Pontus Edgren / PHOTO: Marcus Kurn

FLX co-owner on the Swedish production company's recipe for success and full line-up

Exclusive: Pontus Edgren-partner to filmmaker Felix Herngren in FLX, opens up about creating strong IPs, retaining them, working with Netflix and expanding into documentaries and short form TV.

We have a model where we separate financing from the producer responsibilities, and enable them to focus on ongoing productions.

PONTUS EDGREN

Sweden’s production powerhouse FLX (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Quicksand, Love & Anarchy) is enjoying an exceptional triple jackpot on Swedish television with The Bonus Family season 4 on SVT, Solsidan season 7 on TV4/C More and The Unlikely Murderer, which opened at number 1 on Netflix’ Swedish hit list.

Highly attuned to market’s needs, the company co-owned by SF Studios and led by partners Felix Herngren and Pontus Edgren, has fast adapted to the new streaming age, sticking to its motto which is ‘to reach mass with class”, as explained here under by Edgren.

The tight key creative/production team including Head of Drama Elin Kvist, Head of Film Anna Anthony, Head of Comedy & Family Jessica Ericstam, Head of Non-Scripted Jonas Åhlund, has more than 10 feature films and TV series set to open later this year and in 2022. Exciting new plans include an expansion into short form scripted and documentaries.

In this rare interview, managing director Pontus Edgren unveils FLX’s plans.

What does it mean for you to have SVT’s The Bonus Family (Bonusfamiljen) season 4, TV4’s Sunny Side (Solsidan) season 7 and Netflix’s The Unlikely Murder (Den osannolika mördaren) performing extremely well at the same time on three different platforms?
Pontus Edgren:
It just so happened that these three titles launched at the same time, but it makes us very proud to see how they perform. We feel it’s wonderful to reach out to so many people, as FLX’s internal mantra is to reach ‘mass with class’, i.e. to cater for a broad target group with high quality. So having three different shows reaching number one on three different platforms feels pretty good.

It’s also the first time that The Bonus Family and Solsidan are programmed almost at the same time and we get to compare how they perform. Week 42, Solsidan 7 was the top online show in Sweden, and Week 43, The Bonus Family 4 was the biggest online show. So they take turns.

How do you make sure those long-standing brands stay fresh? Do you mix the existing writers/creators with new writers in the writers’ room?
PE:
We do have a combination of senior and junior writers on Solsidan. The senior writers with a previous Solsidan experience make sure the DNA is maintained. But then we have new writers to add fresh, current perspectives. Solsidan has always had the ambition to mirror what’s going on in Swedish middle-class society. We try to bring up what people discuss, the everyday problems they face. And sometimes we try to create “out of the Solsidan box”, to keep people on their toes. For instance, this season, we wanted to make one episode as a musical. But for various reasons we postponed. Perhaps we will revisit that for a coming season.

Another way to keep our original IPs fresh and motivate and challenge everybody involved is of course to expand the brands to other platforms. We did a feature film based on Solsidan the series, and we ‘re doing the same with The Bonus Family.

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FLX co-owner on the Swedish production company's recipe for success and full line-up

Solsidan / PHOTO: Johan Paulin

Today what is your ideal slate in terms of volume, genre formats? Is comedy still the core of your output for film & TV with a few drama thriller series?
PE:
It’s changed quite dramatically since we expanded the scope of what FLX is about. Until 2013, FLX was a pure commercials production outfit; we then added film and series to the offering and for the first few years after 2013, comedy was our core. Today, scripted TV is about 85-90% of FLX’s total turnover, where the largest part of that is drama/thriller/crime.

In a normal year, we produce 6-8 scripted series and 1-2 features. In terms of genre, yes comedy is our ‘legacy’ and background. We want to maintain our position as the leading comedy producer in Scandinavia and we produce at least 2-3 comedies and 1-2 dramedies a year. But today, other scripted genres like drama, thriller, crime dominate our slate both in terms of turnover and number of projects. Those include Quicksand, Blinded, The Unlikely Murderer etc.

You do have an on-going relationship with Netflix since late 2018, driving your high-end production output…
PE: Yes we’ve produced 5 - probably soon 6 - different Netflix originals productions in the last three years, of which one dramedy and the rest being crime/thrillers.

With your amazing track record, you must be the first port of call for many broadcasters and streamers. How do you balance the Netflix all rights type of deal with traditional distribution split right model?
PE:
FLX has its own staff-writers and directors, so developing our own IP is a strategy for us, and naturally, we want to retain those IPs.

At the same time there are strong upsides collaborating with global US streamers like Netflix. Firstly they release the shows globally. It’s interesting for FLX and the creators/talents we work with to get that fantastic international reach.

Secondly, they fully finance immediately, and have a short process to greenlight. It means that they put a lot of trust in the production company and team behind every production. You could say they trust people over finished scripts. So instead of having 3-4 years to a 50% chance of greenlight, you have maybe 2-3 months to a 95% chance of greenlight. This really motivates people in the business. You get to work 100% focused with one series and you know that the series will happen. Sometimes you just have to be careful that the time-plan is not too short.

