Nordic But Nice

Friday, June 21 2013
Nordic But Nice

A normally deserted London warehouse on the fringes of the city, on a Saturday afternoon. As the rain increases, the outside of the building looks deserted. Inside it’s a hive of activity. In one ground floor warehouse, hundreds of people are watching a screening of The Hunters.

On the first floor, hundreds more are watching the final episode of the first series of BBC4 ratings hit Arne Dahl, while the cast and crew of the programme are readying themselves for a Q&A with the knowledgeable crowd.

Another floor up and there’s another busy screening room set up where first Wallander and then Borgen, Scandinavian hits new and old, are shown consecutively, each followed by further question and answer sessions with their respective stars.

Elsewhere in the building, fans are queuing up outside a photo booth, where they can have their pictures taken in front of scenes from such programmes as The Killing and The Bridge. Kids can make their own Scandinavian flags and crowns.

Grown-ups can browse stalls selling everything from smoked salmon and liquorice, all from Scandinavia, or jewellery and furniture. Oh, and there’s DVDs and Blu-rays on sale. Plenty of them. Later the hundreds of attendees will patiently queue up to get those self-same DVDs and Blu-rays signed by the talent involved in the raft of programming on show.

Others will head to one of the bars or food stalls present, to sample some vodka from Iceland, or Swedish cider, or even some Nordic cuisine.

Welcome then, to the first ever Nordicana. It’s somewhere between a convention and a mini-festival of film and TV.

What’s even more intriguing about the whole thing is the fact that the whole event has been set up by a video label, Arrow, in support of its Nordic Noir imprint.

The company had been the first to spot the potential for the gritty dramas, films and TV coming out of the region, snapping up the rights to The Killing before it became a bona fide phenomenon. And like Manga before it, Arrow spotted a niche and seized its opportunity, picking up other series such as The Bridge and Borgen. It has successfully built a brand and Nordicana was just the next stage in its growth.

After days, weeks if not months of planning and hard graft, the curtains have just come3 down on the first ever Nordicana event, a two-day show held over the weekend.

And Arrow has pronounced itself hugely pleased with the result. We at The Raygun popped along on the Saturday to get a feel for the show, the first of its kind, and were mightily impressed. The biblical rainstorm didn’t keep the crowds away; this was a busy, bustling event.

At the heart of it all were Arrow staff and agencies, all keenly interacting with their fans and consumers.

So, how did the show come about? “When we set up Nordic Noir as a brand, we wanted to do a website, we wanted to do private screenings with talent and Q&As and thought doing a film club would be a good idea,” explains Arrow’s Jon Sadler. “We had a stand at the Scandi Show in October and thought we’d do something around that. We talked about having a cinema set up, but it became difficult and expensive.”

After eventually hosting a couple of screenings around the event, with talent involved in Q&As, and also seeing how well box sets were selling at events such as the Scandi show, the seeds of an idea began to grow.

“We merged the two ideas,” explains Sadler, “it was fan convention meets film festival.”

A further screening of the last two episodes of Borgen further convinced Arrow it could be on to a winner, as the company added further screenings to the event and ended up with 660 paying punters.

“We thought this could be even bigger,” says Sadler. And then, after seeing the Farmiloe building in Farringdon, Arrow bit the bullet.

“We put a deposit down on the building, it’s an expensive enterprise, but we thought ‘what the hell, let’s do it’,” he says. “It was a case of if we build it, they will come. It’s typical of us.”

And then the hard work began. First it was getting the talent over – the filming of an epic entitled 1864 in Prague meant many of the Nordic Noir genre’s biggest stars might be busy.

“We put a stake in the ground,” says Sadler, and the company managed to persuade Sidse Babett Knudsen, star of Borgen, to sign up. As well as being first to become involved, her Q&A was the first major event of Nordicana. “Her on-stage talk and signing helped kick-start the weekend, people turned up early on, it got a buzz going on.”

Soon the other stars followed, along with exhibitors, sponsors and partners.

“We packed the schedule with as much entertainment as possible,” says Sadler, “we wanted to make it exceptional value.”

And then it was down to selling the tickets. As Sadler says, there was still uncertainty, right up until the last minute. “We had no idea how many people were going to come. At first [ticket sales] were quite slow, then it grew and grew in the last 10 days. We took above the line advertising then, but it all happened quite late in the day.”

But as Sadler explains, making money was never the real aim. The event was, for them, an investment. “It was a big gamble and you can’t really think about making money on it. You have to think of its impact on your CRM [customer relationship management].”

He can point to the growth in the last week of its box set sales (up 30 per cent) and the ongoing growth of its social media profile and databases.

And how did the event go? “The feedback we’ve had on Facebook and Twitter has been quite heartwarming,” says Sadler. “If I’d been a punter, I’d really have enjoyed being there. There were a few technical niggles along the way but we were really pleased with it.”

Don’t just take our word or Arrow’s either. Hugh David of Cult TV Times, a man who knows a thing or two about conventions, notes in his feature on the event: “|For a first-time event, where most of the attendees were also first-timers, Nordicana was quite a success. With books, clothes, furnishings, liquorice, vodka and more on sale, the event was perfectly pitched for the visiting public, and a genuine pleasure to be at.”

And, of course, there was the chance to interact with their fans, to find out about what they wanted and talk to them about forthcoming titles due from Arrow and its assorted imprints.

“That’s the bit I enjoyed the most,” notes Sadler. “I spent the first few years of my my career on the shop floor talking to customers. People want to talk about the films, they want you to you recommend something else. I really enjoyed having the chance to still be able to do that.”

There is plenty that Arrow can recommend too – it’s got a busy slate going forward, including new series of the likes of The Bridge and Borgen and new programmes such as family drama The Legacy. Arrow is also looking at how to work programmes that don’t have transmission planned and is further moving in to foreign language programming from other territories – world cinema TV, if you like – with Wales and Italy among its first ports of call.

And what of more Nordicana activity? Arrow has picked up lessons along the way (“The only way you can learn how to do it is to do it,” says Sadler) and expect another Nordicana event. “If we do another we aim to make it profitable. The DVD and theatrical market is difficult place to work in,” he explains, pointing to recent outings that seem to have got all the marketing and PR right, and yet have struggled theatrically. “We need to look at other business areas. We want to make it more experiential, we want to make other people want to be part of a community.”

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