sweden taking flight cover feature issue 19
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– . – Sweden Taking Flight – Cover Feature, issue 19

Sweden Taking Flight – Cover Feature, issue 19

Swedish producers Yellow Bird, the team behind the hit Millennium trilogy, reveal how their collaborative business model is reaping international rewards.

Hollywood is used to having things its own way when it comes to the worldwide distribution of feature films, the lion’s share of the box office each year finding its way back to the Tinseltown coffers. But a new breed of overseas producers are tapping into hugely popular local books and real-life stories to create a name for themselves and grab a slice of the pie. Yellow Bird, based in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last few years thanks to two homegrown fiction authors.

The first, Henning Mankell, delivered the iconic police detective Kurt Wallander into their laps. Two successful TV adaptations in Sweden and the UK whetted their appetite for more, which soon came in the form of Stieg Larsson. The journalist completed three Millennium trilogy books before his untimely death in 2004 and didn’t get to see his prose become a publishing phenomenon. Nevertheless, Yellow Bird used a similar groundbreaking template to produce three feature films based on his works that have garnered critical acclaim and serious money for parent company Zodiak Entertainment. Producer Søren Stærmose and business development professional Erik Hultkvist took time out from their Swedish productions and hectic transatlantic deal-making to talk to movieScope about their ascent into the big leagues.

Firstly, can you tell us about the collaborative nature of your work at Yellow Bird?
SOREN STÆRMOSE It depends from project to project who produces and focuses on the finances. We work together locally and discuss the possibilities of getting out into the world with a property we own. We have a talented head of development and other producers who are responsible for the different properties. We ask what kind of property we want to try and achieve and who is most committed to fulfilling the production. We have a strong financing team and an executive producer in Denmark too, who works very hard with [executive producer] Ole Søndberg and [Yellow Bird president] Mikael Wallén.

Has Zodiak given you licence to do what you want to do?
STÆRMOSE That’s what we feel now, absolutely. It helped, of course, with the success of the Millennium trilogy and Wallander. We have proved that we have found our quality niche, whilst also earning some reasonable money for Zodiak, Yellow Bird, the royalty artists involved and the investors who take the risk. Everybody is happy, so far.

sweden2Were you surprised about the success of Wallander? It caught the imagination.
STÆRMOSE It goes hand in hand, because Henning Mankell is a very famous writer and without the success of his books it would have been very, very difficult to have this kind of success. The same thing with Stieg Larsson. I have to be humble here. We have done good films, but without this intense publishing campaign, we would not have achieved it.

When did you approach the estate of Stieg Larsson to adapt the books?
STÆRMOSE It was January 2005, shortly after his death on 9th November, 2004. Our head of development and Ole Søndberg [who founded Yellow Bird together with the writer Henning Mankell in 2003] got a rumour from the publishing company in Stockholm that something very exciting was on its way, so we read the proofs of all three books very quickly. We all very much liked the heroine. She was fresh and different in the crime genre, not a police inspector, but an odd sociopath who had had a very strange path and strength for the fight against men who hit women. We started immediately to try and get the rights. There were other production companies, but we got this property because we were in the middle of Wallander. Though we didn’t offer the most money, we had the security of knowing how to handle a big production and our international network. They talked to Henning and he was very satisfied with the adaptation of his books. It is a fundamental idea for Yellow Bird that we work very closely with our writers.

Did you work on all three scripts at the same time?
STÆRMOSE We decided to make one feature film, plus two 90-minute TV film versions of books two and three. We combined financing from two sources, the TV field and feature film field, with a window for each. We sat down with the scriptwriter for the first script and he thought we could do 90 or 110 minutes, but that was impossible because the book was so rich. We also knew we had to have some kind of collaboration between the writer and the director of books number two and three. I tried to get Niels Arden Oplev to direct all three films, and the writers Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg too, but Niels was not able to do that as he couldn’t stay up here for such a long time due to his family. With our production plan of shooting in continuity, he also couldn’t be so much involved in the edit of book number two, because he had to be on the set.

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