Ten years ago is was almost impossible to imagine that a Danish film would be remade in Hollywood. In 2009, several Danish directors are on the verge of reshooting their film—but this time with ten times the budget and stars attached. The dream for most of the filmmakers is to make a film with the biggest stars, the best craftsmen and producers that the business has to offer.
“I can tell that Hollywood producers are used to negotiate with desperate Europeans, who will do anything to get their film made. I think they get really surprised when a Dane tells them that he doesn’t want to remake his film if it doesn’t get bigger than the original film,” says Nikolaj Arcel.
Arcel is one of the new blockbuster directors in Denmark. His two first films did well at the box office and both gained critical acclaim. The political thriller King’s Game (2004) took home $6 million—very impressive by Danish standards—and his second feature film; the action adventure Island of Lost Souls (2007) grossed nearly $3 million. Arcel is connected to the US production outfit Strike Entertainment and they are currently negotiating with Universal about remaking Island of Lost Souls. The film is currently set to go into production in 2010.
One of last year’s most successful Danish films Terribly Happy (2008), by experienced helmer Henrik Ruben Genz, is likewise close to being greenlit. “The new thing for me is” tells Genz in Copenhagen, “that they are the ones who call me in order to arrange meetings. Normally my producer and I have to beg to get one—it seems like they really want to make this film.” Terribly Happy can best be described as the Coen brothers meet U-Turn. After a nervous breakdown a Copenhagen police officer is being transferred against his will to the outskirts of nowhere, and before he knows it, he’s got himself into a terrible scrape and he is all of a sudden living in Hotel California.
Bier and VON Trier
In spring 2009 the American version of Susanne Bier’s massive 2004 hit Brothers will premiere. The remake is directed by Oscar®-winner Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) and stars teen-idols Toby Maguire (Spiderman), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) and Natalie Portman (Star Wars).
The original film made quite an impact when it opened in Denmark as we had just entered the war in Afghanistan. The film deals with the problematic reality when soldiers return home from war—a subject still as present today as then.
Bier has turned out to be good business for Danish outfit Zentropa. Since she made her Hollywood debut Things We Lost in The Fire (2007), her earlier films have been in much demand. Her three latest Danish films Open Hearts (2003), Brothers and the Oscar® nominated After the Wedding (2006) grossed $15 million domestically—a rare average by Danish standards. “The Americans want her films,” explains production lawyer Anders Kjærhauge from Zentropa, “they are very interested in her early Danish films, and there is no doubt that her next one will get a lot of attention from the US. She is a modern filmmaker who makes films about modern society and modern people. Put that in a good film, and everybody are interested.”
Bier is a good case in point, but there are not a golden fortune hidden in selling the remake rights. “In average we get around $100.000 for the rights,” Kjærhauge tells. “We also get a percentage of the box office earnings, which gives us more than previously when we were supposed to get a percentage of the producers profits. Strangely enough they never had any profit when all the bills were paid,” he laughs and tells that Danish auteur Lars von Trier landed one of the best deals for his own company, Zentropa. His TV mini-series The Kingdom (1994) was sold to Touchstone Pictures, and was rewritten by horror guru Stephen King, later titled Kingdom Hospital (2004). “They paid us on the good side of $500.000 for the remake rights, and considering we had already sold the original series to most of the world, it turned out to be a pretty good deal.”
The Danish remakes
Danish films have been a remarkable good export since the happy Dogme days when Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998) triumphed at the Cannes Film Festival. It was at that time the remake offers began to reach the Danish producers.
The most remarkable one was Ole Bornedal’s creepy Nightwatch (1994). A domestic success with a +$5 million gross, it established that the Danes could make films with the same efficiency and pace as the major film countries. Bornedal remade the film under the gentle protection of Bob and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. The 1997 remake starred Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette. Also worth noticing is that Steven Soderbergh worked with Bornedal on the script. Despite the talent involved the film flopped big time, grossing a poor $1.2 million.
In the more curious department, back in 2000 helmer Lasse Spang Olsen worked on a remake of his shoot-to-kill comedy In China They Eat Dogs with Harvey Keitel and Christian Slater attached. It fell through and instead the film ended up being remade in Holland with the title Vet hard (2005). No wonder no one ever heard about that film!
Carsten Myllerup’s Midsummer (2003) was remade by the man behind cult hit The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Myrick. The horror film was named Soltice (2008) and went straight to DVD. Perhaps one film was enough…
Hans Fabian Wullenweber’s Catch that Girl (2002) was a solid action adventure film for kids. Bart Freundlich’s 2004 remake Catch that Kid grossed nearly $17 million and made it the best performing Danish remake at the US box office to date.
Made originally by Bent Christensen in 1961, Harry and the Butler has for a long time been circulating the gossip sites. Supposedly it is still in development with Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins attached. The story of an old poor man who all of a sudden gets rich, and decides to get a butler, could turn out to be a sweet old-timer charmer.
“It can easily take two years before development, casting and the financing is in place,” says director Nikolaj Arcel just returning from Los Angeles after another meeting regarding his remake of Island of Lost Souls. “It’s a mighty long time, since I’ve already spend over two years on the film when I made it the first time—maybe that’s the reason why I only want to make it again if it’s going to be different.”
Island of Lost Souls will get a +$40 million budget, pretty good compared to the domestic budget of only $7 million. “We have a talented scriptwriter attached… Jennifer O’Kieffe previously worked with Ridley Scott and John Madden, so I think the film is in good hands. She has presented us with a solid first draft, so hopefully we can soon progress to the next stage,” says Arcel.
“I’ve decided that I will spend six months on this to begin with,” says Henrik Ruben Genz who has weekly phone meetings concerning the potential remake of Terribly Happy. “Two things can happen: either they want to change everything, or I get to make the film I want to make. If I can’t keep the original plot, I probably wont make the film again myself. I really want to make it better than the first time, so it’s evident that I get the chance to develop and correct the few things from the original that could have been better.”
Genz is working with the production company Stillking Films, who worked on blockbusters Wanted and Casino Royale. “They want a major star for the lead. They know that it will attract the major players. It’s obvious that you have to think big—you simply can’t use your Danish humbleness in this game!”
It seems like the Danes do not need humbleness on the remake marked at the moment. Impressing 6 films are in development. Martin Barnewitz is well on his way with teen-horror Room 205 and Ole Bornedal returns to the States with two features; The Substitute and Just Another Love Story – all three competing to be the first Danish remake to break through to the American audience and thereby completing the Danish dream of conquering America.