European co-production is the plan, there are few companies in Europe who could speak the same language. We think we’re able to do this. Our contents include such European stories, that would also be interesting for the international audience, complemented by an extensive knowledge of American-style series development techniques, we can also serve those needs.
E. K.: I am the managing director, responsible for the business strategy and controlling the administrative part. Eszter and Gábor are on the creative side. Barni Hutlassa is responsible for the production.
E. A.: Our team members belong to two categories: We, with Gábor, are dreamers who need others, who have their feet on the ground, like Emőke, who’s in charge of the business strategy and the financing of the company, and Barni Hutlassa, whose responsibility is the practical implementation of the projects.
Creating a series is primarily business. Hungary is a very tiny market, so it is difficult to sell or to make a large scale, premium value series at home – there is no point in investing too much, as it won’t return. However, a high-quality series take a lot of money. We wish to work on these, so we decided to work for the international market.
E. K.: Gábor is essential to the sales, since his name is the attracting force, his knowledge and experience is the “product” that we sell, so we usually take part in such negotiations together with him.
E. A.: The goal is to be there at every step of the creation process. Gábor and I are dealing the developments, we work with different writers for each project. Barni gets involved when specific production issues arise. Business-level strategic planning is up to Emőke and Gábor.
E. K.: In the long run, we want Barni to have a bigger part in strategic planning and the sales process. We are still in the first phase of our projects. Barni’s role will be more important when we get closer to their implementation.
Bpr: What are the difficulties when preparing for the international market?
E. A.: Perhaps the biggest challenge – in addition to this pandemic – that as a new and small Eastern European company, we don’t yet have real evidence in the form of a completed, successful series. However, it is difficult to receive that certain first opportunity that would open us all the doors. But we will do our best to get our breakthrough.
E. K.: We targeted the continental Europe, because we see a market gap in regards of quality, quantity and qualified professional team. In America and Britain several series are made, but that’s another experience. Nevertheless, when we have been involved in the Roman MIA Market for two years, we’ve found that many Americans and Brits have been interested in Joyrider. We are now at a stage where we mostly negotiate with continental European companies.
E. A.: There is a large English company, and they – among other things – do some brokerage work, they are very recognized in the field. Their boss has long been trusting Gábor, and when we started out, this company was in touch, they led us into the market. As we said, it’s very difficult to get that first chance. If someone invests money in a new series, he wants to have some kind of guarantee. And the fact that they trust us, is a kind of guarantee. Their support has helped us a lot in the beginning.
E. K.: Their faith in us meant a lot. Increased our self-confidence by the fact, that they also believed in our vision, this even means a lot to this day.
Bpr: How do you find writers and ideas for a series?
E. K.: Eszter and Gábor both taught at international workshops, they meet a lot of new talent – it therefore gives us a good overview of the European craft, and because of that we know the new, emerging talents and filmmakers. Case in point: there is a German, an Italian, a Bosnian, a Spanish, and a Cypriot series that we are currently preparing, and we may soon be working on a Greek series soon.
We are multifaceted because we have series that are of international co-productions that will be filmed in Hungary, but there are also those that will not be shot here at all. There’s some that were written by a Hungarian writer is, some by a foreign writer. The writer of our Bosnian project met Gábor years ago at a film festival. Our Spanish writer’s project also came about at an international forum.
E. A.: Gábor had a conscious vision right at the beginning of what type of projects he’d want to find. To put it simply, he looked for a series of a specific genre with a strong thematic core. Series that want to say something about the world, but they do this in a fun, audience-friendly way.
In our initial catalog, eight projects were included – most of these did not come about with the writers approaching us, but vice versa: We thought that these projects would be a fit to the company’s profile.
E. K.: We know what we are looking for in a series, what we want, what’s interesting for us. And if we find a good idea with potential, we know how to tailor it.
Bpr: So far what were the major milestones, successes?
E. K.: Perhaps the fact that the Bosnian series were sold in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic. An important Serbian studio / production company became associated with the project, and their confidence in us means a lot. The most recent great success is that we got into the Berlinale Co-Production Market pitch forum.
E. A.: I think it happened earlier. The first success was when we got an investor who trusted our company. When we finally managed to secure the financial background required for us to begin, we started to develop our startup projects. With six projects, the first catalog was completed, which defined our company’s image. There was our first introduction at professional festivals. The recent successes came after these.
E. K.: We’ve received positive feedback from renowned people at these festivals. For example, the makers of the “Chernobyl” series also praised our initial portfolio.
