Tag Archives: Slingshot Global Media

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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Cleopatra succeeds Tut

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen's story
Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen’s story

After Tut, now comes Cleopatra. With the Egyptian boy king only recently departed from TV screens following the three-night event series on Spike TV, the girl queen is the subject of a new series being developed by feted director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and David Ellender, the former FremantleMedia exec who now operates under the Slingshot Global Media banner.

While it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between the projects, the creative sensibilities and commercial starting points underlying them should bring about different results. While Tut was written by US scribes for a US channel, Kapur and Ellender come from Indian and European backgrounds respectively. This will presumably affect their approach and funding model.

Kapur, who will write the series, said: “Cleopatra is probably the most famous and the least known/understood figure of all time. Her life will reflect a modern-day parable of our lives today.” Ellender added: “As he did with Elizabeth, Kapur will reveal the human being behind the myth. We couldn’t think of a better filmmaker than Kapur to tackle this subject.”

If there’s one name you’d love to see at the bottom of your production sheet, it’s Jerry Bruckheimer. With film and TV credits that include Pirates of the Caribbean, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Con Air, Top Gun, CSI and Without a Trace, he is a bona fide hit machine. So US cable channel TNT must be dancing in the aisles having picked up a Bruckheimer pilot called Home this week.

TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home
TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home

Originally set up at Fox, Home explores the secrets festering behind the facade of an idyllic suburban family. It centres on a pregnant woman who has a successful business and a wonderful home life with her husband Joe, a respected prison psychologist, and his two sons, to whom she’s stepmother. But the peace and tranquillity are shattered when she discovers long-buried secrets.

Home’s package is further enhanced by the fact the pilot has been written by Aron Eli Coleite, whose credits include Crossing Jordan, Hostages and Heroes (for which he was writer and producer for most of its run). The show is designated as a Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Warner Horizon TV production.

A notable trend in the last few years has been to fictionalise the lives of famous historical figures. Da Vinci’s Demons is a classic case in point, as is ITV’s upcoming series Houdini & Doyle (and so, for that matter, are Tut and Cleopatra). The idea behind this approach is to get pre-transmission brand awareness that will help a show cut through the clutter of competition. Imagine if, for example, Da Vinci showrunner David Goyer had said he was going to make a series about the fantastical youth of a medieval Italian genius. He probably wouldn’t have got more than halfway through his pitch.

Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview
Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview

There is a parallel process that involves taking fictional characters and giving them new settings. Traditionally, this involves looking back at the youth of the character in question (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Endeavour et al) or putting them in a different period (Sherlock). A novel take on this was announced this week by CBS, which is to pilot Sawyer & Huck. In this case, Mark Twain’s classic Mississippi characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are to be aged up and placed in modern-day America as adults.

Scripted by The Blacklist writers Brandon Margolis and Brandon Sonnier, the story will see Sawyer as a lawyer, who hires his boyhood friend Huck Finn as an investigator on a murder case. If the series progresses beyond pilot, the plan is for the characters to take on cases for people who don’t have anywhere else to turn.

In other news out of the US, NBC has acquired a drama project entitled The Bourbon Kings from Endemol Shine Studios. Based on a novel by JR Ward, the story centres on an aristocratic Kentucky family who make their fortune in the bourbon industry.

Interestingly (and what are the chances of this?), there are reports that Fox is also developing a TV series about a Kentucky bourbon empire. All that remains to be seen is whether either project will be filmed in Kentucky. A year ago, the answer to that would probably have been no. But in May the state increased its refundable tax credit from 20% to 30%, an aggressive move that will make it a viable alternative to Louisiana and Georgia, two US states that have made excellent use of film incentive schemes.

NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime
NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime

In the last couple of years, the scripted market has become accustomed to a steady stream of commissioning announcements from subscription VoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon. This week it’s Hulu’s turn to step up to the plate by announcing plans for a comedy pilot starring Seth Rogen.

The project, entitled Future Man, is about a gaming nerd who has to save the human race from being destroyed by aliens. Future Man is being produced by Sony Pictures Television and is the company’s first order from Hulu. Sounds like much safer territory than Rogen’s North Korea satire The Interview.

On the acquisition front, Asian broadcasters have been busy this week. RTL CBS Entertainment has announced it will premiere upcoming US drama Limitless in Asia within 12 hours of its broadcast in the States. Meanwhile, All3Media International has shipped new TV adaptation Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime to a number of international broadcasters including NHK Japan.

The Japanese market is notoriously difficult to crack but “Japan is Christie heartland in terms of a fanbase for the author and this show will introduce a further generation to her work,” says Stephen Driscoll, senior VP for sales at All3Media International.

Equally upbeat is Junko Fukano, senior producer of NHK Japan, who says: “We are delighted that we can broadcast this wonderful show in Japan. Agatha Christie’s dramas have attracted a strong Japanese following, so we believe it will be hugely popular among Christie fans, and hope that it will bring even more audiences to NHK.”

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