Hello and welcome to International Insider, I’m Jake Kanter. Join me for a spin through the week’s biggest film and TV stories outside of America. Any feedback or stories you want to pitch? I’m on email@example.com, or my DMs are open on Twitter. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Festivals Dance To Covid’s Beat
Cannes carousel turns again: As anticipated, the world’s most prestigious film festival — and its adjoining market — is on the move once again due to Covid-19. The festival announced this week it will be shifting from mid-May to new dates of July 6-17. This slot moves the event after the Cannes Lions advertising market, which is scheduled for the end of June, and just after private capital get-together IPEM, which takes place in early July. It also avoids the peak European holiday season of August.
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So you’re telling me there’s a chance it goes ahead? Industry insiders we speak to are craving travel and interaction. Digital versions of festivals are a useful alternative, but they just don’t cut it. Lineups are less shiny (Berlin revealed a slim-line version of its popular Berlinale Series strand this week) and buzz is harder to stoke. But with Covid numbers still painfully high, vaccine rollout stuttering across Europe, France pondering another lockdown, and travel restrictions still in force, staging major international get-togethers even in six months seems depressingly like a pipe dream right now. 2021 is starting to look worryingly like last year.
Karlovy collateral: Not everyone will be thrilled about the new summer date on the Riviera, which would overlap with Central and Eastern Europe’s leading film event, Karlovy Vary. Executive director Kryštof Mucha and artistic director Karel Och told Andreas Wiseman today the event has no plans to postpone in light of the Cannes overlap but that they will continue to monitor the development of the virus both locally in the Czech Republic and abroad in case movement is required.
Sundance in full swing: A streamlined and largely digital Sundance kicked off this week and we’ve been bringing you the best coverage in the business. Check out our editor Mike Fleming’s deep-dive on the market prospects for this year’s online event, as well as our ‘movies to watch,’ reviews, interviews, film clips, and news stories (all here). As usual, the festival is showcasing a handful of emerging and established international filmmakers, as well as those from the U.S.
Sky Originals Unpicked
Film frenzy: Zai Bennett, Sky’s content boss in the UK and Ireland, told us that his team is commissioning at a “ferocious” rate and it’s hard to argue otherwise after his 2021 originals slate ballooned 50% to 125 series, films, and documentaries. So what new can we glean from Sky’s strategy? Well, first of all, it’s going after film in a big way in the pandemic-era, both through acquisitions and originals. It will release two new features a month in 2021, with titles including Judy Dench-starrer Six Minutes To Midnight and Allison Janney pic Breaking News In Yuba County (pictured).
Opportunism: Bennett didn’t exactly downplay the sense that Sky is being opportunistic as the cinema sector remains in crisis. “We’ve been making original movies for a while… and we absolutely planned to supercharge this area, but we’ve definitely gone at it even harder since February/March last year,” he said. But Sky also needs theatrical releases firing, for the simple reason that the longer films stay on the shelf, the longer its subscribers are not seeing the benefits of studio deals. In the meantime, Sky’s striking pay deals for films that skip the cinema, such as Wonder Woman 1984.
Over in TV, Sky continued to ramp up its originals, as it runs to hit a target of spending £1 billion ($1.4B) a year on content by 2024. New series include This Sceptred Isle, in which Kenneth Branagh will play Boris Johnson; crime procedural Wolfe, from Shameless creator Paul Abbott; and dystopian, time-bending thriller Extinction, penned by Joe Barton, the new showrunner on HBO Max’s The Batman. Sky is also doubling down on docs, capturing the first series from Louis Theroux’s Mindhouse that won’t feature the documentarian in front of the camera.
Shoots a gogo: To keep up with the frantic commissioning, Bennett said production is at full-tilt, despite Covid-19 running rampant in the UK and the government introducing quarantining for arrivals from overseas. He acknowledged that most shoots are subject to disruption, but up to 50 shows are currently toughing it out, including dramas Britannia, Brassic, and Cobra. “More shows than not have shut for a few days and then got back [up and running],” Bennett added. “It’s taking longer and costing more money to make a show, but the good news is we’re making them.”
Why it all matters: Amid more competition than ever, Sky’s top-line financials are going backwards, according to Q4 Comcast earnings published Thursday. The European pay-TV giant’s revenue dropped by $600 million for the second consecutive year in 2020, meaning it can’t simply blame the pandemic on a bad 12 months. Furthermore, its customer numbers contracted for the first time under Comcast, at a time when rival streamers are piling on subscribers. Sky knows that its investment in originals is more important than ever when the likes of Disney and WarnerMedia are going direct to consumers. “The clear direction of travel is you need to own and create your own content,” Bennett said.
Scooplet: Broke And Bones Hire
Going for broke: In another sign of the ambition at Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ Netflix-backed Broke And Bones, the production company has quietly hired Lime Pictures’ head of drama, Louise Sutton. She joined Broke And Bones last year as an executive producer and is already helping develop a series for Netflix. It’s a reunion of sorts after Sutton produced two episodes of Black Mirror Season 4, including the excellent USS Callister. Go deeper here.
