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‘Fifty Shades of Co Pro’: A Series Mania Panel Debates the Best Way Forward for Many in Europe: Co-Production

Ancient Greek Aristotle got it right.  The production whole is greater than the sum of its co-production parts. This was the sentiment at a Series Mania session titled ‘Fifty Shades of Co Pro’ on Tuesday.

Simone Emmelius, ZDF’s Senior VP international fiction – co-production and acquisition, laid it out: “You can only spend the Euro once, so you have the opportunity to maybe spend €200,000 [$218,000] on an episode, or you spend €200,000 on an episode that may cost €1.5 million. At the end of it, you get a production value of €1.5 million.” she explained. This encapsulates the essence of co-production, leveraging partnerships to attain a project that far exceeds what individual partners could do alone.

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Three of Series Mania’s eight main international competition titles – “Apples Never Fall,” “Rematch,” “So Long, Marianne” — are co-productions. Some panel points of consensus:

Aligned Interests and Transparency

However, the foundation of a successful co-production lies in alignment, a point raised by Andy Docherty, co-founder at Media Musketeers: “We need our interests to be aligned. That means in the project, [being] invested in it, really wanting as much as each other to succeed, financially being at risk in a balanced way across all the parties. I think it’s easier said than done.” Marta Ezpeleta, head of distribution and co-productions at The Mediapro Studio, drew attention to the necessity for companies to be “open and transparent” on what they’re looking for and what they share in common, drawing nods with her emphasis that this includes all parties revealing not just their strengths, but weaknesses too.

Local Authenticity, International Appeal

The panel discussed the balance between crafting stories with local authenticity and ensuring they foster international appeal. Docherty scours for stories that are “locally significant and compelling but [have] much [that] can be amplified to reach an audience outside its domestic market.” Contrasting perspectives within the panel, however, suggested that while local authenticity enriches a project, the universality of its themes might play a more pivotal role in its international success, as illustrated by Simone Emmelius’s reference to the Ukrainian series “In Her Car,” which resonated deeply with German audiences despite its foreign setting. She also highlighted the fact that foreign shows sometimes succeed due to their fitting of a stereotype, noting “Midsomer Murders” continued success on ZDF being in part attributable to the German audience’s notion of how a provincial English detective may go about their business.

Europe: A Hub for Future Co-Productions?

Eurimages backer the Council of Europe’s is one key backer of co-production. One attractive package, available to 15 countries now, was spelled out by Alex Traila, program manager at the Council. “We give out free money in the sense that we are not asking for it back,” a welcome offer to producers and a sign of a growing number of options for them to pursue. TMS’ Ezpeleta feels broadcasters and companies across Europe are far more open to different models than ever before. “I believe that we are in a very unique moment in our industry. Clients and the final clients for which we are producing are opening their minds to other business models.”

The consensus among the panelists pointed towards Europe’s strengthening role in the future of co-productions, with the European Alliance and New8 – which links ZDF (Germany), NPO  (Netherlands), VRT (Belgium), SVT (Sweden), DR (Denmark), YLE (Finland), RÚV (Iceland) and NRK (Norway) – serving as prime examples of successful collaborative networks that may well grow. “Europe is the future,” Emmelius emphatically remarked as the session at the Théâtre Louis Pasteur came to a close. It felt like a rallying cry to the continent’s potential to pioneer innovative co-production models.

So Long, Marianne
So Long, Marianne

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