Keynote Rikke Ennis
Rikke Ennis, founder and CEO of REinvent Studios, a packaging, developing, financing and co-production company, arrived in Ghent to deliver the second keynote address during CONTeXT, the Flanders Image CONNeXT industry event.
The former CEO of TrustNordisk for 10 years, Ennis told tales of Faroese drama, Icelandic dramedy and analysed the challenges and opportunities facing the industry in a marketplace now dominated by streaming and subscription models.
Ennis launchedTrust Film Sales’ TV distribution division when she joined the company in 1999 before being part of the merger between Nordisk Film and Zentropa in 2008. That merger led to TrustNordisk and Ennis’s appointment as CEO of what became the biggest sales agent in the Nordic region.
In 2018, Ennis started her own company, REinvent Studios, a company offering a range of financial products such as cashflowing, bridge financing, equity and gap investments for everything from TV series and feature films to web series.
REinvent International Sales functions as a sales agent for both in-house and high-profile projects out of Scandinavia. Ennis is also involved in NutAlone, a revolutionary online digital distribution platform aimed at unifying the fragmented audiovisual industry and giving more exposure to European content worldwide.
Filmjournalist/film festival consultant Wendy Mitchell asked Ennis to begin the second keynote in as many days at this year’s CONTeXT with a brief history lesson.
REinvent So Far
With the company celebrating its first birthday in June 2019, Ennis said it was an opportunity to take stock. “What did we get involved in and what did we do right? What was not so right, what were the right decisions to make?” Ennis told the audience.
She said REinvent currently has 15 projects in development and packaging, half of which is commissioned material. “That’s a good mark for having done something right in the first year,” she believed. “We have to actually get there of course and produce also.”
REinvent has grown to counting 10 staff on its books and she herself wears different head gear, combining the creative producer hat with the sales agent hat.
“That was one of the biggest challenges to see how that would work – would it be okay to combine the work of a creative producer and also be selling? So far so good.
“On the packaging part, I was very lucky to be able to bring a few projects with me from Trust Studios and that kickstarted REinvent Studios,” Ennis noted.
New Nordic Content
Everything is Nordic or has a Nordic angle at REinvent. “We invented a tagline ‘New Nordic content’ so it has to be Nordic somehow,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t co-produce with bigger territories and we also do English-speaking as long as it is based on something Nordic.”
REinvent is involved in packaging “a few” feature film projects Ennis took with her from TrustNordisk but TV series is her company’s main focus, finding Nordic content from all over Scandinavia.
“We have a balanced slate of Norwegian and Danish projects and a few Swedish and we’re getting into Faroese very soon,” she revealed.
The Faroese project [a language spoken on the Faroe Islands and some parts of Denmark] “is something that triggers us to try new ways and see content that hasn’t been seen before from a different angle”.
REinvent shot a mood reel on the tiny islands for Drama Series Days at the Berlinale [European Film Market] last year from there.
“Some projects would not be made ever if it weren’t for REinvent,” Ennis noted. “The Faroese project is a very good example because of the financing constellation coupled with the territory being very, very small, falling under Denmark’s jurisdiction but still with a different language.
“It is simply not interesting enough for local commissioners to go into. We had to find new ways. We actually started with the international market for this one,” Ennis said.
The Faroe Islander Torfinn Jákupsson had never written a script before and had been in London for a decade working on something else, she explained. He came back to the Faroese to get peace of mind, optioned some books [by Faroese author Jógvan Isaksen about investigative journalist Hannis Martinsson] and wrote a script (Trom).
“When we read the script, we were blown away by the quality. Of course, some things just didn’t make sense but there was an amazing story there. We put some good people with him and just started breaking down the story and building it up again in order to match international potential and this is where we are now. Hopefully we’ll start shooting spring time next year.”
Does everything have to have international potential? Mitchell wondered. Would it be okay to have a local hit across Nordic countries?
While Ennis thinks a local hit would be fine, the company DNA lies in sales and always thinking about greater potential. “But whether it is remake potential with very local stuff or original, it doesn’t matter that much.”
It would not be uncommon to make a very small show for the Denmark market only which also happened to have more remake potential than in international sales revenue of the original, for instance.
“We are in the process of trying out new things and seeing where it gets us and how collaborations can go,” she said. “We’re just curious about what is going on in this whole crazy world.”
Why Set Up REinvent?
