By Stuart Kemp
Panelists discussed the need for passion, resilience and a robust sense of self at the first of three Scandinavian Films’ webinars during this year’s virtual EFM.
The online event entitled Joining Forces: Collaborating for Strong Co-Productions, moderated by journalist and festival consultant Wendy Mitchell, saw top flight producers and players behind high-profile co-productions including Flee, directed by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Sweden’s Ruben Östlund’s Triangle Of Sadness, and Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No 6, gather to offer sage advice to a large virtual audience.
Aiming to tackle the whys and wherefores of co-production practicalities between Nordic region countries, Europe and beyond, the panelists also mulled the impact of COVID, streaming platforms and why the five Nordic territories (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) should open up to creative partners internationally.
Nordisk Film & TV Fond CEO Liselott Forsman explained, “When we give support, we look at quality, uniqueness being one important factor and primarily Nordic distribution with international being secondary.”
Forsman has also overseen the launch of start up project launch Audio-visual Collaboration 2021 co-organised by Nordisk Film & TV Fond and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, under its presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“The whole idea is to build bridges between the industry and the decision makers and to look at the vision for 2030 from the diversity, sustainability and of course compatibility,” Forsman said.
She noted the ministry is weighing up the ability to work more actively with outside territories to help dissuade potential international partners that partnering with the Nordic countries is hard.
And there is a fresh 2021 guide to co-producing with the Nordics just published.
London-based Mike Goodridge, who founded production company Good Chaos in 2019, having previously been CEO of Protagonist Pictures, discussed co-producing Ruben Östlund’s anticipated English-language feature Triangle of Sadness. Goodridge helped bring funding from the British Film Institute and BBC Films to the film’s complex co-production finance table. The Swedish film has myriad co-production territory backers including France, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Greece. The film is set all around Europe.
Goodridge explained, ”Philipe Bober [of Coproduction Office] is a great creative producer and he also builds these amazing complex financing structures. There are many partners, it is German, French, Swedish, Greek and has the UK and many others. It is not a low-budget film.”
Goodridge noted one of the biggest challenges of mounting a co-production with so many partners was melding the paperwork between different legal styles in the UK, US and continental Europe. “Legal fees started racking up and time started to pass on when we needed to close the financing on it. Because of COVID there were multiple closes on this. It is an ongoing issue the Anglo system versus the Euro system.”
Goodridge suspects Brexit might not make things worse. “I think that rather than the complacency the UK has had in terms of co-production, Brexit might be the opportunity we need to make ourselves more aggressive in terms of working not just with Europe but also the rest of the world. I hear nothing but exciting things coming out. Our public funds (the BFI, the BBC and Film4) tend to look outside borders. Because English is a world language we make films that don’t necessarily fit into a specifically British box.”
A self-confessed Scandiphile, Goodridge wants to play his part in getting projects to the big screen from Scandinavian filmmakers. He’s working with Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander and his producer Petri Jokiranta and in Iceland with Hafsteinn Sigurðsson and Grímar Jónsson on a feature film in English.
Monica Hellstrom, producer at Denmark’s Final Cut For Real, recently had an award-winning launch at Sundance for Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animation hybrid Flee. “We built up Flee to become a five-partner feature length production,” Hellstrom said. “What is beautiful about co-production is when you start working over many years within the different countries in the Nordics and beyond, you get to know creatives from other countries who you would choose to work with again. You build up a team of creative talent across countries that can really help your film develop.” Flee began in Denmark and added backers in France, Sweden and Norway.
European Producers Club president and Norwegian film producer Gudny Hummelvoll said almost all the features she has made have all been co-produced with Nordic partners apart from the last one that had a Lithuanian partner. “When you co-produce it is like a marriage. You really need to find someone you trust and also somebody who has your vision and understands the project. For that you might go with different types of producers.”
Hummelvoll said that as a producer securing Nordic funding allows you to keep your rights to the project. “But one of the things we need to work on [in the Nordics] is that everybody thinks of the Nordics as one market and we are not,” she said. “It is still really hard to have a Norwegian film seen by the Swedes for instance.”
