Morten Tyldum, one of Norway’s most successful film directors, has signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to create a major TV series based on a Viking saga. He wants to film it in Norway, but worries that costs may be too high, while other countries have much better incentive programs for film projects.
The series aims to present a new image of the Viking era, following the life of one man in particular who actually lived in the late 800s. “It’s a portrait of a Viking who had dark skin and Mongolian features,” Tyldum told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. “Because of that he was traded as a slave before he was found to be the son of a king.”
Tyldum, who has an Oscar nomination to his credit and is know for directing major films including The Imitation Game, is basing the TV series on a book written by Bergsveinn Birgisson. The book, Den svarte vikingen (The Black Viking), tells the historically correct saga of a Viking named Geirmund Heljarskinn. Tyldum said the series will follow Heljarskinn, originally from Alvaldsnes in Norway’s western country of Rogaland, from the cradle to the grave.
Birgisson’s book is based on archaeological projects, old texts and modern genetics. The TV series about the book’s subject will be produced in English and is meant to become internationally available.
Making a pitch for incentives
“It’s a major series,” Tyldum told NRK before putting some not-so-subtle pressure on Norwegian officials to improve incentives for filmmakers: “Where we actually film will depend on incentive programs.” He said both Iceland and Ireland, for example, currently have better financial incentives than Norway.
He expects each season of the series will cost as much as NOK 800 million (USD 100 million). He thinks an American-backed series geared to American audiences that takes place in Norway and is all about Norwegian culture and heritage “would mean a lot” for Norway. He hopes the state will offer sufficient financial incentives to make it happen.
Norwegian officials ultimately offered around NOK 43 million (around USD 6 million at the time) to secure Norway as the location for the new film based on Jo Nesbø’s book Snømannen (The Snowman). It was filmed entirely in Norway, in Oslo, Bergen and Rjukan, with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reporting on Tuesday that it’s believed to have generated as much as NOK 200 million in tax revenues for the country because of the roughly 80 jobs it created, albeit temporarily. DN reported that one Norwegian stuntman used in the film more than doubled his income by also delivering snow and weapons to the film project.
Now Norway’s tourism industry is also counting on more revenues as scenic Norwegian landscapes flash on cinema screens around the world, possibly luring more Nesbø book and film fans into making the trip to Norway. Films and TV series are often viewed as marketing tools by civic boosters, and even the town of Rjukan is now ready to try cashing in on the Snowman film, offering special packages including hotel accommodation, dinner, cinema tickets and a visit to the historic Vemork power station.
Vikings raise contemporary issues
Tyldum is convinced the new Viking series will also attract more visitors to Norway. Even though it begins in the year 846, he also contends that many of the problems and issues at the time were the same as now.
Author Birgisson, who has a doctorate degree and has specialized in Norse and Viking studies, told NRK he was glad Tyldum was making the series. “We often hear the same (Viking) stories about piracy, plundering and a macho culture,” said Birgisson. “Morten immediately saw that the book has many contemporary references and that’s what he wants to bring forth.”
The new Viking series will be produced by Paramount Pictures and Anonymous Content. Casting has not yet begun. “We have the scripts in focus now, and are beginning to plan the whole series,” Tyldum told NRK. “The casting will take place when we get closer to filming.”