Tag Archives: James Cabourne

Nordic drama in good company

Ole Søndberg produced the BBC version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh
Ole Søndberg produced the BBC version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh

London-based producer and financer Nevision has teamed up with Danish production company Good Company Films (GoodCo) to co-develop a new TV drama for the global audience.

The project in development is 10-part drama Midnights, which the partners describe as “a political thriller set in a present world that is both familiar and strange, about Nordic immortals who discover that they are dying amid the emerging Cold War in the Arctic.”

Midnights was created by Anna Reeves and will be produced by Stinna Lassen and Vibeke Windeløv. The executive producers are Ole Søndberg and Anni Faurbye Fernandez, who formed GoodCo in autumn 2014 along with Lassen and Windeløv. Søndberg is best known for starting Yellow Bird Films and for producing the Swedish and English versions of Wallander, the US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Millennium Trilogy based on Stieg Larsson’s novels. Fernandez was previously CEO and executive producer of Yellow Bird.

ABC in Oz has brought back legal drama Janet King for a third season
ABC in Oz has brought back legal drama Janet King for a third season

Also involved in the project is Nevision-backed About Premium Content (APC). APC will help source pre-sales and will handle international distribution for the series outside Scandinavia. Laurent Boissel, APC’s CEO, said: “Nevision and APC together are able to offer a bespoke studio-like solution where the producer’s independence and creativity is fully preserved.”

Nevision executive chairman James Cabourne added: “GoodCo is a very exciting company with a team that has an amazing track record in producing quality drama that resonates with a global audience. The success of Wallander is testament to this and we are excited to be partnering with GoodCo on Midnights.”

Elsewhere in the world of drama, Australian pubcaster ABC has renewed legal drama Janet King for a third season. The new eight-part run from Screentime Australia will go into production this year for 2017. It focuses on the life of a female prosecutor who returns from maternity leave to find her workplace even more demanding than when she left. DCD Rights distributes the series.

Cleverman is BBC3's first drama acquisition since it became a web-only network
Cleverman is BBC3’s first drama acquisition since it became a web-only network

Sticking with the subject of drama distribution, there have been a few notable stories this week. BBC3 in the UK, for example, has acquired Cleverman, its first drama purchase since the channel moved from traditional broadcasting to online streaming.

A six-hour series from Australia’s Goalpost Pictures and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures, Cleverman follows a group of non-humans battling for survival in a world where humans feel increasingly inferior and want to silence, exploit and kill them.

Sue Deeks, head of programme acquisition at the BBC, described the series as “incredibly original and ambitious.” The show, which is distributed by Red Arrow International, will be available first in the US (SundanceTV, June 1) and Australia (ABC, June 2). The UK screening of the show will come later in the year. Henrik Pabst, MD at Red Arrow International, said the series “is one of the biggest and most ambitious shows to come out of Australia and speaks to a growing world audience unafraid of adventurous TV.”

DRTV's Follow The Money will air on CBC in Canada
DRTV’s financial crime drama Follow The Money will air on CBC in Canada

In Canada, meanwhile, public broadcaster CBC has just announced a summer schedule that includes UK political thriller Undercover (written by Peter Moffat) and Danish financial crime drama Follow The Money. The latter, which comes from the successful DRTV stable, is being aired at 21.00 on Saturdays. This seems like a bold move for a non-English-language drama, though it has already aired on BBC4 in the UK. Other non-Nordic markets to acquire the show include Belgium and the Netherlands.

Also significant is the news that Amazon Prime Video has acquired new AMC show Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan. The show is distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), which has also sold it to Viaplay across the Nordics, OSN across the Middle East and D-Smart in Turkey. AMC has an international channel of its own that could have acquired Preacher, but presumably SPT was able to extract more international revenue by putting together a multi-partner plan.

US VoD service Acorn TV has added UK biopic drama Cilla
US VoD service Acorn TV has added UK biopic drama Cilla

The news that US on-demand service Acorn TV has added two UK dramas to its programming line-up underlines the increased demand for scripted shows in the VoD space. They are police procedural Suspects, totalling 17 episodes, and Cilla, a three-part biopic about popular UK entertainer Cilla Black.

