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Independent thinking

The LA Screenings see thousands of buyers head to Los Angeles to peruse the Hollywood studio’s latest offerings. However, May isn’t entirely about the majors and the Latins and independents are keen to make the most of the buyers’ time, reports Stewart Clarke

It is little wonder that international buyers always cite the LA Screenings as their favourite trip of the year. As well as being wined and dined by the biggest entertainment companies in the world, who are presenting some the biggest-budget and best content in the world, there are numerous non-studio players in town, looking to get some quality time with them.

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As the likes of Globo, Televisa and Telemundo roll out the red carpet, many of the international firms are in town to meet the Latin American buyers. The international indies  (where ‘indie’ is defined as ‘non-studio’) are then fighting for buyer time in between the Latin events and the studio sessions the week after, when the majors welcome the buyers to their lots.

“There’s always time to get the buyers, whether it is breakfast, or drinks, or dinner,” notes one indie distribution boss.

Suffice to say, a sociable buyer, from a broadcaster big or small, could be entertained almost 24-7 for the period of the Screenings.

French major StudioCanal’s sales arm now has a catalogue of TV fare from Tandem Productions, Red Production and Sam, as well as third parties. As the company positions itself as a Europe-based, international studio, it is evaluating whether to have a screening in LA, but this year will just be in town to reach the Latins.

“We are here just for the Latin market,” says sales manager Mirela Nastase. “The Latins also do NATPE Miami, but are very focused on the Screenings, and a lot of their budgets are decided here. This gives us another chance to see them in person before MIPCOM.”

As with other distributors, StudioCanal’s slate is the same as its MIPTV line-up, and includes Spotless, which US cable net Esquire presented at its upfront, and Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom’s feature doc The Emperor’s New Clothes. It also has The Five, the UK drama from best selling author Harlan Coban, and Section Zero, a French cop drama, from Olivier Marchal.

The latter will play well on cable rather than free TV in Lat Am. “It pushes the limit in terms of violence and bad language,” Nastase says. “Olivier Marchal has produced another Braquo, but this time set in the near future.”

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Lionsgate straddles the studio and indie worlds by qualifying as both. It has its own screening and hosts a Nashville-themed party this year. Its line-up includes WGN America cable series Manhattan and Hulu’s Jason Reitman (Juno) half-hour comedy Casual. It will also talk to buyers about the ABC procedural Sex, Lies and Handwriting, and the adaptation of Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear for Lifetime. Other shows include Empress of China, which comes out of its pact with China’s Hunan. For 2016 it hopes to have a Dirty Dancing series, based on the hit movie, which is in development at ABC.

With so much for cable and SVOD the screenings takes on a different role for the likes of Lionsgate, as most projects are straight-to-series and ordered year-round. “This is not the only opportunity; the buffet goes on all year,” says Peter Iacono, managing director, international television and digital distribution, Lionsgate Television. “We have ten new projects for cable or SVOD, but they are all straight-to-series so there is no pilot.”

The Latin opportunity becomes more important given that fewer now attend MIPTV in April, says Lisa Honig, senior executive VP, television and digital distribution for FremantleMedia International. It might also, ultimately, have its own screenings event in LA in May (it had its first London screening event in February), although not this year.

FMI will be in town with shows including Paul Abbott cop drama No Offence, and given it will have launched on Channel 4’s since its MIPTV launch, the sales team have ratings data in hand. The distributor will also have buzzy German drama Deutschland 83, and amid the golden age of drama, international buyers are less concerned about the provenance of scripted fare, Honig says. “There’s an openness to content wherever it comes from. The strength of something like Deutschland 83 speaks for itself. It just happens to be German.”

Other FMI titles for the screenings include BBC pirate radio station sitcom People Just Do Nothing and Channel 5 cop procedural Suspects.

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A-grade scripted fare often also means cable not network TV, says another distributor with a healthy number of cable series on its books. “It is the golden age and that is not about network TV anymore; the best series are not on network. Because of that the Screenings are important, but they are not the only opportunity.”

Outside of speaking to the Latins, the screenings is a fact-finding opportunity for other distributors. Dan March and Klaus Zimmerman’s Dynamic Television describes its raison d’etre as “meeting the demands of channels, outside of what they are getting from the studios”, says March. “Our goal is to focus on the programming needs that clients have that are not being met by the studios.”

Dynamic has Icelandic noir drama Trapped, recently picked up by the BBC in the UK, as well as South African crime drama Cape Town, which is in production.

“It is important to keep an eye on what’s coming down the pipe from the studios and what our clients are responding to, and that affects our own development and project slate.” says March. However, the Dynamic boss adds that, Latins aside, the Screenings are not nearly as important as MIPTV or MIPCOM for independents. “We have quality time talking about specific projects, whereas at MIP it is a more blanket approach.”

Being in town when the buyers see the latest studio fare has another benefit for the international firms. “The buyers will often wait for the screenings, decide what they want and see what [budget] is left. We have to be there,” says Henrik Pabst, managing director of Red Arrow International. “The Screenings are important for our sales results, they attract the really significant buyers and they are all their to see how they can fill their schedules.”

With the Latin attendance at MIPTV less strong than MIPCOM, the likes of Red Arrow are also effectively launching shows to some buyers. “We are presenting [US-flavoured Nordic noir cop series] 100 Code to them for the first time,” Pabst says. Red Arrow’s other scripted offerings include buzzy Amazon cop series Bosch, which has just been renewed for a second run.

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As part of the ProSiebenSat.1 group, Red Arrow will also benefit from some feedback from the buyers from its group. FremantleMedia also has channel relations as part of RTL as do ITV Studios, BBC Worldwide and others.

Keshet also has that buyer/seller dynamic, with acquisitions folk from the Israeli channel and sales agents from Keshet International in town to woo the Latins.

Outside of reaching Latin buyers, the Screenings are a good time to assess what’s going on in the scripted world, says Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Keshet International.

“For us it is a big part of the calendar, but we meet buyers all year, so it is not so much to sell but a time of year to see and analyse trends, and what is going on, and what people are bringing to market.

“Our buyers are here too so it is a hybrid experience. We want to see what is out there for our network and how it can help shape the schedule for the year.”

In terms of scripted trends the Keshet International boss adds: “What we’re seeing so far is less risk-taking, everyone is trying to avoid a ‘walk on the wild side’. Buyers are looking for safe acquisitions.”