Tag Archives: International Drama Summit

Creative focus

As Content London 2017 comes to an end, it’s clear that talent is now in greater demand than ever. But while a host of A-list names attended the three-day event, delegates also learned about a community of new writers with stories ripe for adaptation.

In its fifth year, C21Media’s Content London this week was bigger than ever before, bringing together more than 1,500 people from across the scripted television business for the International Drama Summit.

Panel sessions covered every corner of the industry, from the challenges facing distributors and how drama producers are changing, to ever-evolving market forces, uncovering new sources of financing and the secret to working with SVoD players.

Speakers were drawn from every major company in the sector, including FremantleMedia, Banijay, Endemol Shine and ITV Studios. Commissioner panels featured the BBC, Channel 4, SVT, DR, YLE, Starz, AMC, HBO, Epix, YouTube and Netflix.

The Alienist star Luke Evans discusses the TNT show

Executives hailing from Spain, Germany, France, Brazil and Australia also took to the stage to discuss their domestic markets and their strategy on the international scene.

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest draws at the three-day event, which finished today, was Swedish actor Sofia Helin, who discussed her career, the legacy of Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and new projects including Heder (Honour).

Helin’s appearance capped a line-up that focused heavily on the creative side of making television drama – and with good reason. As more and more money is made available to producers – through coproductions, SVoD players with money to burn and new funding companies ready to invest – financing is available to meet the high-end budgets dramas now demand. The talent attached to a project is now paramount, with the number of shows in development and production meaning actors, writers, directors and other key creatives are more in-demand than ever.

At Content London, Agyness Deyn, discussing her first television role, Jim Sturgess and Nikki Amuka Bird spoke about starring in six-part drama Hard Sun. Adrian Lester joined delegates to watch the world premiere of new ITV drama Trauma (pictured top), which is written by Doctor Foster’s Mike Bartlett.

Wattpad Studios’ Aron Levitz takes to the stage

David Morrissey showcased BBC2’s The City & The City, Kim Rossi Stuart talked Italian hit Maltese Luke Evans joined a case study of The Alienist, which examined US cablenet TNT’s forthcoming period drama.

Writers and directors also taking part included Neil Cross (Hard Sun), Hossein Amini and James Watkins (McMafia), Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale), Marc Evans (Trauma), Harry and Jack Williams (Liar, The Missing), Jakob Verbruggen (The Alienist), Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper), Tony Grisoni (The City & The City, Electric Dreams), David Farr (Electric Dreams) and Jon Cassar (Medici).

In a separate session, Helin was also joined by fellow actors Alexandra Rapaport and Julia Dufvenius to talk about Heder (Honour), which they have created and executive produced together with Anja Lundqvist, another actor.

The focus on creative talent inevitably led to the subjects of packaging and when to attach talent to projects, with ‘the sooner the better’ emerging as the general consensus.

Netflix’s Elizabeth Bradley (right) with Jane Featherstone of Sister Pictures

Euston Films MD Kate Harwood revealed how the BBC snapped up Hard Sun before star names such as Deyn, Sturgess and Amuka Bird were cast in the lead roles, though commissioning the next series from Luther creator Cross was unlikely to be a difficult decision.

In such a congested market, talent is the quickest way for a show to make some noise. For most, however, there just isn’t enough to go around. That’s why it was encouraging to hear the Williams brothers discussing their forthcoming slate, which features series White Dragon and Cheat, both for UK broadcaster ITV and both coming from first-time writers.

With more than 10 years in the business, and being responsible for some of the most talked-about and compelling series of recent time, Harry and Jack Williams are now using their experience in the business to bring forward new voices – something broadcasters always say they are keen to do but rarely act upon.

In their bid to nurture new TV talent, commissioners and producers could also do a lot worse than sign up for a Wattpad account. The social media storytelling platform has a community of 60 million writers and readers, and the company is drawing data down to find the biggest hit stories and working with their creators and partners including NBCUniversal and Universal Cable Productions to bring them stories to screen. With more than 400 million stories uploaded every month in more than 50 languages, Wattpad looks set to become the next major player in the content revolution.

As Netflix warned that its seemingly limitless pot of money might not be enough to lure some series from emerging competitors such as Apple, Facebook and YouTube, talent will be more coveted than ever. In the words of Artists Studio co-founder Justin Thomson Glover: “You don’t know how exciting a project is until a script comes in and you have the talent and director.”

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Q&A: TF1’s Marie Guillaumond

TF1’s head of French drama Marie Guillaumond tells DQ how the drama boom is building in France and how she hopes to work with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon.

