We are constantly looking for the best way to optimise rights and create awareness.
Ten years have passed since Tine Klint launched her Copenhagen-based sales and distribution outfit LevelK. In this exclusive interview, she tells us how her job, her company, and the market for arthouse films have changed with the digital shift.
LevelK is celebrating its 10th anniversary in Cannes. How has your company changed and evolved since you started?
Tine Klint: When I started I was on my own and today we are 15 people working across different units: traditional sales, marketing & PR, financial, non-theatrical and digital. Our passion for arthouse films hasn’t changed, but we’ve evolved in terms of digital focus.
I started the company in 2009, and already in 2011, we became an aggregator for Apple’s ITunes, first in the Nordics, Eastern Europe, then worldwide and now we’re an aggregator for many platforms including Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, Filmstriben, Blockbuster, SF Anytime and other local platforms.
Traditional distribution for arthouse films is now more limited than ever, but there are other and more opportunities for non-theatrical rights. What has developed tremendously as well over the years is the use of B2B, B2C and the use of social media.
What defines Levelk today and makes you stand out on the market?
TK: We specialise in rights optimisation of indie films. We have different labels for feature films, documentaries, family films and TV series. We’re quite unique as we handle international sales, worldwide aggregation and act as a digital partner for distributors in their home territory. On top of that, we’ve just started to do event cinema distribution in Denmark, in cooperation with local partners.
Can you expand?
TK: We are constantly looking for the best way to optimise rights and create awareness. On very specific Danish films and documentaries with limited potential on the traditional distribution circuit, or for niche audiences, we will handle event screenings, in collaboration with selected cinemas, and split rights with partners. For instance we’ve just done our first event cinema release on the environmental documentary Rediscovery by Phie Ambo and partnered with NGOs and schools. DR will air it in the fall. We will do similar event cinema releases on the documentary Fat Front about body positivity, together with TV2 Denmark, and we’ll partner with Blockbuster on a theatrical event release in 2020 of the horror film Breeder. They will handle the VOD distribution and we’ll do theatrical. Both Fat Front and Breeder are on our Cannes slate for international sales.
How has your job as sales agent evolved?
TK: It’s been a complete shift. Today it’s about knowing how to navigate through the rights puzzle and I love it! I’ve always been a geek. I love making that rights puzzle work so you can optimise rights on every level. In the good old days, you would sell all rights to one company in one territory. This still happens, but now there are lots of possibilities to cross territories, platforms, and languages. It totally depends on the project. We can no longer say that all arthouse films, or documentaries, or mainstream films are handled in one way. You have to operate on a project by project basis.
You basically have to find tailor-made solutions for each project…
TK: Absolutely. That does require more time and work therefore we’re very selective with the projects we pick up.
What are the key elements in a package that convince you to board a project?
TK: I like to be blown away by a project or a person’s energy and passion for a project. As we have to work with producers/filmmakers for so many years, it’s important to connect. Then of course we look at the project’s originality, the genre, cast & crew, how it fits our overall catalogue etc.
It seems like finding new voices and supporting young talents have always been a priority for you…
TK: We’ve always been passionate about young and new filmmakers and want to help them get their film out to the world. But today, we do this on a limited scale. It’s always been challenging to find distribution outlets for first features, and now it’s more challenging than ever.
How has your relationship with rights holders changed?
TK: We come on board extremely early on some projects, before the project is even greenlit. This is because we want to discuss as early as possible with producers the best financial and distribution options for their project.
Do you offer advances?
TK: We offer MGs, depending on the financing structure of each project. Through the MEDIA Programme, as a sales agent, we get support if we invest in non-national films, which means that we invest in MGs and get involved earlier in a project to secure the rights.
Are independent producers more realistic on what their films can achieve on the international market?
TK: I don’t think so. Most still don’t realise how much the market has changed. The generational shift has happened, with new ways to watch movies online, and there is no way we will go back to old distribution models. Financing arthouse films is very difficult.
Today who are your regular Scandinavian partners?
