Few (epidemiologists aside) could have predicted the turbulence of 2020, a year that brought about monumental change — welcome and unwelcome — to the non-scripted screen community, and the world. As the novel coronavirus put the TV and film industry on pause, stakeholders across all sectors re-calibrated — as Realscreen covered in ‘Weathering the storm’ — and, as we heard in ‘Back to business,’ returned to the job with a new playbook.
Now, with ‘Outlook,’ Realscreen is turning the page on a difficult year, and looking onward to 2021. Here, you’ll hear from execs in various sectors about the challenges and opportunities they foresee for the industry in the year ahead. In this next edition of the series, we speak to Dan Cutforth (pictured right) and Jane Lipsitz (left), co-founders of Los Angeles-headquartered Alfred Street Industries.
How has 2020 been for Alfred Street Industries? What are some of the biggest ways this past year has impacted how you operate?
Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz: 2020 has been a very demanding year for everyone personally and professionally, and sailing into these uncharted waters has been a challenge. We are constantly aware that the struggles of a production company are nothing compared to the challenges that many people have found themselves in, in America and around the world… We’ve been lucky as a company to have been largely untouched by COVID from a health perspective.
Most of all, 2020 has demanded creativity from a business standpoint, in production strategies and it has also given us space to have a more creative outlet in development.
At Alfred Street, we’re gratified to have kept a strong sense of spirit and camaraderie within the group… All of that has fueled this sense of consistent connection among our team. On the flip side, we miss the casual conversation and energy that comes from all being in one space, so it will be nice to get back to some of that normalcy, though we still see incorporating more virtual meetings and more of a hybrid style of working, post-COVID.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in unscripted content that will be at the forefront in 2021?
DC/JL: We don’t really look at content in terms of trends. One of our philosophies in starting the company was and is to develop ideas that are exciting to us whether they’re on trend or not. Another is to work closely with individual platforms and networks to create what’s going to work best for each of them, because with the proliferation of platforms, it feels like a clear moment where you have to think about the brand of every platform.
The pandemic fueled the appetite for unscripted in 2020, particularly when scripted productions were more difficult to get back up and running. Do you see this trend continuing into next year?
DC/JL: This was a year when people were sitting at home and receptive to content in a way they may not have been for a while, and it felt like television was back in the forefront of the conversation. There was a lot of darkness and fear in the real world so social media and news, which have had more prominence in the last few years, became something people needed refuge from – doomscrolling takes a lot out of you! Speaking for ourselves, television also returned to being something the family could enjoy together, and all of this makes us optimistic about the future of our industry as we continue to deal with the fallout of COVID-19.
Despite Quibi’s shutting down, short-form, mobile content was on the rise in 2020. Given that Alfred Street produced series such as Chrissy’s Court and About Face, do you still see a strong demand for this type of content as we look ahead to next year?
DC/JL: We really enjoyed our experience working with Quibi. We have been making short-form content in different genres for many years and enjoy the challenges of short-form storytelling. Whether or not there’s a platform dedicated to short form, there is space for that content, and the idea of Quibi – to provide quick hits of entertainment for people on the go — was a solid one because that demand will continue to exist, and even more so post-pandemic. We have also found that short form can be used as a farm system to test out and develop new content ideas that could migrate to long form. There was a great response to Chrissy’s Court and also to our show About Face with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and it seems likely that both of those shows could have a life beyond Quibi in short or long form. Our other short form foray this year was So Siriano, with Christian Siriano for Bravo’s digital platform. It was an opportunity that came out of the success of Christian’s Runway digital companion series, and it was a great way to keep Christian connected with the Bravo audience while also giving Christian a chance to expand his creative horizons. So short form is definitely not going away.
A lot of productions are back up and running now with safety measures in place. How have you been approaching your productions when it comes to safety and how are you navigating the added costs of that?
DC/JL: For everyone in any of our productions, the health and safety of cast, crew and production team is the top priority. Every network and platform we’ve worked with has made it clear that it’s their top priority too. Like most companies, we have stringent protocols in place that we have been following and will continue to adhere to. That includes following all CDC health, safety and social distancing guidelines, producing with as small a production footprint as possible in compliance with local and state regulations, and working remotely as much as possible, including with post production, casting, and anything that can be self-shot. And of course, we have regular and ongoing testing protocols throughout all stages of production. We’ve worked on this in total partnership with the networks and streamers who all have their own protocols. They have been completely supportive throughout every step of this process.
In addition to the pandemic, a lack of diversity in front of and behind the camera in the TV industry has been an important conversation this year, brought on by the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists within the business. How is Alfred Street working to create more diverse and inclusive unscripted content?
DC/JL: The events of this year have put a huge and desperately needed focus on the issues of diversity in our industry. At Alfred Street, and before that at Magical Elves, we have always had a commitment to diversity in front of and behind the camera, or so we thought, but seeing this demand for change and the need for personal accountability outside our industry made us really question how well we were achieving those aims. As a company we are fully committed to stepping up our efforts towards diversity and inclusivity particularly behind the camera as well as creating content that will be meaningful and sensitive to the issues that matter. There is a long way to go for all of us but it has been encouraging to see change starting to happen.
Can you share any details about projects you’re working on for next year, or what’s in store for Alfred Street in 2021?
DC/JL: Our big concern in early 2020 was about finding time to develop because of the volume of production we had lined up. A lot of that production moved into 2021 which allowed us to focus on development, and that creative outlet was very welcome during the darker days of this year. We are really grateful to all our network and platform partners for the ongoing work we have had and we are very excited to get back into production on Project Runway, and our Marie Kondo series with Netflix is already underway and will be a big focus next year. We also have several unannounced projects, many of which came out of our concentrated development this year. So 2021 is looking very positive for Alfred Street.