As part of C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, currently underway in London, Drama Quarterly asked some of the biggest names in the television drama industry about their thoughts on the business.

Here, Marie Guillaumond (above), head of French drama at French broadcaster TF1, talks about working with bestselling author Harlan Coben and building budgets to pay for the ambitious drama series now demanded by audiences.

What was your biggest hit of 2016 and why?
French series are becoming increasingly successful on TF1, hitting records for the fourth year in a row in 2015/16. I ‘d like two highlight two programmes that are particularly in line with our editorial strategy. Une Chance de Trop (No Second Chance) has been an extraordinary journey with Harlan Coben. No Second Chance marks the first French TV adaptation of a book by the bestselling writer and it was also the author’s first time as a showrunner. This breathtaking thriller was a massive success with 8.7 million viewers (35% market share and 38% of women) – our biggest hit in 2015. The series was a hit outside of France as well and sold to 65 territories, including the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Central and Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Benelux.
Le Secret d’Elise, the local adaptation of Marchlands, attracted 8.3 million viewers (29% market share and 37% of women, which is our prior market target). This mini-event is a high-end drama and stands out by mixing various genres such as thriller, family saga and supernatural, but also by the quality of the directing and its great cast.

Une Chance de Trop
Author Harlan Coben was showrunner for TF1’s Une Chance de Trop (No Second Chance)

What is currently informing your development strategy?
Over the last three years we have changed our editorial strategy in a very bold way, exploring new topics, edgier fare, more diversified artistic perspectives and going into serialised dramas. We have also diversified our talent, appealing to many coming from the French film industry. These initiatives have been very successful and have been appreciated both by the audience and the industry. This was very important for us as we want to renew French drama along with our partners. The next step was to take these experiments to the next level by offering regular high-end dramas to the audience, while reinforcing our traditional schedule with the arrival of new characters. The outstanding results achieved in 2016 show that taking risks is necessary.
Another challenge for TF1 is to think about original creation from a 360-degree perspective. By mixing freemium, pay, linear and non-linear broadcast, we can not only build on our traditional audience but also grab new and young viewers. All our original creations are available on [VoD platform] MYTF1 and we are also creating digital extensions of all these titles.
In the past five years we have maintained excellent market shares for original creations and have even garnered new audiences, especially in the 15-24 target group, which has seen a 5% increase.

Is the drama boom the new normal or do you see the market contracting?
The drama boom is a recent phenomenon in France. It is among the audience’s favourite genres. Local series have evolved a lot, by renewing genres, exploring unusual topics and introducing more provocative angles. The quality of format adaptations has also improved, with such shows now fully localised, integrating into our way of life and our culture. In a way, adaptation is creation.
The risk is not the audience appetite, it is the financing model. All the players in France look forward to a greater profitability.

Le Secret d'Elise
Le Secret d’Elise was adapted from ITV’s Marchlands

How has your commissioning process changed over the past year?
French dramas were previously driven by the 90-minute format. This was a guarantee of good quality, but production of such shows was on a small scale. The appetite for series, and for returning characters, forced the TV industry to change and to make the international 52-minute format a standard in France as well. This is one of the reasons French series now sell better internationally.

What’s the biggest challenge for you at present?
To pursue a strategy of high-quality drama and find innovative financing structures to improve profitability. And to increase the international reach of our series while also improving our traditional audience in France and reaching out to new audiences by implementing new consumption models.

What does the drama industry need to address in order to survive and prosper?
Original creation is expensive. We are looking to find new financing models and are willing to work with new partners, such as Netflix or Amazon. Alongside partners, we hope to identify said models and are exploring how to structure windows to adapt to modern consumption. As long as original creations can find a place on TF1, we will continue to explore.
The international expansion of French content is also critical to survive.

What story/genre would you like on your slate that you don’t have?
A 26-minute daily series for our summer schedule.

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Q&A: Euston Films’ Kate Harwood

Euston Films MD Kate Harwood tells DQ why international coproductions are the way forward and suggests broadcasters should take a risk on new talent to avoid a talent drain.

As part of of C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, which begins today, Drama Quarterly asked some of the biggest names in the television drama industry for their thoughts on the business.

Here, Kate Harwood (pictured above), MD of FremantleMedia-owned Euston Films, tells DQ why she’s happy to be back in production and why the talent drain is the biggest problem facing the UK drama industry.

What’s your highlight from the past 12 months?
The biggest highlight of the past 12 months has definitely been getting Neil Cross’s first original drama in the UK since Luther was commissioned. Hard Sun was commissioned by BBC1 and was announced at the International Drama Summit last year.

