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Danish Epic '1864′ Wins Funding War

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Entrusted with delivering both an eight-hour TV miniseries and a feature film in "1864," the most expensive Danish production ever, one can forgive director Ole Bornedal for wishing at the time that he were on an island in the Baltic Sea.

The scale of the enterprise was daunting. Major battle sequences in the film, about the war between Denmark and Prussia in 1864, required 270 extras, who, all told, clocked 18,000 hours on set. One day, a downpour caused some walls on the set to collapse. On the day that Variety visited the shoot in the Czech Republic, the heat caused a score of extras and crew members to faint.

"The logistics of doing war movies, with so many hundreds of extras, is difficult and sometimes nerve-racking," Bornedal says, suddenly longing for the smaller, inward-looking films of fellow Scandi filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. "Bergman called in Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson to film on his island, Faro, found a little summer house, put them in there with some dialogue and a camera (for the 1966 movie "Persona")," Bornedal notes. "I think he was a damn smart guy."

The miniseries treatment of "1864" is one of the most ambitious projects to be shown at the upcoming Mipcom TV mart (Oct. 7-10). The project cost 173 million krone ($30.7 million), with funding from 10 partners and the Danish government. The eight-hour mini debuts this month on Danish pubcaster DR, with the feature version targeted for a world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015.

Bornedal says the idea for the project came from Ingolf Gabold, who as then-head of fiction at DR was exec producer on skeins like "The Killing," "The Bridge" and "Borgen."

Gabold had been inspired by two books by Tom Buk-Swienty about the conflict between Denmark and Prussia, which resulted in more than 5,000 Danish deaths and the loss of one-third of Danish territory. The war was a traumatic shock to national pride and a loss of innocence. It resulted in long-term adoption of neutrality and an absence of a military policy, to the extent that when the Nazis invaded the country, there was little resistance.

For Bornedal, the key element of the project is the relationship between the central characters: two brothers who fight in the war, and a young woman who loves them both. Not surprisingly, the director professes an affinity for "Doctor Zhivago" and the work of David Lean, and sees in "1864" a film that similarly features strong characters in service of a tale fraught with danger.

"It's a classic story about power and the abuse of power … of people getting separated," Bornedal says. It's dramatic; it's epic."

Before embarking on the project, Bornedal wrote the scripts for both the mini and the movie. "I didn't want to make the feature film by just sitting at the editing table and cutting it down. I wanted to see if there was a movie here," he says. This involved shooting certain scenes just for the movie.

Gabold persuaded the Danish government's department of culture to back the project, resulting in an unprecedented investment of $17.8 million. After nailing down that coin, producers Peter Bose and Jonas Allen of Miso Film created a patchwork of financing from 10 partners, which include broadcasters TV2 in Norway; TV4 in Sweden; Arte, the upmarket Franco-German channel; international distributors ZDF Enterprises and Svensk Filmindustri, which put up minimum guarantees; and a production incentive from the Czech Republic, where the battle scenes were shot.

"This is very different to the financing model you have on U.S. series, where you have the broadcaster, the studio, and then you go," Bose says. "We act as a ministudio: We do the financing, the development, and the production."

Bose and Allen are convinced that once buyers see the footage, they'll come onboard. They are buoyed by the sales of Danish shingle Zentropa with high-profile period feature "A Royal Affair," which struggled to find financing, but finally netted a total of $8.5 million, and sold to more than 80 countries, earning an Oscar nomination in for foreign language film.

Also helping propel "1864": Bose and Allen's track record of producing crime series for the international market, such as "Those Who Kill," which sold to 29 countries and is being remade by A&E Networks this year with Chloe Sevigny in the lead.

A major challenge on "1864" for Miso, whose previous series were budgeted at around $3.4 million, was to keep a tight grip on costs during the battle sequences.

Czech co-production partner Sirena Film has had experience in providing production services for big U.S. shoots, where the emphasis has been on flexibility, but for Miso everything has to be tightly controlled.

Bornedal, whose credits include the Danish suspenser "Nightwatch" and the Sam Raimi-produced "The Possession," assembled a team including production designer Niels Sejer and costume designer Manon Rasmussen, both of whom worked on "A Royal Affair," and line producer Mouns Overgaard ("This Life").

Even so, Bornedal considers the shoot and marvels at its rigors. "This is definitely suicide for any director," he says. "I can do it, and I don't feel insecure doing it, but sometimes I wish I was sitting on Ingmar Bergman's island."

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