A wave of successful genre novels and movies has stoked international interest in Sweden. Niklas Eriksson looks at the growing momentum in the Swedish production sector
The runaway international success of Swedish crime fiction such as the Millennium trilogy and Wallander has highlighted the territory as a rich source of literary adaptations, and has also created new opportunities for Sweden’s film-makers.
Swedish-language adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, produced by Stockholm-based Yellow Bird, have grossed more than $174m worldwide while Henning Mankell’s Wallander series has been adapted by Yellow Bird both as Swedish and English-language TV series.
Interest from overseas in Swedish novels and films has reached unprecedented heights. Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin have acquired English-language film rights to the Millennium books from Yellow Bird, which will co-produce. Meanwhile, Warner Bros has picked up remake rights to Daniel Espinosa’s Easy Money (Snabba Cash), the first adaptation of Jens Lapidus’ bestselling Stockholm-set crime trilogy (The Weinstein Company bought US rights to the original). Espinosa has also announced plans to adapt the second two books. In addition, Let Me In, Matt Reeves’ remake of vampire hit Let The Right One In, is set for release in the US in October.
“Scandinavian crime is gaining momentum; this goes for both the film and literature scenes,” says Borje Hansson, head of production at Svensk Filmindustri, a major regional producer, distributor and exhibitor. “For the publishing houses the situation is pretty obvious - an increasing number of authors are getting bestsellers in more countries. The film industry may have longer lead times, but we do see an increased international interest in upcoming titles, not least in the crime genre. Foreign players want to team up as co-producers, and they’re contacting us, not the other way around.”
Swedish producers have always sought regional co-producers but are now taking more of an international view of packaging projects. Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson’s Sound Of Noise, a comedy which screened in Critics’ Week at Cannes this year, is a collaboration between Sweden’s DFM Fiktion and France’s Bliss, with Wild Bunch handling sales, while the much-anticipated Simon And The Oaks, currently shooting and based on Marianne Fredriksson’s novel, is set up as a Sweden-Germany-Netherlands-Norway co-production.
Lone Korslund, head of Nordic co-productions and acquisitions at Nordisk Film, says that international interest in local product is making it easier to attract co-producers. “The positive attitudes towards Scandinavian cinema and television make it possible to pre-sell and co-produce our work to a greater extent than before.”
Swedish producers may be interested in attracting international partners but they are also looking to strengthen relationships with other Nordic partners: many point to pan-regional co-productions as a way of making bigger pictures. Not everyone agrees, however, that a move towards larger-budget regional co-productions will be beneficial. For Borje Hansson, this trend will lead to a smaller group of commercial franchises which could affect diversity. “Medium-budget films will end up in a vacuum, having difficulty finding an audience,” he says.
Pia Lundberg, director of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute, identifies two separate trends when it comes to the Swedish product currently gaining international traction. “On the one hand, there’s a number of high-profile productions, typically based on cherished literary characters, and more often than not Nordic or European co-productions,” she says. “But many of the internationally most talked-about films right now actually come from smaller players such as EFTI, Acne, Fasad, Plattform and Atmo.”
In a tough marketplace which has hurt some of Sweden’s major players - the Swedish arm of regional distributor Sandrew Metronome pulled out of local production in 2007 citing insufficient profits - smaller players are beginning to thrive. TV and commercials company EFTI came from nowhere with Let The Right One In and is now working on the US remake; Acne produced Fredrik Edfeldt’s The Girl (Flickan); Fasad - set up by Falkenberg Farewell director Jesper Ganslandt - has produced projects such as The Ape and Burrowing which screened at Toronto and Berlin respectively; Gothenburg-based Plattform Produktion is Ruben Ostlund’s company - his group-behaviour study Involuntary has won several international awards; while Stockholm’s Atmo has travelled to festivals with Marcus Lindeen’s sex-change documentary Regretters and Tarik Saleh’s dystopic animation feature Metropia, featuring the voices of Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis. Another company to watch is St Paul Film, whose upcoming titles include Puss from Darling director Johan Kling. Starring True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard, the film is set for release at the end of the year.
Lundberg points out the Millennium craze has meant Swedish crime fiction and other literary material is being optioned “like there’s no tomorrow”. One example is Susanna Alakoski’s Svinalangorna, a prize-winning novel about an immigrant girl in the 1960s. It is the feature directing debut of actress Pernilla August and stars Noomi Rapace in her first lead since The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest. Set for a November release, the film is produced by Drakfilm and Hepp Film.
Another hot crime-novel adaptation in the works is The Hypnotizer, based on the hit book by Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, who publish under the pen name Lars Kepler. Svensk Filmindustri will release the film in early 2011.
The wave of attractive material shows no sign of slowing. As Korslund points out, “It’s not just about crime fiction. I think we’ll see a Nordic blockbuster trend, based on broad co-production and strong pre-existing characters - whether they stem from novels, historical events or celebrity culture.”
SWEDEN AT A GLANCE, 2009
Population 9.35 million
Size of box office $211.3m
Admissions 17.4 million
Number of theatrical releases 269
Number of local theatrical releases 41 (including 10 documentaries)
Market share of local films 32.7 %
Source: Swedish Film Institute
COMPANY PROFILE: YELLOW BIRD
Thanks to hits such as Wallander and the Millennium trilogy, Yellow Bird has become one of the region’s most successful production companies.
Stockholm-based Yellow Bird was set up only seven years ago, but the company has already become one of Scandinavia’s leading producers of TV drama and film, with a subsidiary in Munich and a history of collaborations with the BBC.
The company’s motto, ‘We turn bestsellers into blockbusters’, underlines Yellow Bird’s commercial focus. “We started out in 2003, solely with the ambition to transfer the work of Wallander author Henning Mankell to the big screen,” says Ole Sondberg, who founded Yellow Bird with Mankell and Lars Bjorkman. In 2007 the company was acquired by Zodiak Entertainment. Today, Yellow Bird has 15 staff members in Sweden and three in Germany. Turnover in 2009 was $28m.
Yellow Bird’s first production was the 13-episode Swedish-language adaptation of Mankell’s Wallander books which originally aired on Sweden’s TV4 in 2005 (another 13 episodes have since been produced). An English-language version produced by Yellow Bird for the BBC starred Kenneth Branagh.
The company’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, which it optioned in 2006, was even more successful. “We did feel from the first page that this was something very rare, not least in terms of main characters,” says Sondberg. “But we had no idea what a global phenomenon the Millennium series would be.”
The Yellow Bird-produced features have grossed more than $174m worldwide and a six-episode TV series has also been successful. This year the company sold the books’ English-language rights to Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin and is on board as a co-producer on David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. According to reports, the film will shoot exteriors in Stockholm this autumn but will complete studio work elsewhere (Yellow Bird declined to comment).
Also in the pipeline are feature adaptations of Headhunters, the latest novel from best-selling Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo; Anne Holt’s books about inspector Yngvar Stubo and psychologist and lawyer Inger Johanne Vik; and a series of books by popular Swedish crime writer Liza Marklund which feature reporter Annika Bengtzon.
Yellow Bird has become a key market player in a short time, but what makes the company so successful? For managing director Mikael Wallen there is no magic formula, just a combination of flexible attitudes and a clear core business model.
“We never do anything when we’re not in control of the rights,” says Wallen. “Yellow Bird has been successful because of our unique way of financing, distributing and cross-fertilising different windows. Letting television, film and DVD releases feed each other is crucial, and in that regard we’re a pretty unorthodox company. Also, in terms of financing, we always make sure there’s a larger share of TV money than what is perhaps industry standard.”