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With 75 million copies of his novels in circulation around the world, American author Harlan Coben has conquered the print world with his famous brand of crime thrillers, including the Myron Bolitar series.
It is now making great strides into the new frontier of streaming through a one-of-a-kind deal with Netflix. First signed in 2018, the pact is a five-year, multi-million dollar deal under which 14 of Coben’s books will be adapted into series or movies for the online platform, with him overseeing the projects. in various capacities.
Aside from its scope, the deal is also unique in that it was designed to be internationally dynamic from day one, with English-language novels being adapted into a variety of foreign languages through Netflix’s various production centers across Europe. To date, adaptations have been made in Poland (Woods), Spain (The innocent, which will be released on April 30) and France (Gone for good, which will be released later this year), alongside English-language projects including The foreigner and the next one Stay close.
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Coben sometimes writes the adaptations himself, while other times he gives up the reins, especially when the language is in the process of changing, and acts like an EP. But as he explains to us below, he still has a creative mastery of the material. As if he wasn’t busy enough, Coben recently put together an adaptation of his novel YA. Shelter at Amazon Prime Video, and he has other projects underway at Apple and MGM International.
Deadline spoke with the prolific writer and creator to discuss signing the deal with Netflix, why he enjoys seeing his work adapted in languages around the world, and what he has to come.
DEADLINE: You have a prolific run with your TV series, besides you still write new novels, where does your energy come from?
HARLAN COBEN: It’s a love of storytelling. I love doing this, it’s the only thing I’m good at. I have no other life. I was once asked, “If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?” And a friend of mine said “a US senator”. I was like, “oh please I’ll be a duvet cover”. I do not have anything else.
DEADLINE: How did your Netflix deal first come about?
COBEN: I had done a few television shows in France for TF1 which had worked well, and I had entered Netflix’s radar. We were doing Sure together [Coben and his producers at Red Production Company] with the international division of Netflix, they wanted to do a show in France, a show in the UK, then they had the idea [for the overall deal]. They want to do a lot of international stuff and my books sell well abroad. I sell more internationally than in the United States. I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a Netflix Spain show, a Netflix France show, a Netflix UK show, a Netflix US show. I liked it.
The idea was to get some interesting talent that you wouldn’t normally get for TV shows. The innocent Director Oriol Paulo is a great director in Spain. [Lead actor] Mario Casas is probably as big a star as there are in Spain. Netflix teamed up with me, it was a great synergy. I love working with them, it’s unusual for a network or a streamer. I hate that term, but we had a common vision of what we wanted to do. They weren’t going to push me to do a season two, three, four or five. I could do six episodes, eight or ten. Everything we need to make the story work.
It’s also very exciting for me, and for the talent involved, that one day the series is releasing all eight episodes in 190 countries. Over 200 million subscribers, how many people is that? Everything at once. It’s a cool space to be.
For the opportunity to work with Netflix – with so many different people, in so many different countries, so many different cultures – if that doesn’t make you want to, you’re probably in the wrong business.
DEADLINE: Are you staying awake for the series launch? How do you watch him?
COBEN: The show [The Innocent] is already on my Netflix. My wife and I watched all eight episodes to see how the dubbing was. I’ll wake up the next day and be inundated with answers already, which doesn’t happen with a book. In two or three days, millions of people will have watched all eight episodes, I guess.
DEADLINE: It’s interesting that you say ‘I guess’ considering Netflix doesn’t provide numbers, but can you still gauge the answer?
COBEN: You can certainly feel it. They give me numbers, but I swear to keep it a secret. The foreigner, for example, exploded but a little slowly it continued to resonate. There was a feeling with my partners in England that you are starting to feel that momentum. How many calls you receive, how much noise is made. For the most part, I try to keep my head down.
DEADLINE: The original pact with Netflix was a serious commitment, what gave you the confidence to sign it?
