Entertainment One (eOne) has built a reputation as a producer and distributor of scripted and unscripted content for linear and nonlinear platforms around the world. John Morayniss, today the company’s co-president of film, television and digital, joined eOne in 2008. Over the years, he has set up strategic alliances with producers and positioned eOne as a preferred partner in international co-productions. He talks to World Screen about a recent reorganization at eOne, attracting A-list talent to projects and how financing models for premium television series are changing.
WS: Has eOne’s drama strategy changed as a result of so much drama in the marketplace?
MORAYNISS: Yes. We’ve been focusing more on higher-end, premium content, like a lot of our competitors. We recognize that we have to keep going after bigger and bigger properties. We are spending a lot more of our time, focus and money going after IP, book properties, finding anything that’s got a hook that you can use to leverage additional packaging. Everything seems to be heightened, and the development process is starting to look more and more like film packaging. We’re writing more scripts internally as opposed to going to a broadcaster early and pitching before a script is written. When we get the script written, we’re packaging it; we’re finding a star and a director. We’re putting it all together so when we go to market, whether it’s to a streaming service, a premium pay service or an ad-supported over-the-air network, we’re pitching a package that is fully developed. And we try to get a direct-to-series order instead of going through additional development or going through a pilot process before going to series. So everything is all about development. R&D is the big mantra for anyone on the TV side.
WS: There are so many scripted series being produced now—is there a premium on writers, or are there enough to go around?
MORAYNISS: There is a premium on writers. There is a premium on talent. It’s forcing everyone—and I think this is a good thing—to look more globally at talent. It’s one of the reasons we’re spending more time and money in the U.K. We are developing directly for the U.K. broadcasters and are trying to get development and production commissions out of the U.K., but the other reason, as or even more important, is that we’re focused on working with talent from the U.K. Again, there is so much original production going on, so much is being commissioned out of the U.S., that high-end talent is a scarce resource. If you’re at the A level in our business right now, it’s a great time to be supplying talent. But if you are looking for it as a studio or a production company, it’s more of a challenge. We find that what attracts talent is not just money—because a lot of people are throwing money at a lot of great writers and filmmakers—it’s great IP. So if you have something that they are dying to do, a book that they’ve read, something that they are very passionate about, that’s what will bring them in the door, first and foremost.
WS: eOne was one of the first to jointly finance and produce. As costs increase, are you still doing this? I imagine you have an advantage over a lot of others.
MORAYNISS: I hope so. We have a legacy of co-production, but co-production means something very different from what it meant even five to ten years ago. It’s more about creative co-productions. It’s about co-financing opportunities. We’re open to splitting distribution rights, which you have to do because the cost of production is also going up, especially in the premium content space. So again, it’s starting to look more and more like a film model where you see studios or production companies sharing risks and sharing in the equity in the upside. You also have to continually offer talent more skin in the game, because they want to see upside in success. As a result, you’re seeing a lot more partnerships between the creative, the studios, the distributors and the production companies. That’s a great thing, and those partnerships tend to start at a very early stage as opposed to the old days when you were trying to shove a financing structure into a creative approach. Right now, the focus is on: does this make sense, is it something people are passionate about? Then you put the pieces together. We’re finding broadcasters all over the world willing to do partnerships. Studios—major studios, indie studios—everyone is open to sharing risk, including in the development phase. When going after a big book property, a big piece of IP, sometimes it makes sense to align with a partner and go after it together.
WS: At eOne, film, TV and digital have been combined on the sales side. Are they also coming together on the production side?
MORAYNISS: From a sales point of view there was a bit of a disconnect because of the way eOne was set up. On the film side, we had acquired a number of film distribution companies in different territories over the years; each had its own independent infrastructure, which is not unusual when you are buying businesses. There was a need to rationalize that. So, on the sales side, we had a TV sales team selling TV content to TV and digital platforms at the same time as our film distribution business had salespeople in several territories that were selling film content to the same TV and digital platforms. There were a lot of opportunities to make sure that we were properly leveraging all that content. We realized that was an obvious thing to change and in April we brought that together. And that is more like how the studios operate, with their film and TV content together when they are selling to TV and digital buyers who are buying both film and TV. Now we can present our offering in a united, holistic way.
As we were going through that process, we started looking at the market, and it’s clear that not just the sales side but the sourcing side has also merged in a way it never had [before]. You’re seeing more and more writers, producers and acting talent that historically had only done film being brought in and packaged into television content. We are finding, on the development side, working with producers like Mark Gordon and Brad Weston, that they are working seamlessly between film and TV. As a studio, we realized it made sense to not only focus on the end product monetization of film and TV but on the beginning phase as well, the sourcing. Historically, when a project comes into eOne, and this is the same at most studios that produce film and TV, there are two doors, a film door and a TV door. But, frankly, we’re in the storytelling business, so let’s have one door and when someone comes in and has a great project, let’s then figure out what is the best way of making that project, what’s the best way of telling that story, what’s the best way of getting it out to market. A great example even before we consolidated film, TV and digital together is Sharp Objects, because it started as a film project with Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions. We optioned Gillian Flynn’s book Sharp Objects. We started developing it as a feature, but we realized very quickly that it made more sense to tell that story in a longer format, not over two hours. We pivoted quite quickly, brought in Marti Noxon, and it became a TV project. That was a bit of an aha moment for us that we should start looking more holistically at content. Just because someone comes in with a film idea doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a better TV project or vice versa. So now we have codified that in a structure we think makes a lot of sense.
WS: Since different outlets have different programming needs, are you producing both serialized shows and procedurals?
MORAYNISS: We are market-driven, so we have to look at what the market wants. There is no question there is a lot of demand for premium, serialized content, and in a lot of cases limited series, because, of course, when you are talking about packaging high-end A-level talent, a lot of that talent isn’t necessarily willing to commit to doing five, six or seven seasons of 22 episodes each. There is a lot of pressure right now to focus on more limited series, bigger budget, bigger talent, and that’s great. But we’re also in the volume business to a certain extent. We’re a studio, and as a result, we try to do both. We try to follow the passions of our creative teams because we are a creative-centric business, so we want to make sure that whatever we’re doing there is with someone that is a passionate champion of that project. And, of course, from a commercial point of view, we love long-running returnable series. That is a great business when you have a hit; Designated Survivor is an example of that. So we are doing both, and we are constantly trying to get ahead of the market because, if we are developing something, it may take two to three years to bring it to market and who knows what the demand will be then. We try to do it all.