You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

S.K. Global Makes Mipcom Debut With ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Under Its Belt

“To me, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, maybe we should wake up one morning and try something different. How about we try television?’”

John Penotti, producer-financier and co-founder of GreeneStreet, one of New York City’s more long-lived independent film companies — it was acquired in 2013 after 16 years — is explaining just how he ended up at Mipcom for the first time this year. On the surface, it’s logical: He’s co-CEO of S.K. Global, an international studio aiming to create high-end content outside the U.S. for both film and television.

But really, how did one of indie film’s driving forces end up making TV?

“It was more that we find ourselves in television,” he says. “Not by default, but by opportunity.”

The “we” part of the equation is key; Penotti is far from alone. He and his SKG partners — co-CEO Charlie Corwin and co-chairs Sidney Kimmel and Robert Friedland — are trying to redefine what a production studio can be in 2019. Thanks to peak TV, screen proliferation, streaming services, the alphabet of content acronyms (AVOD, OTT, etc.) and endless film franchises, he’s straddling a prescient line: TV and movies have now met in the middle. And a company that can create successful content for both sides of that line can do very good business in the U.S.

But SKG is thinking bigger. Worldwide bigger. Hence, Mipcom. The 2-year-old company arrives in Cannes already established with a long slate of international development projects and productions, including two feature sequels to its hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” made with Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson’s ColorForce, and a second season of the popular India-made “Delhi Crime,” co-produced with  Golden Karavan. It will also be the subject of the panel Funding Creativity: In Conversation With S.K. Global.

Plus, it has two billionaire chairmen in Kimmel, who started in apparel, and Friedland, who comes from a mining background.

But the company’s main goal at Mipcom is less to sell titles than to announce its big push into television and declare a presence in the global marketplace.
“Hollywood is no longer the epicenter of creativity in the world,” says Corwin, who provides the TV half of the company’s expertise. He’s had exec stints at Endemol/Shine and Imagine Entertainment, which he left in 2018, before joining SKG in 2019.

“But we do not think of content creation as making stuff in America, then exploiting other places around the world. People want something of, by and for the people — where they are.”

S.K. Global, ideally, embodies this concept. The studio is the result of a merger between Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Ivanhoe Pictures, Friedland’s producing arm. Penotti was Ivanhoe’s president at the time of the merger, and introduced Kimmel and Friedland to each other in 2014. The idea was that Penotti would run both SKE and Ivanhoe, and they would find projects on which to collaborate.

But, Penotti says, “eventually there was so much simpatico between the two companies and chairmen in 2017 I suggested to both that we should merge efforts.”
SKE was the English-language finance and production entity, while Ivanhoe focused on international content, both are subsidiaries of S.K. Global. There are exceptions: “Crazy Rich Asians,” for example, was an English-language Ivanhoe development. But the overall goal for the newly merged SKG has become to produce what Corwin and Penotti call “premium global content.”

Take “Asians” again; Corwin calls it a “kind of poster child for our business.” Ivanhoe developed, co-produced and co-financed the project, taking it to Warner for distribution, and it ultimately grossed $238.5 million worldwide. The film features Chinese characters and is “culturally specific and authentic,” says Corwin. “At its heart it’s a Cinderella story, but it’s also a story about the Chinese diaspora. That’s a global theme.”

But that doesn’t mean that SKG’s projects are all going to be made in the U.S. The company is expanding across Asia, South America and Africa, developing or producing shows in Mexico (“Casi el Paraiso”), India (“The Sky Is Pink”), South Korea (“Hidden Face”), Indonesia (“Impetigore”) and China (the “Asians” sequels), just to name a few. The slate will be 50% local-language and the other 50% will be English.

“The more ‘local’ the storytelling is, the more global it becomes, because it taps into broad human tropes,” says Corwin. “If you make something with a high level of production value and artistry, and at its core is an authentic story rooted in local culture, then that will likely play both locally and internationally.”

The independent film industry that made careful use of lower budgets to tell smaller stories while showcasing up-and-coming filmmakers and actors in the 1990s has dramatically contracted, while Hollywood has made its money from big-budget, splashy special-effects franchises. Its premium films are curated for maximum award and prestige factors, but tend not to earn out the way superhero films do. Meanwhile, TV is in the middle of a renaissance. No wonder filmmakers are turning to global box office to stay afloat.

“The film business in the U.S. has just changed,” says Penotti. “It’s constricted budgets to the point where you can’t get the same talent. We don’t have the flexibility we had to launch new voices as easily, because the market is gone. It’s been replaced somewhat with television.”

Fortunately, says Corwin: “There’s opportunity in chaos. There’s a tremendous wealth of talented filmmakers in other places around the world, and we’re getting a first look at that talent — partly because we are willing to get on a plane. You get access to talent before the rest of the industry.”

Once that talent is signed into the SKG wheelhouse, the idea is to decentralize the executive structure in all of those expansions around the world. That’s something Corwin learned how to do at Endemol.

“We don’t want to impose some sort of top-down monolithic structure upon them,” he says. “We want to invest in them, support them, feed them format and other things to help them grow. ”

And yet even with the best intentions and strategies, not everything works out. Yes, “Crazy Rich Asians” was a surprise hit, but largely in the U.S. Overseas it grossed $64 million, with $1.6 million from China.

That’s where TV may come in at SKG. “Television is a very projectable revenue,” says Corwin. “Ideally we want to have a mix of series and features, unscripted and scripted, comedy, drama and genre: shows and movies on streaming platforms, linear television and theatrical distribution. And most importantly, content originated in and distributed to every country in the world. That is a fully diversified content studio model.”

But for now, he says: “As for sales, we may be selling a few titles but it’s not our priority for this Mipcom. Our goal is to announce our big push in to television and communicate to the global marketplace how our company is well positioned to be a leader in this new genre of content.”

More TV

  • Seinfeld

    Alan Horn Remembers How Rick Ludwin Saved 'Seinfeld'

    Rick Ludwin was the unsung hero of “Seinfeld.” That’s how Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman and former head of “Seinfeld” producer Castle Rock Entertainment, remembered the longtime NBC executive who died Nov. 10 at the age of 71. Ludwin was instrumental in getting the beloved “show about nothing” on to NBC as a regular [...]

  • ViacomCBS

    ViacomCBS Exec Shuffle Signals Move Toward $500 Million in Synergy Goals

    The latest cluster of high-level ViacomCBS executive announcements — which included CBS chief creative officer David Nevins and MTV/VH1 chief Chris McCarthy expanding their oversight, and Comedy Central head Kent Alterman exiting — likely constitutes the last round of public leadership shuffling ahead of the close of the Viacom-CBS transaction in early December, according to [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets 'You' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announces the second season premiere date for “You,” and Quibi has named six more cast members joining its upcoming series “The Now.”  CASTING Samantha Richelle, Arthur Acuña (“Princess and I”), Nonie Buencamino (“Sparks”) and Ces Quesada (“Invisible”) have been cast in WGN’s upcoming drama “Almost Paradise.” The four members join previously announced lead cast [...]

  • WGA Agents Packaging Fight Placeholder

    Writers Guild Continues to Slam Agencies Over Affiliate Ownership

    With the Writers Guild of America’s stalemate with talent agencies in its seventh month, the guild has doubled down on the issue of ownership of production. In a message to titled “The Truth About Agency Studios” sent to members Monday, the WGA’s negotiating committee blasted the leading agencies CAA, UTA and WME for owning the [...]

  • STUMPTOWN - "Forget it Dex, It's

    ABC to Stop Using Live+Same Day Ratings

    ABC is set to become the second of the major networks to no longer use Live+Same Day figures to measure the performance of its shows (with the exception of live programming), according to an internal memo sent out by ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke. The move comes four years after Fox chose to do the [...]


    'High School Musical: The Musical: The Series' Cast Talks New Music (Watch)

    Disney has debuted a preview clip of the upcoming “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” in which the cast discusses how the music of the original movies and 2019’s tunes combine to tell a new tale. Indeed, it’s the start of something new: instead of cheering on Troy Bolton and Gabriella, a next generation [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content