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Industry Gather to Discuss European Film and TV Drama

Media industry players gathered in Ostend for the ‘Making Film and Television Drama’ conference on September 18, 2014. Huw Jones reports on the MeCETES-organised industry event. With additional input from Roderik Smits.

European film and television dramas need characters audiences can identify with if they are to travel, former Head of DR Fiction, Ingolf Gabold, told an international gathering of media industry professionals in Ostend, Belgium.

Speaking at the Making European Film and Television Drama conference, organised by the MeCETES project as part of the Ostend Film Festival, the veteran Danish producer said so-called ‘double-storytelling’, in which characters face deeper social and ethical choices, can help to ensure dramas enjoy cross-border appeal.

Gabold, now a producer at Eyeworks Denmark, oversaw some of Denmark’s the most successful television series his tenure at DR, including such international hits as The Killing and Borgen. He is currently working on a 3-hour mini-series about the Swedish innovator Alfred Nobel, who established the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ingolf Gabold talks about what makes TV dramas travel

Ingolf Gabold talks about what makes TV dramas travel

Gabold’s comments were echoed by his former DR colleague Kathrine Windfeld, also speaking at the event. Referring to her latest project, The Team, a pan-European police series due for released in 2015, Windfeld said the use of ‘double-storytelling’ gave the drama a ‘Nordic Noir feel’, despite it being set in Germany, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland as well as Denmark itself.

However, the two Danes clashed over the role of language in European television drama. Gabold, who described multilingualism as part of the ‘DNA of European culture’, attacked the use of dubbing in countries like Germany and English-language remakes of programmes like Wallander, arguing that subtitling should be the preferred method of language transfer.

Windfeld, meanwhile, defended English-language European television dramas, countering that contemporary Europe is a culture where everyone ‘speaks English with a bad accent’. In The Team, Danish, Belgian and German law-enforcers converse with each other in English, reserving their native languages for their domestic life.

The Killing director went on to say that one of her main challenges in directing a multinational European cast was establishing a uniform acting style. ‘In Sweden and Denmark [acting] is what I would call low key’, she said. ‘Then I started to watch a lot of German things… They were, in my opinion, very high [key]. Everything was up there’.

‘It’s very important to address this, or else the audience will end up watching something which is not a film, but some scenes edited together from different countries in Europe’.

Writing for European audiences

Panelists discuss writing for European TV audiences.

Panelists discuss writing for European TV audiences.

Gabold and Winfeld were joined onstage by local Flemish director Hans Herbots (The Treatment, The Spiral), showrunner Malin-Sarah Gozin (Clan, Connie and Clyde) and Oliver Goris, network manager of Belgian’s main Dutch-language TV station, Eén, for a panel discussion on writing for European audiences.

Herbots, who has just finished directing The Spiral, another pan-European crime drama, in which artists plan to simultaneously steal six European masterpieces, said that European television dramas require three key ingredients to travel: a good story, a well-coordinated production structure, and strong creative team. Echoing Windfeld’s comments about the challenges of working with a multinational cast, he said a lot of time was spent ‘gluing together the actors… to make them a group’.

Despite the practical difficulties involved in pan-European productions, the Flemish director said he had more cross-border dramas in the pipeline. ‘As Europe becomes bigger as an economic power and political power, there’s more stories to be told’, he asserted.

Meanwhile, Gozin talked about her series Clan, described as both a ‘very Flemish and very universal’ family drama. She emphasised the importance of  universal themes and stories for allowing dramas to travel: ‘If you fix your story and confine it to a very specific geographical or cultural setting or situation you make it more difficult for transnational potential’.

However, the Flemish screenwriter noted that one of the the main difficulties with writing for an international audience was that countries operate different television schedules, with some networks preferring 13 episodes per series, while others opting for only eight. She added that comedies were particularly difficult to export aboard.

Regional film financing

Ostende conference

Panelists discuss financing European films.

After discussing the issue of writing for European audiences, the focus on the event shifted towards European film finance. Screen Yorkshire’s Hugo Heppell talked about the Yorkshire Content Fund, a public-private investment fund for the TV, film, video games and digital sectors in the north of England. Established in 2012 with a £15 million investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the fund has backed about 20 productions, including Peaky Blinders, Death Comes to Pemberley, Jamaica Inn and ’71.

Heppell noted that unlike other forms of public film finance, the Yorkshire Content Fund operates primarily on a commercial rather than cultural basis, only investing in projects which are match-funded by a private investor and recouping its investment on the same terms as that investor. He credited the scheme with generating the highest production levels in Yorkshire for over 20 years, and predicted that over time filming will shift outside London towards cheaper and more accessible regions like the north of England.

Yet Heppell also acknowledged the challenge presented by rival production funds and tax subsidies across the globe. He said the Yorkshire Content Fund’s future priority would be to invest in bigger-budget international productions like Hunter’s Prayer, a $25 million UK/US feature starring Sam Worrington. European co-productions, meanwhile, remained less attractive, because of their low commercial return.

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MeCETES Project Leader Andrew Higson closes the event.

European co-productions

The topic of European co-productions was taken up by producer Rebecca O’Brien during an on-stage interview about her career working with veteran British director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty. O’Brien, whose production credits include Looking for Eric, The Angel’s Share and the Palme d’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, recounted how Sixteen Films, the company she established with Loach and Laverty, developed a strategy of working with European partners, first through co-productions with Spanish-based Tornasol Films and Germany’s Road Movies, and then later through working with France’s Wild Bunch and Why Not productions.

The London-based producer highlighted the benefits of working with European co-production partners as a source of film financing and local expertise, but said that she had to establish early on her role as lead creative producer to prevent the problem of having ‘too many chiefs’. She complained that British distributors could be ‘really sniffy about European films’, making it really difficult for Sixteen Films to reciprocate co-productions with their Spanish and German partners. Britain’s exit from the Eurimages fund and the tax relief rules on ‘using and consuming’ goods and services in the UK were cited as further barriers.

Financing European films

The final session continued the discussion on financing European films. Helen Perquay from Brussels-based production company Caviar argued that independent film producers should be careful about giving away distribution rights too easily, in case they miss a considerable share of the revenues if a film turns out to be profitable. Tasja Abel, from German broadcaster ZDF, echoed O’Brien’s point about the importance of establishing European partnerships. And Jan de Clerq of Belgian distributor and cinema-operator Lumiere argued that local expertise in a market is very important for releasing films.

Meanwhile, the Nordic Film and TV Fund’s Petri Kemppinen talked about the public support for Nordic filmmakers, while the MEDIA programme’s Emmanuel Joly explained the EU’s role in stimulating the distribution and exhibition of European films.

The Making European Film and Television Drama industry event was organised by the MeCETES project with generous support from de Scenaristengilde, Mediarte.be, de Unie van Regisseurs en VOTP, and De Vlaamse Televisieacademie & DeAuteurs. The organisers would like to thank Elias Van Dingenen and the team at SMIT/iMinds from coordinating the event.

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