Thirdly the American streamers often know what they want, they are clear in their communication and their executive production adds to the quality of the projects.

But the downside is that they often take all rights, so you do need to continue to work within the traditional model to monetise the licensing of your rights…
PE: Our basic ambition is that most of the ideas we invest in can be picked up by any client (even if all clients say they want to be “totally unique”). We don’t decide at an early stage, if it is a retained IP or a streaming production.

It’s also important for us to have a larger client-base. Five years ago, we had two clients on the scripted side. Now we have eight. This is a healthy development, which allows us to balance the risks, so that it doesn’t hurt too much when a production is discontinued or moved forward. 1-2 productions may represent 50-70% of your scripted turnover so we are in a sensitive industry with clear ups and downs, and you want as much as possible to have an even flow and be a secure employer. Therefore, it’s a great development to have more clients to work with.

To summarise, FLX has a balanced strategy where we on one hand, create our own IP and try to retain that (Bonus Family, Solsidan, Blinded, all of our features to date like Day by Day, Bert, Comedy Queen etc), and on the other hand, we have adapted to the Netflix-model in several projects where the process and ownerships differ.

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NEWS

FLX co-owner on the Swedish production company's recipe for success and full line-up

The Unlikely Murderer / PHOTO: Johan Paulin, Netflix

So far you haven’t worked with Viaplay…
PE:
We start shooting a Viaplay production in March and we have another three going for greenlight soon. They are very aggressive and we love that a Scandinavian-based streamer is going up against the international giants.

How much have you expanded your infrastructure and manpower to adapt to the booming demand for content?
PE:
Going back to 2013 when we initiated the expansion, we were 4-5 people at FLX. Now we’re around 30 full-time employees, but work with several hundred freelancers at any given time. We have six different genre units: TV drama, TV comedy, Non-scripted TV, features, commercials/branded content and finally FLX Future.

We have a model where we separate financing from the producer responsibilities, and enable them to focus on ongoing productions. And we have genre heads who support and collaborate with the producers and clients to push the creative ambition level of each project.

What is FLX Future?
PE: It’s a new strand where we work with new talent within the scripted TV segment to make shorter TV series of 6-8 x 12-22 minutes per episode, with slightly lower budgets. We started six months ago, and now have three productions going. We felt there was a demand for these types of series and it is a great opportunity to support and build new talent. C More’s upcoming comedy Likea for instance is an FLX Future series.

Are you also going to ramp up your non-scripted output?
PE:
Today, we produce 4-5 non-scripted programmes per year for TV and have currently 3 documentaries in production. This is a genre that we feel highly motivated to explore further.

For any new venture or platform, in addition to analysing demand, we ask ourselves: do we have the drive and the personal passion for it? And the documentary genre definitely has fans within FLX.

When exactly did you start developing a strong documentary slate and when will you announce the projects?
PE:
We started perhaps a year and a half ago and we start quite small. We will probably announce the first titles within the next 3-6 months.

What’s the next step? English language productions?
PE:
We’ve been in discussions around English-language projects several times the past few years. But the context and momentum have to be right, the idea has to be right as well as the co-producers etc.

And I think the “hip-factor” of producing in English is not as high as before. With local series today, we do reach out to global audiences and communicate with fans from all over the world. With our local titles we also continue to build interesting new relationships with European, US distributors and partners.

In fact, we’d probably rather produce a local language show that becomes a global hit like Squid Game or Casa de Papel.

Also, when we invest in projects, we want to see them come to life. We don’t really shop around for volume. We try to focus on the projects that we truly believe will happen, and we aim for maybe a 70-80% greenlight hit rate for each project that we take into our early phase of development. Having a momentum and sense of urgency in each project is a formidable motivator for everybody involved.

Can you detail your upcoming productions?
PE:
On the film side, we have Sanna Lenken’s Comedy Queen lined-up for a premiere via SF Studios early 2022. Then Day by Day directed by Felix Herngren, scheduled for Q1 2022. We also have the feature film spin off of The Bonus Family, scripted/directed by Felix Herngren and co-written by Moa Herngren, likely to be released later in 2022.

In terms of TV drama, there is Netflix’s Anxious People directed by Felix Herngren, soon to premiere, then we have an Untitled psychological true crime thriller [earlier known as The Dark Heart] directed by The Guilty’s Gustav Möller, written by Oskar Söderlund [Snabba Cash]. It is commissioned by Discovery+, together with Vi i villa based on a novel by Hans Koppel, directed by Henrik Schyffert [Solsidan. Run Uje Run].

Within returning seasons, we have C More’s Blinded season 2, and Netflix’s Love & Anarchy season 2, slated for later in 2022.

Among the YA short format scripted, we have the comedy Likea created by Vera Herngren and Felicia Danielsson for C More, and other projects to be announced at a later date.

You told me last year that you had bought the rights to the book ‘The Herd’ about Sweden’s Covid-19 strategy, written by Swedish investigative journalist Johan Anderberg…
PE:Yes, we hope to make a deal shortly with the intention to start shooting a year from now.

RELATED POST TO : PRODUCTION / FILM/TV / SWEDEN