A snapshot of today's Danish film market reveals several different tendencies, notably a marked focus on low-budget films. Films costing around 2.5 million euros have dominated Danish cinema for a number of years, but now the film industry is reading the writing on the wall. Innovation is called for to prevent Danish cinema from falling into a slump after the worldwide success of Dogme.
"There is no money in medium-budget films. Films in the 2.5 million euros range have become too expensive to be innovative and too cheap to be unique. Consequently, our declared strategy now is either to make very inexpensive films or very expensive films." Peter Aalbæk Jensen, head of Zentropa
One way to go is low-budget films. Several Danish film companies are moving into inexpensive filmmaking, and the Danish Film Institute (DFI) is keeping pace with its Rå|Film pilot fund.
"Producers are familiar with the financial framework and are very adept at making films in the 2.5 million euro range. However, recent years have seen increased diversity, and we want to support that trend," Claus Ladegaard, DFI Head of Production & Development, says.
As Ladegaard points out, excellent films have been made for around 2.5 million euros, including Niels Arden Oplev's "Worlds Apart". There are no plans to cut out medium-budget films, he says. All it takes is getting away from formulaic thinking.
COMPETITION SQUEEZES MID-SIZE FILMS
Despite many fine examples to the contrary, "medium-budget films" have a hard time breaking even in a cinema market that has seen an explosive increase of 34% in the number of film releases. In 1999, 176 films were released theatrically. Last year's figure was 235, a vast majority of them American. Danish features made up just 27 of the 235 releases.
"Competition for people's time is heated. Considering the growing number of choices, and the subsequently shorter periods to break even, standard films costing around 2.5 million euros are becoming a financial headache to producers," Henrik Bo Nielsen, CEO of the DFI, says.
This fact is not lost on the Zentropa film company:
"There is no money in medium-budget films. Films in the 2.5 million euros range have become too expensive to be innovative and too cheap to be unique. Consequently, our declared strategy now is either to make very inexpensive films or very expensive films," Peter Aalbæk Jensen, head of Zentropa, says.
A DANISH MIRAMAX
As a step in this strategy, Zentropa last year partnered up with film producer Regner Grasten to start a low-budget company, Filmfabrikken. Taking American Miramax as its model, Filmfabrikken intends to make alternative films and release them with a big splash to win back some space in Danish cinemas from mediocre American films that, Grasten contends, should go straight to DVD. Filmfabrikken's films have a budget cap of 1.2 million euros, so there’s room to take risks and, not least, market them aggressively.
"Right now, warning lights are flashing," Regner Grasten says. "There is declining interest in going to the movies and watching anything but solid mainstream films. If we want to trigger broad, renewed interest among moviegoing audiences, we need to take some risks, think in terms of audiences instead of target groups and put money into marketing."
As films get more expensive to make, producers hold back from taking a risk on unknown directors or in earnest experiment with the art of film, followed up by broad marketing. "In Filmfabrikken, we want to create a growth tank for cinema culture – just as Miramax did in the US. For a company to survive doing mainstream films, it’s essential to learn from the underground," Grasten says.
PILOT FUND FOR RAW FILMS
To foster innovation in Danish cinema and support the industry's focus on low-budget films, the DFI this year launched a pilot fund specifically designed to subsidise such films. Rå|Film makes grants to films that have budgets of no more than 10 million kroner (1.34 million euros).
"With Rå|Film , we hope to contribute some innovation to Danish cinema, because such low budgets force filmmakers to take risks, and basically demand a good story, since you can’t just crank up the effects," DFI CEO Henrik Bo Nielsen says.
Both Rå|Film and Filmfabrikken are wide open in terms of genre. The same goes for those who will be making the films. It doesn't matter if they are young talents or seasoned industry veterans. What counts is innovative thinking. In addition, Filmfabrikken has a set goal of each film selling 100,000 tickets, while Rå|Film operates with a potential audience requirement of 75,000.
"After a few years of niceties, people are looking for something raw and unglossed. Moreover, there is a financial incentive for low-budget initiatives. So we’re folding the quality dimension in with an audience requirement to try and make room in the films for both good finances and originality," Ladegaard says.
MORE LOW-BUDGET EFFORTS
Apart from Filmfabrikken and Rå|Film, the Nimbus Film company is undertaking a partnership with the Danish broadcaster TV 2 to produce a series of low-budget films at around 1.5 million euros.
The main goal of the partnership is to bring new filmmakers and new stories to the screen, while contributing to continued innovation in Danish cinema. As a requirement for each new film, two of the principal functions – director, writer, producer, cast, DP or editor – must be filled by people who are making their first feature.
INTEREST IN BIG-BUDGET FILMS
Another tendency in the Danish film market is a growing interest in films with a higher price tag. This is apparent at Zentropa, now that Nordisk Film has acquired a 50% stake in the company.
"There is growing interest in doing big films. At the moment, we're seeing several players on the Danish film scene cooking up big projects," Nielsen says.
The DFI is looking at how to best support this tendency of more Danish film companies looking to run with the big dogs. "How that will turn out, we can't say yet," Henrik Bo Nielsen says.