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. Here, we speak to Quincy Newell, founder and president of Los Angeles-based digital-first content production and distribution company TwentyOne14 Media.
How has 2020 been for TwentyOne14 Media? What are some of the biggest ways this past year has affected your business, for better or worse?
Quincy Newell: Just like every company, we’ve had some challenges. Of course, because we’re in the development phase of our business — trying to scale and grow — it’s been a bit difficult. However, on the deal-making side, it has been quite productive for us because people have been more available.
It’s kind of a blessing and a curse in that it became extremely challenging to sustain and grow. But at the same time, we were able to be productive in getting some key deals done, which may have taken a lot longer if COVID hadn’t taken place.
Can you share any details about unscripted/doc projects you’re working on now and into 2021?
QN: In the unscripted and documentary world, we’re workshopping some projects, We had a project that was beginning development with ITV that fell through because of some other factors. We’re currently evaluating a project that we’re pretty excited about that is a competition show. We’re currently having conversations with a few partners about it. Hopefully that’ll get off the ground and we’ll start working on it.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in unscripted/doc content that will be at the forefront in 2021, in your view?
QN: The environment’s changed for all productions because of COVID, the inability for your crews to get together and so on.
But I do see innovation with the way that content creation, with respect to the unscripted category, is evolving. That’s very interesting because it’s forcing innovation and forcing creativity, which is a good thing.
Generally, because of the social climate, the unrest that has been happening, I think documentaries have gained quite a bit of steam. Those are the vehicles that allow us to be educated, allow us to gain some insight into things you might not otherwise have paid attention to. I’ve always thought documentaries were a very valuable area.
There’s a lot more interest in quality documentaries that are addressing the issues that people are interested in. I think you might see that through viewership as well. People are consuming documentaries a little bit more than they had in the past.
Can you share any details about the streaming network you’ll be launching with Cinedigm? What role will unscripted/doc play in original programming?
QN: Looking at our strategy, unscripted will play a pretty significant role… There’s opportunity to create lower cost content that still has valuable quality in the unscripted space. Looking at our channel as a lifestyle channel more than specifically being about movies or a scripted series — it’s really about culture and lifestyle, and documentaries and unscripted programming play a big role in that. We’re looking at the possibility of ramping up a slate that’s focused primarily on unscripted.
How have you seen digital content evolve in 2020, and where you think it’s heading in 2021?
QN: All content is digital content.
We live in a digital world and entertainment has really been converted into digital in all facets… we’re tapping into digital platforms that are over the top such as Netflix and Hulu and so on [more aggressively than before].
The way that we consume, the way that we create, the way that we share, the way that we engage — I look at the industry in general as a digital industry.
What do you see as being some of the key challenges for producers in 2021?
QN: My priority is to grow business, create partnerships that are valuable and make money, ultimately, not only [for] my company but also our partners. Challenges? I’m an optimist. We’re given challenges constantly and we have to be able to pivot and adjust and innovate. I welcome that.
Generally, as a producer, [the challenges are] getting back into content creation under the restrictions that COVID has placed on us, the challenges with protecting your crew and making sure that your production can operate in an efficient way. Also, the cost factor, with having to add the precautions and the protocols that one needs to add in order to execute a production — it’s going to be challenging, both from a financial perspective but also just generally making sure that you’re managing folks and that everyone is operating under the same kind of mandate with respect to how you approach it,.
Producers have embraced the shift and change and educated themselves, and the industry as a whole has done the same. We’re prepared to move forward and to continue doing business effectively and create quality products.
Representation is core to TwentyOne14 Media, and that’s also been a big conversation this year with the Black Lives Matter movement. Have the events of the past year emboldened that part of your company’s ethos and can you share any details about any upcoming projects or initiatives you’re working on for next year that expand on the work you’ve done to empower filmmakers of color?
QN: My entire career has been focused on this mindset and this philosophy, so this is not new for me. My businesses, and the businesses I have been involved in, have been advocates and push for inclusion and diversity, both as business folks but also with respect to representation.
I think it’s new to the industry as a whole having to be held somewhat accountable. What I would say is, I would challenge folks to live up to what the industry says it wants to be and what it wants to support, and not have it be a timestamp performative act… because what we don’t want is to have this opportunity to go by. Folks wave flags and say, “Hey, we support this. We think this should happen,” but nothing ever changes. That accountability should continue.
It’s good business. It’s not forcing organizations or individuals to do anything that is not in the best interests of their business. We understand how the demographics are changing, we see based off of how people have responded and how things have gone over the last six, seven months, and just looking at our country and how it’s evolving and how the world is evolving that, if you’re not catering to or representing the world as it is authentically and accurately, then you’re not going to have a sustainable business.
For me, it’s a business imperative, and it makes complete business sense. I’d like to see companies wrap their arms around it and see it that way as well.