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Case Study: The Guardian Angel

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.

The Guardian Angel (Halonen, 2018)

The Guardian Angel is an English-language thriller by Finnish director Arto Halonen, who is known especially from his career as a documentary director. Hence, moving into the English-language market with a commercial thriller was seen as a surprise by many (Avola, 2018). In an interview in June 2018, Halonen explains that the decision behind making the film in English was motivated by his fascination with the subject matter, hypnosis, which he wanted to be accessible to as many viewers as possible.

The Guardian Angel tells the true story of the 1950s Danish hypnosis murders where a Danish student, Palle Hardrup robbed a bank and killed two people. However, the focus in soon turned to Hardrup’s previous prison cellmate, played by Josh Lucas, who is believed to have hypnotised Hardrup to commit the crimes. In a classical detective story vein, the film follows investigator Anders Olsen, played by Game of Thrones star Pilou Asbæk, and his team solving the crime.

The film was a Finnish, Danish and Croatian co-production. Halonen has an existing relationship with a Croatian producer, so co-operating with them was a logical choice. By shooting some parts of the film in Croatia, he was able to access the Croatian tax rebate. Additionally, the Finnish tax rebate was utilised as part of the financing, cash flowed by Finnish bank Nordea.

The budget for the film was €3M. Halonen, who also produced the film, received support from Finnish Film Foundation, Finnish-Danish cultural fund and Nordisk Film & TV Fond. A Finnish venture capital fund IPR.VC also invested €1M in the film.

The film received a total of €310K from the Finnish Film Foundation in development and production support, which is under the accustomed share of financing granted by the Foundation. Halonen believes that this is due to the English language of the film. However, with the 25% Finnish tax rebate, Halonen was able to compensate the lessened support from the Foundation; the minimum budget level for feature films to qualify for the tax rebate is €2,5M making it less accessible for the majority of Finnish films which average at €1,6M. Hence, moving to the international market and growing the budget allowed Halonen to utilise new forms of financing even if it simultaneously decreases the level of the Foundation’s support.

Halonen discusses the English language in the film and discloses having considered making the film in Danish.

‘However, I was worried that it might not be perceived well if a Finnish director produces a film about a Danish story in Danish, so considering that, and the fact that I wanted the film to be seen widely, I decided to do it in English’.

The film premiered in Finland in March 2018 but have performed under expectations, receiving 11,777 viewers in cinemas ( Petri Rossi from the Finnish Film Foundation considers that perhaps the talent attached was not at the end big enough to attract the Finnish audiences (Rossi, 2018). The Guardian Angel was released in Denmark on 28th of June, 2018 and ran for three weeks, accumulating 1020 admissions with a box office of 55.542 Danish krones, equalling 7450 euros (Kofoed Hansen, 2018). The film does not yet have a US distributor in place, but both Halonen and Timo Argillander from IPR.VC are hoping to lock domestic distribution soon. The film is represented by AMBI Group.

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