Film producer Marleen Slot (Viking Film) delivered this speech during the annual ‘Film Politics Working Lunch’ (26 September 2021), as part of the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht. This meeting was co-organised by the Netherlands Audiovisual Producers Alliance (NAPA) and the association of Dutch Content Producers (NCP).
Op zee (At Sea) (One Night Stand), dir.: Marinus Groothof, Viking Film / BNNVARA, NTR, VPRO, 2013
My production company’s name – Viking Film – is in honour of Wieringen, a former island in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland. In the early Middle Ages, Wieringen was used as a base by the Vikings. A little more recently it was my home town, where I grew up, the daughter of a fisherman. As you may be aware, islanders often have a pretty headstrong character and tend to be very independent and self-reliant. But: they are also used to working together, acting collectively and taking good care of the island and each other in times of need.
In the spring of 2018 my brother Riekelt, age 25 and also a fisherman, got washed overboard. It was the middle of the night and his boat was far out at sea, roughly half way between the Netherlands and England. When the rest of the crew realised that Riekelt was no longer on the boat, they immediately sounded the alarm. His own boat started searching for him, the lifeboat set out from Den Helder and all other shipping in the area received a mayday call.
The whole fishing fleet joined in the search. They made calculations and measurements, taking the currents into account and the last moment when Riekelt changed the boat’s course. Visibility was poor owing to a thick mist, which meant that the rescue helicopter couldn’t take off. It wasn’t until three hours after he’d entered the water that, contrary to all expectations, he was found, exhausted and suffering from hypothermia – but alive. By his best friend Cees, in fact, who was on board another fishing boat from Wieringen, and who was shouting out Riekelt’s name at the top of his lungs across the water. His best catch ever, the skipper still says to this day.
My brother was part of a team, and the fact that his little fishing boat was part of a much larger whole saved his life. A perfect example of shared responsibility.
“Whenever I start a film project,
it’s like setting out to sea.”
Whenever I start a film project, it’s like setting out to sea. It’s a risky business, in many ways. Financially, artistically, content-wise, emotionally. But I am not afraid of taking these risks. Calculating these risks is actually one of the things I like most about my job. In fact, I am convinced that this is the key to successful independent producing. I navigate using my professional experience, but also my intuition. Together with the other makers I have an idea of the end product, and roughly how we can get there – and yet there are always surprises along the way. This is what makes being a producer such a challenging, stimulating and exciting profession.
My strategic decisions and the considerations underlying these are always in the service of making the best possible film. I want my productions to matter within the European film industry. I want to make films that are watched all over the world, at the festivals, in cinemas and also on demand. Preferably by the largest possible audience. I know how difficult this is, and that it demands the utmost of the people involved. In my opinion, this can only be achieved by a team of people pulling together to really make the film as a team.
When director Sacha Polak, our cast, crew and myself won the Golden Calf for Best Film for DIRTY GOD two years ago, here at the Netherlands Film Festival, in my acceptance speech I stressed how important it is for the Dutch film sector to operate collectively in order to realise its full potential. I wasn’t just talking about the crew of my own boat, but about the whole fleet. At that time – 2019 – it had already been clear for some time that the film sector in the Netherlands is under increasing pressure from rapid changes in the media landscape and from viewing behaviour.
“My strategic decisions and the considerations underlying these
are always in the service of making the best possible film.”
Worldwide, the production of films, series and other content has increased significantly. Internationally operating distributors, including streaming services, dominate the market. The revenues and advertising income from audio-visual content, such as films and series, shown in the Netherlands mostly ends up with these distributors and operators at the end of the value chain. Only a small proportion of this flows back into Dutch productions. In this ‘winner takes all’ market, it is increasingly difficult for the Dutch film and TV industry to retain sufficient market share, to obtain market investments and to continue to deliver the distinctive quality for which it is known. These developments are putting pressure on income models and relations within the chain (from production to distribution and operation). And also on the dissemination of Dutch cultural and public values.
In recent years, it has become much more difficult for independent film and television producers to obtain finance from the market. This means we have become even more dependent on international coproduction. True, this does bring opportunities for better budgets and a broader reach for films and series. But being too dependent on coproduction also puts independent producers in a vulnerable position.
