Submarine’s Femke Wolting

The international drama market is in flux, not immune to the effects of last year’s U.S. writers’ and actors’ strikes and the financial squeeze across television and film. But can a shift in activity in one territory bring opportunity to another? Femke Wolting, co-founder and co-CEO of Submarine, talks to TV Drama about the European drama market and what possibilities may be ahead. Wolting also discusses what the jack-of-all-trades production company has been focusing on lately, its maneuvering of tax breaks and creative financing, the benefits of its varied in-house capabilities and more.

TV DRAMA: How have the circumstances in the U.S.—especially the writers’ and actors’ strikes—affected Europe? Would you say there’s a domino effect still playing out in the international drama market?
WOLTING: The market is in transition, with budget cuts and some of the streamers withdrawing from the European market or from smaller countries. There is definitely a lot of uncertainty in the market, along with less content being commissioned.

At the same time, we feel there are new possibilities for producing international series where some streamers are now more open to co-producing with broadcasters or financiers and taking a number of territories. The public broadcasters are ambitious and are much more open to international series. There are new initiatives from European public broadcasters, such as The Alliance, [which is made up of] Rai, ZDF and France Télévisions. For instance, we are currently producing a series with The Alliance. It’s an international English-language thriller written by Leonardo Fasoli (Gomorrah, ZeroZeroZero) about a group of citizen investigators. This collaboration with The Alliance has been great, especially given the fact that we can produce an ambitious series with European broadcasters.

TV DRAMA: With many streamers currently focusing on local content and proven genres, do audience habits tell a different story? In that vein, is local or more global, foreign-language content Submarine’s current focus?
WOLTING: With the rise of Netflix and other streamers, audiences have discovered all that international drama can offer, which is really exciting. As long as a series feels genuinely authentic, audiences won’t tune out when the show extends beyond the border of their home country. Series like Gomorrah, Money Heist and Black Mirror demonstrate that European talent can reach a global audience.

With Submarine, we are building a truly globally minded content studio by combining the most talented filmmakers and creators from Europe and the U.S. to produce series with true international appeal. We partner with U.S. and European talent and cherish our collaboration with writers and directors from around the world.

We are, for example, in the midst of shooting two English-language series. One is from showrunner Mark Williams (The Accountant, Ozark). It’s a thriller set in the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. We are also shooting a series for The Alliance with Italian creator Leonardo Fasoli, directed by Syrian-German director Randa Chahoud and Israeli director Assaf Bernstein. We also very much enjoy working with U.S. talent, and we see a growing interest from American writers and directors to collaborate in European series and films.

Because of the strikes, we have also seen a growing interest from American streamers for European English-language series.

TV DRAMA: How do territory-specific tax breaks contribute to the volume and quality of content that Submarine is able to create?
WOLTING: In this new global world, it is essential to make use of innovative financing models and to combine financing from broadcasters, platforms, co-producers, tax credits and soft money. These are important means to produce premium content and compete in the most cost-efficient manner. Submarine’s headquarters are in Amsterdam, and we have satellite offices in Belgium, London, and L.A. This enables us to make use of the tax credits in Belgium, which can reach up to 45 percent, and the Netherlands, which can reach 35 percent. Both are instrumental in producing our series and films.

TV DRAMA: Submarine owns an animation/FX studio—can you talk to me about the benefits of keeping a production fully in-house?
WOLTING: Submarine’s in-house animation studio can produce high-end animation and FX for our own productions in a cost-efficient way. It is also attractive for streamers, studios and other partners because of tax incentives and soft money available in the Netherlands and Belgium. We’ve seen a rise in animation and FX production, as many films and series are now a blend of CG and live action.

The synergy between the animation/FX and scripted department within Submarine has great advantages. For instance, with our series The Kollective, we are able to produce cutting-edge FX in-house, all while innovating and experimenting with new styles and techniques. This is more difficult when you hire an outside vendor. By mixing animation and live action, we were able to produce various movies and series like the film Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood by Richard Linklater, which we produced for Netflix, as well as the series Undone for Prime Video. Also, we are working together with game companies to produce trailers and in-game sequences, which is an exciting new area.

TV DRAMA: Where do you see the future of international drama and the European content market heading in the next year or so?
WOLTING: We are now in a moment of transition. Linear television is in decline, and streamers are busy with consolidations and budget cuts. I hope that the market will pick up this year, although it might not be the same as it was a few years ago. Maybe there will be less content produced, but it’s not the end of television.