In the first leg of what it hopes is an industry revolution, Zurich-based A Film Company has raised north of $2 million in crowd investment from 560 people across 19 counties to co-finance “Mad Heidi,” an action-adventure horror comedy reimagining of the Swiss icon.
The OTT re-set includes portraying the Swiss icon Hedi as she’s never been seen before – with smocked dress, puffed sleeves, apron and pigtails, yes, but as a badass, kick-ass rebel with the brute strength to slice an opponent in two, top to toe, with a battle axe, for example.
In industrial terms, however, the change goes even further as “Mad Heidi” departs from traditional film models not only in financing but also distribution.
Starring Casper Van Dien (“Starship Troopers”) and David Schofield (“Gladiator,” “Pirates of the Carribbean”), the English-language movie, with a total $3.5 million budget, is now readying for the second and most radical part of the experiment: Exclusive global release day and date on madheidi.com, a dedicated website created by A Film Company, during a three-month exclusive window. The film will then be made available on other platforms as well, followed by Bluray and DVD releases and TV.
“Mad Heidi” has also sold $300,000 of merchandise – different T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters – in 46 countries.
The movie’s huge success in crowd investment is inspired by the same factor that has prompted self distribution: the IP’s fan base.
Before its screenplay was written, it employed a “long tail promotion strategy,” said Valentin Greutert, “Mad Heidi” producer and A Film company founder, explained to Variety the Cannes Festival.
Five years ago A Film Company released a teaser poster which captures the glee of how A Film Company would go to work on a global IP.
Instead of a placid child breathing in fresh high Alpine pastures, Heidi’s now a butch late teen grimacing with fury, her head plastered by blood splat.
“We saw that it got traction. So we decided to make a teaser for a film that didn’t exist,” Greutert recalled at Cannes.
The teaser raised $50,00-$60,000 in crowd-funding within two months. Enough to fund development. “But I very quickly realized that I couldn’t raise $2 million with people donating money,” said Greutert.
Nor could A Film Company handle 500 investors from an
administrative point of view. So it cut a deal with London-based FilmChain that allowed crowd investors to participate in the revenue of the film – not just its profit – through a collection management account.
Meanwhile, A Film Company launched an investor drive.
“Blaxploitation, Mexploitation, Sexploitation, Nunsploitation, Naziploitation. Now it’s about time for the first Swissploitation film!” the investment pitch runs, also detailing major plot beats: “In a dystopian Switzerland that has fallen under the fascist rule of a cheese magnate, Heidi lives as a simple young woman in the mountains,” the synopsis runs. Soon, however, her longing for personal freedom will spark a revolution. “The naive mountain girl turns into a fierce fighter who has to put an end to the cheese fascists.”
An OTT promo teaser pictured Switzerland under the facist rule of a sardonically sneering chase magnate. Led by Hedi (Alice Lucy), the Alps rebel, “Braveheart” style. They are put down brutally, though comically. One rebel is tortured by boiling fondue poured over his head, another stabbed to death through his mouth by a Swiss hard chocolate dagger.
Fighting back, Heidi works her way through a swathe of Nazi storm troopers via martial art moves and deft work with a Swiss army knife, then a battle axe.
The pitch describes the movies as a “persiflage of the 1950s Heimatfilm genre with a twist into the exploitation genre of the 1970s and 1980s. Anyone who liked ‘Mad Max,’ ‘Kill Bill’ or ‘Iron Sky’ will also love ‘Mad Heidi.’
“‘Mad Heidi’” needs you to make the production happen,” a trailer voiceover runs, encouraging readers to become a “Mad Investor.”
Minimum investment was tabbed at $500. Some investors have sunk more than $100,000. “They’re just very, very passionate people, passionate about film. They love it,” Greutert explained.
All received information. Some 150 visited the set. Some came from the U.K. and as far way as Finland.
“We call it fan powered content creation,” Greutert said of the investment model. But it’s that very fan base which explains the new distribution model, he added.
The distribution system that runs the world is selling a film territory-by-territory. And if we have a film where we have a worldwide fanbase and we go with that system, we will be pirated massively after day one and won’t do business anymore.
The release will be accompanied by a forceful marketing campaign, Greutert promised. “Our bet is simple: If people want to watch ‘Mad Heidi,’ they will make the effort and watch it on our website. We won’t be able to prevent piracy. But making the film available for everybody who wants to pay will at least reduce it.”
Will it work? “People say I’m crazy. But it hasn’t been tried so many times. We have the fan base. That’s the trick. We have the marketing money. We have a clear target audience,” said Greutert. Casper Van Dien has a huge fan community. Klara, Heidi’s wealthy invalid friend, is played by Japan’s Almar G. Sato.
“Mad Heidi” will be ready for delivery by early September. Greutert hopes it can ptake the royal route for genre movies of Toronto, Austin’s Fantastic Fest and Sitges.
In a second way, also, “Mad Heidi’s” also marks a push-back against traditional film industry models. For independent producers film funding means “one to two years to finance a film and 10 to 15 to 20 different financing sources which come with restrictions,” Greutert argued.
“There’s also a massive brain drain towards the streamers which can finance a movie with the snap of their fingers,” he added.
A recent report by Sweden’s Film I Vast argues that public funding needs to take far more risks, come in with half a budget, not 10%-20%, and be much faster, Greutert noted.