Last but not least to join the webinar session was Riina Sildos, founder and producer of Estonia’s Amrion Productions, the Estonian co-producer of Apartment No 6 from Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s upcoming Trans-Siberian Railway-set drama Compartment No 6. “My role included bringing the partners in Russia for the film which is set up as a co-production between Russia, Finland, Estonia and Germany,” said Sildos. “Estonia is a small country and so if you want to make films of a certain scale you have to coproduce. I have co-produced with more than 15 countries.”
Finland and Estonia are very close in mentality and they are familiar with their respective talent pools. “We (as co-production producers) are creative and have to find ways to reinvent ourselves all the time. Working with Russia you just have to know the funding bodies and how they work.”
Compartment No 6 was able to just finish its shoot in March in Russia before lockdown fully closed productions.
The Nordisk Film & TV Fond is set to publish a study later this month into the impact of COVID. Forsman gave a sneak preview of the report’s findings which looked at 155 Nordic projects. COVID budgets have risen between nine and 12% but there is also changes in content in 55% of series and 29% of the films being made. “The research shows the staggering resilience of the industry,” said Forsman. “It’s a tough industry from before COVID but they have been fighting like hell to survive”. She hopes the fallout from COVID will mean plans to better support the industry will emerge.
Goodridge said all the Triangle co-production partners stepped up and helped financially and supportively to overcome the challenges of a pandemic-era shot. “There was a substantial impact on the budget, we shot in three blocks over nine months and all the participants were incredibly supportive. It brought out the best in everybody because we wanted to get this film made.”
Hummelvoll suffered several COVID stops for her films, but we got some extra support from the Norwegian Film Institute. She notes that some of her European colleagues were not so lucky with support as minority producer stake holders. Most COVID emergency funds will not support minority production, which is a challenge for some productions in this era.
With much chatter at EFM this year about how the global platforms are changing dealmaking, Goodridge, formerly head of sales company Protagonist Pictures, noted that streaming platforms are disrupting the long-established international film sales and distribution models. “I talk to platforms early on and if they’re not interested and say come back when you’ve got it made, then I know the avenue I have to go down,” said Goodridge. “I think it’s when they get involved later in the process that sales agent get into a muddle because then independent distributors have essentially got the film made and they are told they can’t have the film because a platform wants it. I think it’s becoming a severe problem.”
Hummelvoll said as a European independent producer it really important to stick to co-production set ups amid the arrival of multi-territory rights hungry streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. “We need to decide our content,” said Hummelvoll. “It is important that we as European independent producers stick together to make diverse European projects. We need to work out how to be more compatible on European co-production.”
But are the Nordic players open to co-productions with other countries beyond Europe? Yes, as long as it makes sense for the project. “Norway has a very strong points system and it is expensive,” noted Hummelvoll. “I’ve co-produced with Argentina and South Africa.”
Hellstrom is working with a first time director from Norway and says Denmark is very international facing.
The informative panel wrapped up with Mitchell asking each participant to relay a top tip for wannabe co-production partners.
“You need to have really good communication between the partners and be solution orientated and try to understand each other’s culture,” mused Hellstrom.
Goodridge, an executive producer on Quo Vadis: Aida, which boasted no fewer than 13 co-production countries, said mutual passion got the project made against all the odds. “It was a labour of love for everybody and that’s what drove everybody. It was the passion for telling such a particular story, getting it made and having that feeling you were doing more than just film. Any project has to be driven by a certain desire to get it made rather than just an opportunistic way to raise money.”
Hummelvoll also really has to like the project and have partners she can trust. “And I have to believe I can somehow contribute, not necessarily to mess the creative, but you don’t get rich in the Nordics, you do it to get the film made. Passion and knowing and liking the people you work with.”
Sildos believes getting through a disastrous co-production is an experience to learn from. “Trust your gut feeling and do your homework. If you have questions in your head, always ask them out loud and get the answers, then you will be safe.”
Forsman supports the necessity of trusting intuition and doing your homework. “It comes through when you apply for financing.”
Photo: Felix Mooneeram, Unsplash