Scandinavia’s crime spree

Genre titles pay off big in remakes

Scandinavia is being swept by a crime wave with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

The worldwide success of the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” movies — based on the late Stieg Larsson’s books — has revived a genre long established in Nordic literature that is now riding a cinematic current.

Not only is helmer David Fincher making an English-language version of “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” but there’s also a U.S. remake of Swedish hit “Snabba Cash” (Easy Money) in development at Warner Bros.

For international film fans, producers on the prowl for remake material and local auds alike, there is more to come as writers, directors and producers from across Scandinavia slice the genre in ways designed to draw the most value out of each territory.

Copenhagen-based Miso Film is producing six 90-minute films based on the novels of Norwegian crime writer Gunnar Staalesen.

“Veum” (the surname of Staalesen’s flawed but likeable detective character Varg Veum) is designed for theatrical release in Norway — where the work of the writer is hugely popular — and for television in other territories.

Danish novelist Elsebeth Etholm’s criminal universe is the inspiration for another series of six 90-minute films called “Those Who Kill,” the first five of which will go out on television with the sixth episode reserved for a theatrical only release.

A new generation of directors adept at combing a more commercial visual style with strong character development is also emerging.

Niels Arden Oplev (director of the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), Thomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) and Daniel Espinosa (“Snabba Cash”) are already known. Others, including Norway’s Morten Tyldum and Denmark’s Nicolai Arcel, both of whom are attached to direct some of the new crime movies, are likely to be names to watch.

Rikke Ennis, head of Scandi powerhouse TrustNordisk, says her company has been aggressively pursuing new crime titles.

She believes the new wave of crime movies can give the Scandinavian film industry a commercial boost at a time when the arthouse boom generated by the Dogma movement in the 1990s is long over.

“We’ve always had a crime tradition in Scandinavia, but it’s been more local; there has never been such big production here, but after the success of the (Larsson) films the doors to the international market have opened up,” Ennis says.

Owned by Nordic media and publishing giant Egmont, which also has a 50% stake in production company Zentropa, TrustNordisk saw a gap in the market and over the past year has been aggressively working to become the key player in the new crime genre market.

It recently inked deal for a series of four films based on the books of Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen; those titles have enjoyed major success in Germany and are due out in English with British publisher Penguin later this year.

The format is again likely to be three made-for-television films and a movie, a novel approach that Ennis believes will begin transforming the business model across Europe.

The model has already been adopted in Sweden where Tre Vanner, producers of “Snabba Cash” are making two series of six 90-minute episodes of bestselling novelist Camilla Lackberg’s books, with one episode as a theatrical feature.

“Producers and production companies here are very aware that in the current market they need different formats,” Ennis says. “Normally theatrical release is first and then television, but this time it is the other way round. We want to create a mass market first and then go out to the cinemas; I am pretty sure that other territories will begin looking at this as a new business model.”

They already are, according to Joakim Hansson, producer of Swedish police series “Johan Falk.”

A hit with Swedish TV viewers since the late 1990s, “Falk” is one of half a dozen or more crime series that are made every year in the country, reflecting the enduring popularity of the genre in northern Europe — Germany is a key market, and Sweden’s “Wallander” has been turned into an English-language hit starring Kenneth Branagh.

With such stiff competition producers have turned to a range of flexible release models to keep business rolling.

Of the 11 “Falk” episodes, the first six aired on TV with varying time gaps between each, the next five went straight to DVD but a 12th is due to be first released in cinemas as an “event movie,” Hansson says. “The reason for this approach in Sweden is financing and making sure the whole series reaches its full potential.”

Other territories may not have the flexibility that Scandinavia does with its relatively small television and exhibition market.

“The only problem is that we are making too many crime movies now,” Hansson says with a laugh. “Even putting them out on DVD can be difficult — and over the next two years there are eight new crime series due out, so we have to be really flexible and inventive to make the best business out of them.”

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