Skarphéðinn: Margt spennandi á leiðinni

Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson dagskrárstjóri RÚV ræðir við Nordic Film and TV News um helstu dagskráráherslur varðandi leikið efni og verkefnin framundan.

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Guðmundsson has been steering RÚV‘s programming output for over a decade. He puts public service, Nordic cooperation and European quality content at the forefront of his drama strategy.

Among the most recent changes in his commissioning strategy have been new emphasis on kids content and documentaries. After Blackport, Balls, he tells us what‘s coming from the smallest Nordic nation with an astounding hit rate of successes.

Last year Blackport was an extraordinary hit that reinforced Iceland’s reputation as a hub for unique high-quality storytelling and entertainment, for a local and international audience. Could you go back to the series’ amazing success in terms of overall reception in Iceland and what it meant for your department?

Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson: Even though we always had a strong belief in the project, ever since the idea came to us and development started all those years ago, we never could have imagined its enormous success. It really has been a game-changer, especially considering we’ve never seen such positive reception to a periodic drama about such a local somewhat complicated, controversial and what some would have beforehand say uninteresting topic, as the introduction of the fishing quota system and its effect on smaller societies. It has really encouraged us to become even more daring, more inventive and open-minded in trying out new unexplored genres in the Icelandic TV industry and in our search for highly original, topical and challenging local stories to tell.

Where are you in season 2? Are Arte and the N12 partners also on board?

SG: The interest in season 2 is most surely enormous and what I can tell you at this point is that development has started and writing is already under way. Hopefully more will be revealed later this summer.

You’ve launched over Easter the series Balls starring Ingvar E. Sigurdsson. Are you pleased with the audience response? What makes this series unique and a perfect fit for RÚV?

SG: I can safely say that Balls (Afturelding) has been a great success, ratings are already well over 50% and its very daring and highly relevant subject matters – namely the shocking difference between women and men in competitive sports and attitudes and discrimination in general towards women in sports – have gained great and welcoming attention. This is exactly the kind of series we have been looking to doing more of. Unique, challenging, important, but at the same time highly relevant and relatable local stories, hopefully with international appeal.

Let’s go back to your overall commissioning structure and strategy. Who are your closest collaborators commissioning local content and what is your overall drama strategy today across fiction/non-fiction, kid content and different formats?

SG: First and foremost we are very much aware of our role as a public broadcaster and the responsibility and uniqueness that comes with that. This means that we have to be on the constant lookout for something new, something that hasn’t been done before in our relatively young Icelandic drama industry.

We are the broadcaster who can afford and should in any way possible take risks and be up for challenges that otherwise wouldn’t come to life. This applies to choosing stories, genres, talents and producers, any kind of collaborators, when it comes to commissioning all content, fiction, non-fiction and kids content. This also applies to constantly trying out new ways of reaching out to increasingly diverse audiences, finding ways of securing the most important of any public broadcaster‘s responsibilities – namely engagement.

Several public broadcasters have been subject to cost-cutting measures, including DR and NRK. What is the situation at RÚV? What is your overall drama budget for 2023-24 and do you have any budget for development-across fiction and non-fiction?

SG: Like other Nordic public broadcasters we have been faced with the challenges of having to adapt to cost cutting, mostly in the way that our budget has stayed more or less unchanged for the last five years or more, while budget and production costs have increased drastically. Our drama budget has been around a quarter of our total local production and acquisitions budget, and a very important port of that is the development budget we take very seriously.

Perhaps our biggest strategy changes recently have been the increasing emphasis on children‘s drama, partly with joining the ‘Barn15‘ Nordic collaboration, children‘s drama equivalent of N12, and as a main and co-producer of documentaries and documentary series. Yet again as a way of underlining our importance and uniqueness as a public broadcaster.

What are the latest news regarding the new TV investment Fund to be administered by the Icelandic Film Centre?