TK: On the documentary side we work in Denmark with Made in Copenhagen, Hansen & Pedersen. On films we work with Toolbox, Beo Starling, A Film, Cosmo Film, Nordisk films on projects that are perhaps ‘better suitable’ for us than TrustNordisk. In Finland we have worked with several producers; one being Making Movies. Internationally we have many partners. We handle third party titles where we see a distribution potential.
Some people mention Blockchain as a new secure online distribution solution for independent producers…
TK: Blockchain is about the technology behind some platforms that can potentially offer better solutions for rights holders in terms of transparency and security, but we still have to do the same job in terms of rights handling, delivery and promotion. Some platforms that we work with such as iTunes already offer this transparency and we have an online solution that gives our partners 24h direct access to transaction data and statistics analytics. That’s an extremely valuable tool that we update all the time.
How do arthouse distributors behave in the key territories?
TK: Arthouse distributors tend to be more cost-efficient, they travel less and plan further ahead. So when they go to Cannes, they don’t really shop around. We tend to discuss more about upcoming titles than films completed. A film can very quickly get old. It’s not the same for VOD Platforms. They can schedule their releases differently.
Are markets not that essential anymore?
TK: Yes. Buyers only come to markets for 2-3 days or less than usual, then they follow up by email or phone. I’m really glad that I’ve been in business since 1999 and have built a good network of relations. I know the distributors, their focus, we don’t necessarily have to meet face to face. No one can go everywhere anymore. It’s too costly.
Where don’t you go anymore?
TK: We do go to Cannes, Venice, Toronto, not to the AFM, MIPTV. Then we attend a few specialised markets, like Udine pre-Cannes market, or smaller festivals where you can network with people, see works in progress and pick up films early, like Göteborg and Haugesund. These are must events.
Do you feel the role of festivals has changed as well?
TK: Festivals are important for arthouse films that otherwise would have no visibility at all, and to boost the career of upcoming directors. But to be honest, many A-festival films are too difficult for theatrical distribution. Some do have non-theatrical potential, but then we have to measure the income potential versus time invested in the rights puzzle.
What are the successful films that have kept LevelK on top of the indie sales game?
TK: We’ve had perhaps one major hit a year since we started. On the animation side, we’ve had several successes such as Ronal the Barbarian, The Incredible Story of Giant Pear and most recently the Danish animated Checkered Ninja which is nearing 1 million admissions in Denmark and was sold to more than 50 territories.
On the feature film side, Sami Blood was sold to more than 35 territories for traditional distribution and available world-wide digitally. Last year we did well with some Finnish films such as Klaus Härö’s One Last Deal, sold to more than 22 territories for traditional sales, plus 15 countries for non-theatrical distribution.
On the documentary side, the Finnish films Tale of a Forest and Tale of a Lake did really well, as well as the Danish film Sepideh, first documentary that we released alternatively with the Sundance Film Festival and Apple. Basically we organised an exclusive iTunes launch in the US the day after the Sundance premiere. The film was also sold to 30 distributors for traditional distribution and played in more than 45 festivals.
Non-Nordic films that did well for us include the Australian The Little Death, sold to more than 50 countries after its Toronto presentation, The Rocket, The Teacher, and my very first acquisition Wish You Were Here, produced by Angie Fielder (Lion).
In Cannes, what will you focus on?
TK: Jesper W. Nielsen’s Danish psychological thriller The Exception. It will be released in the fall in the Nordics, we have a promo and will do closed market screenings. It’s a high-end quality independent film, with great female performances from Sidse Babett Knudsen, Danica Curcic among others.
We will start pre-sales on the Danish horror film Breeder by Jens Dahl, based on the script. On the documentary side, we have the Danish film Fat Front, with a group of women challenging traditional beauty standards.
We will also show a promo of the Australian film H is for Happiness starring Miriam Margoyle [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows] and Richard Roxburgh [Moulin Rouge, Breath], which fits perfectly in our family label. Universal will release it locally in 2020.