Recommendations from Hollywood and European panellists at the Finnish Film Affair include trust your instinct and make films for an audience, any audience. 

The panel ‘Finding Stories and Concepts that travel’ held last Thursday at Helsinki’s mini-market Finnish Film Affair was moderated by Adam Lepzig (former President of National Geographic and senior VP at Walt Disney Studios, founder of Entertainment Media Partners).

Panellists comprised Claudia Lewis (former President of Production, Fox Searchlight Pictures), Mike Runagall (Altitude Films), Laura Munsterhjelm (Actors in Scandinavia) and Mike Goodridge (Protagonist Pictures).

In his introduction, Leipzig stated that independent films need to be unique to stand out on a global market, dominated by studio movies with P&As budgets north of $250m.

Uniqueness can be found in the director’s original voice, or in the script. Munsterhjelm said her clients - including Alicia Vikander - usually board a project first based on the script and casting in the film, then based on the director.

Two internationally-oriented Finnish films by directors with distinctive voices were used as case studies. 

  • Big Game by Jalmari Helander, sold worldwide by Altitude Film Sales Runagall said his company boarded the project because they felt Helander had a particular point of view and could offer a new twist to the action/adventure genre. Together with producer Petri Jokiranta, Altitude turned the director’s idea into a script. Once the key cast was in place, the project was brought to Cannes 2013 where a third of the €8m budget was raised via pre-sales. The financing was completed with gap financing and regional funding from Germany’s FFF Bayern. Another major sale to EuropaCorp US was closed after the film’s screening at Toronto 2014. 
  • Tom of Finland by Dome Karukoski, sold worldwide by Protagonist Pictures. Protagonist’s CEO Mike Goodridge said his company boarded the film because of Dome Karukoski’s strong name and pedigree, very touching script and biopic about iconic figure Tom of Finland.  Producer Annika Sucksdorff said the €4 million project was set up as a typical Scandinavian co-production between Finland (Helsinki filmi), Sweden (Anagram), Denmark (Fridthjof Film), with soft money from national institutes, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, co-financing from Film Väst and IPC.VC. Co-producers from Germany (Neutrinos Productions) and the UK (F&ME) then boarded the project and German regional funding was added. 
According to panellists, elements that can have an impact on a project’s ability to travel include language, cast, genre, well-known IP.

  • Language: English language obviously opens up a film’s potential on the global market, but should be used only organically according to Goodridge. Petri Kemppinen, head of Nordisk Film & TV Fond stressed that the Fund doesn’t object to English language, but only if the story requires it. Nordic films shot in English that were backed by the Fund include Big Game, works by Lars von Trier, Louder than Bombs, and the upcoming Alicia Vikander vehicle Euphoria
  • Cast:  Runagal and Goodridge both stressed the difficulty today for independent films to secure A talent, increasingly turning to TV drama. ”Getting a window for top actors is getting harder and harder,” noted Goodridge. “As distributors, we have to stop looking at actors as key selling points.” “Casting is the biggest problem today,” concurred Runagall. “We are just chasing the same actors who now work as easily for film and TV drama. Casting still helps for pre-sales, but the entire financing model based on key cast is creaking.” Lewis noted that some Hollywood stars want to work with European auteurs, ‘people who are cool and have a unique vision’. Having a combination of stars with European directors is a good hook to create want to see. 
  • Genre: Genre films are about concept and are script-driven, said Runagall. For Goodridge, genre films have great potential in niche markets, but it’s still difficult to get A cast to commit to the genre. 
  • IP:  Former Fox Searchlight Head of Production Lewis acknowledged the boom of Nordic noir, a ‘great arena that help raise financing’, but warned that the best IPs are immediately snatched. Runagall confirmed: “It’s very rare to find IPs that people have missed and the market for literary adaptations is very competitive,” he said. As a conclusion, Goodridge underlined the revolution with streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, that have been major game changers on the market. “Today we have to focus even more on what the audience wants.” Munsterhjelm said that 20 years ago when she set up her company, it was extremely difficult to make a living as an agent in the Nordic region. But five years ago, the market finally turned and today people are knocking at her door. “My advice is keep on going and fulfil your dream”, she said. Lewis and Runagall both added: “Listen to your gut instinct and be willing to take risks.”