Interview with Louis Aubert
the 28th of April 2023
by Louis Aubert and Matthieu Bernard
"On the eve of a major Economic Forum organized by the four most polluting companies in Europe, young European activists, the Alphas, kidnap the sons and daughters of the bosses of these firms to force them to change their environmental policies."
Louis is a French writer who has mastered his collaborative skills by writing for films, television and cartoons on projects such as: Vortex (2022), ASKIP, Le collège se la raconte (2020), Tijuana Bibles (2019) and Vestiaires libérés (2018).
Louis traveled the whole world while trying to answer all the questions he daily asks himself. He has found that writing is the best way for him to understand the world and people better.
Let’s talk about Alpha, the project you co-created with Matthieu Bernard. Mainly, let’s talk about your creative process, your first experience at the EWC Boosting Concept camp and how it has influenced your series so far.
Can you start by telling us when Alpha came to your mind ?
I think we started in 2018, and now it’s 2023. So it has been something like five years. When I arrived at the Boosting Concept session, the project was actually quite advanced.
Also, we already had an attached broadcaster and had gotten feedback from them already.
It was truly a great opportunity, this session, to allow us to take a step back and more importantly to have a fresh eye on the story.
Actually, many things that our attached broadcaster said to us were similar to the feedback we received from Francesca (De Lisi, tutor at EWC Boosting Concepts).
The EWC camp allowed us to spot and better understand some of the challenges we still had in the story. It was very precious. And now we are working on fixing these. That's part of this whole process and it’s still processing, of course!
Alpha, is in its core an international story. It portrays the reality of what it is to be a young European today, with friends in Italy, Poland, Croatia, Germany etc. And yet, the two creators and the production companies are all French!
What drove you to do an ‘auberge Espagnole’ ? Can you tell us a bit more about your choice of the international aspect of your series?
The main idea is that climate change is not the problem of only one country, but of all the countries. So we thought it would be more interesting to set it in a larger scope. We also wanted to talk about this youth, the European youth, which I think shares these common concerns. They are also so connected across our borders, and so from the very beginning, we wanted to do it in several countries and nationalities, it just made sense. I’m myself part of this Erasmus generation, so I also have friends in a lot of different European countries.
I really wanted to make something new that I don't see on French TV. It was the project to do that. I really wanted to do something like that for a long time. And this was the perfect idea to make it work.
Was this EWC Boosting Session the first time that you worked with writers from a different country ?
Did you change some things to your story because you understood another point of view of Europe thanks to them?
As to changes to make it more European, actually, not really, not at this stage anyway.
I think it will come when we'll get much further in the script itself.
For the concept of the series, I think that we have this common culture, we have some differences obviously but we are still Europeans. Anton (Breum, EWC consultant writer) and Francesca already knew about climate change and how it is a concern for all of us, also because of our age we're kind of very aware and concerned of this situation.
In a way, it was reassuring for us to have the confirmation that the problem was taken seriously and touching people throughout all of Europe.
You were put in groups during the Boosting Concept camp where you had a German, an Icelandic and a Portuguese broadcaster in your group. It’s almost like this was a new Erasmus experience.
Did they bring anything from their respective cultures that you found relevant for your concept ?
They brought a lot of things: they brought a lot of questions and a lot of enthusiasm as well. I can't say yet if there is any specific information that will end up on screen because, as I was telling you, we are all European and I am not sure that I will mention some typical Icelandic details or things like that.
What was very interesting is that the project resonated very well with them, even if we are from different countries. Even if I have no idea what it means to be a young adult in Iceland, I think that with the help of Margrét Jónasdóttir (Deputy Head of TV at RUV), I had the confirmation that it was actually quite the same as being a young adult in France. Climate change is a very deep concern for everyone. And I think it's even more than just Europe. I hope it’s worldwide.
You already have an attached broadcaster for your series, but this week you were directly sitting in front of three European heads of drama, participating in the creative process.
In the room we were in, we really considered them as partners. Not only as broadcasters. Of course, they have their experience and their knowledge as broadcasters, but it was more like a creative and collaborative process, which was really nice. I think it was what we needed actually. This set-up that EWC has created, allowed them to speak in a more natural and honest way, talking from their personal experience and relating to the story.
I don’t want to generalize or go into clichés, but usually, when you meet with your broadcaster you talk about contracts of different versions of the script because you have so little time and therefore not at all for creative exchange. But not this time. The atmosphere was very cool and nice with no stakes in the room.
