This Slovak native son is like a walking power plant, with energy to spare. He runs the successful Mall.tv internet TV channel, is co-CEO of the Czech News Center media house, and he apparently has the most subscriptions…
For the first time in the history of Czech cinematography, a Czech series has received an Emmy Award – #martyisdead, produced by Mall.tv, in the short-form series category. We discussed what preceded the award, how the live stream of the gala evening went, and what will be next, with the head of Mall.tv, Juraj Felix and producer Milan Kuchynka.
The #martyisdead series produced by Mall.tv won an International Emmy Award. Were you surprised?
Milan Kuchynka: I was surprised. And you could see that, because those watching the live broadcast could see that my first reaction was a short series of relatively bad profanities – which I certainly wouldn’t have done if I’d been prepared for it.
Juraj Felix: I didn’t expect it, but now that I think about it, it’s not actually such a surprise. The topic of internet safety is a globally relevant one, and I’d actually be taken aback if it didn’t garner a response. I was of course interested in who’d been nominated in the category with us, which is why I also watched the other shows, and I feel that we were exceptional precisely due to our choice of a highly topical subject and the almost urgent need for an attractive way to put it across.
Milan: I agree, aside from a key topic I think the form was important too, because we managed to make it highly cinematic and very high-quality TV. It’s no short video for YouTube, but a very painstakingly shot, edited, and post-produced series worked on by experienced filmmakers – for example, our cinematographer worked on the movie Protektor with me, for which he was nominated for a Czech Lion award, and has also received an award from the Czech Society of Cinematographers. The #martyisdead series is the work of one of the best filmmakers in our country and it shows. And I think that this could also have been another reason why we won.
What does this award mean – is it proof that excellent things can be made in the Czech Republic too? Or is it just good luck and a topic that happens to be trendy?
Milan: It’s simply a strong, good topic that’s very well written and shot. That’s why it works. These three things together are the reason why we won the Emmy. The foundation of everything that’s good in TV and film is good material, content, and form.
You provided your own live broadcast of the announcement. What preceded it?
Milan: The organizers of the International Emmy Awards let us know sufficiently in advance that the awards would take place on-line and that only two people would be able to connect from home. And so we made a temporary living room out of the Přítomnost boutique cinema, from where producer Vratislav Šlajer and I connected to the studio in New York and invited members of our crew. I’m of course exaggerating a bit now, the truth is that we wanted to make a nice broadcast because it was an exceptional moment for us and because we wanted the audience to be able to share it with us. We arranged the whole thing ourselves, the Mall.tv team together with our friends at AVC, which is the audio-visual centre run by students at Czech Technical University, which also works with us on the #kulturažije series. It took a lot of work, a lot of equipment, an all-day trial run, and among other things also testing everyone present for Covid-19. When the US studio connected to us they were a bit surprised, but by then they couldn’t do anything about it. I’m confident that in then end they understood, at least no one complained in the congratulatory email they sent. And I’m glad we did it.
The moment the award was handed over was key. How did it take place?
Juraj: We didn’t know what was going on at all. When the envelope with the winner’s name was being opened, the control room turned down the sound, so we only realized we’d won when Milan shouted out, hugged Vratislav, and based on instructions he was given in his earphone, started reciting his thank-you speech. To viewers, it may have looked like those participating in the broadcast were confused, but that was only because we didn’t expect it. This was followed by spontaneous exclamations and comments, which we also let through into the live stream. From the recording you can tell how huge and authentic our joy was. You simply don’t expect something like that the first time around.
Milan: It’s really easy to describe our feelings – it was pure joy. We had to turn down the sound because we were sending a direct link of us two to New York as representatives of the Czech delegation, and at the same time it had to go to the cinema, so a delay resulted. At that moment, only Vratislav and I heard what the person with the envelope was saying. When I heard “hashtag” I started looking around, and when I heard “martyisdead” I began to rejoice, though my colleagues had no idea we’d won yet.
