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Crews Cash in Bigtime With International Co-Productions

Film production has been described as an industry of itinerant workers. Below-the-line crews move from job to job, often from location to location. Job security is precarious. Benefits, negotiated by unions and guilds, are frequently at the mercy of such factors as number of days worked per year.

Outside and unpredictable developments can have a devastating effect on those workers. One such example: the writers’ strike that shook Hollywood in 2007-08 — a repeat of which was narrowly averted last week.

Yet, for foreign crews, one global trend has been particularly beneficial. International co-productions have been assembling financing and pooling resources from many countries, giving life to films that might otherwise not be made.

Stockholm-based producer Erik Hemmendorff has based his career on building such co-productions. His next feature, “The Square,” pictured above, which debuts in competition in Cannes this month, has brought together financing from Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and the U.S. Directed by Ruben Ostlund and starring Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, the darkly comic drama, set in the art world, was created by crew members of many nationalities and hailing from four countries.

For Hemmendorff, the business model matches that of his 2014 film “Force Majeure,” also helmed by Ostlund, which built its $3.8 million budget from 15 financiers in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France and Italy. The international roots of the film, a drama about the ways in which members of a family on a ski vacation try to survive an avalanche, are apparent in its locations — which include the French Alps and a perilous mountain road in Italy. Its wildly diverse crew included a Danish editor and color grader, Swedish and Norwegian sound mixers, a Swedish cinematographer and grips and technicians from all three countries.

When “Force Majeure” filmed in Italy and France, Ostlund and Hemmendorff worked with Italian and French crews, hiring locally and creating jobs at each location.

“We think of ourselves as international filmmakers,” Hemmendorff says. “The way we develop our projects, they are not so much Swedish as European.”

Co-productions are also boosting the number of animated films.

When Canadian producers Anthony Leo and Andrew Rosen set out to adapt Deborah Ellis’ children’s novel “The Breadwinner” as a motion picture, they had no idea just how international the project would turn out to be. Set in Afghanistan, the animated drama is a co-production of Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg.

“We were really happy with the way this project came together,” Leo says. “It was a very organic process.” To gain better access to funding, Aircraft Pictures, Leo and Rosen’s production company, partnered with Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon and Luxembourg animator Melusine Prods. The result: significant financial backing from the film boards of both nations as well as from Canada.

Such partnerships are an attractive way for producers to raise funds in situations where domestic channels alone aren’t enough. And by pooling resources, projects can be bigger and hire more crew.

Where the money comes from and how it’s spent is often determined by co-production treaties among nations. Canada, for instance, has 54 international co-production treaties with nations including Germany, Norway, Colombia and Brazil.

“Treaties outline what each producer [is required] to bring to the table,” says Kristine Murphy, director of industry development with the Ontario Media Development Corp. In addition to specifying how large a percentage a nation must invest in a production’s budget, they determine how much of the budget is spent in each territory that’s part of the deal. Therefore the amount of funding a country puts into a movie generally returns in the form of local spending, which boosts the local industry.

“Any time there’s a co-production, jobs are created for all countries involved,” Murphy says. The deals are beneficial to film crews all over the world. And since labor is divided among the funding nations, producers can avail themselves of a broader range of talent, drawing on the skill sets of local crews in more than one territory.

Rosen notes that “The Breadwinner” benefited substantially from its partners abroad. “For us to be able to tap into Europe, where there is this rich animation tradition,” he says, “was a great way to do the film.”

Above: Scene from “The Square,” which helped grow its crew with funding from Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and the U.S.

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