Smallscreen productions offer attractive returns

GLOBAL INDEPENDENTS 2010
Blueprint for change | Professional prospective |Fesival launch pad | Indie distrib reports | Avant garde influences the mainstream | Euro production houses turn to TV | Producers cut down overhead | One-stop shops boost Brit biz | Brands eye film funding cautiously | High rollers show serious pic game

Everyone is looking to diversify revenue streams. Sales agents are getting into production. Distribs are getting into production. And production shingles are moving more and more into quality television production.

U.K. outfit Ecosse Films has been mining this vein for a while. The boutique, which has produced a slew of features including “Becoming Jane” and “Nowhere Boy,” is working on a $50 million, 10-part TV series “Camelot,” starring Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green, with GK Films for Starz in the U.S.

Series, which debuts in January, is an indication that TV production is no longer just a domestic avenue but rather an international highway.

“I think there’s no longer the mystique that if you’re a TV company you can’t make movies and vice versa,” says Ecosse topper Douglas Rae. “They’re interchangeable and the talent works across both. We treat both areas of the company the same, as one fuels and inspires the other.”

Rae says the outfit has invested £2 million ($3 million) in film over the past 10 years thanks to TV. “Our television work has been a priority for the business and has allowed us to take a considerable amount of investment into developing film and other TV projects,” says Rae.

Paul Trijbits of Ruby Films says tapping into TV production is “absolutely a necessity if you want to survive the world of making high-end drama.”

“There’s a huge appetite by all private and public broadcasters in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. to deliver special-event television to its viewers,” says Trijbits.

Big-budget epic “Borgia” is case in point. Its $35 million pricetag is being co-financed by Gallic paybox giant CanalPlus while across the pond, Showtime and Canada’s CTV are producing rival “The Borgias,” starring Jeremy Irons and helmed by Neil Jordan. Blighty’s ITV Studios is planning a four-part $15.4 million miniseries about the Titanic scripted by “Gosford Park” scribe Julian Fellowes.

“What’s new is the emergence of these high-end pieces of international event television in terms of series,” says Trijbits. “That’s a fantastic way to expand. International series are a function of the last couple of years clearly driven by economics as there is a desire, need and appetite for this kind of product in Europe and the U.S.

“In the U.K., it is more profitable to make money in television,” he adds. “But you can’t just flick a switch. You have to have material that is appropriate to a domestic broadcaster. You have to think of a minimum of six episodes and if you want to work and believe that you can work on an international series, you have to have big pieces that speak.

“Often things that we’ve done in the past few years have been projects that have come from material we’ve developed as film,” he says.

Two examples include “Temple Grandin,” an HBO telepic that won seven Emmys this year, and “Small Island,” which was originally optioned and developed under BBC Films but went on to be two 90-minute episodes for BBC One.

Shingle is shooting a six-part series based on the books by Kate Atkinson, which also was originally acquired to be made into a film.

“In a sense, we’re applying a film funding model and combining that together with the way TV drama is made and I would say that gives companies a real advantage,” says Trijbits.

Brit powerhouse Working Title launched a smallscreen arm earlier this year.

But Juliette Howell, head of television, U.K., warns shingles shouldn’t look to TV to just make money.

“There’s a slight misapprehension that TV is the way to make a fast buck,” says Howell. “Of course it’s possible if you get a returnable series under your belt but they’re not that easy to come by and they take time. You have to look at both formats of TV and film and see how your idea makes sense financially through either format.”

Howell says the TV biz in Europe is looking more toward co-production — “I think television has a lot to learn from film in that respect” — and having both arms within a shingle enables talent and projects to crossover into different media when they suit.

For example, the shingle was developing a feature version of Sebastian Faulks’ tome “Birdsong,” penned by Abi Morgan (“Brick Lane”), which has made the crossover to a smallscreen project. BBC is backing “Birdsong,” which will air as two 90-minute segments on the pubcaster next year.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the BBC with this,” says Howell. “And the project has a natural break which lends itself perfectly to television so it makes complete sense to give it a different life through this medium.”

Producer Mark Herbert, whose outfit, Warp Films, has brought cult Brit fare to the bigscreen over the past decade, including “This Is England” and “Four Lions,” notes that the snobbery that used to exist between television and film production is no longer there.

“It’s not like you start at TV and work your way up to film,” says Herbert. “You can work across and do both. If there’s anything that the Americans have shown is that not only have they got value with quality TV programs, but people will be buy DVDs and box sets of this product.”

Shingle’s four-part TV sequel to “This Is England,” aired on Channel 4 in Blighty; Warp is in development on a five-part series for the channel, dubbed “Northcliffe,” penned by Tony Grisoni.

“With film there is usually a more complicated financial structure, which means you really have to focus on producing and half the time you’re dealing with legal stuff,” says Herbert. “But with a TV series, you work on commission and you’re able to concentrate on the creative side of production.

“But, to be fair, it’s swings and roundabouts,” he says. “It’s ultimately down to the project and seeing what medium best suits the story.”

GLOBAL INDEPENDENTS 2010
Blueprint for change | Professional prospective |Fesival launch pad | Indie distrib reports | Avant garde influences the mainstream | Euro production houses turn to TV | Producers cut down overhead | One-stop shops boost Brit biz | Brands eye film funding cautiously | High rollers show serious pic game

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