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‘Spinners’: ‘Fast & Furious’ Meets ‘Top Boy’ In Afro-European Co-Pro That Is So Much More Than An Extreme Sports Series

Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are emerging in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track. That’s why we’re doing the hard work for you.

This week, we detail a co-production from South Africa and France that spotlights the four-wheeled sport of spinning. Not heard of it? Well neither had we, but on closer inspection this series is far more than an exhibition of a little-known extreme pasttime. Creatives on the ShowmaxCanal+ co-pro tell us why Spinners‘ holds a mirror up to society, and where they think it could travel next.

Name: Spinners
Country: South Africa & France
Networks: Showmax & Canal+
Producer: Empreinte Digitale & Natives at Large
International sales: Studiocanal
For fans of: Fast & Furious franchise, Top Boy, City of God

There have been plenty TV shows down the years about extreme sports – yielding sometimes mixed results – but few have been as ambitious as Spinners.

The co-production between South African streamer Showmax and France’s Canal+ attempts numerous feats across eight episodes, telling stories about society and diversity via the medium of spinning – potentially the most dangerous extreme sport involving four wheels you’ve never heard of.

Enter co-creators Joachim Landau and Benjamin Hoffman, who have tended to focus on documentaries down the years but who took to premium drama like ducks to water with Spinners.

The show’s inception goes way back to 2017, when Hoffman was in Cape Town working on a documentary project about a totally different topic.

“A friend invited me to a spinning event on a weekend and I witnessed something totally amazing,” he takes up the story. “I had no idea about the choreography of the car – it was like a modern circus. I rang Joachim the following day, told him about spinning, and we started research.”

A “sense of theater” immediately gripped Landau, and he loved the way in which spinning was so intrinsically connected with the beautiful city of Cape Town. “We’d been back and forth to South Africa, had fallen in love with Cape Town and this great story encapsulated it perfectly,” he notes.

Spinners is built around the popular and dangerous South African motor sport, which sees cars driven at high speed with drivers performing stunts in and out of the vehicle. Ethan is a 17-year-old driver working for a local gang, run with an iron fist by Damien. Trying to support his younger brother but increasingly disgusted with this life and constantly on the edge, Ethan discovers a possible way out via spinning, where he could put his driving skills to use. But a looming gang war jeopardizes that hope.

Empreinte Digitale produced with South Africa’s Natives at Large and Ramadan Suleman, and Jaco Bouwer directed. Cast includes Arendsvlei’s Cantona James and Chelsea Thomas as leads, alongside SAFTA winner Brendon Daniels (Zulu) and Dillon Windvogel (Blood & Water).

From the get-go, working with locals was of the utmost importance to Hoffman and Landau, who linked up with extras and writers from nearby towns. “We wanted to work with people, not for people,” says Landau. “We were with people who wanted to tell the story from the point of view of their own country, so we felt the responsibility.”

Filming was “extremely intense,” Hoffman says. The pair were able to land co-production funding from Canal+ pretty quickly and were always aiming for something premium, and they were delighted that the French partner was happy to cede the majority of editorial control to boots on the ground.

“We had to be diplomatic and open,” says Landau. “It can sometimes be difficult for producers to be open with buyers about the steps they are taking but here we tried to be transparent the whole time.”

“More than spinning”

The end result, the pair hope, is a series so much broader than an extreme sport, which acts as a microcosm of modern society.

“Listening to the feedback we’ve been getting I think everyone is seeing more than spinning,” adds Landau. “You get a real glimpse of western society and diverse communities.”

Achieving this lofty goal was helped along by the tone the creators struck. They were influenced by a broad range of projects, with elements of the Fast & Furious franchise along with four-time Oscar-nominated Brazilian pic City of God, Netflix smash Top Boy and Edgar Wright movie Baby Driver.

“There is an element of each in there,” says Landau. “If you love cars and love family then we have both elements. In City of God the youngsters are not trying to be stars they are just trying to do something on a level. They are proving you don’t have to be rich to have a future and that is a positive approach to the world, which is in Spinners.”

Solid ratings and international sales have followed the hype.

Despite only launching in November, Spinners made it into Showmax’s top-10 most-streamed local shows of 2023, joining the likes of telenovela The Wife and neo-Western Outlaws. On Canal+, it is in the top-three most-viewed series in French-speaking African countries, according to Studiocanal.

Distributor Studiocanal has struck deals with Australia’s SBS and Brazil’s Globo, with more potentially in the offing as the show comprises a key part of the French sales house’s London TV Screenings catalog.

Landau is hopeful the team will land a U.S. buyer. “We think African American audiences would love to get a chance to witness these experiences on the African continent,” he adds. “They will get a sense of the cool crazy car circus.”

Afro-European buzz

Landau and Hoffman had always been keen to helm a big Afro-European project and Spinners now provides a blueprint.

Their desire ramped up at the end of 2022 when Landau combined with French giant Federation to launch Federation MEAC, a production subsidiary devoted to the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

While he acknowledges the label is still “very young,” Landau reveals the team is developing a French-Caribbean co-pro, a Johannesburg-set series focused on parkour and an Egyptian family show that he describes as “The Crown meets Downton Abbey.”

Netflix has helped the local sector with hits like Blood & Water and Queen Sono but Landau says too many talented people in the region are still having to relocate to Europe or the U.S. to catch a break.

“Talent is under-represented because the breaks just aren’t there [in the MEAC region],” he says. “You still find so many talented Africans and South Africans in the UK and U.S., and lots are working in France. A lot of them are doing quite political work and we are trying to bridge the gap, pushing into the mainstream.”

He adds: “We want to meet people who have the same craziness in their head as us and say, ‘Hey, let’s break the glass roof’.”

With Spinners, the team has taken a big step in this direction.

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