SG: Everyone is hoping it will be implemented no later than next year since it would be exactly the right push at the right time to take our Icelandic TV industry to the next level, both locally and internationally. We’ve never seen such interest in Icelandic drama, not from our leading talents, producers, broadcasters, our local audience, international distributors and audience, so this it would be such a missed opportunity if we wouldn’t seize this unique and unprecedented moment to give our industry the necessary boost.

Considering the competition for local talent, good stories, and micro economic pressure, are you flexible regarding collaborations with local and global streamers?
SG: We are very much open to all kinds of collaborations and doing our bit in making sure projects created by Icelandic talents, telling stories with an Icelandic connection or perspective, preferably mostly or partly in Icelandic, get produced and reach our audience and hopefully international audience as well.

You’ve been very enthusiastic from the start about the N12 collaboration. How has this alliance impacted your overall drama offer and audience’s hunger for Nordic content? what have been the most recent Nordic hits on RÚV?

SG: I’ve often stated that RÚV was the single Nordic broadcaster part of the collaboration that had to take the biggest leap, make the most drastic changes to ensure its inclusion in this collaboration.

We basically had to change our entire acquisitions strategy to be able to participate and this we did without hesitation, the main reasons being two-fold: to play our part in increasing the distribution and audience group for Icelandic TV drama, and also to strategically increase RÚV’s identity and uniqueness as a public broadcaster with different obligations and responsibilities than other broadcasters in our market, namely cultural diversity, more Nordic and European content, quality content that in many instances wouldn’t have become available in our market.

Getting access and co-producing increased diversity of content, resulting in more courageous selection of the most ambitions Nordic drama available, is one of the greatest benefits of the N12 collaboration, partly based on this newfound and somewhat radical mutual built in commissioning trust amongst the partners.

Following this shift in focus, mostly by pulling out of competing for the bigger commercial series towards N12 and cherry-picking the best European drama available, we have been heavily and very strategically positioning RÚV and especially our player, as the home of Nordic and European drama with what we believe to be a great result, not only supported by increasingly higher numbers but also with noticeable awareness, about what RÚV stands for when it comes to drama. Namely quality, diversity and something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you investigating new co-production ventures both within the Nordics and in the rest of Europe? I think you have partnered with Yle on new projects. Could you give us details?

SG: We are constantly on the lookout for new co-production ventures, mostly in the Nordics due to stronger connections. But having said that, it is not of any importance where it originates or where the interest comes from, as long is it fits our strategy and serves our need for original relatable stories for our audience.

What are you doing to support new talent?

SG: We have recently put more emphasis on more manageable low budget series, sometimes fewer episodes or even TV movies, preferably created by up and coming talents. This is partly with the aim of supporting new talent, giving more opportunities, and speeding up the process of bringing fresh, important and relevant stories to our audience.

Our involvement in Börn15 also plays a part in this strategy, since it means we have now set ourself the goal of producing or co-producing at least one fiction series for children or youth yearly. We also strive to join feature films as a co-producer or pre-buy sooner than before, with the aim of being more useful for the financing and development stage of those productions.

RÚV also decided to take part in the European Writers Club initiative with the aim of providing further support to our young but very promising selection of screenwriters.

Could you detail your upcoming drama slate for 2023-24? Vigdís is probably your next big series coming up…

SG: We are extremely excited about our upcoming slate, how strong it is and diverse, in terms of subject matters, genres and production. Next up will be boarding school drama HomeEconomics, season 2 of The Minister, Vigdís, a biopic about the first female president in the world, The Danish Woman by Benedikt Erlingsson and Happily Never After season 2, with others such as Blackport season two in development

What are your biggest wishes for 2023-24?

SG: That the international market and big streamers will continue to trust the audience and their natural curiosity and hunger for something new, fresh and surprising, relevant strong stories regardless of where they come from and in what language.

Klapptré er sjálfstæður miðill sem birtir fréttir, viðhorf, gagnrýni og tölulegar upplýsingar um íslenska kvikmynda- og sjónvarpsbransann. Ritstjóri er Ásgrímur Sverrisson.