Ditte Milsted, Jacob Jarek / PHOTO: Asmund Sollihøgda H

Holy Spider’s producers on how to create visionary works with high impact

Profile Pictures producers and co-owners Ditte Milsted and Jacob Jarek are bringing Ali Abbasi’s film to the main competition in Cannes and preparing a handful of new projects including new films by Fenar Ahmad and Jonas Alexander Arnby .

Copenhagen-based Profile Pictures is making a splash in Cannes with Ali Abbasi’s third feature film Holy Spider, vying for the Palme d’or.

But the business, creative and life partners are familiar to the red carpet-in Cannes, Berlin, Locarno, Toronto Sundance, or Series Mania where their various productions have picked up laurels. Their impressive filmography as producers takes in When Animal Dreams by Jonas Arnby, Ali Abbasi’ debut feature Shelley, Fenar Ahmad’s Darkland, Rasmus Heisterberg’s In the Blood, Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil. And since 2019, they’ve made a significant contribution to Danish drama series with DR’s Follow the Money 3, TV2 Denmark’s YA drama Sex and HBO Max’s first Danish Original Kamikaze.

Despite the international acclaim of their productions and high industry visibility, the duo remains pragmatic and cool headed. “We’re joking about being able to win a big prize then sitting as normal at our desk on the following Monday,” says Milsted who feels the two are “good at always trying to be better and thinking ahead-about the next project. “Financing is always on a project by project basis, and we have to start from scratch every time,” says the 39-year-old producer, named Producer on the Move in Cannes 2017.

Jarek does acknowledge that “more people are reaching out today, which is cool” he says.

The most important for the producing pair is that they are now in the best position to do the films and series that they are passionate about, with strong concepts, visionary filmmakers, and “still making a business out of it”. The biggest achievement is to do just that,” Milsted observes.

That said, since they both launched their company in 2011, straight after graduating from the National Film School of Denmark as producers, the two have pretty much stuck to their company’s DNA, which is ‘to create visionary works with high impact’, whatever the formats, as Profile Pictures is now equally involved in film and drama series.

On their website, the pair detail their credo: “We believe in rocking the boat, either in terms of genre or storytelling, while still keeping a firm eye on the audience, whether on a national or international level. We want to do so with the highest calibre of creative talent,” they claim.

Perhaps by chance at the beginning, and gradually with a clear purpose, the Profile Pictures team have found in genre filmmaking their natural habitat. From Abbasi’s low budget horror Shelley, Jens Dahl’s thriller 3 Things, Ahmad’s revenge drama Darkland, Norse epic fantasy Valhalla-the Legend of Thor, Tafdrup’s Sundance selected horror Speak No Evil to Abbasi’s upcoming Holy Spider.

“We feel that genre filmmaking is a place that links the artistic and the commercial. We therefore try to find projects that we believe can work on both levels and that top creative talents want to be associated with,” Jarek tells nordicfilmandtvnews.com.

Another important factor for Profile Pictures is to work on fewer projects but to spend more time on each one of them. “In some way, it’s riskier, but it fits our way of working,” says Milsted.

Holy Spider
Abbasi’s Holy Spider is quintessentially the type of original project, developed over a long period by a visionary auteur in their roster. Jarek says Abbasi first started developing it into a story in 2016, right after Shelley and before he turned to Border, produced in Sweden.

The director co-wrote the script with Afshin Kamran Bahrami. The logline says the central character is journalist who descends into the dark underbelly of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad, as she investigates the serial killings of sex workers by the so called “Spider Killer”, who believes he is cleansing the streets of sinners. “It’s a crime/thriller/horror movie, based on true events,” says Jarek, unwilling to reveal too much about the plot. “Holy Spider will be different from Border and anything you’ve seen before,” claims the producer.

Filming was delayed by over a year due to Covid-19, and eventually unfolded in Jordan.

Jarek says the German partner Sol Bondy of One Two Films with whom he had co-produced a few Icelandic films (Under the Tree, The County), came on board at script stage as well as the co-producers from France (Wild Bunch International, Why Not Productions) and Sweden (Nordisk Film Production) who loved Border. The rest of the financing consisted of major European stations and public funders, including co-producers ZDF/Arte, France Cinéma, Film i Väst, the Danish Film Institute, Eurimages, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmförderungsanstalt, the Swedish Film Institute, DFFF, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein.

Camera Film will handle the theatrical release in Denmark, TriArt in Sweden and Alamode in Germany, with Wild Bunch handling sales.

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Holy Spider’s producers on how to create visionary works with high impact

Holy Spider / PHOTO: Nadim Carlsen

Following the Talents
Producing in the traditional way with public funding and European partners was a natural route to take with Holy Spider, but Profile Pictures is also keen to collaborate with global streamers. “When Netflix and HBO Max started to produce content in Denmark, we’ve immediately embraced it,” says Milsted. “Their arrival [on the Nordic market] has been very positive for our company, as it has encouraged us to create series that are altogether bold, daring and more original,” she says. “We work on series very much the way we do with feature film, with the same high ambition. Therefore, it’s been a very organic process for us, expanding from feature film to television. “

Asked if they’re planning to set up a separate TV Drama Unit, Jarek said: “With our production team, including Marta Mleczek, we’re working across film and TV, in a very fluid way, without silos. We’re just following the talents whatever format they want to work with.”

Looking ahead, Jarek says their ambition is to continue to work in a curated way, on a few projects, with great talent, and to nurture and develop them over time.

The company is currently working on a new film by Fenar Ahmad (Darkland) set to start shooting very soon (details soon TBA), and has several projects in development. Those include the feature In the Eyes of God to be directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby from a script by Tuva Novotny, and the crime series The Legend, written by long-time collaborator Adam August (Follow the Money 3, Darkland, Valhalla-The Legend of Thor), a project co-produced with Drive Studios in Denmark.

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