By Anees Aref.
When we did the first Covid test, I was positive. So since I had seen everyone, we had to stop for a week, during prep. That was the first case of Covid we had, and then we had five to six cases during shooting.”–Andre Logie, producer of Coyotes
Coyotes, a new Belgian mini-series streaming on Netflix and co-created by Vincent Lavachery, Axel Du Bus, Anne-Lise Morin, and Christophe Beaujean, follows a group of young scouts at a summer camp in the Belgian village of “Warnaffe.” When one scout stumbles upon a bundle of diamonds in a nearby lake, things start to get hairy as a number of interested parties are on its trail, including a local poacher and a crime syndicate from abroad. It’s an entertaining potboiler that combines elements of the coming-of-age story with the crime thriller, and features an intriguing glimpse into Belgium’s diamond “sculpting” industry. In an interview I spoke with one of the show’s producers Andre Logie, and two of its young cast members, Kassim Meester and Sarah Ber, who play the characters of Feret and Mongouste, respectively.
You filmed the show during the pandemic. What was that like?
Andre Logie (AL): We knew we greenlit the project in December 2019. We wanted to start the preparation in early April (2020) to be able to start shooting in beginning of July, but of course what happened in March was that we did the confinement, and we had to stop everything. But there was one positive element, is that we were a bit late in the scriptwriting. So we took advantage of the delay of the project to finalize the script during the confinement…And then, when we decided to start the shooting the 5th of August, during prep, when we did the first Covid test, I was positive. So since I had seen everyone, we had to stop for one week, during prep. That was the first case of Covid we had, and then we had five to six during shooting, and Kassim can explain what happened to him, during the shooting.
Kassim Meester (KM): Yeah, well, the thing is I did have Covid too, at some point, during the filming, and yeah that was a bit hard because I did not give it too anybody, I just had it on my own. So I was the only one who got positive. So basically, all the script stops for like a week and a half because of me and so that was a bit hard to take.
AL: He felt like shit, can you imagine, because we had to stop during ten days of shooting. And we were already rather advanced in the shooting; it was September, and at that time we had just three weeks left to shoot. But the problem is that, because of this reorganization, it was so complicated because, it was all the shooting that we did after the summer camp…so it was one day there, two days there…and at the end of the day, we ended the shooting at the 1st of November, which is very complicated for us because we were doing a summer series, you know? And we finished almost in winter (laughs).
Was finding backing for the project a challenge?
AL: We had some difficulties with funding. We tried to produce it in the summer 2019, but at the moment when we started to do the budget, the financing plan, I realized that I was missing 400,000 Euros, to make it happen. So, we were already advanced with some casting, which was completely different than this one…. then I went to Luxembourg to find some money…. and we started again a completely new casting, because of course the casting we had done one year before, was not up to date anymore because it was with young people, they grew up… The situation was the fact that, since we didn’t have enough money in 2019 to shoot, we had to postpone one year and we could redo the casting in 2020, and we were lucky to find these great actors.
And this was all filmed, were you at this location, this village of Warnaffe, is it? Is that a real village?
AL: No, it doesn’t exist. It was a joke, because if you see one of the writers of the TV series is called Axel du Bus “de Warnaffe”. We made it as a joke…
I thought it was suspicious that the creator’s name had that. But it’s a nice location. What attracted you to this story? It’s a Belgian summer camp, with a bunch of kids running around, and diamonds. It’s almost like a film noir story.
Sarah Ber (SB): First it was really cool to… it’s rare to have a TV show where the main characters are young, in Belgium. Its, I think it’s the first time…So for us it was really an amazing opportunity to define a big character with lots of different things. We had three months of shooting, so we really had the time to evolve the character and to go really deep. We had the freedom, because the character was our character, so we were so free to propose things, to say “ok, maybe we can change a bit of dialogue…maybe we can propose this…” or sometimes we were doing improvisation and we were really so lucky to have this freedom as young actors at this moment. We received the scenario after the casting, so I read it after, but the script was really cool, and during the casting we already met the other persons, so we already had a little group of people.
KM: I totally agree with what you’re saying. The show is really about a group of friends, it’s a friendship show. And it was so cool to get to know those other actors, and for me it was even greater that those people already worked in the industry before. So I really get to know about the industry, and being an actor on that kind of set, on that kind of shooting for three months. I just feel so lucky. I didn’t think it was possible to not accept the role. It was so obvious that I was going to do it, because of getting lucky to get it in this particular moment of life.
What we found funny was to have of course young people, very naïve, playing in the fields in the summer camp, right near a very bad guy, Moeyerson…they are just too close and they didn’t realize that they were confronted with someone like him.”–Andre Logie
It’s a very strange premise and storyline.
AL: You have to understand one thing is that, perhaps for you it’s a strange premise, but you have to know that Belgium is the country in the world where sculpting is the most popular. It’s 180 thousand people who have done sculpting, in Belgium out of a population of 11 million, so it’s a lot of people who have done it. I know people who have done it, it’s very popular in Belgium. So this is why when we started to design the show, to write the show, we thought it was something which was very Belgian to do this. And we knew that of course sculpting exists everywhere in the world, I know that in Spain it’s very popular, perhaps in England not so much, in the States I don’t know. So this was something that it’s important that you understand… we wanted to tell a local story.
From the beginning, was there always the criminal mafia element involved, the international criminal connection, and was that always a part of the original thing or did it just start as a local story at a summer camp?
AL: The pitch as you’ve seen it, has been always the same. What we found funny was to have of course young people, very naïve, playing in the fields in the summer camp, right near a very bad guy, Moeyerson…they are just too close and they didn’t realize that they were confronted with someone like him.
You guys have very good villains, between Moeyersen and the Sikh hitman with a knife…. I like that actor Steve Driesen who plays Moeyersen.
AL: He was excellent, because he created this character and is very charismatic. Personally, I love the scene with the lunch with Marie, when he confronts her, he’s very good, because he’s very cold, and you understand he’s dangerous, in a way.
He always seems to have meat with him, whether raw meat or eating meat or something, always some meat ready…
KM: That’s true, he always appears with meat.
Speaking of the Sikh mafia element. I don’t know if you guys intentionally set out to portray the ethnic diversity and the international nature of, maybe the types of people you find in Belgium, but I found it interesting…with all the issues going on in the European Union about migration and the crisis at different European borders, I wonder if there was any political subtext in the background to this show, about whether it’s welcoming diversity in Europe, because I think there’s a nice mix of characters and ethnic backgrounds in the show.
AL: We didn’t consider it in that way, to be frank with you. What interested us is that in Belgium, we have Antwerp, which is the capital of diamonds. Of course, we have been seeing a shift in the diamond handling and business these last twenty, thirty years, because before it was only the Jewish people who were handling diamonds, and now a lot of business is conducted by Indians. That’s why we created this concept of this Indian mafia, this Sikh Mafia, because we wanted to show that today now it’s the globalization and most of the business is handled through Indians.
So it used to be the French Connection, now it’s the Indian Connection.
AL: (laughs) Yeah, exactly. The French connection for drugs, and for diamonds, they (the Indians) are more active than the Jewish now in the diamond industry.
Coyotes is currently streaming on Netflix.
Anees Aref is a writer on film, history, and politics based in the Los Angeles area who has published abroad as well as in the United States.