TV Coin Boosts Film Production

Long looked down upon by big-screen movie makers, commercial television has now become one of the biggest funding partners of feature filming across the Nordic territories. That, combined with a new “commercial” attitude at some subsidy bodies, has made waves among the region’s already fractious film community.

Nearly every subsidy in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway is now tied in some way to television. TV companies are not only increasing the pot of money backing movies, but are also playing bigger-than-ever roles in determining what film projects get funded.

“We want to erase the borders,” says Norsk Film Institute topper Jan Erik Holst, who helps oversee some $10 million in various Norwegian funds, including an audiovisual fund which encourages TV companies to kick in backing to cinema production with promise of returns down the line.

“TV is stimulating the feature film side as never before,” notes Hoist. “We see no reason why movies made for cinema should not cross over to television, and vice versa.”

In an industry where filmers mainline subsidies and have traditionally disdained the small screen as cultural anathema, Holst’s thinking is now shared by a whole new raft of filmers and politicians who plan to use available subsidies – and there are several- to turn over a new commercial leaf.

“We have to stop making films for the intellectual elite and for festivals,” stresses Dag Alveberg, nailing his colors to the mast as new head of the Nordic Film & TV Fund. ‘ We want to back movies ordinary people will want to attend, and we’ll be expecting to see concrete results.”

Alveberg, a Norwegian, is in a position to put money where his mouth is. He sits on a $10 million annual moneypot which, since being set up five years ago, has helped fund more than 180 Nordic films. The Fund, now based in Oslo, is backed one-third by the region’s culture ministries, one-third by the film institutes, and one-third by TV.

Unlike previous years when artistic merit came first and commercial feasibility often last, funding criteria will now be tougher, warns Alveberg. Fewer films will be made, and priority will be given to films for children and younger audiences, to draw them back into hardtops.

Projects, he says, can shoot for high artistic quality, but they must also have wide audience appeal. ‘ There are too many Nordic films being made which no one wants to see. The days are over when filmmakers could get money to make a film only 1,000 people would attend.”

Over at Denmark’s Nordisk Film, Erik Crone, producer of the biopic “Hamsun,” reckons, “Our whole excuse for heavy public subsidy for films has always been we wanted to protect film as an art form. Now we’re finding it can be entertaining, it can even be commercial, and yet still be art.”

The new thinking is coming from some of the highest circles of government. Last December, ministers of culture from the five Nordic countries laid out a mandate for the fund: they wanted marketing and distribution to take on a new priority, and TV was to be part of the distribution cycle.

The politicians want more cooperation between TV and independent filmmakers, and they want to make sure as many people as possible see the films, says Alverberg. He points out that in Norway as many as 100,000 people may see a film in the cinema, but on TV the figure is likely to be over 1 million (one out of every four in the population).

The TV mandate caused a major shakeup in the Swedish Film Institute and is also believed to have triggered the resignation of Finnish Film Foundation director Marianne Moller.

Moller’s resignation in June left the FFF without top management or a film commissioner to administer its $10 million annual kitty. As of mid- November, no new head had been confirmed. Despite the uproar, veteran FFF sales chief Kirsi Tykkylainen says TV is and always has been an essential part of feature film making in that territory. “It’s because so many domestic films fail to even make it to our cinemas,” says Tykkylainen. “People in Finland prefer to watch film on TV, and in the provinces they often have no choice.”

Alveberg’s predecessor Bengt Forslund, a Swede who headed up the Nordic Film & TV Fund for its first five years and is now feature film advisor at the Swedish Film Institute, believes the tryst between TV and film has been a long time coming. “Television depends on feature film for product. Far from being enemies, they’re natural allies.”

But the increasing power and influence of TV has more than a few worried. Sandrews is a company whose main business is exhibition, but it has a small slice of distribution and makes several pics a year, from the Colin Nutley-helmed hit drama “The Last Dance” to Vilgot Sjoman’s big-budget biopic of Alfred Nobel, “Alfred,” which opened in October to disappointing figures.

Although Sandrews works closely with Swedish pubcaster SVT and with TV companies, prez/CEO Klas Oloffson sees the new dependence on TV as “a big dilemma.

We can’t produce films without the financing of TV, but more and more of our producers want to work for TV.

“The terrible thing is, producing pictures for the big screen and the small screen is not the same. The thinking is different. The people in charge of film policy have to take the responsibility that good films will still get made.”

The Danish Film Institute keeps a close watch on how much TV influences feature filmmaking, and Mona Jensen, acting general manager, notes that focusing on producing for large audiences could end in a Catch-22. Says Jensen, “If we’d thought only about big audiences, the early experimental films of Lars Von Trier (now enjoying success with “The Kingdom”) would never have gotten made.”

Alveberg believes it doesn’t have to be an us-or-them situation. “In Norway at the moment, ‘ Kristin Lavransdatter’ is getting the audiences that traditionally go to the American movies.”

The big-budget costumer, directed by actress Liv Ullmann, was nudging 600,000 admissions as of mid-November.

Adds Alveberg, “It’s high quality, and it’s entertaining. That’s what we’re after.”

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