Nordic Drama Producers Talk Co-Producing With Rest of Europe

What if crisis-whammies Nordic drama producers would now tap into other European stories instead of staying in the Nordic bubble and self-sufficient eco-system of mixed national and regional private and public coin? Would it be payback time for European partners who until now have bought into the Nordic Noir, without some form of reciprocity?

The question was raised by Belgium producer Helen Perquy from Banijay Benelux’s Jonnydepony at this week’s Göteborg TV Drama Vision, at a panel which looked into the current Nordic drama production mayhem and possible solutions. 

“In Belgium, we do have soft money, tax shelters, VAF [Flanders Audiovisual Fund], Screen Flanders but you guys in the Nordics have had way more money from broadcasters and global streamers, while we’ve had to be creative [with our financing],” said Perquy.

“For years we’ve watched your series and films, they’ve been up there,” noted the producer, raising her arm up in the air. “We’ve collaborated, but you’ve actually never watched our series. They have hardly crossed borders! So I think it’s time we reverse the favours,” she argued.

“You mean it’s payback time?”, asked moderator Marike Muselaers, Nordisk Film Production head of international financing and co-production, herself a former buyer for Benelux’s leading Lumiere Group.

“Yes, but in a good way,” continued Perquy, who believes Belgium’s Flanders region in particular-offers great opportunities for Nordic drama producers looking for new drama creative and financing solutions.

“We don’t co-produce for money reasons, we co-produce for love [of storytelling]”, Perquy insisted, citing her organic co-production with Finland’s Tekele Productions on the crime drama “Transport.”

Bouncing back on the argument, Norwegian producer Synnøve Hørsdal of Maipo Film, whose hit series “State of Happiness” was backed by the Lumiere Group, said: “Belgium is small like Norway. Our series have all been co-productions with more than one source of financing. It is a necessity to go where there is a good tax incentive.”

Co-panellist Ulf Synnerholm, head of TV Drama at the leading Swedish outfit B-Reel Films (“The Congregation”, “Before We Die”), said that until now, he had relied predominantly on the Nordics’ well-oiled national and regional co-production and financing mechanisms. 

“As an indie producer, we’ve had the best year ever in 2023. Spring was excellent, all looked promising until this fall. We lost three projects that were not greenlit and we’ve had to reorganise. That was tough,” he conceded. “Today, we have only one streaming service financing 100% [Netflix] in the Nordics; we’re pleased with local financiers, but we will look into upping our co-productions in the rest of Europe where tax incentives would be a sweet benefit of a good organic creative partnership, while doing it in a sustainable way”, he said. 

Anna Croneman, head of drama at SVT, said her drama department hasn’t been affected by overall cuts at the Swedish pubcaster, but noted that more projects looking for a home have landed on her desk. “We predicted that the drama bubble would probably burst in 3-5 years, but it all came to a halt last year. It’s been brutal for producers in small territories such as ours,” she said, admitting that she feared for the financing of future projects “as the market is upside down.”

Croneman advised Nordic drama producers to take inspiration from their feature film counterparts, where co-producing with the rest of Europe has long been a common practice. “Networking is key. We simply need to build similar relationships – and now, as we’re short of time. We should do this not only broadcaster to broadcaster, but also producer to producer,” she said.

“Co-producing within Europe is also about protecting European content. It’s about keeping our values, which goes beyond the need for us [in the Nordics] to survive,” pointed out Hørsdal who is a member of the influential European Producers Club. Referring to streamers’ obligations to invest in European content via the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, she highlighted that signatory countries such as France, “have not been affected by the drama crisis” like [non-signatory] territories such as the Nordic nations.

Asked to reflect on the changing role of drama producers under the streaming era, Hørsdal said: “Yes, sometimes there are between 15-20 people credited as producers. We, producers aren’t very good and sign with [too] many executive producers and associate producers, just to get a project done. The problem is who keeps the rights? Those situations can lead to serious fights. Again, we need regulation in Europe so that indie producers retain rights to their material,” she added.

Jumping on the argument of multiple producers serving in various roles on TV projects, Croneman said: “I might be controversial but the crisis has been good for quality. We’ve had not very skilled junior producers, suddenly promoted to senior positions that they couldn’t handle. Now we will see less of that, and I won’t be sorry!”, said the Swedish TV commissioner,” who was cheered by some TV Drama Vision delegates in Gothenburg’s Draken cinema.

What would you do then to be in a better place? asked Muselaers in a concluding note.

“I’m happy to work for a public service broadcaster,” answered Croneman. “We can offer something stable, and we are a sustainable partner. What we’re trying to do now is collaborate with other broadcasters to help producers set up things much faster,” she said, referring to the recent New8 European pubcasters pact. If we want to compete with streamers, we need to be faster,” she claimed.

Synnerholm said B-Reel Films will look for more co-pro opportunities in Europe, while re-focusing on quality. “We need to be more selective in our shows, aim for better content and budget control.”

Both Hørsdal and Perquy concurred on the need to foster quality. “At a time when commissioners are narrowing their scope, we have to focus on what we truly believe is relevant and worth making,” said the seasoned Norwegian producer.

“We have to trust that experience, professionalism and knowledge mean something, that stories about us, human beings are worth telling,” Perquy urged.

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