A co-production crime-caper-thriller with a lot of heart brings darkness to New Zealand's tourist haven.
The eight-part series may begin in Copenhagen, but it quickly arrives in New Zealand, specifically Queenstown, after con artist Silvia (Cecilie Stenspil), on the run from a gang boss and the police, is told to take a plane to “somewhere as unlikely as possible”.
There’s that Kiwi humour creeping into a pretty dark story, thanks to writer John Banas (Siege, How to Murder Your Wife, Dear Murderer) and producer Philly de Lacey of Screentime.
“Our intent was to set out to tell a crime-caper-thriller with a lot of heart and lots of shades of light and dark,” says de Lacey. “We were never intending it to be Scandi-noir.”
In some ways, the extraordinary part of the production happened behind the scenes. Straight Forward is a Danish-New Zealand co-production involving US, Scandinavian, Australian and New Zealand networks and nine financing partners.
With international content on Netflix and other streaming platforms, perhaps it’s not surprising that such a deal could take place here. Screentime developed the idea, and within a year of pitching the show, it was into production.
“In the land of drama, that’s very quick,” says de Lacey, and with limited money available here for domestic drama, it’s an exciting prospect to be able to finance productions this way.
“It allows you different freedoms, different ideas; you get different expertise coming in.”
It’s a win for the New Zealand TV production industry, too. Although the lead actors are Danish, Straight Forward is filmed mostly in New Zealand, with Kiwi cast and crew. Even some of the scenes set in Denmark weren’t filmed there, including driving scenes where the film was flipped so that cars were on the right-hand side of the road. See if you can tell the difference.
Coming to New Zealand was something of a culture shock for stars Stenspil and Troels Lyby, who plays the cop chasing Silvia. However, they brought the nuance to the Danish dialogue, says de Lacey, and by the time they left, “everyone was one big family”.
Of course, no significant New Zealand drama is complete without the versatile and enduring Mark Mitchinson, who, as scary gang boss Ravn, brings the darkness to tourist haven Queenstown.
It’s possible even he will be upstaged by the beauty of the scenery, however. “We’ve used Queenstown as a character within the story,” says de Lacey, “and, God, it’s stunning.”
This article was first published in the June 22, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.