E. A.: As soon as we entered the market, we were able to test our starting strategy and modified it when we had to.
E. K.: We are constantly learning, evolving and try to steer the company to wherever it is worth to go.
Bpr: What are your current projects now?
E. K.: The Berlinale Co-Production Market is our next challenge. This is a Berlinale side event, held during Series Days, which is unfortunately held only virtually. This is a world-wide event where 10 projects or companies were selected who can present their project before an international plenum. Already in itself, the fact that our “Balaton Brigade” has been selected, is a huge thing. We’ve shot an introductory video and then logged in live – Gábor as the creative producer and Ildikó Enyedi as the leading director.
The international audience invited to the pitch will have the opportunity to participate in one-on-one meetings with the creators of the projects. Many significant companies have already signed up for Balaton Brigade and we hope we can talk to them about our other series as well. This is a very promising opportunity.
E. A.: This is the first Hungarian project that has ever entered the Co-Production pitch forum. Every year there are hundreds of candidates, from whom they choose a dozen who can give the pitch to the international professionals. It’s already a huge recognition.
E. K.: In addition, we are a whole new company, and many of them are old, recognized names.
Bpr: What do you think, what was the key to success?
E. A.: I think this is composed of several factors. The “Balaton Brigade’s” selling package, the pilot screenplay and the series concept, made by Gábor with the other two creators of the series, Balázs Lengyel and Balázs Lovas, was a very strong, convincing material. But besides that, serving, packaging, that is, the marketing part of the project is also very convincing. Also, Ildikó Enyedi, an internationally recognized director joined us. Thus, this package is internationally understandable and functional, I think that’s the reason for the warm reception.
E. K.: It is important today for a series to have historical relevance. This could also be a reason why the “Balaton Brigade” was selected.
E. A.: Yeah, because though this is a historic series, set in 1986, the historical background is actually an allegory – the conflicts can still be understood and relevant, the main message is still important today, while the audience can lean back and allow themselves to be immersed in the past.
E. K.: There’s the East and West split in it, their opposition, which is familiar to many, because that was the reality for a lot of us. The carefree vacation at Lake Balaton is just the surface, but it’s a drama, as families and friends coming from the split Germany could only meet there, while a specialized Stasi unit observed them while on vacation.
E. A.: Yes, the story works well even from an international standpoint. The Cold War in Europe affected many, almost everyone is familiar with that era, and most of the families were affected one way or another. Eastern Europeans, like us have likewise experienced living behind the Iron Curtain and the Western world is would find it exciting to look into this reality.
In addition, today’s world is heading the same way – the countries split because of different ideologies and views. Nations are isolated from each other, the same political manipulation is all around us, we still live with these things today – which makes the story absolutely up-to-date.
From this broader perspective, we have very real and human heroes who are despite the circumstances, fight for their freedom, for their security, their loved ones. And what I love the most in this series: they always get back on their feet, even in the direst situations. This message is so universally human that people anywhere can identify themselves with these characters who sometimes must do terrible things, but it remains understandable what motivates them.
Bpr: If someone buys this, what’s next?
E. K.: The screenplay of the first episode of the series and its pitch bible are ready. If we find the right partners, then first we’ll sign a contract and then start the next development phase: writing the screenplays for the first season. From the Hungarian RTL we’ve received a letter of intent, they would like to air this series at home, which is a good starting point. At Berlinale, we are looking for a German co-producer, with whom we will be able to negotiate with German channels, so we can get further funds. As a subsequent step, we would like to agree with a German distributor – this is also necessary for the German partner. Our goal is to start shooting next April.
Bpr: What other series you currently work on?
E. A.: There are some of our projects that have been moving well enough. Of all of our projects, Frust is in the most advanced stage: The Serbian Firefly took the role of the producer, and we’re working with an Oscar-winner director, Danis Tanovic. Now, the primary goal is to gather the full budget before we can start the development of the first season.
Within the framework of the Serial Contest of the National Film Institute, we are developing a Polish-Hungarian series. We now also have an agreement with a prestigious Polish co-producer, Apple Film Production. The title will be “A bátorság iskolája” (“School of Courage”), we also want to launch its production this year. Then we have our Italian project – which is quite close to me, since that’s my own one – we’re currently working on the contract with an Italian production company. The title is going to be “War of Saints”, an Italian story, inside and out.
Bpr: How are the series written? How many writers work on a project, one or more?
