It’s been another challenging year in the world of content creation and the climate has arguably demanded more gumption and savviness from its leaders than ever before. With the business increasingly looking beyond U.S. shores for revenues and opportunities for growth, The Hamden Journal’s International Disruptors column continues to highlight some of the key executives and companies shaking up the offshore marketplace. These are the leaders who are thriving in the midst of the tidal changes so take a look back at 2022’s standouts below.
Founder of Israeli talent agency The Kneller Agency, Arik Kneller represents more than 250 clients across television, film, theatre and advertising with clients including two-time Oscar nominee and co-creator/director of HBO Series Our Boys Joseph Cedar, Fauda writer and Our Boys co-creator Noah Stollman and Shtisel writers and co-creators Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky. When founding the company more than 25 years ago, The Kneller Agency was the first agency in Israel to focus its representation on writers and directors and since then, it’s signed a first-look deal with Anonymous Content, which was considered somewhat of an international coup. “There’s a burst of really interesting voices now in Israel,” Kneller told The Hamden Journal. “The most exciting part of my job is when somebody comes and tells me about a new idea for a strong project that just blows my mind. I get a really strong rush out of that.”
World Productions CEO Simon Heath is exec producer of Line of Duty, the biggest UK TV drama of the decade. The ITV Studios-backed drama powerhouse weathered the Covid storm with some of the biggest shows on BBC1 and ITV, including Suranne Jones-starring submarine thriller Vigil and The Pembrokeshire Murders and, in a rare interview, Heath told The Hamden Journal he struggled to identify the secret behind World’s hit-generating success: “If I knew the formula, I’d sell it.” The exec did point to the need to pay close attention to feedback as a show develops through seasons, focus on best writing talent and the growing importance of marketing. Read the full article here.
Dubai-based Gianluca Chakra is founder and managing director of pan-Arab distribution outfit Front Row Filmed Entertainment. Born from humble beginnings in 2003, the company is now one of the most prominent companies in the Middle East, bringing top-shelf indie fare to the region. It kicked off 2022 with its first production Perfect Strangers, the latest international remake of Italian hit Perfetti Sconosciuti, which Netflix boarded after signing a first-look deal with the company, marking the streamer’s first Arabic original feature. Front Row has also made inroads into the burgeoning Saudi Arabian market with its distribution label Front Row Arabia, launched in partnership with the country’s local exhibitor Muvi Cinemas with an aim to bring indie and genre titles to the territory, which only lifted its 35-year-old religion-related ban on cinema in 2017. Read on here.
Carnival Films executive chairman Gareth Neame is perhaps best known as the producer behind global British hit franchise Downton Abbey. The series won 15 Primetime Emmy awards and it spawned six series and two films, the latest of which Downton Abbey: A New Era, was released last year and earned $92.4M worldwide. The company is one of the UK’s leading TV drama outfits with a slate that includes Middle Age drama The Last Kingdom, period drama Belgravia and The Gilded Age, the latter two of which reunite Neame with Downton creator Julian Fellowes. “I just always thought that if we went into this genre and we did it right, it would be very, very popular,” Neame tells The Hamden Journal here.
When Netflix hired former RAI director Eleonora Andreatta in 2020 as vice president of Italian Original series, it was nothing short of a coup for the streamer in the territory and was a clear signal that it was taking its presence in Italy very seriously. Andreatta, affectionally known as “Tinny” in the local industry, was seen as the most influential commissioning editor in Italy with a 25-year career at pubcaster RAI, where she delivered around 500 hours of TV drama per year including My Brilliant Friend. “I saw the possibility of being more courageous in the work I was doing,” said Andreatta of the career move. “There have been big changes in the industry and now even Italian production has to confront itself with the best of what is coming from all over the world and it is raising the bar of what is asked from the talent industry.” Read the full piece here.
