Oscar-nominated Danish director Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) will be making her return to television with “The Shift,” an emotional series set in a contemporary maternity ward headlined by Danish star Sofie Gråbøl (“The Killing,” “The Undoing”).
The prestige eight-part series starts shooting this week, commissioned by Danish commercial channel TV2 and TV2 Play, and is being represented in international markets by Beta Film. Lone Scherfig is the series’ creator and main author, while Søren Balle (“The Rain,” “The Killing”) serves as conceptual director and Ole Christian Madsen (“Banshee”) as guest director. Malene Blenkov produces for Creative Alliance, the production company of Ole Christian Madsen, Lone Scherfig and Malene Blenkov.
Described by Scherfig as “Nordic Light,” “The Shift” follows several characters within a maternity ward at a Danish hospital, lead by Ella (Gråbøl), the department head, who is surrounded by new life each day while secretly wishing for her own children; and pediatrician Jerry, whose marriage is falling apart and is hiding it from his religious community.
The episodes will also portray many other characters who are visiting the maternity ward for many different reasons. While these characters represent all facets of society, they all experience suspense, insecurity, but also humor and unfathomable bliss.
One of Scandinavia’s most critically acclaimed filmmakers, Scherfig has been leading a successful international career. Her latest film “The Kindness of Strangers,” a New-York set film with Zoe Kazan and Tahar Rahim opened the Berlin Film Festival in 2019; and she previously worked with Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Carey Mulligan, the star of her three-time Oscar-nominated film “An Education,” which also won the Audience Award at Sundance. Her 2000 film “Italian for Beginners” won the Silver Bear at the Berlinale.
“My ambition is for the series to possess quality and emotion but still contribute to the narrative of our society, both politically and humanly,” said Scherfig. “We find ourselves in the maternity ward at a brand new super hospital, a pulsating eternity machine. An apparent chaos that both creates life and reflects modern day Scandinavian life,” added the helmer.
Scherfig said that in her mind, “The Shift” was clearly a TV series from the very beginning because of the “narrative structure, the many different stories and characters intertwined and the continuous nature of life and work within a hospital.”
“This maternity ward almost feels like one of these lotto machines where you see all these balls surfing and rolling, and then every once in a while there is a child coming out. The staff are constantly saving lives, doing miracles, but without knowing exactly where their own lives are going,” said Scherfig.
“The Shift” will be serialized and have a different tone than classic hospital drama series, depicting characters who are more relaxed and pragmatic.
Scherfig said one of the filmmaking challenges of the series will be to film scenes of procedures. “We’re hoping to achieve a balance where the series doesn’t seem timid and at the same time avoid showing scenes that are not needed to tell the story.”
“So we’ll be constantly working with that balance behind and in front of the camera, and we are editing and storyboarding in order to place the camera where it shouldn’t be, and where we logically should be showing,” added the filmmaker. She said the actors have been taken classes with medical workers ahead of the start of production. The cast will also include non-professional actors who are actual hospital staffers.
Anais de Neergaard, Beta’s VP of international sales and acquisitions in Scandinavia, said the company was looking forward to working with talented Scandinavian cast and creators Lone Scherfig, OC Madsen and Søren Balle attached. “With Lone’s new ‘Nordic Light’ approach, ‘The Shift’ will bring the atmosphere and suspense from the Nordic dramas we all fell in love with and add an uplifting, inspirational flair,” she added.
Blenkov said “’The Shift’ will have a very distinct Lone Scherfig tone where it’s very deep, dramatic, and at the same time, it has this lightness and humor which helps us as audiences bear with all the drama and all the heaviness.”
“It’s an original story driven by the vision of a filmmaker. It’s not an adapted novel. And when you read the script, you can just feel that it’s a very natural Lone Scherfig creation,” said the producer.
Katrine Vogelsang, TV2 fiction director, said “Lone Scherfig is one of the preeminent names in Danish fiction, and I am incredibly happy and grateful that she has come home to Denmark to make this great story.”
“Our ambition at TV 2 is to make the best fiction, and Lone Scherfig can do that. She is the right person to lead such a large and ambitious public service story about one of the cornerstones of our society, namely healthcare. Lone Scherfig can make it dramatic, authentic, humorous, touching and life-affirming, creating stories in which we can all see ourselves,” added Vogelsang.
“The Shift” is supported by the Nordisk Film & TV Fond and the DFI’s Public Service Fund. Beta Film handles world sales outside of Scandinavia and Benelux.