What new opportunities are you taking advantage of in the industry?
The thing I’ve taken most advantage of is setting up Euston North with my former colleague and future colleague, the very talented and ambitious Hilary Martin. I’m really looking forward to everything we’re going to be doing together.

Neil Cross's Luther
Neil Cross’s Luther. The writer is now working on Hard Sun, which Euston is producing

What is the biggest challenge you currently face?
The talent drain from the UK. Across casting, crews and writers, talent is now spread far more thinly across English-speaking drama, generally going to the prolific and wealthy US. Availability has become an issue due to options and exclusivities. Things have generally become far more restrictive than they were last time I produced when I was at the BBC [as head of drama production for England].

Is the drama boom the new normal or do you see the market contracting?
I don’t see any sign of the market contracting any time soon. The drama boom may shift to become less local and projects will get bigger via more international coproductions. The genie won’t go back in the bottle; we’re not going to end up making a lot of small dramas.
People make their own personal connection with the dramas that they want to watch and love. They want big-scale series, whether they’re watching them on their phones or their high-definition screens at home. Whether in terms of emotional scale or actual budget scale, the new normal for a drama will be ‘big.’ We will find many more opportunities for making drama, away from the anchorage of smaller national channels.

How are you working differently now compared with a year ago?
This year I’m in production; last year I was in development. It’s a huge mind shift and one that I really welcome going back to. I haven’t been in production since I left the BBC, so this is very thrilling, if a little bit nerve-wracking.

Dicte is being developed alongside Denmark’s Miso Film

What new methods are you using to finance productions?
The most obvious thing is the tax break that’s come in and is the fuel in the UK for high-end drama. I think that’s certainly something that has brought a lot of production to the UK and is allowing us to grow collectively as an industry. Negatively, I think it has been inflationary and costs have definitely gone up. But the benefits should be felt by the whole industry, on and off screen.

What are your international ambitions and how will you achieve them?
Being part of FremantleMedia means international relationships with our sister companies in other countries have been extremely fruitful. We are currently co-developing with both our Danish sister company Miso Film [on Dicte] and with our Italian sister company Wildside [The Young Pope].

What does the drama industry need to address in order to survive and prosper?
We need to work out how to grow new writers. Everybody pays lip service to this, but if we have an industry that is mainly fuelled by our brilliant authored pieces, which are the envy of the world, we also need to work out how to bring on new writers.
When budgets are high and costs are high, it takes a lot of nerve to commission something from someone who has yet to deliver at that scale. But if we don’t find other ways, either by putting writers into teams or actually trying to develop and shoot some smaller-budget dramas, we will find very quickly that other people will give those writers opportunities outside of this country. We’ll be left begging for their time at the end of a very long queue, and that’s the thing that worries me most.
It’s a truism that writers are the lifeblood of television, but very few arrive fully formed. We have to put effort into bringing them on; we have to find ways of backing their creativity, backing their ideas and backing them learning their craft – and you can’t fully learn that craft until you’ve turned words on a page into drama on a screen. The right to fail gets harder and harder when shows get more and more expensive.
I think UK broadcasters also have a responsibility not just to try to make the best shows but also to engage with newer writers early on in their careers and work with them on developing their scripts. It’s a holistic approach, but we have to look for opportunities to engage with and develop newer writers. A failed script can be a huge step to a successful show. It’s not altruism, it’s survival!

Stranger Things
Stranger Things embodies the ‘tremendous variety’ of drama currently on the market

How will the industry change in the next 12 months?
There are more streaming services coming down the line, and services that are only in certain territories now may start to move out into new countries and become global forces. That unique relationship between the producer, the story and the audience is finding a whole new platform and it’s going to be very exciting. It will also be exciting to see how the broadcasters respond to that and whether the beginnings that have been made with BBC3 and iPlayer demonstrate ways the BBC can start to engage with a different, global audience. It seems to me the BBC has got one of the best catch-up services in the country and yet there is still not quite enough being made uniquely for it.

What is the biggest threat to the drama business?
Paradoxically, the biggest threat to the industry is the huge appetite for high-end drama. We have to be careful that we don’t go so mainstream – to justify the budgets that we’re spending – that we end up not making the projects that are unique and bespoke enough to reach younger or slightly more niche audiences.
At the moment there’s tremendous variety out there. What’s wonderful is that the hits – this summer’s Stranger Things being the obvious example – seem to come on the wings of passion and excitement, from incredibly creative people who are young and who want to be working in drama. We should just celebrate that.
We have to look for not just novelty but new ideas, new expression and scale. Drama needs scale – emotional scale as well as actual scale. I think that’s out there. Drama is a huge driving force in humanity and in storytelling, so it’s never going to go away.

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