Four talking points from Series Mania Forum 2022 | Characteristics

The industry-focused Series Mania Forum conference program from March 22-24 highlighted the platforms, production groups and individual talents that are shaking up the European drama scene as well as hot topics in the world. heart of the business.

Screen breaks out some of the talking points.

American platforms and studios are accelerating the European push

American streamers and studios were out in force again at the Series Mania Forum, which positioned itself as a useful platform to connect with the European drama scene.

HBO Max has teamed up with the big guns of its European original content team, led by Antony Root, EVP and Head of Original Production EMEA.

Root said the past 18 months had been a period of “adjustment” rather than “radical change” as existing HBO Europe services in the Nordics, Spain and Central and Eastern Europe converted to the new SVoD model and to the HBO Max banner, with new Turkish and French offerings expected to go live in the near future.

Noting that HBO Europe had created 29 original drama series before the transition from HBO Max, Root said the revamped platform remained “a local go-live operation,” but added that the goal was to expand the roster. to attract new subscribers. This would involve doubling his unscripted commissions, he revealed.

Not every local show ordered for HBO Max could be a big-budget production, he added. “We want different price points. We can’t make everything into a very expensive drama series. And that’s one of the things that we’re working hard to figure out.

Paramount International CEO Raffaele Annecchino also sat down to discuss the studio’s streaming strategy. He described his hybrid approach involving his own platform Paramount More and a tie-up with SkyShowtime, which will make the studio’s content available to stream in 60 European markets by the end of 2022. In a sign that the company is also branching out into original content outside the US, Annecchino has announced a partnership major with Gaumont for several high-end dramas.

Amazon Studios Georgia Brown, head of European Originals, also took the stage. The executive, who first spoke at Series Mania in 2019 as her department was kicking off, said the operation had “come a very long way” in the meantime with 50 European original dramas launched by the end of Last year. The original vision of spotlighting local productions and new voices remained the same, she added, debuting trailers for Paul Pogba’s new documentary as well as the music-inspired British drama grime and drill. Jungle as examples of this.

Booming European production groups

Christian Vespers

The consolidation of Europe’s independent drama production sector into large groups was also in the spotlight with executives from the burgeoning groups ITV Studios, Fremantle and Federation Entertainment joining a panel on the phenomenon.

“Big is not necessarily better, but some scale is important. We recently acquired a few companies, most recently Lux Vide in Italy, a stake in Fabel in the US…and earlier in the year the companies of NENT production,” commented Fremantle Chairman of World Drama Christian Vesper.

“For us, it’s about seeing where we have gaps in our programming. It’s very much dependent on our distribution department in what they need for the pipeline, but on the drama side it’s also dependent on access to talent and access to producer talent as well as the talent of screenwriter-director. Strategically it’s not just about being bigger, it’s about what we need to sustain the group.

ITV Studios, executive vice president of global content, said there was “strength and upside” that came with the scale, but the group was working hard to foster a spirit of independence among the 60 labels in production.

“We truly believe that creativity flourishes best when it’s independent and not run by a corporate machine. Every company is the captain of its own ship, but when something like Covid hits, that means they do part of a flotilla where they can get help in case of drowning.

Marina Williams, co-founder and co-CEO of the Asacha Group, countered that size at all costs was not the way to go. “Scale is important, but it has to be manageable. For us, the synergy between the group’s producers is very important. We select our assets very carefully because we want our producers to work together on co-development and for Asacha to be a great home for mature talent. From that perspective, the size has to be manageable so that talent doesn’t get lost,” she said.

Lionel Uzan, co-founder and CEO of Federation Entertainment, suggested that each of the big groups had something different to offer and suggested that talent should do their homework around who would work for them.

“We [the big production groups] are all fighting for the same talent, but why talent would choose one company over another depends on the culture. We all bring different things to the table. Some have deeper pockets, others are more flexible, others more enterprising, or stronger in distribution, or in certain territories. The talent must wonder why I chose this house? If it’s just the money, there are bigger players than us, if it’s not just the money, there must be other reasons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, his trajectory from fiction to reality

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was never far from the minds of Series Mania TV series pros as the war continued to dominate headlines and newscasts.

