“We are not robots”: the filmmakers crack under the relentless appetite for Danish television

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“We are not robots”: the filmmakers crack under the relentless appetite for Danish television


This week, award-winning makeup artist Bjørg Serup said her bitter farewell to the Danish film industry.

“I am on sick leave with an accident at work due to severe stress and cannot expect to be able to return to the film industry or any other full time job,” she wrote in an article published in Echo, the magazine of the country’s film industry.

The reason? Stress-related cognitive impairment, which she blamed on how production times and budgets have been reduced to meet the current almost bottomless demand for Danish drama.

This year, Serup began work on the return of the cult ’90s hospital comedy from director Lars Von Trier. The kingdom, which she enjoyed, and last year she did the award-winning real crime miniseries Investigation, and the Norwegian royal drama Atlantic crossing.

A scene from The Kingdom Exodus. Photography: RP

It was this summer, after the postponement of a historical drama she was working on, bringing it into conflict with another project, that she collapsed.

Serup’s article came two days after 415 people in the Danish film industry, including several well-known actors, signed an open letter to production companies in the country, warning that the volume of work and stress were causing “hardship. harassment, bullying and threats of destruction. people’s careers ”.

“People who are just doing their jobs shouldn’t have to self-report depression and stress, or quit the industry altogether just because the lemon just needs a little more squeezing,” reads the article. the letter.

Production designer Emilie Nordentoft, who organized the letter with actor Dorte Rømer, said the thirst for content from streaming companies like Netflix, HBO and Amazon is pushing the industry to breaking point.

“We now have the streaming companies in Denmark, we have HBO, we have Netflix, and it’s good that we have that variety, but it creates a situation where the demand for content is constant,” Nordentoft told Observer. People just have to run faster, and when people are under pressure they’ll scream, and it’s not okay to scream.

She said the letter originated in a closed Facebook group she created for those who felt bullied.

“I started getting calls and messages from people whispering to me how good it was for us to do this. But they’re afraid of shit. And I understand why they are afraid because they are harassed. It’s like, ‘we’re gonna break your career, you’ll never come back’.

Netflix currently has two new series, Selected and Elfes, in preparation for Jannik Tai Mosholt and Christian Potalivo, the creators of the company’s best-selling apocalyptic miniseries The rain, and also completed the production of the Nordic black crime series The man with chestnuts and the thriller Love adults.

HBO released its first Danish original series this year, Kamikaze, and Apple, Amazon and Disney are all looking to order Danish series.

Jørgen Ramskov, managing director of the Danish Producers’ Association, agreed that demand for streaming services was pushing the industry to “full capacity”.

“We have situations where production companies are unable to produce because they are not able to obtain the skilled workforce,” he said. “We don’t have a lot, but I think we’re very close to the edge. “

Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen, Managing Director of SAM Productions, which produced two original Netflix productions, The man with chestnuts and Ragnarok, and is currently directing a new series of the hit political drama Caution, was forced to delay.

“I just postponed the production for a month because we couldn’t find a production designer,” she said. “I have huge crew problems. “

Charlotte Munck and Soren Malling in The Inquiry. Photograph: Per Arnesen / BBC / misofilm & film preview

For her, however, it is a golden age. “The business is booming. A lot of these streamers who come to Denmark have huge appetites, which is a wonderful and positive thing, ”she continued. “But their schedules have their roots in countries with other working cultures. I love working with Netflix, they’re a really cool partner, but I struggle to meet their expectations of how quickly we can make a TV series, while still having happy workers.

The Danish film industry began to overtake its weight in the 1990s with the emergence of directors such as Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, but it was not until the crime series The slaughter and the political drama Caution became surprise international hits in 2012 as Danish television aroused the interest of foreign broadcasters. Foldager attributes Denmark’s success to ‘storytelling’, while Nordentoft credits ‘very dedicated and hardworking people’.

For Foldager as well as for Ramskov, the solution to the problems of harassment and working conditions is to ensure that the existing system by which filmmakers can report abuse and insist on union rules works. “We have to know what is wrong in order to act,” Ramskov said. “If we only have these rumors about the gravity of this situation and the horrible conditions, it is very difficult to act. “

In his article, Serup said the problem was structural rather than a matter of intimidating producers and directors.

Sofia Helin as Saga Norén in The Bridge.
Sofia Helin as Saga Norén in The Bridge. Photographie : Jens Juncker/BBC / Filmlance International AB, Nimbus Film / Jens Juncker

“When I started making films, they spent eight weeks on a feature film,” she said. “The last films I made are period films. They were given five and a half weeks. Budgets have by no means been sufficient.

Nordentoft argues that workers in the industry were somehow being punished for their strength. “What I have heard from people is that they have discovered that Denmark, apparently, is a country where film workers are very efficient,” she said. “But we also have to have the time that it takes. We are not Robots. It’s not a factory where you just spit out films. And sometimes it can look like a factory.

Netflix, HBO and Amazon all declined to comment.

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