In Alpha, you are tackling themes such as youth, the questions of climate change while building a European TV series, which are already three challenging themes on their own, but somehow it works.
Do you think maybe you've found the recipe to making a European TV series by using all these things together and thus bringing so much universality to the table?
I hope so! I think now is a good time for this kind of series. Maybe it was not possible a few years ago. We have a director in France who has made a beautiful film about European youth, Cédric Klapish with l’Auberge Espagnole, but it hasn’t been done in Series yet I feel.
This is, of course, very ambitious and we knew it from the very beginning. So that's why it's very good to be selected in a programme such as EWC.
When it comes to the universality of the theme, the climate change theme is a universal challenge, it has to be, there is no other way.
But there is the problem of making a TV show about climate change: it’s ahead of us. Even if we can feel it today during summers, it's mainly a problem for the next generations. And I think we found a way to set this theme today in this story.
More than the consequences of climate change, we want to talk about the consequences of what it is to grow up in a world which is constantly threatened by it: and the impact it has on us. And this is not only Franco-French, this is very international and I think that's why the project works and why people relate to it.
You have experienced writing for a young-adult audience already.
I'm not specialized, but it is something I like a lot.
In France, the mainstream TV is almost every time done for older people.
But we have some series for young people. That's why we are collaborating with France Televisions’ service called France.tv Slash (which is a digital platform dedicated to young audiences). But I hope that the series will talk to everybody, actually even to the not-so-young adults too, to help them understand how the youth can feel in this situation and to start a dialogue. I hope it helps to bring a light on how it might feel to grow up in this world with this climate threat over our heads. I would say this is really the ambition of the show.
I'm sensing that you're doing this series with a purpose, with a message you want to portray. It is not just entertaining. It's a double storytelling. Can you tell us with more about this?
Yes, obviously we're living in a time where the climate activists are going further and further and further. I think- and really hope I am wrong - that someday they will become violent. The message I want to say with the show is that: this is not the solution, on the contrary. The show ends pretty badly for them. The real point is that there needs to be a mutual understanding between the activists and the most polluting companies: if we stop talking to each other then there won’t be any way out. This is really what we want to say with this series.
You already worked collaborating with other writers on other shows. Now you have this one with Matthieu. And during the Boosting Concept camp, EWC appointed you a consultant writer and two broadcasters, on top of having your producer with you. You were in a highly collaborative environment. Is this something that you prefer when you develop a TV show? Is it something that you think is relevant for this specific show because it's so broad and it tackles such big themes?
I think it's good for this show, but I think it's good for every show.
At first when I was young, I liked to work alone. Now, I don't like it anymore.
When you write on your own, in your little room in Paris, it's very hard to guess what people will think. You always need to have some other people reading your stuff, giving feedback on things that they don't understand or don't agree with.
Matthieu and I are very different. We don't have the same age, so we don't have the same vision of the climate problem. It's very interesting because I think if I wrote this story alone, it would have been much more black and white.
The producers (Alexandre Charlet from Les Films du Cygne & Nicolas de Saint Meleuc from Storia Télévision) are of course also giving me their point of view. And now, Anton has also added his voice to the mix.
I would say however, that the main difficulty when working collaboratively with so many is to keep in mind what was the very first desire you had when you start on your very first page about this series. You can't lose that.
So of course, you have to listen to feedback, but you also always have to remember what is at the heart of the project.
I do this with all the shows I work on. I always try to find the one thing I really like, and keep it as my compass. I always have this document on my computer that I call my ‘pépite’ (the jewel). It’s three lines about what the show is for me, and I try to never forget it. It is the thing that gave you the desire to write this story. It becomes your light that guides you in the darkness of creation!
The ‘pépite’ is just the very first step of the creator because you have to spend years with your tv series. You have to defend it on tv, in interviews… You have to keep it and then you can’t lose yourself.
When collaborating with so many people, with so many different viewpoints, it is natural to get convinced. Therefore, it is important not to forget what you, as the creator, want to tell. Their viewpoints might not be bad at all, but they might not be exactly what you want to tell.
You have learned some things during this Boosting Concept camp that made you want to further develop your story, the characters or the arena. How do you not get blocked by your original instinct then?
The original instinct is not a show at all. It's a desire. From that desire you can make thousands of changes, as long as they fit this initial desire.
And actually if you can explain your idea, or desire, very simply, people will help you with it. It was the case with Anton, Francesca, and France Television. It is all about collaborating towards helping you reach your goal.