Aside from Mall.tv, who else helped create the series?
Milan: It would take too long to name everyone, lots of people helped us and we’d like to thank them all. However, special thanks are due to our two co-producers, Bionaut and CZ.NIC.
Juraj: The series highlighted an important topic, but what’s key for us is the big picture. After all, that’s also why we discussed with Jakub Havrlant that we’d like to pay much more attention to this within the scope of the entire group – as a socially responsible regional internet TV channel, we’d like to contribute to safety on the internet because we’re a part of it. That’s why we also looked for other partners who think in similar terms and are big players – and we reached an agreement with Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. They’re business partners, but are concerned about the big picture just like we are, about cultivating an on-line environment, which is as important as cultivating public space. Proof that they realize this is not only #martyisdead, but also our continued cooperation on #annaismissing, which is a sort of sequel. We’re building a long-term relationship with them that illustrates how effective and meaningful the business side of things can be.
I realized that if not for Covid, the series would be much more visible. What did you have to cancel and what’s still in store?
Juraj: Just in the spring we had roughly 50 projects planned in conjunction with lectures at school throughout the Czech Republic. That fell through, so we postponed everything to the fall, and it fell through again. But we’re not giving up. When it’s possible, we’ll try it again. Our major partner and guarantee that the entire series will have credibility is Martin Kožíšek from the CZ.NIC association, which has been involved with internet safety for a number of years and works closely with law enforcement as well as for example with the Centre for Prevention of High-Risk Virtual Communication at Palacký University. Together with him we created the www.martyisdead.cz website containing teaching materials, real-life stories, ten principles, and an interactive series of five episodes of Marty with examples of techniques used by internet predators to contact their victims. This is because a combination of prevention and information is the foundation for ensuring their numbers don’t increase.
Milan: If I then go bit further, our ambition is to change legislation so that internet predators are given significantly more severe sentences. The Czech Republic has an excellent, capable, and prepared police team that is capable of detecting similar cases, but unfortunately we don’t have the necessary legislation, so little progress is being made in many cases. We’re incapable of convicting offenders, and when we do, they get a couple of years and are out even sooner because half of their sentence is commuted for good behaviour. That was also the case of scout leader Meluzín, where the prosecution proved he abused 39 children. His prison diaries in which he describes his practises were obtained thanks to none other than Martin Kožíšek, who provided them both to police, and as part of the Marty-related awareness-raising campaign, to us as well. Some parts of them are on Mall.tv as Diaries of a Predator. After Meluzín was released from prison, Luděk Staněk was the only person to interview both him and the mother of one of his victims, and what they both told him says much more than I’m capable of conveying. But you need a strong stomach.
The entire series was in production for years. Did it take that long precisely because it took a strong stomach?
Milan: That’s related to the first question, why Marty won an Emmy. One thing that always works is proper preparation and a good script. Without that you can’t make any progress. But we often ran into dead ends. Several script versions were created and suddenly we had material for eight episodes, but then we decided to throw them all out and start anew. The key points remained. In the end, preparing to shoot a series is no longer a question of years, but rather months and weeks. A good foundation consisting of scripts, casting sessions, and so on takes the most time.
That more or less brings me to the question of the future; you’re preparing a loosely-based sequel entitled #annaismissing, so you’re involved in the process again. What will it be about?
Milan: We told ourselves we won’t talk about it because we’re in the phase where we know what we want to say, and are starting to write the script. But precisely due to our experience with Marty we don’t want to reveal more yet. I think that the name #annaismissing says it all, this sequel will be about abductions and lost children. And whether it’s then the issue of child prostitution or other forms of abuse, we’re leaving that open. In any case it will once again be a strong topic inspired by real-life cases, which may not be as common in the population, but are all the more powerful, because they usually end tragically. Brutally tragically.
When can we expect Anna? Is there a date, or is it simply “when it’s perfect”?
