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‘Follow the Money’s’ Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Søren Balle Talk Series’ Final Season

Variety — Jamie Lang

While some had argued that the third season of a series might not be fit to screen at the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, the major departures in narrative and setting executed in the third and final season of DR’s “Follow the Money” justify its inclusion.

The first two seasons of the hyper-popular Danish crime series peeked into the boardrooms and office spaces of big banking and focused on white collar crime. In Season 3, the series drops down into the streets, and focuses on how the banks get tied up in drug money laundering.

In addition to critical and audience plaudits, Season 1 of the series scooped Danish Academy Robert Awards for best series, best actor and best supporting actor, while securing three further acting nominations, validating the series’ heavily character-driven plots.

The series is produced, broadcast and sold by Danish public broadcaster DR, and was commissioned by the company’s then-head of drama Piv Bernth, a major motivator behind the swell in high-end Scandinavian drama in recent years.

Series creator Jeppe Gjervig Gram and director Søren Balle talked with Variety about the major changes coming in Season 3, creating content for a public broadcaster and the freedom they were granted by DR.

What has the immense success of the series meant in terms of pressure to deliver on subsequent seasons? Have you felt pushed to get bigger and better each season?

As a public service broadcaster, DR doesn’t feel the same obligation to keep a show running, however successful, as a commercial broadcaster might. Then head of drama Piv Bernth asked me if I felt I still had new stories to tell within “Follow The Money’s” financial arena – and underscored that I was at liberty to change ‘as much as I felt the need to’ to keep the show fresh and interesting. I thought about it long and hard – and realized that what I really wanted to explore, if I were to do a third season, was the business side of the drug trade with the focus on the money rather than the drugs; the laundering of the profits which are absolutely essential to keep that huge, illegal market rolling.

Season 3 can be viewed as a stand-alone, or spinoff season. Can you talk about the potential benefits and detractions of producing a season like that?

I truly enjoyed the freedom, it created. It felt like a huge luxury to be able to only keep what still felt inspiring and exciting from the former seasons – a few select characters, the theme of greed and our curiosity of the illegal money flows in our modern society – and leave all else behind. But of course this could only be done with the kind of trust in the writer’s vision that exist at DR, since it was of course a huge risk to take for a broadcaster. But all who were creatively involved felt that if we pulled it off, we would be able to make something truly fresh and interesting, instead of a more classic and predictable third season.

Season 3 marks a departure from the first two seasons, from the corporate world in to the streets. What inspired this change?

I was very much inspired by the HSBC scandal where top brass from the then worlds’ second largest bank in 2012 were summoned to explain themselves in front of the American senate for laundering billions of dollars for Latin American drug cartels. I thought: if the big banks are facilitators of the drug trade in U.S., then the banks in Denmark cannot be innocent either, if only because the drug industry cannot survive and prosper without help from legal financial institutions.

With such a dramatic change, what kind of research did you have to familiarize yourself with this other world?

I knew I would only take on a subject like this if I had time to do the research, and luckily DR was prepared to give me that. And as soon as we started researching, our suspicions about the Danish drug market and their involvement with the financial institutions were affirmed. We came upon a case that involved a money exchange shop that clearly were just a part of a bigger story that not even the police had uncovered. So while we were writing the season a bunch of huge new stories broke – we were basically writing the fiction, while it was all happening simultaneously in real life. It has been quite a journey!

Stylistically, what changes did you make from the first two seasons to the third?

Starting this season from scratch gave us a great opportunity to re-image our stylistic approach. Given the new settings and the darker, more existential themes of the script, we wanted to create a style that had a more realistic and unpolished look, using the light, color, and camera-movements to mirror the emotional state of the characters, and also ultimately create a sense that ‘something is always lurking around the corner’. A major premise of this season was to put the characters center stage, so it was always in the back of our heads that the visual setting had to serve the inner-life of the characters as opposed to serving the plot.