In his new crime series, “Rats,” Slovakian writer Miro Šifra not only tells a gripping tale set in the Czech Republic’s complex drug industry but also a poignant human story.
The fact-based drama examines the dynamic world of the Czech-Vietnamese meth syndicates, funded by cryptocurrency and monitored by police drug enforcement task forces. The story focuses on David, a hapless young drug dealer, played by Cyril Dobrý, who is forced by a narcotics investigator (Václav Neužil) into becoming a police informer. Despite his willingness to cooperate, things don’t go as planned.
Crime drama is a genre Šifra knows well. His two previous works, the 2016 Slovakian box office hit “Red Captain” and the 2018 Czech series “Red Lines,” examined political and state-organized crime committed by the secret police in the waning days of Czechoslovakia.
“The crime drama is a genre with clear rules, which is ideal for learning the screenwriting craft,” Šifra told Variety. “That simplicity has always attracted me and today I enjoy being able to break those same crime story rules, just like in ‘Rats.’”
Šifra didn’t want to just make “another crime show in which a murder would happen in the beginning and the detectives would catch the killer in the end. I wanted to talk more about people in extreme situations who keep failing because they are overestimating themselves. It’s a family drama, a character portrait, that just pretends to be a detective story.”
Also the series creator, Šifra was confident the subject matter would appeal to not just domestic viewers but also to a wide international audience.
“The theme of the series itself is international for me. If meth appears somewhere in Europe at a party, it’s likely to come from the Czech Republic. Czech meth producers have a monopoly, which Walter White is certainly envious of.
“I think viewers have enough crime dramas from the English-speaking world. I believe that the local environment, if shown truthfully and honestly, has its audience appeal.”
To that end, Šifra has crafted a story with well-drawn characters that blur the lines between protagonists and antagonists.
“In ‘Rats,’ the two main characters represent two completely different generations and two different views of the drug world,” Šifra explained. “I didn’t want to simplify or make fun of their viewpoints. That was more important for me than thinking about a broader appeal.
“When you’re writing for multiple audiences, there’s always a risk that it won’t entertain any of them — but somehow, we’ve managed to balance it here. I know from the reactions of Czech viewers that it is a series that was watched by the YouTube and Netflix generation, which does not own a television, and at the same time by their parents.”
The story is based on real cases that occurred in in the Czech Republic, Šifra noted. “When I first met with the head of the National Anti-Drug Center, I told him that I was probably exaggerating and needed a more realistic view of the drug scene. He told me that I was not exaggerating at all — they had just buried a colleague who died after meeting with an informant.”
“Rats” was directed by Viktor Tauš and Matěj Chlupáček and produced by their respective Prague-based companies Heaven’s Gate and Barletta Productions in association with Czech TV and Poland’s MD4. The six-part series is being sold internationally by Mumbai-based sales house GoQuest Media.
The series’ cast also includes Lenka Krobotová (“Nowhere In Moravia”), Miloslav Pecháček and Hoang Anh Doan.
Šifra is currently working on a number of other projects, most in the detective genre, including a film about a Slovak mob boss, whom he has been visiting in prison. “He was sentenced to life for more than 20 murders, and when I talk to him, I have a feeling that his life was written by the Coen Brothers.”
He is also re-teaming with Chlupáček on another TV series for Czech TV. “In the 1980s, there was an official bureau in Czechoslovakia that investigated paranormal phenomena. An office of complete fools. Hopefully, it will be something like ‘X-Files,’ but funny.”