Svensk broadens global ambitions

Outward-looking film company hits its 90th year

Celebrating its 90th year, Svensk joins fellow nonagenarians Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. as one of the oldest film companies in the world.

But the milestone does not mean the company will be resting on its laurels. On the contrary, prexy-CEO Rasmus Ramstad looks forward to new, exciting challenges — not least when it comes to the pan-Scandi production slate.

“We are up to being involved in 30-40 productions every year,” Ramstad tells Variety.

With its 20% market share in theatrical distribution and 25% in DVD sales, Svensk is the largest film distributor in Scandinavia. But it’s the company’s production initiatives, cooperating with companies all over the region (Ramstad has local managers answering to him in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland), that underscore Ramstad’s contributions since taking the reins a decade ago. From the beginning, he began ramping up acquisitions and productions to unprecedented levels. During Ramstad’s reign, Svensk has initiated successful deals with New Line (including the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Spyglass, Hanway, Focus and Pathe, among others.

He cites alliances with New York-based production companies This Is That and Likely Story as a way of illustrating Svensk’s borderless approach to unearthing universal stories with name filmmakers attached.

“We go for helmers and for appealing subjects,” says Ramstad. “‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ for instance, we bought on the name Danny Boyle, as well as Gus Van Sant’s ‘Milk.’ We have also bought the upcoming films from Woody Allen, the Coen brothers, Sam Mendes, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Terry Gilliam, Ken Loach, Roman Polanski, Lasse Hallstrom and Robert Redford.”

Ramstad adds that thanks to the company’s cooperation with Fox and MGM, Svensk has the entire Fox and MGM output both for theatrical and DVD in all Nordic countries except Sweden (where Fox has its own distribution). The MGM ties mean Svensk will distribute the next James Bond film, slated for 2011.

Forthcoming local productions include six new features in the Norwegian “Varg Veum” series, a new comedy by Swedish hit machine Josef Fares, a third “House of Angels” installment from Colin Nutley, sequels to Kjell Sundvall’s hit movie “The Hunters” and Kay Pollak’s Oscar-nominated “As It Is in Heaven,” a series of Danish crime films under the title “He Who Kills” and the new film by Swedish helmer Johan Brisinger.

Regional partnerships include a cooperation deal with Helsinki Films in Finland, where Svensk owns 90% of production company Uoni Filmi; an output deal with Miso Film, Cosmo and Crone Film in Denmark; and a three-year DVD distribution deal with Denmark’s Zentropa.

Norwegian partners include CineNord, Filmkameratene, Exposed, Monster Film, Alphaville Prods. AS and Zwart Arbeid.

Svensk’s main office is situated in Filmstaden in the Stockholm suburb of Solna — sacred filmmaking ground associated with local legend Ingmar Bergman. The first film to be shot in the studio here was Victor Sjostrom’s “The Phantom Carriage” in 1921. Svensk left the area in 1969, but returned in 2001. Other companies with offices here are Fox, Universal and Sonet.

With DVD sales having peaked, Ramstad suggests selling discs at a lower price, even as “a supplement to a daily paper. So far, James Bond, Clint Eastwood, Donald Duck and several BBC crime series have been sold this way, and it has been very successful.”

He adds that the biggest challenge ahead is “to stop the illegal downloading of films and to support legal downloading. We have control over our own productions, but not over the ones that come from abroad.”

But he says Swedish authorities have been soft on piracy compared with other Scandinavian countries. “In (Sweden), a lot of customers have learned that it is free to download,” he says. “Now, however, we have a new law, the Ipred law, that allows companies to search for those who download films illegally. This means that from a legal point of view, we in the film industry stand stronger now.”

He also cites alternative distribution platforms as a blueprint for the company’s future.

“We have a big library, from features to shorts,” he says. “I’m looking at all possible cooperations, with mobile operators, IP operators, etc. We want to be available on as many platforms as possible.”

Does this mean the twilight of traditional theatrical distribution?

“It will always be there,” assures Ramstad. “And now 3-D has come back, this time to stay. The technology is so much better, and films like ‘Ice Age 3’ and ‘Avatar’ keep pushing it to be even better.”

KEY PARTNERS

The key partners in prod’n and distribution*:

20th Century Fox

Beta Film

Degeto

Essential Entertainment

Hanway

Im Global

Likely Story

MGM

Miramax

New Line Cinema

Pathe

Revolution Studios

Spyglass Entertainment

Sweetwater

This Is That

Walt Disney Home

Entertainment

Weinstein Group

*Since the 1980s, the company has acquired Europa Film and Sonet Film.

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