An increasing number of Flemish producers of fiction series are discovering distant shores. Following in the wake of Flemish film, television series are geared to conquer the international arena. Series like De matroesjkas (VTM) and Vermist (VT4, Vier) have firmly established themselves on the international scene with sales in 51 and 91 countries respectively. Salamander, the Saturday series on channel Een of the public broadcasting company VRT soon starts on the British BBC Four and an American remake of the series is currently underway. According to Peter Bouckaert of the production house Eyeworks, the sale of Salamander to the BBC could pave the way for more Flemish offerings. Dubbelleven, another Channel One series produced by Eyeworks, is also geared for an international remake and the rights to Code 37 were recently sold to a Canadian production house which is currently at work on a remake of the North American version of the VTM series. Clan, one of last autumn’s hypes, is also about to make an international breakthrough.
The answer to the question why all of a sudden the Flemish series have become so succesful seems to be quality. “The quality of scriptwriters, directors, producers and actors on the Flemish market continues to increase,” says Christian De Schutter of Flanders Image, the communication division of the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF). Veerle Baetens received rave reviews from HBO for her role in The White Queen. In the past many Flemish series and a number of other television programmes received mention locally but failed to be sold abroad; often because they did not seem to interest producers. According to Jan Theys, owner of the production house Skyline Entertainment that released Salamander, the success of Danish series like Borgen and The Killing picked the interest of many producers. He too was inspired by the success of these Danish series when he decided to make an international trailer of Salamander, which produred calls from three Hollywood producers and three distributors.
“Money does play a role,” says VTM network manager An Rydant. “Programmes which are bought abroad cost a mere 5 to 10% of the cost of a locally produced series. As in Flanders, broadcasters in the UK and US have to watch their budget. In Flanders they can find programmes which meet their standards.”
The opposite also rings true, and tight budgets force many Flemish producers to look abroad for additional income. The fact that Bouckaert’s Eyeworks is currently shooting the fifth and sixth seasons of Vermist is purely due to the international sales of the crime series. It seems the answer is also unanimous when asked what the government is doing to put Flanders on the international map: they invest much appreciated funds. Their tax shelter system makes it possible for businesses to invest in Flemish fiction and their Media Fund (the television affiliate of VAF, Flemish audiovisual Fund) supports documentaries, prestige and animation series. But according to Rydant there are shortcomings: “The fund only supports the first season of prestige series. Most foreign broadcasters only become interested after 24 episodes, which means at least two seasons.” Selling productions abroad has always been an initiative by the production houses themselves. 'It would be very useful if the authorities started a policy for the export of television series', Ellen Onkelinx of the associaton of production houses concludes.