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Searching for Sugar Man: Final thoughts

Even though the Nordic countries are yet to produce global box-office hits that would rival the US-UK made blockbusters, the achievements of Nordic produced content are imperative; Nordic content has never before being presented at so many of the world’s top festivals and won and being nominated for so many of the world’s most prestigious awards. Additionally, Nordic talent from actors to directors, and source material, from books to remake rights, are being exported increasingly. Also, as international publications braise the Nordic region for its standard of life, and rankings in happiness indexes, hype it for its minimalist design, and even popularise Nordic ‘self-help’ concepts like hygge and sisu, one wonders if there ever will be, a better time for Nordic producers to capitalise on this interest, and aim for the wider market?

However, as the previous posts demonstrate, this is difficult. Stumbling blocks include unauthenticity, casting, fierce international competition and the national audience’s lack of interest in local English language content. So far, the best and most successful efforts have been those films rooted in the Nordic region which naturally through either a character or setting include many languages, and thus remain interesting for local audiences. Many interviewees mentioned the change of filmmaking generation; younger producers and directors are inherently more interested in global stories, so the likelihood is that we will see more and more Nordic films with ‘English encounters’.

However, from a business point of view, the message from the interviewees is unanimous: the local language markets have reached their potential and growth cannot be obtained by producing more films. It will need to be found elsewhere – from either the international or the cross-Nordic market. A few voices saw potential in the Nordics, stressing that for films to succeed across the Nordics, they need to be of international standard and for that the budgets need to grow.

Even though the Nordic market is challenging, in the words of Norwegian producer John M. Jacobsen, ‘I am convinced that there is a much bigger Nordic market – if we make the right film for the market’ and importantly, make it available for audiences to conveniently watch it. Hence, a complementary option for the international efforts of Nordic producers could be to aim original Nordic high-quality films for the cross-Nordic market, and perhaps simultaneously and naturally, achieve the localness that is needed to stand out globally. After all, ‘local content, global audiences’ is the strategy, in the heart of the 21st century’s most prominent media success story, Netflix.

However, many interviewees disregard this approach; once already making an effort to step out of the local market, why stop at the Nordics and not think wider? This global attitude, however, requires a holistic approach to internationalisation. Producers need to build global networks and to continuously keep up with them, while also pursuing alternative sources of financing including bigger chunks of equity, in order to grow budgets to the international level.

Many practitioners already do this, and with the emergence of younger business savvy producer generation, it will surely prevail, and we will see more Nordic films that aim to be big successes internationally and to generate backend profits. Naturally, there will be flops on the way, and some films will fail. However, with the state subsidy system in place to soften the blow, what would be a better place to trial? Furthermore, as long as practitioners in the region continue to share knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences, there is no reason why internationalisation would not be a viable option to diversify revenue streams and pave the way to sustainability for local film businesses.

*This blog post is part of a larger research project titled: Searching for Sugar Man - 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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