Stefan Baron, (pictured) Co-production Executive at SVT Drama speaks to us about the Swedish public broadcaster's latest hit series Death of a Pilgrim based Leif GW Persson's Palme trilogy starring Rolf Lassg
First of all could you tell us the viewing figures for Death of a Pilgrim (En Pilgrim's död) that premiered last Sunday and a comment on those results?
Stefan Baron: We aired the first of four episodes last Sunday. We got very good reviews and big coverage in most papers, and had an enormous first episode with over 1.8 million viewers which represent a share of over 50%.
There has been a real ‘Palmemania' over the last few months with SVT's own Palme Documentary/TV series, the films Call Girl, Roland Hassel and now Death of a Pilgrim, and the Swedish audience seems to want more of fiction, non-fiction and hybrids celebrating the memory of Sweden's former Prime Minister...
SB: We had obviously thought strategically about the distribution plan for Maud Nycander and Kristina Lindström's documentary Palme - which by the way has reached a phenomenal 300,000 admissions) - which was to be followed by Death of a Pilgrim. What we didn't predict was the controversy around Call Girl which has been slightly negative for the film. But as far as we're concerned, it has stirred the interest on our show. Maybe the Palmemania had an extra boost thanks to the controversy, although it's hard to speculate.
Do you know when the series will air in the other Nordic countries and who is handling international distribution?
SB: We are in discussion with an international sales company for worldwide distribution outside of Scandinavia. The premiere on DR, NRK and YLE will probably be spread between mid-February and Easter.
Your Drama department has undergone a few changes last year, among others with the departure last summer of Peter "Piodor" Gustafsson who was SVT's Commissioning Editor for Drama and Culture. Could you give us an update on how your department is run today?
SB: Yes we've had a few musical chairs and departures going on last year! Let's recap. Our Drama divisions in Stockholm and Gothenburg are the only places in Sweden responsible for producing and co-producing TV drama. Until June last year I was Head of Drama in Stockholm, and Christian Wikander Head of Drama in Gothenburg. Then after June 1st, 2012 Christian took over the Stockholm position while Mette Friberg took over his job in Gothenburg. I have a new role as Co-production Executive which means that I work closely with the Heads of Programmes in finding partners and financing outside of SVT.
Is this position totally new at SVT Drama?
SB: It is indeed a new job. It is intended to create synergies earlier on in the development stage to bring things to the marketplace in a more centralized way. I work very closely as well with Sales and Acquisitions. In parallel I also work temporarily as Commissioning Editor for Sports. Annie Wegelius, Head of Programmes, is currently acting as Commissioning Editor for Drama in replacement of Piodor, but SVT is looking for a new person to fill this position. Meanwhile Annie has also announcement recently that she is stepping down from her job as Head of Programmes and she will be replaced later this year by Martin Österdahl.
Is SVT still concentrating on three areas: long runners (10x60') such as The Bridge, flagpole series such as Death of a Pilgrim and comedies/entertainment for prime time?
SB: Yes our focus is long runners or serial drama (10x60') and we have opened up for the 45 minute formats because some stories are told better in this format. Then there are flagpole series of 3x60', 2x90' or 4x45'. This is the type of format for instance that will benefit from the new pot of money put aside by the government in the new Film Agreement. Comedy/Sitcom is still in our strategy even though we have done very little the last year or so. The reason is that we have restructured our weekend primetime slots and light entertainment has filled that need.
Are you also a supporter of the ‘one vision' concept for serial drama?
SB: We all think of the ‘one vision' but I would call it ‘two visions'. The Scandinavian concept is to have a strong producer together with a strong writer or a couple of writers and then we bring in directors. US series have big teams around show-runners and budgets that we could never match. We work pretty much the same way, with much less money, but it depends on the series. With Real Humans for instance, the first series was written by Lars Lundström alone. In the second season he works with another writer.
Talking about co-producing, are you upping your collaborations within the Nordic region and in the rest of Europe to share costs on quality dramas?
We are always looking into new ways to collaborate with Denmark, Finland and Norway. The second season of the crime series The Bridge produced with DR is on its way and has been filming since October/November last year.
In terms of co-producing in other languages, it's harder but we're happy if people want to come in as co-producers. If you look at many of the Swedish crime series, we have a long tradition of collaboration with Germany, notably with ZDF, on shows such as Wallander, The Condemned, Inspector Winter and Beck. With other types of dramas, it's difficult to get co-production money but what we're doing more and more is to get international distributors involved earlier on. In the case of Real Humans, it was difficult to convince partners to join in before production and SVT took the risk of financing the whole budget together with Matador Film. Our Nordic partners entered as co-producers after we had green-lit the production and Shine International came on board as distributor after they had seen a couple of episodes. With Death of a Pilgrim, we had already concluded the show before signing a deal with an international distributor, although we've been in discussions before we started shooting.
One problem these days is the question of VOD rights. It's complicated and the new way of consuming TV means we have to analyze carefully what we need and can do before we close different deals.
As you mention VoD, I saw that the Swedish Producers Association has agreed in December with SVT on a set of ‘Normal Conditions' for external productions, which discusses the exploitation of works on VoD ...
SB: It's actually a framework that makes it easier for people to understand how we look at the rights and what we're able to pay. Producers of course want to keep more rights for them. We can accept that of course if it makes sense to us as well but it's a matter of looking at the total production cost of a project and on case by case standpoint.
Regarding Real Humans, where are you with Season 2 and who are your financial partners?
SB: We started shooting yesterday Season 2. Shine Group is involved, and hopefully the other public broadcasters in Nordvision DR and YLE will come in on the second season as well. Thanks to Shine's attractive MG, we were able to green-light the project pretty fast. In terms of cast and crew, Lars Lundström who was the head writer in Season one will share this time the writing with rising star writer Alex Haridi (Anno 1790). Harald Hamrell who was the conceptual director on the first show will start Season 2 as well, before a second director takes on from there.
What other major dramas can we look forward to seeing soon on SVT?
After Death of a Pilgrim, we have the 10x60' drama Molanders which was produced by our Gothenburg Drama department. It's about a concert pianist who decides to change his and his family's life by moving out of Stockholm to the small town where he was born. A re-start that doesn't turn out the way they thought. Created and written by Ulf Kvensler and directed by Leif Lindblom, it's a drama with lots of music and comic relief. We have several other projects lined up that I can't mention yet, and Real Humans 2 and The Bridge 2 scheduled for the autumn 2013.
Writtren by Annika Pham