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The Remedy for All Ills and Evils

Not long ago we closed the deal on a long gestating project, that is now taking a new shape at Joyrider. It’s called PANACEA, and it’s a very cool, futuristic neo-noir, a unique take on the police procedural.

It was in 2006 that I first encountered a quirky sci-fi idea about a junkie whose visions about the past and the future burned into photo paper when he was in a drug-induced trance, all set against the backdrop of an alternate post-WW II history. Back then it was conceived as an animated feature, based on a comic book that was garnering a cult following in Hungary. Owing to the arthouse orientation that was locally the essence of film financing back then, it never stood proper chance.

When I got recruited at HBO at the end of 2010, I immediately thought of turning the idea into a series. I reached out to its visionary creator, Róbert Odegnál, and with an up-and-coming writer talent, Áron Horváth, started toying with the idea of setting the Philip K Dick-inspired premise in a near future on an alternative timeline where communism never ended. We envisioned it as an industrial dystopia, a weird mindfuck, tonally and visually in the vein of Blade Runner.

The HBO brand is pretty much about the production value, and for such a small market, this type of ambition was ultimately deemed way too big. To this day I think it was a wildly singular, go-for-broke weird-ass, but wonderfully conceived project, and had we got the opportunity, it would have made a massive impact internationally. However, that iteration of “the developer” concept died a slow death in development hell. We started working on a different, much more down-to-earth, but similarly unique sci-fi story with the writers for HBO.

In the meantime, Robi and Áron made a short movie set in the same universe and featuring the same basic premise as a proof of concept. Although it was made on a shoestring budget, it spectacularly proved Robi’s vision. He made most of the post and VFX work on his own, using a consumer grade laptop and his amazing creativity. The movie went on to be invited to numerous short film festivals to great accolade.

Years passed, and the guys continued to try to set it up as a feature, to no avail. I’ve never lost sight of the project, though, and soon after Joyrider launched, we sat down again to speak about what we could do with the concept.

None of us really wanted to go back to the series version that was developed at HBO. In the years since then, the word “dystopia” has become a turn-off, something to avoid at pitches, and a genre overexposed in the current media landscape. In these depressing times, people want lighter, breezier, frothier entertainment, says the general wisdom at markets and conferences.

In an effort to diversify our slate, we were also seeking outside the premium drama space. One ambition of mine has been to find our version of a procedural show, sort of like the Joyrider take on the “story of the week” formula. This led us to the creation of PANACEA, where the hapless junkie with the clairvoyant skills teams up with a tired police investigator to solve crimes. Never ones to shy away from looking at their old ideas from a completely fresh perspective, Róbert and Áron jumped on the idea and came back with some genuinely awesome concepts. Because we wanted to move away from the too overtly gloomy vision of the future, the idea of “Panacea” was born, a seemingly side effect-less drug that makes the population happy, carefree and productive, while all around the world is turning into chaos. In a tiny majority of the people, Panacea brings out some very special skills. Lens, our hero, for instance has visions of the past and the future at any given place where he takes a hit of the stuff. This makes him invaluable for the authorities in solving crimes.

Panacea also serves as a great metaphor of our times. We are willingly stuck in ostrich mode, ignoring obvious signs of the climate change, consuming away happily, like people in our show, high on Panacea.

Our vision for the produced series is to break with the traditional view of production value. CGI should not be photorealistic. We decided to keep the raw, crude energy of the original cartoon and the DIY aesthetic of the short movie – obviously using a more professional toolbox. To this end, we have produced a short teaser re-edited and repurposed from footage of the original short, and two other short films Róbert and Áron had made together, to fit the PANACEA concept. All this is to prove that a highly unique world can be created at a very reasonable price point.

We strongly believe in PANACEA, a new breed of procedurals, and continue pitching it with zeal to bring it to a screen very near you. Read more about PANACEA

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