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m a business person. But I was intrigued at the time when I was at TrustNordisk about the cross collaboration of people that worked in the feature film industry suddenly starting to work on TV series. I was also fascinated about the whole character-driven, not so plot-driven, nature of TV drama.”
With Denmark’s Zentropa being a feature film-driven company, Ennis noted there was a big chance to go into TV series. “We did it with Trust Studios. I think that was what triggered me to try new ways and see how we could get that format going.”
Nordic noir TV continues to work? pondered Mitchell.
“There is an ocean of content out there, so you need to be very specific and know exactly who you are targeting both from a commissioner’s point of view but also audience wise because otherwise you drown in content,” Ennis warned. “Nordic noir still works extremely well. But there is a new touch to it. I think there is a bigger demand for female protagonists and I think the stories become more personal. It’s not just about solving a crime.”
Ennis describes Nordic noir, crime, thriller work as always an easy sell.
“There is a curiosity for new formats, especially from a remake point of view. There is a curiosity to explore new formats with remake potential because of the TV flow being challenged. Young people want to see shorter formats on the digital platforms.”
She describes the new streaming platforms as refreshing in their ability to help open the minds of people to new content and new genres. “Dramedy is a thing we have seen emerging. We have a few Icelandic TV series with us and have quite a big interest in that, too.”
Are they talent-driven? Mitchell asked.
It depends who you are talking to, which platform, Ennis believes. “If you are talking to HBO Nordic, they are extremely talent-driven and really know who they are targeting for their main show. Netflix is looking for talent also but it is very much based on the genre. It doesn’t have to be a five-time Emmy-winner.
“And, of course, broadcasters like [Denmark’s] DR would be looking for the talent as well. Then if they want to try out new talent it’s more for the digital channels.”
Fresh Talent Hunt
Ennis believes there is a greater opening for new talent now than two or three years ago because of the change in audience patterns.
“This is also why we started a little label called Talent where we experiment with new talent from a scriptwriting and a directing point of view,” Ennis said.
Via the Talent label, Ennis might back people who have been working in advertising but haven’t done drama yet. “But for smaller budgets, just to see where it takes us and to learn from it. If they succeed and do a great job we can always move them over to bigger budgets and heavier dramas.”
Film schools are also talent pools alongside masterclasses and networking at industry events [such as CONNeXT]. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. My team is very good at nurturing new talent,” she said. “This is what we are trying to do: to create a home where it’s OK to fail, as long as you fail fast and at the right budget. But you try new things because we cannot just have a recipe for success every time otherwise every show would look alike and that would be a pity.”
REinvent Studios created a mood trailer for Trom based on real footage to show at the Berlinale [EFM] to give potential partners an idea of the amazing landscape of the island. “We’re really trying to integrate the location here as a character in itself,” Ennis said.
The script details the story of Johaness who comes home after 10 years abroad because a person has gone missing. He finds out that the person who is missing is actually the daughter who he has never met. In the first episode, she is found murdered. “Can you imagine finding out you have a daughter but you will never get to meet her?” wondered Ennis. “It is a Broadchurch drama set in the Faroese amidst its whaling and environmental issues.”
The project has “unusual financing”. Most of the money will come from international and now REinvent Studios is in negotiations with local platforms in the Nordics.
“It is in the Faroese [language] and there are 50,000 people there so it’s not like there is heavyweight financing we can get out of there,” Ennis told the audience. “But there are a lot of great people helping to make this happen since it’s the first production from there. Jon Hammer, a local producer who used to work at Zentropa, is going to produce it together with REinvent.”
Ennis also shared the mood footage trailer for Trom and some footage from Drange (Boys) which is part of the company’s new Talent programme, a low-budget series based on the director’s life which takes place in Jutland where he used to be in the church choir.
Deals With Netflix
Ennis said every day she and her team discuss every project and the right thing to do. “On a project like Boys, since we are financing out of a small part of Scandinavia, the best thing to do is to take it out there, find the right festival, promote it, remake it in European countries and then remake a US version if that becomes a reality. Everything comes with a price, of course. If the price is right we could consider it but, from a rights’ perspective, it is still interesting to have that catalogue value, to own the IP that will keep on bringing you revenues when you sell to territories.”
Ennis said that is the pattern and the puzzle that REinvent looks at on every project to figure out the best business case without ever compromising on quality. “We are in collaboration with Netflix on a specific project but I cannot say much about it,” she added playfully.
