Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone are joining forces to launch Sister, a global production and development company that will focus on making high-quality television shows, movies, and other forms of entertainment.
The move unites Murdoch, the daughter of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the founder of Shine Group, with two of the entertainment industry’s leading executives. Snider most recently served as chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox, leaving the company after it was acquired by Disney. She also had stints as the co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks and as chairman of Universal Pictures. There had been rumors for months that Murdoch and Snider were teaming up on a new content company, but the addition of Featherstone is an unexpected twist.
However, it substantially bolsters the team’s firepower in the area of television given that Snider has spent much of her career making feature films. Featherstone has shown a talent for creating “watercooler” shows. She was the former chief executive of Kudos and worked with Murdoch when she served as co-chairman of Shine UK. The new venture is is being built around Sister Pictures, Featherstone’s Emmy-winning television company. Sister Pictures created last summer’s HBO hit “Chernobyl,” as well as the buzzy thriller “Broadchurch.”
The partners believe that the proliferation of new streaming services such as Disney Plus and HBO Max is generating greater command for content, particularly elevated shows and movies that are well made and thoughtfully executed.
“There really isn’t anyone like us out there with the capacity to be as discerning as we can be,” Murdoch said in an interview with Variety. “The boundaries between narrative forms are breaking down and we are going to have experts in film and television working alongside each other to take advantage of that. “
“With all of these big services, there’s such a demand for excellence and there are only so many places to get it,” she added. “There are only so many company with our commitment to executional excellence.”
All three women have equity stakes in the company with Murdoch serving as the lead investor. They do not plan to take on any outside financing. When Snider worked at Fox, she played an integral role in signing a distribution deal with Locksmith Animation, the feature animation company that Murdoch helped found. Murdoch said she is using some of the money she earned from her family’s decision to sell much of its media empire to Disney to back Sister as it goes on the search for projects to back.
Murdoch will serve as Sister’s executive chairman, Featherstone, will be head of Sister London and Snider, is global CEO and head of Sister LA.
Sister London will bring the existing teams behind Sister Pictures on board as it rebrands. The staff will include executive producers Naomi de Pear, Chris Fry, and producer Katie Carpenter. Dan Isaacs, current COO of Sister Pictures, will become COO of Sister London. Sister will create 25 hours of television in 2019 and expects to create 32 hours the following year, but the partners said that being an independently owned company means that they aren’t under any corporate pressure to produce a certain number of films and shows. They can wait for the best scripts and pitches.
“We’re not trying to expand to fill a certain number of hours,” said Featherstone. “We are going to take a bespoke approach.”
With the Disney deal looming and her time at Fox ending, Snider said she spent recent months in a kind of limbo, ruminating on what parts of the business she most enjoyed as charted her next act. A big part of what motivated her was the time she spent overseeing the production of a diverse range of films — from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Logan” — and working with the talent behind those pictures to bring their visions to the screen. But she also sensed that the studio structure, one that encouraged silos to form between the television, film, and other sides of the business, wasn’t one that fostered creativity, particularly at a time when the divisions between those art forms are blurring.
“I wanted to work with storytellers who want to rewrite the rules and who don’t want to be limited by a story paradigm,” she said. “I want to work with creators who passionately have something to say.”
The partners say they are open to backing projects across all different types of genres and budget ranges. Their north star will be finding something that can tap the zeitgeist. Sometimes that takes unexpected forms. On paper, “Chernobyl,” the story of a nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union, didn’t exactly scream small screen smash. However, the show was able to build a large audience thanks to rave reviews and the way it painstakingly recreated a dark chapter from history.
“Sometimes you just have to follow your nose,” said Featherstone. “You can’t just set out to make a hit.”