By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
At the American Film Market (AFM), buyers and sellers are seeing something they have never seen before… the emergence of television as a viable access point to the American Film Market for independents. And while A-list stars and directors are still crowding the TV airwaves with personal projects, the independent is finding that they can get in on the action as well.
“In premium cable, we have the same artistic ambition as indie film, but we have the money to make it, and do it right.” – Gary Levine, exec VP of original programming at Showtime
The nice thing about working with TV is the steady income stream. While independents are used to courting venture capitalists; dentists looking to invest their liquid assets; and of course, now crowdfunding, the ability to get a network, and chiefly the cable networks interested in a potential series or miniseries is a godsend.
Networks are a one-stop shop, and they’re hungry for content. And being rather non-traditional in their programming, they share the same spirit as the independent producer looking to strike new ground. That’s why series like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and even Mad Men have been such hits. These series couldn’t have been made for network television, due to content restrictions, but on pay and cable television networks, they get the best of both worlds.
“Companies launching their brands are willing to pay a lot of money for something they think is going to differentiate their channel,” said Steve Golin, production manager for True Detective. “When Netflix bought ‘Cards,’ everyone was saying they overpaid. But it put them on the map, and their market cap increased so much, it was probably one of the smartest investments ever made.”
And not only Netflix. Major players in TV are scrambling at AFM, looking for shovel-ready series concepts, and it’s rapidly becoming a sellers’ market. The TV divisions of MGM, Paramount, Lionsgate, Epix, Starz, Bravo, Sundance, along with streamers like Amazon, Yahoo, and Hulu are all looking for content, and they’re not only willing to pay a premium to get it. But in many cases ratings success is immaterial; it’s the cache PR value to lining up series, escpeically with notable talent.
“A Netflix or an HBO measures the success of a show by the amount of publicity and awards it gets,” adds Golin, “that creates a desire for people to subscribe … Even if people don’t watch the show…”
Then there’s the smaller TV companies who are looking to share production costs, and, as such, a piece of the pie, with an indie who may have already lined up their own financing. They are often just getting on the air and getting original content by sharing the risk. In many cases, it can pay off.
“ … we can bring gap or deficit financing to a show, and retain ownership or a share of ownership,” says IFC development and production VP Dan Pasternack. “You just have to figure out if the rights you retain in exchange for the financing you bring makes sense.”
And the network that comes to mind is the brainchild of independent director Robert Rodriguez, whose El Rey television network has courted some hefty talent for its Hispanic-themed network.
So if you have a TV series concept sitting on the shelves, there’s no greater time to blow the dust off it, line up your ducks, and head to AFM to pitch it. You may find willing ears and eager checkbooks.
Hat Tip – Variety