Erik Matti wins grant to develop ‘dream’ East-meets-West crime series

Erik Matti wins grant to develop ‘dream’ East-meets-West crime series

Matti (center) at the Series Manila Festival

For their East-meets-West crime story pitch, Erik Matti and Dondon Monteverde won a €50,000 grant from the prestigious Series Mania Festival last month.

Held in Lille, France, the festival is regarded as the biggest television series-dedicated event in Europe.

“We started working on it last year, then submitted it in January. We didn’t receive any updates about it until we got a call that we won,” Matti told select reporters in a recent Zoom interview. “Their aim is to get full-length feature filmmakers who were able to join A-list festivals—like Cannes, Berlin, Venice—and ask them to pitch a project for a series,” said the acclaimed director, whose crime thriller “On the Job: The Missing 8” premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, and won for lead star John Arcilla the best actor award.

Matti and Monteverde’s pitch, titled “The Squatter,” was one of the two recipients of the festival’s Beta Development Award, which will have the creative duo working closely with the major German producer Beta Group to develop the pilot episode and a package for the project.

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“We’re happy to get one of the top prizes. We hope to follow through with it and introduce Filipinos to other platforms aside from what we see here in the Philippines,” Monteverde said. “We’re happy to be part of the movement, and winning makes us proud to be Filipinos,” added the producer, who, together with Matti, runs local production outfit Reality Entertainment. “The Squatter” is set in the United Kingdom, where two immigrant stories simultaneously unfold. Gail, a Filipino doctor, decides to leave her profession in the Philippines to start anew abroad. Her move coincides with that of a Ukrainian detective trying to find a home in London.

At a charity event for immigrants, Gail meets the organizers, a wealthy British couple who offers to help her find her footing. They understand that building a new life in a new country is challenging, and so they offer Gail their spare apartment—in exchange for running their errands.

Vibe and tone

Meanwhile, in rural Lancashire in England, the Ukrainian detective investigates the mysterious death of a British man, who, as it turns out, was previously married to a Filipina. Before long, the two characters’ seemingly parallel lives start to intersect.

“We have always wanted to tell a story about immigrants. After all, we’re one of the biggest exporters … And we know that, in some cases, people who are professionals in the Philippines end up doing different things abroad,” Matti pointed out.

The vibe and tone of the project, the director said, is inspired by British crime stories. As such, choosing the UK as its setting made perfect sense. “We always think, ‘What are we going to do next that’s going to challenge us?’ ‘What can we do to improve the story and make the project more ambitious?’” he said.

“So, why not set it in another country, where a Filipino story is likely to happen?” Matti added. “We hope to push the boundaries of what we can do.”The €50,000 (roughly P3 million) grant will allow Matti and Monteverde to conduct immersion and research in the UK, where they plan to interview Filipino immigrants about their living conditions.

Erik Matti receives the Beta Development Award at the Series Mania Festival in France. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

What’s good about the prize, Matti added, is that the content division of the Beta Group will be working with them every step of the way, from the execution of the pilot episode to its possible expansion into an eight-part series.

The steps

“Unlike some events where you receive a grant and then ‘bahala na si Batman’ sa project afterwards, Beta sat us down and laid out a plan on how to execute the series. We thought about possible producers in the UK and companies to sell the series to,” Matti said.

“We have had Zoom calls to talk about the steps. Where will the series go within eight episodes? They will put together a package for it to be produced. They will get maybe five to six companies, and find the right mix of people and groups to develop the series,” he told the Inquirer.

Aside from the grant, Matti and Monteverde underwent a two-month masterclass on television series production.“What we learned is that it’s all about the story. In films, the buck stops with the director, whose vision must be followed. A series is different. Yes there’s a vision for its entirety, but it goes through so many people—the creatives, the producers,” Matti said.

“Are the story and characters engaging enough? Will viewers watch the next episode? Will they finish the entire season? There are a lot of questions. And all of those rest on the shoulders, not only of the writers and directors, but everyone working on the series,” he added. INQ