‘Our task as a broadcaster is very much that of a co-producer,’ stresses Marina Blok, head of drama at Dutch public broadcaster NPS. ‘We get into a project early, not only by helping with finance but by helping with its development. We think a lot about our films.’
NPS invests in the region of €450,000 per year in up to five Dutch films. The flat rate investment of €90,000 per film, which guarantees local broadcast rights, is granted irrespective of the film’s total budget. So while average film budgets may level out at somewhere between €2.5 million and €3 million, Blok is as happy to invest in more soberly-priced projects, such as Esther Rots’ KAN DOOR HUID HEEN (CAN GO THROUGH SKIN), that was selected for Berlinale Forum in 2009. ‘Sometimes it happens that the director really wants to make the film and can do it for a small budget,’ she stresses. ‘In those cases we can help get the film made even without the support of the Netherlands Film Fund.’
NPS’ commitment to Dutch feature production is part of a wider agreement between the major Dutch broadcasters and the Dutch production industry that sees €1.6 million of television money invested in a total of eighteen films per year. These eighteen films benefit from a further investment of €4.5 million from the CoBO Fund, a funding outfit financed mainly from the rights paid by Belgian and German cable operators for the simultaneous retransmission of Dutch channels in their own regions.
’CoBO will cover roughly 20% of the budget, a figure which may be on average €250,000 per film, which means that together with our contribution of €90,000, television money accounts for something like €340,000 of the film’s budget,’ Blok underlines. ‘We don’t have to see an advertising return when we broadcast these films. Two years ago we decided that we don’t want a recoupment from our investment. So everything goes to the producer. We are a public broadcaster – we buy the rights and that’s it.’
Every year Blok looks to lend financial support to one youth-oriented and four arthouse films. ‘Sometimes they are very niche, small and experimental, such as the Esther Rots film or Mijke de Jong’s KATJA'S LITTLE SISTER, which was also selected for the Berlinale this year,’ she points out. ‘And some are for a broader audience such as Dana Nechushtan’s DUNYA AND DESIE.’ Nechushtan’s film was the Dutch submission for this year’s foreign–language Academy Award.
Blok refuses to differentiate between small and large screen aesthetic when assessing a film for support. She reasons instead that the proper determining criteria for her interest is strong story and characters. ‘A viewer watching late at night is as equally concentrated as somebody watching the film in a theatre, so I don’t feel that I have to make a selection based on the size of the screen,’ she emphasises. She is however concerned that some of the arthouse films in which NPS has invested have seen poor returns at the Dutch box-office.
’Yes, sometimes you feel that some filmmakers are making films for a very small group of friends instead of an audience,’ she opines. ‘But here in the Dutch broadcasting system we have a very special task, and that is to support strong films. A lot of people think that NPS has made good choices – two films selected for Berlin is not bad.’
’I invest in films that look to satisfy the domestic audience rather than the international audience,’ she continues. ‘One of the criteria of our investment is that a large part of the film must be spoken in the Dutch language, as I think it is important that Dutch viewers can recognise their world. I notice that a lot of Netherlands filmmakers want to go and work abroad with bigger and more international subjects, and therefore must co-produce with more countries. But that makes it more difficult for us to invest, because of the shift in emphasis away from the Dutch audience.’
Blok and her team oversee investment in two programmes dedicated to non-feature length fiction films. Every year during the Netherlands Film Festival, NPS presents the Kort! programme of ten short films, produced in association with the Netherlands Film Fund, the CoBO Fund and the Mediafund (Stimulerungs Fund). NPS contributes €100,000 (€10,000 per film) towards the overall budget of €800,000. ‘We have done this for nine years now. The television schedules can be very tight but we can still broadcast all ten in one evening, and then individually throughout the year. For young filmmakers and for new producers it’s a very strong talent programme.’
Together with broadcasters VPRO and Vara, NPS continues to oversee the One Night Stand programme, produced in association with the Dutch Film Fund, CoBO and the Mediafund. The programme, budgeted at €2.5 million, is designed to help develop new talent. This year’s fifth edition will see an increase in film-length from forty to fifty minutes. ‘The programme enables a lot of young film directors and writers to make their first film after leaving film-school,’ Blok continues. ‘Some of these films get a theatrical arthouse release. All are premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival in September.’