My March course is now SOLD OUT but my 2 day weekend Screenwriting Course will take place again in central London on May 12-13 2018, with special guest speakers, screenwriters VINAY PATEL, REGINA MORIARTY and literary agent MATTHEW BATES (Sayle Screen). Still some places available
This week, more from the C21 International TV Drama Summit, which was held in London at the end of November.
JANE FEATHERSTONE interviewed ELIZABETH BRADLEY, vice-president of content for Netflix.
EB: Netflix now have more than 104m subscribers worldwide – and for the first time, more outside the US than in the US. Netflix are now very conscious of that in their programming.
JF: What are Netflix looking for?
EB: We have to make content that is appealing to every audience. So, for instance, shows like GODLESS and STRANGER THINGS appeal across age and gender ranges. But for every different group, we want to be making your 5 favourite shows. What all shows should have in common is the quality of the story-telling. Something that’s compelling and addictive.
We have diversity of content, and a diversity of business models.
Some examples of recent UK commissions –
The End Of the Fucking World (with Clerkenwell / C4) (written by 4screenwriting alumna Charlie Covell!).
Wanderlust written by Nick Payne. Co-produced with Drama Republic / BBC, starring Toni Colette.
Requiem written by Kris Mrksa, Co-produced with New Pictures / BBC.
Collateral written by David Hare. Co-produced with BBC / The Forge.
On Netflix we have to work harder to get you to a show, and to persuade you to trust us. Sometimes the on-screen talent helps in that (eg the casting of Toni Colette in ‘Wanderlust’).
We have multiple teams at Netfix and we work hard at identifying really strong story-telling.
So we go after really strong film producers who want to work in TV; or good TV producers – like Jane Featherstone.
We don’t take ideas directly from writers. Only from producers. We’re very conscious that it’s a collaboration – we look for people who know the story they want to tell. First off, we like to see a script, and people who know why and how their story is compelling, and then we try to give them the best creative partnership. A light creative touch, but really strong guidance.
JF: How do you make sure that the shows you make are supported and found?
EB: We try to address a specific audience with each show. Target and find subscribers based on their experience inside Netflix. You start to evangelise the content in a much more focused way eg River – a show much loved by a particular audience.
We love a well-formed idea, something that has been thought through carefully – so for instance a series that has a narrative arc over several seasons. HOUSE OF CARDS was a very good example of this – they came to us with a strong, 3 season arc.
99% of the time we like to read a script. We’ve no interest in doing pilots to test an idea out.
Netflix is global – in 190 countries. We’re conscious of what the means for budgets. The budgets are based on trying to work out the size of the audience over several years. The competition is forcing prices up.
JF: There is no data available for producers. How do you reward success?
EB: We want producers to have a very good creative experience. We pay up-front.
Incredibly well-told stories always travel. But what resonates, and travels across borders, is something very specific eg NARCOS
JF: How do you keep finding the best stories outside of the US?
EB: An example – new commission – ‘Sex Education’ from Eleven Film in UK, written by new writer Laurie Nunn. About a boy in the 6th form whose mum is a sex therapist. About adolescence, sex and love. Very relatable globally. A specific, local show that will go global.
Finding agreement with fellow broadcasters and producer on transmission and release date involves a lot of conversations. We’re always open to different models of what is shown when. Eg Netflix is doing series 3 of TOP BOY*.
Our appetite for global commissions out of the UK and other territories is increasing
(*PS Scrotal Recall – now Lovesick, Black Mirror & Top Boy are all shows not re-commissioned by Channel 4, then picked up by Netflix).
Although it may not come across in my notes, this session was dynamic and exciting, There was a real sense of energy to the conversation, and a sense of excitement about the sort of work Netflix is commissioning in the UK.
C21 PITCHING Session
Always interested in pitching, I went to this session in which 8 different production companies were pitching in order to find production partners and partial financing for projects that already seemed to be at an advanced stage of development. I listened to the first 4 (of 8) and was pretty gobsmacked by how bad the pitches were.
The first one was an English producer pithing a thriller series set in a wealthy, seaside New Zealand town (set to be produced and shot in New Zealand). The idea was deeply conventional, and the pitcher could not have sounded less interested in what he was reading (always a mistake!) if he’d tried. My heart wept for the poor writer from New Zealand. If she’d seen what this producer was doing to her idea, she would have been distraught.
The 2nd idea was about an ordinary family man in Iceland who has a secret life as a male escort. (He’s gone into this line of work because he has an – also secret – terminal illness, and is determined to make money for his family before he goes) ie a bare-faced rip-off of BREAKING BAD. The pitcher compared their show to Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Mad Men – another pitching no-no – blandly comparing your show, with no justification at all – to some of the best TV series ever made.
The 4th pitch was presented as a Q&A between pitcher and stooge. But their script and performances were so wooden that you were just transfixed by the awfulness of the presentation (‘Go on, what happens next?!…‘Ah yes, I’m glad you asked that…) and forgot to listen to their pitch (although to be fair that too was pretty shocking – a costume / period Euro-pudding).
After 4 pitches, I couldn’t take anymore, but in some ways I wish I’d stayed for the 2nd half. It was a real education in How Not To Pitch.
I went to a screening of this new TV series for French TV. I was stuck by the different rhythms and story approach, different culture and fresh take on stories. It’s about 5 women in contemporary Paris – sort of, a French version of Cold Feet. One of the joys of foreign language screen drama is that it sometimes gives you a whole different perspective on dramatic story-telling – and shows up some of the stale, lifeless, conservative conventions of some of the less good UK TV drama and (particularly) Hollywood movies. This show was a delight – the situations and characterisations felt idiosyncratic, original and really engaging.
This sense of a fresh, different perspective also goes for Michael Haneke’s new film HAPPY END. (A German director, but a film set in France – upper-middle-class Calais to be precise). This was thought-provoking, at times funny, disturbing but always compelling.
Listening to my i-pod on shuffle mode in my car, I came by accident on a radio play (I was trying to listen to music), a play I had forgotten was on there, FIRE IN THE WEST by Michael Butt. The acting and writing was so good that for the first minute or so I thought I was listening to a documentary. It was utterly compelling and the most beautiful, heart-breaking character study, of real depth and believable complexity. I arrived at my destination and risked being late because I had no choice but to sit and listen to the remaining 20 minutes.
This is my last newsletter before Christmas – so have a great one, and I’ll be back with the next newsletter on Friday Jan 12th 2018,
All the best
Dec 15th 2017