Chinn Cousins Launch Shingle for Fact-Based Projects

Few producers have a better record producing feature documentaries than Simon Chinn, who won Oscars, Baftas and just about every other award going for “Man on Wire” and “Searching for Sugar Man.”

But theatrical docs are a niche market, as Chinn admits. That’s why he joined forces last December with his cousin, Jonathan Chinn, a Los Angeles-based, Emmy-winning reality showrunner, to launch Lightbox. The new company is dedicated to a broader range of factual programming across a wider variety of platforms.

“Jonathan has a reputation for being at the more thoughtful end of reality programming in the U.S., while I’m seen as being at the more commercial end of feature documentaries. So we thought, what’s the sweet spot between the two?” Chinn says.

In less than a year, Lightbox has harvested a first crop of commissions from Esquire Network, VH1, ESPN and FX. In August, the U.K.’s Channel 4 bought a minority stake in Lightbox as part of its $33 million Growth Fund, injecting the cash for further production on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Chinn continues to plow his feature furrow through his London-based Red Box Films.

In 2014, Red Box delivered “The Green Prince,” about a Hamas agent-turned-Israeli spy, which won the audience award at Sundance and opened in limited release in the U.S. Sept. 12 via Music Box; “Drug Lord: The Legend of Shorty,” centering on the search for narco kingpin Joaquin Guzman, which bowed at SXSW; and “Garnet’s Gold,” the debut of young British director Ed Perkins, which screened at Tribeca and Edinburgh.

Chinn has signed Perkins to work exclusively on development projects for Red Box and Lightbox.

To find space for his expansion, the producer is finally moving out of the London office he has long shared with John Battsek and Andrew Ruhemann’s Passion Pictures.

Many of Chinn’s highest profile films — including “Sugar Man” and “Project Nim” — were exec produced by Battsek. They jointly produced “The Green Prince,” and worked together as exec producers on 2012’s “The Imposter,” which won a Bafta and two British Independent Film Awards, and played in festivals around the world.

Chinn hopes the alliance will continue. “John is an extraordinary producer, and Passion is pretty much the best in the business. We aim to work together on our more ambitious projects, on the basis that two brains are better than one.”

That’s clearly the principle behind Lightbox, too.

“We want to find really smart ways of doing documentaries and reality that feel both popular and have integrity,” Chinn says. “What appealed to us particularly was the idea that (we could) work with non-traditional platforms — Netflix, Xbox, Amazon, Hulu — as well as with traditional TV networks.”

Xbox gave Lightbox its first commission: “Digital Revolution,” a six-part series about the dawn of the digital age. The first episode, about the fall of Atari, directed by Zak Penn, sneak-peeked at Comic-Con. The second, about citizen journalism and the Boston bombings, just wrapped. While Microsoft has shuttered Xbox Studios, it says it will honor existing projects.

Chinn is sanguine about such comings and goings on the financing front.

“Every couple of years, there’s a new kind of player,” he says. “The emergence of Netflix as a real champion of feature docs is fantastic. Discovery Films closed, but CNN Films has emerged. A&E Indiefilms is thriving.

“I don’t think all feature docs lend themselves to theatrical release — the opportunity to be commercially successful is pretty narrow. But the landscape for quality docs is pretty healthy in spite of that. From a business point of view, it is easier to make documentaries that I can set up very quickly than to toil for years and years in development on a drama.”

More TV

  • Bob GreenblattCreating Great Characters: Dick Wolf

    Bob Greenblatt on WarnerMedia Streaming Strategy: 'The Assets are Undeniable'

    CANNES — AT&T is ready for battle in the streaming wars. The new parent company of HBO and Warner Bros. has moved quickly to respond to consumer demand by marshaling its forces behind the launch next spring of HBO Max, WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told a crowd of international TV and digital executives here [...]

  • Roberto Gomez Bolanos Mexican actor Roberto

    Chespirito Media Universe in Development from Grupo Chespirito, Thr3 Media Group

    Mexican production companies Grupo Chespirito and Thr3 Media Group have come to terms on a deal to co-produce multi-media content and create the Chespirito Media Universe based on the characters and world of Mexico and Latin America’s most iconic TV creator, director, producer and actor, Chespirito. Thr3 Media Group was launched in January 2018 by [...]

  • Bastian-and-Fabienne_2btube-Office-1

    2btube Adds Lacoproductora to Facebook, YouTube Originals Alliances

    CANNES —  Fast-driving from a huge digital media publishing base into the creation and production of premium content for global platforms and beyond, top Spanish-language digital native media group 2btube has clinched a wide-ranging production partnership with José Miguel Contreras’ Madrid-based Lacoproductora. The deal comes fast on the heels of 2btube’s production alliance with Facebook [...]


    Spain's Fasten Films Nabs Remake Rights to Argentine Series 'The Cleaning Lady' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Barcelona-based company Fasten Films has optioned Spanish and Portuguese adaptation rights to Argentine suspense series “La chica que limpia” (“The Cleaning Lady”). The deal was negotiated with Argentine distributors RM Vistar and GlowStar, who jointly handle the format’s international sales. A Mexican remake of the series is being produced by Turner Latin America, alongside BTF [...]

  • Motiv: Max ConzeFoto: © ProSiebenSat.1/Martin SaumweberDieses

    ProSiebenSat.1 Boss Max Conze Unfazed By the Invasion of the Digital Streaming Giants

    Max Conze, CEO of German broadcast company ProSiebenSat.1 since June last year, appeared relatively relaxed about the prospect of the coming invasion of new subscription streaming players like Disney Plus into his territory when speaking to journalists at TV market and conference Mipcom in Cannes Tuesday. “Disney will not lock away all their content,” he [...]

  • Irmaos Freitas

    Amazon Prime Video takes Turner’s ‘Freitas Brothers’

    CANNES — In yet another – and significant – Latin America distribution deal for the now highly active OTT giant, Amazon Prime Video has acquired Brazilian and pan-Spanish-speaking Latin American SVOD rights to Turner Latin America’s highly anticipated “Freitas Brothers.” The announcement was made late Tuesday by Turner Latin America at Cannes Mipcom TV and [...]

  • Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker,

    Nonsense Ellen DeGeneres Question Derails an Otherwise Substantive Democratic Debate (Column)

    The fourth Democratic debate was dangerously close to being substantive. For almost three (3!) hours, the twelve (12!) candidates onstage tackled questions on foreign policy, reproductive rights, health care, gun control, big tech, and the opioid crisis. While the other debates — and indeed, the entire 2016 presidential campaign — have been marked by meme-able [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content