Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Dutch hit success with child's play

Reading the figures for European movie-going a year ago, I gave the free advice that if we wanted to try to write sucessful movies, we should be writing for kids and young adults. Since then, of course, we've had another "Harry Potter" to prove my point. But even outside the mainstream studio releases, there are examples. Screendaily.com just ran a piece about the 2005 box office in Holland. Although overall figures are down by 12%, attendance of Dutch movies is up by over 13%. This includes "Kameleon 2" (Steven de Jong), "Zoop in Africa" (Johan Nijenhuis), "Schnitzel Paradise "(Martin Koolhoven) and "Winky's Horse" (Mischa Kamp). The last Dutch film of the year to be released was, "De Griezelbus", an adaptation of the very popular children’s books by Dutch writer Paul van Loon.

Hmm, maybe I should take some of my own advice from now on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Belgian online mag celebrates 100th issue

Ten years ago, the magazine Cinergie was struggling as a print magazine. It decided to dump paper and focus on providing an online news mag with interviews and comments on the Belgian scene. Ten years later, they are still going strong (75,000 visitors a month) and are planning to start showing short movies online starting with Marie-Laure Guisset's award-winning "Home Sweet Gnome".

In an interview for their partner publication Cineuropa, editorJean-Michel Vlaeminckx says, "In a way, we are like Belgian cinema: a maximum of ideas with a minimum of money." The Belgian Touch - low-key, off-beat movies done on shoestring budgets - has generated considerable press over the past few years. Yet Vlaeminckx echoes Screenplay Europe's wish for a broader impact for creativity. "You know, when incredible films like 'L'Avventura', 'la Dolce vita', 'Breathless', 'Monika' appeared and changed the cinema landscape… Those actors were popular and had a real audience, and they revolutionized cinema. But because of audiovisual formatting, and the fact that the rotation of films in theatres is quicker and quicker (mega profits need to be made in a very short lapse of time) and television has become the forced partner of cinema [and] is imposing its consensual norms, European cinema has lost some of its vitality."

To read the full interview (in English, French, Italian or Spanish), visit Cineuropa. For the 100th issue of Cinergie (in French), click here. This month's featured movie is Fiona Gordon and Dominque Abel's "Iceberg".

Monday, December 19, 2005

10,000 visitors and no flowers

I almost missed this: Screenplay Europe has had some 10,000 visits over the past year. Since I started covering screenplay stories from a European perspective, I've had a regular flow of people looking for news items.

For the record, at least 3 people a day come looking specifically for "Banlieue 13", with another few checking Luc Besson stories. So there's your Christmas n° 1 right there. Cedric Klapisch's "Russian Dolls" also scores well. Apart from the French, filmmakers from Eastern Europe generally also score well.

No-one sent flowers, but then I didn't give any to the 10,000th visitor either.

My only major regret is that I can't point to actual downloadable European screenplays for the people that ask fo them. If anyone knows of a good source, please leave a link.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Europe's "Television Without Frontiers": development hell?

The EU’s Television Without Frontiers Directive is not the stuff of novels. Yet its implications for movies, television – and therefore writers – is considerable. Pyrrhus Mercouris of the FSE (Federation of Scriptwriters in Europe) gave a quick overview of the ongoing review of the Directive to members of Belgium’s Association des Scénaristes de l’Audiovisuel recently.

The Directive’s goal is to harmonise legislation governing the very diverse TV sector in Europe. With the EU’s complex web of private and public channels, languages, legislation and copyright issues, finding some sort of common ground was never easy. The original Directive was adopted in 1989, amended in 1997 with a new draft Directive soon to be announced.

One of the key elements of the existing Directive is its encouragement of the production of European audiovisual works. For TV channels, this meant the obligation to show 50% European content. Yet a review has shown that very few channels respect the quota. “And some people were surprised to find that weather forecasts were being counted as European productions,” notes Mercouris. A significant part of the problem is that Margaret Thatcher managed to add a proviso to the Directive that it would be applied, “where appropriate”.

Canada and more recently Australia opted for a deregulated approach to the audiovisual sector. Consequently, Australia only shows about 9% local production. The age of hits such as “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is over.

Some countries, such as Ireland and Belgium, are very heavily “penetrated” by other countries’ television. Ireland feels that it simply cannot compete with the massive budgets of the BBC, making it impossible for it to meet the quota of 50%. Other countries are looking to exert more control over incoming advertising and broadcasts that specifically target a country despite being located outside its jurisdiction.

Looking ahead, the FES would like the Directive to be extended to the web, given that telcos are already preparing for Internet and mobile phone broadcasts. DRM gives them the means of controlling the use of their files. Nothing, however, guarantees that the relevant creators will see any of this new revenue.