Esteemed UK TV exec Jane Tranter is co-founder of Bad Wolf, the company behind hits such as His Dark Materials and A Discovery of Witches. In December 2021, Sony Pictures Television took a majority stake in the company, buying out minority stakes held by Sky/HBO and Access Entertainment. It was a reported £60M ($72.2M) deal that included Bad Wolf’s vast 250,000 square-foot Wolf Studios sound stage situated just outside of the Welsh capital of Cardiff, where Bad Wolf houses its programs. In Tranter’s first interview since that deal, she tells The Hamden Journal about Bad Wolf’s ambitions for the future, including a “key development priority” of bringing romance back into British television.
French media giant TF1 Group brought former Studiocanal COO Romain Bessi into the fold in 2018 to head up Versailles producer Newen Studios with the remit to transform the French-centric company into an international operation capable of meeting the demands of the global content market. Bessi, who is CEO of Newen, has grown the business to having a presence in eight countries with more than 40 labels. It’s producing series such as Vincent Cassel and Eva Green thriller Liason, the first English and French-language drama from Apple TV+, eight-part historical drama Marie Antoinette from The Favourite writer Deborah Davis and German thriller Funeral for a Dog. Read the full piece here.
Through his two banners Samuel Marshall Films and Media Finance Capital, Charles Dorfman has worked across a range of titles from The Lost Daughter to 2nd Chance and his own directorial debut Barbarians, the latter of which won the Jury’s Special Award at the Fantasporto Festival in Portugal. He co-financed Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed The Lost Daughter with Endeavor Content (now Fifth Season) through Samuel Marshall Films and Media Finance Capital has a portfolio of 32 projects including HBO documentary Tina and Russell Crowe feature Prizefighter: The Life of Jem. Read more here.
It’s been more than five years since French sales veteran Carole Baraton joined forces with former Gaumont exec Yohann Comte and former Studiocanal exec Pierre Mazars to launch boutique sales and production label Charades and in that short period of time the trio has quickly become synonymous with quality indie fare. The company is a regular fixture at prominent film festivals and, in Cannes last year, it sold Charlotte Wells’ Cannes buzz title Aftersun, starring Paul Mescal, to A24 for North America. “We work across a wide range of movies, which means we can be surprising,” Baraton tells The Hamden Journal in the rare interview.
In its first year, Enrique Costa and Maria Zamora’s new distribution and production banner Elastica Films acquired some of the hottest competition titles at Cannes 2021: Leox Carax’s Annette, Joachim Trier’s Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning project Drive My Car. Those indie titles went on to do solid business in Spanish theaters, putting Spain in the top five markets for each of these festival darlings. The company was also the main producer behind Berlinale’s Golden Bear winner Alcarràs. While it was a bold move to launch a distribution label while Covid-19 continued to impact the world, Costa said, “The results were so bad that I thought if we have one movie that really, really works, we want to be there.” Read on here.
ITV Studios International Production managing director Lisa Perrin talked through some of the biggest topics facing the company at the moment and why its well-respected labels outside of the U.S. and UK are primed to take advantage of the current penchant for foreign-language drama. She oversees global strategy along with day-to-day production issues for companies such as Gomorrah producer Cattleya, Moritz Polter’s Night in Paradise indie Windlight Picture and Denmark’s Apple Tree Productions, which is behind Netflix’s upcoming comedy drama Baby Fever. “Who would have thought two years ago that the appetite for non-English language drama would have taken off like this,” Perrin tells The Hamden Journal here.
MECHTHILD HOLTER & FABIAN HASLOB
Berlin-based talent agency Players, headed up by Mechthild Holter, Fabian Haslob and Martina Jansen, boasts clients that work across a host of projects such as Babylon Berlin, Unorthodox and Deuschland ’89. The company, which was founded by Holter in 1994, represents around 180 actors, writers, directors and cinematographers and is largely considered one of the top agencies in the German film and television industry. With solid relationships with several London-based agencies such as Curtis Brown and Tavistock Wood, the company is primed to offer up international talent, which has fast become a premium for streamers as they lean in on local language productions. “We like to have the idea of getting old with our clients,” Holter said. Read on here.
