A leading independent film & television group, Beta Film produces, finances and distributes high-end content for the global market.
In this exclusive interview, CEETV's Stanislav Kimchev talked to Beta Film's Managing Director Moritz von Kruedener, the VP International Sales & Acquisitions Veronika Kovacova and Nebojsa Taraba - Producer at Croatia
’s Drugi Plan, part of Beta Film about how the pandemic has affected the company's business; about their new slate of CEE series like The Silence (presented during NEM Dubrovnik), Golden Boy, Anatomy of a Crime; etc. and also about what is the recipe for a successful local partnership.
The pandemic is far from over. How has it affected your production and distribution business? How did you adapt to the new normality?
Moritz: Beta Film combines distribution and production. Distribution is where we come from, it is in our DNA. But independent production companies all over Europe are the now and increasingly at the core of our business, such is the case with Drugi Plan as our partner in the CEE region. Additionally, we engage in our own co-development and co-financing activities. COVID-19 has had most of an impact on the production side; mainly because we had to postpone productions and because they were rendered more expensive than what we planned for. In terms of distribution, COVID-19 hasn´t affected us as much, economically speaking. Less incoming US content meant an increased appetite for European content. Especially the high-end European content traveled much further internationally. Furthermore, the demand for library content increased, increasing our sales in this area.
NEM Dubrovnik is one of the first in-person markets in a long time. What are the main benefits of the traditional events over the digital and virtual ones?
Moritz: The obvious answer is: bumping into people, real conversations, discussions, and developing more creative new ideas. With online meetings of all kinds, the unexpected, the impromptu is almost ruled out by design. One tends to sticks to agendas, with little to no room for thoughts outside of the discussion topics that have been set in advance. That is certainly the most important benefit of in-person, traditional events such as NEM. And meeting and connecting with people is probably one of the most substantial parts of our business.
Recently, you bought a majority stake in Croatian production company Drugi Plan. What was the main strategy behind this acquisition and how did you choose Drugi Plan in particular?
Moritz: Beta stands for close relationships with the best creatives all over Europe. Our goal is to produce the best drama out of Europe, together with the best creatives in front of and behind the camera, involving the best producers, but also those that have the ability to finance and the necessary means to make a project happen. The partnership with Drugi Plan was conceived within this goal in mind. We are always interested in long-term relationships, to extend the potential of production companies by connecting them with other companies of the group, being able to step into projects early in order to co-develop, co-finance, and perhaps make them more successful on an international level.
Nebojsa, how about you? Why did you choose Beta as partners?
Nebojsa: For Drugi Plan it was somehow organically, we reached the point where we needed to go out and we were obviously ready for a partnership as well. We were following Jan Mojto for a while, his view on the industry and idea of what high-end TV production has to be, his idea about European players, creators, talents coming together, to create something new and better.
Moritz: Let me be a little bit more precise. When we started talking, we knew that Drugi Plan had already seen success with Netflix, we recognized their ability to produce for the local and the international market. With Nebojsa, we found someone who is capable of generating and finding funding, also locally. At the same time, he is extremely open minded to all kinds of international relations and co-operations. That's probably the reason why we took this step, both sides, and it seems to be the perfect decision.
You are hosting the world premiere of the new crime series The Silence, which is an international co-production. Tell us more about the project and do you already have deals in place for this new series?
Nebojsa: In short, it is a crime drama series based on the critically acclaimed and great novels written by Drago Hedl, a Croatian journalist. The Silence is based on a true story – not an easy subject, as the story deals with trafficking, sexual slavery, abuse of minors, young girls in this case. A sensitive topic nobody likes to talk about, but which is omnipresent. We wanted to shed a light on that. Those young girls need justice.
We started with HRT, and then, through the development process, we got Star Media on board. They in turn brought on board the Ukrainian-streaming platform Oll.tv, and then Beta joined as international distributor and corporate co-production partner in the German territory. We are very proud, as this is our first proper co-production. We learned a lot in this the process.
