Upfront: Piloting Café copros

Café Productions, one of the U.K.'s leading independent factual producers, has beefed up its senior production team in preparation for international expansion next year....
December 1, 1997

Café Productions, one of the U.K.’s leading independent factual producers, has beefed up its senior production team in preparation for international expansion next year.

Key appointments include a new head of science and coproductions, Simon Nasht, and a head of archaeology, Peter Spry-Leverton. There are also plans to invest more resources in Café’s Paris and NYC production offices.

Already a well-known name on the international copro circuit 90% of Café’s programming is destined for non-U.K. customers. According to commercial director Mark Nicholls, the new personnel will reinforce a growing commitment to copro. They will slot in alongside head of history Hugh Purcell, head of special projects Steve Seidenberg and Lynette Singer, who specializes in managing programs for the U.S. market.

‘We took a decision a year ago to expand internationally,’ he says. ‘When you look around at many other documentary makers in the U.K., they have expanded by entering new genres, such as drama and light entertainment. But that costs a fortune, and we don’t know anything about it, so our focus is on how do we get bigger in factual.’

Nasht, like Café chief executive André Singer, is a highly respected player in the international scene, and will play a pivotal role in expanding the company’s overseas relationships. For the last seven years, he has been co-owner and joint md of Pilot Film and Television. His decision to pitch in his lot with Café is a reflection of the growing pressure for U.K. indies to join forces to achieve competitive muscle.

Nasht’s partner at Pilot, Ian Cross, decided against joining forces with Café – though this had been raised as a strong possibility. According to Nicholls, ‘Simon was looking for a way to grow the business and came to us proposing a merger or acquisition. However, Ian felt it wasn’t right for him.’

Internationally, Café has formalized its group structure under the banner Café Worldwide. Both New York, under Leo Eaton, and Paris, under Bettina Hattami will be expected to become profit centres in their own right. ‘They are not there to act as service companies for London,’ says Nicholls, who expects Café to increase its satellite offices’ post-production capacity.

The goal of the U.S. office is to broaden Café’s base of relationships with broadcasters, ‘Discovery is our biggest client, but we want to forge better relationships with pbs and A&E.’ Emphasis will be put on developing a childrens slate. Currently Café in the U.S. is working on a kids series, Zaboomafoo for PBS, with Canada’s Paragon Entertainment.

Nicholls is taking close personal interest in France where he sees great potential. Café’s French office is close to a deal on a travel series for Canal+, and will work towards a strong natural history slate. ‘Natural history is well developed in the U.K.,’ he admits. ‘In France, however, there are a lot of very good factual filmmakers including some who had close associations with the late Jacques Cousteau. We want to provide a business foundation that can help organize that talent.’

Café also expects to form closer partnerships with those overseas. It already has a close working relationship with Little Bird Productions in Ireland. The two companies have just been given the green light to produce Irish Empire for RTE, BBC 2 (via BBC Northern Ireland) and SBS in Australia.

In the longer term, Café is still seeking ways of boosting its investment capacity and claims to be receiving offers. ‘We have had serious approaches from a U.K. merchant bank, an Australian distributor, a U.S. telecom company and a German media business, but we are cautious,’ says Nicholls. ‘Right now we are in growth mode, and reinvesting our profits in the company.’

Mergers with other U.K. independents have not been ruled out, ‘But again you have to be careful,’ says Nicholls. ‘You can’t just ram companies together as you would in the manufacturing industry. What we most want to acquire is talented people.’

In Upfront:
-News for December 1997
-Piloting Cafe copros
-For the record

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.