As the number of Nordic crime film and TV adaptations increases, Mike Goodridge talks to two of the region’s most successful novelists, Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg, about the process of bringing their hot properties to the screen.

For many years, bestselling Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo resisted selling film rights to his books. Indeed, only recently did he clinch a deal with Working Title Films for The Snowman, the seventh in the series of books about grizzled police detective Harry Hole. For a writer like Nesbo, whose books sell worldwide in the millions, film or TV adaptations are not necessarily a priority.

Indeed he was far more receptive to a deal for his standalone novel Headhunters with Sweden’s Yellow Bird, the same company that produced the three Millennium films from Stieg Larsson’s books, only because the proceeds from the film deal went to Nesbo’s charitable foundation to fight illiteracy in the Third World. “Not only wasn’t it Harry Hole, but it was a standalone book and it was a lot of money that would go to the fund,” he explained to Screen recently.

Ultimately, Working Title offered Nesbo terms which were impossible to turn down, and Hole is destined to join a host of hard-boiled Nordic investigators hitting the big and/or small screen in the next few years.

Nordic crime novels have caught the world’s imagination, and not just because of the runaway success of Larsson’s Millennium books — the Swedish films of which grossed more than $200m worldwide, and the first US film of the series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, opens in December through Sony Pictures. Its pedigree is immense — director David Fincher, producer Scott Rudin and star Daniel Craig. From the Kurt Wallander books and TV series or Liza Marklund’s beloved Annika Bengtzon books which have been published in 30 languages, Nordic writers have hit a global nerve.

Building The Snowman

Working Title originally went to Nesbo for the Hole property a year before the October 2010 deal on The Snowman. “Their opening line was that they were the company that made Fargo,” he recalls. “I don’t know if they knew it was one of my favourite movies, but I took the meeting.

“I had previously decided I would be open to offers when I had finished writing the series. The problem is I’m still in the middle of the process of writing the series and I was afraid that a movie or TV series would steal my hero, not only from me as a writer but from my readers. At the moment, I’d rather there be a thousand Harry Holes in the heads of my readers, not one actor playing him on screen.”

Nesbo told Working Title this was his strategy and he was not yet open to offers. And when the company asked him what it would take, he made some extraordinary demands. “I told them I would have to decide who was going to direct it and write the script,” he smiles. “When they said that was not how it worked, I said I know but you asked me what it would take.”

The two sides did not speak for a year, and then Working Title called him and said they would agree to his terms. “That’s the deal right now and I’m in on it as executive producer,” he says, adding that he has given the company a list of acceptable directors.

However, he adds: “I am fully aware that once the director and screenwriter are selected, I have to stay away and let them do their work.”

He says the film of The Snowman could be set anywhere. “The only thing that is important to me is that there is a good storyteller, not whether the main character is 193 or whether it is set in Oslo or they speak English or Norwegian.”

For Working Title, the potential is clear — if they get The Snowman right, they could have a Harry Hole franchise. The Leopard has been flying off the shelves in Europe and the US, and the latest Hole book, The Phantom, is currently a bestseller in Norway and soon to be published in English translation overseas.

Change of tack

Swedish author Camilla Lackberg has taken a different approach to her bestselling eight-book crime series set in the coastal resort of Fjallbacka.

‘The books are like my children and I want to hand them over to someone who will take care of them properly’

Camilla Lackberg

The first four books in the series have already been produced as films for Swedish TV, and Lackberg has now teamed with production outfit Tre Vanner (which produced Nordic hit Easy Money), state broadcaster SVT, regional film centre Film I Vast and Denmark’s Nordisk Film for 10 90-minute TV films and two theatrical features. Entitled The Fjallbacka Murders, the series features Claudia Galli and Richard Ulfsater as Erica and Patrik, a writer and a police detective often working together to solve crime in the deceptively sleepy setting of Fjallbacka.

“We’ve changed the cast entirely from the first films and the series is being made on a much larger scale,” explains Lackberg. “We’ve also gone a bit younger with the main actors because we’re hoping it is going to run for a long time.”

Lackberg was not involved with the first films so is relieved to have a more active role in the new series, much more so than Nesbo in The Snowman.

“I am not in charge of the writing team but I am part of the process and part of the process of coming up with ideas,” she explains. “I wanted to talk to Tre Vanner before committing to this, because the books are like my children and I want to hand them over to someone who will take care of them properly. So we had a first meeting and we were all on the same page from the first meeting.”

The Fjallbacka series differs from the traditional Nordic crime novels in that it is part tough crime-investigation story, part relationship drama.

“Half of the books are about their personal relationship and their lives, and that has been the factor in their success around the world,” says Lackberg. “So I really believed we had to emphasise that in the TV films.”

Lackberg has formed a production company with Tre Vanner for the series, “and so I am very involved in the business process”.

“We’ve found a good level of interaction,” she continues. “As an author you have to be able to kill your darlings when you bring them to TV or the movies. You have to cut out plot elements and characters, and you have to trust the people responsible. But I think I’m there to remind them they have to keep the relationship story strong and make sure there is the quirky humour that can get lost in the process.”

The theatrical films will be based on book five (The Hidden Child), and either book six or seven. All the films will shoot in Fjallbacka itself.