DANI DE LA TORRE
Spanish multi-hyphenate Dani de la Torre is one of a growing number of creative talents emerging from Spain that are causing the rest of the global business to sit up and take notice. De la Torre is co-creator and showrunner of Movistar+’s counter-terrorism thriller drama series La Unidad (The Unit) and director of Live is Life. He spoke with The Hamden Journal about local developments, Spain’s emergence as a key European drama hub and his love of nostalgic 1980s movie making here.
Producer and founder of Morocco’s Oasis Studios, Khadija Alami has facilitated more than 50 international productions to shoot in the territory. A Moroccan native who was the first Moroccan woman to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2017, Alami has been instrumental in fuelling local and international content into the country through her banner K-Films. She’s handled production services or has served as co-production partner on titles such as Susanna White’s Our Kind of Traitor, Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips and Showtimes hit series Homeland. Read more about her ambitious to make Morocco a global production hub here.
Memento Films International’s Emilie Georges’ quietly launched specialty label Paradise City with producer Naima Abed eight years ago with an aim to finance and co-produce genre titles, but when the duo worked on Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 Oscar-nominated hit Call Me By Your Name, they decided to pivot. This year in Cannes, Georges and Abed unveiled their new iteration of Paradise City, which would be a London and Paris-based film, TV drama and branded content production management company with a slate of projects from the likes of Anthony Chen, Edward Berger, Lily Horvát, South African author Lauren Beukes and Ivory Coast director Philippe Lacôte. Read more here.
PAOLO DEL BROCCO
RAI Cinema CEO Paolo Del Brocco kicked off the fall festival season with 24 titles featuring at this year’s Venice Film Festival including Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Chiara and Gianni Amelio’s Il Signore Delle Formiche (Lord of the Ants). Having headed up the film arm of the top Italian public broadcaster RAI for more than a decade, this year felt more significant than ever for the exec which saw the cinema sector in peril across the last few years. The exec, who has worked with RAI since 1991, has been hugely vocal about balancing Italy’s booming production sector with its declining theatrical business and he has been one of the country’s execs who is leading the charge in demanding the government step in to support the exhibition sector and theatrical business: “If the first part of the film industry is in crisis – if the box office is very low – that’s a danger to the whole industry.” Read on here.
Working Title Television’s head of drama Surian Fletcher-Jones is the exec producer responsible for bringing the likes of Nida Manzoor’s female Muslim punk-rock series We Are Lady Parts and Dolly Alderton’s BBC drama Everything I Know About Love to the small screen. Fletcher-Jones, a former Channel 4 and Scott Free exec, has spent the last two decades of her career fighting to bring important and diverse voices out of the periphery and into the spotlight and now she feels the needle is finally moving. “It’s taken me 20 years to make a show with someone the same color as me and there are still not enough of these stories being made – we need more,” said the exec. Read the full piece here.
MADE UP STORIES
In the six years since Bruna Papandrea founded production banner Made Up Stories with her husband Steve Hutensky and Australian producer Jodi Matterson, the company has produced a slate of TV and film hits that have earned the indie a reputation as being one of the most dynamic companies in the business. With a roster that includes The Undoing, Anatomy of a Scandal, Pieces of Her and Netflix’s recent feature hit Luckiest Girl Alive, starring Mila Kunis, it seems sky is the limit for the company, which has offices in Sydney, L.A. and now, following the hire of British super-producer Sarah Harvey, London. The company told The Hamden Journal all about their growth in the UK and Europe and their continued ambition to champion unique female-led stories.
Dutch documentary producer Scenery is a joint venture with Banijay Benelux that has served up artistic but commercial unscripted projects for everyone from local public broadcaster NPO to Netflix and Prime Video. The Hamden Journal spoke with its partners Isidoor Roebers and Lea Fels about its most popular show to date Human Playground, an Idris Elba-narrated Netflix and Youku China series and how the company has signed the show’s director and showrunner Tomas Kaan to a Creative Producer role within the company. “More and more directors feel they are being squeezed into a creative mould that streamers want them in,” said Roebers. “We’ve created a world where creative expression is the most important thing and we can meet their needs.”