Building A Big Biz

The film business in Scandinavia endures the same travails as the rest of Europe: U.S. product fills 80% of theater seats, and Euro pics don’t even play well outside each country’s respective borders. As a result, locally-produced product is at the mercy of each of the Scandi country’s home audiences. And like the rest of the world, production costs are inevitably on the rise. Nevertheless, the film production industry has been growing as if there were no pains.

The TV industry is on a healthier growth curve, with the recent birth of private channels in some territories. But much of the financial vitality that accompanied the private launches has flattened out. However, new construction and equipment purchasing for the region’s film and TV facilities seem to be booming, and expansion and development efforts are running ahead of the general state of the industry.

Upsurge factors

A quick tour through the Stockholm production scene yields a few clues to the causes of the region’s showbiz infrastructure building upsurge.

“The curve is easing,” says Olle Mossberg, technical director of the new TV4 facilities currently under construction, “but now we’re in a new era. We’re not just acquiring projects. We’re producing our own daily soap opera here and we need a studio space just for that show for months and even years.”

Mossberg is overseeing a construction site that fills two floors, has 14 editing suites and two studios packed with Grass Valley electronics, the latest in Dolby Surround, and miles of wiring that Mossberg says will enable TV4 to go “100% digital” by early ’96. The technological advances mean that tapes are fading into the past, as machines in 30 disc stations transmit commercials and promos in eight times real-time. Whatever the curve of the TV biz, this new headquarters is a quantum leap for TV4, which is expanding without waiting for the expected renewal of its license.

The new Svensk Filmindustri facility near Stockholm has television and film stages, 40 production offices and a THX theater. SF senior VP of theaters research and development, Mats Kullander, says SF invests in “most of the one-fourth of Sweden’s films that will be ‘audience films, ‘” meaning films that will pull in enough Swedish fans to earn a tidy profit.

On the tube side, SF’s TV stage has been busy since August with the TV4 soap, “Tre Kronor.”

Christer Abrahamsen, one of the co-owners of the Europa Studios film and TV production complex in Stockholm, points out that Europa’s indie operation started because “producers like myself need to keep a facility open for film production. Europa does a lot of TV business and gameshows could take up all of our facilities if we didn’t keep them open for film.”

Europa’s managing director, Lars Bjorkman, is proud of Europa’s THX-licensed post-facility, as well as the music studios where “Armstrong, Holliday, Davis, Ellington” and others recorded. Europa also boasts two large stages and newly outfitted post operations, including a $500,000 Avid suite.

Bjorkman is bullish on the production scene, especially as a low-cost site for foreign producers.

“We have lower costs than France and Germany, as well as currency advantages. And we have English-speaking crews that are the most versatile in the world,” Bjorkman says. “You know, Swedes as individuals do miserably in sports. Something happens when we work as a team.”

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