Bigger English-Language Projects
One of the projects Ennis brought with her from Trust Studios was optioned five years ago: a British best-selling dystopian novel named ‘Last Light’ by Alex Scarrow. “We went to Brain Academy [in Sweden] in order to partner up. And then it just happened to be the right fit at the time to bring in Sydney Gallonde from France’s Make It Happen Studio,” Ennis said. “He is now the hands-on producer because most of the story wil ltake place in France and the UK and that’s what we’ve built the story around. It’s very international story. I would say it’s 95% English.”
It centres around a couple: a Frenchwoman married to a Scandinavian man living in France who go back and forth to the UK.
It is planned as a big six-part TV series. “It’s €10 million-plus so it’s a big one for six parts. There is also great talent attached and it is financed out of the Nordics and a French broadcaster. We don’t need a UK broadcaster [to get it made]. We should be good to go into production in January.”
How will the slate evolve and how do you track what the buyers want? Mitchell queried.
Said Ennis: “That’s the interesting part. Because we are out there all the time, we are at all markets, we just feel what is working, what is not working, what people are looking for.”
REinvent is extremely curious when selling projects to the world and meeting with buyers.
“We listen carefully to what it is they are looking for. And, of course, when we sit at home with our creative hat on, then we start putting the puzzle together. We ask ‘would this fit into the patchwork we have made out there?’ Nobody wants to do a show that nobody wants in the end that took five, six years to finance.”
Ennis said knowing what is needed helps them fast track projects and part of that is knowing from the very beginning what the limit to a budget for certain projects are. “If it’s a young audience and it’s horror, it’s a stream-oriented audience and then you have a different price to a Sunday night big prestige drama with public broadcasters behind it,” she pointed out. “Every project has to be tailor-made specifically to what kind of platforms you are working with.We are dealing with almost everyone in the Nordics right now, so we know what the different tastes are. We are talking both platforms and broadcasters, and then, from a sales perspective, we know a lot of people out there. That’s interesting to see how we put those parts together and make them fit.”
Mitchell wondered if it the Danish public service broadcasters face funding issues?
Danish broadcaster DR faced a drastic 20% cut to its full budget last year. “There are huge changes going on. The digital window is much more significant than it used to be,” said Ennis. “It’s not just a catch-up service; they are actually making content specifically for those channels.”
Scandinavia is at the forefront of feeding the digital channels. “How amazing it is to be able to experiment with new things. DR3 is doing great new content for young audiences and of course we can also feel the need of that. The budgets are very low but sometimes it is not the budget that defines a good story.”
Short Form Content [10 minutes] Market
Zentropa Sweden has a 2016 web series comprising 10 x 15 minutes which has been successful from both a remake point of view and as an original sell.
“Those formats do work. Of course, from a business perspective, it is hard to really earn money from that,” Ennis notes. “We’ve had a few cases when we have actually changed the short format to a longer one and made it 30 minutes just to be able to explore the characters even more. But that really depends on the specific project. It is definitely more interesting than it used to be, the short form format.”
Why did REinvent want to be a founding partner of NutAlone? Why do we need another streaming platform?
“It all started in TrustNordisk, which is also a partner together with Zentropa, out of the frustration of not being able to sell amazing films to the world,” she explained. “Of course, the Lars von Trier movies, the Thomas Vinterberg’s, Susanne Bier’s, they sold worldwide. But smaller talent, even with a festival behind them, would sell to a few territories and then we would have a film on the shelf.”
Power Of IP
‘Next project, next project, next project’ often resulted in a catalogue of gold lying inactive on a shelf. “The whole idea [with NutAlone] was to activate those titles via T-VOD and make them globally available via ticking off what is available and what is not,” Ennis said. “We don’t lack content out there, especially catalogue titles, so to combine that with the promotional factor where you could use all the film fans out there who love specific talent and promote the films through these people was the aim.”
The NutAlone platform enables a fan to not only talk about a film but actually allows them to embed a link to it from that specific title on their own website so it becomes a personal recommendation from that person to their friends.
“Do it on their Facebook page, embed a link to the film on NutAlone. You would get a cut of the transactional fee which is defined by the rights’ holder,” she said. “It’s a minimum of 10% going up to the whole bunch if, for example, you are a library that cannot be earning money.”
