Tag Archives: Steven Soderbergh

AMC feels Terror as Soderbergh goes west

Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh

US cable channel AMC is making headlines again this week by commissioning a 10-part anthology series based on a 2007 novel by Dan Simmons called The Terror.

Set in 1847, The Terror unfolds as a Royal Naval expedition searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks their ships and crew. The show continues the recent fascination with thrillers set against a backdrop of snow and ice (Fargo, Fortitude, Trapped and Liam Neeson movie The Grey, to name a few).

The Terror is being exec produced by Ridley Scott and will be adapted for the screen by David Kajganich, whose recent credits include the movie The Bigger Splash. Kajganich will also be a co-showrunner with Soo Hugh.

Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, said: “Originality is still something that gets our attention every day, and the very unique mixing of historical non-fiction with a gripping and imaginative science-fiction overlay in Dan’s novel is something we hadn’t seen before. That, combined with an exceptional team behind the project, made this something we really wanted to bring to air on AMC.”

Meanwhile, Netflix has ordered an original western series from director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. Called Godless, it is set in a 19th century New Mexico mining town.

As yet there are no more details. However, the news is generating a lot of excitement because of the Soderbergh/Frank link-up. The last time they worked together was on the acclaimed movie Out of Sight. Since then, Soderbergh has shifted much of his energy in the direction of TV with shows such as The Knick, while Frank has been screenwriting movies including Minority Report, The Wolverine and Marley & Me.

Fuller House has already been given a second run on Netflix
Fuller House, a revival of Full House, has already been given a second run on Netflix

Netflix has also renewed its revival of US family sitcom Full House for a second season. The reboot, titled Fuller House, follows a pregnant and recently widowed woman who is living with her younger sister, best friend and teenage daughter. They all help to raise her two boys and prepare for the birth of the new baby. The original Full House aired on US network ABC from 1987 to 1995.

Elsewhere, projects now getting kickstarted out of the UK include Tina and Bobby, a three-part drama from ITV that will celebrate the life of England football legend Bobby Moore and his wife. The project writer is Lauren Klee, who has a strong track record on shows like EastEnders, Waterloo Road and Holby City.

Meanwhile, Colin Callender’s indie prodco Playground has picked up the rights to Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley’s book The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. It plans to make a TV series based on the book, which charts Kingsley’s journey to 17 countries where he met hundreds of refugees making their way across deserts, seas and mountains in a bid to reach Europe.

Discussing the decision to acquire the book, Sophie Gardiner, creative director of Playground’s UK office, said: “The New Odyssey is an epic piece of journalism that provides an intimate account of the people caught up in one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the Second World War. We believe this can be TV at its best – powerful, emotional and compelling storytelling that explores the complexities and human dimensions of the biggest story of our time.”

Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey
Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey

One of the most eye-catching stories to have come out of the US TV business in recent weeks was the news that Channing Dungey, executive VP of drama at Disney-owned network ABC, was being promoted to entertainment president, replacing incumbent Paul Lee. The story came as a surprise and got people wondering about how it might affect decisions over cancellations and renewals.

Well, Dungey hasn’t wasted any time making her mark, giving early renewals to a huge swathe of ABC shows this week. Among these are dramas like Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On the comedy front, Fresh off the Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Black-ish and The Middle got the nod.

Dungey’s renewals are interesting for a few reasons. First, because it looks like she is playing safe in season one. Rather than rip up the schedule, she has decided to play the percentages and give herself time to settle in. Second, because she has renewed the shows much earlier than Lee had a habit of doing. This is her way of quickly distinguishing herself from her predecessor.

Finally, Dungey’s list of renewals is also notable because of what she has not yet committed to. Long-running procedural Castle (nearly at the end of season eight), for example, has not yet been given the OK. Dungey has also delayed decisions on four other scripted series, Nashville, The Muppets, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Galavant.

Castle stands a reasonable chance of being renewed if star Nathan Fillion is prepared to sign up for a new season. However, the other series are harder to call.

Galavant's chances of renewal on ABC look shaky
Galavant’s chances of renewal on ABC look shaky

In January, Paul Lee said Nashville would probably be back for a fifth season. But the show has never really been a massive ratings hit, so it might not secure the same support from Dungey. In the case of The Muppets, a strong start has given way to sub-par ratings. But this is a Disney-owned property so ABC won’t necessarily want to give up on it just yet. Similarly, Agent Carter hasn’t been particularly strong in ratings terms but it does come from the Disney-Marvel stable of scripted shows.