Harmonisation would provide a clearer framework. Currently, authors’ rights are paid differently in the EU, with Ireland’s independent sector singled out for its particularly bad treatment of scriptwriters. Across Europe, writers complain of the difficulty of getting payment for their work despite being at the basis of many of the works. This makes a good case for maintaining the payment of authors rights on broadcasts.

"No internal market"
Strangely, the debate on film and TV is lumped with the information technology sectors rather than culture at the EU level. This means the priorities are sometimes more economic than cultural, with issues being discussed in terms of the internal market. “There is no internal market in film and TV,” says Mercouris. “Research shows that Europeans like to watch locally produced material at prime time. But there is very little being shown from other European countries. On the other hand, US shows that cost $6 million to produce are being sold off for $100,000 in some countries.” Needless to say, local productions in smaller East European countries and Greece cannot compete.

Negotiations are ongoing.

The FSE was created in 2001, and represents 4,500 writers from 14 countries. Writer guilds from three further countries, Sweden, Finland and Turkey, are currently considering joining. To find out more about the Television Without Borders Directive, see the European Parliament site.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Banlieue 13 to get US release

Over the year we have been posting on Screenplay Europe, the single most requested item has been "Banlieue 13", co-written and produced by Luc Besson, directed by Pierre Morel and starring David Belle. US fans should note that the film will finally be released there in spring 2006 by Magnolia Pictures. Basically a fun cops 'n' robbers romp featuring spectacular physical stunts, "Banlieue 13/District 13" has been seen by 1 million spectators since its release. The official site in French is still online. But the forum has been locked, unfortunately.

European Besson watchers, meanwhile, are eagerly awaiting his hush-hush project "Angel A" starring Jamel Debbouze. The film was shot in black and white over the summer and despite its French release date of December 21, no synopsis has been made available.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Haneke's "Hidden/Caché" sweeps the EFA Awards

It was a great night for Austria's Michael Haneke last Saturday, when "Hidden/Caché" picked up a string of major awards at the 18th annual European Film Awards in Berlin. Many people felt he was short-changed when the Palme d'Or went to the Dardenne brothers in May. At EFA, his film picked up six awards, including best film, best director (which he had already won at Cannes), and best actor for Daniel Auteuil.

Other highlights included Hany Abu-Assad & Bero Beyer picking up the Screenwriting trophy for "Paradise Now", Julia Jentsch (photo) the Best Actress trophy for her role in "Sophie Scholl" (as well as a Jameson People's Choice Award) and the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Sir Sean Connery.

For the full list of winners, see the EFA site.

Michael Haneke on Amazon UK
Michael Haneke on Amazon US

"Constant Gardener" cleans up at BIFA awards

"The Constant Gardener" was the big winner at the 8th British Independent Film Awards in London on Wednesday night. The film won the top prize of Best British independent film, with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz also claiming the best actor and actress prizes. Best Screenplay was given to Frank Cottrell Boyce for "Millions". The Douglas Hickox award for a debut director went to Annie Griffin for "Festival" (which had already won an award at Dinard). Oliver Hirschbiegel’s "Downfall" was named best foreign film, while Sean McAllister's "The Liberace of Baghdad" was named best documentary. Neil Marshall won best director for his horror film "The Descent"

Fopr the full results, see the BIFA site.

Constant Gardener on Amazon UK
"Downfall" on Amazon UK
"Downfall" on Amazon US

Friday, December 02, 2005

Screenplay Europe in your language

For a site that welcomes script news from across the continent, Screenplay Europe is surprisingly mono-lingual. We have to make a choice. Running even a smallish site like this takes considerable time. If we had to translate every item, we would write less. For a quick translation of our news items, we have added a link on the menu on the right (scroll down).

If you have comments about any of the items, feel free to make them in English, French, Italian or Dutch.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Screenlab London: Selling Your First Script: The Final Rewrite

The New Producers Alliance organises regular events in London for producers, writers and directors (bearing in mind that many people are all of the above). Over the coming month, they will be running a few events of interest, including: Screenlab (Monday Dec. 5), an evening mentoring workshop on how to create, pitch and sell successful TV and film projects - for writers, directors, producers and script executives.

This is a mentoring discussion for writers, directors and producers who have either taken the Saturday seminar in the month before, or who have equivalent tuition or experience. Participants can develop their pitches, bring script samples for discussion and receive detailed feedback and mentoring advice on their work. Observers are also welcome to take part in the discussions.

For details of this and the rest of their programme, visit New Producers Alliance.