Film No Longer The Star Of The Show

THE days of film’s artistic dominance over TV are over. Major players and artists at the top of their game, among them Steven Spielberg and Jean Reno, are increasingly choosing to work in TV. Why? More to the point, why not?

Screen matters, but the so-called “small screen” has gone the way of the dinosaurs. The biggest TV in Britain is the LG Ultra HDTV 84 inch screen while Austrian firm C SEED Entertainment Systems this year came out with its 201 inch screen, a challenge for the home entertainment market since it won’t even fit into the average sized living room. No worries. Designed by Porsche and costing a whopping $670,000, the equivalent of four Porsche autos, it was clearly not meant for the average budget. C SEED has suggested it might be perfect for the average yacht.  

Despite the “bigger is better” ambitions of TV hardware makers, actual physical size is not always the main driver. When it comes to revenues, TV is no longer the ugly stepchild of the film industry; to the contrary. Major media companies such as Viacom, Disney, and Time Warner began as early as 2011 reporting that TV was their major cash cow, accounting for as much as 80% of their profits, while film was taking an increasingly smaller piece of the revenue pie. That gap is growing and being noted. Thandie Newton, speaking at a Rogue co-production masterclass at MIPTV 2013, said, “As an actor the thing that is really attractive about TV is the number of people you can reach.”

Nick Hamm, executive producer and director, Greenroom Entertainment, in the same masterclass, pointed out that North America has already proved there is a sophisticated adult audience out there that will pay for bespoke content. “That is the antithesis of everything we’ve been told about television over the last 25 years,” he added.  Financiers are clearly jumping on the promise of TV revenues generating more pocket change than film and have eagerly sought out models that work. In North America, Hamm says the Rogue model was actually not that dissimilar to the old studio model. “You have a company as ambitious and as progressive as DirecTV that is in the market for making material that is stand alone and out there. You take the license fee, equity position and get the rest from a studio or from a sales company who will then sell off for and against it.”

It is not, however, just about finances and audiences. TV is being increasingly taken seriously as an artistic choice, by the likes of major players like Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Jane Campion, and others. Spielberg, president of the 2013 Cannes Film jury, announced in March his TV miniseries Napoleon will use the script written in the 1970s by the late Stanley Kubrick. Regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Kubrick was never able to obtain a studio green-light for Napoleon, the film he predicted, had it been made, would have been the highlight of his career. Spielberg and Tom Hanks are also on board as executive producers for their third HBO TV series on the Second World War, following on from the 2001 Band of Brothers and 2010 series The Pacific.

”The wall that has always been there between film and TV is crumbling,” says Dariusz Jablonski, one of the leading independent producers in Poland who worked alongside Polish great Krzysztof Kieslovski in the early days of his career. Jablonski, CEO of Apple Films, is also producer along with Richard Fell of the BBC/TVP co-production Spies Of Warsaw. Jablonski and Fell initiated the cooperation between BBC Worldwide and TVP that resulted in the Spies of Warsaw co-production, based on Alan Furst’s best-selling novel. Indeed, after more than four decades in the film business, French superstar Jean Reno made his first TV debut on the Lagardere Entertainment Atlantique co-production Jo. Reno works easily in English, as well as a handful of other languages but backers of the TV series are clearly counting on the international passport and a treasure trove of sales revenues from the first ever TV series to be shot entirely in English in Paris.

The increased artistic interest in TV is also driving more co-production, noted BBC controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson in a keynote address at MIPTV April 9. “The ambition of the talent—-writers, creators and directors—-doesn’t always require big budget, but sometimes it does.” He added that co-production projects could travel more now because audiences of today really don’t mind subtitling.

Stephenson also spoke at the second edition of the Reed MIDEM Drama Co-production Summit, held on the opening day of MIPTV April 8. The closed-door event is aimed at raising the bar when it comes to putting together quality co-production. This year it brought in some 60 of the top players in the industry --producers, directors, scriptwriters, commissioners and CEO of companies involved in drama co-production. Participants came from North America, all parts of Europe and Australia. He noted that co-production was all about compromise but said,  “You can’t compromise the heart of the piece,” adding, “There has never been a hit that doesn’t have a writer’s vision behind it.”  He pointed out the key to having a successful co-production was also putting all the cards on the table. “You have to lay out everything you need as a partner in a co-production at the very outset, even if it means that the conversation might involve some strong words,” he said.

The frailties of the US studio system are increasingly driving talent like Ed Bernero to work in Europe. Bernero, at MIPTV for the co-production case study of Crossing Lines, said he hoped it would be the first of many projects done in Europe. “The US studio system doesn’t work right now,” he noted, adding, “More and more women and men in the US entertainment industry are doing what I am and realising that they can have the freedom to work creatively in Europe that they can’t get in the US.” The 10x50 minute series is produced by Tandem Communications (World Without End/Pillars Of The Earth), in association with Bernero Productions (Criminal Minds/Third Watch) and in co-production with TF1 Production.

Film is having to share its glamourous side as well increasingly with TV. Bernero, Newton, Eli Roth, Famke Janssen, Christophe Lambet, Clothilde Courau, Felix Baumgartner, Gene Simmons, Catarino Murano, Steve Harvey, Laura Haddock, Tom Riley, Blake Ritsen, and Lara Pulver are among the stars that came out for the red carpet ceremony at MIPTV 2013.