As we have noted in recent columns, this is a busy time of year for US channels as they unveil their plans for the summer and autumn seasons. Today’s headliner is Turner Broadcasting’s cable channel TNT, which has ordered a series about the life of a young William Shakespeare. It has also greenlit a pilot called Civil. Both are part of a wide-ranging channel overhaul that has involved a significant increase in scripted investment.

The Shakespeare series, Will, is written by Craig Pierce and follows the life of the young playwright in London. This being US television, the 10-part production will be a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s life played against a modern soundtrack. The theatre scene in 16th century England will be treated as though it was the punk rock revolution of its time.

Amazon Prime Video has taken AMC's Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan
Amazon Prime Video has taken AMC’s Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan

“Will has an energy and style that is unlike anything else on television today,” said Sarah Aubrey, executive VP of original programming for TNT. “Shakespeare was a 16th century rock star, and Will captures what that must have felt like for the young writer and his fans. We are delighted to be working with such an extraordinary team of executive producers and cast in putting a fresh, bold spin on the story of Shakespeare.”

As for Civil, the backdrop is a fiercely fought presidential election that plunges the US into a modern-day Civil War. It is written by Oscar nominee Scott Smith (A Simple Plan) and directed by Emmy nominee Allen Coulter (Damages, Nurse Jackie). Other new dramas coming through at TNT include Animal Kingdom, Good Behaviour, The Alienist and Tales from the Crypt.

Omen spin-off Damien has ended after a single season
Omen spin-off Damien has ended after a single season on A&E

Also in the US this week, some cancellation news. First, A&E has shut down its Omen spin-off Damien after a single season of 10 episodes. The decision comes after poor ratings, with the show starting moderately and fading to around 400,000 by the end of its run.

Showrunner Glen Mazzara confirmed the cancellation on Twitter: “This hurts to say but #Damien will not be getting a second season. Thank you from all of us to our amazing fans.”

Bates Motel aside, A&E hasn’t been having much luck with original scripted content recently. The Returned was cancelled after one season while Unforgettable has also bitten the dust (though after a longer run). A&E cancelled Longmire after three seasons and then had to stand by and watch as Netflix picked up the show and commissioned a couple more seasons.

Don Cheadle in Showtime's now-axed comedy House of Lies
Don Cheadle in Showtime’s now-axed comedy House of Lies

Also, Showtime has announced that the current season of House of Lies will be the last. Commenting on the show, which stars Don Cheadle, Showtime president and CEO David Nevins said: “House of Lies is a comedy that has frequently been ahead of the curve. The core cast of Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson is one of the best comedy teams on television. They have brought the series to an incredibly satisfying conclusion with the historic final episode shot in Cuba.”

In ratings terms, the show is averaging around 350,000 – significantly down on season four and very poor in comparison with most other Showtime titles. The decision to cancel will have been made easier by the encouraging start made by Showtime’s new financial drama Billions.

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A vision of the future: UK indie producer Nevision

UK indie Nevision is shaking up the drama production model by investing in new writers and offering them a share of the business. Michael Pickard reports.

When independent producer Nevision announced a co-development deal with distributor Red Arrow International, it marked the latest stage in the growth of a company that puts writers at the heart of its business.

Linking with Red Arrow to bring high-end drama series to the worldwide market, it announced two projects already in the works with producer Sharon Bloom (Silent Witness).

The first, Post One, is described as a high-concept series written by Gregory Edmont, while Geneva is a spy thriller from writer Matt Thorne. Both will be produced by Nevision and distributed by Red Arrow.

The partnership marks Nevision’s continued push into the global drama industry as it aims to exploit coproduction opportunities while developing its own slate of dramas in partnership with the creatives behind them. But that wasn’t always the plan.

Neil Zeiger
Neil Zeiger: ‘We tell writers to come to us with something they really want to write. If they believe in a story, we’ll engage with them’

Nevision launched in early 2013 with ambitions to support the drama sector by providing new streams of funding. But, spurred on by consolidation in the industry and the relatively small number of independent producers left in the UK, it began to focus more on the creative process – finding greater value in seeking out new writers and developing their ideas for television.