During the festival, Series Mania showed its solidarity with Ukraine by appointing Ukrainian producer Julia Sinkevych as president of the jury for the international competition.

During the Series Mania forum, several professionals alluded to the conflict, many of them stressing that telling European stories and defending cultural diversity in the theater sector, as well as suppressing fake news in the factual field, remained more important. than ever.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even spoke on a panel exploring the soft power of drama series when speakers discussed his trajectory as a creator and star of political comedy-drama Servant of the People.

“It’s like a black mirror episode. It’s ridiculous but it’s fantastic. He could easily be on stage right now talking about his show,” British producer Bunmi Akintonwa said. “He was at MIPCOM selling the show many years ago, he had a booth like a lot of us.”

James Poniewozik, chief television critic at The New York Times, commented on how close the conduct of the show’s teaching protagonist elected president was to that of Zelensky in his actual role as the country’s wartime president.

“You can see how he led Ukraine through this war, if you go back and look servant of the peoplethat it bears an eerie resemblance to the show’s themes around the legitimacy of power, in which a good president does not part company in his mansion or estate in Monte Carlo, but shares in the deprivations and dangers of his people,” a- he declared. .

Philosophy professor Sandra Laugier noted how a US poll showed Martin Sheen would have been a potentially popular presidential candidate thanks to his role in the west wing, but stressed that Zelensky still remained a special case.

“The fact is, that didn’t happen. There is something more about Zelensky and his show, and his promotion of democratic values, which are global values,” she said.

Is the showrunner model transferable in Europe?

The high-end European drama had seen the region attempt to import the showrunner model from the United States in recent years, but the jury is still out on whether it is directly transferable to Europe.

American showrunner, writer and executive producer Frank Spotnitz, Danish writer Jeppe Gjervig Gram, best known for Borgen and Follow the money; and acclaimed veteran German writer Annette Hess, whose recent credits include We, the children of Bahnhof Zoo and the Ku’Damm franchise addressed the issue in a panel entitled “Showrunnng: A European Approach”.

Invited to define the role of showrunner, Leonardo, Mediciand The Man in the High Castle Writer-creator Spotnitz replied, “Actually, I don’t like the word ‘showrunner’ because it gives the lead creator more credit than they’re due, but as the lead creator of a TV series , you’re the main decision maker. On American television, and I’ve been telling people this for years and they still don’t believe it’s possible, that person has always been the writer.

“The writer is the lead on every American TV show you love, that’s how it goes. The writer has the final say on budget, casting, editing, usage visual effects, anything you can imagine, but the showrunner doesn’t do it alone, they have other capable producers, who know more about budgeting, scheduling, or crews, but they have the final say.

Hess said no one works that way in Germany, although she acknowledged that the Ku’Damm she had played a decisive role, selecting directors and closely supervising characterization and dialogue, but was not always on set.

She anecdotally recalled how the ZDF television channel championed her as the drama’s “showrunner” during the season premiere. Ku’Damm had angered director Sven Bohse, even though they were on good terms.

“I remember he said, ‘If I hear the word ‘showrunner’ one more time, I’m going to explode,” she said. “You see how difficult it is to find a definition. We must talk about it before embarking on a project.

Gjervig Gram agreed that while the term “showrunner” might place too much emphasis on the role of the creator-writer in making a show, the common Danish term “head writer” was “too low”.

“You’re not the king, but you’re not just the ‘head writer’ when you’re in the editing, the casting and talking to the directors, you run, at least in Denmark, the creative part of series.”

Spotnitz suggested there was room for traditional auteur-style productions or models that put the director or creator-writer in the lead creator role, but the writer-showrunner model remained the best option for productions. in large scale.

“If you do shows of a certain scale of eight to 12 episodes a year and you want them to be delivered within a certain time frame and then you repeat that 12 months later, it’s really hard to do without a showrunner… and that’s why the system evolved in the United States.

Melvin B. Baillie