Dutch Film Studios Carve Out a Niche

THE Netherlands is emerging as a leader in film production in Europe, as the cost of movie-making drives companies to look for joint financial and distribution deals.

"It's not surprising, if you think about it," says reporter Chris Fuller, who covers Holland for the international entertainment trade paper Variety. "The Dutch have, for centuries, been explorers, willing to go out into the marketplace and make their mark. And they've got no fear of doing business in another language."

In the past few years, Mr. Fuller notes, The Netherlands has made as many feature films (about 12 per year) as the United Kingdom. Holland's submission for Best Foreign Film Oscar consideration in March, "Eline Vere," combined a Dutch producer and screenwriter (Matthij van Heijningen and Louis Couperus), a Belgian director (Harry Kummel), actors from Holland, England, and Switzerland, and financing from Holland, Belgium, and France.

"Films have a better chance to maintain their identity when there's a Dutch-producing partner," says Dutch film producer Anne Lourden. "It doesn't turn into Euro-pudding." Ms. Lourden helped open up regulations to permit co-financing arrangements with France several years ago.

The successful thriller "The Vanishing," directed by her husband George Sluizer, involved Dutch, French, English, and German components. Confidence was strong enough in Mr. Sluizer's work that 20th Century Fox, which is making an American version of the film, asked him to repeat his directing role. This is an unusual move for an American studio.

As with many European countries, Holland offers state money for development of film projects, but that alone does not account for the country's growing leadership in film production. One benefit of working in Holland that Lourden and other producers cite is the high level of technical competence among Dutch crews. Highly trained technicians are able to deliver a range of skills on the spot. And the absence of labor unions in this field means that producers need not employ several different people to fill

out a work crew.

Lawrens Geels, one of the founders of First Floor Film Factory, says that "what would take three or four days to do in London, and may be a nightmare of arrangements, takes half a day here." His company produced "The Lift," the first Dutch film sold to a major American company, Warner Brothers.

First Floor recently opened its new production studios in Almere, 20 minutes from Amsterdam. The facility features state-of-the-art technology, an extensive backlot, and two sound stages that are among the largest in Europe. Nearly a dozen new film projects for international release are in preparation.

Two of Holland's principal television producers, JE Entertainment and John de Mol Productions, each with their own extensive studio facilities, have also begun to branch out into feature film work.

The Dutch proclivity for learning and using other languages has an impact beyond the production level and eases the collaboration between casts and crews from multiple countries. Because the Dutch people are accustomed to foreign-language films and television, features shot in The Netherlands can be done in another language and released in the country with Dutch subtitles, with no negative consequences. (This contrasts with the United States, where mainstream audiences resist foreign films that are subti tled or dubbed into English.)

British director Peter Greenaway's film "Prospero's Books," a hit at film festivals around the world, was also filmed in Holland. Art director Jan Roelfs took advantage of the skilled technical crews in Amsterdam and converted an abandoned ship-building warehouse rather than shoot the elaborate project in London. The film, which combines Mr. Greenaway's trademark photographic style with intricately detailed sets, designs, and hundreds of extras in (and out of) bizarre costumes, "would have cost us severa l times as much to do anywhere else," Mr. Roelfs says. "And there was no sacrifice in terms of quality whatever."

Allarts, a company that produced "Prospero's Books" and several other Greenaway films, has nine co-productions underway, including two more of Greenaway's. Founded in 1984, the company has already managed to pull together joint financing for projects from Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, Argentina, the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan.

Lourden sums up the attitude among most Dutch producers, who are eager to grow beyond the limitations of their own borders: "When it comes to the idea of working with other countries, we have to. We're a very small country."

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