Galavant, a musical comedy/fantasy series, is coming to the end of its second season and probably looks like the easiest of the five to say goodbye to. Ratings haven’t been especially strong and there’s no obvious Disney 360-degree reason to keep it alive. That said, it does have a top creator behind it in the shape of Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars). So that might be enough to persuade ABC to give the show another chance.

Finally, in Scandinavia, Swedish commercial broadcaster TV4 has ordered two 10-part seasons of a medical drama based on a Finnish format called Nurses, produced by Yellow Film & TV and distributed by Eccho Rights. Jan Blomgren, CEO of Swedish production company Bob Films, said: “The original version of Nurses is well written and produced. We believe the audience in Sweden will relate to real stories in a glossy drama series.”

This isn’t the first time a Finnish drama has been adapted for the other Nordic territories. It’s also just happened with DRG-distributed thriller Black Widows.

Although the Finns make dramas to a decent standard, tight budgets mean their shows often aren’t glossy enough to appeal to audiences in the other Nordic markets. In the case of Nurses, a third season is about to air on YLE in Finland. Eccho Rights, which licensed the format to Sweden, has also sold it into the UK. At the same time, it has licensed the first two Finnish seasons to ProSiebenSat.1. Eccho will also sell the Swedish version of the show internationally.

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The Girlfriend Experience: Starz reveals high hopes for Soderbergh series

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht and actress Riley Keough tell Michael Pickard why viewers should get on board The Girlfriend Experience.

It’s not often that a writer or director can demand free rein on a new television show. But that’s what happened when Steven Soderbergh first approached US premium cable network Starz about a new project.

The Ocean’s 11 director, who won an Emmy for HBO movie Behind the Candelabra in 2013, had wanted to reunite with Starz CEO Chris Albrecht since they worked together on HBO’s political drama K Street in 2003.

“So he came in and said, ‘Here’s my vision, two filmmakers, all the scripts, you’ve got to give me the money, we’re gonna go shoot an entire film and I’m gonna bring you back the stuff,’” Albrecht recalls of Soderberg. “I was like, ‘OK.’ Not a lot of people would say yes to that deal.

Chris Albrecht
Chris Albrecht

“There are few people as talented as Steven Soderbergh, and any chance to work with him I’m going to take.”

The project was The Girlfriend Experience, which stars Riley Keough as Christine, a law student and an intern at a prestigious law firm who is introduced by a friend to transactional relationships and becomes involved in the world of the ‘girlfriend experience,’ which sees women provide their clients with more than just sex.

Based on the 2009 film of the same name, the 13-part half-hour series is produced by Transactional Pictures. Soderbergh, who directed the original film, and Philip Fleishman executive produce with filmmakers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, who wrote and directed.

During that first meeting, Soderbergh knew he wanted to bring Kerrigan and Seimetz onto the show and also that he wanted Keough to star, having worked with the Mad Max: Fury Road actress on 2012’s Magic Mike.

Albrecht continues: “Steven said there was this girl he worked with on Magic Mike, she’s fucking terrific. She’s going to be a big star.

“I think when people see this young actress… I got so excited when I watched all the episodes because it’s a brilliant, brave performance and she’s astonishing in it. I think people are going to be blown away by her. I watched all 13 in a row. I said I’d watch some and then go to lunch; six hours later I’m starving.”

Sex might not be an unusual theme for a show on a premium cable network, but Albrecht explains that the subject matter goes far beyond the initial implications of someone providing the girlfriend experience.

The Girlfriend Experience stars Riley Keough (right) as Christine
The Girlfriend Experience stars Riley Keough (right) as Christine, a law student who enters the world of transactional relationships

“In Steven’s mind, it’s what price intimacy?” Albrecht says. “The girlfriend experience is ostensibly different from just paying someone for sex; you’re paying someone to be your girlfriend. Whether you’re married or not, it’s someone looking for that connection. The other side of it is here’s this young woman, this character who tries to do everything she does in the best way possible. She’s an intern, a law student, she’s working her ass off and she gets introduced to this world and approaches it in the same way she approaches everything else, which is ‘I’m going to be the best at this that I possibly can be.’

