Q&A: SF president and CEO Rasmus Ramstad

Film has been the lifeblood of the Svensk Filmindustri (SF) for 95 years. Now, film industry veteran and long time SF group topper Rasmus Ramstad says SF is upping its game on the TV side with the launch of new TV drama division Sonet Television.

Q. We’ve seen over the last few years that film is no longer automatically the first window that drives everything else.

A. Yes. Absolutely. Film is still critical both artistically and financially but TV has now become enormously important, part of the reason our mission in Cannes is to announce our new television division, Sonet Television.

Q. So aside from the launch, what’s your mission on the TV side here in Cannes? 

A.  We’re here to talk to co-producers and interest them in working with us on high quality drama which will be Sonet Television’s main brief, if you will.

Q. There’s plenty to interest them, if your history is any indication. SF Group, since you came aboard in the early 90’s, has become one of the most profitable divisions in its mother ship, the Bonnier Group.

A. Yes, we consistently do all right but I credit it with a mix of production talent and distribution savvy, plus we work with great people.

Q. You’ve already had Sonet Film under the SF Group wing for many years, and it’s worked with some of the top talent not only in Scandinavia but across the globe, Bille August and Lasse Holstrom among them.

A. Yes, We’ve worked with film veteran Peter Possne at Sonet Film for many years and he will, of course, be heading up Sonet Television. His track record is unparalleled when it comes to tapping the best talent in the region and sometimes beyond.

Q. But this is not something new, this venture into TV. SF as a company has historically been involved in mini-series, limited TV series and films made for TV?

A. That’s right but this time around we are seriously stepping up our game. We can see that high- quality drama is really starting to do very well on prime time TV, both pay and free. Audiences are increasingly willing to and, in fact, are demanding high quality bespoke content.

Q. HBO has built its reputation on this concept?

A. Absolutely. And the entrance of companies like Sundance TV, and even Hulu and Netflix into scripted entertainment has pushed up interest considerably.

Q. So what will this be about, this new company?

A. As you pointed out, we have done this before, with the original Wallander series and others, but not with the kind of budgets we are going to bring to the table this time around.

Q. What kind of money are we talking about?

A. Our TV series will regularly run around Euro 8-10 million per series depending on the format. And then 1864 which we're co-financing with Miso Film and is now shooting in the Czech Republic, has a Euro 23 million budget. So the average budget could run upwards of Euro 10 million. 

Q. Will Sonet Television be about full TV series, limited series, mini-series or 90 minute TV movies coupled with a film release, as has been done in the past?

A.  It will cover the whole gamut of TV formats within high quality drama but we will be sticking with high quality drama. We won’t be doing TV-formats like American Idol or reality shows.lassamaja

Q. Language has been somewhat of a barrier internationally but the success of The Killing and Borgen, internationally, as an example, seems to have changed all that.

A. We’ve seen over the last couple of years that our local language fare appeals to a much wider audience. In fact, Wallander, one of the projects we were involved in from the very beginning many years ago, was very successful on the international marketplace in the original language.

Q. The remakes with Kenneth Branagh were successful as well? 

A. Oh, absolutely but we discovered that people were more than willing to see this series and others in the original language and in some cases, they preferred it.

Q. So is it that audiences no longer care if they see subtitles or that they simply prefer the original product rather than a remake that is tailored to the tastes of one particular target group? As an example, an Anglo American target group?

A. I think it could be a question of cultural relevance. Quite often the greatness of a work of art or a programme or film is inextricably tied to the fabric of the culture in which it is borne. We see this all the time in books, in film. If you have someone with the talent of Henning Mankell, as an example, on which the Wallander series is based, the atmosphere he creates is part of what makes Wallander such an interesting character and atmosphere is tied to some degree to the particular region of Scandinavia, southern Sweden, where this character, Wallander, lives.

Q. We’ve also seen that there is more willingness to finance such productions, even coming from the US. Will the SF Group or Bonnier be doing the financing or will you be seeking partners outside the Nordic territories?

A. We will work with different financing strategies depending of what is the most logical strategy for each project. New players like NetFlix could also be possible partners along with local TV stations and international TV channel distributors.

Q. SF is 95 years old this year but it’s collection of film partners today shows it is continuing a tradition of working and collaborating with some of the world’s most talented filmmakers?

A. We’re proud of that tradition, I must say. Currently we collaborate with August, Halstrom, Kjell Sundvall, and many others, all with amazing talent and credentials. Many of the Nordic region’s greatest directors are also very intrigued by the opportunities that TV now offers them, artistically, in terms of international reach and other ways.lassehalstrom

Q. So you collaborate with local producers in Sweden and Denmark, some who have considerable cachet outside of their territories. Yellow Bird, Memfis, and Sweetwater in Sweden, Nimbus, Waterfront, Miso in Denmark and Motion Blur, Cinenord and Filmkameratene in Norway. Will you be tapping this talent for the new TV production division?

A.Yes. Our mission will be to work together to bring as much synergy as possible with and from our partners when we build our TV division. Some of these partners like Miso Film and Filmkamaratene are already in the TV-production business.

Q. Is there the willingness on the part of the really big talent now in Scandinavia to work on TV whereas they might earlier have only done film?

A. It’s been global trend for a number of years, including in Scandinavia. The prestige of TV drama has increased dramatically for the whole creative sector as TV channels around the world realize the importance of high quality drama. There is also a clear trend among consumers that TV series are much more sought out in SVOD services and traditional linear TV.

Q. How much co-production do you intend to get into to finance these projects? I see that 1864 is a Euro 23 million project shooting in the Czech Republic with Ole Bornedal directing. Is this the kind of thing that you intend to get into in the future?

A. All of our projects will be different but our focus is of course to always bring in solid financing, and to find a structure that enhances the quality and value of the project.

Q. In Cannes what are you looking forward to? What would you call a big success?

A. We are hoping for big success with theatrical movies like Mortal Instruments which we bought last year in Cannes. We just screened it. The market is becoming more polarized and the big films become bigger while the medium films struggle. And then we always hope to find the new Kings Speech or Slumdog Millionaire in the more specialized area.

 

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Captions:  Top right,  Produced by Svensk Filmindustri and to be released in 3Q, LasseMaja's Detective Agency - Von Brom's Secret. Copyright 2013 AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photography Frederik Hjertling.

Captions:  Middle right,  The Hypnotist. My Life As A Dog Oscar nominee and multiple award winning lenser Lasse Halstrom is among the directors who will be working under Sonet Television's new high quality drama shingle. The Hypnotist (2012) is Halstrom's first Swedish language film in 25 years. Copyright The Hypnotist 2012 AB Svensk Filmindustri, Sonet Film, and Filmpool Nord. Photography by Frederik Hjertling.

Captions: Bottom of page: Waltz For Monica. September 2013 release date. Production by StellaNov Film with co-producers Svensk Filmindustri, Film i Väst, Sveriges Television.   Copyright 2013 Nova Film. Photo credit: Jonath Mathew.