All of these developments are interrelated and reinforce one another in a downward spiral which we aim to reverse. First and foremost, we want to make amazing productions. With sufficient budgets to pay everyone involved a fair fee, and with sufficient time and space to tell the stories that our country needs to hear. Of course, it is up to us as a sector to work towards this – and we are. Nevertheless, the pressure from outside is getting greater by the day, as is the uncertainty of our position.
In 2019, the production sector in the Netherlands was already unified in asking the Dutch government to introduce a stimulation measure as a matter of urgency, to prevent us from falling further behind other European countries where measures had already been taken or were being taken to stimulate investment in the production and profile of national productions. Now, two years down the road, our world has been turned upside down. The coronavirus crisis seems to be making it more difficult than ever to make a good film. Distributors and sales agents are even more hesitant to invest in films than they were before. And who can blame them: during the past year the cinemas have had to close their doors for a long period of time, resulting in a fall in turnover compared to 2019 of fifty percent. At the same time, the turnover of the large, internationally operating Video-On-Demand platforms in particular has grown exponentially.
I am a European producer. This doesn’t simply mean that my company is based in the Netherlands. This term has both cultural and economic meanings, which are closely interconnected. Europe has traditionally had a large number of independent producers who together provide diverse, high-quality output. I feel a great responsibility to contribute to this. I have an unshakeable faith in the strength of independent production.
We have just completed the first period of shooting for SILVER HAZE. This film by Sacha Polak is based on the exceptional, but harsh, life story of Vicky Knight, the actress who starred in DIRTY GOD. We want to make a film that overwhelms people and moves them. I don’t mind telling you that throughout the 25 days of the shoot, I hardly slept. The fear of Covid-19 on the set. Working in the legalistic jungle of post-Brexit London. The film has a more experimental structure than DIRTY GOD, and a much lower budget. All of this made the whole thing an almost impossible task for the director, the cast, crew and myself. Day and night, we fight to achieve the best possible outcome … anything to make the best possible film.
“I have an unshakeable faith
in the strength of independent production.”
As an independent producer, I can only survive as long as I can continue to share in the rights and income from the productions I make. If I am forced into a subordinate role, I lose not only control over my own productions but also the opportunity to continue to invest in new productions. Now, this is often the case when producers work with VOD platforms: they are allocated the role of executive producer or service producer. This will without a doubt damage the pluriform and diverse nature of films made in Europe.
If the government recognises the importance of independent production houses making high-quality films and series anchored in Dutch culture and society, and that audiences in the Netherlands deserve these stories, then they must act now. They can no longer afford to look the other way.
It is essential that the end-of-chain operators of films and series – in any event streaming services – are obliged to contribute financially to the production, marketing and promotion of new home-grown productions. Dutch filmmakers will then be able, thanks in part to these financial resources and also to a more equal position, to continue to work towards a better, more valuable production climate and a more mature film industry.
In this respect, we hope that we can count on the support from the Dutch government and parliament, to ensure that audiences in the Netherlands can continue in the years ahead to see a wide variety of recognisable stories about the world around us.
Translation: Mark Baker, Wordsmiths
Marleen Slot (NL, 1981) is founder of Viking Film. Besides her work as a producer, Slot advocates the improvement of (inter)national film policy.
In close cooperation with filmmakers, Viking Film produces quality films for both the national and international market with a special focus on arthouse and animation films. The company has (co)produced feature films by outstanding filmmakers from around the world, including DIRTY GOD (Sacha Polak, Sundance World Dramatic Competition and opening film IFFR, 2019), ROJO (Benjamin Naishtat, TIFF Platform and San Sebastian 2018) and NEON BULL (Gabriel Mascaro, Venice Orizzonti and TIFF Platform 2015). In 2020, Marleen Slot and director Mascha Halberstad established the Holy Motion Studio in Arnhem. The 600m2 animation studio is specialized in stop motion animation and is currently deployed for the shooting of their first animated feature film, OINK’S REVENGE.
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