Svansk at 95

Svensk Filmindustri, which celebrates its 95th birthday this year, isn’t showing its age. The Swedish major — once the home of Ingmar Bergman — is aspiring to win back market shares in production and aims to become Europe’s most interesting film and TV company.

CEO Jonas Fors is not shy about setting goals for the company.

“Internationally, SF’s trademark is quality, which creates a responsibility that we must deal with,” Fors says. “We can’t rest on old merits. Consumers in the future won’t think of the past, the history, but what there is to come. Still, we must aim at creating products with a potential of becoming a classic, even though not all will manage to be.”

The company ushered in a new era in October when Fors, CEO of successful Swedish shingle Tre Vanner, became CEO of SF, replacing Rasmus Ramstad, who stepped down after a 15-year tenure. At the same time, Bonnier Growth Media, Svensk’s parent company, acquired a 90% share in Tre Vanner, which produced “Wallander” and “Easy Money,” among other hits.

As Scandinavia’s leading co-producer, it boards 40 or so feature films, 20 TV series and also has several international productions in the pipeline; and as the region’s most important film company, with subsids in Denmark, Finland and Norway, SF controls the rights to a catalog of more than 1,200 titles. Svensk has also built a strong trademark on children and youth films, not the least adaptations of globally popular author Astrid Lindgren.

It recently reclaimed the rights for the “Easy Money” trilogy from Warner Bros. and is planning a remake.

Fors has helped orchestrate a restructuring of the company, brought in new management, recruits and much closer collaboration among the different divisions.
“We must be better at customizing our products,” Fors says. “We have to change our routines, increase the interaction, in order to know where each product should be promoted.”

He notes that the past several years have been a time of fiscal challenges for the entertainment business, not the least in the way content is consumed, whether it’s on video on demand, iTunes, tablets or smartphones.

“For example, the DVD business has declined massively, but demand for content is stronger than ever, so we must provide the content where the client wants it. Like many others we acted too late on the consumers’ changing behavior. No one can afford that.”

Distribution constitutes 80% of Svensk’s activities, but the goal in five years is to increase production to an equal level with distribution, 50-50 physical/digital, and the rest coming from rights sales.

SF will continue to develop its distribution partnerships with 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. in theatrical and digital distribution.

“Today we market our products in 30-40 international territories, so we have already reached a certain potential,” says Fors. “But we have to improve further.
We are at present cooperating with a handful international partners, and developing Nordic rights for the international market.”

While quality may stand for different things, Fors has the consumer’s experience in mind.

“With all due respect for blockbusters — everyone wants them, but no one has a recipe — the product offered must be worth spending time on. We have to produce worlds that are worth coming back to. Then we have succeeded.”

Fors has some specific goals in mind as well.

“The scripts have to be better in the Nordic countries. That’s a general fact and does not only concern us. We tend to invest too little in development, before shooting. Scandi films are good at characters, but I believe American scriptwriters are better at plot and pace.”

At the same time, Fors thinks highly of the Nordic film industry, which has fruitfully explored the increasing number of literary bestsellers of recent years, such as the hit “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” He points to a more general tradition of strong storytelling.

He also notes that the Danish Film School — where so many rising Nordic stars such as Swedish directors as Daniel Espinosa and Lisa Aschan have been educated — is an important element in keeping the Scandi business fueled with fresh talent that’s often exportable.

“The Danish film and TV industry has done the right thing for a long time now, that is to invest in a manageable number of productions and thus be able to provide the right resources for each project.”

Fors’ own company seems headed in that direction.

“In five years, Svensk Filmindustri turns 100. I then hope we will be Europe’s most interesting company within film and TV. For that reason we must have the best employees, partners willing to work with us, and above all we have to know what the different consumers want.”

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