Veronika: Our official sales activities for the series will kick off at MIPCOM; The Silence is part of our catalog for a global audience and international clients. What I can already say is that there is interest from a couple of pan-regional players, bigger territories as well.
Moritz: It is a perfect example of the elements we are trying to bring together in order to make something happen, which then can travel internationally. In the case of The Silence, we worked with a strong creative basis out of the local territory: based on the novels by the Croatian investigative journalist, financing came from Croatia and Ukraine. And due to the social relevance and importance of the story, we believe in a global appeal.
Drugi Plan produces The Paper and Success. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? Do you expect more international co-productions in partnership with Beta?
Nebojsa: We have to mention Marjan Alcevski, who really made a great adaptation. With Marjan, we established the proper development team, and then everything went very smoothly and fast. I would say we have an all-star team: our director Dalibor Matanic just won the Panorama Grand Prix at Series Mania for another project. He is really the best from the region.
Speaking of other projects, we are trying to not constantly only concentrate on co-producing in Eastern Europe or Central Europe. We think it's crucial for the Adria region to get the first proper Croatian-Serbian co-production which will hopefully include the public broadcasters, because this is the last thing that should be the breaking point of the regional co-operation. We have a project called Anatomy of a Crime, written by Vuk Rsmovic, the great Serbian script writer and director, and his wife Ana Tomovic, who is a great Serbian dramaturge. We already have Telekom Serbia on board and now we have to find the rest.
We also have a very interesting co-operation with Iceland which we presented at the beginning of this year at the Göteborg Festival. The project was also invited to the Sarajevo Film Festival to represent the Nordics – and there are several other ones we are planning.
Moritz, I’ll get back to you - why is the region so important to your company and are there any new titles you plan to add to your portfolio of CEE projects?
Moritz: We have a long history here in the region, as you know. We believe in the great local content, which needs to be delivered and distributed internationally. HBO’s Burning Bush and Wasteland, both series directed by Oscar nominee Agnieszka Holland, travelled very well internationally and became success stories.
We would love to simply pick up more projects and distribute them internationally. But that's not the way it works today. It is mandatory to enter as partner at a very early stage. We have been successfully distributing out of Russia over the past few years, and we are looking forward to further opportunities. Historical events that have occurred in the CEE region over the last 40 or 50 years are extremely interesting and touching - we would like to tell their stories and spread them into the world.
Maria Theresa is a 5x90’ production and it is worth mentioning as well, because this is an example of real, let's say, co-developing, co-production with partners in Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia, financed and developed out of the region.
We distributed the series very, very successfully. Most recently, the series celebrated a huge success on arte in France and Germany. We recently entered into Rise of the Raven, and it is probably one of the most ambitious projects to come out of the region, initiated by the Canadian producer Robert Lantos. His origins are Hungarian, and he came back in order to produce great international television out of the region. It is too early to name other partners, but this is definitely something that we are very excited about. The story is relevant for the region, as it takes place in Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Serbia, and Austria.
Veronika: Let me add the Serbian coming of age series Golden Boy, which is part of our current lineup. Produced by Serbia’s Fantastika Film, the story is inspired by the life of Serbian Dragan Stojkovic, star at Olympic Marseille in the early 1990ies. It’s a coming of age hero’s journey of a young talented football player who has to find his way through harsh circumstances, drugs and false friends while being targeted by various interests. Most of the creatives included in this project are from Serbia. With its strong local appeal and the high production, the series definitely has a great international potential.
How was the Croatian market affected by the Corona crisis and the earthquakes?
Nebojsa: I can say that during the first wave of COVID-19, we were still doing quite well. However, the earthquake was an unpleasant experience. On the other side, we were lucky. We were just finishing post-production of the third season of The Paper and preparing for the start of production of The Silence. Actually, there were only a few projects we had to stop in the middle of production because of COVID-19. In addition, the Ministry of Culture, together with the National Film Fund, created a small but sufficient fund for those colleagues affected. Mostly the feature films were affected and then they somehow managed to cover expenses, which was great.