Swedish cinema is hotter than ever following “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but the man who co-financed the Millennium trilogy believes TV drama is now where the action is.
In 2010, Peter Gustafsson moved from the Swedish Film Institute, where he backed “Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels to become commissioning editor for drama, culture and documentaries at pubcaster SVT. “I think TV is much more vital at the moment,” he says, “to a certain extent because it’s a larger market, so once you have something that works, it’s bigger.”
Ground-breaking SVT series such as sci-fi drama “Real Humans” and period thriller “Anno 1790” are proving that there’s more to Sweden than contemporary crime.
In an effort to raise the creative ambition of TV writers, Gustafsson made a deliberate decision to switch the focus from soaps and long-running detective dramas to four event series a year, divided into hourlong episodes. “When I started at SVT, our market was flooded with crime, so as a public broadcaster we felt we should try to make high-quality TV in other genres that would still reach outside the home territory and get international recognition,” he says.
“Real Humans,” is set in a parallel present, where humanoid robots live among people as their servants, not excluding the scenario’s more prurient aspects. The first 10-part series, created by showrunner Lars Lundstrom, debuted to great acclaim and strong ratings in January.
“It’s dealing with a lot of contemporary issues, but in a different way,” Gustafsson says. “It’s not high-tech and science driven, it’s more about relationships. It’s easy to play with questions of prejudice, for example, but the interesting thing is that you get attracted to the robots, and you start to ask, who is the more human?”
SVT stretched its budget to fully finance the show, because outside the crime genre it wasn’t possible to attract foreign co-producers. Shine Intl. won a bidding war to rep the series, alongside a remake deal for its U.K. sister outfit Kudos. Money is now starting flow back from international sales after the show was launched to foreign broadcasters at Mip TV in April.
Although shot in Stockholm, “Real Humans” is set in a gated community that doesn’t seem specifically Swedish. “That’s interesting for the broadcasters abroad because you’re in a world that could be anywhere, and the issues are universal,” Gustafsson says.
He adds that a bigscreen version may also be developed in the future, but for now he and the producers are just working on the second and third series.
“Anno 1790,” about a surgeon and policeman dealing with murders in late 18th century Stockholm against the backdrop of revolutionary ferment, was a hit with older auds, and has sold to territories including the U.K., Spain and Benelux.
But it didn’t reach the younger demographic captured by “Real Humans,” and SVT has decided not to commission a second series. “The aim was to make it modern and sexy to attract young audiences, but it didn’t reach all the way,” Gustafsson says.
A decision about commissioning a second run of “Real Humans” looks more likely.
Meanwhile, the rising ambition of TV drama is creating a fresh flow of talent back and forth with feature films. Levan Akin, who directed several episodes of “Real Human” and “Anno 1790,” is one of Sweden’s most promising young film directors, whose debut feature “Certain People” was released in January.
“The most talented people now work in both fields,” Gustafsson says. “Six or seven years ago, once you did your first feature you wouldn’t go back to TV, because the quality wasn’t good enough. But now we have shows like ‘Real Humans.’ The quality is there.”
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