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Black Nights 2021 – Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Exploring the partnership opportunities between Estonian and British producers at Tallinn

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After an introduction about the two countries’ main funding options, Estonian and British producers shared their experiences on joint projects, such as Undergods and Sentinel

Exploring the partnership opportunities between Estonian and British producers at Tallinn
l-r: Ben Dalton, Pippa Cross, Ben Pullen, Matt Wilkinson and Ivo Felt during the discussion (© Janis Kokk)

On 24 November, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival hosted an industry panel entitled “UK Focus: How Does Collaboration Really Work?”. In the first part, the panel focused on the different funding and co-production opportunities offered by the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Estonian Film Institute; in the second, Estonian and British producers shared their experiences of collaborating on joint projects. The event was moderated by Screen International reporter Ben Dalton.

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In her contribution, the BFI’s head of Industry and International Policy, Agnieszka Moody, highlighted “two positives” unaffected by Brexit. The first of these was the legal framework for co-production: “We’ve already ratified the revised convention, and it now offers even more favourable terms, lowering the minimal co-production contribution to 10% on bilateral agreements and 5% on multilateral ones, provided that the countries in question have ratified the convention,” she said. The second aspect was related to the UK’s tax incentive, also untouched by Brexit. She later mentioned the importance of the brand-new UK Global Screen Fund, administered by the BFI, wherein minority co-production funding decisions are mostly business- and revenue-driven.

After a few words on the excitement of finally organising a UK focus in person by the Estonian Film Institute’s director, Edith Sepp, the floor was given to the body’s head of Production, Piret Tibbo-Hudgins. She described the Estonian film industry as small but possessing great potential and qualified manpower, and she talked through the different activities handled by the national film agency, such as the production of domestic titles (fiction features, documentaries, shorts and animation), the development of TV series, the making of minority co-productions, and domestic distribution. This year’s production budget accounted for €7 million. With this amount, they usually support five to eight domestic fiction features and around ten feature-length documentaries. The body’s support can reach a maximum of €800,000 for a fiction feature, €900,000 for an animated feature and €150,000 for a feature documentary. Minority co-production funding (€600,000) is open to Estonian co-producers and projects of any genre, and it can cover up to 100% of the Estonian spend, but applications must be submitted before entering production. The average amount for a fiction feature usually reaches €100,000-€150,000 (although this is not set in stone), whilst for a documentary feature, the bursaries often range from €30,000-€60,000.

Later, Film Estonia commissioner Nele Paves talked through the Film Estonia cash rebate (budgeted at €2 million in 2022, applicable to 20%-30% of the eligible costs), the Tartu Film Fund (a regional fund offering a cash rebate to cover 10%-20% of the costs incurred in the Tartu area) and the Viru Film Fund (another regional fund offering a cash rebate to cover up to 40% of the costs incurred in the eastern part of Estonia).

In the second part, Dalton invited up on stage Sophie Venner and Katrin Kissa, who worked together on the UK-Belgian-Estonian-Serbian-Swedish co-production Undergods [+see also:
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, helmed by Chino Moya. Venner explained that the project was initially not supposed to be a co-production, but then it became a UK-Belgian joint effort, and the BFI came on board. Later, the producers found some great locations in Serbia (“where filming is extremely cheap”), Malta and Estonia. The visual effects were handled in Sweden. Kissa pointed out how crucial it is to understand each other’s cultural differences and to build reciprocal trust, and this will apply to any foreign projects coming to Estonia or Estonian crews working for UK/foreign projects. While both producers shared the benefits of the positive outcomes of their collaboration, and acknowledged the help provided by Estonian funding and manpower, they also agreed that learning the intricacies of each other’s production systems is fundamental, and to do this, preparatory work is necessary.

The next round of speakers included producers Pippa Cross, Matt Wilkinson, Ben Pullen and Ivo Felt, who recently worked on Tanel Toom’s sci-fi thriller Sentinel, now in post-production (see the news). Pullen and Wilkison also thought about making the project in the UK only, but once Toom and Felt came on board, “Estonia opened up, and we never looked back; we felt destined to shoot here”, they said. Talking about location scouting, they felt “in safe hands right from the start”, and a tour across the country prior to filming was “an eye-opening experience”.

Cross said that Sentinel was initially conceived as a UK-led co-production, but it then developed into a minority co-production led by Estonia, with the support of Germany’s Kick Film, also in charge of the post, ultimately making the UK the smallest country involved. She praised this type of flexibility that emerged throughout, describing herself and her colleagues as “a bunch of producers working together creatively and financially to get the show on the road”. Speaking about the financing plan, she disclosed that Estonia and Germany contributed, respectively, 43% and 35% of the budget via state funding and equity/pre-sales, whilst the UK accounted for 12% through gap financing and equity, and the remaining 10% was secured through international pre-sales deals.

In the last part, the discussion focused on the making of Ben Parker’s war-thriller Burial. Felt and Wilkinson revealed that they decided to film it in Estonia since they already knew each other, but also owing to the presence of dense forests and (pseudo) post-apocalyptic landscapes. Among other benefits, Wilkinson highlighted the more relaxed testing regime and the lower manpower costs, while the team maintained working practices similar to those implemented in the UK.

The panel was rounded off by a brief Q&A session.

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