Netflix’s David Kosse Talks Drawing Top Talent For Streamer’s European Film Push & What’s On Deck
EXCLUSIVE: Amid its continuing drive to ramp up local feature productions, Netflix has a host of ambitious titles coming out of Europe in the next year. Already, Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-shortlisted The Hand Of God launched on the service in late 2021, hitting the Top 10 in 11 countries, while ahead are films from such directors as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Louis Leterrier, Romain Gavras, Edward Berger, Roar Uthaug and Oscar winner Sébastian Lelio, among others. Currently in production for later down the pike are J.A. Bayona’s Society Of The Snow and the Spanish feature spinoff of Netflix hit series Bird Box.
Former Universal, Film4 and STX executive David Kosse took on the role of VP of International Film at Netflix in 2019 with a mandate to oversee international film production and acquisitions and a focus on making and acquiring non-English language movies for the streaming site. Across the years, he has developed strong talent relationships and says part of the strategy at Netflix this year is to focus on “big filmmakers.”
He tells me, “I love the variety of everything we’re doing and I’m really pleased that the number of filmmakers that we set out to work with two or three years ago from Ed (Berger) to Paolo (Sorrentino) to Juan Antonio (Bayona) to getting Balt (Kormakur) to do something, Jeunet, Gavras… We’ve managed to have a really broad list of these filmmakers.”
Has it been difficult to sway talent to make movies for streaming? Kosse responds, “I think that we’ve managed to become a place that they can make these films the way they want to make them. Scott (Stuber’s) group in LA with (The Irishman) and everything else kind of opened the door for a lot of these. We’re also letting them tell stories that they’ve been pretty passionate about wanting to tell and that fit with what we think our members want; there’s an alignment of interest that has worked out.”
Kosse says the viewing of non-English language content “has tripled over the last three years.” Part of that is attributable to more content being made and an increase in dubbing and subtitling, while overall, “We are finding that the appetite continues to grow.”
Currently in the finishing stages, Berger’s All Quiet On The Western Front is a particularly compelling project. This is a new take on the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque which was also the source material for the eponymous 1930 Best Picture Oscar-winner. The film, shot in German, stars Daniel Brühl and Albrecht Schuch and follows a young soldier’s terrifying experiences during World War I. Kosse says that doing it in German “has made it a transformative experience.”
Berger, he surmises, likely couldn’t have gotten All Quiet On The Western Front made elsewhere at the budget level that’s gone into the project. While Kosse won’t be led as to what the exact spend is in EMEA on an annual basis, he says he has “an envelope” within which to work. Along with the marquee titles, local teams in each country are striving to make between five and 10 smaller additional films. “The primary effort is to try to have a balanced slate that combines with local scripted series, documentaries and stand-up,” he explains.
The company is also finding repeat business with talent. Berger is working with Netflix on limited series The 39 Steps, a star vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch. Lupin star Omar Sy is re-teaming with that series’ director Leterrier for The Takedown (formerly known as Tour De Force), a buddy cop action comedy that’s the follow up to 2012’s On The Other Side Of The Tracks and is due to premiere this year.
Further out of France, Amélie auteur Jeunet’s future-set comedy Bigbug will premiere February 11 while Gavras’ topical untitled project is due later this year and was written with Oscar nominee Ladj Ly (Les Misérables) and Elias Belkeddar (My Days Of Glory). Plot is being kept under wraps.
About to wrap in Barcelona is the Spanish spinoff of Bird Box. Kosse explains that it takes place “within the universe of when (the original) Bird Box is happening and what was going on in the rest of the world.” Produced by Dylan Clark (Bird Box, The Batman), Chris Morgan (Bird Box, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw) and Adrián Guerra and Núria Valls for Nostromo Pictures, its exec producers include Bird Box’s Susanne Bier and Ryan Lewis. Directors and writers are Alex and David Pastor (The Occupant, The Head, Carriers, Los Últimos Dias).
Kosse likens the project’s potential to that of Army Of Thieves which was a global hit spinoff of Army Of The Dead, and says Netflix is looking to do more Bird Box spinoffs, “expanding these universes by moving to different locations and in different languages.”
Also in Spain, Bayona is currently shooting Society Of The Snow. Based on the book La Sociedad De La Nieve, the film is set in 1972, charting the true story of what happens after a Uruguayan Air Force flight transporting a rugby team to Chile crashes on a glacier in the Andes. Only 29 of the 45 passengers survived the crash, finding themselves in one of the world’s toughest environments, and forced to resort to extreme measures to stay alive.
Kosse explains that Bayona has been on the passion project for a decade, engaging with all of the original survivors in the making of the movie which is drawn out of the book (to which Netflix holds rights).
