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Searching for Sugar Man: Current production landscape

Since 1960’s breakdown of the classical film culture in the Nordic region, the local production landscape has seen a significant transformation, resulting in a move away from market-driven big companies dominating, towards a more diverse and fragmented production culture (Bondebjerg and Novrup Redvall, 2011). Companies, varying in size, rely heavily on public support, with only a handful of micro-budget films produced without the public support.

A recent study by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture concluded that the local subsidy system in Finland is essential for the survival of Finnish film businesses; without the support, a substantial portion of the companies ‘would be completely unprofitable’ (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2018). In place is a soft subsidy system, providing non-recoupable grants for production. In Denmark, where ‘soft’ recoupment is in place, only 2-3% of the funds are paid back (Ladegaard, 2018).

The average film budget in the Nordic region ranges between 1,5-3M euros. The best performing films in each market are local language comedies. They have provided a sensible business model for many companies as they can be produced at a reasonable budget level and by utilising well-known local actors, they tend to attract mass audiences. However, these comedies rarely have a lifespan outside the local language market and do not tend to travel even to the neighbouring countries, due to the distinctive tastes and cultural features of each Nordic country. When adding to the equation the declining cinema admissions across Europe and the insufficient VOD revenue streams, the business opportunities in the local language markets are narrow (Nordisk Film & TV Fond, 2013).

Malene Blenkov, the CEO and producer of Creative Alliance, a Danish production company describes the local production landscape as follows:

Ten years ago, people used to recoup from DVDs, but nowadays producers actually live by producing films not the afterlife of a film, which is unhealthy in many ways, because you end up just wanting to produce things and get them into production. I am not saying that people do not care about quality but that the situation is that once you get something to production, you can already live on it (Blenkov, 2018).

Nina Laurio, from a Finnish commercially oriented production company Solar Films, stresses that production companies need to get in better financial shape. Because companies cannot afford to invest heavily in development, they cannot plan ahead sufficiently. This results in very rapid cycles from development to production and forces companies to act at the slightest ‘green light’ even though in reality more work in development would have been needed (Laurio, 2018). This pattern is especially problematic when aiming for the international market and rivalled with international competition.

However, internationality is the director for the majority of producers in the region. As the financial resources are limited, a majority of producers are planning to include foreign investment in their productions and aim more of their sales and marketing efforts to foreign territories (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2018). In the 21st century also English-language productions have increased, including clearly international film such as Iron Sky (2012) and Big Game (Helander, 2015) from Finland, the films of Lars von Trier and Nicolas Winding Refn from Denmark as well as films like Euphoria (Langseth, 2017) from Sweden. According to the local film institutions, the trend is ongoing with the number of English language applications increasing (Rossi, 2018) (Ladegaard, 2018).

SF Studios, one of Sweden’s leading film companies, has recently launched an international production department, aiming to capitalise on the ‘never-seen-before demand for the Nordic filmmaking talent and Nordic IPs’ (Wikström Nicastro, 2018). Senior Vice President Fredrik Wikström Nicastro leads the department.

‘One of the reasons for us to push to the international market is because it is a way for us to grow. I would say that at the moment the local growth in the Nordic market is more on the TV side than film -- on the local language film side, it is hard to see growth. It is not really a decline either but not really growth at this stage.’

*This blog post is part of a larger research project titled: Searching for Sugarman - How, why and to what effect are Nordic producer turning to English language to obtain growth and sustainability for their business.

*For full bibliography as well as an outline of research methods and interviews, please refer to the first post in the series - which can be found here.

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