Story House Productions is a unique production company, with offices in Washington, D.C., Berlin and Munich and a remit to make true crime, science and historical non-fiction fare. Coming off of a successful 2012 project for National Geographic, the Story House team chatted with realscreen about coproductions, branching out into natural history and welcoming a new member to the management team.
The 10-year-old company has survived and flourished thanks to coproductions, says Andreas Gutzeit, Story House Productions’ president and CEO. ‘Many of the projects that we’re [doing] come with some sort of international component attached to them,’ he says. ‘We were lucky enough that we decided to explore this before the financial crisis hit. We jointly bring projects to the table and that makes our reach as coproducers wider than just Germany.’
He adds that it’s rare to do fully commissioned projects, but that it’s important to find a good working balance with the people you’re partnering with. ‘There’s obviously a risk when it comes to coproductions and you need to know what projects are good projects to pick for coproduction and that’s key for us,’ says Gutzeit.
Carsten Oblaender, co-president of Story House, lists National Geographic, ZDF and ProSieben in Germany as major partners, as well as History Channel, AETN’s Crime & Investigation Network and Investigation Discovery.
Juggling multiple partners calls for a multifaceted approach. ‘From the inception of any project, we have three development teams looking at it, for the UK, for the U.S. and for Germany, and we position the project in such a way that makes sense in all of those territories,’ says Gutzeit. ‘The secret of making it work for everybody is that as you’re finishing the show, you’re working very closely in separate teams with individual partners so that it remains a project for Nat Geo, it remains a project for ZDF, it remains a project for Channel Five. You need to keep that in mind.’
One such coproduction that Story House recently completed was 2012: Countdown to Armageddon which was a National Geographic/Spiegel Group/Parthenon Entertainment project that won the top time slot upon its U.S. airing, says Gutzeit. It was also one of the biggest selling titles at MIP internationally, sold by Parthenon.
Also on the prodco’s slate are two series with potential coproduction partners, the first dealing with the supernatural world and the other in the true crime genre. The company is also branching out into natural history.
‘We have a blue chip natural history [project] that we’ve worked on for a good while that is currently coming to fruition,’ says Gutzeit, although he has to remain mum on the details. All he can say is the project is a unique opportunity with unique access and footage, coming in 2010.
A new addition is also coming to their team. Thomas Zwiessler, formerly of ProSieben, will join the prodco as a managing director in the Munich office.
‘We think it is the right time to make a bold effort to go into new markets and Thomas Zwiessler is known for basically spearheading innovative programming,’ says Oblaender. He adds that it makes sense to make this effort now, ‘while the economy is down and not wait until everything picks up again and we’re very happy about it.’
‘It’s an addition to the management team in a key market for us, that we hope will make a huge difference,’ adds Gutzeit. ‘Just like everybody at Story House, he’s in the business of making great television and combined with strong management skills, that’s what a company like ours needs.’