In terms of whether the upcoming films will have a theatrical component, Kosse explains, “We don’t really do that up front. We effectively say we’ll look at a film and see how we go. I suspect with Bayona there will be something like that, but it’s not set in stone.”
Elsewhere, production has wrapped on Troll, a creature feature directed by Uthaug (Tomb Raider). The pitch: When an ancient troll is awakened in a Norwegian mountain, a rag-tag group of heroes must come together to try and stop it from wreaking deadly havoc. Kosse says the team spent a year designing the titular beast and calls Troll “a giant four-quadrant event movie that happens to take place in Norway… with a troll.” The film will premiere this year.
Kosse also oversees projects coming from the UK and Ireland. Among those on deck in 2022 is feel-good sports pic The Swimmers. The Working Title film is directed by Sally El Hosaini who co-wrote with Jack Thorne. This is the true story of swimming sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini and their miraculous journey as refugees from war-torn Syria, all the way to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Manal Issa, Nathalie Issa, Ahmed Malek, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman, Kinda Alloush, James Krishna Floyd and Elmi Rashid Elmi star.
Another UK title, The Wonder, is helmed by A Fantastic Woman Oscar laureate Sebastián Lelio who co-wrote with Emma Donoghue and Alice Birch. Based on Donoghue’s 2016 novel, the psychological thriller is set in the Irish Midlands in 1862 when a young girl stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright is brought to a tiny village to observe the girl while tourists and pilgrims trek there to witness the phenomenon. Is the village harboring a saint ‘surviving on manna from heaven’ or are there more ominous motives at work? The cast includes Florence Pugh, Tom Burke and Niamh Algar. Producers are Tessa Ross and Juliette Howell for House Productions; and Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe for Element Pictures.
Here’s a snapshot of other upcoming titles (with dates where available):
MUNICH – THE EDGE OF WAR: Debuting Friday, Christian Schwochow’s London Film Festival premiere stars George MacKay and Jeremy Irons. Based on the bestseller by Robert Harris, it’s set in the fall of 1938 as Europe stands on the brink of war. Adolf Hitler is preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain’s government desperately seeks a peaceful solution. With the pressure building, a British civil servant and German diplomat travel to Munich for the emergency Conference. As negotiations begin, the two old friends find themselves at the center of a web of political subterfuge and very real danger. With the whole world watching, can war be averted and, if so, at what cost?
AGAINST THE ICE: After playing the Berlin Film Festival in February, the Baltasar Kormakur-produced thriller will head to Netflix on March 2. Directed by Peter Flinth, it’s co-written by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who also stars and produces), and is the true story of a pair of Danish explorers who become stranded while seeking a lost Artcic expedition. Peaky Blinders alum Joe Cole also stars in the two-hander.
BLACK CRAB: Another festival premiere, this time at Gothenburg, Adam Berg’s Scandi action thriller debuts March 18 on Netflix. Starring Noomi Rapace, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world torn apart by climate change and war. During an endless winter, six soldiers are sent on a dangerous mission across the frozen sea to transport a package that could finally end the conflict. Equipped with ice skates, unaware of what they’re carrying, or who they can trust, the mission challenges their beliefs and forces them to ask: what are they willing to sacrifice for their own survival?
LATER IN 2022
BLASTED: Directed by Martin Sofiedal, written by Emanuel Nordrum and produced by Are Heidenstrøm (The Wave) at Miso Film, the sci-fi comedy is inspired by a real-life UFO-phenomenon in Hessdalen, Norway and follows childhood friends Sebastian and Mikkel, who are reunited for Sebastian’s bachelor party. While Mikkel never matured past teenage laser tag-prodigy, Sebastian has grown into a workaholic who’s using the party to schmooze a potential client. But when the gathering stumbles into an alien invasion, it’s up to Mikkel and Sebastian to reunite and fight back as the kick-ass lasertag duo they once were.
I CAME BY: Following his BAFTA winning feature debut, Under The Shadow, Babak Anvari directs and co-writes the story of a rebellious young graffiti artist who targets the homes of the wealthy elite and discovers a shocking secret that leads him on a journey endangering himself and those closest to him. George Mackay, Kelly Macdonald and Hugh Bonneville star.
THE STRAYS: The debut feature from writer/director Nathaniel Martello-White stars Ashley Madekwe, Bukky Bakray, Jorden Myrie, Samuel Small, Maria Almeida and Justin Salinger. Shot in England between September and November 2021, the drama sees the perfect life of an upper-middle-class woman begin to unravel with the arrival of two shadowy figures in her town.
I USED TO BE FAMOUS: Directed by Eddie Sternberg, the story of a desperate former popstar who dreams of making a comeback and his unexpected friendship an autistic young drummer wrapped production at the end of 2021. Ed Skrein and newcomer Leo Long star.