Serbia’s Firefly Closes Deals Ahead of Sarajevo TV Awards, Ramps Up Studio Construction (EXCLUSIVE)

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Belgrade-based Firefly Productions has closed a raft of deals in the run-up to this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, where the Serbian production powerhouse leads the pack with 19 nominations at the Heart of Sarajevo TV Awards, including best drama series nods for supernatural drama “Block 27” and psychological thriller “Black Wedding.”

As Variety previously reported, Beta Film has acquired international distribution rights to “Block 27” (pictured), a science fiction-mystery series about the disappearance of a teenager in Belgrade. Firefly has also closed deals with Australian public broadcaster SBS on “Black Wedding,” which follows a government agent investigating a killing spree and its links to ancient folklore, and “The Family,” a five-part miniseries about the arrest of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević.

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The company is also in advanced talks with buyers in North America and Europe on several other series.

The deals come as construction gathers steam on Firefly’s long-awaited studio complex, which broke ground outside Belgrade last year. “We’re being delayed due to the crisis,” said the company’s co-founder Ivana Mikovic. “The prices rose — all the steel and the construction. It was really slow, but it’s going well.”

Construction is expected to wind down by the end of the year, with the studios fully operational by March 2023. The complex will include three state-of-the-art sound stages boasting more than 50,000 square feet of available real estate, a water tank, 10 acres of backlot, production offices, workshops, a restaurant and horse stables – all just 25 minutes from central Belgrade.

First up for the studio is an adaptation of Dejan Stojiljkovic’s Serbian bestseller “Constantine’s Crossing,” a supernatural World War II story about the Nazis’ hunt for powerful relics that once belonged to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The 10 x 60’ series is written by Djordje Milosavljevic and Firefly co-founder Boban Jevtic, who is also an accomplished film and TV writer.

Mikovic said the lavish period drama will boast “Indiana Jones”-style action elements, adding: “It’s going to be a huge project.” Production design is being handled by Miljen Kreka Kljakovic, a César and European Film Award winner whose most recent credit is Barry Levinson’s Holocaust boxing drama “The Survivor.”

The series reflects the sky-high ambitions of the Belgrade-based production house, which was founded in 2018 by Mikovic, former COO of public broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia, and Jevtic, the former head of Film Center Serbia. The company has a dozen series currently in different stages of development and production, comprising a range of genres — including comedy, horror and sci-fi — and based on both original stories and book adaptations.

Firefly was the big winner at last year’s Heart of Sarajevo TV Awards, where “The Family” took home best drama series, best actor and best series creator for Bojan Vuletić. While they’ll hope to repeat that success in the Bosnian capital this year, Mikovic said the company is nevertheless steadfast in its goal to rewrite the script for Serbian drama.

“Our projects are a little bit more expensive than the others in the [Serbian] market. We have good crews. Whatever the production designers want, we tend to give them. Whatever the directors of photography want, we tend to give them,” she said. “And we use film directors, not just TV directors, which is giving us a very nice [cinematic] touch.”

Perhaps Firefly’s most significant contribution to the industry is its approach to scriptwriting: The company has developed a team of 14 writers — both newcomers and industry veterans — to bring Hollywood-style writer’s rooms to the local TV business. “In Serbia, until two years ago, you had one writer for one series,” explained Mikovic. “We’re very young at showrunning. We still have people who are just writing or just producing.”

The award-winning run in Sarajevo is validation that the company’s gambit is working. “We’ve managed to raise the production value [in the region], starting with ‘Tycoon,’ which was really something never seen before in Serbia,” said Mikovic, adding that production is now underway on season two of what she dubbed the “‘Succession’ of Serbia.” “I’d really like to be the leader in the region, in terms of genres and in terms of production value.”

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