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Content Nordics On Demand C21 Digital Screenings

Norwegian Film Institute

Programming Profile

Northern exposure


Norwegian content has been in high demand on the international market for over 10 years now, with NRK miniseries 22 July recently winning a Prix Europa and kids drama Zombielars awarded a Rose d’Or. To coincide with C21’s Content Nordics On Demand event this month, the Norwegian Film Institute’s Ståle Stein Berg reveals how the body helps local producers and outlines how Nordic content can stay relevant and address diversity.


Since 1955, the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI), backed by the government to promote the local screen sector, has helped domestic producers get greenlit projects over the line. When a creator reaches an agreement with a broadcaster or streamer to develop a show, the NFI will match its contribution to the development process.


Ståle Stein Berg, film commissioner, feature films and drama series at the NFI, feels this strategy has contributed establishing a high bar for Norwegian content in recent years.


“The producer needs to have an agreement in place, so in that way we guarantee that our funding goes to the highly sought-after projects and that our production rate is high. We only give production support to a few projects each year, selected after assessment of the artistic quality of the project. We allocate between NOK35m and NOK40m [US$4.2m – US$4.8m] to this each year. We contribute less than 20% of any overall budget, and yet we’re still an important financier in the Nordic market,” he says. A show’s money-making potential is important, but Berg is more concerned with promoting high-quality Norwegian content.


Ståle Stein Berg, NFI

The institute also supports up to two projects per year as part of a talent programme, helping new writers and creatives to develop their concept and shoot a pilot. This method increases the likelihood that projects will be picked up by global buyers and ensures a steady flow of new voices to the business, but Berg feels the institute can always do more.


“We want to be more ambitious in supporting the development of stories on the whole. That means allocating more funding to the early development stages in order to get more input from the buyer further down the line,” he says. “If we put more money into the beginning of the process, we’ll end up with more robust series that will travel better.”


The NFI’s contribution is more than monetary, with the institute also facilitating meetings with buyers and other contacts to create opportunities for coproductions, for example. The biggest market for Norwegian shows is Germany, while the UK and France have become increasingly involved in Nordic content in recent years. Berg says he is always on the lookout for new markets for Norwegian content and has confidence in the country’s output of high-end drama series.


“We want to be more ambitious on the international scene, and the knowledge that we can be is fuelling our creativity and desire. Early Norwegian successes like Lilyhammer have made producers want to emulate that, and it’s great to see that we can keep it local.


“Norsemen [the NRK comedy series which is available on Netflix internationally] started out as an in-joke more than anything else, and at first it seemed really domestic. But it has developed into this massive international success, and there’s a way we express ourselves that is relevant to multiple audiences worldwide.”


Mood Reel, Norwegian Drama 2021
Mood Reel, Norwegian Drama 2021

Nordic content has been highly popular on the international stage for the last decade with its trademark bleak landscapes and brooding protagonists. In recent years, however, countries like Turkey, Spain and Israel have gained prominence on the global drama market by offering almost the opposite to Norwegian content – melodrama. Despite this, however, Berg is sure Norwegian shows can stay relevant.


“We just have to stay specific – staying Norwegian and trusting in our process is key. There’s a universal value to something that’s very specific and personal, and we just have to keep developing it. That’s what’s going to help us expand even more.”


Some Norwegian shows have found international success by blending local flavour with globally appealing elements, such as the English language. The aforementioned Lilyhammer starred US actor Steve Van Zandt (The Sopranos) as a former New York gangster forced to flee to Norway, a storyline that helped the show become internationally successful. Berg cites Lilyhammer and Beforeigners producer Rubicon as a company that can make “high-concept ideas that travel.”


Other Norwegian shows have provided original takes on the crime/thriller genre, such as Exit (Fremantle Norway for NRK) and the upcoming Furia (coproduced by Monster Scripted and Germany’s X Filme for Viaplay and Germany’s ZDF).


Delete Me
Delete Me

Norway has long been known for crime thrillers and procedurals, but the country has recently experienced a boom in teen drama, a wave that began with 2015 series Skam. The show aired for four seasons on Norway’s NRK1 and has been adapted in France, Germany, Spain and other countries. Again, Berg attributes the show’s success to its local touch.


“Skam was about teenage girls in Oslo – an extremely narrow scope. But at the same time, it was relevant to any 16-year-old kid anywhere in the world. It was a benchmark for a Norwegian series trying to reach out to a certain group and it’s had a ripple effect.”


That ripple effect can be seen in the wave of teen dramas that have followed Skam since its first season. Also revolving around teen girls, Delete Me (produced by Einar Drama for Viaplay) focuses on cyberbullying, while comedy drama Lovleg (Rubicon TV for NRK) centres on a 15-year-old girl who has to move to a remote coastal town. These shows exemplify the notion that one character’s experience can resonate all over the world, no matter how specific the focus.


Another recent Norwegian youth series making waves rather than ripples is Rod Knock (Fenomen TV for NRK), which has aired for two seasons so far and won seven Norwegian TV industry awards in May. The NRK show is about Norwegian teenagers who are obsessed with cars, reflecting a real phenomenon in the country. German distributor Beta Film recently acquired the global rights to Rod Knock outside Scandinavia, and Berg believes the show will be the next big youth series to come out of the region.


Rod Knock
Rod Knock

“When NRK does something, everybody follows to try to compete with it,” he says. “They’ve raised the bar for teen drama with Rod Knock and are just about to [confirm a] third season. By being specific, the show has become more relevant to a bigger audience. The show depicts what it’s like to be a young person these days, and the scriptwriting is done with authority. Our region’s producers and writers have become a lot more confident at doing this recently, because they’ve seen that it works. Anyone can pick up on that.”


As well as keeping an eye on Norwegian content’s international success, the NFI also monitors the scene in its own back garden, where, like in most of the rest of the world, streaming is increasingly dominating.


“NENT Group’s streamer Viaplay is building and has been for quite some time, as has Discovery Norway’s streamer Discovery+,” says Berg. “But ultimately, everyone is responding to Netflix at the moment in one way or another. It’s actually making local players more ambitious and more focused on reaching target groups.


“The methodical work, like developing a profile for your company, is also improving. Discovery Norway, for example, has set the bar for comedy in Norway; not everyone wants to compete with that – but those who do want to make a mark with comedy in Norway will have to. They have to work really hard to get the same success, so it only builds competition.”


Look To Norway
Look To Norway

Viaplay is looking to develop itself to be able to compete with Netflix on a local level, and broadcasters across the region are doing the same thing. Berg predicts that streaming will eventually take over, saying that Norway is already a very digital society that accepts the on-demand medium. Additionally, an awareness of the sparseness of the country’s population has led to a government drive to connect even the most remotely located people to the internet.


Meanwhile, the NFI is expecting big changes to the Norwegian industry’s diversity. The institute’s action plan is inspired by that of UK counterpart the BFI, and Berg is keen to set standards for representation in the future.


“We want to set standards for our contribution to development and production and we’ve come up with a very ambitious action plan. We’ve made diversity a priority criterion this year, so any project that goes through artistic assessment has to account for the diversity standards. This stimulates producers and writers to go out and look for more diverse stories,” he says.


“Everyone around the world needs to take the artistic risk and be more curious. Wisting star Amy Black Ndiaye developed her upcoming series The World is Mine, together with production company Monday Scripted, in the talent programme mentioned earlier. She was already an established writer but the programme gave her the opportunity to refine a risky project to a level where others could commit to it. That means our scheme is worth it.”