Co-created by producer Minna Virtanen and writer Antti Pesonen (Bordertown), Bullets (10x45’) was launched by Sky Vision at MIPCOM and premiered yesterday on Elisa Viihde. The series also won the Buyers Coup de Coeur Award at MIPTV 2018.

The female-led political drama and spy thriller, is set against the atmospheric backdrops of Helsinki, the criminal underworld of Belgium and the troubled streets of Georgia. Krista Kosonen (Blade Runner 2049, Midwife) plays Intelligence Agency officer Mari Saari, Sibel Kekilli (Game of Thrones) the ex-terrorist Madina Taburova, and Tommi Korpela (The Eternal Road) a narco cop and Mari’s investigation partner. When Madina who was presumed dead, suddenly turns up in Helsinki to seek political asylum, Mari tries to befriend her - under a fake identity - to find out why she’s there. 

Bullets was produced by Virtanen’s Vertigo in co-production with Germany’s Nadcon and Belgium’s Lumière/Lunanime. Pesonen (Bordertown) wrote the original screenplay, with writers Matti Laine and Kirsi Vikman.
We spoke to Virtanen and Pesonen.

Antti, how did you get the idea for the series?
Antti Pesonen
: We’ve been working on this series for nearly five years and the story evolved along the way. But the basic idea of a lone female cop who has to change her identity to go under cover and solve crimes, has always been there. Then along the way, the character of Madina came to us and the story took form around those two strong women who have to pretend to be someone else to know each other. There is a web of deception going on through the series. Nothing is quite as it seems, but nonetheless, it affects many innocent lives as any act of terrorism would.

The series mixes several genres-the political thriller, crime and psychological drama which is a definite move away from the traditional ‘who dunnit’…
My drive when writing the series was precisely to break away from the Nordic noir. We took two huge risks here. The series is not a procedural in the traditional sense. We let ourselves be guided by mood and emotions, not plot. The second and bigger risk was to describe the terrorist as a human being, not only a villain. Madina’s motivations are not political or religious. She’s motivated by loss and tries to make sense of the universe. She is forced to act in a certain way.

Giving a human face to a terrorist must have been challenging…
AP: Yes, terrorists are perfect true villains in reality and on screen. Our own character has also done horrible things that are not justifiable in any way, but nobody starts out that way. Our series is not about solving crime but solving the personality of this woman. What she’s going through now and why.
Minna Virtanen: Antti is very talented at creating lots of layers in the plot. Everything had to be motivated from a human perspective.

What drives Mari the undercover officer?
During the series we provide hints and answers about her motivation. But the interesting thing is that she and Madina are not so dissimilar. Mari in a sense is a blank slate. Her job is to live through fake identities all the time, but between jobs, she doesn’t really have a home to go to. She is a lone wolf. I don’t think we’ve seen many female characters like her. Krista who is an exceptional actress conveys all these emotions to perfection.

How would you describe the third main character played by Tommi Korpela?
AP: Again, we kind of play on stock character here. The middle aged burned-out alcoholic detective. We’ve seen that many times. But we’ve tried to find a new twist. Here, he’s a family man. When his crisis comes to head, it affects his family. In a sense, by meeting Mari, he finds a soul mate. At the beginning, they are almost enemies, but through the series, they grow to like and understand each other.

Did you have Krista Kosonen in mind from an early stage?
MV: Yes, we felt she would make the perfect Mari. She has an amazing presence and goes under the skin of characters. She’s also very intuitive.

We found Sibel Kekilli through our German partners. We knew that there are amazing actors with Turkish origin in Germany. We saw her and felt she was amazing. She’s sensitive, fragile, with an inner force as well. She was perfect for the part of Madina.


Antti, how was your collaboration with director Pete Riski?
AP: We collaborated until a month ago, right to the end. If a character is watching a news story on TV and you do ADR later, I want to make sure it’s me who writes the news piece! When we were shooting, he would email me every day. He wasn’t there during the creation of the bones of the story which was good as the process was so long. He provided fresh eyes and that was perfect.

Tell us about the writing process. Was there a writers’ room? Antti do you come to the set to find inspiration?
There wasn’t really a writers’ room as I live in the UK.  But my co-writers [Matti Laine and Kirsi Vikman] bounced ideas with me and wrote a few episodes. Kirsi was also essential in helping build a female perspective to the story. Otherwise I usually write the next thing during shooting as I just love writing. I let producers and directors do their job.

Did you have specific references in mind? AP: In a way, I had negative references. I simply wanted to move away from classical procedurals.
MV: I didn’t have any existing TV show in mind, but the film Sicario inspired me, for the strong emotions that come through. It’s a thriller but characters are strong and powerful.

How was your experience of filming in Finland, Belgium and Georgia?
We started in December 2017 and ended May 2018. It was hard to shoot between three countries, with different crews and schedules. We had a tight budget (€5m) and had to respect the schedule. For the Chechen part, we were looking a long time for that location, between Romania, Croatia, the Baltics, then we found what we were looking for in Georgia. We shot four days there. It wasn’t an easy place to shoot as there is no infrastructure, but we made it work and are very pleased with the result.

How was your relationship with your production partners and what was their creative contribution to the show?
Nadcon came in early and commented on the script during development and they brought in Sibel Kekilli. Elisa Viihde was essential and they commented on the script. Lumière/Lunanime was involved in the production and we shot 10 days in Belgium. We had an excellent crew, fantastic locations that provided added production value.

Is a season 2 in preparation?
I’m working on the storyline now. We have the same sort of female-driven story, but the focus is different. It’s more political, but yet again we will focus on moods and emotions. Let’s see first how the opening season goes.