For years Zentropa has been raising funds for its films across Europe, and the time has now come to give something back.
The Danish production company is looking to aid and support local talent and film scenes in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland and elsewhere via financing, sales and production of features, TV films and TV series. Zentropa’s current goal is to become a European mini-studio, though its international ambitions go much further.
Zentropa currently has offices in France, Scotland, Holland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Italy. In most of those countries, it is known as Zentropa International. Zentropa is also a partner in film companies in Finland, Estonia and Latvia. A Zentropa International office usually employs two people: a producer and an assistant. All the companies are wholly owned by Zentropa’s parent company, Zentropa Folket, in Denmark. All international executives own stock in the parent company.
Founded 1992 by director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. From 2008 co-owned with Nordisk Film. Zentropa is one of the largest production companies in Scandinavia. Covers film production and a range of services within DVD manufacture and digital communications. Greatly acknowledged for having reinvigorated the industry with Dogme 95. International breakthrough came with Lars von Trier’s "Breaking the Waves" (1996) and continued with Lone Scherfig’s Berlin winner "Italian for Beginners" (2000), one of Zentropa’s greatest successes with a record-breaking number of admissions. Has launched several films by Oscar nominee Susanne Bier, Per Fly and Annette K. Olesen, and is co-producer of Thomas Vinterberg’s English-language features. Took home the Crystal Bear in 2006 for "We Shall Overcome" by Niels Arden Oplev, and saw Annette K. Olesen’s third film in competition in Berlin in 2009, "Little Soldier". Releases in 2009: Lars von Trier’s "Antichrist" and Morten Giese’s "Love and Rage".
“We want to conquer the world in our own quiet way. With timely care and common sense,” Peter Garde, Zentropa’s chief financial officer, says. “It costs a lot of money to set up operations in every country. It’s our plan, within three to five years, to be fully represented with operating companies in the old Western Europe. And it’s not unlikely, either, that we’ll be making films in the US within a similar time frame.”
FIFTEEN YEARS ABROAD
That Zentropa has offices in several other countries is not really news. Zentropa has been represented abroad ever since Lars von Trier’s "Breaking the Waves" went looking for financing 15 years ago. However, for most of those years that was exclusively to drum up financing for films by von Trier, Per Fly, Lukas Moodysson and others.
“To comply with national and international regulation s for receiving subsidies, we have been keeping offices in several countries. But in the long run, just dipping your snout into other countries’ troughs is too one-sided. No matter how good you get at making movies, no country will keep subsidising you. They want to give you a leg up, but they also want something in return,” Garde says.
Now Zentropa is well on the way to becoming a domestic player that boosts new talent in the different countries, a process that took off two and a half years ago when Zentropa opened its office in Berlin.
For instance, as a co-production partner, Zentropa International in Berlin recently put up 20 percent of the budget for Hans-Christian Schmid’s "Storm", partly via the office there but also via other offices in Cologne and Amsterdam. “The branch office links the film to the Zentropa family all over the world, which is how we get the projects off the ground,” Garde says. As main producer, Zentropa is doing another film coming out of the Berlin office, Hendrik Handloegten’s drama "Summer Window", which starts shooting at year-end.
At the same time, going into other countries as a local player is also giving something back to Zentropa. Though Zentropa has had an office in Warsaw for less than a year, the Polish government is already so pleased with the company’s engagement in local films that it is supporting both von Trier’s Antichrist and Per Fly’s next film with the working title "The Woman Who Dreamt About a Man".
HUGE EARNINGS POTENTIAL
Zentropa’s international expansion obviously is not just about recompensating the countries that have subsidised its films over the years.
“Naturally, we also have a financial objective for the expansion,” Garde says. “We expect to be a part of a lot of good films in the long term, and access to local, much bigger markets also spreads the risk. We need a large annual volume to keep 100 people on the payroll.”
One Zentropa ambition calls for crafting a German blockbuster in the vein of Lone Scherfig’s "Italian for Beginners". With 828,000 admissions in Denmark, that film reached 15 percent of the Danish population.
“Denmark only has about 5.5 million people, so it’s considerably more interesting to get a corresponding hit in Germany, where nearly 81 million people live,” Garde says.
Another aspect for Zentropa involves greater freedom from the Danish subsidy policy. “Fanning out across Europe makes us less vulnerable to political decisions in Denmark regarding the Film Act,” Garde says.