While in Goteborg, Variety caught up with the Nordics’ Wonder Woman, the spunky and forward-thinking Rikke Ennis, who is the CEO of TrustNordisk, the Denmark-based European powerhouse attached to Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa. Among the company’s credits: Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated “The Hunt,” Susanne Bier’s “In a Perfect World” and, of course, all of Von Trier’s movies. Ennis discussed the company’s strategy, its upcoming move into China with the launch of Zentropa China, the booming appeal of Nordic cinema, production trends and the competition from foreign sales companies.
TrustNordisk has three movies skedded for Berlin: Von Trier’s anticipated “Nymphomaniac” (in competition), Hans Petter Moland’s “In Order of Disappearance” (also competing) and Pernille Fischer Christensen’s “Someone You Love.” TrustNordisk will be shopping “The Shamer’s Daughter,” a high-profile fantasy/adventure film based on the first book of Lene Kaaberbol’s “The Shamer Chronicles.”
Variety: TrustNordisk is Scandinavia’s biggest film company, and this year you don’t have a single project pitched in the Works in Progress session here in Goteborg. How come?
RIKKE ENNIS: Goteborg is one of the most important festivals for us to network with local producers from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, to keep track of what’s going on, especially in the work-in-progress section. We normally have 50% of the Works in Progress, and it’s weird for us not to have anything but we’ve chosen to have some projects shown only in Berlin. We had 3 projects we considered putting in WIP but, due to the tough time frame and Berlin, we decided not to bring them. We’ve found a few good projects here that we’ll be following. Goteborg is definitely a good play to network with Nordic countries players and meet good buyers who you can talk to for more than 15 minutes.
Last year, you announced TrustNordisk’s plans to venture into China with a local co-producer/distributor and launch Zentropa China. How it going?
We’re negotiating right now, we haven’t signed a deal yet, so I can’t really say anything but I think in a month I’ll be able to give more details. If it goes like I want to, it’ll be pretty big news.
It’s China, so it’s complicated. I had hoped to sign something last fall, but we preferred to take a big longer to find the best possible partner. It doesn’t happen overnight. We need to have the legal stuff all taken care of before we move forward. Hopefully I’ll have something to say very soon.
And the idea is to kick off with a fish-out-of-the-water romantic comedy in the vein of “Ugly Betty” based on a very popular book by Hans Christian Andersen?
Yes, it’s based on a novel by Hans Christian Andersen who is an icon in China. We want to make a film that’s refreshing and new for young audiences. It’ll be mainly in Chinese language but with a little Danish.
It’s been in development for a while, hasn’t it?
This project started buzzing before we even had a script. I don’t worry about the financing. If this was a European film we’d have to finance for two years. But we have very strong economic partners, where money isn’t really an issue. The interest has been enormous around this project.
What’s the percentage of Nordic films in your lineup?
It depends on how you define Nordic. If it’s a Danish film, English-speaking film…If you say it from the point of view of every Nordic film, including English-language ones, it’s about 90-95% of our lineup. What’s important for us is to maintain that very strong Nordic profile. We don’t want to be a shop where you can buy anything.
Do you find that it’s a thriving model to keep a tight focus on Nordic films instead of diversifying?
Yes. It’s going stronger every year because that’s why people come to us, they know if you want the very best from the Nordic countries you can come to us. I’m not saying we’d say no to a film with Brad Pitt, but we’re pretty selective. It could be a film co-produced with a Nordic company.
How has your model evolved in the last few years?
We probably have the same percentage of Nordic films but they’re bigger, more ambitious, expensive, bigger-budgeted projects. We keep these films on our lineup for two years, not a year like we used to. We start pre-selling quite early. We take on slightly fewer but bigger movies. Last year, we had 18 movies, the year before we had 23. It varies from 18-23. Of course, not all of them are going to festivals.
I’d say that about 70% of our deals are presales. Before they hit the market, the films are pre-sold. But that’s due to the fact that the films have strong genre, strong directors with track records so you can sell from the script, and we’ve been successful with the marketing and creating promos. A promo with the script will make buyers decide quickly whether they want to buy this. It’s helping that the whole Nordic film business is booming, Danish drama is very popular, we’re riding a wave now. And it’s not an empty wave. The talent pool is there. Someone said to me, “You guys are a talent factory, what’s happening there?” And it’s true.
We spoke of Nordic Noir a couple years ago but now there’s Nordic Twilight with lots of great genre films. What’ll be the next trend ?
I think the Nordic Noir will continue to some extent. Lots of people are expecting it to continue: In the U.K., Australia, they want Nordic crime and drama. What I see, the trend here, is more humor in the projects, playing more with sarcasm and quirkiness, as in Hans Petter Moland’s “In Order of Disappearance.” It’s not as dark as it used to be, not as many suicide dramas. Four-five years ago it was very dull, very serious. I’m not saying we’re not touching on the tough themes any longer; but it’s changing. A good example is “Here is Harold” (pitched in Goteborg’s Works in Progress section). You have funny twists and some drama. That’s probably the new trend coming. From Norway, we see a very strong trend towards genre films. They found this niche and no one else can compete with them. Then Sweden is probably the best known country for producing crime films. And Iceland is so small but it’s got strong production companies.
There’s never been so many French sales agents attending the Nordic Film Market and some of the most interesting projects have already been acquired by these French sales companies. Does that make you nervous?
No, it’s fun to see the interest is just building up. I love the competition. I think it’s healthy. It keeps us on our toes. The worst you can have is a monopoly in a market like this. You can get lazy. Laziness is a very bad thing.
How competitive is the Nordic market? Do you guys go into crazy bidding wars over projects?
Indeed. But money’s not everything. If you have a Cannes contender and it’s a strong film, you have to pay what it’s worth.
What’s the last bidding war you won?
We usually win them all. “The Hunt” (which is nominated for a foreign-language Oscar) would be a good example of a film that went tiny-tiny, to being huge from the day it hit Cannes’ competition. We had some funny situations there.
How worried are you when you see so many Nordic filmmakers sailing to Hollywood once they’re successful?
Well, first of all they see what Hollywood is, they find out the grass is not always greener and they always come back. When they come back, they have free hands to go whatever they like. In Hollywood, it’s different. The director doesn’t decide, you’re told what to do. It’s totally different from being in a Scandinavian country where the director can do whatever he or she likes. I think it’s a good way of not falling asleep and getting too used to the system. In any case, having a Nordic director make a film in Hollywood is definitely good branding for us!