The TV industry does it and film is finally starting to do the same: selling the stories and concepts of existing movies for repackaging in multiple international territories.
We’ve all heard the axiom that there are six basic stories in movies that are tweaked, twisted, adapted, rejigged and mixed up in every screenplay. But I am intrigued these days by the notion of story as currency to be traded across borders.
In TV it’s now a routine notion to franchise your dramatic concept in other countries.
UK TV audiences are getting comfortably ensconsed with the latest hit Nordic crime series The Bridge (Bron), a Danish-Swedish co-production about the Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmo (Sweden) police forces collaborating on a murder that takes place on the bridge that links the two cities. The series – co-produced by Sweden’s Filmlance, a division of the international Shine Group – is now being developed in a host of reboots teaming different police forces – UK and France, Spain and Portugal, US and Mexico among them. Likewise Israel’s In Treatment has been formatted in the US, The Netherlands, central Europe, Serbia and others.
I’m not talking about straightforward remakes here by US networks (Homeland, The Killing, The Office etc), but the localization of great stories in multiple versions. It’s a logical extension of the franchising of gameshows or talent contests across the world. Why not franchise stories?
Some enterprising film players are experimenting in the film sphere. In an interview with Screen for the Cannes issue, Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch explains how he is plotting European remakes of two FIP-backed productions - Brazil’s Federal Bank Heist and Korea’s The Yellow Sea.
International veteran Clifford Werber has created a financial model through his Fluent Entertainment to make local-language films that Sony will distribute, often looking at remakes of films from around the world such as the German remake of Brazilian smash If I Were You which he set up. He argues that local language productions can act as a barometer of whether the story works for potential bigger-risk US versions.
Meanwhile the enterprising Eccho Remakes – a new business model created by producer Meg Thomson and former Miramax executive Elizabeth Dreyer - is identifying commercial films which have succeeded in their home territories and representing remake rights for remakes. That could mean a local language remake targeted at one territory or an English language remake for worldwide distribution – or both. It’s a way to find more value for a film and export the story elements that have worked in one territory into another.
Among films that Eccho is representing are F**k My Life (Chile), The Escape (Denmark), Single By Contract (Germany) and Nothing To Lose (Netherlands). They are not movies that would ever play on the festival circuit but they possess original ideas which have found a mainstream audience in their home territory, and which could translate into other cultures.
The film industry, unlike the TV industry, generally finds it hard to commoditize its intellectual properties. Yet when someone aggressively goes out to repurpose ideas in other cultures, the results can be spectacular. Look at Roy Lee, who almost single handedly engineered a string of US remakes of international properties like The Ring, The Grudge, Infernal Affairs (The Departed), [REC] (Quarantine) and Il Mare (The Lakehouse). Oldboy, Death Note and Battle Royale are on the way.
It’s a different way of looking at ideas and stories and how they can translate into other cultures, and requires a different way of thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to sell the ideas and concept behind a film than it is the film itself.