SF Studios — the Swedish major that’s turning 100 this year — is banking on the production of high-concept, talent driven English-language and local films, as well as TV series, to become a key European player and thrive in today’s ultra-competitive landscape increasingly dominated by deep-pocketed OTT services.
Once the home of Ingmar Bergman, SF Studios has in recent years shifted its core model from being almost fully dedicated to distribution to becoming a prolific producer of premium films and TV shows aimed at the international market.
“Our goal is to be the leading studio in the Nordics and a leading studio in Europe, which means that across both TV and film we develop, finance, produce, distribute film in the Nordics and manage international sales,” says SF Studios’ CEO Michael Porseryd, who’s been spearheading the strategic shift.
To meet that challenge, SF Studios has significantly increased its production from two films and three TV series in 2017 to six to eight movies and eight to 10 TV shows slated for this year. The company, which rebranded from Svensk Filmindustri in 2016, has also moved into English-language features and TV shows and is planning to deliver one or two of those per year. SF’s in-house production pipeline has been boosted by the strategic acquisition of shingles with solid track records such as Sweden’s Tre Vanner (“A Man Called Ove”) in 2013, and in 2018, Norway’s Paradox (“Utoya-July 22”).
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Besides the importance of IP ownership, Porseryd says the push into production was “important from a growth and profit perspective,” because it gives SF Studios “the opportunity to take and spread risk over the entire studio business.”
The CEO says local content remains key in the Nordic markets to be competitive and to cultivate relationships with homegrown talent, who are more and more interested in developing international careers.
“When the company was founded 100 years ago, it …[had] offices all over the globe so expanding our production internationally is a way for us to go back to where we started,” says Fredrik Wikstrom Nicastro, senior VP of international production.
Wikstrom Nicastro says the company has, over the past decade, helped launch the international careers of Nordic filmmakers such as Daniel Espinosa, Babak Najafi and Janus Metz and actors including Alicia Vikander, Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela and Sverrir Gudnason.
Going forward, “one of the foundations in SF Studios’ strategy to start producing more ambitious international films is to give Nordic filmmakers a chance to work with international casts and bigger budgets from home with us, rather than in Hollywood.”
Talent sourcing has been another core mission of SF Studios in recent years. Tim King, SF’s exec VP of production, says the company was working with commercial directors and developing talent through TV writers’ rooms and children’s features.
Jenny Stjernstrom Bjork, the company’s chief content officer, says SF Studios is “investing in new talent and trying to identify projects every year that [it] can co-produce in order to be a part of the development and help create new filmmakers in the region. We are working actively, together with producers, to create a home at SF Studios for both the old and new talent in the Nordics.”
Because virtually every big company today is looking to produce English-language content, SF Studios strives to stand out by distilling its Scandinavian flavor through its productions, even if it’s subtle, says Wikstrom Nicastro, who cites English-language thriller “Horizon Line,” starring Allison Williams and helmed by Swede Mikael Marcimain as an example of an international film with a Scandi touch.
“ ‘Horizon Line’ takes place in Mauritius with American characters in the lead — not a touch of Nordic Noir whatsoever, but the film is directed by Mikael Marcimain, who is one of Sweden’s most talented directors, and produced and financed by SF Studios,” says the producer.
SF Studios has been particularly active within the past year in ramping up its presence in the TV drama landscape, which ranks as the most competitive sector in the Nordic region due to the growing investment of services like Netflix in Scandinavian series and talent.
“SF Studios is probably, today, the biggest producer of TV drama in the Nordics with 10 series to be produced in 2019,” King says. “Only a few years back, SF Studios produced TV drama in Denmark but very few in Sweden, and will soon
be producing TV drama in Norway through Paradox.”
Scandinavia has seen similar growth rates in TV as with the rest of the world, and we see this as continuing with the entry of more of the global streaming services in the next 12-18 months.”
The exec also says the company is aiming to have talent move between film and TV. To that end, SF Studios has recruited producer Susann Billberg Rydholm (hit Swedish TV drama “Vår tid ar nü,” “The Millennium” trilogy) to be the head of Nordic TV drama, a newly created position. SF Studios has also tapped Copenhagen-based distribution company REinvent, headed by former TrustNordisk boss Rikke Ennis, to handles sales of SF Studios’ Scandinavian TV drama slate worldwide.
With regards to the streamers, Wikstrom Nicastro says they have created an expanded market and are allowing SF Studios to produce more TV than in the past.
SF Studios is also looking to bolster its solid distribution business, working with data and market surveys to identify the patterns of audiences. Some of the biggest B.O. hits that SF Studios has distributed in recent years include Felix Herngren’s “Sunny Side,” Björn Runge’s “The Wife” and Tuva Novotny’s “Britt-Marie Was Here.”
“We are putting the cornerstone for a revitalized SF Studios into place and we hope this will be the cornerstone for another 100 years — we are turning 100 in 2019, which makes us one of the oldest film companies in the world,” says Porseryd.
But SF is approaching its second century with a very modern approach.