“The worst movie deal in Swedish history.”
So Kurdo Baski, a friend and supporter of Larsson in the 1990s, told the Swedish afternoon tabloid Expressen recently about the original deal to turn the Millennium trilogy into a film and TV show. It’s a controversial statement made by a man who is no stranger to it.
Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson’s significant other for 30 years, has accused Baksi of “trying to perform a character assassination of Stieg” and for “pure slander” in the sometimes unflattering biography of Larsson he wrote in 2010. He has now alienated himself further from Stieg’s friends and supporters, one friend tells us, in “assuming the guise of ‘friend of the family’” by taking the side of Larsson’s brother and father publicly in the still smoldering fight over Stieg’s legacy.
But does Baksi have a point when he claims the immediate family got a lousy deal? Norstedts, Larsson’s original publisher, sold the movie rights to the novels to Yellow Bird, a Swedish production company, for a reported $150,000. That’s far from a lousy deal considering the fees normally paid for Swedish TV and movie rights.
But there was another bidder for the film rights: Robert Aschberg, who brought Larsson’s manuscripts to Norstedts in the first place (for the full story, read “I Offered Them a Shrimp Sandwich” in our The Tattooed Girl, page 55). Aschberg, the publisher of Expo and a key supporter of the magazine and Stieg, was at the time also CEO of Strix, a leading TV production company in Sweden. Strix, in turn, is part of MTG, the international media conglomerate, and, Aschberg maintains, the company was ready to spend what it took to get the rights.
“I knew, and they knew, that it was going to be expensive because of its huge potential,” Aschberg told us. “I said to them, ‘whatever other bid you may get, I’ll go higher.’” But Aschberg says he wasn’t even given the chance. “Sure enough, they gave it to another company. They have tried to make up with me. They have invited me to lunch. But I don’t answer.”
In the meantime, Yellow Bird has profited mightily, likely the basis for Baksi’s “what should have been” outburst. The company says the movies have been seen by nearly seven million people around the world and have grossed over $214 million, by far the most successful project ever to come out of Sweden.
Yellow Bird, in turn, transferred its rights to SONY/Columbia. SONY has not divulged the price it paid for those rights, but surely the bidding was fierce. Harvey Weinstein, the mogul who produced the Oscar-winning international hit The King’s Speech, told Newsweek his “favorite mistake” in Hollywood was failing to buy the US film rights to the Millennium trilogy.
While we don’t know what SONY paid Yellow Bird, Stieg’s heirs were paid a reported flat fee of around $800,000 as part of the deal. Not a paltry sum, to be sure. Yet, given the projected gross of the American film, perhaps the Larsson estate did end up with a “lousy deal” after all, relatively speaking.
Surely there are a lot of people in Sweden saying to themselves, “if we only knew then what we know now….”