Standard bearers

So why does Lackberg believe the world is responding so enthusiastically to Nordic writers?

“It started with the Sjowall and Wahloo books about Martin Beck in the 1980s,” she says. “They really took Swedish crime writing to a new level and so everyone else has to keep to the same standard. There’s something extraordinary in the mood, in the characterisations that a lot of them have in common — a bit gloomy; a bit melancholy. That’s good for a crime novel and I think we are very close to the Anglo Saxon tradition of writing crime stories. We pay a lot of attention to detail and character.”

Nesbo is less opinionated on the subject. “I am not much into Scandinavian crime literature,” he says. “I mean there are many good writers but it’s not my cup of tea. For me, the only thing they have in common is that they are either from Norway, Denmark or Sweden.”

When crime pays: the Nordic norvelists


Arne Dahl

Filmlance International of Sweden and Nordisk Film of Denmark have begun a series of 10 90-minute films based around Sweden’s A-Team, created by Dahl. The series will play on SVT in Sweden and ZDF in Germany before theatrical runs. The A-Team is a highly trained special investigations unit dealing with complex criminal cases in Sweden. Dahl published 11 books about the unit, dubbed the ‘Intercrime’ series.

Lars Kepler

Lasse Hallstrom is to direct The Hypnotist, the first of a planned series of films based on the novels about Detective Inspector Joona Linna by Lars Kepler (the pseudonym of Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril). A theatrical release is scheduled for autumn 2012 for the film, which is being produced by Svensk Filmindustri and Sonet Film. Borje Hansson, Peter Possne and Bertil Ohlsson are producers.

Camilla Lackberg

The author’s Fjallbacka books are being made into 10 90-minute TV films and two theatrical features. Claudia Galli and Richard Ulfsater will play the lead roles as a couple, one a writer, one a police detective, embroiled in murders in a sleepy town. Production outfit Tre Vanner is producing with SVT, Film I Vast and Nordisk Film. TrustNordisk is handling international sales.

Jens Lapidus

Easy Money (Snabba Cash) — the first of Lapidus’ Stockholm Noir trilogy — was a big Nordic hit, and sold to The Weinstein Company for distribution in the US and Warner Bros for a remake. Tre Vanner produced the first, and now two further films are to be produced to complete the trilogy, with the same lead actors, Joel Kinnaman and Matias Padin Varela. Kinnaman plays a young drug dealer in the Stockholm underworld.

Stieg Larsson

The late Larsson raised the Nordic crime game with the phenomenal success of his Millennium trilogy about journalist Mikael Blomkvist and sociopathic hacker Lisbeth Salander. The Swedish films based on the trilogy — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest — were blockbuster hits in Europe and together grossed more than $22m in the US. The US version of Dragon Tattoo, from Sony Pictures and director David Fincher, opens in the US on December 21.

Henning Mankell

Sweden’s Yellow Bird, which went on to film the Larsson books, made its name producing 26 TV films about troubled Ystad police detective Kurt Wallander, starring Krister Henriksson. It teamed with Left Bank Pictures for a six-film English-language series starring Kenneth Branagh. Branagh will shoot three more Wallander episodes this year, while also mulling a theatrical adaptation of Mankell’s standalone novel, Italian Shoes.

Liza Marklund

Yellow Bird and Nordisk Film, which collaborated on the Millennium trilogy, have teamed again for six films from the books by Marklund about Swedish crime reporter Annika Bengtzon, who combines motherhood and a personal life with her investigations. TV4 (Sweden) and ARD Degato (Germany) will co-produce; one of the films, Nobel’s Last Will, is planned as a theatrical release and the rest are aimed for TV and DVD.


Jo Nesbo

Norway’s bestselling writer, Nesbo sealed a deal with Working Title Films for The Snowman, the seventh in his series of novels about hard-drinking, drug-taking Oslo cop Harry Hole. Nesbo has written nine novels in the series, which features some particularly deviant serial killers. Meanwhile his standalone novel about an art thief, Headhunters, has been made into a film by Yellow Bird, which TrustNordisk has sold widely and which screened at Locarno before it heads to Toronto next month.


Reijo Maki

Finland’s Solar Films has started production on six back-to-back features based on Maki’s novels about hard-boiled private investigator Jussi Valtteri Vares, who lives in Turku and has a penchant for beer and women. Antti Reini will play the lead in the films, at least two of which are being planned as theatrical releases. TrustNordisk is selling international rights.


Jussi Adler-Olsen

Danish production outfits Zentropa and Nordisk Film are teaming with ZDF’s production house Network Movie to create screenplays based on Adler-Olsen’s books about Department Q, kicking off with The Woman In The Cage (retitled Mercy in English-speaking territories). Chief detective in the department is Carl Morck, a classic Nordic grouch known in the force for his sarcastic humour and limited people skills. TrustNordisk is handling international sales.


Arnaldur Indridason

Indridason’s bestselling 11-book crime series about haunted, chain-smoking Inspector Erlendur hit the screen in 2006 with Jar City, the third in the series, made into a film directed by Baltasar Kormakur. The film was a box-office hit and won the top prize at Karlovy Vary that year; Kormakur has plans for a Jar City US remake set in Louisiana. Indridason meanwhile wrote the script for Kormakur’s 2008 thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, which he has remade in the US as Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg.