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How the Rise of Premium Scripted Increases Talent Competition

As the demand for premium TV drama amps up the competition for top talent, independent producers have been battling with deep-pocketed global groups for access to the best actors, writers and directors. But it is often the strength of the creative relationships that matters more than commercial affiliations.

One example is Fable Pictures’ “Saint Mazie,” which creative directors Faye Ward and Hannah Farrell are developing alongside Helena Bonham Carter. Ward got to know the actress, who will star in and be a producer on the limited series, on the films “Toast” and “Suffragette” while Ward was at Ruby Films. Fable is working with two other actors in a similar vein, developing characters they’d like to portray and stories they’d love to tell.

“To have such passion entrenched in a story or a character from early on is hugely beneficial,” Farrell says.

At See-Saw Films, relationship drama “State of the Union,” starring Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike, was borne out of “a creative conversation that we had been having with [writer Nick Hornby] over a few years,” says head of TV Jamie Laurenson. They first worked together on “An Education,” when Laurenson was a commissioning executive at BBC Films, and at See-Saw they partnered again on miniseries “Love, Nina.”

As well as maintaining existing ties, it is important for indie producers to forge new talent relationships. “It is about finding material that you think might speak to people you admire, and finding a point of creative connection, and hopefully you can continue that relationship into new projects,” Laurenson says.

However, sometimes contractual bonds with the larger companies restrict the scope for extending a creative relationship. Ward and Farrell worked with writer Jeff Pope on the movie “Stan & Ollie,” but face an obstacle to building on that in the TV field due to his exclusive deal with ITV Studios, where he serves as head of factual drama.

Increasingly creative collaborations in Europe are being initiated by the talent, a growing number of whom are setting up their own production companies — Damian Lewis is a recent example.

“It is a good thing as long as there are key people around them, and then everyone learns from each other. It can be a win-win situation,” says Roger Charteris, managing director of The Artists Partnership, which is among an expanding band of agencies in Europe that are developing TV projects with their clients.

European writers, too, are keen to take a more hands-on approach to production. “There are lots who want to ensure they are part and parcel of the creative evolution of the series beyond just writing the script,” says Hakan Kousetta, chief operating officer of See-Saw’s TV division. “The more the talent has a vision for the projects that we are trying to get off the ground, the better.”

Thanks in large part to the streaming platforms, European drama is increasingly finding distribution worldwide, which is putting pressure on independent producers to cast actors who will appeal to a global audience. “The internationalization of television means you have to think a bit more creatively and be a bit braver about your casting choices,” Kousetta says.

Global distribution is helping to create European stars — such as Vanessa Kirby with “The Crown” and Richard Madden with “Bodyguard” — whose global profile can help get series greenlit.

As upscale drama production continues to ramp up, the top talent become booked for several months and sometimes years ahead, which is opening up opportunities to emerging talent, and it is streamers that are the trailblazers.

“Netflix and Amazon are taking chances on unknowns and are a lot braver than some of the traditional networks,” Charteris says. He cites Netflix’s “The Witcher,” which has cast one of his younger clients, Anya Chalotra, alongside Henry Cavill.

The rise of TV drama has upped the ante for film producers when competing for audiences and talent, as well. “I’ve heard writers say that they would love to spend more time on film projects but the rewards of TV assignments are hard to ignore,” says Ben Roberts, deputy CEO of the British Film Institute.

Despite the heightened competition, Roberts sees an opportunity to bring on emerging talent, tell new types of stories and embrace fresh forms of storytelling.

“We believe in the power and value of storytelling, and obviously we want those stories to connect with audiences, so we’re up for the challenge of how audience appetites and habits are opening up new avenues for creativity,” he says. “We just want to support a diversity of voices and stories, which is exactly what audiences want.”

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