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OscarWrap: Why ‘Helium’ Producers Keep Losing Money on Short Films

Kim Magnusson likes the attention Oscar brings to his company’s short films


OscarWrap_020414_Cover-profileA version of this story originally appeared in OscarWrap: Foreign Language/Documentaries

“If you expect a nomination, it’s bad karma,” said Kim Magnusson, the Oscar-nominated producer of “Helium,” one of this year’s live-action shorts contenders. But Magnusson could be forgiven for testing his karma every so often — because the nomination is his fifth, and the eighth in 18 years for his company, M&M Productions. (Magnusson has one Oscar, and two other M&M films have won.)

In fact, in the last two decades only four people have been nominated in the category more than once, and three of them (Magnusson, his father Tivi Magnusson and his director Anders Thomas Jensen) are affiliated with M&M.

“We’re a feature-based company,” he admitted to TheWrap, “but the Oscar run brings attention to our short films, which we use to try out new talent.”

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“Helium” came after M&M hired illustrator Anders Walter for a movie poster, then had him direct a short film, “9 Meter,” that landed on the Oscar shortlist last year. Walter pitched the idea of a second short about a dying boy and the hospital janitor who gives him hope by telling stories of a magical land called Helium — and while a Danish government shorts program paid to develop the screenplay, they didn’t end up financing the short.

“But that didn’t stop us, because we saw a whole movie in Helium — beginning, middle and end,” said Magnusson. “There are times when we might need the government money or we wouldn’t make the film, but in this case we knew we that we should raise the money ourselves.”

The result is beautiful and wrenching, a marvelously acted and gorgeously designed tribute to the power of storytelling. It’ll send viewers reaching for a tissue, and it’ll get Magnusson another trip down the red carpet.

But what it won’t do, the producer admitted, is make a profit. “There’s not a market for short films, because even if you win, you don’t get your money back,” he said. “But we like to do them anyway.”