Simon Vaughan, CEO of London-based production-distribution outfit Lookout Point, represents television’s new breed of financing specialists who are prospering amid the growing global demand for high-end programming.
Lookout Point is among the co-producers of the Julian Fellowes-scripted mega-mini “Titanic,” set to air in April on ABC, ITV and in a host of other countries to coincide with the 100th ann of the nautical disaster. Lookout was also behind the Canuck drama series “Combat Hospital” that aired on ABC last summer, and it is one of several shingles mounting “Parade’s End,” a WWI-set mini penned by Tom Stoppard for BBC, HBO and Oz’s Nine Network.
Vaughan has been in the business of assembling international co-productions for years. The marketplace for the glossy fare he’s most drawn to has never been stronger, thanks in large part to the growth of commercial TV outlets in Europe and key emerging territories, as well as the openness among major U.S. broadcasters and cablers to international partnerships.
But in Vaughan’s view, one of the drivers of new business in the past few years is the sea-change in the attitude in his native country toward co-productions. Of the 10 projects he helped shepherd prior to last year (a list that includes made-fors “Ben Hur,” “The Company” and “Coco Chanel” and the CTV/ITV/CBS drama skein “Flashpoint”), Vaughan calculated that all of them had Canadian financing, nine of them had U.S. bucks but only three of them had any U.K. money. During the past year, three of the four projects he’s been involved in greenlighting have significant British coin behind them.
“It’s become more viable to co-produce in the U.K. than ever before,” Vaughan says. “There’s never been a better time for British drama, helped along by shows like ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Sherlock,’ ‘Luther,’ ‘The Hour.’ And we’ve gone through a learning curve of figuring out how to use co-productions in a way that doesn’t compromise the creative integrity of the show.”
With Lookout Point, which opened its doors in the fall of 2009, Vaughan’s strategy has been to attract marquee creative names and properties that have built-in awareness. And once the financing partners are in place his job becomes protecting the writers from pressure to add elements that might make it more appealing to viewers in one of the territories chipping in on the budget.
“In the past, co-productions had a bad rap because they’d been quite cynically engineered to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Vaughan says. “What Lookout Point has done is to really put the creative first, not the deal first. We have a self-assured sense of what we want to create rather than something that is designed to please everybody who’s putting financing in.”
Lookout has been fortified by its first-look distribution deal with BBC Worldwide, which has been expanded to include the two companies developing projects together from scratch. The company is also repped by CAA. Among other projects, Vaughan and BBC Worldwide are developing a five-hour adaptation of “Les Miserables” (based on the novel, not the tuner), with Andrew Davis on board to write the teleplay (though the project has not formally been greenlit).
Separately, Lookout is working with Brit shingle Tiger Aspect on revisiting “Lawrence of Arabia” as an ambitious mini, with scribe William Boyd on board to bring some entertainment value into the historical tale.
Tiger Aspect and Lookout are already partnered on a procedural drama series, “Ripper Street,” set in the late 1880s during the period of the Jack the Ripper murders. “Ripper Street” is set to bow on the BBC in the fall, and Vaughan has been fielding interest from U.S. nets.
Lookout is by design what Vaughan calls “a boutique business” that turns on his long-established relationships with key foreign buyers. Before Lookout, Vaughan was a partner in Alchemy Television, which became a victim of its own early success.
“We got a bit overcommitted during the economic crisis. We borrowed too much, we grew too fast,” Vaughan said. “But we did a lot of things right. The bits that I took with me were that I didn’t need to be all things to all projects. Alchemy ended up developing, producing, distributing, financing, deficiting, hiring the stand at Cannes. Now our model is much simpler.
“You learn a lot more from the things that don’t quite go right than you do from things that do. A lot of those experiences, although they were bruising at the time, you take with you.”