Jenny Gilbertsson • Producer
by Vittoria Scarpa
14/05/2012 - Jenny Gilbertsson (Yellow Bird) was the associate producer and script editor of the successful Millennium trilogy, based on the Stieg Larsson books (3 films for cinema, with takings of over €163M, and 6 for TV). Recently she produced the police series centred on Annika Bengtzon (10 million copies sold worldwide), a character born from the pen of the author Liza Marklund: 6 films for the Swedish channel TV4, of which the first, Nobel’s Last Will, shot by Denmark's Peter Flinth, also came out in cinemas. She talked to us about her work and Yellow Bird's strategy at the 11th edition of the IBF - International Book Forum (My 10-12, 2012), the business area at the Turin International Book Festival dedicated to the trading of editorial rights for film and TV adaptations.
Cineuropa: What are Yellow Bird's guiding lines?
Gilbertsson: Yellow Bird is a production company specialising in film and television adaptations of successful Swedish books. They have to be international best-sellers and a book series in order to guarantee continuity, which is useful for TV. Our strategy consists in working in parallel on the film for the big screen and on the TV series. That way we can look for funding both in the cinema and the TV industry. And consequently make profit from both. In Sweden the two are not separate.
What kind of relationship do you have with the writers?
We try to have a dynamic collaboration with them. When we buy the rights for a book, the meeting with the author is fundamental. We discuss the project, mutual expectations, the budget. We try to understand whether the author wants to embark on this journey with us. We don't always agree, but the author cannot impose any vetoes, because the medium is different. On our part, we do everything we can to make sure the author recognises his characters on screen.
Obviously this discussion was not possible with Stieg Larsson, the author of the Millennium trilogy, who died in 2004…
We talked to Eva, his partner, with his father and his brother. They didn't want to take part in the project, but only because they weren't the ones who created it. We did however work in close contact with the publishing house. We bought the rights for Millennium when it was still a manuscript. The publishing house had told me about something new and special that she wanted us to read, given our experience with Wallander (5 films for Swedish television based on the homonymous book series, of which an English version was also made for the BBC starring Kenneth Branagh, editor's note). When the Millennium case exploded with the release of the second book we had already been working on it for a year and a half.
What do you make of the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Did you sell the rights? Did you take part in decisions?
We didn't sell the rights, we never do that. We created a joint venture and we co-produced. Two of our producers were involved in the decisions, but we didn't have any say in the final cut. In any case this was a big studio and a fantastic director. In some ways the American Lisbeth is even closer to the one in the book, stronger.
With which European country do you work best?
Germany is a solid and important market for us. It's traditionally open to new Swedish series, especially in the crime genre. The six films in the Marklund project were co-produced by the German company ARD Degeto, as well as by Denmark's Nordisk Film. The first film of the series Nobel’s Last Will (out in March in cinemas in Sweden, Finland and Norway, editor's note) was sold in over 30 countries. It's an unusual detective story: it doesn't so much concentrate on who the murderer is but rather on why he does it. We finished shooting the last episode in December.
In your experience, what does a novel need to have in order to achieve success on the big screen?
The crux of it all is a good and complex character, who is told well in the book, with gripping language. We're specialised in crime stories, we are real fans of this genre: the quintessence of the eternal battle between life and death.