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Fabrice Gobert is the writer and director of Channel 4’s gripping new French drama, The Returned. The eight-part drama tells the story of a handful of individuals returning to their Alpine hometown in a state of confusion – only to discover that they have been dead for several years.
Here, Gobert reveals how he became involved, his inspirations, and why this isn’t your average zombie drama.
Les Revenants was originally a feature film released in 2004. How did you become involved in the remake?
Caroline Benjo and Jimmy Desmarais, the producers of the drama, saw my film "Simon Werner a disparu" in 2010 at the Cannes festival. They liked it and they thought it had something in common with the show they intended to make. We met and they suggested that I write and direct the drama. I couldn't refuse such a fantastic proposition.
Had you seen the film when it was first released? What sort of an impression did it make on you?
I saw the film when it was released and I liked it very much. I was particularly impressed by the way Robin Campillo mixed fantasy (dead people are back in a small town) with hyperrealism (how do the municipality cope with them). It seemed to me very singular, very strong and very metaphoric.
When you are adapting a piece of work like this, how often do you go back and watch the original film?
I did not watch it again but I had a strong souvenir from the feature film in the form of Frederic Pierrot, who plays Jerome in the series. He was also in the film, so I talked a lot about it with him. He is marvellous in both.
The film featured hundreds of characters returning from the dead. Why did you change it to just a handful?
The film treated those returned from the dead in more a social and political way than we did. I wanted to deal with the idea in a more intimate way, so we decide to have only a handful return. It was necessary to feel very close to the emotional consequences of their strange situation.
There are certain similarities with shows like Twin Peaks and Lost. Were they inspirations?
Yes Twin Peaks and Lost were inspirations but they were not the only ones ! I love a lot of TV series like Deadwood, True Blood, Misfits. Six Feet Under, for example, was a strong inspiration when we were writing with Emmanuel Carrere. Because of the way Alan Ball dealt with death, because of the "black humour", because of the strangeness and the depth of the characters but also because it's a great show. I also love the Sopranos which is the prefect TV series for me.
What other TV shows or other artists inspire your work?
"Morse", a vampire danish movie directed by Tomas Alfredson, shows me that non-Americans can make fantasy movies without copying the original. I love this very singular movie. It also showed me that fantasy-thrillers can be beautiful, dark and slow...
The alpine setting, the town, the mountains, and the dam, is very important in contributing to the show’s character, isn’t it?
Indeed. When I wrote the script, I imagined that the town was a real character. I wanted it to be surrounded by mountains, lost in a valley and threatened by an impressive dam. Just the like characters of the drama who feel in danger, oppressed and alone.
The show is beautifully shot, and visually stunning. Is that very important to you in your work?
Thank you ! I had imense pleasure working with the great cinematographer Patrick Blossier. I felt that the way of filming and lighting up the town and the characters was excessively important, to create that fantastic atmosphere where everything can happen. I showed Patrick Gregory Crewdson's photographs to explain what I was looking for.
Those who are tuning in to watch an apocalyptic, violent zombie drama will be surprised – it’s not that sort of show, is it?
Not at all! I love Romero's movies but we did not try to copy them ! However, the characters of the series, as well the viewers, know these films exist. They know that in general dead people look like zombies. So we found it interesting to play with the myth of zombies. But I can’t say too much without spoiling…
How did Mogwai become involved?
I really wanted a band to compose the music for the drama. I loved what Mogwai did for "Zidane" the film by Gordon and Parreno, and I love what they do in general ! I love the strength, the gravity, the melancholy that spreads from their music. I am so lucky they agreed to work with us. We only sent them the first two scripts and they composed the main themes in a few weeks. They perfectly understood what was needed and to be able to listen to the music while we were shooting was wonderful.
You have been asked to make a second series of the drama. Do you have an idea of how many series you would like to write? And do you have a firm conclusion for how it will end?
I hope there will be three series. We have a lot of stories to tell ! But it depends on the audience of course…
The Returned will be coming to Channel 4 in June.