Dagur taps film vet to head prod'n outfit
AMSTERDAM — In the tiny territory of Iceland, an entertainment company has to be involved in every nook of the business to prosper.
The newly formed Dagur Group is perhaps Iceland’s most significant example of a company coming to grip the multiplatform content age.
Moving quickly to bolster the content end of the business, Dagur recently tapped film vet Thorfinnur Omarsson to head production outfit BaseCamp.
The former TV personality, journalist, critic, managing director for the Icelandic Film Fund for seven years and, more recently, director of media and communication studies at the U. of Iceland is charged with making sure all the conglom’s pipelines — whether theatrical distribution, TV, cell phones or Internet — have a steady supply of product.
Last year, former retailer Sverrir Berg Steinarsson and drugstore chain owner Robert Melax bought out the 25-year-old Icelandic company media company Skifan and began turning it into a vertically integrated media and entertainment outfit.
Renamed Dagur, its activities now include production, distribution and exhibition of TV, film, music, games, Internet and mobile phones. Dagur has plans to expand its array of interests outside Iceland as well.
Dagur’s chain store, the only part of the group to retain the name Skifan, is the Virgin Megastore of Iceland. The group has an 85% share of all computer sales in the territory and a 75% share of all music sold. Distrib arm Sena also has a 40% share of the DVD, video and rental biz and a 35% share of the theatrical distribution and exhibition market.
The missing piece of the Dagur empire was content, one of the reasons it recently acquired talent agency and production shingle BaseCamp and appointed Omarsson to captain the ship.
“We wanted to move into feature filmmaking, and there isn’t much about the film and entertainment industry in Iceland that he didn’t know,” Steinarsson tells Variety.
“Thorfinnur is Mr. Iceland. If you have an international film project that involves Iceland, you go to him first,” agrees Thomas Mai, a partner in L.A.-based Katapult Film Sales and former Trust Film sales exec.
An award-winning gourmet chef as well, Omarsson, 39, who arrived last month to head BaseCamp, is clearly cooking up some expansion plans. He’s concentrating on upping its feature film profile and making content work across all content pipelines.
“Iceland may actually be the perfect laboratory for the multiplatform economy,” says Omarsson. “If you want to survive here, you have always had to have your hand in a lot of pies.”
With the former Skifan companies, and the retail interests Steinnarsson brought to the group, Dagur now has a multiplicity of pipelines to play with. “The job of BaseCamp, and what this reorg is aimed at, is to fill those pipelines with content,” Omarsson adds.
Omarsson works with Bjorn Sigurdsson, Sena general manager and former topper of Skifan Entertainment, in plotting his film strategy, with a number of projects already in the works.
Currently finishing up post is soccer docudrama “Africa United,” an Olafur Johannesson pic. BaseCamp has also come in as a co-producer of Blueeyes Pictures thriller “Jar City,” based on Arnaldur Indridason’s international bestseller. That pic is set to begin lensing in September in Iceland. BaseCamp is also revving up for lensing this summer on two local comedies, one on location in England, the other on home grounds.
“Our basic strategy for these films is (to) come up with 35%-40% of the budget and then go to the film support structures for the rest,” Omarsson says.
“Essentially most production companies are dependent on the film fund support, and if they get funding, then maybe they get to make one film a year. BaseCamp presents a departure from this. Of course it is nice if we get funding, but we don’t have to be dependent on getting that lottery grant one time a year. The picture will get made somehow,” he says.
Omarsson adds that Iceland is entering a new and more mature era in terms of film financing. “Iceland has always been quite primitive in the financing area. People get film funds and some foreign co-production money but no guarantees. BaseCamp, in conjunction with Sena, is able to put up a minimum guarantee. That is a significant step forward.”