“What’s interesting is over the last couple of years in the independent sector, producers suddenly became bigger, were bought by multinationals and given a value none of us could understand,” explains Nevision producer Neil Zeiger (Kingdom, Collision).

“A lot of writers found they didn’t have any control over their work that had created the success that generated all that money. The writers we talked to wanted to control their output, and the only way you can really do that is by not giving it away to somebody else.”

Traditionally, writers might be paid for writing a treatment and then a script, but in turn hand over rights to the production company involved. Nevision promotes a different kind of relationship, where writers become partners and retain some control over the IP while Nevision moves the project forward through production, ensuring the original creator remains involved in the decision-making.

Zeiger continues: “We tell writers to come to us with something they really want to write. If they believe in a story, we’ll engage with them. Then you’ve got as much chance as everybody else in this business because the other bits that you put to it – cast, director, money – that’s just how you make a broadcaster feel relaxed. The key thing is we’re developing stuff that we believe in, that the writers believe in, and that’s all you can ever do. Ultimately, the only way you break through is with quality content.

Nevision is also in a position to help finance projects. In particular, it can plug funding gaps to help kickstart production and ensure broadcasters can put a series into their schedule.

Sharon Bloom
Nevision has two projects in the works with producer Sharon Bloom

“All the broadcaster has to worry about is whether it’s commissioned the right piece of drama, not whether it will get funding in time or if it has to get some money out of the distributor,” Nevision executive chairman James Cabourne notes. “All of that goes away.”

Zeiger continues: “Our funding model is flexible. There will be some productions where a coproduction makes sense simply because of geography. Other projects don’t require that, so we can deficit-fund, we can pre-sell. But it’s all balanced against the value of the work at the end. Are people going to want to watch it and is it going to make its money back?”

Bringing new writers to the screen isn’t an easy job, however. With broadcasters on the hunt for big ratings, they are naturally more inclined to work with established top-tier writers.

But Cabourne argues they need to take more risks and put their faith in emerging voices: “There is a coterie of writers who broadcasters fall over themselves to get, but the average person in the street has got no idea who wrote what. But they do know really good drama when they see it, and that’s where broadcasters need to loosen up.”

Nevision announced in 2014 that it was working with former FremantleMedia CEO David Ellender’s Slingshot Global Media on Oil, a drama set in the Persian Gulf during the 1970s.

Created by Alan Whiting (Wire in the Blood), Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet, who writes the series, it follows a young American woman and her oil executive husband who live within the tight-knit community of expats from the US and Europe.

More recently, however, it bought a majority stake in distributor About Premium Content (APC), which has offices in London and Paris and counts drama Contact (pictured top) – which piloted on France’s TF1 – among its titles. The deal extended Nevision’s reach into Europe, where it has access to new funding and coproduction opportunities – possibilities enhanced further by the subsequent link with Red Arrow International.

James Cabourne
James Cabourne: ‘There is a coterie of writers who broadcasters fall over themselves to get, but the average person in the street has got no idea who wrote what’

“Neil and I have spent a long time understanding drama output in Europe, which is why we’re so fascinated with APC’s business,” says fellow producer Tim Buxton. “There’s a very different set of rules operating in Europe, with very different budgets. It is extraordinary what some of the Scandinavian and Spanish producers are able to make on budgets that the British can’t get their heads round.

“Broadening horizons into Europe gave us the confidence to say we’ve got some things that could attract European interest, whether in France, Spain or Germany. We have to remind ourselves that an awful lot of programming gets made outside the UK and some of it is remarkably good. Spanish dramas are being made for €400,000 ($450,000) an hour – you wonder how they do it.”

Nevision now has around 15 projects in development and is starting to pitch projects to UK broadcasters. It hopes to have two series in production or on air this year.

“As we’ve got more involved in Europe through APC, we can see how things can be done in different ways,” Cabourne adds. “The current model has worked for so long that people know any other way. We’re looking at different ways of making things – maybe you don’t go down the commission route; you take a risk and make something on a pre-sale basis. There are different strategies but people tend to do the same thing. We’re not going to just do one thing. We’re open.”

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