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Black Nights 2021 – Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Lifting the lid on the challenges of financing films and TV series at TV Beats

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Representatives of smaller and larger European studios discussed what they have learnt while working on their recent slates of productions

Lifting the lid on the challenges of financing films and TV series at TV Beats
l-r: Katharina Suckale, Nadia Zaionchkovska and Evelin Penttilä during the discussion

On 20 November, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s TV Beats industry strand hosted a panel entitled “Production Point of View on Film vs TV Series: Financing, Bureaucracy, Development & Lessons Learnt”. The event saw the participation of Evelin Penttilä, of Estonian outfit Stellar Film; International Affairs, Sales and Co-productions executive at 1-2-3 Production Nadia Zaionchkovska; and Katharina Suckale, of German studio Bombay Berlin.

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Suckale talked through her studio’s work on several features and TV series, many of which are co-produced with India and other Asian countries. Specifically, her projects strive to achieve diversity on screen and often defy mainstream production dynamics. For example, Sudhanshu Saria’s 2015 feature Loev (now available on Netflix) was shot in secret because in the locations where filming took place, homosexuality was considered a crime at the time. For this reason, the related crowdfunding campaign also promoted the film without going into too much detail. She later defined Vaibhav Abnave’s Maunraag (2013) as the “very first independent, ‘hard-arthouse’ film” that the company produced and admitted that it “couldn’t be sold anywhere”.

Penttilä founded her studio in 2015, the same year when she worked on her first full-length production, Mihkle Ulk’s drama Zero Point [+see also:
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. The movie was later turned into a TV series, as the team and the backers realised that they wanted to “maximise” the story’s narrative potential. Said experiment achieved mixed results, as “the feature sold to Netflix and the series did not”. More generally, Penttilä explained that financing resources for local series in Estonia are quite limited, and her involvement in such productions has been mostly through the country’s cash-rebate programme. While she considers Estonia’s backing insufficient to produce content that is easy to export and called for further financial support, she also mentioned the commendable example of another small Northern European country, Iceland, where creators can benefit from a funding system that is about four times bigger than that of the Baltic republic. She also stressed a stronger, much-needed focus on quality for broadcasters, since many adopt a strategy for which they need a large amount of content “to fill the screens”. Speaking about successful narrative formulas, she added: “It’s very obvious that series are here to stay and are a format that isn’t going to disappear. When looking at the different series produced all over the world, the winning ones are those that take something very local and transform it into something bigger.”

Zaionchkovska spoke briefly about her career and explained how 1-2-3 Production is a company that is part of Gazprom-Media, handling “the full life cycle of content” thanks to a team of creatives and producers who have covered the most diverse roles within the industry. 1-2-3 Production currently stages ten titles per year, while having marked about 40 on its “white board”. The Moscow-based studio’s recent slate of productions includes To the Lake, Dead Mountain, Six Empty Seats and An Ordinary Woman. Notably, the studio is also working on Netflix’s first Russian original, Anna K.

While for features, backing might be provided by the Ministry of Culture and some other federal funds, Russia’s growing series market presently sees six platforms and Netflix “aggressively producing originals”, so one might want to approach one of them to seek funding. The executive argued that at the moment, there is a sort of bidding war for top talents, exclusives and first-look deals, so finding funds for a story that is to some extent relatable for Russian audiences is quite feasible. Without said link, however, many players wouldn’t be open to producing or co-producing, but would prefer to just acquire finalised content instead.

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