"If Americans come and compete in our market, we can compete in their market, too," says Nina Bisgaard of Meta Film. Bisgaard is this year’s Danish Producer on the Move, EFP's high-profile networking platform at Cannes for enterprising European producers. Her company’s answer to Hollywood’s dominance in Danish cinemas and the incursion of American streaming services into Danish homes is: produce English-language films.
"When a film like 'Border' ends up playing down in Theatre 14 at the multiplex, I don’t see other Danish films as the competition but English-language films, which most often take up the big theatres. So why not compete with them? The way the world is today, there’s nothing stopping us from producing English-language films, even if our local language is Danish – as long as we locate strong partners who know the market well."
So far, it’s hard to argue with that. The first production by British subsidiary Meta Film London, 'The Wife', did well the world over, and Glenn Close, in the lead, won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Bisgaard helped get the film financed, something American producers had been unable to do for a decade. As author Meg Wolitzer and screenwriter Jane Anderson have noted, no one seemed interested in investing in a film about the neglected wife of a novelist.
"The timing was finally right, after the screenplay landed at Meta Film," Bisgaard says about the growing interest in female-driven projects in recent years.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other great projects that are languishing will have an easier time getting financed now. Personally, I’m starving for more stories centring on women, like the show 'Killing Eve'. Not that male stories aren’t interesting, I’ve just seen so many of them. Now, I think, it’s fun to also experience full-blown galleries of women."
The intern who stuck around
Bisgaard originally intended to be a high-school teacher, a sensible job that someone growing up on a farm in the western part of the Jutland peninsula could relate to.
But a week into her internship at Meta Film back in 2011, she knew she had found her calling. The combination of creative, administrative and financial work – and decision-making – was just right for her.
Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen had started Meta Film just one year before, and the company was growing fast. "They needed someone to handle things, and I was hungry and enthusiastic and quickly got a lot of responsibility," Bisgaard says. "A couple of years later came SAM Productions with their focus on TV shows, which has provided a lot of exciting opportunities for me and the company in this golden age of TV series."
At SAM, it was obvious to put Bisgaard in charge of financing, a good fit for her. After a start-up period of building good relationships with broadcasters and developing new strategies on an ongoing basis, Bisgaard believes that she and SAM have now accumulated the insight and experience to make the work of financing TV series relatively straightforward.
"To me, financing is wonderfully uncomplicated, like solving a sudoku, with figures to turn over and negotiate to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s probably my Jutlandic shopkeeping gene being tickled here."
While Bisgaard never got around to writing her internship report or her thesis in the Film and Media Studies programme at the University of Copenhagen, she has obviously passed with flying colours. Eight years on, she is producer, executive producer and head of international financing and co-production at the two companies Meta Film and SAM Productions.
Giving the audience a good experience
Last year, for Meta Film’s Swedish branch, Meta Film Stockholm, she produced Ali Abbasi’s Swedish-Danish 'Border', which won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes. She is currently developing films in Denmark, Sweden and London.
Bisgaard above all wants her films to give the audience "a really good experience."
"But, I think it’s a great achievement to tell a story that makes people forget their troubles and be there in the moment, laughing, crying or being surprised and amazed for two hours. If they take away more than that and go on discussing the film for months, that’s a plus, of course.
"I don’t think an individual film or show is going to change anyone’s life. That said, we still have to help – even if it’s drip by drip – influence and push the agenda in new directions. Case in point, after #MeToo we want to see more films and shows with more nuanced portrayals of both men and women, providing us with freer, funner and more up-to-date gender dynamics."