Netflix’s Prestige Push
Prime purchases: Netflix added to its high-end foreign language slate this week with two big buys: Chaitanya Tamhane’s Indian drama The Disciple and Julia von Heinz’s And Tomorrow The Entire World (pictured), which is Germany’s Oscar entry this year. Alfonso Cuaron is an executive producer on The Disciple, which won Best Screenplay at Venice in 2020. The film is a Mumbai-set story charting the life of Sharad Nerulkar, who devoted himself to becoming an Indian classical music vocalist. And Tomorrow The Entire World is a highly charged political drama set in the world of Antifa. It previously caused a political storm in the German film biz.
Over at Amazon: Jeff Bezos’ streamer landed rights to Indian action thriller Master, following the film’s successful theatrical run, which saw it top the global box office chart earlier this month. Amazon will release the movie in 240 countries on January 29.
Damning Diversity Data
Damning: Next time you hear high-powered TV executives talking a good game on diversity, remember this: In a year when there was a global reckoning over racism, representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people went into reverse on- and off-screen. That was the grim finding of a comprehensive annual study on diversity, coordinated by the UK’s biggest broadcasters. You can read our take on the report here.
People are tired: Responding to our story on Twitter, the mood was clear: People are exasperated rather than outraged. “The game is rigged and the consequences are nil. Sometimes I genuinely wonder why I even bother,” said Faraz Osman, founder of producer Gold Wala. British comedian Tez Ilyas joked: “2022’s gonna be our year guys.” The BBC’s Alex Murray added: “Sorry, but I’m all out of shocked & disappointed.”
It comes down to this: This can’t happen again. The major broadcasters have made very public and very bold commitments to diversity, ranging from Sky and the BBC’s 20% quotas, to ViacomCBS’s “no diversity, no commission” directive. This needs to result in meaningful change in the 2021 numbers, particularly in senior production roles, including writers, directors, and producers. It’s not just about diversity, it’s about inclusion. If a greater array of voices are handed decision-making powers, the rest will follow.
🌶️ Hot one of the week: A24 has boarded world rights to under-the-radar ghost story The Eternal Daughter, starring Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton. Andreas had the exclusive.
🌶️ Another hot one: Oscar-winning British producer Rise Films is developing the first major television drama series on the phone-hacking scandal that shook the very foundations of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the early noughties. Read all about it.
🌶️ And another: Phew! Plenty of scoops this week. Our final spicy number comes from Tom Grater, who revealed that Don’t F**k With Cats producer Raw TV and Sony-owned Eleven are making a Netflix feature doc based on serial killer Dennis Nilsen’s posthumously-published autobiography. Story here.
🍿 International box office: India’s Tamil action thriller Master is now estimated to have grossed around $30M worldwide. That’s an impressive feat given capacity restrictions in many markets and with European majors closed. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.
📈 Going up: Bridgerton became Netflix’s most-watched series ever this week. Some 82M households watched the Regency-era romp-fest, which smashed Netflix’s forecast of 63M. Deadline co-editor in chief and Bridgerton superfan Nellie Andreeva had the details.
🏆 Awards news: BAFTA has decided to extend the eligibility period for its Film Awards this year, with the organization now allowing titles to release at any point in 2021 and still be eligible for the ceremony in April. Go deeper.
🚚 On the move: Tony Tackaberry, the chief executive of Cash Cab producer Lion US, is stepping down after 17 years to launch a new venture. Read our exclusive here.
🚚 Also on the move: Laurine Garaude, the director of television at Mipcom and MipTV organizer Reed Midem, is stepping down after more than a decade overseeing the two Cannes markets. Full story.
🎦 Trailer dash: Tom got hold of the first footage from Little Satchmo, a feature documentary about legendary American trumpeter Louis Armstrong starring his daughter who kept her familial link hidden for years. Watch here.
📺 Ones to watch: Amazon Prime Video premieres Richard Hammond and Tory Belleci adventure series The Great Escapists from today. Check out the trailer here. Also debuting today is Netflix’s Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes historical drama The Dig. Our film critic Pete Hammond calls it a “little gem.”
Here’s your first look at Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in the buzzy biopic, Spencer, from Pablo Larraín and Steven Knight. The early signs are good, with Stewart capturing Lady Di pretty vividly in a troubled moment of self-reflection. One suspects that Stewart’s job has been made somewhat harder by newcomer Emma Corrin, who portrayed Prince Charles’ ex-wife brilliantly in The Crown. There will be inevitable comparisons. And with Elizabeth Debicki set to step into Diana’s shoes in Season 5 of Netflix’s lavish royal drama next year, we’ve come a long way from Naomi Watts’ controversial and poorly-received Diana feature in 2013.
Andreas Wiseman and Tom Grater contributed to International Insider.