Danish television production is buckling under the pressure to deliver more series demanded by worldwide streamers and broadcasters…
Our demand for Danish series began with BBC Four showing The Bridge in 2014, and has since risen to include ARTE, Channel 4, NPO and other European broadcasters demanding content. Now even North American networks, and streaming service HBO, are jumping on the bandwagon. But our love of ‘Nordic noir’, which took Denmark by surprise, comes at a price. In August 2021, production designer Emile Nordentoft and actress Dorte Rømer wrote an open letter, delivering it with 415 signatures to Ekko magazine, Denmark’s professional film and television publication. In it, they asked producers to change their working environments, which they said have become, in too many instances, impossible to work within.
Speaking to me over the phone, Chief of the Danish Film and Television Union, René Høyer Jørgensen, says demand for Danish series have exploded internationally due to the “a high level of quality delivered by small crews.” He says with Netflix and Amazon joining calls for content, rising stress levels are the future and, though his union is putting pressure on companies to change, they’re unwilling to enter negotiations.
“Danish series have exploded internationally due to the ‘a high level of quality delivered by small crews'”
Makeup artist Bjørg Serup is just one professional left scarred by her hours. She was given stress-related cognitive impairment as a “parting gift” from her work last year. Chatting to me by text, she says it means she has serious long-term health difficulties and is too stressed to go into detail about the deadlines she was up against.
In her article for Ekko, however, following the open letter, she explains that feature films that typically took eight weeks to shoot are now crammed into just five, with freelancers expected to research before their contract starts, meaning they often juggle many projects at the same time. Netflix have bases in London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Madrid, and late last year opened an office in Stockholm, with a satellite in Copenhagen. The company has already created Nordic originals that include the Swedish series Quicksand, Love & Anarchy and Young Royals, three seasons of Danish series The Rain and Norwegian series Ragnarok and Home for Christmas. Denmark is talented, but Sweden has a larger population and stronger work schedules, which allows it to cope. For Denmark, a rural country of just four million, American work ethic doesn’t fit with a small employee pool, and leaves the talented professionals, moulded by the ‘Dogme 95’ movement of the 1990s, unable to cope.
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