Milan: There’s no specific date, but we’d like to start shooting in February, premiere the series on Mall.tv at the end of April 2021, and then have the theatrical release. That’s our plan, and we’ll see how it goes and what the new year brings.
So should we expect Anna to be Marty’s equal?
Milan: She can’t be an equal. She has to raise the bar.
Juraj: Perhaps a comparison won’t really be possible, because we’re also considering different formats and distribution methods, like film, and we’re exploring how to support its launch so that the topic garners attention and draws as many viewers as possible.
Milan: That’s a terribly important thing. A few years ago, no one would have been able to imagine that a series or film that can be seen on the internet could simultaneously be broadcast on TV and even in movie distribution. Everyone laughed at it, and distributors fought it. The drama Roma meant certain breakthrough in this area, as it got an Oscar and was simultaneously on-line and in cinemas.
It’s certainly not just that “you got the award and that’s it”. What’s next for Marty? Will you want to sell it somewhere?
Juraj: We want the topic to garner attention, and the series is logically its main means of communication, to which the entire programme in schools and other attendant activities are linked. So yes, we’re discussing extended distribution, plus Bionaut has an international agent who’s been shopping the series in international markets, for example in Cannes. We expect that Marty hasn’t had its last word yet.
And the fact that the entire series is in Czech is probably not a problem – otherwise it wouldn’t have received multiple international awards…
Milan: By the way, that’s an important thing. There was this conviction here that language would close your door to the world. We were afraid that we’d have no chance due to the use of Czech. But for example Netflix made Narcos in Spanish, and it became a worldwide hit. We used Czech, which evidently didn’t prevent the story from working. So it seems that language need not necessarily be a barrier. However, for certain sales it’s important, so now we’re also considering English dubbing.
Juraj: Back when we were launching Mall.tv, we were already discussing how content can be transferred between countries. Here we’ve got a very global topic, which we’ve supported with excellent execution, and the language barrier was suddenly evidently not a problem.
Will it have an impact on the business of Mall.tv?
Juraj: It certainly will have an impact. Our partners are also aware of it, and are glad.
Milan: At the start we said to ourselves that we wanted to create quality content that will entertain viewers. Not necessarily in an obvious manner, but rather so that they won’t consider the time they spend on it wasted. When we watch something, we want the same thing. In my view, Marty is a dignified representative of this decision. And luckily I’m not the only one that thinks so. Complimentary articles are being published, we’re getting offers of live broadcasts from excellent bands, people are saying positive things about us. That’s what we wanted: to be internet TV that has something that hasn’t been here yet.
Check out the series #martyisdead:
Tragická smrt patnáctiletého Martyho dovede truchlícího otce k děsivému objevu. Co vedlo jeho spořádaného syna k natáčení zvrhlých videí? www.martyisdead.cz
How many people have seen Marty now?
Juraj: Prior to receiving the Emmy, Marty had about a million views, and another 100,000 were added during just the first day after its announcement. Most viewers watched the entire series. Right now we of course don’t know how many more there will be. The key thing is that even prior to the Emmy its audience ratings were at the level we’d striven for since the start of Mall.tv.
So when we look back to two years ago, you had a clear plan and vision that is now coming to pass. So can we say that you’re contented?
Juraj: No, we’re not contented, we can’t be. But it’s a huge reward for everyone working at Mall.tv. It confirms the fact that quality will find an audience. That even though the year before last we started from nothing, it didn’t prevent us from being the first Czechs to receive an Emmy for a fictional series. Above all, it’s impetus for the future. Right now we’re putting together another business plan outlook, and so I see it as a positive signal that we’ve got the traction we need in the main area. This is because content-based projects require creative leeway. I’m grateful to our investors, who are giving it to us, and thanks to them we can do excellent work. And I’d like to also thank them for their trust, because when it is passed on from owners to management, it can also be passed on from management to the team and especially to the creators. In my view the groundwork has been laid for having a team of people at Mall.tv that will create more excellent things.