Cable and streaming services’ ascendency has truly caused tectonic shifts in Hollywood. And as all good Los Angeles residents know, when the earth starts shaking, it’s time to rethink where you plant your feet. Still sloughing off decades of ingrained belief that the pilot-plus-22-episodes system is the only way to go has happened agonizingly slowly.
But not at the oldest movie studio in the world. A few years ago, Paris-based Gaumont felt those shifts and got a big idea: What if they opened up in L.A. and started making TV for the 21st century?
“Writers and directors and agents we were working with were saying, ‘We want to do TV, we want to do longer stories, creation is in TV now,’ ” says Christophe Riandee, the vice CEO of that new company, Gaumont Intl. TV (GIT), which launched in 2011 as an independent, boutique studio and in short order landed straight-to-series deals with NBC (“Hannibal”) and Netflix (“Hemlock Grove”).
“Our niche is to bring high-end talent to the fore, with ideas that have an essential brand inside the idea, and to hopefully excite the marketplace with those offerings,” says GIT CEO Katie O’Connell. “We handcraft our shows; we put together the auspices, the markets and look at the best partner on each of these projects.”
GIT has been built on the strength of an old company (Gaumont’s consolidated revenues still largely come from its film division, though GIT gave its parent a big boost in 2013), and takes Gaumont into new territory by adapting independent film financing models for TV shows. With GIT, money comes from a complex array of financiers that include Euro broadcasters and soft money from shooting locations around the world, Riandee says.
Meanwhile, GIT has leveraged its connections with those broadcasters, DVD and VOD companies and relationships with creatives including Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal”) and Eli Roth (“Hemlock Grove”) to lend the venture instant credibility. Internally, O’Connell’s prior executive experience at NBC was key in breaking the ice at the Peacock network when “Hannibal” showed up as a pre-packaged, paid-for deal.
“ ‘Hannibal’ was an attractive financial deal with limited risk,” says NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. “It’s rare when you get material that also has a great creative person behind it, and companies are willing to work together creatively on the direction of the show.”
NBC reserved the right to contribute to the process of developing “premium elements” in the show, such as adding guest stars. The limited risk made it possible for the network to skip a pilot.
Riandee says working with Netflix was a goal all along. “It’s good for us as a company to work with the ones who are changing the market and making the market evolve,” he says.
GIT and Netflix shared a “philosophical meeting of the minds,” says Cindy Holland, Netflix’s VP of original content. “We have a shared vision with Gaumont in terms of how the business is evolving and the kind of programming that will proceed in the marketplace.”
Both sides agreed that “Hemlock Grove” was a natural binge-watching series, which made the match solid. Like NBC, Netflix wanted and got some collaboration abilities on various aspects of the series, but, Holland says, “We’re here as a support; the key is for us to never be where we’re not welcome.”
Both series have been renewed for a second season, arguably a higher retention rate than many other U.S.-based studios. But the 100% success rate for GIT, says O’Connell, won’t lead to “volume and churn” from the company.
For them, “longevity of series” is the priority, and both she and Riandee say GIT will top out at five series at a time. Other titles now in the works include “Narcos” (Netflix), “Barbarella” (Amazon Studios/Canal Plus) and a two-drama joint development deal with Fox Broadcasting.
“The TV market can be like a brand,” says Riandee. “We want to work with the best, with ideas that fit our research and provide quality. We are in a unique position. … We understand two-thirds of the world. Now we just need to explore the rest of the world. Everyone is trying to explore the next frontier.”