It’s Arcel’s ‘Fables’! The moral of the story is “Think big”

Increasing numbers of the nation’s directors are taking on English-language projects

On the back of his success with ‘En kongelig affære’ (‘A Royal Affair’), the film’s director Nikolaj Arcel has signed on with Warner Brothers to make ‘Fables’, a movie adaptation of the DC comic book series by the same name. ‘Fables’ is the third major international project Arcel has announced this year.

‘Fables’, originally created in 2002, follows various fairytale characters from Snow White to Cinderella who have been kicked out of their fantasy world and now reside in a secret corner of New York City. While Warner Brothers initially tried to develop a screen adaptation of the books with the Jim Henson company in 2004, the project never reached the screenwriting stage.

Arcel relocated to Los Angeles from Denmark in August 2012. Since then, he has signed on to multiple English-language films, including an adaptation of the bestselling crime novel ‘The Power of the Dog’, which is about Mexican drug cartels, and a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller ‘Rebecca’.

It was meant to be a holiday

According to Arcel, his departure from Danish shores was originally meant as a change of scene that only coincidentally led to his transition into Hollywood films.

“[Screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg and I] wanted a year in the sun to get inspired and see something else besides the familiar view from Zentropa’s windows,” he told the Danish Film Institute. “Of course, we did think a lot about potentially making the leap into English-language films. But it wasn’t a clear decision on our part.”

Ultimately, Arcel suggested, it was his earlier successes in the Danish film industry that helped him to secure work in the US.

“We were received incredibly well over here, because of ‘A Royal Affair’ as well as ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, which we also wrote together,” he told the Danish Film Institute. “But no actual contracts were drawn up until the nominations started rolling in.”

“A producer told me that industry people in Hollywood make the worst stockbrokers, because everyone only puts money into the strongest stocks in town, and only when someone’s already on top,” he went on.

Not away from home alone

Arcel is one of a number of Danish filmmakers finding high-profile success abroad. Niels Arden Oplev of ‘Dead Man Down’, for example, recently directed the pilot of the American science fiction series ‘Under the Dome’, which is set to premiere in the US on Monday June 24. And ‘The Killing’ director Birger Larsen has made a foray into English-language television as well, taking home a BAFTA TV award this April for his 2012 BBC2 drama ‘Murder: Joint Enterprise’.

Danish filmmaker Ole Christian Madsen has also transitioned into English-language projects by directing several episodes of HBO’s ‘Banshee’, a drama series about an ex-convict who assumes the role of a murdered sheriff in Amish Pennsylvania.

Unlike Arcel, however, Madsen maintained that his transition to Hollywood has allowed him greater artistic freedoms than in Denmark.

“It is incredibly inspiring to work at a TV station where you don’t necessarily have to aim for the highest number of viewers, but where the most important thing is to separate yourself from what others are doing,” he told Politiken earlier this year.

Madsen contended that the international industry had a greater tendency towards stereotyping and categorising filmmakers.

“You can quickly become branded as someone who only does television series,” he warned. “Americans are crazy quick to put something in a box, so you have to think about that and develop a strategy.”

Small industry an advantage

The smaller industry in Denmark, he suggested, might even drive directors to improve their craft – and thereby improve their chances in the international industry.

“Because we have so little money to work with in Denmark, we have learned that we have to intensify our project when it comes to pictures and aesthetics,” he went on.

“We might also have a higher degree of dramatic understanding – we are very good at building a scene up to reach an emotional conflict. But I will always make films in Denmark because we have a unique and strong film culture, and we shouldn’t be intimidated by American film. We are fully and equally qualified.”