Anthony Kimble, co-CEO of UK and US-based production and finance company Arrested Industries (formerly Fugitive), explores how the pandemic has led to high demand for non-American drama in the US, as well as a diminishing appetite for local scripted content.
As a Brit who recently started a business in Los Angeles, there’s a lot I’m still coming to terms with, including my regular commute on the 405 to attend meetings. I compare driving to the track in Mad Max: Fury Road: It’s fast, exhilarating, deeply competitive and you have to keep a cool head to get to your destination in one piece. It all sounds so gladiator – but it probably sets me up well for the day job developing and funding dramatic projects, then pitching them to broadcasters and streamers.
I’ve always loved spending time in America and working with Americans, but even as a Brit who shares a common language, “breaking through” with non-American scripted projects has long been a battle. For many years, commissions or co-productions were rare, while only the best British costume dramas and quirky crime series were acquired on a regular basis. Apparently our accents were a problem and, as I was told, “American viewers had no interest in cruel stories set in rain-swept towns in the north of England”.
Now, however, the tide has turned and there have never been more opportunities in the US for not just British drama, but international shows as well. And we have the pandemic to thank for opening the floodgates. As we know, during the lockdown viewers increasingly turned to streamers, but in doing so they also found more time to experiment, with many in the US watching international Netflix originals, such as French series. Lupine and that of Spain Money theft or other titles like German series Germany ’83 for the first time. Add to that the huge wave of innovative content coming from territories like Korea – with dramas like Netflix’s squid game and that of Apple Pachinko — and theater 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 living in a “perfect storm” moment. Viewer engagement is on the rise in the US and cultural barriers are falling, output deals are disappearing and local supply is shrinking in the market as studios keep content for their own platforms. With this in mind, international broadcasters are also buying less American content, as their increasingly robust local production sectors now create exceptional content that can also find audiences abroad.
Go the extra mile
Both at Content LA and at LA Screenings in the past month there has been a marked drop in appetite for US network shows and I know from my own meetings that US buyers came out slightly cloudy-eyed from two years of Zoom conferences, pitch meetings, and writers. theaters with a much less myopic vision of the scripted television landscape. Everyone is looking for local stories that work for global audiences – and finally recognizing that local can be further than New York.
Premium cable network HBO Max, for example, has acquired non-English language masterpieces like Gomorrah and my brilliant friend (both Italian) and Veneno (Spanish) and even launched international destinations such as HBO Europe and HBO Asia on its US service. And curators are starting to invest earlier to ensure quality content in an increasingly competitive marketplace. So, all of that means now is a great time to bring international stories to the United States.
The beauty of international theater is that each territory has unique stories to tell, in different cultural and physical contexts. 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 talent I come across, not just from the UK but from Australia, Norway, Norway South Africa and more and more countries. in Eastern Europe too. I have discovered vast and incredible intellectual property, great writers, and stunning stories told from new perspectives and am thrilled to be the bridge, helping international producers and writers find the rights partners in the United States.
So I am now channeling my inner Tom Hardy and not holding back to take advantage of this major U.S. turnaround. After six months in Los Angeles, I have a good idea of the best routes to take, I know good shortcuts, as well as potholes and, above all, I know when to keep driving and when to get out!
I also learned that it’s impossible to have a bad meeting in LA (even if you never hear from someone again); that the studios and networks are very receptive, but the pitch is much tighter and better prepared than in Europe; and that the fees paid to off-screen talent such as writers are so mind-boggling that I too might consider a change of direction one day.
Anthony Kimble is Founder, Co-CEO and Head of Scripts 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.