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Case Study: Borg vs McEnroe

The following series of blog posts presents four case studies of Nordic produced films that aim for the international, English language market. Based on interviews with producers, the case studies aim to discuss how turning to the English language has affected the finance options available for the producers, while also addressing the performance of each title. The projects range from micro-budget films to studio titles, to diversify the analysis.

Borg vs McEnroe (Metz, 2017)

Borg vs McEnroe is a Swedish, Danish and Finnish co-production that follows the rivalry of Björn Borg and John McEnroe in the 1980s Wimbledon tournament. The film stars Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe and is directed by Janus Metz (Metz, 2018). The film premiered as the opening film of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (, 2017).

The film is a Swedish majority production and produced by SF Studios, one of the world’s oldest production companies, been founded in 1919. SF Studios is vertically integrated and operates as a production company, distributor and a sales agent. SF Studios is owned by the Nordic region’s leading media company Bonnier AB.

Borg vs McEnroe was SF Studios Production’s first move onto producing English language films. The company has since further expanded into the English language by launching an International Production department and opening an office in London (SF Studios, 2018). The International Production department is led by Senior Vice President Fredric Wikström Nicastro who also produced Borg vs McEnroe.

In an interview in July 2018, Wikström Nicastro explains that the idea for Borg vs McEnroe came from the production company. The original aim was to make a film about Sweden’s most significant sports icon for the Swedish market, but as the story was developed, it became more about the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe, and hence a more international story.

'However, it was financed like a traditional Nordic film, meaning -- all the local subsidies were on board. But what we did, what you are normally not able to do with Nordic films, is that we had very high MGs from the international territories in the financing plan. -- We had around 2M euros of foreign sales, which for a Nordic film, you would never have those numbers.'

'We produced the movie for about $8M. For a local language film in Sweden it is very much, but for an international sports biopic, it is not particularly much. I think that if Working Title or someone in the US had produced it, it would probably have been around 15M.'

Wikström Nicastro explains that Borg vs McEnroe was a great combination of a Nordic story, which attracted the local subsidies to come on board, as well as a commercial package which enabled the film to pre-sale.

'We pre-sold the entire world; I would say that the total value was around 4-5M USD. Around half of that was used for the financing and half of it was revenues and compensation for the financiers.'

According to Wikström Nicastro, the film performed under expectations in Sweden. The film received 250K admissions locally whereas SF Studios were hoping to reach 500K. Still, the film finished in the top 3 of Swedish film in 2017, so the result was good, but not the huge hit that the company envisioned (Swedish Film Institute, 2018). According to Wikström Nicastro, this was not due to the language of the film.

'I would say that generally, I do agree that if you make a Nordic film in English, you get less of the local audience, I just don’t agree on that in the Borg vs McEnroe -case because it was a balancing act, it was perceived as a Swedish film 100 per cent. -- I think that the film, in the end, felt a little too much like a sports film and didn’t invite the female audience for the film to become broader.'

Internationally the film has become a theatrical title in all territories but has performed very well theatrically only in a few territories. Digitally, looks like the film is doing well in most territories. Wikström Nicastro concludes that all in all the film managed to recoup from Sweden but became to profit thanks to the international market (Wikström Nicastro, 2018).

Regarding SF Studios strategic move to producing more English language films, Wikström Nicastro, explains that the core idea behind the expansion is for SF Studios to produce films based on Nordic IPs, instead of selling the rights, like in the case of A Man Called Ove (, 2018). SF studios, who also produced the Swedish language film, had offers from all major Hollywood studios but decided to put the US remake together themselves. Another project currently in development is a thriller based on a Jo Nesbø novel that instead of being found in Oslo will be replaced to London, to naturally justify the use English language and align the project for the international market. Wikström Nicastro stresses out the importance of a well-known IPs, like in the case of Jo Nesbø and A Man Called Ove saying that ‘these are the kind of properties we need, we can’t really go below that’ (Wikström Nicastro, 2018).

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