Lionsgate Drives Into TV Drama Production in Britain

Lionsgate, already well-established in the U.S. TV world with series like 'Orange Is the New Black,' is now driving into drama production in Britain too

Orange is the New Black Season
Courtesy of Netflix

MipTV sees a host of recent entrants from the world of film making their presence felt in the television universe. One movie company that has expanded in this way is Lionsgate U.K., although its U.S. parent has a long and impressive track record in television with series like “Orange Is the New Black” and “Nashville.”

Lionsgate U.K.’s recent investments include a stake in Potboiler Television, a high-end TV drama production company set up by experienced film producers Andrea Calderwood (“The Last King of Scotland”) and Gail Egan (“The Constant Gardener”). Lionsgate U.K. and European Office CEO Zygi Kamasa says one reason why film producers are well-suited to the high-end TV drama world is that they have experience in putting together financing for such projects.

“The film producers who have a lot of experience at putting together independent films – a patchwork of financing with gaps and tax credits, and two or three European partners – are extremely well set up to assemble television shows because TV is becoming very much like that,” he says. “The historical TV model of going to a broadcaster and getting them to finance the whole show for the U.K. marketplace is long gone.”

Kamasa adds that film producers like Calderwood and Egan already have relationships with leading screenwriters and directors who may also want to work in television. “It is about getting these writers to come up with the great original concepts and ideas that they want to make for TV,” he says.

Steve November, creative director of U.K. television at Lionsgate U.K., underscores the same point. “There is an obvious crossover: the creative relationships and creative instincts when it comes down to what is a great story are very similar, so that transfers very easily, and bringing some of that cinematic sensibility into television is the way TV is going anyway,” he says.

November, who came on board late last year to spearhead Lionsgate U.K.’s growing presence in British television, adds that TV audiences are looking for a more cinematic approach to TV drama at a time when more movie-world talent is looking to move into television, thereby “enriching the television world,” something he describes as a “happy alignment.”

Kamasa says that filmmakers he has spoken to say what they enjoy about coming into television is the ability to explore characterization in depth “because you have time – you have six, eight or 10 hours” instead of the 90-120 minutes in a feature film. Television offers the opportunity for filmmakers to include “great scenes with characters talking [at length], which in many movies is a disaster because you are not getting the pace going,” Kamasa says.

November most recently served as director of drama, ITV Channels, where he was responsible for the drama slate at the broadcaster, including “Downton Abbey” and “Broadchurch.” While he says that the editorial and creative instincts in television and film are very similar, having someone with experience of the television industry on board has obvious benefits. For example, it is necessary to understand TV viewers’ “expectations,” their relationship with the medium, and “the way [they] choose to watch” a show. “The experience of going to a cinema is so different from sitting down in your living room, flicking through [multiple] channels and making a choice about what to watch,” he says. “That is the point when TV differs from film: it is the relationship with viewers and how you engage your viewers. How they want their experience to be, and how that can dictate not only the way you tell a story, but the stories you might tell in different mediums,” he says.

Another way that working across TV and movies can help a company is that projects can cross-pollinate from one area to the other. “Most rights that we are acquiring now are for film and television,” Kamasa says. “Even though we may be driving into TV series, we are always looking to acquire the film rights too because you never know, and you may start with a TV series and then make a film out of it, or vice versa. So there is massive crossover.”

With the theatrical movie business as it is now, films have to be an “event” to “drive people to the cinema to see it,” Kamasa says. This leaves many potential movie projects adrift, but the same material can sometimes be adapted as successful TV mini-series.

Television has traditionally been a writers’ medium, whereas film has been seen as more the domain of directors. November says: “You want the writer involved from the outset. You want the singularity of vision of your writer,” he says. In contrast to the U.S. where writers have often acted as showrunners, with a very hands-on role in production, in the U.K. writers have been kept at a distance from the production process. This is changing in Britain to become more like the U.S. model, November says. The director’s role — previously “undervalued” in television — is evolving as well on both sides of the Atlantic, as seen in TV series like “True Detective.” “[The first season] felt as much authored by the director [Cary Joji Fukunaga] as by the writer [Nic Pizzolatto], and it is becoming increasingly important to get a really strong directorial vision and authorship to complement the writer’s vision and authorship,” he says.