As so often in the Austrianfilm scene, the idea for the medieval adventure story Henker(provisionally known in English as The Headsman) was born in a Viennacoffee house when screenwriter Susanne Freund pitched the story idea toproducer Helmut Grasser of Allegro Film 4-5 years ago.
Once a treatment had beenprepared, they started looking for a director and soon decided on Swiss-bornSimon Aeby who had come to Grasser's attention after he saw his Max OphuelsPrize-winning English language picture Three Below Zero, starring WesBentley. "I liked the way he directs actors and his cinematographic stylewhich gives a depth that one seldom sees in cinema these days", saysGrasser
As Grasser admits, raisingthe film's Euros 5m budget for what became a six-country co-production was"a real challenge" and "an absolute struggle. It only functionedin the end because I had good partners in each country". He had previouslyworked with Germany's Peter Rommel on such features as Drei Herren and SieHaben Knut and had looked at various projects with Switzerland's MarcelHoehn of T&C Film in the past, which had however never materialised.Similarly, F&ME UK was brought onboard by Rommel who regularly works withF&ME's Mike Downey.
To round it off, theHungarians [Peter Miskolczi's Eurofilm] joined the production when it wasdecided to base the interior studio work and outside sets in Hungary because ofthe ideal facilities at Mafilm studios and the existence of the new tax sheltermodel which can provide a refund of up to 20% of the production costs incurredin Hungary.
"At one point,Luxembourg had been mooted as a possible base for the studio shoot, but such acombination of Austria and Luxembourg would have been too expensive as they areboth high cost countries", Grasser explains. "We would have had toconstruct everything, whereas at Mafilm there were a lot of existing sets [fromsuch productions as The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and A Christmas Carol]on the lot outside of Budapest.
By good fortune, Luxembourgand Austria have a co-financing treaty which meant that Samsa Film could remainonboard without any obligations to meet any 'economic effects'. Moreover, no"effects" were demanded from the public funds in Switzerland andGermany, the support for Henker being granted by MFG Baden-Wuerttemberg inreturn for the support granted two years ago by the Austrian Film Institute forSie Haben Knut.
Allegro Film put up 60% ofthe budget, with 10% each coming from F&ME UK, Hungary's Eurofilm,Switzerland's T&C Film, and Samsa Film and Home Run Pictures together, andattracted an impressive patchwork of public and private financing sourcesranging from the Austrian Film Institute, Vienna Film Fund and Austrian publicbroadcaster ORF and the regional fund Cine Styria (where the outside locationswere shot in a nature reserve against an impressive Alpine backdrop) throughthe UK's Invicta Capital, Swiss Office for Culture (BKA), and Swiss broadcasterSF DRS, to the Luxembourg Film Fund and MFG Filmfoerderung Baden-Wuerttemberg.(An application to Eurimages, the Council of Europe's co-production fund wasturned down)
"The financingstructure in itself is sheer hell," Grasser says, pointing out that"it is really hard to make bigger films in Europe because the wholefunding system isn't geared to that. That's the European problem. Henkeris my declaration of belief in the kind of film which has been missing. Iwanted to prove that it can be done."
The role of co-producerF&ME UK was, as Grasser explains, "quite different from otherco-producers because they had a substantial creative input in addition toorganising the sale and leaseback through Invicta."
Apart from bringing UKscreenwriter Steve Attridge (Guy X) onboard to give a final polish tothe English dialogues, F&ME also organised casting sessions in London forAeby and Grasser.
Danish actor NikolajCoster-Waldau, who recently appeared in Wimbledon, plays the lead roleof the headsman opposite against such seasoned players as Steven Berkoff, JohnShrapnel and Patrick Godfrey as well as such younger actors as Peter McDonald (Felicia'sJourney), Anastasia Griffiths (Alfie), and Eddie Marsan (VeraDrake).
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