E. K.: Each of our series are being worked on in a writer’s room, so there’s always more than one of them working the same time. Series written by a sole writer are rare.
E. A.: Yes, we firmly believe that a person’s creativity is limited, and a series with six to eight to twelve hour running time requires a lot of exciting and original twists and turns, which needs multiple people’s creative inputs. Even the very experienced international writers, only a few can shoulder a good series on their own.
E. K.: And it is also good to have constant feedback from the team, and if you write alone, then you cannot objectively judge whether what you do is really good or not. We question all the ideas, rethinking them and continuously encourage each other to bring out the best and most out of the ideas. There will be a series of exciting one.
Frust, for example, is a “creator’s series”, where the creator is essentially the only writer too. His voice is very important in the series. But Eszter and Gábor actively helped the writer to build a strong concept with the adequate drive, and to be able to figure out the plot points in appropriate quantity and quality.
E. A.: It is also vital to form the former Fanni Szántó’s voice in our plan for the “Bathroom Stories” series. But we are there beside her to provide feedback and to motivate her. In the case of these one-writer-series we also have a minimum of one, but sometimes two dramaturges working. If one is alone, the first good idea often seems satisfying enough. But if you have a team, then the others inspire you to find an even better one, and so they could achieve much better results than by themselves. In addition to that, the process is often faster and more efficient – and it’s difficult to overcome a writer’s block alone. And at an international level, speed and efficiency are an absolute must, which is a thought we have to share if we want to meet those standards.
E. K.: What Eszter and Gábor know, is how to get the most out of an idea and write the best possible series. This is what we are the best at, at least at home. It’s a completely different thing to write a movie or a series. We have to admit, that when it comes to the latter there’s very few people today in Hungary and in the region who has enough professional experience in that field.
Bpr: Do you sometimes get approached with incomplete ideas?
E. K.: Sometimes it does happen that someone seeks us out with just a basic notion. I think there’s potential in it, we’ll hire that person and then we start fleshing it out together, “The School of Courage” started out like this.
E. A.: Or recently we have been contacted about a Greek series that has already been sold to a local TV network. The work on the first season has already begun, but at the same time they had to start working on the second one, so they trusted us with writing and expanding upon it, because the original writers lacked the capacity.
E. K.: We also asked them; are you sure you want to trust us with this? Wouldn’t be a Greek team more suitable for it? But they needed a team who can do it professionally. Gábor had taught them earlier in a workshop, and since then, they would have liked to work with him, they trust him, so they wanted to do the second season with us. But here you already have a first season, so you just have to build up on that for the second one.
E. A.: I can also imagine that one day someone finds us with an idea that he doesn’t want to write himself, but since it’s Joyrider-compatible, why not entrust it all on us from the beginning? This is also an existing method: when a non-writer director or producer has an idea and therefore looks for someone to develop it. It is possible, but it has not yet happened to us. Most of our projects come from an internal idea and we currently have enough projects, so we don’t actively look for new ones.
Bpr: Do you have any memorable stories, anecdotes from the past period?
E. A.: It was very instructive when we worked on a Polish project last year, which was about a state of emergency. We got to know the project in an international workshop, on the Torino SeriesLab a couple of years ago and we helped the Polish creators in the development of the pilot and the series concept. They were just here in Hungary, the writers, together with us in a “writing room” when the coronavirus epidemic broke out. We were just thinking about what would happen if they would introduce a state of emergency – and it was indeed introduced. The theme of the series seemed to be a fresh, reckless idea, but considering the new circumstances it almost turned into a documentary in moments. We have been worried that our Polish writers won’t be able to go home because they were closing borders every day. Suddenly we started living in the story that we have developed.
Bpr: What would be the perfect vision for the future?
E. A.: I would imagine that, say, five years from now there would be three Joyrider series, running on one of the major international channels, alongside the big names. In addition to that, it would be good if there were five series where we already would have developed the second season and at the same time, ten others we would already have the budget for and the development of the first season would be going on. And of course, my own project, “War of Saints”, should be a huge success and we would be working on its second season. Moreover, subsidiary Joyrider offices: one in Berlin, and one in Madrid or let’s say another one in Amsterdam or an Italian one: it would be nice to spread a bit in Europe.
E. K.: I would want to have employed writers and creative producers, and it would feel good if I could keep them finding new jobs. The plan is to be a professional, international company. For example, if a large distributing company would invest into the Joyrider, I would be satisfied.