Jim Sheridan's remake of Susanne Bier's "Brødre" is the latest example of a Danish film getting a second life in Hollywood. Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman are the star cast of this intense family drama, replacing Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ulrich Thomsen and Connie Nielsen who originally made the film a Danish-language hit. The story was adapted to American conditions. In Denmark the new film triggered a flurry of articles about the effects of the Hollywood remakes.
With more American versions of Danish titles in the pipeline, the question is what strategy Danish filmmakers find most fruitful when their films are remade.
From a Danish perspective, there are three basic approaches to remakes: selling the rights without getting involved in the details of how the foreign buyers intend to realise their version; getting actively involved in the remake, with the Danish director maybe even directing the new film as well; or simply doing the whole remake of your popular Danish film yourself.
The last approach is not common, though Regner Grasten's Love at First Hiccup is such an example of a Danish producer independently doing an English language remake of his own film.
Kasper Barfoed's "The Candidate" is among the titles that are currently being remade. Peter Bose produced, with Jonas Allen of Miso Film. Bose says American interest was aroused when "The Candidate" was packaged and pitched in a form that spoke to them.
"Of course, it sometimes happens that you meet foreign filmmakers who love your film so much that they purposefully strive to do a remake. But in general, it pays to do a package that makes it easier for people to envision how a remake might look. The remake of "The Candidate" builds on a broad partnership where a creative package was made to spark interest in the film," Bose says.
Sam Worthington of "Avatar" has signed on to play the lead and the screenplay is being reworked. As Bose sees it, there is interest in the film because it's an effective thriller in the American vein and several producers saw franchise potential in it.
As a Danish producer, he's involved in the process. But, he says, you need to recognise right away that your influence is going to be pretty limited. "It's generally better to have a good financial deal than to try and get influence. Of course, we want the remake to be successful. Otherwise, a remake can do more harm than good. But it should have its own life. There has to be something new there to make it interesting," Bose says.
Fine & Mellow producer Thomas Gammeltoft agrees that a remake should bring something new to the table. He previously sold the rights to Hella Joof's" Oh Happy Day" to Disney in what was primarily a financial arrangement, and he's currently taking a different tack in the partnership involving an American remake of Henrik Ruben Genz' Karlovy Vary winner "Terribly Happy". The film attracted interest from its first screening in Karlovy Vary, and Gammeltoft subsequently got in touch with the American producer Carol Polakoff. Together they hired the screenwriter Howard Rodman to write a new screenplay to be directed by Genz.
"In Terribly Happy we had faith that we could drive the project ourselves," Gammeltoft says, describing the remake development as very successful. "It's not a one-to-one version, but the basic tone will be the same. We want to steer the film away from cynicism a little and bring in more emotion. It's looking very promising."
As director, Genz was onboard from the get-go. He describes the possibility of doing the film all over as a wonderful challenge.
"I don't feel that I'm done with the story," he says. "When we did the Danish version, it all went so fast. I now see that there is more to the characters and the story. They could be taken much further, and I really want to take another look at the material. Not because I'm not satisfied with the film we made, but because it's interesting to turn over new aspects. When you do something for the first time, you tend to stick to the main track and when you've made it through and you know the terrain, then you dare to push things. You simply have more nerve," Genz says.
Meanwhile, he reserves the right to pull out, if the project doesn't turn out the way he would like.
"It was never my dream to make a film in America, and so I'm pretty free in my approach. If it turns out to be no fun, it's not a big loss for me," Genz says, pointing out that he's only had positive experiences with the project so far, putting to shame his preconceived notions about the American film business and everyone's warnings about it. Discussing the script with Rodman was a blast for Genz, and Rodman is enthusiastic about the script, too. As he tells FILM from Los Angeles, it's a huge advantage for a screenwriter to have a thoroughly worked-out universe to explore with a director who knows its every nook and cranny.
2 X BROTHERS. Tobey Maguire is the successful military man and Jake Gyllenhaal the black sheep in Jim Sheridan's remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 original that featured Ulrich Thomsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Photo: Lorey Sebastian and Erik Aavatsmark.
Studios More Cautios
Nikolaj Arcel is also involved in the remake of his 2007 adventure romp "Island of Lost Souls", keeping tabs on the screenplay, by Jennifer O'Kieffe, now in its third draft. The concept behind the project was to do something new in an American context, Arcel says.
"While the Danish film is its own little adventure, we have generally been working to ground the story in American mythology and history," he says, and so far he's pleased with how the development has been going. With new Danish films on the way, he has many balls in the air. That's how it should be, he says. There's a long way from planning a remake to actually realising it and, as a Danish director, it's important not to get carried away and to keep working on your other projects.
Arcel wrote the screenplay for "Catch That Girl", which was remade in Hollywood in 2004 as "Catch That Kid". In the years since, he has noticed a higher level of cautiousness at American studios concerning remakes.
"It's not my impression that Hollywood is more interested in remakes now. They were always on the lookout for good stories, but I find that the studios are more cautious now. Back in the day, "Catch That Kid" was made almost right off the bat. Now it takes a long time to reach the point where films actually get made."
A Common Vision
Mikkel Bondesen, a Danish producer at Fuse Entertainment, Hollywood, was involved in the remakes of "Catch That Girl" and "Midsummer". He is not seeing significantly greater interest in remakes at the moment. But there is an awareness of Danish films and Danish producers have many ways to go.
Fuse Entertainment is currently shooting an American pilot of the Emmy-awardwinning Danish TV series "The Killing". As Kristen Campo, another Fuse producer, says, it's a major strength, especially in television, if there's a clear sense of what you're getting, not just in a pilot of the first episode but also in the continuing evolution of the series. She also finds that it's easier to get several co-production partners to agree on a vision when there is a strong model to follow.
The question of a common vision is crucial in terms of realising a Danish film internationally, Bondesen says. You need to pick your strategy and your partners carefully. Questions of creative control and the planned timeline will always be central, but he sees no reason not to continue turning good Danish films into American titles. This much is clear: Brothers will be followed by many new, exciting remakes in the years to come.