“It’s a way to look at the relationships that people seek and to ask whether this is any more honest than many marriages or relationships out there, with both people getting something they want. So Steven had all that in his head, and that’s fertile ground that so many people can relate to – not necessarily the girlfriend experience, but the search for intimacy and the connection with another human being. When you’ve got a guy like him and an idea that could be pretty universal, those are two pretty good starts for doing a film or TV show.”

Soderbergh was also the reason Keough was drawn to the series. The actress hadn’t appeared on TV before, preferring big-screen roles, but she says the director was a big influence on her move to television.

“I don’t think he’s going to make anything that’s shit,” says Keough, who is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter. “Also, there’s a lot of really cool stuff on TV. The content’s getting really interesting and I actually really like watching TV more than movies. The character is really interesting. I liked how shameless she is – she doesn’t care about other people’s opinions and will do anything. She gets into a lot of sticky situations but doesn’t ever think she’s wrong, and that was really funny. I thought you would want people to really like the main character and have someone people aspire to be like, but she’s a realistic person – strong and opinionated and different to anyone I’ve seen.

“I kept reading the scripts thinking there was going to be some big drama, but there’s not. It’s very realistic and naturalistic and that’s the kind of thing I like to watch. When I spoke to Lodge, Amy and Steven about how they wanted to shoot it – the style and the tone, the vibe – I just found it really interesting.”

But that’s not to say Keough had no reservations about the series: “I didn’t want to be promoting sex work; I didn’t want to glorify it or make it look bad. I just wanted to make sure it was very honest and non-judgemental, and that was one of the biggest things all of us agreed on, that we are just showing a piece of this girl’s life.”

Albrecht and Soderbergh predict Keough is set to become a 'big star'
Albrecht and Steven Soderbergh believe Keough is set to become a ‘big star’

Keough also didn’t want it to be “some sex show,” and although she admits the script called for a lot of sex scenes, she says they weren’t gratuitous. “Surprisingly, when you watch it, it didn’t feel like a lot at all,” Keough adds. “And there aren’t sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes. It’s part of her job. Everything I was concerned about or thought would be difficult, I talked through with Amy, Lodge and Steven beforehand. Christine’s not very emotional or self-indulgent. She’s very real. I didn’t have a hard time with it.”

But what about the show’s potential audience? Albrecht believes The Girlfriend Experience will attract young women to the premium cable channel.

“They’ll be really attracted to Riley and her character, and it’s an audience that’s pretty tough to get to premium television,” he says. “Between (forthcoming ballet drama) Flesh and Bone, The Girlfriend Experience and some other things we’re thinking about, we’d like to continue to reach out to audiences that aren’t really coming to premium much and see if we can get them to be Starz subscribers.”

As well as Flesh and Bone, Starz’ ever-expanding original drama slate includes Ash vs Evil Dead; an adaptation of Neil Gaiman novel American Gods; and The One Percent, a 10-part drama about the world of organic farming from Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) and starring Ed Helms, Hilary Swank and Ed Harris.

“We just respond to the stuff that comes to us but we do have a pretty big variety,” says Albrecht. “The idea that people can binge on these shows is something that’s also fun about premium. We have an on-demand platform, and for Flesh and Bone and (the third season of) Da Vinci’s Demons, we’re putting all the episodes up when the first one airs, so if people want to watch them all, they can – like I did with The Girlfriend Experience.”

Amid the ongoing debate over whether there is too much TV drama, Albrecht jokes that his job would be easier if there were less content. “But that’s why I get excited about a show like The Girlfriend Experience, because even with all the stuff that’s on the air, when you watch this show, you say to yourself, ‘I haven’t seen this on television before,’” he adds.

“I respond to talent, I get excited by talent. My faith in Steven has just been even more solidified by the team he has and him saying to me, ‘I think this girl is going to be a big star.’ Seeing the result at the end, he wasn’t kidding.”

The Girlfriend Experience is due to air on Starz in early 2016, and while the anthological nature of the show means a second season would involve a different cast and a new story, that doesn’t mean Albrecht is done with Keough.

“Everybody’s going to be talking about Riley’s performance,” he says. “I’m definitely going to try to convince her to do something else on Starz.”

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