Anthony Kimble, co-CEO of UK- and US-based production and financing company Arrested Industries (formerly Fugitive), explores how the pandemic has led to a big demand for non-US drama in the States, as well as a waning appetite for local scripted content.
As a Brit who’s recently set up a business in LA, there’s a lot that I’m still coming to terms with, not least my regular commute on the 405 to attend meetings. I liken the drive to the track in Mad Max: Fury Road: it’s fast, exhilarating, deeply competitive and you need to keep your wits about you to make it to your destination in one piece. It all feels so gladiatorial – but it probably sets me up nicely for the day job developing and funding drama projects and then pitching them to broadcasters and streamers.
I have always loved spending time in America and working with Americans, but even as a Brit sharing a common language, ‘breaking through’ with non-US scripted projects has long been a battle. For many years, commissions or co-productions were rare, while only the very best British costume dramas and quirky detective series were acquired with any regularity. Apparently, our accents were an issue and, as I’ve been told, “US viewers had no interest in gritty stories set in rainswept cities in the north of England”.
Now, however, the tide has turned and there’s never been more opportunity stateside for not only British drama but also international shows. And we have the pandemic to thank for opening the floodgates. As we know, during lockdown viewers turned increasingly to streamers, but in doing so they also found more time to experiment, with many in the US viewing international Netflix Originals, such as French series Lupin and Spain’s Money Heist or other titles such as German series Deutschland ’83 for the first time. Add to that the huge wave of innovative content coming out of territories like Korea – with dramas like Netflix’s Squid Game and Apple’s Pachinko – and drama executives here would soon go from hero to zero if they didn’t now consider international stories when looking for their next big hit.
We are having a ‘perfect storm’ moment. Viewer engagement is up in the US and cultural barriers are down, output deals are disappearing and there’s dwindling local supply in the marketplace as studios are keeping content for their own platforms. In line with this, international broadcasters are also buying less US content as their increasingly robust local production sectors now create standout content that can also find audiences overseas.
Going the extra mile
At both Content LA and the LA Screenings last month, there was a marked drop in appetite for US network shows and I know from my own meetings that US buyers have emerged slightly bleary-eyed from two years of Zoom conferences, pitch meetings and writers’ rooms with a far less myopic view of the scripted television landscape. Everyone is looking for local stories that work for global audiences – and finally recognise that local can be further afield than New York.
Premium cablenet HBO Max, for example, has been acquiring non-English language masterpieces like Gomorrah and My Brilliant Friend (both Italian) and Veneno (Spanish) and has even launched international destinations such as HBO Europe and HBO Asia on its US service. And commissioners are starting to invest earlier to secure good content in an increasingly competitive marketplace. So, all of this means that it’s a great time to bring international stories to the US.
The beauty of international drama is that every territory has unique stories to tell, set against different cultural and physical backdrops. Working on our own scripted slate, as well as with third parties as a consultant, I am constantly blown away by the incredible original ideas and creative talents I come across, not just from the UK but from Australia, Norway, South Africa and increasingly countries in Eastern Europe too. I’ve discovered wide-ranging and incredible IP, great writers and stunning stories told with fresh perspectives and I am excited to be the bridge, helping international producers and writers find the rights partners in the US.
So, I’m now channelling my inner Tom Hardy and not holding back to take advantage of this major US U-turn. After six months in LA I have a good fix on the best lanes to be in, I know some great shortcuts, along with where the potholes are and, crucially, I know when to keep driving and when to exit!
I’ve also learnt that it’s impossible to ever have a bad meeting in LA (even if you never hear from someone again); that studios and networks are very receptive, but you need a much tighter and more prepared pitch than in Europe; and that the fees paid to off-screen talent such as writers are so eye-watering that I just might consider a change in direction one day too.
Anthony Kimble is founder, co-CEO and head of scripted at Arrested Industries, the independent content agency he runs with Merrily Ross. Based in London and Los Angeles, the company has expertise in development, financing, production, and distribution.