‘Mad Heidi’ shakes up fascists – and the film industry

Heidi is played by Jessy Moravec Pascal Greuter Photography + Motion Graphics

Pigtailed Swiss icon Heidi disembowelling people isn’t something you see every day, but the plot isn’t the only unconventional aspect of the world’s first “Swissploitation’ film: the entire production process is innovative.

This content was published on September 30, 2020 - 14:00

The team behind Mad Heidi on Tuesday launched a crowdfunding campaign using blockchain. They aim to raise CHF1-2 million ($1.1-2.2 million) for shooting and post-production by selling 4,000 shares costing CHF500 each.

The investment will be written into a digital smart contract on the blockchain and the so-called shared revenue (net revenue after deduction of operating costs) will be distributed to shareholders automatically after the film comes out. The production team says “all contracts are paperless, which leads to no red tape. It will also secure transparency of funds, as it’s difficult to tamper with the system from outside.”

The Mad Heidi project began in 2017. Swiss director Johannes Hartmann, a long-time fan of splatter and exploitation films, came up with the idea of doing something with Heidi. Johanna Spyri's young orphan enjoys not only limitless optimism but also strong brand recognition around the world. Hartmann explained his idea to Swiss producer Valentin Greutert and Finnish producer Tero Kaukomaa, who now head a five-person team.

Greutert, who has been in film production for 20 years, says the industry’s business model has always been “innovation unfriendly” – especially the financing and the distribution of films to fans.

“When making a movie in Europe, financing depends hugely on subsidies from organisations such as film commissions,” he says. “It’s not surprising to have 15 business entities involved in making one product. Some organisations impose restrictions – where their money should be spent and so on. More resources also mean more administrative work, which is a burden – especially for small teams like us.”

Greutert also complains about interference from sales companies, distributors and cinemas, which all take their share of the pie. “Filmmakers earn almost nothing in this system – unless you’re in a giant studio. What’s more, independent European filmmakers often struggle to reach a global audience as they lose control of their film once it goes to market. It can take months or years until the audience abroad get to see it,” he says.

“Although shooting equipment is becoming increasingly modern, the business model hasn’t changed at all for 20 years. Someone has to bring innovation into this old-fashioned industry. We need to find a way to liberate ourselves from a prison!”

‘Freshness’

Mad Heidi has therefore taken a fresh approach, financing through crowdfunding and selling merchandise such as clothing, mugs, posters – even “Heidi’s absinthe”.

Kaukomaa’s 2012 film Iron Sky – in a nutshell, space Nazis invade Earth – was a successful example of crowdfunding, so they already have the know-how. The production team has also interacted with fans on websites and social media. About 40,000 fans from 45 countries, mainly in Europe, are following the project.

“The story is so off limits and politically incorrect,” Greutert says. “But this sort of freshness is exactly what many film fans have been waiting for.”

Filming the trailer of 'Mad Heidi' in the Bernese Oberland in 2018 Pascal Greuter Photography + Motion Graphics

Mad Heidi is a blood-filled horror-action comedy in which a twentysomething Heidi rises with her fellow peasants to save her motherland, which has fallen into the hands of Nazi-like fascists. A trailer exists on the film’s website, but, being hardcore Swissploitation, it’s not suitable for children or work. In fact, if you’re not used to this kind of stuff, you’ll probably be offended. You have been warned!

Exploitation films

An exploitation film is usually defined as a low-budget film, a B-movie, that seeks to make a quick profit by “exploiting” sensational, shocking or taboo subjects or trends (for example violence, perversion, drugs, sex).

Often provoking physical reactions in the audience such as lust (sexploitation) or disgust, they have also been said to exploit the desire of audiences for guilty pleasures.

No subject is off limits, resulting in countless subgenres such as Ozploitation (Mad Max), carsploitation (Tarantino’s Death Proof was a homage), sharksploitation (Jaws), and even nunsploitation (don't ask). In the United States, blaxploitation (films made with black actors for black audiences in a black environment, such as Shaft) flourished in the 1970s.

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Indeed, when the trailer appeared online, the film’s co-scriptwriter, who worked for Zurich cantonal police, was promptly sacked. Anyone connected to such a brutal and controversial product was not suitable for a management position, his employers said. Lawyers got involved and the Federal Court last week ruled that the man’s dismissal was unlawful.

New production model

What Johanna Spyri would make of all this is anyone’s guess, but everything seems to be on track.

The production team has already successfully completed two crowdfunding projects since 2018, prior to the development and pre-production stages. It has become the most successful crowdfunding campaign for a domestic film ever, according to the production team. They have so far raised CHF84,000 from crowdfunding and CHF150,000 from merchandise sales.

“It’s all been very positive. If it continues like this, we’ll have a very good chance to deliver the film,” Greutert says. If all goes to plan, filming will start next year and Mad Heidi will be released on the website in 2022.

“This will also cut out the middlemen and return maximum profits to shareholders. We estimate that the profit will be six times more than the traditional way,” he says.

For Greutert, involving fans from the very beginning is also “truly powerful, as it democratises content creation. It will be a new model of content production in the future”.


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