As the head of Yle’s drama department since 2015, Lampela has played a key role in raising the quality bar of Finnish TV drama and reshaping co-productions, by commissioning local stories, told on a global scale.

Yle series that have won over national audiences and picked up major international awards in 2019 include Invisible Heroes, Best European Fiction TV series at Prix Europa, Goals, Best Short Entertainment at Prix Italia and Moominvalley, Best Animated Kids Programme at last week’s Content Innovation Awards in Cannes.

In 2020 premium series set to go into production include FremantleMedia Finland's human trafficking drama Cargo (Rahti, 8x55’) the in-house drama Custody Case (Kannattelijat, 8x50) set in a childcare unit, Lucy Loves Drama’s My Husband’s Wife (Mieheni vaimo, 8x42’), about two women rivals forced to live together, LångfilmAt the Sidelines (Kentän Laidalla), while MRP Matila Röhr’s Peacemaker is in post-production.

Series scheduled to premiere are The Night Servants (Hiljaisten palvelijat, Yle Drama,11/2019), Bordertown 3 (Sorjonen 3, Fisher King, 12/2019), These Brats (Kakarat, Zodiak, 01/2020), The Paradise (Paratiisi, MRP Matila Röhr Productions, 02/2020), Deadwind 2 (Karppi 2, Dionysos Films, 03/2020), Moominvalley 2 (Muumilaakso 2, Gutsy Animations, 03/2020), and White Wall (Fire Monkey, fall 2020).

Lampela tells us about his vision, strategy and challenges ahead.

First of all, what’s your drama budget for this year?
JL: The entire acquisition budget for creative content for this year is €31 million - €15 million is for documentary/factual/entertainment and €16 million for series and movies, but the value of drama is higher thanks to co-productions. So for instance if we commission for €10 million, the value is maybe €17-18 million thanks to the co-production agreements.

What is your share of in-house external TV dramas and types of dramas that you produce and commission?
JL: We commission 6-8 series from independent producers and have 1-2 in-house series a year. The short form commissioning is 70/30 external/in-house. For 2020,

We will have two high-end dramas in the spring and two in the fall. On top of that, we have two-three domestic drama series or comedies of 8x24’ to 54’ per episode. Then we have three-four web series and two are dedicated to 16-29 years old.

We also commission short-form drama for social media platforms like Instagram, such as the real time dramas Karma and No Filter that were shot on a mobile. Hyppe Salmi handles youth drama for us.

For any public broadcaster connecting with young viewers is central to their cultural remit…
JL: Absolutely. Over the last three years we have increased the resources for youth drama. We know that with the 15-29 year-olds, if you don’t give them relevant, inspiring and engaging content, in ten years they will be gone. Therefore for Halloween, we have created the urban horror drama Servants of the Silence targeting the 17-30 years old male audience. We did a pilot and showed it to a focus group. All said they wouldn’t have expected Yle to create such a show, and they would definitely watch it.

Since 2015 you have diversified Yle drama’s output and made Finnish drama more attractive both to local and global viewers. Was the timing right?
JL: When I started four years ago, it was indeed a perfect timing to jump in when Netflix started to be more aggressive in smaller territories as well. All collaborations started to change, including with Yle. In 2016-17, the number of dramas in Finland doubled and now they have tripled. So many people moved from film to TV and international co-productions grew at the same time. On the back of the interest for Norwegian drama, people started to look at Finland and Iceland as well. The local crime show Bordertown was a pivotal drama. It opened new doors and partnerships.

Regarding Yle’s high-end drama, how have you adapted your commissioning role to the market shift and decided to involve international partners in the creative process?
JL: I was inspired by my experience as Head of Film School at Aalto University, as I played a role in making film education more international. My vision with Yle’s new strategy was that instead of waiting for a big co-production project to come to us, we would initiate projects from idea stage and approach potential co-producers. If we couldn’t find strategic partners, then we would ‘t loose too much money as we had just invested small sums in development. But going aggressively out there to find partners before production stage made the project much more interesting and beneficial for all partners.

Therefore today, we commit much earlier and then get a foreign distributor or TV channel, so the development costs are shared. By working earlier with co-production partners, we are clear from idea stage on our shared creative vision and the production process becomes much smoother

What have you learnt so far? What works-what doesn’t work?
JL: Let’s take some examples.  With the crime show Paradise [produced with Spanish group Mediapro], it’s actually Mediapro’s development executive David Troncoso who got the idea of doing a Nordic crime drama in Finland and in Spain and we jumped on this opportunity to collaborate with them. We came up with the loose idea of a crime story, set in the small Finnish community living in Spain-Fuengirola. Matti Laine [Bullets] was hired as head-writer. We were show-running the show with Mediapro, but then decided that Ran Tellem [Mediapro Head of International Development, Homeland exec producer] would lead the development process because of his experience. Together with Mediapro, we created new ways to collaborate along the way and remained very flexible.

What we’ve learnt with The Paradise, Invisible Heroes and upcoming international shows, is that when your partner loves the story and the concept, you can solve problems. But if the collaboration is driven by money only, it doesn’t really work. Content is the most important.

What other international shows are you developing with foreign partners?
JL: We are in the early stage of production of the series Rideout, set in the 1970s, about motorcycle racers Jarno Saarinen and his Italian rival Giacomo Agostini. Funfar Films is producing. We already have a distributor on board - Eccho Rights - and are negotiating with Italian channels.

What else is coming?
JL: Early February we have a major premium series going into production called Cargo, produced by Fremantle Finland. It’s the first high-end drama from them. Fremantle in London is executive producing and keeping international sales. We are very proud to have secured such a high-profile international partner.

What’s the story?
JL: It’s a suspense drama about international human trafficking. You have a young Eritrean woman whose husband dies and daughter disappears on their way to Finland, then there are two brothers who steal a van transporting illegal immigrants, and a third story is about a female lawyer who becomes a guardian to a child whose parents are paperless refugees. Matti Kinnunen is head writer: It should be ready in October 2021.

What about pure crime series?
JL: Paradise is a crime story. Then we have the last season of Bordertown, and Deadwind Season 2 for spring 2020. We are also developing a third season of Deadwind.

Returning seasons are often harder to finance. Are you open to collaborations with other streaming platforms?
JL: Our strategy is to keep long exclusive streaming rights for Yle Areena. The ratings prove us right and returning series are very important to secure peak viewing.

How is your collaboration with your Nordic broadcasting colleagues within the Nordic 12 alliance, and what has been its impact so far?
JL: We have redefined the way we co-produce. Before, you needed to have a script ready before boarding as co-producer. Now we’re all in much earlier on. By having partners at an earlier stage, we can put together a more diverse slate. By knowing what other countries are producing, we can be more selective, and avoid commissioning similar stories or genres.

What are the biggest challenges for Yle? JL: We are receiving a lot of new ideas every year and the variety of the teams, the stories are a big improvement compared to four years ago. One of the biggest challenges is still to find the right persons for each project. If you have an un-experienced writer with a great idea, how do you find the talent to support him, the right producer to take care of the original idea through the development process?

Also, the industry is overheating, so you have to queue for talents/writers and directors in particular. Next year will be even more complicated with new streamers entering the market. This is why we try to plan the programming a long time in advance. By green-lighting our slate of high-end drama as early as possible and getting co-producers and international partners on board, we already know what we’ll have until 2022.

The challenge is also to constantly to look for new partners as costs for high-end drama keep climbing, like in bigger European countries, although our market remains limited due to the language and size of our demographics. But we keep looking for new international opportunities."