COBEN: I saw what they were talking about Sure, and I still work with a lot of the same people. If I tried to do TV shows 20 years ago which I wasn’t, episodes should be 40 minutes, start with crime, end with crime, 22 episode seasons, that wouldn’t fit not what I do. Netflix does. My next show in France [Gone For Good] it’s five episodes, The innocent is eight, some episodes are 40 minutes, some are 50 minutes. For my genre of storytelling, streaming is fine.
I don’t want to sound Pollyanna too much here, but they are also doing some really interesting things with their marketing. They change the poster you watch on the platform, for new people to watch it. I’m a guy who wants people to watch my shows. It sounds obvious, but a lot of writers claim they don’t care, I don’t care. Netflix has a great global platform and that’s cool.
DEADLINE: Do you have carte blanche on the novels to adapt?
COBEN: Yes and no. They never got past me. At Innocents, I met a group of teams, the team from Brazil, Germany, etc. The Spain team chief said he really thinks The innocent would be perfect for them and Oriol Paulo. I met Oriol in New York and it just clicked, we were like brothers from day one. We then took the next step. It’s not like I’m saying “I want to do X in Germany”. It’s cooperative.
I was in the UK for the premiere of The foreigner, then I flew to Barcelona to watch them film The innocent. then I went to Paris to meet the team. How much fun is that?
DEADLINE: Have you always been interested in working internationally?
COBEN: Before becoming a writer, I worked in the international travel industry. It was a family business, my job was to fly to different countries and help organize trips. I have always had a great affection for travel.
We are living in the golden age of television. Five years ago, no American watched a foreign language program. They just wouldn’t do it. There is so much international talent now, the best things are really being done in pockets that have not yet had American saturation. Americans are truly American people, but we are learning.
Shows are hybrids. You can still feel Americanism, which I do, but they can also feel Spanish [with The Innocent].
DEADLINE: Tthere is a huge appetite for Spanish content, especially because there are so many Spanish speakers outside of Spain. There is also a large Polish diaspora but not to the same extent, how was the experience Woods?
COBEN: It was cool. I can’t be so involved in some foreign languages, I rely a lot more on the team there. I really thought they had done a great job. Next time I would even push for it to be a little more American, maybe faster, but I think it was moody and atmospheric and really interesting. I loved the casting, the staging, the idea of the two periods. I haven’t been disappointed with any of the adaptations yet.
Some with which I am more practical than others. I am actively involved in everyone, especially at the beginning. For this one [The Innocent], me and Oriol have been discussing it from the start. I gave a lot of notes on the scripts. They emailed me the dailies every day, but I rarely had any comments. I was again more involved during the editing.
DEADLINE: Is the goal still to make 14 adaptations in five years?
COBEN: I do not know. The innocent releases April 30, followed by Gone for good in France, then Stay close UK. So I am not sure. We will be looking to do future series in various countries, we are currently developing three more that I cannot speak about, one of which is in new territory. It could end up being more original ideas and less novels [Safe was based on an original idea by Coben]. This is something that Netflix and I will talk about and we will decide together.
DEADLINE: Or they will call you three months before the end of the agreement and say “you still owe us six adaptations” …
COBEN: It would be really fun [laughs].
DEADLINE: You also recently made a deal with Amazon for your young adult novel. Shelter, and you also have projects with Apple and MGM International, how does that work with the Netflix deal?
COBEN: The Netflix deal does not cover my Myron Bolitar series, nor its YA spinoff series Mickey Bolitar. Amazon turns YA books into series. I’ll let you know which streamer is best to work with by the end. [laughs].
DEADLINE: Are you writing more novels right now?
COBEN: To win just released last month. Regarding the sequel – in The foreigner, “The stranger” ran away, I never thought about what would happen to them after the end. I am now writing this sequel to The boy in the woods and the stranger has just appeared. It might end up being a sequel to both books, which wasn’t my intention. We will see how it all turns out.
DEADLINE: Any ideas on taking a break?
COBEN: I’m not very good at taking breaks. Life is about balance. I always like to write in the morning, I am not in balance if I am not writing, that I am not thinking of writing or creating. I don’t see it will stop soon, but man is planning, God is laughing.