As MD of Parthenon Entertainment, his wildlife and history production and distribution company, Carl Hall constantly juggles both the creative and financial aspects of the business. ‘You can’t do production at the moment without having a financial head because it’s so expensive,’ he says. ‘I’m the yin and yang existence between the making of the programs and getting funding. To get those really big monies, I need to keep an eye on the quality and delivery.’
Hall has maintained that balance since April, 2002, when he founded London-based Parthenon. The move saw him leave a steady gig at giant U.K. distributor HIT Entertainment, where he was a founding member, for the uncertainties of indie life. But, the exchange isn’t without its perks.
‘It’s fun in a way,’ he confesses, ‘because I am the controller of my own destiny. When you work for a big company, you can’t get somebody on the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great show. Would you like to finance it?’ You have to go through internal committees and god knows what. Now, if I like [a project] and I’ve run the numbers in my head, I can say ‘yes’ and the deal is done. That makes a hell of a difference, especially when you’re in a competitive environment and other people are going for the same projects.’
Parthenon has 20 full-time employees (up from six at its launch), and Hall plans to keep it that way. ‘I saw hit go from a US$1 million company to a $400 million company. I’ve been through that once before. I don’t want to make a massive company. I think small, lean and mean is the way to go forward into the future. If you get too big, you become vulnerable.’
Hall started Parthenon without any subsidies or tax breaks to get the business on its feet. ‘The only thing I got from the government was a free inspection of the building from the fire brigade, who told me I needed to spend £400 ($720) per room on fire extinguishers,’ he jokes.
From its headquarters in that same building (one previously used by the Spice Girls’ management agency), Parthenon tackles projects in every form, from straight distribution to working on original ideas. The company often supplies camera teams or money to producers who don’t have enough of their own resources to get programs made.
It also has a strategic partnership with NDR in Germany to both produce and coproduce programs for them. One such copro is a history special called The Mystery of the Maya. Over 18 months in the making, the 90-minute special for France 5 proposes a new theory about the destruction of the Maya, involving a woman named Lady Six Sky. She supposedly killed the king in one of the Mayan kingdoms after her own husband was murdered, thereby obliterating the region’s infrastructure. ‘One woman’s revenge destroyed an entire civilization that had lasted 1,000 years,’ says Hall. ‘Kick-ass story.’
In total, Parthenon’s library holds about 500 hours of programs. Only about two or three repeat subjects, boasts Hall, ‘Just to prove there are still stories out there.’
Select Recent Filmography:
2004 – Kit Fox: An American Tale
(50 minutes) – director, National Geographic/NDR
2004 – The Mystery of the Maya
(85 minutes) – EP, France 5/NDR
2004 – Tusks and Tattoos
(50 minutes) – EP, Discovery Networks International
2004 – Valley of the Golden Baboons
(85/50 minutes) – EP, France 5/National Geographic
2004 – Andalusia: Between Heaven and Hell
(50/47 minutes) – EP, NDR/National Geographic
2004 – Porpoises: Life and Death in the Fast Lane
(50 minutes) – EP, National Geographic/NDR
2004 – Marine Machines
(50 minutes) – EP, National Geographic