At Tallinn, Beta Film and ZDF Studios share their production and distribution challenges, and new joint-venture shows
- The case-study panel zoomed in on how the two German companies turned from competitors into allies and began working together on ambitious new projects
On 21 November, as part of Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event, the Nordic Hotel Forum’s Capella hosted a panel titled “Case Study: Rivals Becoming Friends – A New Trend?” The talk comes at a time when production and financing models are shifting, and more specifically, it focused on how Beta Film and ZDF Studios began collaborating on new projects through their joint venture Intaglio. The two representatives speaking at the panel were Mirela Nastase, of ZDF Studios, and Veronika Kovacova, of Beta Film.
First, Nastase explained how ZDF is gradually moving from a gap financing-based model to an executive production-based one: “This is where we are. Our core business is still gap financing, but today, we’re very much a key partner that arrives early on, and which works on development, co-production and on a very strategic distribution. [...] We’re not your sales guys any more; we’re your friends, your partners.”
Kovacova explained how Beta owns different companies spread all over Europe, and all of them enjoy great freedom and work independently. Moreover, Beta Film commits to creating a support system which connects these firms with other producers and encourages the sharing of expertise. “We’re more open to working with third parties, as most of our portfolio comes from them,” she pointed out.
Nastase added how ZDF Studios provides support for development through advice, letters of commitment and, obviously, funds – normally handed out in return for a first-option agreement. She also shed light on the work of ZDF Studios, which is often unclear to other players in the industry. She defined it as a “private commercial arm, 100% owned by the broadcaster” which distributes ZDF original productions, comes on board co-productions, and sells and buys content independently. The team seeks out shows that can establish new creative models and potentially disrupt the current one, such as the Ukrainian series Hide and Seek.
Kovacova later touched upon some projects she has been working on, including the 5x100-minute show Maria Theresa, which she defined as “a good example of collaboration bringing together financial and creative resources”. Directed by Robert Dornhelm and initially developed by Czech Television, it later involved other players, such as ORF and ARTE. A writers’ room with Austrian and Czech writers was set up, but it took time to build trust among them. In this sense, the distributor was the glue between the financiers, who gained confidence thanks to the series’ promising “package”. The show travelled widely, and hit territories such as the UK and the USA. Another production she touched upon was The Silence, a crime-drama on the human trafficking of girls in Eastern Europe, based on a book written by a Croatian journalist. HRT and Ukraine’s Star Media were the first partners involved in the project, and Beta Film boarded it through its controlled company Drugi Plan, managing to bring ARTE along for the ride as well. The second season is currently in production.
Nastase touched upon her commitment to working on more foreign shows, including those from the CEE region (“at least one every year”), and spoke about ZDF Studios’ work on the Spanish show Boundless [+see also:
series profile], in which the group played an important role in siding with the producers and giving them leverage when negotiating with the Spanish pubcaster and the streamers – in this case, the Spanish, US and Western European divisions of Amazon. “Everything worked out, and we also gap-financed. In this case, we also handled sales, mostly at the post-production and post-financing stages.”
In the last part of the talk, Nastase and Kovacova focused on their joint venture, the Berlin-based company Intaglio, which commits to co-producing and co-distributing English-language, international event titles. They described it as an “arranged marriage” set up around the figure of Game of Thrones showrunner Frank Doelger (see the news).
Of the projects currently in the works, two are already in production – namely, the eco-thriller The Swarm (“A huge co-production involving unlikely partners such as ZDF, France TV, RAI, Viaplay and Hulu in Japan”, set to premiere in 2023 – see the news) and another show titled Concordia. Two more series are in development.
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