CANNES – In an era increasingly defined by consolidation, it’s critical for indie producers and filmmakers to consider the modern realities of content creation and distribution.
In a session titled “Indie Filmmaking: Protecting Creative Freedom In An M&A World”, panelists explored how networks and content creators are working to navigate the industry in an era of changing politics and procedures.
Moderating the keynote superpanel was Derren Lawford, creative director at Woodcut Media.
Founded in 2009 after noticing a shortage of landmark content in the non-fiction space, Jane Root’s Nutopia creates returning premium series that Root quips “cost a ridiculous amount of money per episode.”
Working in this space requires the London- and Washington DC-based shop to convince its production and broadcast partners to commit to large sums of money. The easiest way to accomplish that is by undertaking “a hell of a lot of development,” according to the founder and chief executive of Nutopia.
“For me, it’s all about development,” she added, pointing to Civilizations and One Strange Rock (pictured), which took five and three years, respectively, to make.
“If you get the development right and super-invest in it, which we do, and you work at it and find something that’s really different, then most of the time we can persuade someone to buy it.”
Turning to financial freedoms, the Nutopia founder noted that while rights retention in the UK is seen as paramount, the American marketplace is without the same government provisions that allow studios to retain rights to their content. “But there are many successful American production companies who’ve never managed to retained rights and are still very successful. We take a more transatlantic view about it,” she added.
Not so for Jamie Isaacs at London-headquartered producer-distributor Avalon.
Asked whether he would ever produce a title where the rights would be surrendered, Isaacs said it wouldn’t happen unless someone was offering a lot of money that was compensation for the loss of rights.
The British indie, he said, very much takes the view that as creative producers, their investment in ideas and creativity has value beyond the broadcaster’s financing of an hour of television.
“We want to be excited about what we’re doing and part of that excitement is the journey that that shows can go on internationally,” Isaacs explained. “And if the series is a hit, we want to not only make money out of that but also be part of the excitement that goes with that and control where it goes.
“My focus is mainly on the UK terrestrial still, and we’re able to retain and control rights, and it’s something that’s very important to us.”
Isaacs went on to add that surrendering all rights to a program is difficult from an emotional perspective as a producer. The idea of creating a series only to sell off the rights for a large fee, and potentially have the series go on to achieve greater success without the producer’s involvement doesn’t sit right with the Avalon exec.
Isaacs also touted the advantages of producing in volume. Avalon’s desire for large volume commissions stems from a business perspective, as it’s one of the ways in which the company is able to turn a profit from a project. If the studio develops a series that garners a certain amount of presence on a network where it rates well and becomes a significant brand, then the program will more often than not be commissioned in volume, allowing for Avalon to continue producing the title more efficiently.
“Volume is important for us to run a business and have that presence,” said Isaacs. “If we’re making shows at the lower end of the price range, very different to Jane [Root], then you have to have volume. You just can’t do it otherwise.
“We don’t only look for those large volume commissions, but they can be useful.”