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Opinion and Insight

Swedish Production: Ahead of the Global Curve

LBB’s Alex Reeves gets a status update from the Swedish production community in 2017

Swedish Production: Ahead of the Global Curve

Stockholm may be built on 14 islands, but it’s definitely not isolated from today’s globalised economy. Asking Swedish production companies about the changes they are evolving to deal with provokes answers all too familiar to anyone who works in advertising in 2017. Demand for moving image is generally increasing, but it’s spread over a wider range of platforms and formats. Sweden, like so many markets, is seeing a shift away from 30-second TV commercials. Unlike many, their sentiment towards this change is overwhelmingly positive, though.

“It’s an exciting time for a production company to work with these formats,” says Tom Rickard, Executive Producer at Hobby Film. “I’m sure that some of the platforms we’ll be making films for in the near future haven’t even launched yet. And once they do, the industry will jump to it and keep us busy finding effective and innovate ways to tell stories that are consumed in an entirely different fashion than we’re used.” 

“I don’t think it’s exclusive for Sweden but we are producing more and more material for other platforms than TV,” says Cornelia Opitz, Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association. “For production companies that means that the films are often longer. Up to three or four minutes is not unusual. The social media platforms also need different content and formats to fit the specific platforms. This together with the explosion of branded content productions means we are producing more material, which is fun. The challenge is to make it happen within the same budget.”

Brett Richards, Founder and Creative Director at Brokendoll speculates about some causes behind this shift: “The declining viewership of linear TV due to direct competition from new content such as Netflix, the rise of vloggers, branded content, and cheaper software and hardware in post. It’s not a media landscape that I recognise from 20 years ago.”

“The continued shift to digital and online communications is exciting,” as far as Liz Dussault, Executive Producer at Folke Film, is concerned. “It expands not only the audience [we can] reach but also the type of storytelling we craft, be it for a five-minute online film or a 10-second one. We see fewer traditional TVCs, which can be liberating - to not always be relegated to static 30 second storytelling.”

Liz is also excited about the opportunities for companies that once only produced moving image to step beyond these limits and tell stories interactively. This year Folke Film produced an interactive film experience with their director Filip Nilsson and CP+B Sweden for Swedish Radio’s 40th anniversary. To create a true snapshot of Sweden they filmed 25 locations throughout the country simultaneously for the same 24-hour period so it could serve as living, breathing portrait of Sweden in real time.  

Similar to many other markets, Sweden has seen agencies take more production in house and post production making its own forays into production. But more clients are also turning to production houses directly, working with freelance creatives or none at all. “We see quite a few direct client requests as well as requests from media agencies,” says Mats Olofsson, Executive Producer at Atlas Scandinavia, “which is more often than not affecting the creative process when compared to dealing with an advertising agency.”

Complaining about low budgets is a passtime that unites producers the world over and Sweden aren’t excluded. “It’s a small market,” explains Mats, “so the budgets tend to be smaller for productions aimed at a national distribution.” But they make it work.

“Read any industry outlet over the last few years and you’ll of course have millions of articles on the decline in budgets,” says Tom. “It’s something that is here to stay and we need to accept that. The reality is that small-budget productions can be really great if the creative matches the budget. I think the industry, Hobby included, still gets caught up in the excitement of production bells and whistles. But simplified productions, that match the available funds, can result in some strong, effective films.” One no-frills film Hobby made with Sebastian Hedin and Achtung for Adobe illustrates this well. 

Tom also draws our attention to a series of films they made at their daughter company, Hobby Factory, that picked up an award at Epica:

Maybe none of these problems sound all that new, but Brett, an Australian who lives and works in Stockholm, believes that they are felt more sharply in Sweden. “Sweden is a renowned early adopter, tester and creator of internet technologies,” he says. “Spotify is Swedish, Skype is Swedish, PewDiePie is Swedish. The population is super connected via broadband. This all results in rapidly declining TV viewership that results in less money for the good ol’ 30 sec spot. I don’t think the Swedish situation is unique - the transformation is just further along.”

Tom, also an Aussie, shares Brett’s outsider perspective: “Since moving to Sweden six years ago I’ve come to see the industry here is slightly ahead of the curve. Given that TV commercials didn’t start here until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s I think there is a less established or traditional history, which perhaps means the Swedes are more willing to pick up on new movements and trends earlier on, particularly in such a well-connected and digitally-focused society.” 

One respect in which Sweden is often admired is in its approach to social inequalities. The Swedish production and advertising community made this particularly apparent a few years ago when their agency and production associations launched One of Three - an initiative that aims to promote gender diversity in directors. “We continue to push for diversity, both behind the camera and in front of it,” says Liz. “Sweden still has a long way to go for having more female directors on production company rosters and likewise for our agency partners being more gender-blind when it comes to what type of scripts they deem appropriate for male or female directors. And we hope the films being created can better reflect the diverse world we live in and work to change the type of characters we’re so used to seeing represented on our screens to be more inclusive and diverse, and reflective of the world we all live in.”

Sweden has something of a reputation for production and, naturally, they are keen to uphold it. “We are proud that we have so many great directors,” says Cornelia, “a lot of them working all over the world.” Swedish directors, DOPs, production designers and colourists definitely seem to appear more often than you might expect in creative centres across the globe.

One possible reason for this could be the Swedish ability to relate to other cultures. “Productions out of Sweden deliver context and a relatable message,” suggests Mats. “We’re hard working and don’t take anything for granted.”

“With so much attention on Scandinavian directors and production companies over the last few years we definitely have a reputation and a certain level of quality to uphold,“ says Tom.

And they work hard to maintain this reputation. “While it’s true we are a relatively smaller market as compared to others, the talent per capita is powerful and bursting at the seams,” says Liz. “In our very small country are many of the world’s top commercial directors, top cinematographers and top creative teams, which is why Sweden’s work is recognized and heralded globally. It does foster a tight-knit community that supports one another and in contrast to other markets it does feel less hierarchical and very collaborative. People often will wear many hats to get the job done.”

Tom suggests a film Carl Sundemo directed for Telenor as an emblem for what Swedish production does well: “I like it because it captures the Swedish love of trying new things, pushing boundaries and challenging audiences. It’s a film you can watch again directly and, regardless of whether you like or it or not, forces you to actively think.” 

Don’t expect an easy ride working with Swedish director, warns Tom: “Swedes are creativity ambitious. Most Swedish directors are used to collaborating quite closely with agencies and clients to develop an idea and to translate the creative concept into an effective film. So get ready for tweaks, changes, suggestions and yes, demands. But they do this because that’s what they are paid to do - turn a creative concept into the best film possible.“

Liz thinks Folke’s recent production for Volvo’s ‘On Call’ campaign, directed by Laerke Herthoni, is particularly representative. She calls it “a beautiful example of everything that is exciting in Sweden right now. A series of short films that married atmospheric human storytelling with the natural beauty of Stockholm, with cinematography by one of the Sweden’s finest cinematographers, Niklas Johansson. It exemplifies a very modern approach to branded storytelling which is thriving in Sweden,as it was a series of short films. And not only because the films were set against the exquisite natural backdrop of Sweden.”

So what should the outside world know about working with Swedish production? Let’s leave it to the Australian immigrants. “Swedes are humble and almost never over sell themselves,” observes Brett. “If a Swede says they can do something, they probably can. Also, they do drink a lot. And that’s coming from an Australian.”

Finally, Tom puts one Swedish stereotype to rest: “Fermented herring is not served on set. Delicious cinnamon buns, however, are aplenty.”

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