Small companies, big ideas: Kevin Bartel amps up Best Production Company

There’s no question that the television industry is competitive, and it can be hard for a small prodco to break through the noise and find its niche. In ‘Small Companies, ...
July 7, 2020

There’s no question that the television industry is competitive, and it can be hard for a small prodco to break through the noise and find its niche. In ‘Small Companies, Big Ideas’ Realscreen chats with indies that are innovating and thriving, showing the unscripted world that sometimes the best things come in small packages.

The latest edition of Realscreen‘s Small Companies, Big Ideas series spotlights the Los Angeles-based Best Production Company, which is led by veteran producers and brother-in-laws Kevin Bartel (pictured, CEO) and Jeff Garcia (EVP).

Since its founding in October 2019, the premium non-fiction studio has specialized in generating “cinematic, story-driven and genre-bending” content for the global marketplace.

Both Bartel and Garcia are alums of Love Productions USA, where the pair were directly responsible for increasing the “U.S. hourly production by 900% with repeat business” on broadcast for ABC, premium cable at Discovery, and SVOD via Netflix and Amazon.

Now the seasoned executives have brought their premium branding to indie TV, film and digital production group All3Media America, with a slate of series in various stages of development and production. The Best Production Company marks the 12th prodco under the All3Media America banner, devoted to the development and production of entertainment formats and premium unscripted content.

“The decision to join All3Media America just felt like the right decision all around,” Bartel explains. “From the first time I sat down with Tim Pastore, and then Jane Turton and Sara Geater, I knew it was going to be a good fit.

“They were one of the few places where the first question wasn’t about the profit or margin expectations, but was focused on how to make the best possible content that could cut through the clutter.”

With a “bespoke, handcrafted approach” to its storytelling, Best Production Company’s programming slate that already includes Bad Chad Customs for Discovery.

Prior to joining Love Productions, Bartel was an executive with the U.S. arm of Studio Lambert, an All3Media company, where he worked on a number of series across genres, and was formerly VP of development and current programming at Spike. His executive producer credits include Westside and Made in Mexico for Netflix, El Corazón de Sergio Ramos for Amazon, and Dead by Dawn for Nat Geo Wild, all produced by Love Productions USA.

Here, Bartel discusses the benefits and disadvantages of running a boutique production house.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

All3Media acquired a majority stake at the outset of Best Production Company’s launch. What was the decision behind joining the All3Media stable?

Based on the success and reputation myself and Jeff built while at Love Productions, we fortunately had a number of production groups and independent financing groups interested in making a deal with us.

They were one of the few places where the first question wasn’t about the profit or margin expectations, but was focused on how to make the best possible content that could cut through the clutter. As a creator and producer, it was reassuring to hear that they understood how competitive the current unscripted marketplace is and agreed that the best chance of long-term success would be determined by the resources we put forward on the screen.

The model at All3Media allows me to focus on selling and making the best possible television shows, knowing that I have the full support of the Group and allowing me the freedom to not get tied up with the non-creative elements that can fill up your day as a head of a company. As we have begun to initiate our vision over the past few months, coupled with the changes brought forth by the current COVID-19 climate, it has never been clearer that I made the right decision in choosing a partner.

What obstacles have you faced along the way in terms of being a smaller company trying to make your mark in a competitive industry?

The business is hard right now and, as a smaller company, it has been challenging to say the least. We missed the days of straight to series orders off a logline in the pitch room; gone are the days where an executive has the greenlight ability to buy a show off a paragraph description and a creative hunch.

For a smaller company today, in order to break through the whole package needs to be bulletproof. We need to come to the table with amazing talent, a creative deck, an enticing sizzle reel and a strategic network partner working internally with the ability to convince their colleagues to go for it. And this is all before we added a pandemic into the mix. Despite these newer obstacles, in just a few short months we have been able to start pre-production for a new series on Netflix, and have a number of additional projects in development for linear cable and SVOD platforms.

Conversely, what are some of the advantages or benefits of remaining independent?

Throughout the industry, being an independent studio is usually seen as going hand-in-hand with being creatively free — free to have your own voice and produce content that you are passionate about, without having to make concessions. At All3Media America, I was offered that from the very beginning and they have fully supported our genre agnostic approach to developing and creating content. We are part of a group, but still have our own distinct voice.

Best Production Company describes itself as a “premium production company specializing in non-scripted programming across all genres.” Do you have a checklist in mind of what makes a project fit into the “premium” space?

“Premium” to us means a project that has been fully thought through and polished.

Instead of saddling a showrunner with the challenge of ironing out the show in the few weeks of prep before a shoot, we like to think of every detail, episode breakdown, and edit plan before pitching to networks. This focuses our development on shows we are actually passionate about making and we feel have a legitimate chance to go on for multiple seasons. When we shifted to a more bespoke, thorough approach in the development stage, we saw a direct correlation to straight to series orders, skipping over some of the painful paid development steps that can bleed a small company dry.

What’s in the pipeline now at Best Production Company?

We have a little of everything. Modeling our approach after Billy Wilder’s cardinal rule — don’t be boring — we go after projects that we are passionate about and excite us to develop and make. Just to give you a taste of what we have upcoming: we have a feature doc exploring global leadership, a genre-bending natural history concept, a colorful workplace occusoap and two culinary formats we are currently developing.

Generally speaking, how are the disruptions of the coronavirus outbreak impacting Best Production Company, and how are you adjusting to the fallout as a small company?

We are lucky to still be in our infancy as a company, but it has definitely had a slowing effect on the momentum we have built from our initial announcement. The pandemic makes you realize just how important those personal face-to-face interactions really were in the past. We work in a business that requires plenty of collaboration and teamwork and I find it much easier to do it at a table face-to-face than over Zoom.

As a developer who spends a great deal of time and money developing concepts, it’s frustrating that their fate will be decided over video conference without network executives getting in a room to debate the pros and cons of a concept. Being a network executive right now, and trying to get the buy in from your colleagues, must be incredibly difficult. This time remains a crucial point for our young company and, having been through difficult times in the industry before, we are hopeful that the positive impacts — innovation, creative solutions, broader storytelling — will outweigh any negatives.

And, more specifically, how is Best Production Company working with your industry partners during this uncertain period? 

During this period, we are leaning into the relationships we already have that are the strongest. Our focus has been to keep the conversations going with the networks where we are currently a preferred vendor, and where they already know we will deliver quality content for them. Trying to forge new relationships during this time with networks who are not aware of the quality of content we deliver is not entirely impossible, but has proven to be extremely difficult.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had mentioned that the programs Westside, Made in MexicoEl Corazón de Sergio Ramos and Dead by Dawn were part of the BPC stable. The seres are part of the Love Productions USA library. Realscreen regrets this error.

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