There’s been a lot of intrigue surrounding Dance Brothers, the first original Finnish series ordered at Netflix.
Created and produced by Max Malka of Banijay’s Endemol Shine Finland, the show is the first co-production between Netflix and Finland’s national broadcaster YLE and boasts a unique two-part release. It dropped worldwide on Netflix, including Finland, on May 10 and will receive a second local premiere on YLE.
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“It was an organic win, win situation in the sense that YLE is the only broadcaster who commissions young adult content, and for them to be able to widen the genre, scope, and production value of projects, you need investment,” Malka told Deadline shortly before the show’s Netflix debut.
The series follows two brothers, Roni (Roderick Kabanga) and Sakari (Samuel Kujala), as they struggle to make a living as professional dancers. To help finance their dance dreams, they decide to start their own club, which provides income, housing, and training space. Their unique club and impressive dance routines quickly bring them fame. Soon artistic ambitions and personal relationships collide, testing Roni and Sakari’s close bond.
All ten episodes are directed by filmmaker Taito Kawata. Below, Malka and Kawata discuss the process of developing the show, landing a unique partnership between Netflix and YLE, and trusting the streamer’s algorithm to attract audiences.
DEADLINE: What are the origins of the show?
MAX MALKA: I’ve always wanted to see a Finnish dance film because the genre is so fun. Whether it was Billy Elliot, Step Up, or Magic Mike, I’ve always thought it was such a fun genre. And it had never been done in Finland. I was kind of waiting around thinking, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing it?’ And then I realized, well, hold on. If there’s a gap in the market, why not just make it ourselves? So the genre came first. And then the other thing was that I have a soft spot for the investigation of masculinity and the vulnerability of male friendships.
DEADLINE: When did you start writing and what was the process like?
MALKA: Three years ago. I wrote the concept, the season arc, and the synopsis. With all that, I started looking for a writer and a director who understood the potential in the story and could bring their own vision and enrich it and make it better. Quite soon, I found both Taito and Reeta, our writer, and the three of us started working together on it.
DEADLINE: Where did you find Taito?
MALKA: Taito has an amazing reputation in Finland. He’s a very established, award-winning commercial and music video director. He was recommended, so I contacted him, and he sent over a short film that I really loved. I knew that he was working on a feature documentary about a popular artist duo in Finland. We met a couple of times and talked about things. The vision he had really impressed me. Every time you go with someone new, it’s a risk, but it was definitely worth it.
DEADLINE: Taito, what was interesting about the project to you?
TAITO KAWATA: Firstly, you can’t say no to Max. But this just felt like something I needed to do. It was the strong entrepreneurship theme that I related to. Starting your own club and then getting into all this trouble. That’s something that has been close to me. I started a restaurant with my sister, so I was close to that in a way.
DEADLINE: One thing that’s instantly noticeable about the show is how ethnically diverse it is. That’s not something that’s traditionally associated with Finland. Was that a conscious, subversive choice?
MALKA: Well, it reflects the world that Taito and I live in. Maybe Finnish media has given us another image of Finland, but the people we know and hang out with are reflected on the screen in this diverse cast. So for us, it was organic. We chose the people we thought were the best for the role, whether behind the camera or in front of the camera. This is our Finland.
DEADLINE: Can you explain this tiered Netflix partnership to me?
MALKA: The show will premiere in Finland and everywhere at the same time on Netflix. It has a global premiere. And then YLE has the second window in Finland, and the show will be on both platforms simultaneously.
DEADLINE: How did you manage to land this unique partnership?
MALKA: It was an organic win, win situation in the sense that YLE is the only broadcaster who commissions young adult content, and for them to be able to widen the genre, scope, and production value of projects, you need investment. And for Netflix to say okay, we will make a substantial investment into a Finnish language show. And nonetheless, a YA show is a way to offer something new for the Finnish youth. And the fact that we can offer Finnish talent to a global audience doesn’t rule out that not everybody has Netflix. And the fact that the Finnish youth and taxpayers are still able to see Finnish projects on the national broadcaster within the same year. I think that’s really great.
DEADLINE: Max, do you think this is the future of financing and producing shows?
MALKA: There will always be a diverse way of making projects which make sense for that specific project. This isn’t a trend that should be copied every time. We were lucky to have this collaboration with Netflix, and they were very open and generous with us. They said we don’t know your local audience. We don’t know the local market the way, for example, YLE does, and we’re happy to give YLE more editorial responsibility, even though they are not the main financiers. Netflix said that this is a collaboration, this is a coproduction, and we trust also our local partners.
DEADLINE: Netflix runs a model where they don’t necessarily promote new material. Projects pop, and then the streamer backs them. With this, it can be hard to cut through on Netflix. How do you feel about Dance Brothers opening with this model?
MALKA: Netflix were great in being very honest and open from day one, that they’re not putting a lot of effort into marketing or press because they have such a wide catalog of material. And so many new titles coming out all the time. They really do trust their algorithm and programming to present the shows to those viewers who would most likely like them. Of course, we are doing our own efforts, with the PR and marketing, to get a wide local audience for the show, but what happens internationally is really out of our hands. We have to trust word of mouth and algorithms. As you say, it seems like a mystical, magical thing, what will pop, and I think everyone would love to have that magic ball. But we just tried to make the best show that we possibly could. And I hope as many people as possible can find it.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you both?
MALKA: I’ve been holding my breath for the release and just seeing what that brings for the future. One thing usually follows the other, and it depends on the reach of the series, how happy our financiers are with it, and the feedback we get. At Endemol Shine Finland, we have a slate of scripted projects that we want to keep working on at the same level of quality, and I’m hoping to make more series and feature films with Taito. It was a really great collaboration on Dance Brothers.
KAWATA: I’m just thankful that I’m here and alive, and we finished the show and just want to get it to everyone to see, and I don’t know. I have nothing else in my mind now.
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