In the first instalment of his new TBI column, LA-based scripted exec Anthony Kimble, co-CEO and founder of Arrested Industries, reflects on a bracing start to life in the US.
I chose a great time to open a US office. Mass layoffs and cancellations in Hollywood, the writers’ strike planned for early this year, continued mass shootings and the fact that Trump is conspiring to run for president again! There doesn’t appear to be much to celebrate on this side of the pond as we slide into 2023.
As a producer in LA who has been pitching high-end projects over the past six months, it has been quite hair-raising to hear, “we love the material, but we’re not commissioning anything” or “this is unbelievable, but our remit now is broad-based and commercial”. Everyone is incredibly risk averse right now. And, given the swathes of redundancies, it’s highly likely that the team you pitched your show to originally is no longer even in the building.
Whole movies and TV series were scrapped in 2022 – including JJ Abrams’ $200m sci-fi drama Demimonde, once viewed as a jewel in the shiny new Warner Bros. Discovery crown. And there are so many other examples of cancelled shows – not to mention entire streaming services (CNN+). Seriously, if JJ Abrams isn’t safe, no one is. And if the current clarion call is for more commercial series, where do we go to pitch the smart and more cerebral ideas on our slates?
There will always be demand for the next White Lotus – sometimes the stars just align and a great project finds a home, then becomes a commercial hit. But one cynical idea is to think more overtly about awards. Which networks and platforms might be desperate for a gold statue to remain ‘relevant’? Major commercial shows rarely win big, so if you have a smart project that ticks a few boxes, plays to the voting crowd and could fill a much-needed gap on the shelf, you might be on to a winner, in more ways than one.
Being creative and entrepreneurial in the packaging and financing of projects is more important than ever too, don’t just do what you’ve always done. There’s a big upturn in features in LA at present. Could your limited series become a film? Finding private equity money and undertaking a re-write could just get it off the ground.
Eternal optmism of the creative mind
I have several high-end, niche titles on my slate but I refuse to feel glum. This may have something to do with basking in the Californian sunshine while Europe shivers – but it’s probably more about the innate optimism and creativity of producers. We have already weathered an unprecedented three-year pandemic period, so now feel invincible. At the risk of coming over all Gloria Gaynor, we will survive – and find ways to tell incredible stories, no matter what gets thrown at us.
We are going to have to pivot and yes, budgets will have to come down, but given how overinflated things have become, this is not the worst thing in the world. Having worked in the UK and Europe, and within emerging drama markets, I’ve always been amazed at how much money you need to make a great (or not so great) TV show in the US. There are countries that make entire seasons of quality television for a fraction of the cost of one episode here.
I was heartened to read Mark Linsey’s recent comments ahead of his move to LA with BBC Studios. Following US execs expressing concern about rising costs during Content London, he was quoted as saying that UK producers have the skillset and experience to develop shows at a lower price, which could be crucial in the future. And I’d include producers from Europe and almost everywhere else in that too.
The other thing that is starting to work in our favour is the global streamers becoming more amenable to sharing rights to keep costs down. With their golden grip loosened, we should see a return to the glory days of co-productions, meaning better deals for producers. And, if the streamers maintain their strategies of local market commissions that also find audiences back in the US, it continues to open the American market to more international productions. There’s even a flip side to the proposed writers’ strike, as it could mean more opportunity for international talent to break into the US.
So, while 2023 looks set to be tough for everyone, nimble, flexible and smart content creators who can identify gaps and fill them – whether creatively, budgetary, or even on a shelf – may open themselves up to a new world of opportunity in the US this year.