Ennis said she wished they’d progressed more “but at this point we are the beta level”. NutAlone is up and running with a range of about 300 titles, not all active, aiming towards 500 in the coming months.
“We are working on other ways, not only transactional, towards A-VOD and S-VOD and white label solutions all within the next year, year and a half, The T-VOD model is challenged on catalogue titles because why should you pay to watch that film which is already available somewhere else? The problem is it isn’t available somewhere else.”
What REinvent and NutAlone really wants to go for is to collaborate closely with festivals so you get the newest and the most hyped titles that are not mainstream and that are unlikely to be picked up at Nordisk.
“That’s what we are working on and it’s a good combination because we are securing the future of distribution, so once we are out of a job on the sales agent side, then you know what, we will just upload the films on NutAlone,” she smiled.
Ennis said it would also be possible for other libraries to use the NutAlone platform. “But depending on the need, if of course you’re a bigger VOD platform that really wants to maximise earnings, it might be cheaper in the long run to do a white label solution.”
How will the big streaming operations entering the market impact not just NutAlone but the whole business at REinvent? Mitchell wanted to know.
Ennis chooses to look at it from a positive point of view “and not so much from an IP point of view because that is pretty much disappearing. The fact we have more players to play with is obviously great. In Scandinavia it is going to take a while before they really come. Amazon has been trying for a while, or looking into the area, but they are not there yet,” she said. “But it is going to be super interesting to see what [these players] are looking for. I think it will be more family-orientated, more secure than probably we would like to do to start with, but that’s interesting.”
She said REinvent wants to explore partnerships with Nordic broadcasters and streaming platforms and see how to combine that with American players like Starz, Hulu and AMC.
Has the local language market opened up or do people still want dubbing? asked Mitchell.
“I think what Borgen and The Killing did for us in Scandinavia was people getting used to Scandinavian language so we are very lucky there that it doesn’t seem strange to listen to Danish, Swedish or Norwegian,” said Ennis. “Netflix is now dubbing in I don’t know how many languages.”
It works. Added Ennis: “If you see how successful The Rain was, I think in Brazil it was totally the best show ever seen not in the English language. I think not being in the English language opens up new doors. Scandinavian language material still sells well but, of course, does not have the same potential as English language if you look at the prices.”
Swedish Drama Quicksand on Netflix
“It’s an amazing series, I absolutely adore it. It’s by a great director, Per-Olav Sørensen,”Ennis noted. While she pondered on it being one of the most awarded shows in Scandinavia in a very long time, “how it did specifically, I actually don’t know. That is where the data comes in and it would be interesting to know.” After all, Netflix remains famously (or infamously) tight-lipped on its streaming data and numbers.
“The whole point is opening up the data for the rights’ holders,” Ennis said. “If you have a show [with us on NutAlone] you will know exactly who has seen it, where and how much it made, real-time income. You will know everything about your show, as much as we can ask about it.”
Quite how to market NutAlone, raise awareness and attract users is something they have to figure out.
“We are promoting towards the rights’ holders and spending a lot of time on that,” she said. “But really the most important thing is that the consumer should know about it and where to find films, because that’s the hook.”
Ennis argues that rights’ holders will put content on the platform if the consumers are there. “Really it is about making those strategic partnerships with festivals that already have a lot of audiences. I think it is about 400,000 people for the Berlinale, for example. If you could activate those people and talk about films – not for the sake of NutAlone but because of the love for films – that’s when you trigger something and can create a wave of attention for the films.”
It’s all about working harder to make it happen. “Now they are curious, they want to see how it works and once they start getting the right films on the platform, I think it will come,” Ennis noted. “We are in a close collaboration with the Berlinale now and they are following NutAlone closely.”
Small But Perfectly Formed
Ennis wants to maintain a small team.“There’s something refreshing about being a few people that know each other well. We’re able to be flexible and agile in this crazy market so we can change strategy quickly because we need to.”
Ennis doesn’t even claim to know what the market is going to be like two years from now, let alone in five years’ time. “I think we’ll have an office in all of Scandinavia including Iceland and the Faroese,” she said. “We don’t need an office in Los Angeles, we work with some great people doing that already so we can always partner up with them. I think we will try to keep it super Nordic. I think that has a strength.”
Passion will remain her driving force.
Keynote delivered by Rikke Ennis, October 8, 2019
By Stuart Kemp